Friday, October 31, 2008

Scary Monsters...Super Creeps...(And Lousy Teasers?)

Been reading a lot of horror feature scripts lately...they've been ending up on my desk for development or story editing consideration. And frankly, most have been really disappointing.

First, they all start with a scary action 'teaser'...and fair enough, that's B-movie 101. But the problem with every one of the opening sequences in the scripts I read was that the 'teasers' weren't really connected to the 'story' at all. In fact, most felt tacked on after the fact.

And when I realized later that the opening had been just a bit of a wank, I got pissed. It's like...cheating.

Then we had 'the stories'. Now I don't expect the bar to be set very high, but the in between scenes (or plot) in most of the scripts I read just felt plugged in to get us from one supposedly scary, gross-out sequence to the next supposedly scary gross-out sequence.

Character development? Forget about it. Motivation? Not important. Logic? Hardly. Even suspense and tension seemed a secondary consideration...they were all just about trying to get to little scenario's that could shock or repulse the reader/viewer. Generating some squirm factor is good, but not just all about the squirm please.

And then there were the endings...ALL ultimately unsatisfying, much less surprising or even making any sense. I know endings are tough to make sing when there's generally only two or three ways these kinds of stories can go, but still...try at least. Sigh.

It's paint-by-numbers screenwriting. Imitating, not invigorating. Trying to marry and thus capitalize on two recent horror movie trends - the resurgence of the slasher film (mostly remakes though), and the 'success', I suppose, of goreporn like Hostel I and II, followed by Vacancy and Captivity (but thankfully that trend seems to be behind us).

And while I know you can go back to the original Halloween or Friday the 13th or The Hills Have Eyes or Last House on the Left or Texas Chainsaw Massacre and question whether those flicks had any of those elements in spades, I would argue that they still had more than a lot of these scripts. And those films in their day weren't trying to be 'hits'. Instead, they were designed to be made on the cheap and scare the shit out of teens at the drive-in, NOT be released in 3600 theatres after a month long 20 million dollar marketing campaign.

The greedy system is creating these new types of script 'monsters', whether it knows it or not (or cares or not).

I was discouraged reading most of these submissions. I felt the writers weren't bringing anything original to table. Okay, maybe original is too much to expect from a horror flick...but something 'special' then.

Because it can be done. Like my faves of the past five years...28 Days Later, The Ring, and Saw.

Yes, Saw.

I think Saw was a freakin' great horror movie. Part slasher/gore, part psychological worked on a lot of different levels. And had a killer twist/reveal at the end. You can mutter about the quality of the sequels this picture has inspired, but you can't deny the originals masterful horrific simplicity.

28 Days Later was Night of the Living Dead on speed...and managed to not only reinvigorate the tired 'zombie' movie genre, but was an intriguing commentary on human nature.

And even though it's a remake (a better remake) of a Japanese hit, The Ring succeeds with many of the same elements (though with less of the slasher/gore).

All were scary as hell but ultimately 'about' something... morality plays...loaded with complications and dilemmas....characters we could understand and even relate to...created rules and logic that tracked within the context of the story, and all told with loads of tension and suspense.

That's what I'm looking for.

Lately, we've been subjected to constant 'reimaginings' of twenty year old slasher flicks, or remakes of foreign (mostly Japanese) horror hits.

Think about it, and naming only a few...'Halloween'...'Texas Chainsaw Massacre'... 'Amityville Horror'....'Black Christmas'...'The Fog'...'Prom Night'...'The Hills Have Eyes'...even 'Psycho' for crying out loud?!

And then there's all the foreign remakes...'Dark Water'...'The Eye'...'The Grudge'... 'Mirrors'...'Shutter'....'The Invisible'...'Quarantine'...

So many do-overs. So few originals. No wonder new writers don't feel like they have to work too hard.

Be special. Be inspired. Be scary.

Keep me running, ruh-ning scared.

Happy Halloween.


Trevor B. Cunningham said...

Great post Will. Like four thousand other writers, I have a few horror/thriller screenplays in various forms of development. And like you, I get to 'breakdown' horror scripts into preliminary schedules for producers. 1 in 20 are interesting. There's a giant glut of these screenplays coming from folks who are not fans of the genre and doing it for the wrong reasons. They forget about basic drama like character development, motivation etc. As for the 'teaser' thing, your right. Most have nothing to do with the rest of the story. I call it the 'Indiana Jones' syndrome. Open with a bang to hook the audience, then start the real story. It works for 'Indiana' but most do not have the skills or execution to pull it off. I wonder? With the glut of horror scripts floating out there, is now the right time for them. Seems to be too many.

wcdixon said...

Thanks Trevor...and still on the teaser thing, it's not like you can't have a 'grabber' opening (I really don't like the word teaser for movies) that integrates with the rest of the story --- Saw, The Ring, and 28 Days Later all did it (and The Descent, Jaws, The Exorcist, and many others I'm sure). And they all don't need it to be classics either...Psycho and The Shining on the other hand, not so much.

It's just when it feels tacked on that I grimace.

Racicot said...

I wonder what your impression of the Horror Exploitation(read: fun, taking the piss) Genre is, Will?

I heard Superchannel is buying...