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An former defense attorney explores the supernatural link between his sleepwalking nightmares and a bizarre series of murder-suicides a state away.
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Reviews of Palms in the Desert (rev2) 12
by johnnysure on 07/12/2006This is a tough one. The writer is clearly talented, a great deal of work has gone into the plot and the plotting, the script feels very professional, and yet the whole thing feels flat and slow going. Let's start with the positives, and there are many. This guy can write, that much is evident. It would not surprise me if this script got some attention in Hollywood, because... This is a tough one. The writer is clearly talented, a great deal of work has gone into the plot and the plotting, the script feels very professional, and yet the whole thing feels flat and slow going.
Let's start with the positives, and there are many. This guy can write, that much is evident. It would not surprise me if this script got some attention in Hollywood, because it feels very polished and professional. Descriptions are excellent; the writer has a gift for strong imagery, which would be great if this were given to a Dario Argento-ish filmmaker. Dialogue often contains a clever turn of phrase, although just as much of the dialogue feels flat and standard.
The plot is a good one (psychotic vegetable psychically torturing the man who brought him down), yet it feels over- and under-written. There are a large number of plot elements which lost me, but that's not a bad thing... I like my thrillers to outpace me in terms of plot, as long as I'm following the basic narrative thru line, which I did. (Just a warning, but if this script got into the hands of a director who did not follow all elements of plot closely, the movie could fall apart... speaking from some experience on this one!) At the same time, I never got much of a rising sense of tension, because the visual set-pieces seemed to carry more weight than the emotional/plot thru-line. However, a director with a strong sense of thru-line could balance this. I do give the writer props that I always felt he knew exactly where the story was going and why (essential to a thriller), even if my interest flagged in places.
I think there are two real reasons for my underlying indifference to this clearly well-written script. One is purely personal, and it will probably be the reason which the script achieves success. For a horror movie (which features plenty of gore), the script is almost too polished and professional. I never had any real worry that we would go anywhere too dangerous, because the whole thing felt a bit pat. This sensation is death to a great horror film, and I would cite many of the recent spate of horror pictures which feel disposable. Again, a good director could counter this.
The other problem, which really is the big one, is that none of the characters are very interesting. Martin never really engages us beyond being the guy who is having all this happen to him. A number of female characters come and go (the psychiatrist, the sheriff), but they vanish from the story before they've made deep impacts with the reader. Again, all of this could be changed with good casting. The characters all have interesting things to do, and engaged acting can provide the spark we need. The two most interesting characters are shoehorned into the end of the script. I understand that the nature of a mystery demands that the best characters only get revealed toward the end, but there are ways around this. I'd point you to MANHUNTER as an example where the villain gets filled out once we are far enough along in the mystery to explore the villain. Although this may detract a bit from your surprises, there is no way around the issue that your driving force in the whole movie has very little screen time.
All in all, a technically well-written script which didn't provide the spark I needed to get really engaged. read
by David L on 06/21/2006Palms in the desert. Synopsis: Lawyer Martin Handle is called on to defend a Leonard Pryce against charges he orchestrated as series of mutilation murders via his cult following. Martin, recognizing his client is pure evil, betrays his client to the police after he skips bail. Underestimating him, the police approach him with insufficient manpower. The civilian Pryce... Palms in the desert.
Lawyer Martin Handle is called on to defend a Leonard Pryce against charges he orchestrated as series of mutilation murders via his cult following. Martin, recognizing his client is pure evil, betrays his client to the police after he skips bail. Underestimating him, the police approach him with insufficient manpower. The civilian Pryce escapes and is pursued by Martin and the surviving deputy. Leonard miscalculates as he tries to beat a speeding train across a railroad crossing and get plastered.
