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Step-Out-Line

 

A moonlit gate in the wilderness with the huge wood carved representation of a hippopotamus over the carved caps “Hippo Lodge”. Traditional music from the background. Masai dancers (or  Kikujus dressed as Masais...) armed with ferocious spears dance for eating tourists at dinner.

 

A YOUNG COUPLE sneaks out...

 

...into the moonlight. They are observed by a SUBJECTIVE CAMERA at half hight – that approaches – slaughters them (we do not see who commits the murder, just that a spear is used to do it...)

 

HIPPO LODGE

a film by Jack Nitzsche

 

Subtitle “Some years later – Nairobi, Kenya

 

JENNY OKORO, an attractive young mulatto spectacle wearer, jumps of a matatu near Dagoretti. Responding to directions she gets from a mobile phone pressed to her ear, she approaches an African restaurant (almost a street stall), coming close to a table with three white men and one Indian who waves to her. As she spots him she stashes away the mobile and joins the men at the table. They all listen to one of the whites, standing up, MIKE KOVAC, who is in the middle of an unctuous “after-dinner speech”. He says something like that it is neither him, nor “Brandon”, nor “Sarah” that’d make the ultimate difference for the “Street Children Shelter”, not any individual ego but their mutual spirit of dedication: Brandon’s volunteer pledge as civil engineering stdent, Sarah’s free expertise as his intern. Blonde (cheerleader-type) SARAH JOHNSON, as this is said, comes forward from the restaurants dingy background. A bit pale around the nose, she takes place next to her all American boyfriend BRANDON DAVIS, pulls out a little bottle with antiseptic cleansing gel. Unkempt ROBBY DE GROOT leans over to Sarah and asks (with a Dutch accent) if she’s seen a ghost. Sarah replies that even after three month of volunteer work in Africa now she never gets used to the toilets. She washes her hands with the gel. Robby reminds her that is was her idea to eat in a  r e a l  African place before they return home; she mustn’t, therefore, complain about the “desert”. Mike’s at his sermon: Robby, he goes ons, as European resource person for “our autumn section”, selflessly sacrificed his holidays... Robby intercepts jokingly that such sacrifice is ultimately made since they keep on waiting for the safari they were promised as token of thanks for their engagement. Mike replies that he was going to get to this as soon as Jenny, whose job it was to prepare everything, showed up. Now, since she arrived, she shall give the details of tomorrow’s trip. Jenny outlines that they’ll be going to the wild animal park by van, stay overnight to see the “hippo pool” at dawn, then return to the city. Where will they stay overnight? Sarah wants to know. “In tents”, Robby throws in jokingly. Sarah almost believes him, gets scared. But Jenny can calm her. There’re rooms for everyone at the “Safari”, a first class lodge. Brandon wonders if this won’t be a bit too expensive for their volunteer budgets. Jenny assumes that everything’s paid for. She checks with her Indian colleague (RAJIV PATEL) who answers that it is commonly known that they’re a non profit organisation; therefore they’re allowed a special discount. Sarah wants to know when they’re leaving tomorrow. Jenny has asked the driver to come at 6 o’clock. No kidding. Sarah: “We better go home soon.” – And the party? Robby protests. He reminds everyone that they agreed during their volunteer weeks to let their hair down at least once before they leave. Rajiv’s cousin supposedly runs the hottest joint in town. Rajiv agrees to take them there. Mike advises Robby to “beware of the girls”. Robby puts forward that he’s booked. Sarah wants to know if Maria, Robbys financée, is coming with them on the safari tomorrow. Robby replies that she’ll return from her field trip unfortunately only the day after tomorrow, wants to know if they’re back by then. Mike reassures him. Brandon wants to know what Maria’s field trip is about. It has to do with “figures and paintings” Robby says. All this (what Maria is doing in her “free time”) is a bit beyond him...

 

They find themselves in a wild/noisy Nairobi disco. Nubian beauty STELLA, a regular, works her way into Robby’s pants.

 

Next morning: mini bus in front of hotel or hostel – group waits for Robby. He finally shows up with Stella. She wants to be part of the group. Exchange in Swahili between her and Rajiv. Robby wants to know what’s going on. Mike translates that the girl’s told to clear off since Robby’s got a fiancée. Robby is angry that others speak on his behalf. Also he resents Rajivs condescending attitude toward the black girl and alleges “racism”. Feeling morally challenged, Robby obtains a seat for Stella. Maria, his finacée, he reminds the others, will not show up before the day after tomorrow from her field trip anyhow.

