Or rather than a movie pitch, you could use this as the plot to an adventure, a backstory, or a campaign kickoff.
A new viral breaks out. It has a very slow incubation period, very few external symptoms, and requires personal contact to spread, so by the time it is detected it exists worldwide, and no one is sure how many people have it.
People who get it are largely immune to bacteria, fungus, parasites, and other viruses. Also, they can recognize each other by touch, and have a primal urge to care for and protect each other. They aren’t telepathic and don’t always agree on anything else (including the best way to protect and care for each other), but they do all feel “curing” them, or slowing the spread of the virus, is bad. And some “Spreaders” feel their best bet is to infect as many people as possible, so the number of them that want to protect each other goes up, even though that requires lots of close personal contact.
Meanwhile, governments of the world begin to realize Spreaders could mean the end of the existing global power structure. First they try to deny Spreaders have any benefits, then briefly hammer on the truth unknowns — will Spread mutate? What are the long-term effects? But quickly, it becomes a combination of clanism and competing narratives. Stories claim some Spreaders have begun attacking anyone not infected in zombie-like biting sprees, but no one knows if it’s true and, even if it is, how common it is or what provocations might be present. More believable reports claim in in 1 million people die slow, agonizing deaths if they catch the Spread, but even that can’t be proven to the masses one way or another.
Spread becomes a new global faction, growing through a dedicated outreach program of its members without any core leader, debatable ideology, or unified message. Spreaders claim universal infection would mean utopia. Ethical objectors say much too much is unknown about how Spread will impact humanity over generations, philosophers object to the biological compunction of it overriding free will, and uninfected people in power simply have no interest in losing their positions to a virus.
Can a compromise be found, or will humanity destroy itself because of an infection that makes it want to selflessly help itself?
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Nobody ever pays much attention to Slammer, Oklahoma. Sure, it’s weird that there’s one Big House where the mayor lives, and everyone else is in tiny cabins and do farm work. And yeah, now that you mention it it’s odd that so many of the residents are cyborgs, floating brains, talking wombats, and the floating brains of talking wombat cyborgs.
But, it’s not like the whole town is populated by nothing but paroled super-villains, living under the watchful eye of the God of Dungeons just so they can live some semblance of a normal life, right?
And when tornadoes tear and flooding through Slammer and all the surrounding counties, taking out the God of Dungeons and doing a ton of damage and putting lives at risk, how are the ex-villains going to react to the combination of sudden unmonitored freedom, and a massive natural disaster?
Rob a bank?
STEAL a bank?
All of the above? …
Sometimes, I have good ideas I just can’t get out of my head.
These are not those.
10. Army of the Dead Zone
A virus causes people to go crazy, bite 2-3 other people, fall into a coma, then wake up 5 years later with psychic powers. As interesting as all that sounds, this is a heist movie that doesn’t really touch on it.
9. Halloween Out of Space
A strange holiday descends from space, which no one can describe, but celebrating it involves lots of people showing up without calling first, spending time with your least favorite relatives and your boss’s family, and killing people with an axe.
8. Nightmare on Wall Street
What’s that you say, the movie Wall Street isn’t a horror film, so this isn’t a horror film mashup?
(Stares at you in late-stage capitalism.)
After conning retirees out of their life savings, a Wall Street bigwig is burned at the stake. But his greed is so great, he survives as a dream-based apparition, who can force people to pay him if they want to sleep.
7. Silence of the Quiet Place
Yes, hearing-based aliens have invaded the world and everyone must operate in complete noiselessness. But the FBI still needs to catch serial killers, even if they have to pass notes delicately written in crayon to serial killers for insight into what kind of wacko goes on a killing spree during an alien invasion.
6. Amityville of the Corn
It turns out the same architect who built the Amityville House built an identical house for himself in the corn fields of Nebraska. Sadly, entirely by coincidence the architecture itself is a form of spirit-summoning rune, and He Who Walks Behind the Corn, and the kid who wishes you to the cornfields, and the cannibalistic creeper who pretends to be a scarecrow have al moved in.
5. Bride of Young Frankenstein
The wife of Young Frankenstein decides to make her own monster, for the merchandizing potential.
