Branching out
July 10, 2018 11:56 PM   Subscribe

Mark Z. Danielewski has written a pilot script for a television series based on his book House of Leaves
posted by fearfulsymmetry (36 comments total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
I am a fan of House of Leaves and read this with interest, although I'm pretty skeptical that it would work as anything other than a limited series. Pick it up, Netflix!
posted by odd ghost at 3:21 AM on July 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

OOOOH this is VERY exciting news! I enjoyed House of Leaves very much.
posted by Ziggy500 at 4:00 AM on July 11, 2018

Episode 4: Fifty-Seven Minutes of Architectural Terms

Episode 7: Dialogue Consisting of One Hundred and Twenty Noun and/or Verb Phrases Connected Only By Commas

Episode 12: The Cool Bit You Had To Slog Through Everything Else to Reach

Not that I'm bitter about my experience reading the book at all.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 5:08 AM on July 11, 2018 [30 favorites]

Episodes 5, 8, 10: the frame story gets uncomfortably porn-y
posted by Rinku at 5:25 AM on July 11, 2018 [5 favorites]

I'm a few pages in and this screenplay is surprisingly goofy. It's a mockumentary in which the literary community discovers that everything in House of Leaves is real, and the entire world gets pissed at Danielewski for writing "fake fiction". I didn't expect this kind of tone from a TV adaptation, but it's fun that it's pretty much a comedy sequel to a horror novel. I haven't finished it yet though, and this is of course only episode one, so maybe it moves into horror territory later.
posted by One Second Before Awakening at 5:37 AM on July 11, 2018 [3 favorites]

I love gifting this book to people. When I briefly explain its premise, it always gets them hooked. This could be fun, but yeah, it really needs to be a Netflix or AMC series of some kind.
posted by Fizz at 5:51 AM on July 11, 2018

There was a strange little BBC radio drama adaptation a while back too.
posted by mykescipark at 6:04 AM on July 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

I don’t know who this “Mark Z. Danielewski” thinks he is, but I have notes from the original author Zampanò where he makes it clear that the book is unfilmmable.

Let me check, I know I had those index cards somewhere...
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 6:15 AM on July 11, 2018 [14 favorites]

Probably the most controversial episode will be the one where most viewers will have to pick up their TV and slowly keep rotating it.
posted by Drastic at 6:17 AM on July 11, 2018 [23 favorites]

Yeah, I LOVED House of Leaves. It remains the scariest book I've ever read. I'm glad Mark Danielewski is writing the script, though I'm highly skeptical it can be successfully adapted to the screen as a horror story. I'll cross my fingers and hope for the best though. If he manages to pull it off, he is truly a genius.
posted by triggerfinger at 6:21 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Most frightening book I've ever read too. To the extent that I only got half-way through before I had to give up and get it the hell out of my house as fast as possible. Don't think I'll be watching this, even if it is a comedy,
posted by Fuchsoid at 6:25 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I wish I found the book as gripping and frightening as so many people seem to, it certainly had the potential to be. But my experience was much more inline with Mr. Bad Example's. Reading this book was tedious. I want to "get lost" in a good book, as they say... it was impossible to do that when the act of reading was so much work. I lost interest and gave up about 2/3 through.

I'm intrigued by the concept of turning it into a TV series - it seems unworkable, and hard to translate the "gimmick" of the book (whether you loved or hated it). But One Second Before Awakening's comment makes me think of Charlie Kaufman's adaptation (heh) of "The Orchid Thief", and well... something like that could definitely work.
posted by Roommate at 6:39 AM on July 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

It was also the most frightening book I've ever read. I turned the last 100-odd pages with the fingers of one hand in front of my face because I was terrified of what would be on the page.

Nothing anyone could film could be as bad as what I imagined was going to be on those pages, but I still don't want to see anyone try.
posted by minsies at 6:49 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

It would be interesting to see this built out with modern ARG and group-farming mystery elements. The book had its roots in hypertext fiction, no? I tend to think of it as the spiritual successor to games like The Beginner's Guide, Undertale, or FNAF. Or media like Petscop, DHMIS, or format-screwed SCPs.

