The hottest horror director in town charges in and grabs a juicy new horror story.

Genre: Horror (short story)
Premise: When a new home is moved onto an empty lot in a Texas town, it begins haunting all the houses around it.
About: What did I tell you guys? Write those short stories! Especially in the horror space. They’ve become the new million dollar spec sale. This short story got everyone around town hot and bothered and ended up in the hands of the scalding Zach Cregger (Barbarian), fetching just shy of 1 mil. The story is written by a newbie writer, Victor Sweetser, who was actually pitched the story from someone in the business who had seen his writing from Reddit and then Sweetser wrote the story and published several parts of it on Reddit.  It was the person who pitched Sweetser who helped set the whole thing up for a bidding war. Cregger will team with Roy Lee at New Line (It) to make the film. The two are collaborating on another hot project that sold recently called “Weapons.”
Writer: Victor Sweetser
Details: 34 pages

A while back I talked about how Barbarian had one of the best opening acts I’ve seen in years. Apparently, Hollywood agreed, because since then, the director, Zach Cregger, has become the town’s newest obsession. He has set up not one, not two, but THREE different projects this year, all of which resulted in big auctions with lots of bids.

This is his latest sale and it comes from the newest get-rich-quick scheme for writers – a killer short horror story.

17 year old Chloe lives on a normal block in a Texas town, the kind of place where nothing much goes on. Her days consist of looking forward to seeing her boyfriend, Mason, who has his faults but is, overall, a pretty awesome partner. Chloe also likes to slum around town with her kinda dumb best friend, Kat, and her dainty brother, Jake.

Then one day, a house moves onto the block. That’s right. Like, an actual giant Victorian house is wheeled into the one open lot on the block and plopped down there. Everyone is confused by this but Chloe and Mason see it as a new opportunity to have some fun so they go inside that night. Except only one of them comes out. Mason, simply, disappears!

The next day, at school, while in class, Chloe and her class see a naked guy on the school’s football field charging at them. It’s Mason! Mason sprints, with hate in his eyes, straight at Chloe, bashing into the window and hitting the dirt. Something happened to him in that house. Something bad.

Chloe does some research and finds out that the house owners bought the house for FREE on Facebook. The only stipulation was that they move it out of its New Orleans neighborhood. So they moved it here. Quickly, everyone on the block starts going crazy. One homeowner sets himself on fire! Another drives their car straight into another neighbor’s house. Clearly, this house is doing something to everyone.

Chloe knows that it’s only a matter of time before she’s next so she recruits Jake and Kat to go to New Orleans and learn how to stop the house. Once there, they get the low down. The house was responsible for destroying an entire neighborhood! Everyone had gone crazy. Chloe now knows that if she’s going to stop the madness, she has to go back to Texas, go into the house, and face whatever it is that’s doing this.

One of the hardest things to do in writing is find a new spin on an old idea that actually feels new. As writers, we’re really good at convincing ourselves that we’ve come up with a new spin when, in actuality, we’ve just come up with a weaker version of a previously successful idea.

It’s like saying you’ve come up with a new spin on the disaster genre by having a giant earthquake hit Portland instead of Los Angeles. Sure, your disaster is taking place in a different city. And that does make it “different” by the letter of the law. But does that difference make it desirable to audiences? That’s the real question. And a Portland earthquake movie does not.

I do have sympathy for writers looking for that “same but different” idea because sometimes, a writer will come up with only the tiniest change and still, somehow, strike gold. Like M3GAN. It’s Chucky with the only difference being now the doll is AI. Other than that, IT’S THE SAME FREAKING MOVIE!

So I’m not going to pretend like this is an exact science but I do think that Occupant hits that “same but different” mark as I’ve never seen a story where a haunted house is moved into a neighborhood.

It’s a pretty cool concept and I liked the idea of the haunted house making the entire block haunted. Not only was it different but, from a story perspective, it forces your hero to be active. Because, since Chloe lives on the block, she has to figure out how to stop this haunting or she dies too.

Chloe was one of the things I liked best about the short. Often times, in horror screenplays, writers make the mistake of having their hero wait around for the next scare. Not only is Chloe active within her own neighborhood, but once things get really bad, she travels to another state to figure out how to defeat this thing. So Chloe alone pushes – dare I say SHOVES – this narrative forward.

Moving on to the adaptation of this story, short story writers who are using the medium as an avenue for a spec sale need to make sure that the Hollywood readers can see places within the story that can be expanded for the movie. Or else your story won’t feel like it has enough meat for a feature.

So I’m happy to say I could see the whole movie here. There’s this section that the writer rushes past where, individual neighbors start doing crazy things, such as lighting themselves on fire and I realized, you could make all of the characters on this block bigger characters for the movie. And then you can expand this section where they all start going crazy because of the haunted house’s effect. Cause I felt that section was the one with the most potential. So I was actually kinda surprised the writer zipped by it. But it’s going to work great on-screen. It’s such an obvious place for the screenwriter to expand.

The story also has a great villain. There are these figurines and images on old dishes and vases throughout the house of this “twisted woman” who looks like she’s trying to do the most advanced yoga pose ever. Only later do we learn that this is the woman who’s haunting the place. And, naturally, when we finally see her in twisted form, we’re terrified.

So, I liked a lot about this story. However, it still only gets a “worth the read” from me because, in the end, there’s nothing truly stand-out about the short. If feels like, if there are any missteps in the production, that it could end up being a Scream knock-off. And Scream isn’t good anymore. So that’s not what you want.

Which, I guess, begs the question: Which Cregger is showing up for this movie? Is it the Cregger who directed the first 50 minutes of Barbarian? Or is it the Cregger who directed the second 50 minutes? Because those were two completely different movies. If the first 50 Cregger shows up, this is going to be good. Cause the story is solid.

[ ] What the hell did I just read?
[ ] wasn’t for me
[x] worth the read
[ ] impressive
[ ] genius

What I learned: Even if you nail everything in a fun concept like this, you’ll still find yourself struggling to sell it if you haven’t come up with a visually scary villain. If this haunted house is just haunted by some old creepy dude, that’s not enough. This weird twisted woman conjures up a much more aggressive and freaky image. Which is exactly what you want. You want that reader imagining that creepy villain on screen. That’s the exclamation point for selling a horror story like this. Because once the producer can see that unique freaky villain that they can build an entire marketing campaign around, THEY’RE IN.