4. Train to Cabin in the Woods
An evil corporation tries use supernatural monsters to kill off everyone on a train to appease evil gods who are conceptual stand-ins for the audience itself, while constantly complaining that their actions are largely pointless, derivative, and a crude cash-grab as conceptual stand-ins for what the audience are thinking. Obviously, this is a prequel.
3. The Mummy of the Opera
An opera singer’s voice is so bad, it could wake the dead. And it does.
2. Night of the Cabinet of Doctor Dracula’s Labyrinth Hostel
Doctor Dracula, professor of bloodletting, lures innocent tourists into his maze-themed air bnb so his animated cabinet can torture them. … Or something like that, anyway.
1. Interview with a Voorhees
An unkillable psychopathic murderer agrees to give a reporter an exclusive interview on what it is like to be the vengeful spirit of not letting teenagers have any fun. In the end, the Voorhees turns the reporter into a vengeful spirit of not letting teenagers have fun
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Introduction: The Tao of Jim
If you’re readying this, there’s a good chance you already know more about how Plan Z worked out than I do now while writing it. I don’t know if it’s more likely that you’re a bored schoolkid reading a dog-earned third edition of a book made from my writing, or another survivor holding a blood-stained copy you pulled out from under my corpse while wondering what hubris lead to my demise, but either way you’re seeing the end result of our efforts, and I’m still uncomfortably near what still feels like the beginning.
But either way, you’re likely wondering how this manuscript, and the place I’m writing it in, came about. And that means you need to understand Plan Z. To understand how Plan Z came about, you have to understand our friend Jim. Which, I mean… it’s not like any of us really understand Jim…
Okay, let me try to explain.
So, first, Jim doesn’t process information like anyone else I know. He has a deep, subconscious need to connect any information he has to a potential explanation for it. It doesn’t matter if that explanation is silly, iffy, or obviously wrong–he has to have some rationale to link to anything he sees, hears, thinks of, or watches. If he can’t, if he runs into anything that doesn’t make sense to him, it eats him up inside until he finds a way to attach a rationale, any rationale, to the unexplained.
If a movie has a huge plot hole, Jim is bothered by it until he (or often someone else) can provide reasoning–no matter how far-fetched–on how it could have happened. If he hears about an unsolved mystery, he has to study and research it until he has a potential solution figured out. If someone does something stupid, he has to theorize about it until he can come up with a theoretical example of what the hell they were thinking that made them do it. It doesn’t matter if he’s learning about a crime of passion, a b-movie full of plot holes, or archeological artifacts found with no context. If he comes across something that doesn’t have a clear, well-laid-out history of how and why it happened, he needs to make one up for himself.
To be clear, Jim knows this isn’t rational, but it’s just part of who he is. It’s actually one reason he got into the University of West Colorado’s Tabletop Game League, where we all met him. Games make sense to Jim — you do things because there were rules, and if a rule is unclear or contradictory everyone agrees it has to be fixed. When he joined the League was mostly focused on wargames and roleplaying games (especially Atomic Age, Glaive 4000AD, NapoleonPunk, and Wyverns & Woodlands), and Jim prefers trading card games and boardgames (due to cleaner and tighter rules I suspect), but he played whatever was most popular… even if he didn’t enjoy it.
By the way, if I’m making Jim sound stupid, I have done him a disservice. Jim is among the smartest people I have ever met. He never forgets a fact, sees how things are interconnected and impact one another, can plan, iterate, theorize, and design at levels few can match. His mind tends more towards concrete systems — math, engineering, things where he can be sure that event x inevitably leads to result y — but in that arena he’s a genius.
Which, sadly, sometimes caused him problems.
Often, Jim will mentally envision complex patterns of events he blames for apparently random events. Someone didn’t just get hit by a car and killed because life sucks. No, if someone was hit by a car, then they weren’t wearing reflective enough clothing. Or they had to walk because they didn’t have a bike. Or the reason the driver didn’t see them was that the car didn’t have tinted directional fog lights. To stay sane, Jim has to blame everything bad on some failure to plan or prepare.
