Its trailer has made clapping the new “I see dead people.” But is the screenplay just a catch phrase and a few scares? Or does it offer more?

Genre: Horror
Premise: Based on a true story, a family moves into a farmhouse, only to realize that it’s haunted by a demon.
About: This is Saw (and Insidious) director James Wan’s new film. It’s apparently been getting great reviews from preview audiences, prompting the studio to move it up from a fall to a summer slot. It is loosely based on the exploits of renowned demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren. Screenwriters Chad and Carey Hayes have written the remake of House Of Wax, The Reaping, and Whiteout. Before that they worked in TV for more than a decade, specializing on TV movies.
Writers: Chad and Carey Hayes
Details: 106 pages (Nov. 8, 2011 draft)

the-conjuring-poster

What is it about families moving into houses that’s led to so many horror movies? In the past couple of months, I’ve seen Sinister and Dark Skies and Mama, all movies about families living in (or moving into) houses where bad shit starts happening. You’d think that we’d get bored of it at some point. But for whatever reason, an undead entity violating the place where we’re supposed to feel safest gets us every time.

And therein lies the problem for us writers. Since this kind of story has been written about ad nausea, how in the world do you make it fresh? What can you possibly do to make it original? Which is why when I picked up The Conjuring, I was (ironically) skeptical. Even if the previews are getting everyone excited. Even if the studio thinks they have something special. How do you make a story like this different? I wanted to believe. But could The Conjuring make me?

Conjuring conjures up real-life “Demonologists” Ed and Lorraine Warren. These guys were the Lebron James of paranormal investigation back in the 70s. If you were like, “Yo Karen, I just saw a ghost in my closet.” It’s very likely the response would be, “Guess we better call the Warrens!” But the Warrens are getting tired of what they do. They’ve checked out thousands of these “hauntings” and they typically turn out to be someone stepping on a loose floor board while snacking on Fro Yo in the middle of the night. They want to start spending more time with their daughter, so they plan on exiting the paranormal business.

That is until they hear about the Perrons. The Perrons (Roger, Carolyn, and FIVE daughters), besides not being active participants of birth control, aren’t too happy with the new house they’ve purchased. One of their daughters is getting pulled by her feet while she sleeps. Another has an imaginary friend named ‘Rory.’ Another sees a creepy looking chick sitting on top of the armoire all the time. Oh, and when they play “Hide and Clap,” a game that’s not nearly as disgusting as it sounds, the spirits in the house end up playing too. That’s what really pisses them off. Haunting is fine. But when you start participating in games uninvited, that’s when we draw the line!!

So they bring the Warrens in (who strangely forget all that talk about retiring), who immediately agree there’s some bad shit going on in the house. But in order to get the house “officially” exorcised, they’re going to need approval from the Vatican. And the Vatican doesn’t do that shit unless you’ve got proof. Now they didn’t have fancy-schmancy video cameras back then, so they set up a bunch of bells on doors and still cameras.

What they learn is not good. They find out that the first owner of the house was a woman who was a witch condemned in the Salem Witch trials. But she was, like, a real one! She killed her child, saying the Devil wanted her to do it or something. This is why the spirit in the house is so powerful. She’s a damn witch! The Warrens, who once again, are used to dealing with loud plumbing as the source of people’s haunting, aren’t really prepared to deal with this, and soon find themselves, along with the Perrons, fighting for their lives.

Like I said, you need to come at the haunted house genre with something different or else it’s really hard to stand out in the spec market (and the movie market). The Hayes do so by focusing not on the haunted family, but the paranormal investigators tasked with solving the haunting. This approach had mixed results.

It’s definitely “different” to focus on the investigator side, but I thought what made a situation scary was characters being confronted with something they couldn’t understand and didn’t know how to deal with. Once the Warrens walk in, they calmly listen to all the problems and nonchalantly reply, “Oh yeah, that. That’s blah blah blah. It happens all the time.” I just got this feeling of safeness when they appeared and was no longer scared. And isn’t the point of a scary movie to be scared?

If you’re going to go that route, don’t you want your investigators to quickly learn they’re in way over their head so that once again, you have the classic scenario, “characters being confronted with something they can’t understand and don’t know how to deal with it?” That DOES end up happening, but not until the very end.

Luckily, the script has a few really good scares. I don’t want to spoil them but let’s just say that you’ll never pull at a rope to see what’s at the end of it ever again after this film. And there’s a scene towards the end here that gives Chucky a run for his money.

Another thing that caught my attention were the kids. Presumably they based enough of this on a true story that they had to include all five girls. FIVE GIRLS. I found this interesting because writing five kids into any movie is a nightmare for a screenwriter. You not only have to keep track of where they are all the time (even during mundane moments) but how the hell are you going to build five girls, ages 8-18, and make all of them unique and interesting and memorable? You can’t. Which is why none of the girls here are memorable outside of their own unique haunting experience. It’s why you typically only see one or two kids in a story like this. Much easier to manage and build the character(s). Having said that, the five kids contributed to The Conjuring feeling slightly more unique than other haunted house flicks.