Twelve years later Martin is still haunted by these memories, and for the past three weeks, nightmares. Much to his horrors the cult murders start back up again and this time he seems to be manipulated again. A series of events and clues lead him to Boston and Leonard's sister where he's told Leonard is still alive. Belinda, the sister lives as a recluse, never allowing anyone to get close as she fears for her safety from Leonard's minions. She explains Leonard is no charismatic, just a boy with an evil gift for controlling people. Martin goes to kill Leonard with a gun, but opts to simply pull the plug on Leonard's life support gear.
Believing he's done the deed, Martin and Leonard's sister relax. However; Leonard has outsmarted them and had one of his minions plug his life support back in. He visits Martin in his dream and uses him to kill his sister and forces him to commit suicide.
Easy to see why this is a top ten script. The writing is fantastically descriptive and places the reader there, in the scene. This is an essential component for a horror script as mood and tone are so important to this genre. Some primal fears are tapped here. Fear of losing control of one's self. Fear of mutilation. Plenty of creepy characters lurking around.
The concept is good. It is easily better than half of the horror films I've paid to see in the last few years. There is a consistent hand motif at work here. "Palms in the Desert" is a good title. I bet Martin's last name was Palmer at one time or another ;).
I thought the story moved at a good pace. The twists and turns were excellent. The audience will never have a chance to be bored. While the overall story was entertaining, I did have a few questions. At one point we're told Leonard skips bail and Martin tracks him down; However, the sheriff seems to only want to question him on p65. Shouldn't they be arresting him. The gaunt women's time line seems kind of tight, but that is something only a reader would catch, not a viewer. You peg Lake Havsue as five hours away, So I guess she could kill Owen, take the hand to the hand-i-lock, and then take the key to Rufus before Bonnie called Owen to tell him his brother was dead. But, why give Rufus the key? Also, perhaps I missed this, but why the palm theme? Did Leonard have a deformed hand or something? Was he born on Palm Sunday? Why this fixation on hands? Perhaps heads would be better.
The characters were thin. We spend a lot of time with Martin, but really know little about him. The other characters had little development. However; I thought they served the plot well. No character really arced here or learned anything about them self. However we don't need that much character development to drive this screenplay as events are driven by Leonard. I would like to have seen more done with Belinda as she is the primary force countering her brother. Did she have similar powers? How could she resist him when apparently he could manipulate Jules and Martin at great distance. If he could force Martin to jump, why not her?
Structure wise things seemed to fit together well. Setup, fun and games, final push all coming in the right places. The screenplay never dragged.
The dialogue was ok. Nothing rang particularly true or false. Nothing jumped out as on the nose.
Overall I think the writer succeeds in their objective of writing an entertaining horror/mystery/suspense thriller .
Below are some page notes I wrote as I took them. Perhaps they can be helpful. The format on the flashback montage threw me a little bit. I think having flashback in the slug lines would help. I don't know the answer, but took a shot at it below.
P1. Nice intro.
P1. A person's palm is not a sound effect or prop so I don’t think I would capitalize it. Also since you open with PALM trees I would refer to it as an "open palm hand". On first reading I thought the wind was blowing a palm branch against a window.
P11. G&T for a private eye? Wild Turkey straight up.
P15 clerk conversation ran on longer than it had too.
P15 12 cabins and one is numbered 27?
P17 Vijay's horror rises with the morning sun. This makes me think slow moving. Nine murders in one night in the middle of nowhere? The logistics bother me. Plus the visual of people in cars won't be that frightening.
P18 How about Mason jars or Pickel jars or just jars. To me jelly jars are small. Is there need for the jelly detail?
P20. 33 = rolling rock beer?
P21 Got nothing out of the reveal of Dr. Wiseman’s face. Why not show her earlier? Style?
P35 hand carries a paper bag, I'm thinking some small like a lunch bag, perhaps you should say shopping bag or large nondescript shopping bag.
P37. Martin is spiritually burnt. Overwriting, bad pun.
P46- Extra short scenes. Conversation in elevator between Jules and Tubby man. Conversation between Jules and Security guard seem point less. I would drop the security guard/doorman conversation.