 

Their van leaves the city..

 

En route, Sarah spots some souvenirs that interest her. They stop at a street side shop. Brandon and Robby mock fight with some Masai spears. Brandon then wants to buy an uncanny little figure (reminding vaguely of a Hippo). But it is not for sale.

Their vehicle turns off the tarmac and rocks down a track to the National Park.

 

At the gates a bunch of pushy Masais bothers them with more souvenirs. The van’s passengers show them what they acquired at the street side shop (to demonstrate that they’re stocked up on souvenirs). The Masai instinctively shrink back from the sight of the uncanny little figure in Brandon’s hands. The van passes into the park, almost running over a little boy who wants to sell a smeared painting.

Brandon admits to his comrades that he snatched the little figure since the owners wouldn’t give it to him voluntarily. He put some dollars at its place. Jenny explains that he took some kind of spirit from the stall. Stella rather had him put it back, now. Brandon laughs off such superstition. They drive on.

 

Scenery & gazelles. - Robby’s mobile rings.

 

It’s Maria, his feisty fiancée – in Nairobi, at his place! Where’s he? - Robby expected her wrongly to show up later. - She wants to join the party! - Mike explains via phone how she still can fly to join them at the lodge where they’ll all stay tonight (Safari Lodge has its landing strip and there’re flights from Wilson airport. - He assures Robby that, once there, they’ll dispose of Stella in time.

 

More sightseeing. The little figure Brandon snatched dangles from the rear view mirror.

 

Oscar, their driver, does not return from taking a leak. Jenny thinks he took off because of the figure. He’s from this area and probably resorted to his people. The natives from here are quite superstitious. Mike takes over the helm. He has a “pretty good idea” about the lodge’s position.

 

They’re distracted by a spectacular fight between wild animals. The little figure Brandon snatched dangles from the rear view mirror.

Eventually they reach a lodge-entrance. Sombre buildings stand deserted around a half empty swimming pool. This is not “Safari Lodge” Rajiv whispers to Mike. They’ve probably lost their way. Robby discovers near the gates the fallen over sign “Hippo Lodge”. As he lifts it up, Rajiv, in the last second, can pull him away. A snake wriggles away.

 

Robby’s mobile rings. Again Maria. Bad connection. She just landed at the “Safari Camp” air strip in the middle of nowhere. Robby tells her that is seems they’ve lost “a bit” their way. There at “Hippo Lodge” now. “You hear me??” He dials her number again, no voice contact. It is not clear if Maria got where they are. She’s sent a SMS that they will join her at “Safari” by no later than tomorrow. Robby’s mobile’s battery gives up.

 

None of the DRIVERS that fight over Maria’s little rucksack at the landing strip wants to take her to “Hippo”.

 

The white PILOT of the plane that flew her in learns why she would want to go to this place (that “friends” seems to be stranded there). He explains: some evil ghost supposedly haunts this lodge after a young tourist couple many years ago died a terrible death there. All attempts to re-open the lodge failed since then - whether through poisoning of the drinking water or, recently, arson. The pilot seems surprised that the lodge shall be open again. Maria insists that she’s been called from there. The pilot suggests Maria may take the front passenger’s seat of the airlines fuel truck that heads back in the direction of “Hippo”...

 

At the lodge Sarah, Brandon & Robby check out the premises. The shrieking of invisible baboons in a swaying treetop irritates them. Sara almost falls in an uncovered water borehole. The hotel-huts seem definitely deserted.

 

In the lobby hangs a faded map of the park. Mike locates where they are and tries to determine the distance to “Safari Lodge”. Rajiv draws attention to the possibility that they may not have enough petrol to get there. The map shows the proximity of a little town. Mike speculates that there may be a petrol station. At worst they can stay at least overnight at Hippo Lodge. Mike sends Rajiv to check the car’s gauge & if there’re maybe fuel supplies on the lot.

