(I originally wrote this when I heard about the P&P&Z book, and tried shopping it out to Big Hollywood. Alas, no luck: but since I just pre-ordered the book with some birthday gift certificate money, I might as well put this article up here. I was pleased with the way it came out, after all.)
The buzz today is over the greatest development in movie synergy since Hollywood decided to puree 134 films to make Independence Day. I refer, of course, to news that studios are fighting to option out Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, which is coming out April of this year. What makes this exciting is that if successful, this movie could begin a trend:
Other talent agencies are pitching their own slate of monster-lit titles. They include a version of Emily Brontë’s Wuthering Heights, where Catherine, the deceased heroine, returns as a Japanese-style ghost not only to haunt but also to terrorise Heathcliff.
In a reworking of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre, Mr Rochester has something more terrible than an insane spouse in his attic, and a version of George Eliot’s The Mill on the Floss is powered by human sacrifice.
The worry here is that the above might reflect the limits of said talent agencies’ creativity. In light of that, I offer five concepts for those looking to interweave the genres of mainstream literature and horror. I assure you that people would watch these films… and that literature critics would climb over each other’s dead bodies in order to attack them.
- The Grapes of Wrath. It’s Lovecraft meets Steinbeck as we follow the desperate travels of the Joad family across a blighted America. Hero Tom Joad fights off cultists of the Cthulhu Mythos determined to retrieve the artifact hidden in his grandmother’s corpse; from the Oklahoma Dust Bowl to the poisoned fruit of California, Tom must face ever-greater soul-destroying evils in order to keep the tattered remnants of his family safe. His final speech, in which he defies the Great Old Ones and pledges to stay out their fighting (only to be revealed that he’s making that pledge in a straightjacket) should be easy Oscar fodder.
- To Kill a Mockingbird. Maycomb is such a quiet little town where nothing ever happens. But when what looks to be a racially-motivated series of crimes rocks the community, only embittered Great War veteran Boo Radley recognizes the true culprit for what it is – a literal demon from Hell come to Earth to destroy the life of his only friend Tom Robinson. Can Boo and his two reluctant sidekicks Scout and Jem cast the demon back to the Pit before it possesses Tom’s lawyer Atticus for one final act of infernal revenge?
- On the Road. Dean Moriarty is a hunter. A hunter of a vampire whose path through America is punctuated by the undead fiends it spawns and leaves on the road. With only his friend Sal Paradise to keep him company, Dean dispatches the vampire’s leavings… but as the evidence mounts that Sal may not be what he appears, does Dean have the courage to face the truth? Does Sal?
- The Ugly American. The Third Reich bred it in a vat. They raised it to be the perfect killer of those who would oppose Hitler. But they never counted on the monster having a soul. Or that it would turn against its masters. And now, as “Homer Atkins,” it fights a lonely battle in South America, feared by its American government that it works for almost as much as by the Nazi holdouts that it hunts.
- The Great Gatsby. Nick Holloway is a Midwestern war hero called to Jazz Age New York to track down his disappeared former girlfriend Daisy. But as he goes deeper and deeper into the curiously mechanical and artificial life of Long Island’s high society, he begins to suspect that something more sinister than a mere disappearance is at work here. It all seems to revolve around a mysterious figure known only as “Gatsby”… but when Holloway discovers a silvery craft at the bottom of East Egg Bay, will he realize the awful truth in time to prevent an invasion from beyond the stars?
Fun, isn’t it? That might be because a lot of horror is about the corruption and/or destruction of the normal by something from Outside; even if that’s nonsense, this is still a surprisingly satisfying cross-genre concept to work in. If the studios end up loving this idea, it’ll be the 1950s monster movies genre all over again… which is, by the way, a good thing. It’s certainly a better thing to contemplate than that of twenty million more movies about mixed-up Iraq War veterans with severe emotional problems.
And if there are any television executives reading this, I have a pitch for you for a new reality show. Sort of New York Times Review of Books meets Battle Royale…