As a result, Jim has spent his entire life building up a mental list of things he needs to be ready for. Whether those things are likely enough that it’s rational to be prepared for them isn’t what matters to Jim. Instead, he preps for whatever he’s spent time agonizing to make sense of, and what steps he can take to prevent a similar “nonoptimal outcome.” Even when I first met him, Jim’s truck was practically a roving emergency shelter and mini-pharmacy for like, 12 people. Jim didn’t just want to keep himself safe from his long list of potential disasters, he needed to be able to protect his friends as well.
And that brings us to point two about him.
Jim is desperate for a close social circle, and doesn’t trust his own personality, choices, or preferences to build it for him. A gaming club was perfect for him, because we’d invite anyone who wanted to play to game days, and if he showed up he was part of the group. I’m embarrassed to admit how long it took us to realize Jim was willing to be unhappy in order to be included, but in our defense we were young, stupid, and often drunk. But as long as we didn’t actively tell Jim to go away, he was always happy to hang out. And, as a core group of us became fast friends, we befriended Jim–at least as best we could. Some of us left college to begin careers while Jim got a Master’s Degree… and a second Master’s Degree, and started on a third Master’s Degree. But most of the Monday Night Heroes stayed close enough to campus that we could get together for Monday Game Night most weeks.
And as we dated, married, had fights and falling outs and make-ups and parties, Jim was just always there. For the Monday Nighter’s, Jim became part of the background of our lives. He was invited to celebrations, movie nights, road trips, and he never said no. I suspect Jim was actually really lonely, since we weren’t smart enough to ever think about what he wanted to do. He invited us to do a few things that interested him: camping, hunting, canning, quilting, pressing flowers, Historical Martial Arts practice… but we almost never accepted. And, for whatever reason, he didn’t click with the communities that were interested in those things. So if we did anything, or needed anything, or wanted anything, Jim was there. In short, Jim was a good friend.
The rest of us, maybe not so much.
Finally, and this is crucial to how things panned out, while none of us realized it, Jim was rich. I’m not surprised we had no idea, since he wore the same clothes until they fell apart, drove a 30-year old suv, ate store-brand canned food, lived in a 450-square-foot apartment that was once a garage, and had no interest in expensive things. But his family had owned multiple ranches, and he’d inherited them all. Some had oil wells paying him royalties. Many were leased to other ranchers, or loggers, and one had ended up having a suburb develop around it, so Jim had houses built and rented out an entire small neighborhood. He had a personal banker, a personal lawyer… and I guess we all knew that, but we just chalked it up to his family having lots of professional friends.
But, no. Jim had money. Lots of money.
In a way, I’m glad no one seemed to realize that. I’m not convinced I could have kept myself from taking advantage of Jim wanting friends and being rich, and he doesn’t deserve to be treated that way. I’m only alive today because Jim decided I was a friend, and to be honest I haven’t really done anything to deserve that. But without Jim’s psychological quirks, interest in nerdy things, membership in our social circles, genius intellect, and surprisingly deep pockets, Plan Z never would have happened. And even with all that, it only happened because of a power outage.
It’s true. This all started on a cold, dark night. I’ll explain.
While Monday nights were always for gaming, we often had what we called the “Cheese and Cheese Gathering” on Saturdays. The event was specifically designed to watch a cheesy scifi or fantasy movie, and eat a cheese-based dinner and snacks. Yes, it’s stupid, but we had fun, and Jim loved it. He knew what to expect. He could bring anything with cheese flavor, and it was welcomed as appropriate to the event. Sliced cheese? Sure, gimme a slice. Cheeseburgers from the McClown drivethru? Classic. Novelty cheddar soda? What the heck, we need something to get us through watching Cyborg Cannibal Clowns 3 – the Clownening, pop me open a can.
The night Plan Z was born, we were watching Dusk of the Living Dead and enjoying pizza-topping-nachos and cheddar-crusted chicken nuggets, when the power went out. There was a snowstorm, which honestly was worse than we’d been prepared for, and when everything went dark in the whole neighborhood all at once, we realized no one was going home that night. We had enough candles, and Jim had 4 camping lanterns, a backup generator, weather radio, sleeping bags, and MREs in his truck, so we weren’t worried. But, as we set up a faux-camp in Dana and Dale’s living room and sat up through the night, we got bored.