 

Jenny discovers a linen room full of bedclothes they could make use of in case they stay overnight. - and there’s some canned food in the kitchen’s cupboards. Even a dusty casket of beer. The cans are expired since quite some time. Jenny wonders if they’re “trespassing”. Mike objects that they’re ready to pay the owner. Jenny: “Which owner?” Mikes asks her to check the “fuel status” with Rajiv.

 

As she goes outdoors to find Rajiv who putters the sheds behind the kitchen, she’s observed by a SUBJECTIVE CAMERA at half-height.

 

At a junction with the faded signpost “Hippo Lodge” the DRIVER of the airlines fuel truck refuses to take Maria all the way to the lodge. She either has to get out and walk the two miles – or come with him to the next little town. Maria jumps off the truck, shoulders her rucksack and plods along the track to Hippo lodge.

 

At the lodge Mike tells the others of the next little town not far away where he’ll drive to refuel the car, maybe get some foodstuffs. Meanwhile the rest of the group may prepare some diner in the lodge’s kitchen and decide if they try to reach “Safari Lodge” or rather stay overnight at Hippo. Brandon suggests that, in this case, they pump some water from the borehole into the swimming pool. This way it turns out that there seem to be fuel supplies in the borehole’s pump’s tank. But they’re of no use for the van.

 

As Robby checks out bungalows to see if beds a good enough to stay overnight, he’s frightened by Stella’s unexpected appearance. She tries to get off with him (getting the financée out of his system). Robby is on one hand inclined, on the other he pushes her away.

 

Maria sees the mini bus (driven by Mike) speeding away on a distant track. She waves, in vain. SUBJECTIVE CAMERA is observing her. Maria, becoming aware of the observer, takes fright - starts to run - cross-country (a flock of zebras scatters in all directions) - is eventually outrun & butchered with some Masai spear (we do not see by whom).

 

In the lodge the group without Mike splashes about in the swimming pool – observed by the SUBJECTIVE CAMERA. Sarah hesitates, looks around. She whispers something in Brandon’s ear. He makes fun of her “paranoia”. Noise from the treetop, things are thrown at them - by the baboons? Robby and Brandon are throwing stones back into the treetop. Pandemonium!

 

Brandon, throwing more stones, chases a stumpy little figure that disappears around a corner.

 

Storming around the corner, Brandon crashes into a uniformed black man, in the background stands a jeep PARK RANGERS. From Brandon’s angry questions ranger gets that he’s after a monkey, is about to arrest him for poaching / cruelty to animals as Rajiv and Jenny intervene, explaining how they’re all came to be stranded here. Rangers looks for the “wounded animal”, finds traces of blood in the kitchen but no monkey. With a reproachful glance ranger leaves.

 

Dusk falls, spectacular view of the Kilimanjaro (or similar...).

 

Robby and Rajiv manage to fire up some lamps. In flickering light everybody munches over a modest meal from the kitchen cupboard’s stocks. Jokes how this food – from expired cans – might cause mutations. They wonder where Mike stays. Most of their mobile phones do not get a signal; Robby’s seems to have gotten one but the battery’s exhausted.

 

Later Robby, coming with some beer from the reception area, observes Brandon and Sarah frolicking in the moonlit swimming pool. He perceives a barely identifiable crouched movement on one of the nearby hut’s porches. The wounded monkey? Robby retires into his hut.

 

Brandon and Sarah storm into their hut, start to make out on the bed.

 

As Stella wants to leave the reception area, Jenny holds her back: Where does she think she will be sleeping tonight? Stella pretends she hasn’t heard, but Jenny insists.

 

Brandon and Sarah make love.

 

Jenny has called Rajiv to help her talk sense into Stella: Robby is engaged, his fiancée on the way. Stella shall leave him alone.

 

Sarah, deterred by the state of their hut’s toilet bowl, goes outside to pee.

 

Stella accuses Jenny of being a jealous four-eyes!

 

Brandon is pierced by a Masai spear.

 

Sarah squats to pee in the moonlight. SUBJECTIVE CAMERA approaches. Sarah looks over her shoulder, her face distorts at the sight. She must see something terrible! FADE TO BLACK

 

Stella agrees to go to sleep in the hut allotted to her. Rajiv threatens that they’ll come and check!

 

Mike drives the van, loaded with supplies, back to the lodge. The headlights pierce the night, eventually disclosing a wild animal. The little figure Brandon snatched dangles from the rear view mirror.

