Let's Make a Horror Movie podcast
Episode 8: Spoils of War
Host Dave's horror story set in Asia Minor during the Byzantine era... His attempt to do an old fashioned Hollywood epic, but a horror version. Enjoy!
Listen to Episode 8 on Podbean, Castbox, Apple, Spotify and more...
Act 1 sets the scene, we're in Byzantine era - around 1000AD/10th century, modern day Cappadocia, then Asia Minor, but more importantly a series of small warring psuedo-states and warlords - ongoing Byzantine civil wars etc. Its the end of 'antiquity', the dying days of the the classical age.. not that were really get too much of that in Act 1, but you'll get the jist. The days of Gods and Monsters are long gone...
Broadly speaking, its not a safe environment, its almost constant struggle, when its not violent skirmishes or all out war of some desription. Alliances are fragile and the politics is always shifting.
We're introduced to our city state in the region and our cast of soldiers Ablabius, Vetranis, Beatus, Opilio. Ablabius and Vetranis are intoduced together, as long time friends and soldiers, and we get some insight into them off duty, whereas Beatus and Opilio are introduced individually. Opilio is new here (this township/area) & new to the recruits.
As a quartet, they're being sent on a resources & threat-determination scouting mission (having discovered they are 'Exploratores') & we follow them out of the town & into the wilderness.
During act 1 the group splits, Alblabius & Vetranis are a duo again, and Opilio & Beatus head in a different direction - they make a plan to regroup at a given landmark.
Act 1 ends with us joining Opilio & Beatus at night, days have clearly passed, and they meet a lone girl, standing alone in the middle of nowhere.. seemingly uninterested, when approached they determine that she's lost - though obvs we're not convinced - and Opilio ends up winning an argument to see the essentially mute girl home (she points in a direction & there's a glow on a hill). Also, i think we have some spooky moments here, possibly involving the girl but not enough to endanger their trust/good nature.
We begin the act with Ablabius and Vetranis. We're not entirely sure where & neither are they, having lost their bearings avoiding what they suspected to be a foreign & potentially dangerous party. For Exploratares this is a huge frustration and in their frustrating & anger they barely notice they are passing what looks to us to be like a cave-mouth.
We come back to Beatus & Opilio as they approach the glow they saw earlier.. its a sort of staligtite on a hillside, but roughly hollow with gaps through which the light is spilling. Its here they realise the girl has disappeared (as they were looking into the chasm) and in her stead are what look like hundreds of gaunt, silent people dressed in the ragged robes from the opening scene.
They're done. Even if they fight, they lose through weight of numbers, in spite of their armourments and the lack of armourments on the robed characters.
So without basically outlining the entire movie, at this point B&O are captured and taken via a networkof rock-hewn tunnels into the bowels of the mountain - the glowing stalactite was glowing because of a fire far beneath it giving the whole thing a glow, it's light was acting like a beacon in the night. Its a trap! In the bowels of said mountain we discover what on the face of it appears to be a relatively functioning small town, entirely on one level. However the captors are taken another level deeper down. its here they start to see the grim realities of their situation. As far as we can discern, those on the top level are using those on level 2 as both sacrificial inventory and also food.. cannibalism, or so we suspect from the visual evidence.
We meet back up with Ablabius and Vetranis, who were either captured outside a different entrance, or perhaps scouted their way in & got overwhelmend by what was in there. Either way, once jovial and jocular Vetranis is now a gibbering mess. One of his eyes is huge. Like, totally oversized and bulging out of his head and he's losing his marbles trying to deal with that reality and the fact they are soon to be food,wierd religious sacrifice, or both.. or at least stuck here until they become so. The 2nd level is also the size of a small town but is essentially a prison & during act 2 we see a number of examples of people being dragged kicking and screaming off to be sacrificed and also what we suspect will be cannibalism.Something rotten is happening anyway,even if we're not certain what.
During the course of this section of the movie, we follow the 4 (though Vetranis is largely immobile, and unnervingly his bulbous eye has switched and the previous eye is now withered and damaged) as they try and figure out what the fuck is going on, their sorties through the 2nd level and the horrors within. Not to mention numerous spooks that don't seem to be in any way corporeal.
In the latter stages of the act tension mounts as we believe at least one of the group are next on the list of those to be 'taken upstairs' - i.e. to be sacrificed/eaten. something we've seen throughout this act already.
The Act culminates with the 4 making an attempt at an escape, pushed by circumstanc - Beatues was going to be taken - instead, they are forced downwards towards the 3rd level. The previously barred way was unbarred when the fled to it (rock doors) and down they go into the depths. the Pursuers stop at the entrance to the 3rd level and the final scenes of the Act are of Vetranis going the same way as the sacrifical victim from the opening,. Its a nasty business & is probably more graphic.
