Special thanks to Lily Hoang, Allison Titus, and all of my New England College partners in weird literary crime.
The guilty will die in shallow ponds of blood splattered in streaks on wet grass. I’ll paint my face: red lines, black rot smeared messy, and a field of memory like a morning snowfall blotting out a flute’s hollow simmer at dawn. I’ve been released to live among thought.
These are the conditions of deception when I don’t want to live with the smudge of who I once was or will be.
The therapeutics of expiation didn’t work.
I’ve seen him drown.
Not being able to save father from choking on water.
I’m wearing a white dress.
The struggling immobility of a riverbank.
I’ll grate on your ears.
And the haunt of family blood.
How much am I worth?
A mind consumed by its own propensity to slay and smiling, slay and smile.
I’ll slit your throat.
Roger Watkins, directing under pseudonym, disowned this film. The husband of the lead actress, in an attempt to salvage a faltering relationship, cast his wife as the lead in the film. She helped pen the film, too.
Shadows of the Mind is about Elise, a young woman, institutionalized for years after suffering the trauma of being unable to save her mother and father from drowning in a small body of water near their secluded mansion home. Now, released by her doctor, she confronts the past of her estate, but is soon visited by her greed-stricken step-brother, who tries to drive her mad, only to fall prey to her blade when she is pushed over the edge. She was never healed. Memories burst to violence. She murders everyone in the film.
This film is not only about guilt, but what happens when deception escalates to a state of chaotic paranoia; it is the true enactment of how Evil wells up, overtakes, and blots out rationality under duress, under the throes of manipulation. This is a melodramatic slash of the scythe in which the violation is the consequence of torment, of what happens when trauma is restimulated in an unstable individual with no network of support.
Affix electrodes to the cranial vortex. Release and breathe in sputters. Become black tar expanding to a zone. The drip surfaces the longer I stare at the fluttering specks of dark red pulsating under clenched eyeballs. Unclench. The drip swells to a wall of stabbing heat. There are no walls in this room. All thoughts are dark circulations. This is the face of our emptiness.
Now, you’re ready to leave this place.
A mother and father, arms flailing in water, this room of the mind stained in sepia tones. A screaming child, the patient. The lush gray of autumn. The creaking of a swing. The father pushes and smiles. Now, the doctor says, you’re ready to leave this place. She’s been pushing herself needlessly for all these years. That’s the diagnosis. Years of learning how to remember. With clarity. Through tears. You can see the past if you leave your eyes open in the dark. Shut your eyes. There is a lawn. A piano. A flute. And when she enters the house of her youth, she must move slowly and listen as if she can hear the dead sing through the walls: a birthday party, a stepmother, a framed photograph. Elise, please help us. This is how the dead speak. These are the shadows of her mind. Perhaps the photograph acts as a hypnotic trigger. And the phone rings, the groundskeeper lingering in the doorway. He laughs and it’s wrong to laugh. He doesn’t sound right. His room is filled with cut-out images of naked women, an assemblage of pornographic pictures. Later, the groundskeeper sharpens his knife in the backyard and smiles and stares at Elise. He watches her walk. She walks to the riverbank. If she can just get through the next few days. Giggling inside. And the doctor. The doctor can’t stop thinking about his patient. The therapeutic properties of Thorazine. A blue dress slipping to the floor. I could use a little therapy myself. The sound of a scythe slashing weeds in the backyard. It’s morning. The voices trickle through her mind. That sepia toned vortex overtaking her thoughts in the moments before waking. She’s crouched in the corner by an air vent. She’s running to the backyard, stumbling. She’s at the riverbank watching the boat tip. A white hat floats in the water.
The brother: a murderer. Brother, will you murder me? You’re not my real brother.
