TROUBLE CITY

365 Days of Sci-Fi #297

365 Days of Sci-Fi, Movie News1 Comment

"From the mind behind the mega-hit Syfy show you've probably never heard of (EUREKA) comes a tribute to all those no-budget Syfy original movies and the "so bad, they're good" films that inspired them. Move over Roger Corman, step back Ed Wood, make way on your weekend programming schedule Mr. Stern, because here comes Andrew Cosby's 365 DAYS OF SCI-FI.

And it's all happening here! Each day, your friends at CHUD will bring you a brand new bad movie pitch -- the best of the worst title Cosby can come up with, no matter where he's at or what he's doing, rain or shine, drunk or sober. That's a whole year of the quality concepts you've come to expect from the network that brought you MANSQUITO and SHARKTOPUS."

365 days of Sci-Fi Archive

And now... DAY TWO HUNDRED AND NINETY-SEVEN:

“I promised a real horror movie pitch, and here it is -- better late than never.  Hope everyone had a Happy Halloween.”

- Andy Cosby (Twitter)

“It's Out There.”

WIDOW CREEK: We open with simple white letters on a black background, some factoid about how many people go into the woods each year and never come out, then fade in on a sweeping aerial view of the Oregon wilderness, slowly descending to follow a small family, pulling their Subaru Wagon into a campsite. As they begin to strike camp, the young daughter, between 5 and 7, wanders away from the site to explore the surrounding woods on her own. A fiercely independent little girl. This is her first camping trip, and she’s very excited and curious about the woods. But it’s already getting dark, and soon she finds herself lost in the settling dusk amongst the looming firs. The parents realize what has happened and go frantically searching for her. Meanwhile, the girl begins to hear strange sounds emanating from beyond the trees. At first, the typical but spooky sounds you expect from the woods, but then her imagination gets the best of her. She begins to feel like something is stalking her. The woods seem to take on a life of their own, closing in around her. Terrified, she runs, stumbles, is cut, runs again… She’s moving at top speed now, in a blind panic, the camera following, struggling to keep up. We lose her in the chaos. The camera keeps following her forward motion, but the girl is gone. Vanished. We hear her parents somewhere in the distance, calling out her name. Flashlight beams stabbing through the darkness. Finding nothing. Mom and Dad frantic now. Mom finds a torn sweater discarded on the ground. She and her husband exchange a terrified look. Their anguished cries echoing through the vast wilderness.

The following morning, we’re back at the campsite, where local law enforcement and park rangers now join the parents. They’ve been scouring the woods all night but haven’t found their little girl. The mother is inconsolable. Then, just as all hope seems lost, the girl emerges from a stand of trees, unsteady, dirty, bruised, and bleeding from the forehead. She collapses. Her family rushes to her, the father picking her up in his arms and pulling her tight. He holds her at arm’s length, and asks, “Sarah! My God, are you OK, sweetie? What happened? Where were you?” The little girl, eyes glazed from shock, says nothing and stares into the middle distance. Just a little girl lost in the woods. Happens all the time. But this one night will stay with her for the rest of her life.

We pull up and back from the family now, up into an aerial view of the vast Oregon forest and mountains. There is a time transition during the aerial view with the title “18 Years Later” as we follow a camper or something full of hikers winding its way along some lonely mountain road. We meet our campers, a group of friends from the city who enjoy these little wilderness excursions from time to time.

Among them is our little girl all grown up —SARAH (now in her late 20s), and her husband, MICHAEL. Sarah is our lead, and she’s completely out of place here in the woods. Since last we met, she’s become a modern, city woman, at home in the world of business, fashion, malls, and the finer things in life. But she also knows something is missing from her world view, and for the sake of their marriage wants to get to know more about Michael’s love for the great outdoors, something she has always dreaded since she was lost in the woods for a night as a young child. She doesn’t remember much of the experience, except for the occasional recurring nightmares of being chased by some unseen presence in the woods. The experience left a lasting impression on her, and she ultimately left the ski resort town her parents lived in to build a safe, secure life in Seattle.

