Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Screenplay Review - Hyde

Genre: Horror/Procedural
Premise: An allegedly rehabilitated Dr. Jekyll is pulled out of prison to help hunt a new monster who seems to be using an improved version of the Hyde serum.
About: "Hyde" made the 2010 Black List.  While writing Hyde, screenwriter Cole Haddon concurrently wrote the story in graphic novel form for Dark Horse.  That novel is titled "The Strange Case Of Mr. Hyde" and is available on Amazon.  
Writer: Cole Haddon
Details: 114 pages (8-06-10 draft) This is the first draft (the one that made the Black List).

Mr. Hyde

I'm still kind of geeking out after meeting Eddie O'Keefe last night, one half of the writing team of When The Streetlights Go On.  These guys just ignore ALL RULES.  The draft of theirs that made the Black List?  That script was written in SIX WEEKS.  Oh, and did I mention it was their FIRST SCREENPLAY.  Wowzers - that goes against everything history has dictated regarding first scripts.

Eddie talked about how he and his partner, Chris, don't focus too much on structure, but rather come up with this huge playlist of songs that they feel is appropriate for the material, and just let the music guide their writing and their choices.  Again, this is sooooo NOT the way I'd recommend anyone doing it.  Because believe me, I've read stuff from writers who've written that way before, and it is NEVER GOOD.  So to see these guys use such an undefined unstructured approach so effectively is both scary and inspiring.

With that said, they DID read all the screenwriting books before they wrote the script.  They do understand things like active characters and act breaks and all that.  So they did have that in the back of their mind when they were writing.  They've also written lots of short stories and both attended film school - so it wasn't like they were going into this screenwriting thing completely unprepared.  Still, I love how that approach works for them, because it's what makes their work so unique and unpredictable.  Oh, and he told me that in addition to Streetlights and Broadcast, the two have written a script that he feels is EASILY their best work.  It's just not very well known.  Eddie says he's going to send that to me and I cannot wait!

What does this have to do with today's script?  NOTHING!  I just wanted to get my geekery on and this felt like the right place to do it.  However, Eddie and Chris did not write today's script.  So let's move away from formless writing to something a little more structured, and surprisingly good!

So as you probably know, back in the day, there was this doctor named Henry Jeckyll.  Dude liked to experiment.  And dangit if he wasn't such a believer in his work that he'd experiment on himself!  That didn't turn out so hot, though, since one of his experiments turned him into a monster, a monster who crawled through 1880s London looking for people to mutilate. Eventually, the coppers caught up with him and killed his ass, and the world was forever better.

Or was it?

Five years later, a rash of prostitute killings have started up again, and the crime scenes look like something out of a superhero film.  20 some feet between fleeing footsteps. Blood trails halfway up the sides of buildings.  Whoever's pulling off these killings is superhuman.

But who could it be?  Hyde was killed five years ago.  At least that's what everyone was told.  Our resident inspector on the case, the off-putting Thomas Adye, learns that Hyde, in fact, wasn't killed.  Why would you kill something with that much power when you could study it instead (Paul Riser from Aliens would be proud!)?  So the dual personalities of Dr. Jeckyll and Mr. Hyde have been kept underground in the interim, locked up in a Hannibal Lector-like cage that only an unprivileged few have access to.  Adye is tasked with going to talk with Dr. Jeckyll to see if he can get a beat on who this monster is and where it might be.

The two don't hit it off AT ALL and Adye leaves hoping he'll never never have to see Jeckyll again.  But when he runs into the murderer who shrugs off a few bullets like he's being tickled by duck feathers, he realizes he's in way over his head.  If he's going to take this killer down, he will need the help of the man he despises the most, his underground cell buddy, Dr. Jeckyll.

Away the two go, into the streets, pounding the pavement, talking to anyone who might know who this killer is.  Of course, the scum of the underground don't like to talk to cops, so it's hard-going wherever they turn, especially with the mischievous Jeckyll delighting in every little misstep Adye takes.

After a couple of false-positives, the duo finally find out who they're dealing with (spoiler).  In case you haven't figured it out yet - yup - our "psycho killer" is none-other than Jack The Ripper.  Yikes.  As if we didn't have enough problems.  And since Mr. Ripper also seems to have gotten his hands on Dr. Jeckyll's serum, he's basically like a serial killing nuclear bomb!

So our mismatched couple will need to put aside their differences to catch the killer before he continues his run.  But it's starting to look like the only way they're going to stop him, is if they use some of that infamous serum themselves...

Duh duh duh duhhhhhhh.....

I'm not really a fan of these outdated public domain monsters. I know there's a reason some of this stuff stands the test of time, but to me I'm always thinking, "Ehhh, isn't a hundred years enough? Shouldn't we, maybe, try to come up with new monsters and new stories?"  I know saying such words could get me blackballed from Hollywood, but seriously - let's create something new, not rekindle something old!

With that said, this is about as good of a job as you can do with this kind of story.  The atmospheric writing (I love the way Haddon describes Jeckyll's face as "UNEXPECTEDLY HANDSOME, startlingly so..." when it first slams into his jail cell bars, his features clear for the first time after being hidden in shadows the entire scene) and forward-moving story kept things fun throughout.  In these procedurals - these "chase the killer" scripts - it's all about pushing the story forward, keeping the momentum going, and I thought Haddon did that brilliantly.  There's never a moment where we're just sitting around discussing shit.  We're always AFTER THE KILLER.

The real star of the script though was the relationship between the straight-laced Adye and the mischievous Jeckyll.  This updated (or backdated) take on the buddy-cop dynamic was, dare I say, scrumptious.  It was hilarious to watch Adye obsessed and freaked out by every little detail, contrasted with Jeckyll, who was just thrilled to be out of his cell for a few days.  This was one big field trip for him, and dammit if he wasn't going to play on everything before the whistle to go back inside blew (God I hated that whistle!).

I (spoiler) thought bringing Jack The Ripper into the mix was also clever, as was giving him access to Jeckyll's serum, making him super-human.  I mean what's scarier than a monster version of Jack The Ripper??  Maybe the only thing I was worried about was that this felt a teensy bit similar to the abomination known as Van Helsing. I hope if they make this, they don't "kids family" it up but stick with the darker more intense approach.  That will definitely hurt opening day grosses, but it will pay off for the film in the long run.

Honestly, the only reason I didn't rate this higher was because it's not my thing.  But for what it is, it's pretty damn enjoyable.

[ ] what the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn't for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: A common screenwriting debate is whether you should write dialogue "properly" or if you should add accents and speech imperfections.  Take for instance this line on page 12 from Chief Inspector Newcomen: "Stay away from Hyde, Inspector. 'E's like a poison that keeps working at you. A poison, just ask 'is mate Utterson."  The way I see it is is this - you can add speech imperfections as long as you don't overdo it.  As soon as I have to WORK to get through all the accents and deliberate misspellings, I get pissed at the writer, because a reader should never have to work.  So use it sparingly if you REALLY NEED TO, but don't slaughter your dialogue with it.