Saturday, April 27, 2013

A Simple Idea Can Go a Long Way

I was recently struck by the revelation of how one simple idea can develop into surprisingly divergent stories, and this came from watching – of all things – House of Wax, the 2005 edition. I predominantly write horror themed material, but don’t necessarily feel compelled to watch it – especially if it’s a remake. But I occasionally feel guilty about that, and the movie happened to be on cable, so I forced myself to sit down and know about it.

House of Wax is a typical slasher movie with typical college cutouts on a road trip to a big event. Two of them get stranded – their hot rod breaks down, and they are saved by a creepy guy in a creepy truck who leads them to an abandoned town where they can get a part to fix the car. I didn’t think anything special about this setup until the movie cut to a scene of our couple arriving at the town, Ambrose. The image of the town was a single street. Abandoned, run down, reminiscent of an era lost in time.

The first thing that popped into my head was Radiator Springs! Radiator Springs is the town in a totally different movie. It has a single street that feels abandoned, run down, and reminiscent of an era lost in time. And we are brought there because of a car that gets lost, essentially breaks down and is befriended by a creepy guy who happens to be a truck. That’s right; House of Wax has a very similar bare bones setup as Disney Pixar’s Cars.

There is a very strong throughline that couples these two very different films. That throughline involves abandonment. Our industrious wax maker was essentially abandoned in his childhood, and his talent ignored at the same time when the town of Ambrose and its tourist trap wax museum was abandoned because of the construction of a major highway that blew right past it. In Cars, Radiator Springs becomes lost to the world because of the construction of a major Interstate that makes the historic Route 66 obsolete. 

Then a stranger arrives, Owen Wilson’s Lightning McQueen in the case of Cars, and Elisha Cuthbert and Jared Padalecki as the doomed couple in House of Wax. And just as a side note, Wilson’s character McQueen has some extremely strong abandonment issues… Something that Cuthbert, as the main character in Wax, doesn’t. Her twin brother Chad Michael Murray does, but the story doesn’t capitalize on it.  Regardless, in both cases the pristine nature of the town frozen in time becomes threatened. One barebones story idea, two amazingly different outcomes. I find that awesome.

So what is the point of this rambling on about horror and family film being the same? I guess, as a writer, it’s a lesson in starting simple. Come up with a simple idea, a simple theme that may seem trite and done to death, and then build on it. Once you have that in place, there’s no telling what road your story might go down.

Happy writing, everyone!