Michael, on the other hand, is one of those weekend warrior REI types who loves the woods and supports a vast number of environmental and wildlife causes. Together, he and Sarah are living proof that opposites really do attract. Recently married, Sarah’s now working harder to share this part of Michael’s life. We get to know them a bit as they hike their way to their campsite. Maybe we even get a little back-story about the area, which will come in handy later in the story.

As the sun goes down, they make camp for the night. Sarah and Michael, being loving newlyweds, pull away from the others to go fool around. After all, being in the middle of nowhere does have its advantages. Unfortunately, they aren’t alone. Something watches them from the tree line, and we get a false scare as they stumble upon some local hunters. A little freaked by the experience, Sarah and Michael return to be with the group only to find the campsite ravaged by some wild animal, their friends gone.

At first, Sarah thinks Michael has conspired with their friends and is trying to scare her. After all, he’s been playfully teasing her about her fear of the woods since the trip began. She’s never told him much about her experience of being lost in the woods as a child—she doesn’t remember much herself because she’s blocked out the trauma—but he knows she has paralyzing nightmares about something from her past. He brought her out here, in part, to help her face those fears. But the thing that attacked the site is still lurking nearby -- they can hear it moving in the tree line, just out of sight. Michael grabs a log from the fire as the thing in the woods circles them, breathing heavily. Whatever it is, it’s big. Finally, they decide to make a run for it. They get separated—maybe Michael is trying to lure the animal away from Sarah. Ultimately, Sarah is left alone in the dark woods, and we cut back to the hunters as her SCREAM echoes into the night... swallowed by the terrifying howl of some wild animal.

The next day, Sarah stumbles out of the woods (mirroring the opening sequence) and into the town of Widow Creek. She’s in shock but still very much alive, and she’s desperate to find her husband. She’s got a wild story to tell, and the local Sheriff isn’t inclined to believe much of what she says at this point due to her condition. But maybe there’s more to it than that. Perhaps the townspeople suspect the existence of the creature because of previous sightings or missing hikers, and the Sheriff just doesn’t want to open that can of worms again. The town makes money off tourism, camping, skiing, and hiking, and they don’t need stories of creatures in the woods leaking out. But the Sheriff can’t just ignore Sarah and goes to investigate the campsite, eventually mounting a search and rescue party for the missing hikers. Meanwhile, Sarah recovers in town, and we get a little more local flavor.

The hikers are eventually found mutilated (all except for Michael, who remains missing and presumed dead), and the Sheriff decides they’re dealing with a rogue bear. Sarah pleads with the Sheriff not to give up on her husband and soon decides to mount her own search, aided by a local hunter named GARRET, who knows a lot about these woods and seems to be the only person who believes Sarah’s story. Garret is the quintessential outdoorsman and has studied the lore of the creature and has his own theories about its origins, has come to know and respect the power of the wilderness, and has a dark and cynical philosophical bent. He also straddles the line between the white hunter archetype and that of the Native American. He has Inuit blood and so represents the struggle between technological and native man -- a living embodiment of the movie’s theme: man versus nature. This hereditary will come into play later in the story when he helps Sarah survive and when he has to face his moral dilemmas in relationship to the creature -- hate and fear combined with awe and respect.

Sarah, Garret, some local hunters, and one of the town’s deputies to represent the interests of the Sheriff, head off into the woods. They find a grizzly mauled by the unseen creature, proving that we are definitely not dealing with a rogue bear. The creature stalks them, and this turns into a survival horror story as our group is picked off “10 Little Indians” style. We’ll have set pieces like an old hunting lodge, fire towers, cave system, a whole sequence on the lake, all the while maintaining the feeling of being trapped in the woods with something preternatural and deadly. Structurally speaking, this back half of the film is Predator in the Pacific Northwest.

With Garret’s help, Sarah survives and eventually finds Michael—injured and starving but still very much alive. It seems their ordeal is finally over. But Garret didn’t really come up here to help Sarah find her husband. He’s got a history of his own on this mountain, and he’s been using Sarah as bait this entire time. Garret wants to track the creature and kill it, and this is the closest he’s been in years. Nothing is going to stop him. The tables have turned, and Sarah now finds she has two monsters to contend with.