Am I treading on sacred ground? Elise and her stepbrother debate the validity of her therapy in the basement. I don’t need anybody’s help. Elise’s voice cracks. The basement as lucidity. The basement as the unconscious made conscious misery. The brother’s plan is to escalate his sister’s insanity with the purpose of having her committed. The groundskeeper shines his scythe with a rag. He strokes the scythe. A windowpane. A greenhouse full of dead plants, leaves, and dirt. Elise studies an empty pot that sings Happy Birthday. She sees herself as a woman in white. A young daughter. The ghost of who she once was. She drops the pot, dusts cobwebs from a window. The groundskeeper stands outside the window, screams at her. A maniac, she pulls his hair and shrieks. The brother watches her madness from afar. Later, the groundskeeper is slain by his own scythe, but not by his own hand. Blood gushes from his throat. He dies, lies down in the leaves, clutching shut his wound. His inability to scream further. Blood thick like jellied camouflage.
Doctors should never arrive at night with women who arrive uninvited to secluded mansions in the woods with women who look like stepmothers.
Doctor, you shouldn’t have, says the stepbrother.
Elise listens from a darkened stairwell somewhere in the house. She wears red slacks, red blouse, and scarf. She doesn’t speak when introduced, doesn’t look at the doctor’s fiance, doesn’t want to confront the feeling of envisioning the fiance for the stepmother, her object of hate.
There’s someone, somehwere, for everybody.
But a storm’s been summoned; the doctor’s car won’t start, thus locking the four into the secluded mansion for the night.
The fiance undresses in the white bathroom. The bedroom walls are flecked with black flowers. She slips down her slacks. Panties and heels. Shut the door. Lock the door. Lie on the bed. Make love in the house of the patient. Elise watches from the doorway, the brutal nest of passion unfolding as a sepia nightmare.
And the groundskeeper’s body hangs in the elevator. Grey walls. Hallways and the blue reflection of the moon on white doors. Elise wears a white gown, make-up and pigtails. She stabs her stepbrother in the eye. One should never wander down the halls of such a house at night. Beige walls. Walls with no paintings. Stark as if this is the new becoming. Open the door. Switch on the lamp. There is a bedroom with a dead body. There are curtains lit by white. The doctor is suddenly small in a house that is too big for therapy. Open the black door. White slats in the pantry. Elise locks the doctor in room, thus severing any possibility of healing. The only healing this night offers is the redemptive power of murder. And the fiance. She wanders the halls in search of her lover, the doctor. The frame is black. She comes upon a room with a bed. A lamp lit softly. Elise slashes her across the chest with a kitchen knife, drags the body through the hall as if smearing a poem made of blood. The doctor pounds on the door of his locked room. Elise drags the fiance outside to the dirt and the grass. Toward the water where her family died. Elise’s face is painted like a doll. Like a clown. Like this is all some kind of performance therapeutics. She screams at the fiance. Never seeing her for who she is, but for the stepmother. And this is her release. She douses the fiance’s body in gasoline and laughs. The gasoline is a metaphor for water. She burns the fiance, cleansing herself in the fire of her memories. The flames purge the hate, the jealousy, the guilt of never having been able to save her family. To marry her father. And now, she’s alone with the doctor. Now, she is back at the hospital. Barred windows. White sheets in a bare room. She weeps as the memory of her family’s death plays out with truth. The truth is that she murdered her family, that it was she who caused their death on that fateful day. This is why she weeps. This is her delusion. A trap unfixable.
- A placid sludge trek (a wettening)
- The day split into tiny arm births
- Water breath poetics: the sea lion, the anemone
- Painting the sacrosanct liminal
- Thirty-six frames of bereavement
- Night walking toward the Yokohama sea-line
- Black born of pink swimming (the first dive)
- Horizon arcs
- Psycho-loop (triage)
- Split arms are beamed
- In the sludge-strewn sand
- Carved liquidity
- A mark of the untraceable
- His wet mouth shuddered
- Heading the ice: buckets, sea buckets
- Your shameful dirt-hair
- Prepare the storms of seizure
- Flank flesh, the flesh of an unhinged body
- We go slow (the cold revisited)
- Bliss and Cess(pools): our haunt
If John Carpenter and Vangelis slipped into a vaporized vortex of oblivion or obliterated cities smoldering in the fumes of humanity’s dead future, THE LAST DEFENDER would be the only remaining remedy for aural healing. But it’s only the imagination of a movie. And this isn’t merely a nostalgia for retro moods and bygone times, it’s a slick, slant journey inward, a conceptual cinematic crafted with care to the science-fiction purpose it holds. It holds that purpose to the end of the album, never letting up that sense of wonder.