Those communities would devour a well-done multimedia version of House of Leaves. One with a bunch of unreliable narrative framing devices would be a hoot.
posted by es_de_bah at 6:58 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Soundtrack by Poe or we riot.
posted by Parasite Unseen at 7:09 AM on July 11, 2018 [22 favorites]

Great book. Scary as hell. Engrossing. Missed subway stops. Problematic subplot that could be cut entirely without damaging the work as a whole.

Always thought it would make a great movie or series, concerned its thunder was proactively stolen by Blair Witch.

Cautiously optimistic.
posted by panama joe at 7:13 AM on July 11, 2018

I will watch this for the special effects and hope that the story tags along.
posted by Splunge at 8:01 AM on July 11, 2018

Here I thought he was busily working on his 20 (900 pages per) volume opus "the Familiar", how does he find the time????
posted by OHenryPacey at 8:15 AM on July 11, 2018

He probably found it after the publisher got skittish about continuing with the last 17 900-page books in that series.
posted by mrgoat at 8:24 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

Just finished it a week or so ago. Liked parts, hated parts. Had wondered and determined that a flimed version did not exist. Seems to me to be fundamentally unfilmable, or else so much of the scenery will need to be so dark as to preserve the mystery. So much of the book has to do with what ones brain conjures up from the words, vs what one can be explicitly SHOWN. And / or, theyd better have one hell of an SFX budget...
posted by hearthpig at 8:28 AM on July 11, 2018

For an author who explores typographical design as a main component of the story, I have doubts about translating this to TV. House of Leaves, which implies a book, is about something bigger on the inside than it is on the outside. This is a great metaphor for a book. One of his chapters (IX), is a confusing collage of text blocks where the reader is left to wander around the page trying to figure out which way to go with the text. The chapter is about the characters exploring a labyrinth. I loved this book as it used typography and design to place the reader into the story and not in an obvious way. As much as people now deride books, they are bigger on the inside than they are on the outside. TV is flat and basically linear. It makes everything it touches smaller.
posted by njohnson23 at 8:30 AM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

The thing about House of Leaves is that it's a pretty good 400-page book with some creepy-as-hell unnerving things going on that I enjoyed quite a bit.

It's just that it's a shame about the other 300 pages.
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 8:30 AM on July 11, 2018 [4 favorites]

omg squee!! Love this book.
posted by Dressed to Kill at 8:33 AM on July 11, 2018

It's hard to explain to people why House of Leaves is a scary book, and harder now than when it was published in the year 2000. On their surface, neither the overt premise, nor the covert premise, nor the frame premise, are particularly frightening.

The first thing that set it apart from anything else that was in print at the time is its masterful use of the page turn. As a Youtuber once pointed out, comics have a very particular tool in their toolkit, which is putting the reader on the precipice of anticipation with a page turn that is definitely going to reveal something deeply unsettling. It is, in very important ways, the opposite of a jump scare, because the reader knows something is coming but doesn't know what it is. It's also engrossing because the reader retains control of the pacing, rather than being at the mercy of how an editor decided to cut the film. Danielewski managed, with typographic trickery, to translate the impending dread of the page turn into a text-only medium. If you find the story engrossing (and it's a big if for a lot of people), this trickery is a force-multiplier for the book's existing creepiness.

The second thing, which is harder to appreciate now, is that the book traffics in false verisimilitude. Like Ghostwatch, it is both clearly fiction and also possibly not just fiction. Reading the book in 2000, it was hard to shake the feeling that even if it was a novel, it was somehow referring to something else. This was a lot harder to verify on the Internet circa 2000, because an Internet search didn't turn up forums of people discussing the novel. The search turned up... well, not much of anything, which could always potentially be a false negative. There's something deeply disturbing about being unsettled by something and then being unable to research it effectively.

