There are many people out there who complain, and with good cause, that Hollywood is running out of ideas. For the last decade, a significant portion of Hollywood’s output has been adaptations, remakes and sequels. A quick Google search of “top grossing films of the 2000s” will reveal that (as of 2007) of those films, there is only 1 in the top 10 – Finding Nemo – that is neither based on nor a continuation of any other material. After that, you won’t find another original film until #23, Shrek, which as we all know, ended up spawning three sequels. Even Christopher Nolan, co-writer/director of possibly the greatest Hollywood film of the last decade, The Dark Knight, has only directed two films not based on other material (three if you Inception). And with Disney, one of the largest production companies in the world, having recently decided to focus all future film titles on brands and franchises, and many independent branches having shut down in the past couple years, it seems as though Hollywood has little patience for original thought.
And that may be one of the many reasons that I love the horror genre so much. I realize, of course, that the horror genre is as guilty as any other – if not more so – of ripping off other material. Of the top 10 highest grossing horror films of all time, only 4 –The Sixth Sense, Alien, What Lies Beneath and The Omen – are original material. I would even technically cut that down to 3 because M. Night Shyamalamadingdong admits The Sixth Sense was inspired by an episode of “Are You Afraid of the Dark?” called “The Tale of the Dream Girl.” Also, fuck that guy. Additionally, the most popular horror titles of this decade (Saw, Halloween) and past decades (Friday the 13th, A Nightmare on Elm Street) are franchises and remakes. But the great thing about the horror genre is that original ideas are easy to come by because all a screenwriter has to do is base a narrative around things that already scare people. To do so, look no further than real life.
Real life has certainly inspired its fair share of clunkers (The Mothman Prophecies, The Amityville Horror, Wolf Creek), but it’s also produced some excellent and classic titles: The Exorcist, The Texas Chain Saw Massacre, Psycho, The Exorcism of Emily Rose, Dead Ringers, Jaws and more. With the exception of two of the titles (the ones with a derivative of exorcise in the title), these films were creative adaptations of stories that have historical and scientific basis. You may believe in paranormal topics such as exorcism, ghosts, or aliens or you may not, but that doesn’t mean that they should be ruled out as story possibilities. Quite the opposite. If anything, they should be considered first, embraced because, whether real or not, the details surrounding a lot of paranormal stories from real life make the imagination run wild. Take, for instance, the un-produced Spielberg script Night Skies, which depicts the Kelly-Hopkinsville Encounter, in which dozens of witnesses were terrorized throughout a night in 1955 by creatures described as goblins that floated above the ground. Here are just a few other “real” stories from all over the world that can be easily Google searched and are ripe for adaptation to the screen:
– The Flatwoods Monster: In Flatwoods, West Virginia in 1952, a group of kids witness a bright object streak across the sky and crash on the property of a nearby farmer. Upon investigating, they supposedly encountered a large ball of fire, a pungent mist that made their eyes and noses burn and a creature described as 10 feet tall with a red face that appeared to glow from within, bulging eyes, and a body shaped like a spade. It emitted a shrill hissing noise before gliding away. Their encounter was similar to that of a mother and her 21-year old daughter, who had supposedly been attacked a week prior by a creature matching that description. The day after the encounter, the kids suffered symptoms similar to victims of a mustard gas attack, which included irritation of the nose, swelling of the throat, convulsions and vomiting.
– UVB-76: Ever since 1982, a transmitter in Povarovo, Russia has been broadcasting at a frequency of 4625 kHz dubbed “UVB-76.” The signal broadcasts a buzzing sound every second that lasts 0.8 seconds, repeating 21 – 34 times a minute. Though it’s been observed for almost 30 years, its purpose is unknown and only 3 times since its discovery have voice messages been intercepted during the broadcast, all of which are cryptic messages involving numbers and Russian names. There are speculations that the broadcast is coordinating Russian military forces, researching the ionosphere, transmitting encoded messages to spies, or acting as a Dead Hand system, which would signal the necessity for a nuclear strike should the broadcast ever end. Guess what? Recently, it ended.
– The Bloop: Several times during 1997, an ultra-low frequency and extremely powerful underwater sound was detected by the U.S. National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA). Rising rapidly in frequency over a minute, the sound was dubbed “The Bloop” because when sped up, it sounds just like the bloop a bubble makes. NOAA has ruled out the source of the sound as anything man-made or geological, but admits that the audio profile does resemble that of a living creature. However, this can’t be possible seeing as the sound was picked up by multiple sensors at a range of over 3000 miles apart and is several times louder than the loudest known biological sound, which comes from a blue whale. As freaky as that sounds, NOAA has also detected and nicknamed other unidentified sounds including The Julia and Slow Down.
– The Dibbuk Box: The Dibbuk Box is a Jewish wine cabinet that was purchased by a man named Kevin from an estate sale in Portland, Oregon in September 2001. The cabinet was previously owned by a Polish woman who had passed away at the age of 103 and had survived a Nazi concentration camp. It was one of three items she took with her when she emigrated to the United States and though she kept it in her house her entire life, she always kept it out of reached, refused to open it and refused to let others open it, claiming the cabinet contained a dibbuk and keselim. In Jewish folklore, a dibbuk/dybbuk is a misplaced spirit that can neither rise to heaven nor descend to hell. Other definitions narrow it down to a specifically evil spirit. Keselim is a term similar to a Turkish word that means priest. Needless to say, horrible things soon began to happen to Kevin including misfortune at work, physical degradation, shadows seen in the peripheries and terrible nightmares. He tried to give it away as a gift numerous times and it was always returned, so he sold it. The person who bought it experienced similar things and sold it. The person who bought it is currently trying to sell it.
– Dulce Base: Ufologists and conspiracy theorists claim that Area 51 is the hottest of all hotbeds when it comes to the U.S. government covering up the proof that not only do extraterrestrials exist, but that they’ve also visited this planet. However, the really hardcore believers will say Area 51 pales in comparison to Dulce Base, an alleged secret underground facility under Archuleta Mesa, Dulce, New Mexico. Supposedly 8 levels deep, Dulce not only confirms the existence of extraterrestrials, but also their active presence and involvement with the U.S. government. Specifically, Dulce is a genetics lab primarily run by aliens, known as Dracos, that not only live underground, but have lived underground for millions of years and are more tolerating us than they are co-existing with us. Documents, videos and pictures of the facility have supposedly been “leaked,” though only a few inconclusive photos can be found online. Additionally, a battle between humans and aliens supposedly took place within the base sometime between the late 1970s and 1980s.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Everyday new and strange stories involving things science can neither prove nor disprove arise from every corner of the globe. Ghosts, aliens, demons, Bigfoot, time wizards, parallel dimensions – you name it, someone has claimed to experience it. Now go out and write about it and let an audience experience it as well.
A special thanks goes out to Mysterious Universe, an Australian podcast from which I first heard many of these ideas.