Genre: Horror
Premise: (from Blood List) Having moved into a “clean house” to treat his auto-immune disorder, 11-year-old Eli begins to believe that the house is haunted. Unable to leave, Eli soon realizes that the house, and the doctor who runs it, are more sinister than they appear.
About: This was the NUMBER 1 SCRIPT on this year’s just released Blood List, a list of the best horror/thriller scripts of the year, and the annual kick-off for screenplay lists. Today’s script was written by David Chirchirillo, who does have a few produced credits, but none you can come back to your hometown to and proudly use as way to say “fuck you” to all the people who never believed in you, which is, as we all know, the only reason we write. Quick side fact about The Blood List. It included a script that was posted here for Amateur Offerings just last July (Unlawful, by Carver Grey). Just goes to show – if you write a script and it gets a good reception on the site, good things can happen to you! So keep those submissions coming (details at the top of the review I just linked).
Writer: David Chirchirillo
Details: 98 pages (undated)

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Note to all. For your future sanity, do not ever, and I mean EVER, drive anywhere at 1 am in Los Angeles on Halloween. Not only are there 3 million drunk hipsters stumbling around in the middle of the road, but since everyone knows someone who knows a make-up artist here, everybody actually looks like the character they’re portraying, which results in a particularly trippy experience.

Here are some of the people I ran into who could’ve easily been mistaken for the real thing: The Hulk, Homer Simpson, Elsa from Frozen (but with a short skirt), Netflix and Chill (A guy with a shirt that said “Netflix” and then a bag of ice), an Ipad, an entire flash mob of Donald Trumps, the naked white Prometheus alien, Groot, Kylo Ren, a somehow working E.T. doll/man, and a guy who was dressed up as half Jake Gyllenhaal from Nightcrawler and half Jake Gyllenhaal from Southpaw.

I bring this all up because I was traumatized by the experience and realized the only way I could move past it was to review ONE LAST HORROR SCREENPLAY. Call it script therapy, but I needed this.

11 year-old Eli has a serious auto-immune disorder, the kind that places him a few dust pans short of Bubble Boy. But lucky for him, his parents have found a unique place that treats this disorder.

So Mom and Dad join him inside a home that has the most advanced clean-air filtering system in the world. The home is run by a woman named Dr. Isabella Horn, who looks a little bit like a polygamist’s wife, and claims to know how to cure Eli.

Eli likes the place at first. Being able to run around sure beats putting on a hazmut suit and eating your cereal through saran-wrap, but then he starts seeing strange shit around the home. Like a kid his age wandering around. An older woman who always seems to be screaming, and some creepy pale dude who needs a serious trip to the tanning salon.

The ghosts eventually orchestrate the age-old ghost custom of “charades talk,” which leads Eli to a hidden room that tells him that everything about this place is a lie. But the real shocker is what happens next. Eli learns that it isn’t just this house that is a façade, but his entire life. Can Eli escape from this hell-hole? After learning the truth, does he even want to? These are just a couple of the questions posed in…. Eli!

“Eli” is a script that shows promise. But it ends with a payoff so out-of-left-field, I’m not sure even the Kansas City Royals could’ve caught it.

I can’t discuss what that ending is without getting into spoilers, but I admit having an ending this weird will get readers talking and that puts your script well above the competition. The majority of horror scripts are by-the-numbers retreads with the requisite number of spooky components (1.5 characters crab walking backwards through hallways, 7.8 jump scares) and not much else. When you go bold with your ending, at the very LEAST, you’re going to get people talking.

Speaking of “retread,” here’s the big lesson I learned from today. Your goal with a horror script – and really any script – is to find fresh ways into proven ideas. That last part is key. PROVEN IDEA. Because that’s the part the studio requires in order to purchase your script. They need a formula that’s been proven (and thus can be marketed).

The “fresh” part is what allows you, the writer, to explore things within that proven formula that haven’t been explored yet. This is where you get to show off YOUR talents, your originality, your imagination. This fresh angle can come from story, from setting, or from character. Eli does it with setting. We’ve seen haunted house movies before. But we’ve never seen one inside an air-sealed germ-centric home. This small twist gave David the ability to explore things that haven’t been explored before in this genre.

And that’s what kept me engaged. I was unfamiliar with the setting and wanted to know more. Think about that. I’ve been inside a billion haunted houses in the movies. But not one with these kinds of rules. That makes me want to learn the rules. That makes me curious. That makes me intrigued to see how this particular set of rules is going to impact the story.

