Picking Up the Pieces


JACK, 17, a curious yet quiet boy with brown hair and striking blue eyes, slowly wakes up on the couch in a warm suburban living room. Confused, he scans the room and notices there are no photos anywhere. Empty hooks cling to the wall.
Jack attempts to sit up but has a strangely difficult time doing so. He looks and for the first time notices that his LEFT ARM IS MISSING. He begins to scream. Suddenly, LEONARD PEARCE, 47, a caring father, rushes in to comfort Jack.

Wha… wha… My arm!

Jack. JACK. Listen to me there was a fire…

With his one arm, Jack pushes Leonard away as MACKENZIE PEARCE, 44, a strong-willed mother, enters and looks on with concern.

Who… who are you?!

We’re your parents. Dad and Mom. Jack, I know this is scary but the doctors said you would have some memory loss. You’ve got to trust me. There was a fire, and you lost your arm.

Jack slowly starts to settle into an exhausted, tearful state.

We’re gonna fix it, though. I promise. Just lay down and get some rest. We need to get into your testing as soon as possible, but I promise that in no time I will make sure it is just like it used to be.

Jack sniffles.
Can you do that for me, bud?


Good boy. I lo… I’m really proud of you.

Jack lies down to rest, and Mackenzie and Leonard exit. Jack notices a blanket and rises to grab it.

Jack passes a COFFEE TABLE that is at the height of his thigh.

Jack lies down and drifts away to sleep.

Jack, Leonard, and Mackenzie stand in the middle of a pristine lawn. Leonard holds a full duffel bag and a basketball. He hands the ball to Jack.

Show us what you’ve got.

Jack dribbles the ball.

Good. What’s the capital of Washington?


The capital of Washington.

Um… I don’t know.

Take a guess.


No. Olympia. Can you use this?

Leonard pulls out a yo-yo. Jack shakes his head.

(growing in anger)
Are you sure?

I’ve never used a yo-yo. At Waterside we had one but it was broken.

Yes you have. And you went to Highland not Waterside.


(ignoring Jack’s confusion)
How many cups of flour go in grandma’s pumpkin bread recipe?


How many cups!?

Leonard! Why does it matter if he knows? We can teach him all that.



Leonard gathers his composure and takes out a BAG OF CHOCOLATE and a BAG OF FRUITY CANDY.

Here. I’m sorry. You can have whichever one you want. But only one.

Jack chooses the chocolate.

Leonard sighs.

We’ll fix that later I guess.

Leonard storms into the house, leaving a confused Jack and a solemn Mackenzie.
Jack, unable to sleep due to an ELECTRIC HUMMING noise, gets up to investigate.

The noise grows louder as Jack tiptoes towards a heavy wooden door. Hesitantly, he tries to open it.

The door is locked.

Jack sneaks around the outside of the house as he follows the noise.

Holding his ear up against a low, loose basement window, Jack confirms the noise is coming from the basement.

Grabbing some TONGS from a nearby barbecue, JACK pries open the window and enters

Jack switches on a light and illuminates a dreary room containing an open cardboard box, a shelf containing boxes and picture frames, a set of stairs leading to a door, another door, and a capsule surrounded by wires.
Jack inspects the frames and boxes which are full of family photos. Jack is not in any of them. Instead, they feature Leonard, Mackenzie, and a YOUNG BOY. The boy appears to be Jack’s age and has the same brown hair and blue eyes, but a BIRTHMARK on his right arm makes it clear it is not Jack.

Jack climbs the stairs to the first door and opens it to reveal the downstairs hallway of the house. He quietly shuts it before heading to the second door. It is locked.

Finally, Jack approaches the capsule and hesitantly opens it…

Jack, horrified, opens his mouth to scream, but is interrupted by Leonard and Mackenzie, dressed in pajamas, entering the basement.

(restraining fury)
What are you doing down here?!

Who is that? And who is that in the photos?

