Thursday, January 20, 2011

Hollywood Night Terrors

" last job is a really long story filled with sighs."

~ Scott Pilgrim, Scott Pilgrim's Precious Little Life

That great quote from the first Scott Pilgrim book (also in the movie) pretty much sums up my "Hollywood" experience: a very long story filled with very long sighs. Lots of "hurry up and wait" bullshit. Lots of near-misses. Lots of pretentious douchebags who don't know their assholes from their elbows, etc. Good for Ricky Gervais taking the piss out of a few of 'em the other night!

Anyway...a brief summary: I had some (relatively minor) successes as a screenwriter in the mid-to-late 90's. After nothing concrete panned out from that, my buddy George and I decided to take matters into our own hands and make a movie of our own. The indie film scene produced many great talents (and films) from that era: Kevin Smith, Robert Rodriguez, Quentin Tarantino, Richard Linklater, et al. So we figured, why not us too? During that time we sat down and wrote several treatments (basically a movie in summary, or short story form) for movie concepts we had rolling around in our brains.

One of the stronger ideas we had was for a film called "Night Terrors." For the uninitiated, night terrors are very intense and disturbing dreams that typically plague some children, then mysteriously go away as they grow older. I had just started working as a sleep technologist not long before we wrote it, so that's where the basic premise came from. Everything else contained in the treatment came from the research and brainstorming sessions George and I had over the next few days. After that, I know we both pitched it to a good many people. Hell, I liked the premise so much that I almost turned it into a comic book/graphic novel at one point in time.

Well, it seems that someone else liked that idea a whole lot too...because someone helped themselves to it. Ironically (or sadly...not sure which...a little bit of both, I guess), while working as a sleep tech the other night I happened upon  a movie titled, "They." It came out in 2002 and I only vaguely recall it being in theaters.  It isn't very good, but that isn't the point.

Now I don't want this to turn into "Crazy Jer's Blog O' Conspiracy Theories and Wildly Random Accusations" so I'm going to post our treatment here and also the trailer for "They." If your interest is piqued after seeing and reading what is posted here, then you can check out the whole movie and make up your own damn mind. I already know what camp George and I are in...



