It was going to be a Mozart opera with a body count. It didn’t turn out that way.
Sex Ed was done, to begin with. It was 2009. I was full of bluster and vinegar, but I had harbored a secret, one I could no longer keep down inside: I was a long time horror movie fan.
Devil’s Catch was my coming out party.
I wanted to create your typical “teenagers go to a cabin in the woods to have sex with each other” story, but instead of a killer or monster killing them off, they themselves would kill each other off.
Why? Because, for the most part, they didn’t like the person they were with and they wanted to switch partners. Old jealousies, desperation for high school status, or just plain old lust would be factors. The style would be farce, a murderous black comedy where the killer-monster was themselves. But that wasn’t enough. There had to be a reason, or event, that would compel the characters to switch partners.
Why not the end of the world?
The pitch: It’s the last dance. Let’s get it on with the partner you really wanted. The radio would be their only source to the outside world. Reports of mass disasters and carnage would fill the airwaves. Then the couples, knowing it would be their final moments, would switch partners and, as a result, murder each other. Great!
Well, I got bored with that.
Then I figured, okay, forget about the end of the world. How about nature itself fighting them? Bugs, animals, even trees would be on the attack!
Nah. What else?
Okay, how about the Ten Plagues of Egypt? Frogs, flies, locusts, boils, etc.? There was some potential there.
And what if the teens were from Catholic school? Getting warmer.
And what if they were there to lose their virginity but felt guilty about it? I thought, that’s too much. Too many guilt-ridden characters.
What if there was just one of them who was truly religious?
And what if he’s afraid of sex?
Bingo. Sexual anxiety as a horror film! Most slasher films are thinly disguised morality plays: the subtext is the characters who have sex suffer and die; the virgin always prevails (think Friday the 13th). So why not bring out the subtext and make it text? Our main hero thinks it’s God who is doing it to them. Great.
Once I fixed my mind on that as a story, the elements came together quickly: a past massacre. Bodies buried underneath the ground Poltergeist-style. And an axe. (Hey, you gotta have an axe.) The characters also came together quickly; if you look closely, you’ll see they are Bizarro World versions of some of the characters from Sex Ed. I named it Devils Catch. It’s the name of a mountain. It’s also a mashup of the expression “to catch the devil”, meaning to catch hell or to be punished. “Devils Catch” also covers up the big mythological story of the mountains, which Nana explains – or over-explains, if you prefer – at the end. The expression turns out to be quite literal.
So the whole thing is about fear of sex. Fear of intimacy. Fear of action. When the plagues come, it’s the result of either desire or the aftermath of sex. I tried my best not to just let them happen, a deux ex machina. Although I did feel a lot of times I was playing God by inflicting these poor characters with these afflictions.
It was the most complicated structure I’d ever done, zig-zagging the way it does between high school comedy and straight up horror.
It was also a ghost story of sorts. Ghost stories are very strange things; in many cases the ghosts don’t do physical harm to the characters. They just make things very complicated for them. Look at The Amityville Horror. Look at The Shining. None of the ghosts there actually kill anyone. They just influence the characters to kill each other, or be killed by set of circumstances (Final Destination, which is really God killing off characters if you think about it). Sort of like what God Himself does. And what greater ghost is there than the Old Testament God Himself?
But I get ahead of myself…
Along the way I paid a lot of homage to other flicks: the death of the parents (The Descent), Elijah’s home life (Carrie), the drive over to the cabin (Cabin Fever, Solstice), the vomiting (Jennifer’s Body), the locusts (The Reaping), the ghost with an axe (The Shining again), the ghosts in the barn (Poltergeist), a character having her “father’s eyes” (Rosemary’s Baby), and that’s just for starters. Even Elijah’s triumphant line (“I’m not so afraid”) is straight up from Army of Darkness. Each character’s name has a link to some horror film. See if you find them.
If the finished result didn’t quite turn out to be The Marriage of Figaro with buckets of blood, it does have a passing resemblance to Smiles of a Summer Night crossed with Evil Dead 2 and The Abominable Dr. Phibes… and who wouldn’t settle for that?
I know I would.
Please forgive my exuberance for the plagues. I had a blast inflicting them upon the characters. My favorite piece of writing occurs in Chapter Thirteen: a couple meet in the barn to cheat on their partners. They achingly, desperately want to fall into each other’s arms, yet they cannot. Why not? Because each has an awful plague they are keeping secret from the other.
Believe me, it’s gross.
As Stephen King wrote in his excellent Dance Macabre,
“I recognize terror as the finest emotion and so I will try to terrorize the reader. But if I find that I cannot terrify, I will try to horrify, and if I find that I cannot horrify, I’ll go for the gross-out. I’m not proud.”
Yours truly has bypassed the first two options so you may fully enjoy the third.
- Ernie V
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