I wouldn’t have remembered exactly who was there that night, but Jim wrote it down on page 1 of what became the Plan Z Survival Guide. There was Jim, me (I’m Casey), Dana and Dale (it was at their house), Jayden, Liam, Mia, and Sanjay. That was pretty much a full house in those days–Jordan had stopped coming around after Mia quite-rightly slapped him, Nevaeh hadn’t really joined the clique yet, and Roger never came to Cheese and Cheese because he and Dale never got along. So we managed to entertain ourselves for a bit by talking about what we’d each done that week, arguing about politics, religion, and pizza styles, and telling bad jokes. But, eventually, conversation lulled.
Then, Jim asked us why the characters in Dusk of the Living Dead had decided to take shelter in a Giganto-Mart when everyone started turning into zombies. While it had lots of useful stuff, he pointed out that it would be a target for any survivalist groups still around, the front of it was all breakable glass windows, and (as the movie was showing when the power cut out), once zombies got inside, there’d be no good way to keep them from roaming over the whole store.
And so, for lack of any better topic, we began figuring out the best plan for surviving the Zombie Apocalypse.
It was a surprisingly Socratic event. Someone would postulate something, like claiming the best place to hole up would be in a cabin in the mountains, and the rest of us would ask questions to test that claim. Were the woods really the best place? Was a cabin the best option? What about an old-style prison, with stone walls and guard towers? But would the prisoners be a high risk factor? Well, not if it was a decommissioned prison. Would such a place be in good repair? It could be, if it was bought in advance and maintained and updated for survival. What kind of updates and supplies? Well, food, weapons, survival gear, maps, a library of how-to books, at least. Farm equipment? Maybe, how many people are going to shelter here? Well, 7-8 is supposed to be the ideal size for survivalist groups. What about repopulation? Okay, you’d need a bigger group for that, but if you start with 7-8 and they form the leadership of a community made up of survivors who find them…
We spent all night doing it, Our smartphones still had reception, so we could look up facts, locations, pricing, storage, shelf life of foods, the most common ammo type in the state, what crops would be best, what skills you’d want people to have, and how would you arrange in advance for people with those skills to join you? Of course we didn’t think there was any chance there’d be a zombie apocalypse, and we certainly couldn’t have predicted what actually killed the world. We were just goofing around.
Jim was taking notes.
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How do you get a Universal Pictures Monsters shared universe off the ground? By focusing on making one awesome story that stands on its own, but does so in a way that picks up threats from the most popular such movies in recent memory, is inclusive and modernized, and hints at a larger world without taking time away from the things important to your first film. Here’s my pitch:
It is 1950. In communist Romania, Alex O’Connell (early30s white, British, he/him) manages to gain permission for an archaeological team to catalog and record items being removed from an ancient abbey in the Carpathian Mountains prior to its demolition as part of a plan to build a massive road to access the Transylvanian Plain. The Romanian official warns Alex he is only doing this as a favor to Alex’s parents, who were allies during the War and in the troubled years afterward.
Alex brings the good news to Jonsey Johnson (early 30s, black, French/American dual citizen with links to Paris and Harlem), the head of expedition security, and Doctor Mary Jessica Van Helsing (early 30s, white, Dutch, she/her), the expedition’s leader. The three talk about the archaeological value of such a mission, as well as the political and regional dangers, and all three hint their parents raised them to be… cautious. Alex has a cat. Jonsey has a German shepherd. Mary has a fancy white rat. The three animals get along surprisingly well.
Meanwhile at the abbey, looters are holding local workers at gunpoint, forcing them to use their digging tools to break through the back of the abbey’s basement wall. The looters have an old map that claims the “Eyes of the Dragon” have been locked away in a secret chamber. The looters think these are gems.
But the Eyes of the Dragon actually refers to Dracula, who leaks out of a tomb under the Abby in a mist form when the wall is cracked, and one by one turns the looters and workers into his ghoul minions. Only one manages to flee out of the abbey, into the sunlight.