We open in a dark malevolent wood, filled with tall black trees, as if burnt in some great fire.  A young boy, barefoot and breathless, runs through the towering timbers along a winding trail.  As he looks over his shoulder, he sees his pursuer gaining ground.  All we see is a dark shadow claiming the trail and trees as it approaches like a black void.  The boy looks forward at what appears to be a clearing at the end of the forest trail, so he runs even faster.  But the menacing dark entity closes in.  Then at long last, the boy reaches the light of the clearing, but as he exits the forest, he sees that what lies beyond is even worse.  It is an endless field of spiders and snakes.  He begins to scream in terror.
            Bob and Sandy Owens are sitting in their den, watching the late news, when a blood curdling scream shatters their relaxing evening.  They run upstairs to check on their 10 year old son Andy, but what they see would terrify the heart of any parent.  Andy is sitting up in bed, wide-eyed and sweating, clutching the sheets so tightly that he is tearing holes in his bedspread.  Also, he is screaming at the top of his lungs.  When his mother tries to comfort him, Andy has only one response “No!  Get away from me!  I can’t run through the spiders!”  The strangest part is that he is still asleep.  No words of consolation from his parents can ease his terror, for he is trapped between worlds, experiencing what is medically termed Pavor Nocturnis, commonly known as a “Night Terror”.
                James Stenton, a young clinical psychologist, is studying sleep disorders at a small university hospital, and he has become quite enthralled by this still unexplained phenomenon.  Unlike nightmares, which occur in the lighter stages of sleep, a night terror occurs in the deepest stages of sleep, and mostly in children, who almost never remember the event after they wake up.  Usually the only remnant of the experience is an indescribable sense of fear, and vague images of spiders and snakes. 
            Stenton encounters the boy Andy when his parents enroll their son in the sleep research center, and Andy becomes one of his many research subjects.  The intrepid researcher has amassed data from across the world, but like many before him, he has never found an answer to the origins of night terrors, but one night when he uncovers a disturbing clue.  He observes in the demographic data that people with histories of night terrors tend not to have children of their own.  Stenton interviews his subjects about this unusual trend, but they cannot provide him with a valid answer, other then a feeling that they do not wish to bring children into this world.  Thus he turns to his mentor and friend, Doctor Sharif Amenokous, world renown anthropologist and parapsychologist.  Amenokous suggests looking beyond the numeric data for the true nature of things, so Stenton attempts hypnotizing his patients to uncover their unconscious secrets.
            Since his adult patients can provide informed consent, he studies them first.  He notices some very odd behavior, but nothing substantial.  But one night as he and Amenokous are reviewing tapes of hypnotized patients, Amenokous notices that a certain obscure phrase is repeated by two unrelated subjects from completely different parts of the world, “Run, Moloch is coming.”  The scientists don’t know what to make of it until Andy’s parents insist that their child be hypnotized.  It seems that Andy’s night terrors are increasing in frequency and intensity, and it has them at their wit’s end.
            Much to their astonishment, the boy is the key to unraveling the riddle of the night terrors, for under a state of hypnosis, he reveals a truth so chilling that the two scientists forbid the parents to attend the sessions.  The boy reveals that night terrors are actually spawned by events taking place in another reality, a dream-like parallel dimension in which the souls of children are held captive by a dark being named Moloch.  In other words, the terrors are occurring as the children are experiencing fearful events in this other world, and the reason why they don’t remember it is because the events are so terrifying that a conscious mind is not capable of withstanding or even comprehending such an intense level of fear.  It is no wonder that screaming is result.
            Over series of torturous sessions, Stenton speaks to the boy’s subconscious mind to unravel the world of Moloch.  In the process, he is contacted by another soul that has been lost for many years, a young girl named Eve, who speaks through Andy’s body to tell the story of Moloch.  Stenton learns that Moloch is a demon of such malevolence that he is without form, a virtual black cloud of fear.  However, he can appear in visions as a tall dark man with coal-pitch voids for eyes.  The goal of his existence is to steal the souls of children and keep them trapped in his netherworld, a place formed completely of fear.  Everything that children could possibly fear is found in his kingdom, and he pursues the children through the grisly landscape of endless forests and fields full of spiders and snakes.
            Eve tells of how the children are ever fleeing from Moloch, but they cannot escape his world because of the barriers that enclose them.  She says that even if you do find a way out the Endless Forest, the Field of Spiders and Snakes lies beyond.  Then if you manage to cross the field, you find the Wall of Bones, a huge endless barrier that encircles the entire kingdom.  It consists of the skeletons of countless victims who have tried to escape.  The bones are razor sharp and upon them rot the impaled bodies of thousands of poor souls who have tried to scale the macabre wall, and failed.  No one has ever escaped, and legends say that even though Moloch’s world is truly terrifying, the world beyond the Wall is even worse, and that it may even be Hell.
Since Andy is a newcomer to Moloch’s realm, Eve acts as his guide and becomes his friend.  She also introduces him to other children whose bodies remain on earth, but whose souls are forever trapped.  Eventually Andy’s parents learn of the true nature of Andy’s condition and put their hope and trust in Stenton to rescue their son from eternal damnation.  Thus Eve helps Andy navigate the “physical” aspects of Moloch’s world, and Stenton works with Andy to help him navigate through Moloch’s fearful influence. But it is Andy who eventually finds a way to help Eve and all the other children survive by realizing that all of the elements in this strange land are things that inherently frighten children.  So he learns to battle through his fear to overcome the apparently inescapable obstacles that Moloch has created to confine the children he has captured, including the Wall of Bones.
            In a gripping finale, Andy confronts Moloch’s rule by conjuring the bravery to overcome his fear of death and injury.  He crosses the Field of Spiders and Snakes, and then the Wall, for he discovers that it is not the Wall of Bones that holds him captive, but the wall of fear –a barrier that traps us all.  Thus, Andy’s soul returns to his living self, and his parents are overjoyed that the night terrors have ended, but Andy is not quite prepared to put it all behind him.  Stenton can sense that the boy is still worried, and when he asks why, Andy replies that too many children are still trapped.  He says “I need to go back to help them.  I have to.”  So Andy, armed with the power of courage, returns to the netherworld to liberate the souls of the children he came to know, and countless others that have been living in the world of Night Terrors.


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