And Venezia knows his way around a groove—the guy’s Drop the Lime and Curses. In those years when I tried to deejay, it was always the slamming funk of what he created that I tried to emulate. He knows the liquid quality of music, how to build and burst. But this is different. This is vaporwave territory and it’s pure crystals of dream-juice. I only came to Dream Catalogue a few weeks ago, but those dreams have chewed up my mind and left me peaceful, left me enriched with the sludge of grain and looping neo-memories. I’m feeling more telepathic.
So, yeah, today’s the day to immerse yourself in Venezia’s soundtrack to an imagined narrative, a narrative that, according to the album description plays out like this:
In the classic battle against good and evil, evil wins.
Villains are left ruling the planet and living habits have scorched it to a dry desert landscape, a sprawl of destroyed cities. One vigilante survives the mass genocide of good, and battles in his attempt to bring life back to the world. Ultimately this vigilante discovers there is no civilization anymore, and he is the Last Defender; he walks alone through the heart of the chaos.
Soon the Last Defender is visited by The Rainmakers, an ominous swarm of peaceful, human-like shadows that bring down sheets of gentle rain to Earth. Is this all a hallucination, or will the Last Defender and Earth be saved?
I love the idea of a vaporwave film and especially one that doesn’t exist. Feels like a dream, right? I think that’s the point. A therapeutics of dream. A new way to think narrative, or if not new, then damn good. The expression of the void. Leaves me wanting more. The album just come out today, but I’ve already listened to it three times. So, sink and indulge, because Venezia’s brewed up the serum that’s going to flutter out your mind-hole. It’s a gorgeous beyond.
If you like this analysis, please consider supporting my new horror movie project by contributing to the crowdfunding of UNFINISHED BUSINESS, a horror/mystery film looking to be funded via Seed & Spark. Thank you, readers!
SCREAM (TV Series): S01E01: Pilot
I’m a huge Wes Craven Scream fan, have been one since that night all those years back in high school when I sat mesmerized in the theater, ducked my head low, stayed in my seat and snuck a second viewing on opening night. And I’m still a Scream fan. I couldn’t be happier with the Weinstein-backed MTV series, especially episodes penned by the amazing Jill Blotevogel.
In this series of blog posts, in order to become a better writer (and, in particular, a better screenwriter), I’d like to dissect the act breaks and plot developments of the show–all ten episodes, time pending. Consider this public access to my own personal story notes and take them for what they’re worth.
WARNING: Given the nature of such a dissection, spoilers will prevail, so if you haven’t yet seen Scream (TV Series), please give it your attention and then return to read my analysis. Or, if you don’t care about spoilers, I totally understand. Read on.
Though I don’t have access to the script, I’d say the teaser lasts for seven pages (or thereabouts). Note the haunting “Daisy” song at the very beginning. It’s a potent motif that arcs through the season.
We’re then introduced right away to our “A” story (the story springing from that haunting “Daisy” song), that of Audrey and Rachel caught making out on a cell phone-shot video and said video going viral, an act that spurs the overarching death that follows for the remaining nine episodes. Getting a shot of Audrey’s shocked reaction acts as the very first red herring. This is a slasher, right?
We’re then whisked away to the house of Nina Patterson, who turns down the affections of her latest boy-toy, Tyler (thus setting up Tyler to be a potential slasher vis a vis his reaction). She quickly becomes privy to the fact that someone’s cyberstalking her (in real time, via technology—someone who is maybe even already in her house), which reinforces Tyler’s role as slasher, but Tyler’s head ends up in her swimming pool just moments later. She’s then murdered by our masked killer. At this point, we’re led to believe that the killer could be connected to Audrey.
Not only is this a teaser, it also sets up the entire season. Of course, we don’t yet know the significance of Nina, but she becomes a thread to the “B” story that weaves its way around the “A” story. Also, it sets the tone for what kind of show this is—the focus on technology (Audrey’s video, Nina’s and the killer’s use of cellphones) and the cat and mouse nature of the slasher genre—and spurs the mystery about to unfold.