Leonard hesitates, but Mackenzie, oddly calculated and not missing a beat, responds.

Fearing both the body and his parents, Jack scurries out of the basement and into the hallway, shutting the door behind him. Two steps into the hallway, he VOMITS.
With paper towels from the kitchen, he cleans the mess. As he cleans, he overhears Leonard and Mackenzie.

I don’t care if he isn’t perfect. Just do it tonight. It’s too risky to wait any longer. He’s too recognizable.


Nervously, Jack finishes cleaning and scurries upstairs.

Jack lies awake in bed and freezes with fear as the door slowly opens. Silhouetted in the light from the hallway is Leonard holding a syringe.

In darkness, the NOISES OF AN ELECTRIC SAW are heard.

“Jack,” in a long-sleeved, high-necked shirt, bolts awake, sweating. For a moment, he sits confused.

Then, he gets up and runs out of the room. As he does so, he passes the coffee table, which is strangely now at knee height.

“Jack” enters, turns on the cold water, and splashes his face.

Noticing that the sleeves and neck of his shirt are getting soaked, he takes off his shirt to continue splashing his face.

However, when he does so, he notices that his right arm is slightly burned and contains a birthmark. The same birthmark as the body from the basement.

Oh, good morning, Chris.

We weren’t expecting you to be up yet.

Horror seizes “Jack”/Chris’s eyes.


Works Cited

Harari, Yuval N. Sapiens: A Brief History of Mankind. Vintage Books, 2015.

Hetland, Timothy John. “A Technology of Violence: Materiality, Discourse, and Victim Functionality in the Contemporary Horror Genre.” Dissertation Abstracts International, vol. 78, no. 1, July 2017.

Murphy, Mekado. “2017: The Biggest Year in Horror History.” The New York Times, The New York Times, 26 Oct. 2017.

Nerlich, Brigitte, David D. Clarke, and Robert Dingwall. “Fictions, Fantasies, and Fears: The Literary Foundations of the Cloning Debate.” Journal of Literary Semantics 30.1 (2001): n. pag. Web.

Petrov, Julia, and Gudrun D. Whitehead. Fashioning Horror: Dressing to Kill on Screen and in Literature. Bloomsbury Academic, 2018.

Randel, Fred V. “The Political Geography of Horror in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein.” ELH, vol. 70 no. 2, 2003, pp. 465-491. Project MUSEdoi:10.1353/elh.2003.0021

Shelley, Mary Wollstonecraft. Frankenstein: The 1818 Text, Contexts, Criticism. Ed. J. Paul Hunter. 2nd ed. N.p.: W.W. Norton, 2012. Print.

Smith, Angela M. Hideous Progeny: Disability, Eugenics, and Classic Horror Cinema. Columbia University Press, 2011.

Twitchell, James B. “Frankenstein and the Anatomy of Horror.” The Georgia Review, vol. 37, no. 1, 1983.

Top image: Creepy Bedroom (Eumolp)

Character Connection

Shelley and modern horror writers often view the role of horror audiences differently. As Timothy John Hetland explains in “A Technology of Violence,” early horror treated the human body as an entity with narrative depth, but modern horror views it more as an object. For example, Shelley devotes much of Frankenstein to Victor’s emotional struggles, but many modern horror films use characters primarily as pawns in scary situations. Consider the popular film Lights Out, for example. Most viewers will likely not remember each character’s personality as well as they will remember what happens to each character. Is either method scarier? A less personal connection with characters in modern horror means viewers cannot relate to the characters as well and be placed in their situation; viewers are observers of horror. However, with Frankenstein, by understanding Victor’s internal conflict, readers can see similarities between themselves and Victor, which places them in the novel; they experience horror rather than simply witness it. By focusing on the emotions of characters, films may force viewers to feel fear more intimately. Does the fact that this script is from Jack's perspective make it scarier than if it were to be from an onlooker’s perspective?