This seems like a minor point but it may be one of the most important you’ll read on the site. If a reader has been down a road before, all they’re thinking about is getting home. But if you take them someplace they’ve never been, they want to stick around and explore.

Character-wise, “Eli” was good but not great. Friday we discussed how the main character was impossible to root for. Eli is the opposite. He’s a kid (innocent children are easy to root for) who has a disease that’s robbed him of his childhood. Who’s not going to root for that guy?

Where “Eli” drops the ball is with the parents. First of all, I didn’t like that the parents joined Eli in the house. The whole idea with horror is to make things as isolated and hopeless and scary as possible for your protagonist. Here we give Eli two strong adults who love him and protect him throughout the script. For that reason, when things start to get scary, I wasn’t worried for Eli.

On top of that, the parents were on the same page with everything. So there was no conflict or issues between them. In most horror movies about children, either one parent is out of the picture or the child is adopted (creating a coldness between him and the parents). You saw this in recent horror films, It Follows, The Babadook, and The Final Girls. And can even see it as far back as The Exorcist. Something about two parents screams “safety,” and that’s the last thing you want your audience to feel when they’re watching a horror film.

Now later, I found out why Chirchirillo had to include the parents. And I suppose I’m inclined to agree that they were necessary. But I still would’ve created some sort of conflict there so there was at least SOME instability in that relationship. Again, the more stability you have in a horror film, the more boring that horror film probably is.

I’ll give “Eli” this. It holds your interest until the very end. I’m still not sure I liked the ending. But I wanted to find out what happened. And if a script achieves that, at the very least it’s worth checking out.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: If you’re writing a horror film about a child, it’s best to give them only one parent, and preferably, you want to make that parent the mother. A big adult male screams “safety” to your audience, and that’s the last thing you want your audience to feel. Of course, you can play with this trope (just like you can play with any trope in screenwriting). For example, you can give your child protagonist a single father and place him in a wheelchair (maybe give him MS?) so he appears weak to the audience and incapable of protection. But yeah, if you want to scare us, don’t make your young hero’s father Vin Diesel. Chances are, we won’t be too worried about him.

  • Orange Pop

    So many horror scripts have terrible endings. What’s up with this?!

    • Poe_Serling

      I call it the Dean Knootz ‘K’onundrum…

      I’ve always found that the premises of Knootz’s works* are wildly imaginative. But here’s the thing – he often loses me at the end of his stores. Why? The conclusion usually relies on a bunch of far-fetched elements to tie everything up in a neat bow.

      For a lot of writers I think coming up with an inventive horror idea isn’t really that hard; however, ending it on a satisfying and somewhat logical note is the tricky part.

      *Don’t get me wrong – I’m a fan of Knootz. One of my favorite short stories is Strange Highways.

      Just my two cents on the subject. ;-)

      • Scott Crawford

        Someone was commenting the other day on Stephen King, how his books become less focused as he gets towards the end, and that this might be due to King’s preference for not outlining the whole story first.

        • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

          Maybe, maybe not. If the issue was just outlining then the whole story would be unfocused beginning to end. I would say that sometimes (not always) he’s more concerned with the journey than the destination. And true, that is the most exciting part of the reading experience, but it’s not a carte blanche to skimp on a fulfilling ending.

          • JakeBarnes12

            People who don’t outline often start out pretty strong because they’ve got that initial part worked out in their heads.

            Then they get into trouble as they head into uncharted waters.

            That would fit with the King theory. In my own experience, his 1963 novel followed that pattern.

          • 3waystopsign

            I did not get that feeling with 11/22/63, but others fer shure. Dreamcatcher, Cell…

          • JakeBarnes12

            I enjoyed large parts of 63 but for me it started meandering and the final section (after the big spoiler) felt very rushed.

          • Scott Crawford

            That’s some very good points, both about the outlining and how the journey is more than the destination (if it wasn’t, I could just tell you the ending and save you reading the book).

            I will say, often, I’ll take an OK but straightforward ending (like a shootout or a race to the airport) over something unusual and different but that doesn’t ultimately work.

            Constantly trying to “top yourself” (top what you’ve written, anyway) isn’t always necessary, sometimes you just have to say “that’s it, it’s done” and just conclude things as quickly and simply as you can.

          • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

            All good points, and I certainly agree that it is better to have something straightforward than different but ineffective.

            But the idea of “topping yourself” is very tricky. I certainly believe in always doing things better with each new story, but that doesn’t mean it has to be something drawn out or complicated every time. Often, it’s just best to simply go for different approaches to the endings than trying to replicate the ones you did before.