 

Stella, on the way to her hut, hears strange noises.

 

Mike’s van, trying to evade the animal, swerves into a ditch. - Rangers passes but has no towrope. Mike thinks he’s seen one in Hippo Lodge’s shed. They set off in the rangers’ car...

 

Stella sneaks to Robby’s hut, under the covers. As she tries to fondle him, she stops short. Pulling her hand from under the cover she holds his bloody private parts. She shrieks, as something swishes down on her (SMACKING sound – PATTERING on floor...)

 

Jenny comes to Rajiv. She’s heard noises, she says, form Robby’s hut. They go, check.

 

In Robby’s hut the bed is empty. They overlook a smeared Masai spear by the pillow.

 

Next hut is empty.

 

Place where Sarah peed - empty...

 

Jenny and Rajiv call the names of the people they’re responsible for. As there’s no answer, they want to call for help by trying to put a battery of one of the mobiles that do not get a signal into one that may get one. As one mobile finally works - it runs out of credit...

 

RT unit in office doesn’t work.

 

Ranger has almost reached Hippo Lodge, as there’s some urgent operational order via RT. He lets Mike out of his car, so he can walk the last mile to the lodge, and promises to come back later to pick him up with the towrope.

 

Mike walks through the moon night. He meets somebody who kills him.

 

All lights have gone off. – Rajiv comes from reception area to shed where they found lights before.

 

Jenny sleepy on reception area’s sofa.

 

Rajiv finds some lights.

 

Jenny wakes up, finds herself alone. She calls Rajiv.

 

She goes into the kitchen to make some tea.

 

Jenny looks for Rajiv outside, finds his lifeless body in the pool. As she tries to pull him to her to see if he can be reanimated she sees that his throat has been ripped. She flees in panic...

 

...barricades herself in the kitchen. - Through the window she makes out a frail OLD WOMAN making her way clumsily with a torn basket through the moonlight. She knocks at the kitchen door, wants to sell some souvenirs from her basket. Recognizing a mobile phone dangling from the obviously crazy old woman’s belt, Jenny lets her in.

 

Jenny frantically tells her story, first in English, then – as the crone does not seem to understand - in Swahili. The old woman uses her mobile to call for help. She then explains Jenny that this place sure enough is cursed since her little son lost both his legs 15 years ago trying to sell some souvenirs at the gate to a drunken load of youngsters how knocked him down with their van and then let him lie untreated one whole night.

 

FLASHBACK Whimpering little BOY in the moonlight staring up to the big hippo-representation over the lodges entrance.

 

Both his legs had to be amputated, the mother croaks to Jenny. Since then be walks on stumps, landing himself with the nickname “hippo” since he’s still amazingly fast.

 

Jenny sees a stumpy appearance emerging from the shadows – a DWARFED MUSCULAR MAN WHOSE FACE IS HIDDEN BY A HIPPO-MASK. His leg stumps are clad in leather. From the Masai weapon in his hand drops blood. Jenny instinctively puts a kitchen knife at his mother’s throat threatening to kill her if he doesn’t retire into the pantry. There she shuts him up. Then she throws the key away, pushes the old woman in the shadows and runs outside.

 

At the gate she stumbles over the corpse of Maria. In panic, Jenny heads for the tool shed to not stay “unarmed”.

 

In the meantime the old woman, after consulting the kitchen key hooks, opens the pantry.

 

Jenny goes through the tools. She hears a generator starting, all the lights go on and a stumpy shadow races towards Jenny’s hideout.

 

They’re fighting. Jenny can get away by ripping of the hippo-mask and throwing it into the pool. But as soon as her attacker has fished it out, put it on again a reckless chase continues.

 

Back in the main house Jenny hides but is tracked down, knocks down her pursuer.

 

She runs to the borehole and – in a bitter-wily fight - ultimately manages that the midget falls in. After splashing into the water he whines with a children’s voice for his mother. As she approaches Jenny slays her with the weapon she wrested from her son’s cloddish hands.

 

At dawn the rangers show up and pick Jenny up. Suddenly the hippo-man shoots out of the borehole and grasps her.

 

She wakes up from a nightmare. Is in hospital. She’s told that she is the only survivor.

 

When she sees a hippo on a baby’s bib in the park she freaks out.