P49. perhaps FORMAT as
MONTAGE – BONNIE VISUALIZES OLD CASE AS SHE READS RESEARCH
BONNIE: Reads Headline – "Handless Body Found"
EXT. PARK – DAY (FLASHBACK 19xx)
Yada yada yada
BONNIE: Flips to New Headline – "City Councilwoman Murdered"
EXT. DESERT HIGHWAY – DAY (FLASHBACK 19xx)
Detectives meet C.Hi. P officer. US I-10 sign in bg.
Pesonally, I like corny touches like a Bonnie fingering a coffee ring on the paper and Flashback to a detective saying ah crap as he moves his coffee cup off the page.
P49. The Kid screams. Doesn't ring true as a boy's reaction, perhaps running excitedly back screaming for his coach or Dad.
P65 "I caught wiff too" need to be " a wiff" read
by swarren on 06/19/2006This is the second time that I've had a look at this script, and I do sense some improvements. Overall, though, its still weighed down by the same problem. The past is far more interesting and engaging than the present. The major flashback sequences -- the research one and the Rufus one -- seem shorter now, but they're still too much. Counting the opening, we spend about... This is the second time that I've had a look at this script, and I do sense some improvements. Overall, though, its still weighed down by the same problem. The past is far more interesting and engaging than the present. The major flashback sequences -- the research one and the Rufus one -- seem shorter now, but they're still too much. Counting the opening, we spend about twenty pages in the past over the course of a 105 page story. I think you have to choose one or the other. 85 pages doesn't sufficiently get this story across and 20 pages of backstory means you have too much back story. Try a pass without the flashbacks and finding a more organic way to work in the necessary details -- we don't need to know about the man that hired Martin, we don't really need a lot of Leonard's past. Simplify your story. Bring it down to the base essence.
Now the next problem. Belinda. She's way too convenient for Martin. She says that he would have stumbled across the answers on his own and that she merely helped him along. Let him stumble across them. Martin should piece together the Boston stuff and figure out the mental hospital on his own -- especially since the answers were so easy to find. It makes him seem smarter and more capable. Here he's given a gift from the narrative Gods to push him along to his demise. Drop her. What does she really bring to the story other than easy answers for Martin? Same with the detective and his private dick. They don't really add anything.
I realize you're frustrated with this story. You say that you're nearing suicide (trust me, I've been there with scripts of my own). Whenever you get to the 5th or 6th draft, you really need to take a step back and start cutting things. Be ruthless. Ask yourself what someone or something really adds to the central story. Ask yourself why? Why is something needed? Why does Martin need Belinda to hand him these answers? Why does your story need these flashbacks when their purpose -- to connect the present murders to the past -- has already been established elsewhere in the narrative.
I know it seems like I hated your script. I didn't. I thought it was well written -- even with the massive chunks of dialogue. I just think it can be so much better. I hope my notes help you out should you opt out of suicide and tackle this a 6th time. read
by dirtyluck on 06/15/2006Firstly this is a good screenplay, minimal formatting and spelling mistakes made it easy and fun to read. You have a strong first act and a clearly marked second and third act. The major flaw in this is the ending. It is very anticlimactic. You need some sort of major, climcactic conforontation. Also, you never really explain all the dream imagry. I'm assuming it's things... Firstly this is a good screenplay, minimal formatting and spelling mistakes made it easy and fun to read. You have a strong first act and a clearly marked second and third act. The major flaw in this is the ending. It is very anticlimactic. You need some sort of major, climcactic conforontation. Also, you never really explain all the dream imagry. I'm assuming it's things that Pryce had seen and/or planted there but more expostion would be good. If you fix the third act I think you have a very marketbale thriller here. Congratulations. read
by buzzard on 06/11/2006I did enjoy reading through this screenplay although the dialogue in places could use a bit of work (specifically, the scene in the motel between Frank and Vijay and the elevator scene with Jules and the fat guy with the dog). Also I found the hand motif to be a bit forced in places, especially Martin tracking Leonard down to the Oasis Palms trailer park because he liked hands... I did enjoy reading through this screenplay although the dialogue in places could use a bit of work (specifically, the scene in the motel between Frank and Vijay and the elevator scene with Jules and the fat guy with the dog). Also I found the hand motif to be a bit forced in places, especially Martin tracking Leonard down to the Oasis Palms trailer park because he liked hands. Other than that I really enjoyed the way the story came together from several different angles, and I really liked the twist at the end. One last thing though - I think the original title was better than Palms in the Desert. read
by iceeis on 06/09/2006Palms in the Desert has the potential to be a great supernatural thriller, but with its confusing presentation and multitude of characters it still needs a few more drafts to be ready. One of the immediate problems I faced was trying to piece together the very confusing story. It took a long time to figure out what Martin's role was, and more importantly, it took me a while... Palms in the Desert has the potential to be a great supernatural thriller, but with its confusing presentation and multitude of characters it still needs a few more drafts to be ready.
