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Genre: Horror
Premise (from writer): When an outlaw biker, and soon to be father, attempts to leave the sins of his old life behind, he is pushed by a vengeful Sheriff into the arms of an ancient cult of disease worshiping sadists.
Why You Should Read (from writer): The Devil’s Hammer recently won the Top Unproduced Screenplay Award at the Hollywood Horrorfest, Bloodlist Approved, a finalist in the Famous Monsters Film Fest. The Devil’s Hammer is a horror fan’s horror movie. It’s a throwback to the days of Craven, Barker, Raimi with the modern flair of Roth and Zombie. It preys on the primal fears of loss of control and disease. It’s visually gut wrenching, suspenseful and action packed.
Writer: Craig Walendziak
Details: 96 pages

devil's hammer

The Devil’s Hammer got a lot of love from the Amateur Offerings Audience a couple of weeks ago. And the fact that the writer went to Harvard didn’t hurt. Those Ivy League credentials are enough to get someone to at least OPEN your screenplay. But that’s not the only thing noteworthy about today’s writer. Craig claims this is his first script! And while I haven’t read it yet (I will start as soon as this intro is over – I like to get kooky occasionally), I’m already impressed. You’ve got to have some pretty raw talent to get this many people excited over a first screenplay.

The best news is I’m in the perfect condition to read “Hammer.” It’s 3 in the morning, I just watched the first episode of Catfish, this is my fourth script read of the day, and I’m pretty sure when I asked for shrooms on my pizza, they didn’t include the kind you get at the grocery store. So I’m a little bit wired at the moment. On nights like this, scripts can turn into fried cheese balls with wings.  Time to fly away!

The Devil’s Hammer is not that original (even the writer concedes this). It starts with the traditional horror teaser, where a couple of characters (in this case, bikers) get in an accident out in the middle of nowhere, and are soon surrounded by a bunch of dudes in hooded robes. Unless someone is saying “the force is with you,” dudes in hooded robes are NEVER good. I repeat: NEVER take candy from dudes in hooded robes.

After that, we meet a big biker gang. They ride around a lot, doing a bunch of unsavory things. I haven’t seen Sons of Anarchy but I’m guessing these folks cover the same territory. Today, however, they’re just enjoying themselves, drinking some brews at the bar. The key players are Jimmy, who’s planning to leave the group for the straight life, Davie, a huge man who doesn’t think Jimmy should leave, “Wheels,” the young player of the group, “Blitz,” packed with energy, and Maggot, the long-standing vet.

As the men drown themselves in nature’s yeast, the Sheriff and his deputies show up. A little backstory here. The sheriff thinks this gang killed his brother (they didn’t, he’s the one taken by those hooded men in the opening scene, which he shouldn’t have done, because, say it with me, “You never take candy from men in hooded robes unless they can teach you the force.”). One thing leads to another, a huge gunfight ensues, and our core bikers make a run for it. With Maggot injured and bleeding out, they need to find help for him quickly. And where do they end up? An old mining town deep in the forest up in the mountains.

It’s not long before we learn the occupants of this town are those hooded jerkhead jedi impersonators. And that the reason they wear hoods is to hide their horribly diseased faces (which contain boils, tumors, warts, pox, lesions, you name it). So yeah, they’re not e-mailing headshots to the latest America’s Top Model cycle in their spare time.  Or if they are, they’re getting a very low response rate.

Before our gang realizes these diseased wackos are bad, most of them are tied up and helpless. Around this time, the sheriff infiltrates the town as well, but figures out quickly that once Merriwhether and his band of Black Plague pals get you here, you’re at a severe disadvantage.

From there, things naturally descend into chaos. In one scene, one of our men is tied up on a basement hospital gurney, thinking he’s about to be stabbed with a knife. But no. The diseased dude reaches up to his face and slits the knife through all his boils and tumors and lesions, collecting the drooling pus into a glass and inserting it in our biker’s wound, ensuring he’ll be diseased as well (I thought he was going to make him drink it actually – now THAT would’ve been a scene).

It then becomes a life or death situation where our guys have to not only get the hell out of here, but get out of here without getting infected. The chances of that happening are about as good as James Franco posting a fully-clothed selfie.

BikerGang“Excuse me. We’re looking for a run down town of pus-filled rotting sadists.  Is that up past the Waffle House?”

The truest test of a script is, would you pass it along to someone else? Do you care about it enough to go out of your way and recommend it to others? Here’s the thing with The Devil’s Hammer. I’m not sure I would recommend this to others on the strength of the script. But I would recommend it to producers who want to make a good horror movie. I’m 90% sure somebody will option/buy this and that it will get made. It’s just a slam dunk from a marketing perspective. It’s familiar (a Chainsaw Massacre meets House of Wax setup) and it has something a little different going for it that’ll keep the kids squirming in their seats.