Structurally, the script was a mixed bag. The Hayes don’t seem to agree with Scriptshadow’s philosophy of adding urgency. There are lots of cuts of “1 month later” and “2 months later” that happen here, which unfortunately give the impression that the family isn’t in that much danger. If you can just wait two months for the Vatican’s permission to get an exorcism, then things can’t be THAT BAD, can they?

With that said, it’s okay to create a slow build in a haunted house flick, as long as the urgency jumps up for the final act. (spoiler) In this case, Carolyn gets possessed, and the fear is that she’ll murder her children. Obviously, at that point, characters have to act immediately. Still, they didn’t make this plot point as convincing as it could’ve been. So the ending didn’t have the punch that it could’ve had.

But when you put everything together, this script is better than the average horror script on the market. It has just enough originality to separate it from the competition, and the execution in most areas is strong. And it IS scary. You can see a lot of these scenes playing well in the theater, especially when things get ramped up in the third act. One final criticism though. I didn’t like the title card at the end that said, “The Warrens would become famous with their next case, the Amityville home.” That made me feel like I just watched the “second rate” version of their investigations. It’s cool to find out these two are more familiar to us than we know, but I’m not sure it’s worth it.

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

What I learned: If you don’t have some new scares, don’t bother writing a horror script. If all you’ve got is someone at the edge of the bed, an imaginary friend for the young child, or your character seeing someone in the mirror behind them, don’t bother. I was surprised then, that all of these things were present here. Luckily, there were some impressive original scares to help us forget them. But if I were you, I’d challenge yourself on every single scare. Ask if you can do something differently, something new, something better. Push yourself dammit. Not enough writers push themselves anymore.

  • Poe_Serling

    The Conjuring…

    As is my custom, I squirreled this one away into my archives for enjoying at a later date in time. Personally, I don’t like to read the script if I’m really revved up on seeing a particular film.

    In fact, I usually invoke my Sgt. Schultz movie watching clause in these rare instances: “I hear nothing, I see nothing, I know nothing!”

    Though I have watched the trailer and know the basic premise of the project, I have purposely turned off my radar regarding any of the specific details (and that includes reading Carson’s no doubt awesome analysis of the script).

    So, here’s my meager contribution to today’s discussion:

    Several years ago, I had the chance to see the original ghostbusters Ed and Lorraine Warren at a college speaking event.

    Back then, the Warrens’ presentation was definitely a low-tech affair. Some weird noises and ghostly voices on a tape recorder, a slide show with some fuzzy entities, and so forth.

    Whether or not you believe in things that go bump in the night, the ghoulish couple’s first-hand accounts of exploring the Amityville house and other supernatural hot spots made for a memorable and fascinating evening.

    P.S. – The SS wake-up service is running smoothly once again, and Ms. Scriptshadow’s voice has never sounded better… must be the acoustics in the newly refurbished paranormal pad.

    • sweetvita

      Boo!

      • sweetvita

        oh wait… CLAP! CLAP!

      • Poe_Serling

        Stop that… I scare easy. ;-)

        • John Bradley

          haha

    • J•E•B

      I didn’t manage to get this script. Any chance you could email it to me?

      studio@jonboyer.com

      • Poe_Serling

        Hey JEB-

        I went back through my old email and found the original link for The Conjuring in Carson’s newsletter, but here’s the message I got when I tried to bring up the file : Sorry, the file you requested is not available.

        Perhaps Carson had to pull it for some reason… sorry I couldn’t be of more help.

      • He_Said_Me_Said

        The same for me, I don’t seem to have this script, if anyone could send it my way it would be much appreciated

        He_Said_Me_Said@yahoo.com

  • http://twitter.com/jaexhkim jae kim

    I thought the script was pretty good. the pace was a lot better than a lot of slower horror movies, which I can’t stand.

    I really liked the blind folded hand clapping game scene. It was very original and in the script it’s pretty scary. However, this is the scene I saw in the trailer, which just didn’t have the same impact. I think it’s because in the script they included some unfilmables like the smell and stuff which added to the suspense.

    I personally liked the whole ‘warrents knowing what they’re doing’ aspect of the second act. There were plenty of scares beforehand, and it gave the story a fresh perspective. They tried to explain what’s going on, get concrete evidence and all that though a scientific point of view. I guess this could be viewed as boring, but I found the Science Vs. Supernatural idea very interesting.