One of the immediate problems I faced was trying to piece together the very confusing story. It took a long time to figure out what Martin's role was, and more importantly, it took me a while to realize more than one person was committing the murders. This was one of those rare occasions where I had to read the entire script twice to try to figure this thing out. You don't have to necessarily telegraph it, but I never got the sense that any of the characters were wondering how these murders were happening if Leonard was supposed to be dead. I'd figure with all the resources (and the fact that he was already captured) the cops could have put two and two together and figured out the "copycat" killings lead to Leonard... without any help from Marcus.
The flashbacks were annoying, and this has nothing to do with the "flashback debate" of spec scripts. Many of them were "this is what really happened" type flashbacks which work fine when used sparingly, but in this case, most of the twists in this story were dependent on them. You need to find a better way to integrate them into the main story. I know some were necessary and I'm not saying get rid of them all, but things like the "research Montage" starting on pg 50 did nothing but add to the confusion. One of the ways to fix this would be to focus more on Marcus while he investigates... which leads to another concern...
Marcus wasn't interesting enough to be a lead character. He didn't seem active enough throughout the story and felt to me more like a supporting character instead the main character. It also took a while to realize how connected he was to the murders (i.e. his nightmares didn't seem as important to the story as the logline would have us believe. You could cut them out and it wouldn't change much). Again, this could easily be addressed by focusing more on him. Let's see the investigation from more of his POV. On this vein, you should cut down many of the minor characters (like Detective Al, Vijay, etc). The story seemed to change direction every time one of these new characters were introduced, and I was confused as to how significant to the story any of them were (most weren't).
A final concern is the fact that Marcus is literally handed the solution to the whole mystery by Leonard's sister, Belinda. What's worse is that no major character (that I noticed) seemed to even suggest that Leonard had psychic abilities.
Despite this, all is not doom and gloom. Scripts of this stature cause me to focus on the problems because obviously the author knows what works. Again, I liked the premise (though it made me think of a very similar movie "Fallen" and even "Silent Hill" to a degree). The dialogue was very realistic, and though it was full of exposition, I never noticed it. So, good job on making that easy to swallow.
Work on making the story more cohesive and easier to swallow. As is, it feels like the author knows exactly the story they want to tell, but hasn't quite figured out how to do it without confusing the audience. The hard work is done, so this script has nowhere to go but up!
Good Luck and keep writing! read
by naomilamont on 06/01/2006I've just been making notes as I read so here goes: Wow, what a great opening. Full of tension, then the car chase and bam, the suspect's wiped out by the freight train. Great stuff. Then we're slammed into present. Just watch how you introduce your characters. You can't say something like "she stays in shape but chain smokes". We need to SEE it. An actor can't act that,... I've just been making notes as I read so here goes:
Wow, what a great opening. Full of tension, then the car chase and bam, the suspect's wiped out by the freight train. Great stuff.
Then we're slammed into present. Just watch how you introduce your characters. You can't say something like "she stays in shape but chain smokes". We need to SEE it. An actor can't act that, but I think this was the only time I came across and introduction like this.