I've not structured the acts here properly, but this is a short act 3 consisting of setting up the context of the new normal. Act 2 had gore, scares and grim suprises a plenty (in the fleshed out version) culminating in a fighting escape & a death that impacts the group. Ablabius is furious at his friends death and thus has lost alot of his ciritcal analysis faculties, Beatus is in denial of a sort, as a scout he's in a bit of shellshock, and Opilio is somewhat defiant but remaining pragmatic. By this point in the movie Opilio has become the audience surrogate.
In level 3 we unespectedly meet a surviving handful of particularly fragile & seemingly mad old soliders from a different region of Byzantium. Though somewhat mad in appearance and demeanour we discover a few key elements that change up the narrative.
1) the people on the 1st floor are a mix of christians & muslims, byzantians & arabs that initially sheltered here fleeing conflict. thus its not a religious activity in terms of the sacrifices.
2) there is something beyond humanity's capacity for cruelty causing this deviation. Something that lives below the 3rd level..the one they're on.
3) Its older than Christianity (these are ROmans after all). We learn, via wall scrawlings & spooky happenings down there, that its something much older..
During this act, the horror shifts from gory human horror to entirely supernatural scares. We almost certainly have a panicked scene where the level 3 old boys are killed either by members of the group or 'other' or both.
I want this act to culminate in the discovery of a futher route down into the bowels of the mountain, but not a man made one, whereby somone - probably Opilio - discovers an ancient horror from antiquity, unlocked from their rock prison. The Asag. Described as being a “Large, round, three-legged, three-armed creature with no neck and several eyes covering their entire bulk. Has dark, hardened skin that feels like rock when touched. Almost indestructible”. The Asag is the enemy of Ninurta the sumerian god of war & he was trapped here by ninurta. Whether we get that far in terms of expositions, is up for debate - i'm not sure it hugely matters.
Act 4 is all crescendo & escape. They've got an ancient evil right next to them and 4-ish storeys of infected hell to get back through to get out. The Asag has polluted these people and caused them to present the sacrifices, made them believe that eating human flesh would protect and keep them as he killed any crops they tried to grow. He is described as invading and polluting his victims causing all kinds of maladies from head fevers to paralysis, but of course in this we go a bit further with it.
So by the final act the trio have accidentally increased his power by breaching his prison in the rock, and thus most of the living people on Level 2 & 3 have become infected like the sacrificed man, and are ravenously tearing people and things apart. I'd imagined this as quite body-horrory with all kinds of Vandermeerian & Lovecraftian touches. Also, given its an epic, we'll have the black smoke from the sacrificial scene, snaking throughout,doing the infecting. Occasionally with a barely visible huge limb or eye visible in it. Also, according to myth, he has rock minions, made of rock, as a consequence of striking a deal with the mountain.
The movie culminates in the long, exciting and frenetic sequences of them getting back to the surface. I think we probably lose Beatus in some suitible manner, but Opilio makes it out and probably so does Ablabius. How they get out i had imagined being a fairly visceral, relenless series of fights & kills.. TBC though! I had thought that perhaps there are perhaps some pieces of ancient weaponry down there, remnants of the effort to imprison the Asag the 1st time around & its those that allow them to escape with their lives.
Not sure whether they somehow defeat the god or whether they just survive.. but lets discuss! I suspect just escape & thats it.
------------------------More Notes & Thoughts---------------------------------
I also thought that actually i would have Ablabius and Vetranis, if not all of them, doing some pretty grim stuff to other soldiers / people in the name of their township etc, before they get to the underground city, and that there's actually a very grey morality - so its not just a story about decent people accidentally having a shit time, but rather a question about whether or not you're even want them to escape, with the exception of Opilio who is less morally compromised.
In the end,i ran out of time for a re-write of the 2nd Act - which is where that would happen.
maybe Opilio turns out to be Zoe, see below.
Ablabius, Vetranis, Beatus, Opilio
We're under the Macedonian Dynasty.. Christians, Muslims, arabs, seljuk turks etc..
Zoë Porphyrogenita (Greek: Ζωή "life" Medieval Greek: [zo'i]; c. 978 – 11 June 1050) reigned as Byzantine Empress from 11 November 1028 until her death in 1050. She ruled alongside her three husbands, her adopted son Michael V, and her sister Theodora. Zoë held actual power with Theodora for only two months between April and June 1042.
Zoë was born to Constantine VIII, who was nominal co-emperor to his brother Basil II. Basil died when Zoë was 47, leaving the Byzantine throne entirely to her father. As he had no sons, Constantine hoped to continue the dynasty by marrying off one of his daughters. Zoë, aged 50, was married to Romanos Argyros.