Cancelled (A Special Halloween Grindhouse Trailer Script)

A Bit of a Halloween special for my regulars. I had the idea for a mock trailer in the style of 70s and 80s B-horror movies but since I lack the ability to quickly turn out a film in time for the holiday you get a short script instead. Anyway, enjoy ‘Cancelled‘ (released in the UK under the title ‘Polypans‘ and in Italy as ‘Zombi V: House of Deadness.’

A large van with an early 60s design but with futuristic accents such as hydrogen power plugs and slick almost hovering wheels pulls up to the end of an abandoned looking dirt road at the edge of the woods. Four teenagers dressed in a hybrid style between the 90s and the early 60s but with new and unprecedented fashion accents exit the car. They are all fit and attractive people. Two males, two females.

NARRATOR: This Halloween, get ready for a homecoming.

HANDSOME LEADER GUY: Here it is.

DUSHKU LOOKING GIRL: We’re going to stay HERE?

Cut to what they are looking at. An abandoned suburban neighborhood. Long neglected and being taken over by overgrowing woods. Autumn leaves are changing and multicolored leaves swirl through the air.

HANDSOME LEADER GUY: Where my parents grew up. Where they had to flee from due to the war. I’m taking it back.

FUNNY BLACK GUY: And you just brought us along to help fix up pretending it was a camping trip?

GOTH GIRL: I like it, it makes a STATEMENT.

Cut to puffy eyes behind cat’s eyes glasses looking through the bushes at the teens and heavy breathing.

The teens have made a ‘camp’ inside one of the overgrown suburban buildings, fire roaring in the fireplace being the only thing keeping the dark at bay.

DUSKU LOOKING GIRL: So what’s the story with this place?

HANDSOME LEADER GUY: Ever since my folks left in the Culture Wars, no one has been here. Only now that we are rebuilding did I find out I still have the deed.

GOTH GIRL: It was places like these that they originally came from you know. The Cancelers.

Sudden look of fear passes between all the teens.

GOTH GIRL: For years they reigned. Anyone could be fired, shunned, or disappeared for offending them.

Cut to the basement, POV of looking up through the floorboards at the teens. Sounds of multiple people breathing heavily.

GOTH GIRL: Living standards declined, the people suffered under the feudal reign of technology companies who used them to divide the populace. Society was given only identities in recompense for their trouble. But then, the uprising began-

FUNNY BLACK GUY: Yeah, this is primary school stuff. Why did no one come back out here though. Free land.

GOTH GIRL: The suburbs were tainted and left to rot. After the purges people thought the few surviving Cancelers would return there.

DUSKU LOOKING GIRL: Then why are we here?

Back to the POV of whatever is under the floorboards.

(O.S.) AGED VOICE: Take them.

GOTH GIRL: Nothing has been seen of the survivors since.

HANDSOME LEADER GUY: Its time to take back the heritage robbed from us-

The trapdoor bursts outward into the campers in a spray of wooden shards as multiple emaciated scuttling forms emerge and assault the teens. They are middle-aged and withered, looking like meth heads.  They wear weathered Mardi-Gras style anime girl heads that obscure their faces.

NARRATOR: But this home is no safe space.

Rapid flashing of dark scenes under ground as the anime-headed skinny men beat and carry the teens down earthen tunnels filled with pastel-colored children’s toys and broken electronic equipment.

The four are dumped in a kind of throne room akin to a hoarder’s nest. From a tunnel that recedes into blackness comes a mechanical whirring that grows ever closer.

NARRATOR: It the nest of things better left buried.

The four scream as a bloated woman with no legs emerges from the dark on a mobility scooter. Her hair is asymmetrical and blue, her eyes milky under cracked cat’s eye glasses.

BROODMOTHER: Xze, Xzi, Xzo, Xzum. I smell the blood of CISCUM.

The anime heads prostrate in front of her and then scuttle about. The Broodmother points to the Funny Black Guy. ‘He will do nicely to start.’

He screams as two anime-heads pick him up and carry him forward. Broodmother spreads her legs.

BROODMOTHER: Welcome to the polycule, you will know honor here, Pee Oh Cee.

FUNNY BLACK GUY: (desperately) Wait! I’m gay! I can’t! No women sorry!

Broodmother’s face become livid.

BROODMOTHER: DID YOU JUST ASSUME MY GENDER?

The anime-heads recoil in shock.

BROODMOTHER: POLYCULE! LEAVE NONE OF THESE FASCISTS ALIVE!

The anime-heads raise their ‘faces’ into the air and let out a keening wail in unison as the four teens struggle free and flee down the darkened corridors.

NARRATOR: They did not know the folly of coming. They did not heed the warnings of those who said stay out of the suburbs.

Montage of scenes of the characters struggling with anime-heads in the dark, sudden ambushes and rusted torture chambers flash before our eyes as horror synth reaches a manic crescendo. Handsome Leader Guy is clearly shown on a leash, scrambling about on all fours and forced to eat viscera from a dog bowl. Dushku Looking Girl knocks an anime-heads mask off, recoiling from the neckbeardish face beneath which we briefly see has an impossibly expanding mouth opening ever wider like a gateway into a portal of tongues.