  • MayfieldLake

    I too was skeptical going into this script because it felt like retread territory. I was pleasantly surprised. I enjoyed the read and will definitely see the movie at some point. Was it a ground-breaking script? Not really. Will the average film-goer who is into this genre enjoy it? I don’t see why not. I would be surprised if the movie didn’t turn a solid profit and receive some favorable reviews. The fact that it’s based on some semblance of truth without a doubt adds to the spookiness of it all. It’s a very strong concept. Several months after reading the script, I remember quite a lot of the plot but not much in the way of characters, fwiw.

    On a personal note, the Hayes brothers are quality individuals and I like their writing style. It’s not flashy. It’s easy to follow what’s going on.

  • Xarkoprime

    I saw someone post a link to the teaser trailer last week during the Mary Rose discussion and it creeped me out. This is definitely something I want to check out when it hits theatres.

    Does anyone know how close to a shooting draft this script is? I’m really debating on not reading it because I have a feeling it will be the only horror movie this year worth paying for and I actually want to be scared without knowing what’s coming next. Should I sacrifice the purity of watching a fresh horror movie for learning more about how to write? Decisions decisions… It’s not every day you get a chance to read a script that’s being made with a Carson review attached to it.

  • TGivens

    Great review! Didn’t read the script, not really interested in another haunted house, but I’m still gonna watch the movie because of Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga.

  • Keith Popely

    I must say that Carson’s repeated admonitions to try harder, think beyond the easy solution and write something new that we haven’t seen before are very welcome. Though his words may seem a monotonous drum beat, every time I see them, I stop and think about the choices I’m making. I ask if there’s a way to step up my game. Usually, there is. Just like a coach yelling, “Hustle!” spurs a player to dig deeper, Carson’s “Push yourself” rings in my ears and, hopefully, makes my writing a tad better.

    • sweetvita

      yeah… that’s a shot of muse juice one should imbibe frequently – fresh and entertaining trumps stale and cliched scenes, even if it’s the same turkey sandwich. there’s nothing remotely entertaining about regurgitated scenes. get out, breathe the air, stare at the moon and the stars… set yourself free to be inspired, to explore the possibilities of each scene… then go write.

      • IgorWasTaken

        sweetvita wrote – “yeah… that’s a shot of muse juice one should imbibe frequently

        Uh, hmmm…

        • sweetvita

          Hi Igor – I was simply agreeing with Keith Popely in regard to what Carson said about challenging ourselves on every single scare, give us something new – in this case, some new scares. Regardless of what genre, we should challenge ourselves on every single scene.

          Like Carson said, we need to ask ourselves if we can do something differently. The regurgitation comment was my way of saying stop puking up on the page what we’ve already seen on the screen. Besides it being stale, it’s boring… and where’s the creative value in that? That’s why we need to push ourselves to write scenes that are fresh and engaging – let our imagination flow, even though the genre we are writing in (in this case horror) is regarded as a well-treaded one (that’s where the “same turkey sandwich” came in). Anyway, Carson’s “What I Learned” was good muse juice.

          Sorry if my analogy didn’t make sense to you – even I sometimes make my own head swivel – lol. But it’s prolly safe to say you won’t be joining me for lunch anytime soon? ;)

          • IgorWasTaken

            sweetvita, thanks.

            No, the analogy made sense. It’s your imagery that was disturbing – a triangulation of Beat Poetry, Pink Flamingos, and ipecac. (And I like to consume my muse juice in situ.)

          • sweetvita

            lol – cool. have a sweet day n “see” ya later in the community ;)

  • Avishai

    I’m very excited to see this movie. I’m a sucker for paranormal horror movies that rely on suspense and atmosphere instead of blood and guts. The Woman in Black, Insidious, the first Paranormal Activity, The Others, etc. So while this doesn’t sound perfect… it sounds like it does the job. And frankly, if the script is just okay, with a movie like this, there’s still a possibility that the directing and style of filmmaking can elevate the movie. Because being afraid of the unknown is one of the most primal instincts people have, and slow-burn suspense movies are a direct line to that.

  • BigDeskPictures

    I read “The Conjuring” at night via .pdf on my computer with the monitor as the only source of illumination in my room. Needless to say, it wasn’t very long into the script when I rose from my chair, ventured across the room, and flicked on a light before continuing with the story. The last time I had to do that was ages ago when I was reading King’s “Pet Sematary”. Can anyone else recommend any other horror scripts (unproduced) that would induce the same behavior?

  • BigDeskPictures

    I read “The Conjuring” via .pdf on my computer with my
    monitor as the sole source of illumination in my room. Needless to say, soon
    into the script, I rose from my chair, ventured across the room, and flicked on
    a light before continuing. I have not done that since reading King’s “Pet
    Sematary” ages ago. Can anyone recommend other horror scripts (unproduced) that
    will induce the same reaction?