            For example, I love the season finales for all The Wire seasons, but they’re so different from each other, there’s no way I can say one topped the other. All of them are just right for the story they were telling.

        • 3waystopsign

          Perhaps. He’s hit or miss with me. I loved 11/22/63, and if you read the afterward you see how much research and planning went into that book.

      • Frankie Hollywood

        At one point I had read every book Koontz had written. But as soon as he slapped that RIDICULOUS toupee on, it’s like I completely lost all respect for him — silly, I know. But, c’mon, check out this before and after.

        Before, kinda rugged Burt Reynolds-ish. After, WTF?

        Oh, Dean. Just accept reality with grace.

        • Acarl

          The ‘Andy Warhol’ rug

    • http://soundcloud.com/the-colonel-mc The Colonel

      I think the problem may lie in that it’s much easier to come up with a clever horror concept than a clever horror payoff. Said again, we can sit down right now and come up with an amazing monster idea, but at the end of the day the only way to get rid of that monster is to blow it away, or have it kill the protagonist.

      Consider Alien: absolutely unbelievable monster and set up, but the end of the first movie is pretty weak, and is drawn out to distract from the fact that all Ripley does is blast the thing into space (Cameron improved on that, slightly). Halloween is memorable because Carpenter split the difference and had the goddamn shape simply disappear. Jaws: in the book the shark just dies, so Spielberg came up with a cool way to blow it up (and added that “roar” as it sinks to the bottom).

      Bottom line: it’s hard to make “blowing it away” very meaningful, particularly when everyone going in knows it’s really only one of a few possible endings.

      • wlubake

        Who has a good example of a film that handled this problem particularly well? Sunflower comes to mind.

  • Altius

    Congrats to Carver Grey on Unlawful! The Blood List is always a fun time of year…I’ll be looking out for this script.

    Has anyone here seen The Final Girls? Clever, entertaining, and funny with a TON of heart. I honestly teared up a few times. Loved it. Highly recommend.

  • Poe_Serling

    I see someone still has a bit of a Halloween Hangover…

    Hey, I’m not complaining… it gives a bonus horror script review to start the new month. I was curious about this one after I saw it topped this year’s BloodList.

    Thanks for the timely review, Carson!!

  • 3waystopsign

    I would check the comments thread from yesterday.

    • Eddie Panta

      ELI doesn’t appear to be on that file folder.

      • 3waystopsign

        Shucks

  • Scott Crawford
    • 3waystopsign

      Don’t see The Shave either.

      • Marija ZombiGirl

        Probably because they’re already in production?

        • 3waystopsign

          Never seemed to matter with previous drives for these lists.

  • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

    Just to point it out, “The Omen” had both parents in the movie. In that case, though, the kid was one of the most unsettling elements of the movie. And it is also true the mother started flaking out around the midpoint of the story.

    • http://soundcloud.com/the-colonel-mc The Colonel

      Yeah, but the kid there is the bad guy, and they’re the victims.

      • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

        With the caveat that Damien is more of the catalyst for all the bad things and the villainous actions. His baby sitter, the dogs, and the supernatural events are more active villains. Far as I remember, the only time Damien could actually be considered a “bad guy” in the classical sense is when he pushes his “mother” off the second floor.

        • Scott Crawford

          Writer David Seltzer and director Dick Donner argue that there are no supernatural elements in the first Omen film – all the deaths are either suicide, accident or murder.

          The second Omen film pushes that a little bit and the third is definitely supernatural.

          • http://apairoftools.wordpress.com/ Sebastian Cornet

            Hmm…suicide and murder, fine, but the priest impaled by the cross and David Warner’s accidents are pretty timely if you ask me.

  • Shawn Davis

    Sooo,

    The blood list is the black list for horror?

    Interesting. Learn something new every time I come here.

    Shawn…..><

    • 3waystopsign

      Mostly. “Dark genre” is how the site describes it. The Shave is most definitely not horror.

      • Frankie Hollywood

        “Dark genre” is absolutely correct, they’re definitely not all horror.
        Of the 3 pilots I actually finished, Stillwater was a mystery and Shut Eye was a drama with some fantasy mixed in (and I highly recommend Shut Eye). While Blood Drive fully embraced its horror genre (gory as hell).

      • Frankie Hollywood

        “Dark genre” is absolutely right. The 3 pilots I actually finished, Stillwater is a mystery, Shut Eye is a drama with some fantasy mixed in (and I highly recommend Shut Eye), while Blood Drive fully embraces its horror genre (gory as hell).