And it’s got some really memorable scenes as well. There’s a scene where two of our players are tied up in a room full of children who play a game of “jack-in-the-box” torture, winding the jack-in-the-box one rotation at a time. Whoever gets the jack out of the box gets to torture one of their captives, usually via something like pulling off their finger nails with a set of pliers (That’s a lot different from my game of jack-in-the-box, which consists of trying to figure out why the meat inside the 2 tacos for 99 cents is so soupy).

There’s the fucking grandma character, who absentmindedly plays a creepy endless tune on the piano. When we get close enough to her, though, we see that her body is covered in huge tumors. The one on the left side of her face is so big, it weighs her head down in that direction. She doesn’t even have eyes because the tumors have pushed them closed.

And the church. Wow. I’m not going to spoil it here, but I’m not sure I’ve ever been as horrified by an image on paper as what’s in that church. That’s going to leave a lasting memory for all who witness it.

But what about the STORY! Well, it’s not bad, but it’s not as good as it could be. The thing with this kind of movie is, the script doesn’t have to be perfect. I hate saying that, but as long as you’re inventive with the terrifying world you’ve set up – which Craig is – that’s what matters most. It’s not the same kind of horror as, say, The Ring, which requires clever pacing, solid twists and turns, and well-drawn characters. This is more shock-horror.

I definitely think Craig could do more with his characters though. There’s nothing really going on with any of them. And the ones where there is something going on, it’s not clear what that “on” is. Like Jimmy and Davie. Davie was really mad at Jimmy, but I couldn’t figure out why. It was either because Jimmy was leaving the group or because of something Jimmy did in the past.

Also, I didn’t understand what this biker gang did. Were they a band of criminals, or just really rowdy bikers?

Then there was the Sheriff’s pursuit of them. The Sheriff is informed by the bartender that the bikers are at the bar, which seems to imply that this is the only chance the Sheriff will have of catching them. Except this is the year 2014. All you need is Google to find out where people live. How come he has to wait for them to come together at a bar before he can find them?

Then there’s his plan. The best thing he can think of to catch a band of armed bikers is wait for them to get into a bar, barge in, start a shootout, and hope he’s able to kill them all? That not only seems illegal, but really dumb.

Then, once our bikers get to the town, something was off. It took me awhile to figure out what it was, but I eventually realized I wasn’t scared for our characters. And the reason I wasn’t scared was because they were all so capable. These were tough bikers with guns. They were used to handling themselves.

That’s why horror movies usually center around physically weak protagonists. Young women. Mothers. Mothers and their children. Teenagers. These are people who are up against a stronger enemy, which is why you’re afraid for them. With bikers, even when they were caught, I figured they’d get out of it. They were all just too strong.

With that said, I’m not sure I’d switch the bikers out for weaker protagonists. The biker angle is part of what makes this unique. But maybe try to be more convincing on how these weak diseased dudes are able to so casually defeat the bikers. Maybe they’re smarter than the bikers. They use their intelligence and home field to trick them. But if it comes down to blunt strength, come on. The bikers are going to win every time.

Finally, there isn’t a clear-cut hero here. Not that that’s a requirement, but it sort of is. We need to know who’s leading the charge. At first I thought it was Jimmy, since we start with him, but Jimmy’s actually pretty boring. It’s Davie who actually gets the most screen time. If I were Craig, I’d look to make Jimmy the clear-cut hero and give him the depth that a clear-cut hero needs in a story. Leaving a pregnant girlfriend at the beginning of the script isn’t enough. He needs a flaw, something he’s fighting on the inside. Maybe it’s his fear to commit to this woman. He’s struggling with whether he wants to settle down or not (instead of it being a foregone conclusion). I don’t know. Maybe some of the commenters can give you ideas. But if you’re going to play with the big boys, you gotta learn to create depth in your characters.

With all that said, I think there’s more good here than bad. And I think the good things are so good, that they make you forget about a lot of the mistakes. Don’t get me wrong, I’d like for those mistakes to be fixed as well. But The Devil’s Hammer delivers what its customers want. And if you have that, you have a script that can sell.

Script link: The Devil’s Hammer (latest draft)

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

What I learned: Every scene here was a fresh variation on scenes I’ve seen before. Where genre writers get it wrong is they write COPIES of their favorite scenes. Don’t copy. Start from the same place, but then challenge yourself and look for ways to make the scene yours. I’ve seen basement hospital scenes before. I haven’t seen one where a guy cuts his sores and lets the pus drip into a glass and then pour it into our character’s wounds. I’ve seen the creepy woman playing the piano from behind before. I haven’t seen it where the woman has tumors the size of basketballs all over her body. I’ve seen freaky kids scenes before. I haven’t seen one where pus-filled diseased looking kids play a jack-in-the-box torture giggle game. It’s when I see these variations on scenes that I know the writer is above and beyond the typical amateur.

What I learned 2: You probably shouldn’t tell somebody this is your first script (or 2nd, or 3rd). They’ll be looking for first-time mistakes throughout, and rarely give you the benefit of the doubt. Trust me, you want as much benefit of the doubt as you can get in a read.

arancini-oozingFried cheese balls.