  • max

    Who is kind enough to send me a copy of the script?

    max_normandin@live.com

    Thanks to anyone! Ready to return the favor somehow…

  • http://www.facebook.com/kevin.lenihan1 Kevin Lenihan

    The reason for the time jumps are obviously because it’s based on a true story. This is a problem you run into whenever you do a real life adaptation. You can try to combine and compress as much as possible, but time jumps are unavoidable in most of these based on true stories.

    Also, I think there are some stock scares that just have to be used. We’ve had horror films around since the beginning, and very little is new. I think as long as there are enough new twists to give it some freshness, one has to be kind of forgiving of this. What works works, and you need some of it. If you’re going to do a baseball movie, I recommend a dramatic home run somewhere. Yeah, we’ve seen it, but you need it.

  • Midnight Luck

    Not saying a Horror script using the same old same old storyline’s can’t make an amazing movie, but come on. I am sorry, and have complained to too many people about it, but we literally have only a few kinds of horror movies anymore. The last 10 years they have all been truncated down to: 1. Possessed Children, 2. Haunted Houses (or some kind of building), 3. Possession, 4. Weird possessed children, 5. Scary possessed children, 6. Weird Scary possessed Houses with weird possessed scary children, 7. Ghosts, 8. weird scary possessed children ghosts.

    This has been the decade of Haunted Houses and possessed children / ghosts.

    I don’t think people know how to come up with new and better ideas. Read more Stephen King. He came up with some outlandish Sh!t. Almost all of it (especially his older / pre accident stuff) was brilliant and so fresh.

    Of course we can always wait and see what Paranormal Activity 666 brings us. Most likely something fresh and new…..

  • Tor Dollhouse

    Would love to read this and the script to MAMA..
    email them to me at: tordollhouse@gmail.com PLEASEEEE

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607455796 Genesis Soto

    Could someone please send me a copy of the script? Much obliged!

  • rosemary

    When does the moving come out. About to start reading the script later tonight after work. glad is worth the read.

  • Andrew Mullen

    Using Ed and Lorraine Warren is an odd choice for me. They built their fame off of The Amityville House, but it was “fame” with very large quotes on either end. It’s not like they were ever household names and those who DID know their name always took their ghost hunting with healthy economy sized doses of salt…or just considered them to be flat out frauds who used no scientific methods whatsoever and just declared that things were possessed. “That couch is possessed! That will be 50 dollars.”

    The Warrens never would have considered hanging up their hat. Even if you don’t believe the idea that they were flim flam artists with a clever unexplored niche, you still have to admit that they were constantly selling themselves. Books. TV appearances. Interviews. If there was an opportunity for the Warrens to show up and get a check and act like authorities on hauntings, they would be there.

    If a child offered the Warrens his piggy bank funds in exchange for investigating his tree house, they would crack it open and yell, “IT’S POSSESSED BY A DEMON! CYA SUCKER!”

    So this idea of them walking away from the brand they so tirelessly and shamelessly built all through the 70s, 80s, 90s and beyond is completely at odds with reality.

    Why include real life figures if you aren’t going to portray them as they really are? Just make them “Fred and Charmaine Dorren” and say they are loosely inspired.

  • NajlaAnn

    The trailer looks pretty darn good: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hNrTQxTOEUI

  • http://www.facebook.com/nsimonin Nicolas Simonin

    I agree with that review. I read a month ago and was impressed. There is nothing completely new it but the way it is shaped is great.
    Just the introduction of the two main character -Ed & Lorraine, before we switch to the -inniocent family- is elegant and well done. It gives you (through that interview) what will be at stake in the entire film: save innocent people from unknown forces.
    Some amazing specific scenes put that piece of writing in the ”Worth the read’ pile.
    But I think what was really well done in the script was the way we connect the characters, their problems and what is at stake the whole film. Can’t wait to watch the film!
    I’ve heard the release of the trailer at Wondercon NYC was a Blast.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=607455796 Genesis Soto

    horrorguy03@yahoo.com Someone has the script could sent it over there? Awesome…

  • Gunnerkat

    I’m finding it harder and harder to participate in this forum, I would love it if people who get these scripts could share them with us. I sort of feel like John Cusack in Better off Dead, the class is so far ahead of me. Any help is greatly appreciated….davemac1375@yahoo.com

  • John Bradley

    I think it is harder to make a good horror movie than nearly any other genre, cause as Carson said, nearly everything has already been done. There are a higher percentage of 1 and 2 star movies in the horror genre than just about any other. But as a fan of the paranormal, I am interested in the Warren’s work because they are paranormal royalty. So I will check this one out.

  • carsonreeves1

    Ooh, I hope someone figures that project out.

  • Citizen M

    Finally finished it. It is DAMN scary.

  • billan

    any chance someone can send me a copy?

    thanks!

    billan@mail.com

  • Austin

    Have been hearing nothing but raves from the panels. Any chance someone could send me a copy? sconnie22@gmail.com

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