The whole thing leads to the old abandoned mill nestled in a high mountain valley, looming in the shadow of the mountain like a lost ruins, overgrown and rotting away. The mill is how the town of Widow Creek got its name. There are few professions more dangerous than logging, and this mill took more than its fair share of young men in its day. And now we realize that perhaps not all of those deaths were work related. The mill’s history connects to the creatures, but we only discover that as we discover that they’ve been using it as their lair. Yes, the big surprise at the end is that we are dealing with more than one.

Most, if not all, of the third act will be inside the mill, which is simultaneously a lair, a museum, and a temple to some ancient, gruesome god. It is an eerie, half-lit place, brimming with odd relics and makeshift idols fashioned from the stuff of the woods, arranged throughout in an alien, almost ritualistic fashion. They find stashes of animal and human remains, with craft-like decorations made from the bones and skins of the dead, hinting at a rudimentary symbolic structure. There are even human artifacts gathered here from the distant past: Native American and pioneer weapons, tools, and broken house wares. The creatures are raccoon-like collectors, curious about their human brethren. They’ve even have attempted to mimic them in their own crude and grotesque “art.” We also see ancient items they have kept all the way back to their distant past from when they descended from the north during one of the last ice ages: the tusk from a woolly mammoth has a special place of reverence to them at the center of the shrine, being the oldest item in their collection, and hinting to Sarah, Garrett, and Michael at the magnitude of the ancient force they are dealing with.

Note: The mill was built high in the mountains not just to take advantage of the plentiful forest that surrounds it, but also to take advantage of the large waterfall that cascades down off the side of the cliff above to mill to turn the massive water wheel. Behind the waterfall is a cave, which was the first lair of the creatures before it was disturbed in the construction of the mill. The mill was part of a logging camp set far up from the town. There was once a pass to get there, but it’s long been closed off by a series of mountain slides. It’s this entire valley and the surrounding wilderness that the creatures have come to call home.

The big final action sequence takes place in the flooded bowels of the mill. Sarah and Michael try to escape from Garret. Garret discovers that this is where the creatures live. Sarah becomes our version of Alien’s Ripley, forged by the fires of this conflict, giving her the strength to face her fears and save herself and her husband, finally banishing the nightmares that have plagued her since childhood. Garret is killed by his white whale, but redeems himself at the last moment when he realizes he has become a monster himself. There will of course be hints of his moral ambivalence leading up to this. Perhaps Sarah and Garrett become attracted to each other during their brushes with death in tracking and fleeing the creature in the Second Act. Perhaps he realizes that the logging company disturbed something ancient and holy that shouldn’t have been disturbed and his own loss is just collateral damage from that. Maybe Sarah reminds Garret of his dead wife, and he starts to fall for her and that leads him to even a greater moral dilemma and ultimately the realization he’s become the beast to her beauty. He begins to question his need for revenge and redeems himself at the very end as he decides to let go of his own pain and loss to help this young couple survive and have the life he never could. As for Michael, he has learned the real threat the wilderness poses and has come to understand that there are places and things in nature that are best left alone. At the very least, he won’t be renewing his REI membership anytime soon.

As the story comes to a close, the town of Widow Creek covers the whole thing up and puts a fence up around the creatures’ territory. The legend lives on! The final scene is a warm summer day with a couple of campers or another small family out on a day hike, with the husband pressuring his wife to go exploring beyond the fence. Or maybe a couple of really young rebellious kids decide to hop the fence. Roll credits as we rapidly pull back down from the mountain away from the family/kids as if fleeing their inevitable fate.

Nick Says: So good.

Disclaimer:

This article series is in no way affiliated with SyFy. This is a creative experiment and ongoing test of nerves that is perpetrated by a few insane people and should be construed as such. If for some reason these people actually make one of these as a feature it must be chalked up to their own lunacy. These are the intellectual property of Mr. Andrew Cosby and not the property of CHUD.com or SyFy.