This act is probably about ten pages long. It’s dense in that it gives screen time to every major character of the season, while already dropping us into both the “A” story of the slasher and the “B” story, which focuses more on double-crossing and deception (secrets and lies). I’ll try to explain.
First, we meet Emma (the main character) studying with Will. Knowing the slasher context and the fact that Will makes an excuse, we learn an important lesson about this show. We can’t trust anyone. That’s intentional. Emma’s mom is introduced as dating Sheriff Hudson, and then we’re off to school, the “meeting room” or “centralized mind” for all these students. Remember, Nina’s death is the pre-existing conflict as is Audrey’s viral video. This narrative takes precedence, but we also quickly learn a couple important things. One, none of Nina’s friends actually liked her and two, that Emma was with Nina when the video was filmed (the video, it is learned, was filmed by Emma and Nina). This introduces a dimensionality to the characters. We want to trust them, but at the same time, we see a glimpse into their dark sides and thus, cannot. In this kind of show, that’s exactly what we want. We want complexity of character. For instance, we realize that Will and Jake had some video footage (we don’t yet know the extent of the damage that footage will cause or their motives).
One thing to remember about this first act is that EVERYTHING MATTERS and NOTHING IS WASTED. It’s not that clues are being dropped, but that relevant backstory is constantly being woven into the present two stories (A+B). This is more of an unfolding than a summarizing.
During Mr. Branson’s English class, we encounter Noah’s “meta-logging” for the first time. It’s fun, but it also works with the unfolding stories. Finally, during grief counseling, we encounter the myth of Brandon James and the mysterious young woman he was in love with. Of course, the finale to the first act is finding out that Emma’s mom (her secret) is that she was Brandon James’s lover, Daisy, thus echoing the haunting song at the beginning of the teaser. This is revealed by a locket she admires, a locket with “Daisy” written on it. Emma’s dad is mentioned, which is pertinent, for he will wind up returning later in the season to help spur the story toward its finale.
Act two probably begins around page seventeen and ends around page twenty three. Emma talks with her friends Will, Jake, Riley, and Brooke at school. Tyler’s body was never found, thus he’s considered a suspect. Brooke is planning an “Irish wake” at Wren Lake for Nina. Interestingly, Wren Lake was where Brandon James died (or, was murdered by police, set-up when he met “Daisy” for the last time). Will confronts Jake (a cohort kind of relationship) about “getting rid of files” — our “B” story, but at this point in the series, we really don’t know what that entails. It is revealed that Mr. Branson (the English teacher) is sleeping with Brooke. And, the scene that really drives this act forward–Emma receives a mysterious package on her doorstep, a package marked to “Daisy.” After she leaves, her mom opens the package only to find a huge bloody animal heart and a note that reads, “Emma looks just like you at that age.” There’s a definite suspense that her secret connection to Brandon James, especially in light of Nina’s murder, is going to be blown wide open as well as the obvious suspense of who placed the package on the doorstep.
Act three takes us to the “Irish wake” at Wren Lake, the same lake that was shown to us at the episode’s beginning. Also, as I mentioned in the second act, the same lake where Brandon James was murdered. It’s loaded with significance. This act probably flows from pages twenty-three to thirty-five.
Although it comes as an aside, Brooke mentions that her dad is out of town. This is part of the season’s “B” story, for the dad will come to play a heavy part in later episodes and his absence is quite telling.
Emma’s mom talks to Sheriff Hudson, telling him the truth about who she is (i.e. Daisy). It is learned that her ex-husband disappeared and she doesn’t know where he is, making him a potential slasher, right? Red herrings abound.
