Advanced Horror Writing: The Screenplay

BY Susan Slaviero

If this were a real horror movie the opening scene would be skin-shallow, crow-mouthed. The villain wants to be loved, but so does the gun. Ignore his promises of surgery, poppet. He might core you with a dull spoon, a rotten spindle. Or, there might be a witch who sees tumors in tea leaves. Perhaps a wolf with a den full of relics, the patellas of schoolgirls embedded in beeswax candles that smell of formaldehyde and poppies. He is stalking you through the barbed ferns. Don’t worry. It’s all been done before. This is the fine distinction between hunt and haunt. Cut to the next scene, a liverlike smear on white canvas, dark feathers, a wormy doll beneath the floorboards. The audience expects bloodied teeth, perhaps a blue, blue eye clenched in a blackbird’s beak. They won’t be disappointed. As the film progresses their bodies wither to dry husks. They taste ammonia beneath their tongues, hear the hum of strange machinery. When the credits roll they emerge from their chrysalis, a fresh flock of gargoyles: greedy, ravenous.


The Monster: Classifications and Explanations*

How to track the monster

Press your sternum to the ground and lift your eye to the rent in the bloodgrass. Seek unnatural leavings: curdled meat in a coconut shell, hexagonal eggs, a shallow grave dug behind a dead girl’s ear. The brush will be freckled with burgundy. It will show patches of blight that suggest salt, or a nuclear detonation. Suckberry. Belladonna. The signs are nebulous. There will be a notable absence of rabbits.

How to recognize the monster’s lair

Probably a hive, pink and ugly. It might be necrotic. Look for stone tables littered with the husks of deboned Jezebels with rosemary in their hair. Or perhaps you will notice a book of rare poisons in the cupboard with the spoons and tea towels? The walls will be chalky, the mirrors painted black. You will find paper cups filled with pointed teeth, grommets behind the brickwork, boiling pots of rattlesnakes and witchvine.

How to know the monster when you see it

If it’s a parasitic bloom with the powers of telepathy, you’re probably being digested already, even if you think you’re in a warm parlor. If you’re lucky, it will be a masked killer baying at a kitchen clock and you’re the one holding the gun, but it isn’t always this easy. The monster might have a proboscis or a circle of eyes on its bare back that swivel in unison. Consider the possibility that it will be hideous, but know that a beautiful cluster of heads is as deadly as it is hypnotic.

How to know if you are the monster

You will know you are the monster if you begin to make your own monsters. These are the homunculi living in the bones of your cheek that make you itch and hunger for fat mugs of milk or maybe you just think you are hungry. Maybe you are lonely. Maybe you will sew yourself a mate out of mannequin limbs and furry rodents you catch with your feet. Maybe you are the unsympathetic character in a horror movie who lives alone and keeps mounds of termites in the basement for nefarious purposes. You will never quite believe you are the monster, even when they find you sleeping in a nest of newspaper with a fresh heart in your pocket.

No. Not even then.


Fairytale of the Body 

Root. Wrack. You said we were linked as in anklet. You admired my pinned wings, the symmetry of my pelvis. Do not swallow, you said, putting a nickel to my lips. Fall, I thought. There was mothwater to drink. A turtle shell crushed beneath a rough brick. You lit a match, drew blood from between your webbed fingers. You were made entirely of ants, teeming in the shape of a boy. When you looked at me, the moon turned to ash. You likened this murder to seduction. This was the dream where you cramped my spine beneath your heel, where I haunted the pocket of your shirt. You said I would lose a tooth and call it a diamond. Remember me as a frog, curled in a damp hole. You left yourself a note: This was August.


Listen to poems from our National Poetry Month "30/30" combo issue!

Susan Slaviero is the author of CYBORGIA, a full-length collection of poetry available from Mayapple Press.  Recent chapbooks include A Wicked Apple (Hyacinth Girl Press 2011,) Apocrypha (Dancing Girl Press 2009) and An Introduction to the Archetypes (Shadowbox Press 2008).  Her work has appeared in journals Fourteen Hills, Flyway, Oyez Review, Artifice Magazine, Mythic Delirium and elsewhere. She designs and edits the online literary journal blossombones and performs with the Chicago Poetry Bordello. 

*Susan won a Pushcart Prize for "The Monster: Classifications and Explanations," featured in Pushcart Prize XXXVIII: Best of the Small Presses.