The following is the creative treatment of Leland Jay Anderson’s movie script based on my book, Hell Holes: What Lurks Below.
Adaptation Mission Statement
The material is a solid genre piece in the mold of classic B-movie action thrillers. Anchored by dynamic, relatable characters in a suspenseful and fast-pace pressure cooker story, the work strives to tell a simple, effective story and translate the heart of the novel for a mainstream audience. The central aim of this adaptation is to scale the epic world building of the source material down into a cogent narrative starting point for a potential science fiction franchise.
By Leland Jay Anderson
copyright 2018 by Donald Firesmith
OPENING TEASER – MT. MARUM, AMBRYN ISLAND, VANUATU.
Over black. We hear labored, mechanical breathing, like a diver or an astronaut. Fade up – on a piece of igneous rock. A heavy, silver-gloved hand finds purchase. Reveal – the silver clad figure, someone in a fire proximity suit, steadies themselves as they crest a slight incline overlooking A fiery LAVA LAKE no more than 50 meters below. The lively voice of, JACK OSWALD, the daredevil leading this madness comes over the walkie. We see Jack is even DEEPER INSIDE THE CRATER, right at the edge of the 1,500-degree lava. Jack delivers a rapt report of the view and some good-natured chiding over his colleague, his son, BEN, who goes along with the joke and marvels at the awe-inspiring natural phenomenon before them. Still, he’s leery of the churning lava and pleads for a swift exit from inside the crater as a strong tremor knocks both men to the ground. As they attempt to exit the crater Jack watches in horror as a limb of molten rock explodes from inside the lava lake killing Ben instantly.
THREE YEARS LATER – ALASKAN NORTH SLOPE
A member of an oil company pipe gang locates a downed survey marker on a remote stretch of tundra. Fast as anything, the ground opens up swallowing his truck into a hole swirling with lethal amounts of hydrogen sulfide that quickly turns the truck into a tomb.
MORNINGSTAR OIL PUMP STATION
ANGELA MENENDEZ, an employee of Morningstar Energy, the company building a massive new pipeline, has just arrived. She is under pressure from the higher ups now that a costly delay in the pipeline’s construction has started to drag on due to unusual seismic activity nearby. She is concerned about the environmental danger posed by a compromised pipeline but the company’s assurances that operations can resume safely prompts her contact someone who can investigate the seismic activity and generally help speed up the process of restarting.
UNIVERSITY OF ALASKA
Busy grading papers is Jack Oswald, the man we met exploring the volcano, Nobel finalist in computational fluid dynamics, geophysics professor and now former volcanologist. The weight of his son’s tragic death stoops his shoulders. He’s going through the motions and seems more relieved than the students for the class to be over.
A call from his ex-wife, now working for Morningstar Energy pulls him back to the time he’s been trying to put behind him. Angela hopes to recruit Jack to investigate a suspected methane-related phenomenon that threatens a planned section of pipeline.
Jack isn’t interested, as he’s got final exams coming up. Angela is insistent, asking him to look at the satellite imagery they’ve gathered. No promises but Jack agrees to look at the files and offer his professional opinion.
ALASKA – NORTH SLOPE
A couple of finance bros on a private hunting charter find a fresh bear carcass RIPPED TO SHREDS only to meet their own swift and brutal demise at the hands of an unseen threat.
U OF ALASKA – JACK’S OFFICE
Jack sits down with the findings brought to him by MARK STARR, Jack’s quick-witted teaching assistant. The two can’t make heads or tails of the data, piquing Jack’s scientific curiosity. Jack agrees to join the expedition but Mark doesn’t want to stay behind to proctor any exams and begs to tag along.
AT THE AIRPORT
Jack, another Morningstar exec named, KEVIN KOWALSKI, and Mark land in the tiny town of Coldfoot to begin the trek out to the jeopardized section of pipeline. Angela is there and Jack finds it difficult to see her again after their estrangement, which Mark notices immediately. Angela needs Jack to assess the threat to the pipeline but there’s also a sense there are some unresolved personal issues between them. A pair of private security contractors, brooding, ex-soldier types, NEUHAUSEN and WICKES, round out the team. Angela pulls Kowalski aside, updating him on recent developments with the “anomaly”. Namely, a hole in the permafrost has started to open up in the path of the new pipeline, the missing oil company worker, as well as the increasing number of anti-pipeline protesters camping nearby.