Top image: Untitled Eye Drawing by Tom/Photosgrabrielle


“I was like the Arabian who had been buried with the dead, and found a passage to life aided only by one glimmering, and seemingly ineffectual, light” (Shelley 32).

Shelley implements dramatic irony to create horror. Victor is so caught up in his emotions that he ignores warnings. Readers, however, receive clues that allow them to recognize the horrors and dangers before Victor, which creates tension. Readers foresee dangers but have no power to stop them; audiences fearfully wait, wondering if the catastrophe they foresee will come true. For example, when Victor references Sinbad, he views it as a heroic story and ignores the horror of how Sinbad is buried alive with his dead wife and beats to death the other spouses buried with him (Rouse). Readers recognize Victor is leading a dark life, but Victor himself cannot. When his actions end disastrously, the sense that the outcome was avoidable adds to its terribleness.

Yet, how does Shelley creates dramatic irony? In the case of the quotation above, it is through references to other literature. By accessing an audience’s expanded knowledge, a creator can convey information without needing a character to realize it themselves. If an audience understands a reference that a character does not, dramatic irony is created. To which film does this screenplay allude? Hint: It is not a horror film and was directed by Christopher Nolan.

Top image: Useful Links (Thrive)

The Struggle with Mortality

“I saw how the fine form of man was degraded and wasted” (Shelley 31).

These words encapsulate a major theme within Frankenstein: mortality. The crux of the novel’s horror, the Monster, is literally the sum of what happens upon death and represents our failure to overcome mortality. Although Victor reanimates life, it is more monstrous than human; any attempt to overcome mortality ends disastrously. Just as Victor is doomed to witness a representation of death end the lives of his friends, we are confronted with mortality daily, even just by our continuously aging. Yet, if humans are victim to mortality, what shall we do in the time we do have? Victor’s speech emphasizes this question with the word “wasted.” While “wasted” means to deteriorate, it also means to go unfulfilled. How can we ensure that “man” is not “wasted”? What legacy can be left, and is our greatest fear the loss of that legacy? Victor’s answer to this question is to conquer death and leave a legacy through science. With medical advancements and claims that humans may reach immortality in the near future (Harari), what might a modern-day retelling of the horrors of Frankenstein suggest should be our greatest concerns and aspirations? What issues does this screenplay suggest arise from our conquering death?

Top image: 17th Century-Inspired Vanitas Still Life Photo (Alexandria Huff)

Playing God

Brigitte Nerlich, David D. Clarke, and Robert Dingwall’s “Fictions, Fantasies, and Fears: The Literary Foundations of the Cloning Debate” explains how modern societal fears regarding cloning and genetic modification were shaped by novels like Frankenstein. Just as Victor “played god” by creating life, modern day scientists are, in a sense, “playing god” by controlling how life evolves and reproduces. While this shows the timelessness of the root fears society holds (here, the fear of the repercussions of “playing god”), it also demonstrates the immense responsibility of creators of horror. Horror taps into societal fears, but it can also shape them. How might modern day horror shape societal fears for the better or for the worse? How do the characters in this script play God?

Top image: Humans and Nature
(Ohio Wesleyan University)


“Darkness had no effect upon my fancy” (Shelley 31).

At first glance, to readers of Frankenstein today, these words of Victor Frankenstein may seem more melodramatic than terrifying. However, upon closer inspection, the phrase is horrifying. Victor is so deeply engrossed in his research on death that the gruesomeness of his exploits no longer affects him; his mind has become incredibly warped. Ultimately, this again epitomizes how the horrors of Shelley’s work are not forcefully thrust in readers’ faces. Rather, they are subtle and menacingly lie beneath the surface like so many of our real-world fears. Furthermore, this portion of the novel may be seen as a commentary on the scientific practices of the time, such as scientific theaters and the studying of corpses. Shelley asks: How far into an exploration of the darkness that is death can one go without becoming darkness oneself? What scientific practices might a modern adaptation of Frankenstein</em<’s horror techniques critique? How might the character of Mackenzie in this script question how engaging the horrifying affects an individual and turn a critical eye to current scientific advancement?

