Sunday, October 25, 2009

Grabbers (Halloween Horror Week 1 of 5)

Ooooh, let the spookiness begin. Halloween Week is upon us, along with its first entry, the horror-comedy, "Grabbers," which Roger's been very eager to review. But can I just say something about Halloween first? Because it's something that's really been bothering me. Can we all agree that pumpkins are disgusting? You don't have to look at a pumpkin long to know that it wasn't meant to be eaten. Yet when Halloween rolls around, all I see at the grocery store are pumpkin muffins, pumpkin bread, pumpkin spice cookies, pumpkin milk. I don't mean to sound like a 13 year old girl but...Barf! If we weren't interested in eating pumpkin-flavored food for the other 11 months of the year? We're not interested in eating it now. Pumpkins weren't meant to be eaten! There. Rant over. Take it away, Roger.

Genre: Horror, Comedy, Creature Feature
Premise: When an island off the coast of Ireland is invaded by blood-sucking aliens, the heroes discover that getting drunk is the only way to survive.
About: A 2009 Brit List script that ended up in a tug-of-war between many production companies. It’s now optioned by Tracy Brimm and Kate Myers of Forward Films with John Wright as director. They’re the same team responsible for the slasher-comedy, “Tormented”.
Writer: Kevin Lehane. According to his blog, he created a bunch of specs but had trouble getting them read. When they weren’t ignored, they were rejected. But thanks to Danny Stack, a writer for “EastEnders” (among others) and one of the founders of The Red Planet Prize, Lehane’s luck changed and the same scripts that were initially rejected or ignored were suddenly coming back with strong, positive responses. “Grabbers”, which had sat on his desk for a year, was suddenly in a tug-of-war.

“Tremors” is a movie that has one of my favorite lines of dialogue ever, spoken by mercenary homemaker, Heather Gummer (a fantastic name), played by Reba McEntire. “You didn’t get penetration even with the elephant gun!” Somehow, Reba delivers her line with the requisite mixture of incredulity, innuendo, and cornpone charm.

I’m not sure if there’s a line as good as that one in the Irish version of “Tremors”, called “Grabbers”, but that’s not to say that this Brit List script isn’t a fun ride with its own share of gleeful moments of horror-comedy. Proudly wearing its creature feature, B movie, drive-in pedigree on its Lovecraftian tentacles, “Grabbers” is a breezy, bloody read that had me grinning like a drunken horror aficionado all the way through.

I like the way this script opens. We’re at sea on a lonely fishing tug called The Merry Widow when an arc of light streaks across the sky and crashes into the ocean, catching the attention of the crew. It’s a simple, evocative image that establishes our mysterious alien menace, which, of course, proceeds to pull our trio of fisherman overboard. There’s something eerie about the image of an extraterrestrial threat dwelling in Earth’s own uncharted aquatic deep.

And we’re quickly introduced to our sullen hero, Ciaran O’Shea, a Garda gone to drink on the enchanting Erin Island. My scant knowledge of the Garda is limited to Ken Bruen novels, but in good grace to us readers on the other side of the Atlantic, Mr. Lehane explains that “An Garda Siochana” are the unarmed Irish police force. O’Shea is zombie-shuffling through life and duty in an alcoholic haze, and Erin Island, with all its non-existent crimes and vacationing families, is the perfect environment for a low-achieving, apathetic Garda.

Sergeant Kenifick is skeptical about leaving O’Shea to run administrative duties alone for two weeks, so he’s saddled him with Lisa Nolan, a by-the-books, overachieving workaholic from Dublin who will fill in and keep a watchful eye on O’Shea while the Sarge is on leave. Of course, there’s some friction between the two opposite personalities and, entertainingly, budding sexual tension.

The duo meet up with the resident physician, Dr. Gleeson, and Adam Smith, a marine ecologist, who have discovered a pod of beached whales that bare some distinctive wounds.

It looks like they’ve been whipped with a huge cat-o-nine tails.