        I only got 10 pages into The Sparrow and 20 into A Forest Dark, but there wasn’t any horror in what I read.

        The BloodList is an appealing title, but also misleading.

  • 3waystopsign

    Sent the two not available on the below link.

    • Mike

      Any chance you could send the two my way? bb6634@hotmail.com

    • charliesb

      Do you mind sending these to me too please? birdieey at gmail dot com.

      • 3waystopsign

        ok

    • Midnight Luck

      could you send me the missing two?

      thank you much

      m –at— blackluck {dot}} com

    • Dhaval Soni

      May I have this script along with ‘The Shave’ as well ?
      keyframeguy {at} gmail.com

  • http://soundcloud.com/the-colonel-mc The Colonel

    I tell you, though: almost without exception, I just can’t enjoy horror movies where children are in peril. We were talking about making your protagonist likable, so that the viewer will want them to survive (unless you’re Eli Roth, in which case you want to make them hateable, so the view can revel in their deaths), but kids really skew that rule for me. I don’t want to see them in peril–they’re innocents, and they don’t deserve to be terrorized, especially by an adult.

    Now, maybe including the parents here is meant to temper that issue, but still: terrorize teenagers and adults all you like, but leave the kids alone, man. There’s enough real life bad in this world that I don’t need to pay to see little kids running for their lives.

    (Also, Carson: “impossible” to like?! Pretty sure I’ve dated Vega more than once, lol.)

    • scriptfeels

      Have you seen the insidious series? I really enjoyed the first and second one, haven’t seen the third one. It revolves around a child that goes missing in a house and the family try to get back their child from the demon in their house, but things go wrong story.

      The babadook also had a child at the center of it as well. The sixth sense as well.

      i just saw the horror film, the others which also revolves around a family with two children.

      The ring and the grudge even use children to scare you which makes it even creepier and established when it wasn’t expected at that time. Also, the backstories of the children’s death add to the lore of the horror etc.

      Even in Halloween, the main character was a babysitter, adding more conflict because she had to protect the children from Micheal Myers.

      I think children are great characters for use in horror movies because of their innocence etc. Makes it that much more important to save and help them and adds irony when they are used as the monsters. Children have a unique viewpoint of the world and have been present in numerous horror movies I love.

      • http://soundcloud.com/the-colonel-mc The Colonel

        Halloween is a good example of a horror movie with kid victims that I can enjoy, and I think it’s for the reason noted above: they’re still be shielded by an adult (Laurie).

        What really bothers me is when children are alone and being hunted. My natural instinct to protect them prevents me from having any “fun” with it, I just want it to be over and for them to be safe.

    • klmn

      My rule is to replace children with dwarfs. No one likes ‘em anyway, so you can do whatever you want with ‘em.

      Whatever happened to dwarf tossing? That’s a sport due for a comeback.

      • http://soundcloud.com/the-colonel-mc The Colonel

        Hilarious. Or replace them with creepy CGI, like in Twilight.

  • 3waystopsign

    .com right not .om?

  • Scott Crawford

    Sent!

  • 3waystopsign

    guess not

  • ThomasBrownen

    I just wanna say that I loved the snark/sarcasm/humor in this post! Too much fun to read, and quite insightful too. Thanks!

  • scriptfeels
  • Frankie Hollywood

    Ah, yes. A Forest Dark is listed twice (starts as “Wolf, Ben” the 2nd time).

    Brian Duffield, that thing’s gotta be floating around.

    Scott? 3way? I’ll take it too, if ya got it.

    Please and Thank You.

  • Frankie Hollywood
  • jaehkim

    my bad guys, eli, babysitter and the shave are now in the folder.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=0B98ZdIxoETG5eWo0VlVEWDJGbGs

    • BigDeskPictures

      Thank you, jaehkim!

  • Citizen M

    Zipped through Eli (thanks, jaehkim!) Not bad. A few too many nightmares for my taste, but eventually they turn out to have meaning. There are some genuinely tense passages, especially when Eli is snooping around at night and could get caught at any time. The final reveal was one twist too far IMO. I would have preferred a more low-key explanation of the goings-on, but I can see how fans of the supernatural might like it.

    The writing was quite novelistic, with many paragraphs describing Eli’s inner life. It’s going to take an exceptional child actor to pull this off if it ever gets filmed. But i can see how it got top marks on the Blood List. It’s a page turner. You want to keep reading to find out just what the hell is going on and what happens to everyone.