While gearing up for their survey mission at the Pump Station, Morningstar’s CEO, MARTIN GOODWELL, arrives via chopper, PR team in tow. His visit catches Angela unawares but he insists he’s there only to publicly reassure shareholders the pipeline will open on schedule. A number of local journalists are there asking about clashes between eco-activists and Morningstar’s security contractors as well as the status of the pipeline. Goodwell volunteers to ferry Jack and the others to the site where he hopes to allay the protester’s concerns and convince them to evacuate the area without any further incidents.
En route to the protester’s camp the team overflies the now imposing TEN-METER WIDE HOLE stirring some unpleasant memories for Jack yet still piquing his interest. A massive tent city of climate activists has sprouted up between the hole and the closest segment of finished pipeline. Landing near the protesters Goodwell puts on a show for the cameras coming across as reasonable and empathetic. He introduces a camera- leery Jack as an expert hired by Morningstar to recommend the safest course of action, which they will pursue up to and including diverting the pipeline.
AT THE MOUTH OF MADNESS
Neuhauser and Wickes arrive in SUVs to take the team the rest of the way to the hole. Once there, Jack and Mark take measurements and notice fluctuating temperatures and increased levels of methane and other gases in the rapidly warming permafrost. They can see that this is not a crater or any other naturally occurring phenomenon but are at a loss to explain it. Angela confesses she referred Jack for this gig hoping to get a chance to finally talk about what happened between them but Jack isn’t interested. Mark and Jack abseil down into the crater to conduct tests/sample the soil. They find their equipment unreliable and can make little sense of what limited info they can gather. The interior of the crater is hot but the heat is inconsistent with low-level volcanic activity or radioactivity. Mark ventures out onto the seemingly solid rock surface of the crater floor against Jack’s advice. In the swirling haze of the crater they stumble onto what’s left of the pick up truck that was swallowed up when the hole first opened. Suddenly, the ground beneath him opens up wedging Mark in a crevasse in the crater floor leaving him with an injured ankle. Jack risks himself to pull Mark to safety as the toxic vapors start to damage their ventilators. As the crevasse rumbles open even wider, through the swirling vapors pooled around them, Jack sees… something. They hear an unholy shriek as Jack hooks a rope to Mark’s harness and they are pulled safely out of the crater. The noxious gases from inside the hole overwhelm his damaged ventilator and Jack passes out once they reach the surface.
AT THE PROTESTER CAMP
They return to the protest camp to get Mark and Jack medical treatment. Jack advises Angela that they suspend construction indefinitely as the unstable hole threatens the entire pipeline. Absent confirmation that the crater will widen, Kowalski rejects the idea of a continuing stoppage, as idling the pipes is both expensive not to mention potentially damaging. Angela sides with Kowalski against Jack’s recommendation to call off resuming pipeline construction. Jack resents Angela using him as cover for her company’s plan to continue building despite Goodwell’s public claims that the safety of the locals and their ecosystem is his top priority.
The group meets REVEREND POOLE, a clergyman from out of state acting as mediator between the two sides of the pipeline dispute. He’s an affable, charismatic man with a strong sense of fairness. He departs the camp to secure more supplies for the protestors. As darkness falls, a restless Jack steps into what he thinks is the medical hut and finds the remains of one of the hunters. The body is slashed to the bone. Jack is at a loss to explain what could have caused such damage. At the edge of camp, something unseen watches Jack from the darkness.
BAD FEELING ABOUT THIS
Ahead of a heavy snowfall, as the camp sleeps, something vicious and deadly attacks. Many activists are slaughtered in the blinding snow. The few local law officers there to keep the peace are dispatched cruelly by a terrifyingly fast enemy. Jack flees as the hapless protesters continue to fall, their screams howling in the wind.
Jack is cornered by one of the beasts and he makes out some of it in the ambient light: a creature right out of Lovecraft or Steven King. All fangs and sinews. Wickes arrives and orders him to flee as empties his firearm into the horror to no avail. The hellacious beast tears the soldier-turned-mercenary down to a bloody end. Meanwhile, Angela, cornered protecting two young protestors, holds off her attacker with nothing more than a makeshift torch. Just as the creature is about to pounce Jack PLOWS INTO IT WITH A PICK UP TRUCK. The fanged nightmare survives and comes after Jack in the now disabled truck when a flash of blinding light incinerates the beast. One of the journalists from the press conference, Aileen, appears to a dazed Jack behind the wheel of the ruined SUV.