At the party, Kieran (a new guy in Lakewood) makes a statement that “this [the party on the lake] is a natural slasher setting.” Remember, the message of this pilot is that anyone could be the killer and that no one (especially guys, but of course, we’re not ruling out Audrey) could be a slasher. Soon after, Will makes a comment that he’s not sad about Nina’s passing and Brooke, exposing herself as someone who doesn’t mind ruining relationships, reveals to Emma that Will might have slept with Nina. This angers Emma and she lets Will know, storming off. The garage lights flash and Brooke (alone) goes in to check. Alone is never good for a character, but great for a show of this nature. Tension builds, but no one’s in there. Suddenly, Will emerges as if on cue and warns Brooke not to say those kinds of things again. Of course, this allows us to distrust him. It also reinforces the fact that these characters are able to lie. And they do. Meanwhile, Emma kisses Kieran in the greenhouse.
Noah, who passed out drunk when discussing slashers (more “meta-logging” perhaps), wakes up on a floating dock in the middle of Wren Lake. He hesitatingly swims toward shore, but hears whispering in the water and is suddenly pulled under.
Kieran rescues Noah immediately, but it almost makes it look like Kieran was in the water already by way of how fast the rescue happens. Jake makes a comment as if he was the one who did it—and enjoyed doing it, too. This rivalry between Noah and Jake will emerge in the next episode, which is one thing I really enjoy about this series—the constant setting up of future betrayals/conflicts. This act probably flows from page thirty-five to forty-four (the end).
Kieran drives Emma home and its revealed that he’s Sheriff Hudson’s son.
Audrey, who left the party with Noah (in anger at the rude prank), is at Rachel’s house. Rachel is the girl in the video who Audrey was caught kissing. This brings us nicely back to the beginning of the pilot. They kiss passionately, but it is revealed that a killer in a black hood and what will come to be known as the “Brandon James mask” is watching them.
The next day, Sheriff Hudson confronts Noah, wants to talk to him. Noah is smart enough to know that he’d make a great slasher suspect. He confides this to Riley as he “meta-logs” more of how viewers should be paying attention to the show (the why, not the how, he says).
Emma visits Rachel, confesses to her that she was with Nina when the video was shot. This enrages Audrey. Moments later, when Emma’s walking home, she receives a call from an “Unknown Caller” who says, “I know the truth,” and “I’m the one that’s gonna lift the mask.” This frightens Emma as it should. Again, the timing of it makes it seem as if Audrey were responsible, but given how deceptive some of the characters are, we already don’t know. Good move, writers! It keeps us watching.
Noah talks with Riley on the telephone, says, “Everyone has secrets. Everyone tells lies.” He wipes his forehead—it’s stained with something red (set-up for the next episode).
Jake moves a file to a folder entitled “Nina.” It shows Nina dancing on her webcam. It makes it look like he could have been the one to kill her.
Emma hears something rustling in the bushes outside her house.
Wow… This pilot episode presents so many angles on who the slasher is, even though Noah urges viewers not to focus on that. It presents characters as having secrets and uses the murder of one of their classmates and a viral video as the catalyst for the season. It also, of course, shows us that there is a masked killer on the prowl who is connected to this in some way. Finally, it introduces the mythology of Brandon James and, given the attention given and the connection with Emma’s mom, makes that stand out.
Also, this show is based on an existing property, so we already come to it with preconceived notions. We’re expecting betrayal. We’re expecting murder. We’re expecting a mystery. This show has taken all of that and woven it into its own Lakewood/Brandon James mythology. It worked for me. I really enjoy it.
There could be more, but here are the tensions I found in the first episode:
- Emma – her mom – the stranger who is haunting/stalking them: the box on the porch, the phone call, Emma’s mom’s role as Brandon James’ lover, the mysterious box
- Emma – Audrey – Rachel: the viral video, Audrey’s anger towards Emma (and everyone involved with the video)
- Emma and Kieran, and Kieran being the sheriff’s son
- Noah – the paint/blood on his forehead, his love of slashers, his communication with Jake
- An obvious masked killer
- Jake and Will: those secret files, that tension, something sadistic about them
- Noah and Riley’s relationship (as developing)
- The catalyst of Nina’s murder (and what Nina could mean as the show goes on)
I hope you enjoyed these notes. Going forward, I’ll try to dig more into how the A and B stories intersect as well as the various character arcs that will take place. These become vastly significant. Finally, as mentioned above, if you want to support some good horror that I’m trying to make, please show some love to UNFINISHED BUSINESS.