Loved Martin waking up in the middle of the road and also Vijay finding the handless corpse in his truck, then more bodies in the cars he's hauling. Nice and gruesome!
Ah! When the killer get's Owen. That's cringe worthy, scary stuff. Very well done. Then Bonnie goes looking for him. Very tense. Will the killer get her too? You do a great job of making me want to read on to find out what happens.
Great scene in Dr Weissman's office when the woman lights herself on fire after giving Martin a message.
Nice scene with Jules in the subway. We think he'll get hit by the train, then electrocutes himself.
Nice use of Owen's dog to use later when Bonnie tells Martin she's taking Buck to Owen's brother, Rufus. Also nice work on the flashback when Owen went into Leonard's trailer. That worked really well.
The ending was well wrapped up. Loved the twist with the number 33 being the parking space Martin lands on.
Overall, a very entertaining, page turning story. So it looks like you'll be here for a while yet. Good luck with it. read
by fleezer on 06/01/2006I didn't want to read this SP because I really don't enjoy violence and gore, but one of my other assignments is in a format I can't read and the other is also a horror SP, so I was stuck. My expectations were low, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This is a very well-written screenplay. I like the style of the author, particularly in the descriptions. And the story did... I didn't want to read this SP because I really don't enjoy violence and gore, but one of my other assignments is in a format I can't read and the other is also a horror SP, so I was stuck. My expectations were low, but I was very pleasantly surprised. This is a very well-written screenplay. I like the style of the author, particularly in the descriptions. And the story did a fantastic job of building suspense. I found myself involved and wanting to know what was going to happen next. A job well done, kudos!
I'll mention a couple of nit-picky things first and then talk about two major changes I would suggest making.
1. It's wierd that Martin doesn't ask about Sherriff Burke. I would add a quick query for the sake of realism.
2. I personally dislike showing a flashback within another flashback. It's too hard to stay involved in the story. The main story here doesn't start until p. 9, the rest is backstory. I would suggest rethinking this, if possible and coming back to it after the current story has been set up.
3. p. 10 Belinda "stays in shape and chain-smokes" needs to be translated into something we can see or hear. Also, on p. 11 Belinda continues to smoke, but you haven't had her smoking previously, inless that's what you meant when you said she chain-smokes. It could be clearer.
4. The names Belinda and Bonnie are too similar. Though it said Bonnie, for the entire montage from p. 49-55 I was picturing the Belinda character.
5. I never really understood why Belinda was having Martin followed. Was it because she was having dreams about him? This could be made clearer. It also didn't make sense to me that she'd bring him all the way to her penthouse only to tell him about Leonard and then tell him he should go home. At the time, I thought she was setting him up and wanted him to go to Boston. The scene just felt wrong.
As for the larger issues, I thought this story was put together very well until p. 49, when there is that long series of newspaper headlines and flashbacks. I found all of this confusing. The storyline was clear, but I didn't understand what we were seeing on the screen. It seemed like what should have been shown was the content of the newspaper articles, but what we saw went beyond the info. that would have been in the paper, so what were we seeing? If we were seeing the actual past, then framing it with newspaper headlines didn't fit. Like Bonnie gasping over the image of Emily Thatch opening the meat freezer. That image wouldn't have been in the newspaper, as Emily was alone when it occurred.
On p. 52 the headline reads "Thatch Prints Match Hacker Slaying", but later, Det. Al says sbout her "Nothing matches. Not one damn set of prints." I was left confused. Then there was a fairly abrupt segue into a series of violent murders with the detectives making arrests, and I was left wondering if we were still in the montage or back to the present somehow. The news headlines were gone, so it felt like a different section. Yet the montage didn't end until later, after Pryce's arrest.
