Genre: Horror
Premise: The reimagined origin story of everyone’s favorite slasher hero, Jason Voorhees.
About: Aaron Guzikowski broke onto the screenwriting scene eight years ago when he wrote one of the hottest specs of that year, Prisoners, a sale that would net him 7 figures (and even more once the movie got made). The Friday the 13th folks have been keen to re-jumpstart the franchise. And Guzikowski’s deranged nihilistic voice seemed like the perfect fit for that universe. It’s unclear where this project stands at the moment. It’s been on, it’s been off, it’s been on again. But if it’s off, the producers may want to take another look. They might be sitting on a hit.
Writer: Aaron Guzikowski
Details: 96 pages

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One of the frustrating things about breaking into Hollywood as a screenwriter is getting your balls chopped off the second you walk through the door. Here you were – your broke in with this hip offbeat screenplay or came up with a fresh take on an old concept – showed the world why you were a screenwriting boss and took Hollywood by storm – then the second you wiped your shoes on the mat, the powers that be said, “Okay, here are 5 of the blandest projects in the world. Choose which one you want to write.”

Of course, all writers want the assignments that show off their creativity – the Benjamin Buttons, The Martians, the Wolf of Wall Streets. But only the A-list screenwriters get those jobs, leaving you to elevate stuff like Power Rangers, Taken the web movie, and Friday the 13th.

And you better get ready for those bland horror offers, guys. It continues to be the best return-on-investment genre out there so there’s lots of assignments. The problem is, it’s hard to make horror fresh. That goes double for aging horror franchises like this one which usually go one of two ways: uninspired straight-to-digital drek, or a reimagining of the series that’s so fresh it catapults you up to the next level.

Shall we see where Mr. Guzikowski’s take landed?

The year is 1977, which was a creepy year to begin with. But to add hockey pucks to injury, we’re at Camp Crystal Lake with a bunch of teenage counselors more focused on doing drugs and fucking than counseling.

Well, except for Annie Christie, an Olympic-level swimmer who seems to be the only counselor with a head on her shoulders. For now. When Annie’s bitchy younger sister, Mary, bullies another girl, Annie assigns her the ultimate punishment – give teenage Jason Voorhees a swim lesson.

Besides being the world’s worst conversationalist, Jason Voorhees also wears a medical mask to hide his deformed face, which he got from his psycho father repeatedly beating his mom while she was pregnant. So he’s not exactly the funnest student to teach.

When Mary doesn’t show up for the lesson, Annie is forced to take Jason with her and her friends on a previously scheduled booze cruise. But Jason eventually goes unattended and tries to swim back to shore, a swim he never completes. Even worse, when Annie tells her mother what happened, her mother tells her to lie, to say that Jason never showed up for his swim lesson that day.

Cut to 3 years later and Annie hasn’t recovered from that day or the lie she’s been forced to tell. Unfortunately for her, karma is a bitch, especially in horror franchises. Jason’s mom, Pamela, finds out what happened that day and goes on a fucking rampage, determined to kill everyone who was on that cruise.

But that’s small potatoes compared to the other person who’s stalking Annie and her pals. That would be Jason Voorhees, back from the dead and all grown up. He’s even replaced his medical mask with a more stylish hockey version. Jason is so out for blood, that when he’s finished with these kids, Crystal Lake is gonna run red.

Let me start by saying it’s been a long time since I’ve seen a Friday the 13th movie so I don’t know which choices should be credited to the original writers and which to Gusikowski. So if I give Guzikowski props for something he didn’t come up with, feel free to correct me in the comments.

I knew from the start there was something different about this script. It begins with a great teaser that has two teenagers in the woods climbing one of those endless ladders to a fire tower (used to see forest fires). After they get up to the top, we see a mysterious ranger at the bottom of the ladder start to climb after them.

I mean, is there anything more horrifying than being 500 feet in the air with your only escape route being blocked by a blood-thirsty forest ranger? This kind of writing is a bigger deal than you realize. Scripts that capture readers right away are much more likely to keep them engaged. It’s extremely rare for a script to start with a boring or bad scene and recover.

I mean, yes, it happens occasionally. But, usually, good writers realize how important immediately capturing the reader is, so they come out firing.

But the real accomplishment of this script is how much character development went into it. When you throw on one of these slasher flicks, you expect to see mindless slashing for 90 straight minutes. But Guzikowski makes sure that before any real blood starts flowing, you know Jason Voorhees. And not just know him, but experience this shitty horrible hand he’s been dealt. Those swim lesson scenes alone turned Jason into a sympathetic figure.

And that approach extended to Annie as well, who had this whole competitive swimmer backstory, which may seem insignificant, but when you give characters things they’re pursuing outside of the confines of the plot, it makes them feel more like real human beings.

And I loved how Guzikowski made Annie’s pursuit organic. A lot of amateur writers give characters bizarre pursuits that exist in some parallel universe to the story they’re telling. Like they’d have Annie pursuing a singing career or something. But where does this story take place? A lake, right? So it make sense that you’d tie Annie’s pursuit into that. She’s a swimmer.

And Guzikowski extended that into all corners of the script. In fact, this is a great screenwriting lesson for aspiring screenwriters. The “mask” your slasher wears is a very common trope in horror films. So I’m going to ask you to imagine your own personal slasher concept right now. Go ahead. Think of one. Now what mask would you give your villain?

Got your answer?

Well, you’re wrong. You blew it.

The mask should be an organic extension of the character and the story. So here, Jason Voorhees wears a hockey mask. Why? Well, when winter comes and this lake freezes over, the local kids play hockey games on the ice. Sometimes stuff is left behind. A skate here, a hockey mask there. And that’s how your villain, who drowned in that lake, started wearing a hockey mask.

Details like that set you apart as a writer. They show that you’re really thinking about the story you’re telling and not just dumping whatever comes to mind on the page.

If this script has a weakness, it’s that it devolves into more predictable patterns as it goes on. But, overall, it still had me guessing more than accurately predicting, and that’s really hard to do with a horror film, much less a well-known horror franchise.

This script is an important reminder of the bar horror writers should be aiming for – prioritizing interesting characters with real lives over inventive slasher kills.

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

What I learned: For a great horror scene, find an inventive way to place your characters in a location where there’s no way out and the bad guy is coming. I’ve seen a thousand scenes with characters inside a cabin or a closet with no way out and the killer coming. But I was so much more scared during this opening because the room was 500 feet in the air with only one way out (the ladder) and our killer steadily climbing that ladder towards our helpless victims.

  • klmn

    So Carson, let me be the first to ask, “How many entries did your short contest bring?”