The first 15 pages practically wrote themselves. My supernatural epic, the novel-written-in-a-marble-notebook that’d be my calling card. For what, exactly, I wasn’t sure, but, as any 12-year-old would’ve done, I worked toward a limitless sky. As if the act of simply completing a 90-some-odd page tale written with a ballpoint pen meant that my work would turn into a feature film overnight.
I could even see the marquee from the second I started the first chapter; it read, “Opening Tonight……Matt Barone’s School Spirit.”
Part filter-off horror and part patient supernatural tension, School Spirit was a crackerjack idea: The lead character, Matt (not autobiographical, I swear), is reluctantly starting his Freshman year of high school, which scares the piss out of his insecure, quiet self (well, maybe it was kind of autobiographical). The typical horrors of adolescence came into play—-heartbreak at the clawed-hands of ice-cold girls; teachers that intimidated more than instructed; sitting alone in a cafeteria crammed with glaring eyes and insulting whispers. Quicker than he expects, however, Matt makes a couple friends, peers that share his love of horror movies and fantasy storytelling. They soon discover, though, that their new school has homicidal tendencies, manifested through the inanimate objects…..
The influences shouldn’t be tough to pinpoint. I’d lifted elements of The Monster Squad, sprinkled in some Scooby Doo, but then planned to bring it all home with large doses of Nightmare on Elm Street, Hellraiser, and The Shining. Don’t ask how I saw all of those ingredients working together, but I somehow did. There were several money shots playing in my head, too. A scene where the school’s namesake statue, George Washington, came to life and decapitated and chopping up a crew of kids that are smoking pot in the courtyard (Half Baked becomes Half A Body Attached). A young teacher fiddling with a broken VCR wile trying to get a video about abortion to play, only to be pulled into the TV, limbs ripping apart as her body bends, by a pixelated aborted fetus.
It was a witch’s brew of ridiculousness, too many horror movies in the brain, and innocent imagination, all conceived by a suburban Jersey resident who was petrified by the reality of entering high school. The way objects came to life, my School Spirit could’ve played like the psychotic, bloody sibling of Night of the Museum and it’s new sequel, Night of the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian (which opens this weekend). The older brother of Ben Stiller’s family franchise, to be exact. Despite being a kid myself while conceptualizing the thing, my book-to-film would no doubt have earned a hard-R-rating, and damning reviews from critics not writing for horror-specific publications. Probably even laughed at by the general public.
But then actual high school started, and I sunk into a numb state of social paralysis. Reality was hard enough to manipulate; how could I expect to turn into a scary narrative pretzel on my own out-of-class time? And with that, School Spirit never got past the 15-page mark. [Continued after the jump]
The first time I saw 2006’s Night at the Museum was on a long flight to Los Angeles for a magazine assignment. Months and months after the film grossed around $250 million, a gargantuan family smash. My pops had actually wanted to catch it in theaters (which never happens….the man hates crowded public areas), but the two of us could never coordinate accordingly. A shame, really, because Night at the Museum is a damn good time. Really well done, with a nice, harmless sensibility and some nifty special effects that would’ve knocked my fitted socks off as a little kid. Seeing it on the big screen seems like the much wiser way to go.
A strange thing happened while I was enjoying Night at the Museum on that LA-bound flight, though. I kept going back to the thought of School Spirit. It must’ve been the scene where Ben Stiller’s character is first chased by the skeletal T-Rex; though played for slapsticky laughs, the idea of a giant man-eating dinosaur stalking hallways in hopes of devouring a human being is pretty terrifying. In similar ways to that aforementioned School Spirit bit with the George Washington statue preying on the Mary-Jane-tokers. Night at the Museum started to feel more and more like my idea spun for the kiddies, and actually followed through on.
I couldn’t help but think, “Damn, what if?” Not saying that School Spirit would have led to Hollywood beckoning, but clearly my story had some workable joints. Soon after, I caught Robert Rodriguez’s The Faculty (a quirky, misunderstood flick that I love, and you should to) on cable, and the same lightbulb began to flicker. The Faculty‘s heavy Scooby Doo base is exactly the vibe I was going to try for with my lead teen characters, Matt and his motley crew of underdogs. The finale that Rodriguez sets up in the school’s pool-to-locker-room-to-gymnasium had been thought of to a minimal degree, as well. Mine just included a swimming pool full of water that could freeze itself, doing so while a buxom young co-ed was doing her practice laps. She’d be caught while trying to catch her breath, her upper body sticking out of the water when the pool self-programmed into an ice pond. School Spirit coming from the bizarro mind of a 12-year-old, however, the ice would slice her body in half, leaving the upper portion to slide across the ice, leaving a trail of the red stuff.
The signs that I shouldn’t have aborted mission on writing School Spirit continued to rear their ugly metaphorical heads as the years passed. The gag with the aborted fetuses exiting the television screen and killing the unsuspecting, now-pants-shitting victim morphed into the infamous TV-set image from The Ring. The absurd, terrible big finale that I (sadly) envisioned—-the school building turning into a living, chewing creature—–had the potential to pre-date the animated Monster House.
School Spirit would have been a hackneyed predecessor to these films, I’m sure. Or, seen by a whopping total of 20 people who’d heard about this over-the-edge horror flick from friends, rented it, reasonably enjoyed it, and then went on with their lives. It’s imprints minimal. Just another crazy-looking DVD box whoring itself out to Blockbuster Video customers.
You never know…..I could one day mess around and give School Spirit another go. Years of film-watching, script-reading, novel-consuming, and writing education should work wonders on the project. That whole Monster House-ish ending would definitely be the first section to meet the literary Reaper. Shit, the setting could be upgraded to a university now; the amount of archetypal scene fodder on a college campus is wealthier than Jay-Z and his “hottest chick in the game.”
Under any other circumstance, I’d wait to check Night at the Museum: Battle of the Smithsonian out on DVD later this year, but now I’m basking in motivation/inspiration. A matinee one of these upcoming days is in the cards, notepad and pen in hand alongside my pricey Diet Coke.
If all goes well, school will soon be back in session.