I think the entire section from p. 49 to p. 55 should be rethought. While it adds to the story, the material is presented in a confusing way. It's not only confusing reading it, but I actually think it would be more confusing seeing it on screen. Perhaps Bonnie can look at the headlines and then have Martin relate the rest of the info. to her. He was around at the time. He could start with a brief V.O. and then you could go into the re-enactments. The rest of the story is so well put together up until that point, I was really surprised to find myself derailed like that.
My second complaint is the ending. The build up is great and it needs an ending that is at least as powerful as the rest of the story. What I half expected is that Belinda was actually the power behind everything and she used Martin as a pawn to do away with Leonard. If you chose not to go that way, I really suggest you make the scene between Martin and Leonard much more dramatic. This is a power to be reckoned with, this is the showdown we've been waiting for the entire film, so you need to give us something memorable. I strongly suggest rethinking what you have and going with something stronger.
So, that's it. It's a tribute to your writing abilities that this piece grabbed my attention and drew me in. I truly don't like these kinds of stories, but this one is very good. I would think about making some changes in the structure and ending, but other than that, it feels like it's ready to go. Best of luck with it. read
by dunphoid on 05/29/2006I thought this was terrific, and terrifying. I felt the dialogue was superb and the overall writing was very cinematic. I felt the "hand hacker" term could have been something a bit beefier. I thought Dr Langston's "So brave my Lord" at the end with Leonard was a bit of a let down somehow. I think maybe it's just the 'Lord' word that evokes thoughts of aliens and fun stuff... I thought this was terrific, and terrifying. I felt the dialogue was superb and the overall writing was very cinematic. I felt the "hand hacker" term could have been something a bit beefier. I thought Dr Langston's "So brave my Lord" at the end with Leonard was a bit of a let down somehow. I think maybe it's just the 'Lord' word that evokes thoughts of aliens and fun stuff like that for me, as opposed to an evil serial killing cult leader. I'm not sure if the "2 days later" transition is completely necessary. The moment where the thin woman appears in the video of Owen's death is incredibly chilling. Another chilling moment I felt was when Detective Desantis sees Belinda's true identity on Detective Young's computer screen. My gut reaction is that Martin's demise should somehow occur at Goldentree with Leonard instead of returning to Belinda and having sex. Overall, I felt this was a very involving thriller. With some more work on the climax it could be really brilliant. Well done. read
by MANZANA SOL on 05/27/2006This was an excellent script. There was an intriguing mystery that kept you guessing what does the cult want from Martin and who Leonard Pryce really is until the breathtaking conclusion. The script had a few minor flaws, though. It was not really made clear if Owen is Martin's father and, if so, what happened that made them become estranged. I also have to admit that some... This was an excellent script. There was an intriguing mystery that kept you guessing what does the cult want from Martin and who Leonard Pryce really is until the breathtaking conclusion. The script had a few minor flaws, though. It was not really made clear if Owen is Martin's father and, if so, what happened that made them become estranged. I also have to admit that some of the characters, especially the cops, are a bit cliched. But then again it is almost unavoidable to not have cliched cops in any mystery script or film. That kind of comes with the territory. Other than those concerns, this script is pretty much ready for production. I would watch it if a movie came of it. One thing I would warn the author about is that they might have to put up a fight to keep the movie from an NC-17 rating. Its content may be at the border between an R and NC-17 rating. Good luck with the script, I hope something good comes out of it. read
- Writer: Russell Phillips
- Uploaded by: rsphillips44
- Length: 105 pages
- Genre: horror, mystery/suspense
- Formerly titled "The Charismatic," this is the 5th draft. I am nearing suicide here, myself. Enjoy.
- Bio: Oh, like you care. Born in Maryland. Family back east. Jersey. Florida. Moved to Dallas at 12. Graduate of SMU in cinema. A few years limited stand-up comedy experience. Lived in Chicago in '98-99 with comedian/writing partner and had a near-miss at a break with a short-lived VH-1 comedy sketch show. Lived in LA area from 2002 to 2007 while pursuing the dream. Suffered all the while. Went nowhere. Back in Dallas now. (cue NBC shooting star) "The more you know..."
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