Alex, Jonsey, and Mary (and their expedition) reach the base camp at one end of the Carpathian pass, but find it abandoned. Both become very suspicious, and eventually find the survivor, who explains what he saw. Alex asks if there were hieroglyphics, or Chinese or Aztec symbols. Confused, the worker says no. Jonsey asks if there were vials, chemical agents, or signs of drugmaking. More confused, the worker says no. Mary asks if there were signs of dragons and inverted crosses. The survivor says there were… maybe. He wasn’t paying much attention.
The expedition decides to send the laborer back to the big city with half the expedition’s Romanian guards, to report the attack to the government. Alex, Joney, and Mary all three slip him letters to send to their respective parents, each without the others knowing.
That night, the base camp is attacked by ghouls. The main character’s pets all send up warnings, allowing Alex, Jonsey, and Mary to gear up with their respective monster hunting equipment. (Alex’s are in the false bottom of a steamer trunk. Jonsey’s are stashed in muscial instrument cases. Mary’s are secreted away in a hidden drawer of her traveling work desk.) During the fight, they run into each other, and realize they all have anti-monster experience.
Mary: “You’ve fought vampires before?”
Alex: “Vampires? Those are real?! No, mummies. Mostly, And one dragon.”
Jonsey: “Mummies are real? I’ve fought vampires and a dragons, yeah. Never a mummy.”
Mary: “Dragons? Like, fire-breathing flying lizards? Those are real?!”
Curious as to how his ghoul’s attack was repulsed, Dracula visits the camp the next day. He asks one of their team-members if he can enter the camp, and is told yes, causing Dracula to give a big smile. He goes up to Alex, Jonsey, and Mary, and asks if they were the ones to treat his pets so harshly the night before. Alex begins to draw down on Dracula, but Jonsey stops him, asking the vampire if he was invited into the camp. He affirms he was, and Jonsey rolls her eyes. Mary then tells Alex a vampire can’t attack them while he is their guest, and if he is attacked they’ll be cursed.
Alex notes he thought vampires couldn’t move about in daylight. Dracula asks where he got that idea, and Mary confirms it’s true for some vampires, but not Carpathians. Jonseynotes it doesn;t apply to a lot of Non-western bloodsuckers.
Dracula says he is unsurprised they were able to send his servants fleeing, because Alex reminds him of his most beloved servant and general. Almost as if the spirit of Dracula’s dear friend was reincarnated in Alex.
Mary asks Alex if he could be a reincarnation of Dracula’s beloved friend. Alex shrugs, and says it runs in the family. Jonsey, meanwhile, tells Mary she quits, and walks away. Alex is flustered Jonsey would quit NOW, but Jonsey points out her name is on the papers the Romainian government signed too, so she can set up her own camp if she wants to. Mary tells him not to worry, she trusts Jonsey.
Dracula suggests Alex leave the expedition and join him. Jonsey is seen getting people to take down her tent, and draws a line in the dirt, loudly telling Alex and Mary that anything on her side of the line is now HER camp, and screw them. Dracula seems amused, and begins to talk about how hard help is to get these days, when Mary distracts him by noting Dracula still has some scars from where he was injured last century, and wonders how long it took him to heal from that near-death. He is angered and suspicious, and asks her how she knows about his last conflict. She tells him her family name, and he looses some of his cool and nearly attacks her.
In the background, Jonsey has gotten all the expedition members to set her tent BACK up. Alex asks if she is leaving, or not, and she tells him if he has a question for her, he can come over where she is and ask her. Alex has his father’s confused-and-annoyed expression, but Mary grabs his arm and hauls him across the line Jonsey drew in the dirt. All the remaining expedition workers are around Jonsey’s tent. Dracula goes to follow, but stops up short at the line, as if hitting a barrier.
Jonsey says she didn’t invite him into HER camp. Alex grins, and he and Jonsey and Mary unload at Dracula, who is taken by surprise and flees.