ACT 2: THE DAY AFTER
As the survivors assess the damage and grieve for the dead, Jack, Angela, Mark and Kowalski stand in front of the corpses left by whatever it was that attacked them last night. Not a bear, not a wolf. Burned, as it is it’s still not like anything any of them has ever seen before. Jack was the only one to see whatever it was he saw when the beast was killed just as he was the only one to see whatever it was he saw when he pulled Mark from the crater. There are no answers only more questions.
Poole returns to camp and rallies the frightened and confused survivors, quoting Scripture and offering a theological interpretation for what just happened. Jack, a rationalist, rejects this explanation out of hand and while Angela doesn’t drop to her knees in prayer she isn’t prepared to dismiss the idea that this is something science can’t explain. Neuhauser returns from patrolling the camp and reveals she found strange tracks leading to the edge of the camp back towards the direction of the crater.
The situation is dire and Morningstar is the closest thing to the Army that they can contact as comms continue to be compromised by the inclement weather. Jack and Angela leave the camp and return to the first pump station talk to Goodwell whose return to the mainland was delayed by the weather. Goodwell doesn’t understand any of Jack and Angela’s story but he needs the pipeline to resume construction. He sends equipment and Neuhauser along with the rest of his armed private security detail (as well as Morningstar provocateurs who were mingled in with the protesters) back with Jack and Angela to the crater.
THE SEARCH RESUMES
Jack is determined to get answers and wants to return to the crater to confirm what he saw the last time he was there. The conditions are worsening and the area around the crater is now practically tropical compared to the surrounding Arctic landscape.
The EM interference fouls their sensory equipment so Jack re-enters the crater and rappels down into the massive opening in the Earth’s surface. He’s going to find a rational explanation for what happened at the camp and where these creatures are coming from. It’s hard to see through the miasma of toxic vapors swirling around him but as he gets closer it looks as if the floor looks as if it’s moving. As he continues his descent he sees why the floor looks the way it does: below him are creatures like the one that attacked the camp. There are a lot more of them though they appear to be sleeping peacefully for now. Jack wants out of that hole ASAP. The winch jams abruptly and Jack drops his camera disturbing the creatures below. A few harrowing moments and the winch, not slow but not fast either, restarts and Jack barely makes it safely to the surface.
Jack tells the group he saw a dozen or more “hellhounds”, as Mark has dubbed them. Forget the pipeline, forget the shareholders, Jack wants to get everyone as far away from the crater as possible. Someone suggests using the sat phone at the Pump Station to contact the police or National Guard or somebody to come and take these things out. As the team race back to the camp something else, something different emerges from the hole shooting straight up into the air, unseen.
ACT 3: SOMETHING WICKED
Jack and the team return to help evacuate and find Goodwell has ordered a lock down. More armed private security showed up and all the protesters, as well as Aileen, Mark and the Rev. Poole were immediately detained. Jack’s warnings go unheeded. Angela defies Goodwell and she and Neuhausen take control of the situation. Angela apologizes for her role in enabling Morningstar’s actions and Jack apologizes for his stubbornness just as the newly awakened hellhounds, as Mark describes them, attack. The Morningstar contractor’s are no match for the ferocious monsters and they are massacred in short order. With the chopper temporarily grounded due to the weather the best option is to get their hands on a working sat phone to call for help. Jack figures he can move quicker by himself and doesn’t want to endanger any other lives but Angela insists on going with him to watch his back. Weather notwithstanding, Neuhauser can get the pilot, FRANKLIN, to the chopper to ready it for take off WHEN the weather clears and IF they have enough time. Mark impressively suggests rigging the fuel in a storage unit to blow using explosives that were going to be used by the contractors to frame the protestors as violent. Aileen luring the hellhounds to the Fuel Storage Unit will buy Franklin time to ready the chopper and hopefully take out some of the creatures in the process. Neuhausen gives Angela, a proficient shooter, her sidearm for protection. Poole stays put with Kowalski and Crowder as Jack and the others move to action.