O’Shea takes charge and cashes in a favor with a contractor, Declan Cooney, and soon Cooney and his construction crew are tasked with the disposal of the beached whales. In true creature feature fashion, we discover many dark grey eggs deposited in the sand nearby. At this point, something crawls out of the ocean and quite possibly does something horrible to Cooney and his crew.

Meanwhile, a fisherman named Paddy Barrett (quite possibly my favorite character) captures what might be a sea creature in a lobster trap, which he promptly takes home and deposits in his bathtub, with disastrous results. In a horrifying sequence that made me both squirm and laugh maniacally, Paddy fights the spidery, tentacled grabber whilst completely pissed on homemade potcheen (an Irish moonshine).

The little fucker is pancaked to the ceiling of his bathroom and it shoots its barbed tongue at him, and it reminded me of Ripley fighting off a face-hugger in one of the Alien movies. Except this is more Sam Raimi-ish, but maybe not so cartoonish and Three Stooges-like (although in the next scene, there’s a direct reference to the Evil Dead when a corpse is used like a marionette doll). There’s a wicked Irish wit to the humor that I really dig, which is laced throughout the story.

Lehane does a good job setting up Erin Island and introducing all of the important players that inhabit island. It’s an interesting community sketched well, and it’s balanced with some tautly structured scare sequences. In a way, very Stephen King-ish, and I like that.

By the end of the first act, there’s a pretty significant body count for O’Shea and Nolan to tend to and investigate, and when Paddy comes to O’Shea with proof of his ordeal (which he somehow survived), this monster movie is off and running.

I think the true grisly delight of this tale is when it injects a killer concept into the tried and true monster movie form (monster arrives, monster kills people, heroes dissect monster, heroes figure out how to beat monster, heroes prepare for final showdown with monster). It’s a fucking great idea, and maybe its genesis owes fealty to Jackie Chan and “Drunken Master”, but whatever. It’s fantastic and funny and really brings the story to life.

Through an experiment that’s reminiscent of John Carpenter’s “The Thing”, our heroes learn that Paddy only survived his alien encounter because of the blood alcohol level in his bloodstream, which poisoned the vampiric monstrosity.

Basically? If our heroes don’t want to be monster food, they have to maintain a blood alcohol level of Point Two.

Which doesn’t fare will for Miss Nolan, as she doesn’t drink, nor has she ever been drunk in her life. And her character is milked for comedic and dramatic effect, in both her drunken exclamations and actions. She’s really a great counterpoint to O’Shea, and this is somewhat of a redemption story for him. I don’t want to give away his back story, but it’s something that’s only mentioned in a line or two of dialogue and it’s very effective (a true economy of words). It reminded me of this quote, “Strong reasons make for strong actions.” It’s something dramatists learn early on, courtesy of Shakespeare.

Without telling you How or Why, the humungous male grabber sets its sights on O’Shea for wholly amorous and lustful intentions. There’s some nice monster mayhem in the 3rd act, when our heroes barricade themselves and their loved ones in a pub and endure a siege. It’s like something out of a George Grosz nightmare as our heroes drunkenly fight off all the egg hatchlings and the (in heat) Shoggoth-like Big Daddy grabber.

I don’t think “Grabbers” quite transcends its genre roots to gain an impressive rating, but then again, it doesn’t need to. It’ll be a great movie, anyways. For you horror hounds out there, this script just might be the crown jewel of this year’s Brit List.

In all honesty, this is a script I wish I’d written. Not only is the logline comedic horror gold, but I find the script is really growing on me. An inspired, tight, and clever spec that clocks in at under 100 pages. Not only can I wait to see the movie, I can’t wait to own it on Blu-ray right next to my copies of “Shaun of the Dead”, “Tremors”, “The Thing”, and “Evil Dead 2”.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] barely kept my interest
[xx] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: That the Irish spell tires “tyres”. And that when it comes to writing monsters, it’s more effective to gently offer the right details than go overboard with a painstaking description. Remember, it’s more powerful to simply suggest what a monster or creature or alien looks like with a few key words or phrases. Let the reader create their own image of what it looks like in their head, because that’s usually what’s going to be scarier, anyways. As Stephen King says, writing is telepathy. Lay down the general gist, let the reader do the heavy lifting.