The plot can proceed from there along pretty typical adventure/horror lines — Alex, Jonsey, and Mary decide Dracula is growing stronger by the day, and they can’t wait to stop him, so they go after him in the tomb complex. The three have different and complimentary skills, and make a good team. They hunt down Dracula and seem to destroy him, but when he “dies,” a gem that looks like a snake eye falls to the ground. Mary realizes this is one of the two legendary Eyes of the Dragon, relic of the Order of Dracul, and it’s how Dracula survived her grandfather’s assault in the late 1800s. Alex smashes it, and asks how many such gems there are. Mary says two, and three agree they need to find and destroy the other one.
Searching through in notes found in the camp of the Looters who released Dracula, they find that there were two places the Looters thought the Eyes of the Dragon might be. One was here. The other was Castle Frankenstein, and there is a map to a Lost Lab of Frankenstein’s, which might hold the secret location of his original Castle.
Castle Frankenstein then becomes the next movie. In that story, Alex, Jonsey, and Mary seek to find Castle Frankenstein, but find they are competing with a man who can become invisible, who apparently is part of an evil occult organization…. and a little mad. During the source of that movie, it’s revealed some of Doctor Frankenstein’s reagents for creating life came from a lost Black Lagoon, and Frankenstein had sent Igor on an expedition there to gather more materials just days before the villagers stormed his castle, which is why Igor wasn’t around when that happened. There’s no note saying if Igor ever came back…
As the Shared Universe expands, I can get Wolfman, the Phantom of the Opera, and even the Hunchback into this if the first few are successful. The original characters from The Mummy (1999) as occasional support characters. Like, if the Invisible Man’s formula turns out to need blood of an ifrit of the djinn, who are naturally invisible, one of the movies can include a backup appearance by Oded Fehr as Ardeth Bay. And, of course, we can bring in elements from Mary and (rightholders willing) Jonsey’s families as well.
Both heroes and villains expand their plans, form allies, and build toward the end of the first story arc, a final showdown with Dracula, Frankenstein’s Monster, and the Woflman. But even that is only the FIRST story arc…
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A group of very different women, who clearly have all survived horrifying and dangerous experiences, gather to deal with the evils they’re sure are lurking near the about-to-be-opened eponymous cabin.
And this time? They’re prepared.
Ideally this would be “The Expendables,” but with actresses who have survived horror and horror/action movies.
(For example, they all take out million-dollar life insurance policies, and name each other’s friends and families as beneficiaries. But not the group themselves — no one who is going to be at the Cabin is benefitting directly).
“Is that a chainsaw?”
“Yep. Top-handle 16-inch always-start Stihl, with custom grips and fuel gauge.”
“Did you get it from… yaknow?”
“Oh, heck no, he used a stupid-huge, heavy, rusty monstrosity. Bad for combat. I DID salvage some of the links from it’s chain, though.”
“So, you wear full body armor?”
“When hunting, with backup? Fuck yeah. NIJ-certified Level IV. You don’t?”
“No, I prefer stealth and mobility. I have a stab-resistant undersuit. Machete-resistant, too.”
“Tested it against power drills?”
“Haven’t had the opportunity.”
“All right, precheck. Defiled indigenous holy sites or burial grounds?”
“I mean, yes. But no more than anywhere else in this country. None of the surviving original local cultures have any specific warnings for us. I asked.”
“Not that the eco-groups I talked to are aware of.”
“Shipping and power records suggest no.”
“Three recorded massacres, roughly one per generation. Just rare enough for people to forget. Always on a solstice. Like the one coming up.”
“So, cult or supernatural evil.”
“Seems likely. I have silver, jade, white oak, mistletoe, holly, salt, and holy water — in Catholic, protestant, and Eastern Orthodox flavors. And some from a guy named Giles. Oh, and bullets. Lots of bullets.”
“Sounds good, let’s go.”
I specifically wanted a mashup title for this idea, but after expanding a bit I wondered if “Final Girls” would be a better choice. But, it turns out a movie by the title already exists and is just similar enough (it’s kind of Scream via Last Action Hero; an actress’s daughter and her friends get pulled into the actress’s horror movie, giving them a change to use their self-aware trope knowledge to defeat the killer) that I think it’s better not to risk confusion.
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