Top image: Darkness
(Viral Novelty)

Hidden Horror

          Today, many horror films generate their desired viewer response through a sudden “shock factor.” One need only look at the commercial success of films like those in the Saw franchise in order to recognize this fact. However, Frankenstein may actually go further in capitalizing on the true base of the concept of horror. According to James B. Twitchell, horror “means ‘to stand on end or bristle’ and refers to the way the hairs on the neck become erect when there is some threat to physical well-being” (Twitchell). Rather than operating on a basis of shocking the audience, Frankenstein focuses on creating the sense of a threat by never fully revealing the gruesomeness of its horror. To explain using an example: The murders of the Monster are never fully depicted. This prevents the audience from witnessing the full threat and having closure with the horror. Without closure, viewers are let to feel that the threat is constantly out there; their hairs remain “erect.” What horrors are purposely hidden in this script?

Top image: Untitled (Lunarline Blog)

Horror and Teen Sexuality

Horror is particularly appealing to young adults, for horror often taps into young adults’ confusion about their own sexuality (Twitchell). One of the most distinct examples of this is Frankenstein. A major theme within the novel is reproduction. Victor is afraid to enter into a sexual relationship with Elizabeth, yet cannot restrain himself from “birthing” a Monster. Similarly, young adults often struggle to determine where to direct their sexuality. Shelley was tapping into this common coming-of-age struggle in the creation of her horrors. In fact, being a young adult herself when she wrote the novel, consciously or not, Shelley may have been drawing from her need to explore her own struggle with sexual maturation. How does this script play with themes of reproduction and address a reader’s sexual confusion?

Top image: Sexuality
(Exploring Your Mind)

Location, Location, Location

Drawing from her love of travel writing, Shelley allows the settings of her novel to create horror. Fred V. Randel’s article “The Political Geography of Horror in Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein” details how locations within the novel allude to real-world horrors. For example, the locations of Ingolstadt and Northern Ice help Shelley capture themes of birth and death through drawing parallels between the French Revolution and Napoleon’s demise. Referencing terrible real-world events allows Shelley to add depth and weight to her horror without having to develop it completely on her own. When audiences recognize a reference to a real-world event, all of the connotations and emotions tied to the event are brought into the work they are viewing. References to real world events also provide examples of how the themes of the work may actually be experienced in reality. For example, thoughts of violence aroused by the reference to the French Revolution make the bloodshed in Frankenstein appear more horrifying and realistic. What real-world horrors might a film access through setting? Did you notice this script's reference to the Battle of the Bulge? Why might the screenwriter want to reference this historical moment? Hint: It has to do with being trapped.

Top image: Untitled Globe

A Tale of Comfort?

In the final chapter of his novel, Sapiens, Yuval Noah Harari suggests that stories like Frankenstein actually bring us comfort about the future. According to him, they suggest that the only life humans can create is the monstrous, and that ultimately, these creations fail. He believes, however, that in reality, the last days of humanity are approaching. A new form of life created by humans, yet beyond our current understanding of what it means to be human, will soon take our place. Thus, rather than simply creating fears, works of horror like Frankenstein use explorations of our fears to help us cope with our insecurities. What is your reaction upon reading this script? Is it a fear of the future or is it the comfort that Harari describes?

More importantly, as has been demonstrated throughout this screenplay, the same themes and techniques used by the pioneers of horror, such as Mary Shelley, are still applicable today. Their adaptation for a modern audience may allow for more engaging and terrifying horror films. Yet, how does such a practice affect the way we approach our future? What impact, if any, does this script have? Has it created fear or hope? While the above study demonstrates the ability of horror themes and techniques to adapt for and impact diverse societies, it begs the question: What story do creators of horror want to tell?

Top image: Nowhere Warm by Caterina Dellabona (Flickr)