NARRATOR: Now it is THEY who are…

Goth Girl clutches a hatchet in panic as she hides under a desk in what looks like an abandoned human resources office while the Broodmother looms in the doorway in silhouette.

BROODMOTHER: There’s no room for your problematic edginess in this wholesome home, sweaty.

NARRATOR: CANCELLED!

(Rated R. Coming to theaters near you this Halloween. Don’t See it alone.)

Halloween Musings from the Allegheny Plateau

For my road trip through much of the Allegheny Plateau, I planned to be there near peak fall. A freak late season heat wave prevented practically any vibrant colors from coming out in most places I went to it turned out, but the rest of the journey went off without a hitch and I hit all of my target stops but one.

I had the good fortune to be doing this trip while reading the book (that I am still reading as of now) When They Severed Earth From Sky, which is about how prehistoric and premodern myths often reflect distorted accounts of real world events. Often natural in origin. The book postulates that in a non-record keeping culture, it is easier to pass down information from one generation to another if human intention and romantic flourish is added to the account. This ensures that future storytellers will want to tell it and tribe members will want to hear it.

One of the reasons I went on this trip is to do ‘research’ of a sort. Since 2018 I have been writing on ongoing fiction short story series about a post-United States (but not post-apocalyptical in the environmental sense) future centered around this region and the new cultures that grow up in the void left by the parting of the old society. The technology level is kind of rustbelt modern, akin to the STALKER games, but with a heavy dose of folk horror and sword and sorcery. Given the propensity of people to claim to see strange creatures in this region, and my past experience road tripping in West Virginia, it made a natural choice. Also, around this time the disastrous Fallout 76 came out, which I avoided and whose release time was coincidental with my own development of this setting. But it kind of challenged me to do the region better, as I knew I could. So far, I have used many of the Appalachian cryptids (as well as less modern folklore) to help round out the stories. The overall vibe kind of comes across as a hybrid between something Laird Barron would write and the game Dusk.

Serpent Mound, the only truly ancient site I visited.

One wonders what it is that makes this region so good for spooks and haints. I imagine the deep religiosity (but for a Manichean monotheism) clashes with the brooding forests and broken hills. This is creature country. Not the desert of the Bible. The desire to treat this still very wild land in the traditional sense of the devout English or Ulstermen fails. But the desire to see something memorable and folkloric remains. The failure to take in enough of the preexisting Shawnee mythology leaves a void that the distant and blandly universal god of the Bible could never truly fill when it comes to regional identity. Point Pleasant, at least, has a petroglyph of an Algonquian water panther, though my picture of it is not good enough to bother uploading here. Anyway, they have their own local creature since the 60s and the tourists it draws in has brought the downtown back from the brink.

Mothman statue, Point Pleasant.
Flatwoods Monster, original sighting site in Flatwoods, WV. Now a fast food and ice cream joint.

With the coming and going of coal and industry, the region feels like its slipping back into something premodern. So why shouldn’t it be a pioneer in re-mythologizing itself? Sure, the Mothman and the Flatwoods Monster strike me as large birds, especially owls, seen in low light conditions and mistaken for giant humanoid monsters since perspective and distance were off. But they represent a very real desire for re-enchantment of the world. Not in the generic occidental monolithic religious way we are used to, but in a localized way that differentiates some regions from another. Much like the Jersey Devil does for my current region or the Kushtaka for coastal Alaska. They are mascots as well as something else. Something specific.

If we lived in a world were Carthage had beaten Rome and our western-Eurasian maritime culture had ended up being a Carthaginian-Celtic-Hellenistic hybrid (one can dream) I can imagine two things: 1. more syncretism with the native traditions in North America upon advent of the colonial period, and 2. local shrines and temples to strange sightings. I imagine this is how gods got started in the first place anyway. My favorite thing about being in Japan, second only to heated vending machines, is the localized nature of Shinto temples. Imagine a Mothman or Jersey Devil or Coyote temple, laid out open plan. Multiple buildings built around natural features for a seamless regional experience that reflects the land that myths arise from, as well as the myths themselves.

Seen in this light, the ruins of the region are not just testaments to a past sinking into entropy, but also a fountain for new myths for the future. A reinvigorated folklore for a changing culture could be born here. This is true for many other similar places as well. As Ibn Khaldun teaches us, its often the neglected and sidelined places where solidarity is re-forged first, and thus where the impetus of history can shift towards. This is how I view a future-oriented trek to the adaptations we need to deal with living in the Anthropocene, a process I have previously written about as The Black Longhouse.

Near the end of my trip, I hiked down the abandoned Pennsylvania Turnpike towards Sidelong Hill tunnel. One of three abandoned hill-traversing tunnels from a section of the highway that was dropped from use in the 1960s. Unsurprisingly, what I found there was a local youth shrine of sorts. Graffiti and messages, many sloppy, some funny, all of them speaking to the power of this place to communicate outside of oneself and for those of certain dispositions to congregate.

I walked deep into the gash in the earth, into the bowels of the Allegheny mountains. At about the halfway point, when both exits were distant smudges of light, I stopped and shut off my flashlight. In the perfect damp darkness I stood. I clapped, hollered, and sang. My own voice came back to me a hundredfold from every direction, amplified and distorted.

Ancient shamans would have killed for a better otherworldly experience.

Happy Halloween.