BAD NEWS, BAD NEWS
Before leaving, Aileen reveals herself to be a member of an ancient secret order committed to protecting her people from an even older threat: a race of beings not of this earth. Each age has had its own name for them: Demons. Spirits. Aliens. But Aileen is clear: the crater is a portal to the place these creatures come from and it must be closed before more of them come through. The amulet she used to drive off the hellhounds is a powerful, albeit limited, weapon. Suffice to say the group is incredulous but not as much as they would have been 72 hours earlier. Rev. Poole offers the appropriate Bible verse on faith in God’s love and the evil of the Devil’s works. Goodwell is convinced they’ve all gone insane. Neuhausen, Jack and a pair of contractors all avoid the hellhounds and lay their trap only to relate when they return from outside that the sat phone has been taken and the Goodwell’s helicopter sabotaged. Aileen still hasn’t returned from attempting to lure the hellhounds to the rigged fuel storage tank. As the ferocity of the approaching storm further limits their options, Poole reveals his reverend persona was a ruse concealing his true self: a terrifying demonic-looking alien, the vanguard sent to prepare the way for Earth’s occupation by the inhabitants of his world. The crater is a doorway to Poole’s alien home world. The hellhounds are indigenous to that savage world and are used as hunter killers by his kind. Poole’s plan is to secure the portal until it reaches full size by dawn. A terrified Goodwell confesses he has been colluding with Poole from the start; that he did everything he was told to do and begs for his life. Poole beings to slaughter the survivors, lashing out with sadistic pleasure. Poole shrugs off bullets and stab wounds, his body seemingly healing almost instantly from any injury. A brave local produces a flare from the supplies they scrounged jamming it into Poole’s twisted face causing him to flee, CRASHING through the ceiling in a rage.
As the hellhounds descend on the remaining survivors, BUTLER, one of the contractors rides to the rescue SMASHING THROUGH THE WALL on a giant pipeline ditcher rig that all but PULVERIZES THE HELLHOUND’S TOUGH HIDE. Neuhauser fights bravely emptying her semi-auto carbines into anything with four legs. She leads them to relative safety as, back inside the now ruined building, Kowalski finds his courage, trying to help a wounded Franklin pinned by debris. Surrounded by hellhounds, the three men exchange solemn looks and elect to go out on their own terms detonating the fuel tank on the pipeline ditcher with a high explosive Butler brought with him killing the hounds in the process.
Outside, Neuhausen sacrifices herself allowing Jack, Mark and Angela to reach one of the SUVs. Jack warns that they must shut the portal at any cost. His plan is to take the detonator Neuhausen rigged and use it to blow up a loaded fuel truck right at the mouth of the hellhole hopefully causing it to collapse. Mark and Angela make for the main road hoping to outrun any remaining hellhounds long enough for Jack to get to the hole.
As he approaches the hole, a disfigured Poole returns and yanks Jack from the cab of the fuel truck, short of the mouth of the hole. He gloats over Jack claiming that the time of humans ruling the Earth is over. Jack engages him only long enough to distract him allowing Aileen to sneak up behind him and use the special gemstone she used to kill the first hellhound to destroy the gemstone that gives Poole his abilities. The interaction of the two stones causes a powerful reaction that cripples Poole and triggers the slow collapse of the nascent hellhole. As the portal closes it begins sucking in everything around the hole, including Poole who grabs the leg of a stunned Jack. Aileen, her hand damaged by the blast, uses her good hand to try and pull Jack free to no avail. If Poole is going, Jack is coming with him. As the mouth of the hellhole continues to shrink and the two heroes try to escape it looks grim until Angela arrives and uses the pistol Neuhausen gave her to blast what’s left of Poole’s gemstone through the back of his skull destroying his ability to regenerate. Angela holds onto Jack as Poole is crushed into goo by the rapid contracting hellhole. The survivors watch as the portal to another world seals itself.
High above the frozen tundra, our heroes ride to safety in a Wildlife Department helicopter. Just above the horizon, we see, not the ribbons of Northern Lights spread across the sky we’ve all seen before but isolated dots of EERIE BLUE LIGHT. The same blue light we saw around the hellhole. But now there are dozens of them.