This isn't strictly speaking a new technique in horror, although HoL does it differently than most other works. When Lovecraft and his wider community were writing weird fiction in the 20s and 30s, they routinely made reference to occult works not because that was an established trope, but because it was far more normal at that time for works to make reference to work of classical philosophy (Plato, Aristotle, Aquinas, etc.). And when the same text (e.g. the Necronomicon) started showing up in works by multiple authors, the reader had to ask themselves, "Wait, is that really a book that's out there?" As a modern reader, we recognize that Lovecraft was doing "that horror trope of talking about an occult text," but before that was a trope, it was a trick that made the reader feel like the story was a little more plausible, to plant a little kernel of "what if?" doubt to help the suspension of disbelief along.

HoL's lengthy asides about typography and architecture, which many people are complaining about as "those darned extra pages" were, in my opinion, part of the artifice. They were set dressing that helped the book feel like it was about something bigger that might not be quite fiction, even though it was ultimately all definitely fiction.


I'm a few pages in and this screenplay is surprisingly goofy. It's a mockumentary in which the literary community discovers that everything in House of Leaves is real, and the entire world gets pissed at Danielewski for writing "fake fiction".

I'm actually nor surprised at all that this is how Danielewski is trying to adapt the material, because the issue of "how fictional is any of it, really?" always struck me as a core conceit. HoL is a book that wants to knock the reader off-balance regarding what is real.

What will probably be lost in the wash in all this is the deeper theme that HoL might not be about anything supernatural at all, but is instead a book about mental illness, and in particular about how the world looks from underneath a mounting, suffocating heap of delusions. If so, I'll be disappointed, because that was ultimately the reading of HoL that struck me as the most interesting and compassionate (or, at the very least, justifies many of the book's digressions that a lot of readers saw as distracting and irrelevant). I don't see how that undercurrent could possibly survive the transition to television.
posted by belarius at 9:01 AM on July 11, 2018 [8 favorites]

I’m excited but I’m not sure I have the strength to repeatedly lift and turn my television in 90 degree angles...
posted by mochapickle at 9:15 AM on July 11, 2018 [2 favorites]

Generally, with the way television works, MZD wouldn't have put this out there if there was any active interest in development.

Generally, with the way the internet works, floating it out here might actually drive interest in future development.

Generally, with the way House of Leaves works, this is all part of the design and this is a sort of flip-reversed ARG in which the internet tries to get an unfilmable television show made, gets Poe out of whatever lingering legal limbo she is in, ends up with MZD making the entirely different television show he actually wants to make rather than this, and possibly some people involved in the whole thing disappear in the process or turn out to have never existed or are rumored to not exist but actually do and we will spend the rest of our lives going "Remember when he did or did not make that TV show? That was fucking weird."

At least TVs are a LOT lighter than they used to be, so rotating them won't be so difficult.
posted by Lyn Never at 9:43 AM on July 11, 2018 [7 favorites]

This would be amazing. If they can make it work. Here's hoping.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:32 AM on July 11, 2018

I loved teaching the novel in two different classes: Gothic Horror and Multimedia Lit. Fine fodder for the students to dig into.
posted by doctornemo at 12:13 PM on July 11, 2018

Also, informal polling shows the horror world split like this thread. I went around the last Necronomicon asking people for their favorite 21st century horror novel. About one half nominated House of Leaves among others. The other portion really disliked the book, deeming it overrated, gimmicky, or just not scary.
posted by doctornemo at 12:14 PM on July 11, 2018

I want to "get lost" in a good book, as they say... it was impossible to do that when the act of reading was so much work. I lost interest and gave up about 2/3 through.

I finished it. I think, I don't remember the end, just being glad I got there. I actually started skipping parts, maybe the only time in my life I've done that with a book.

The thing about House of Leaves is that it's a pretty good 400-page book with some creepy-as-hell unnerving things going on that I enjoyed quite a bit.

It's just that it's a shame about the other 300 pages.

Hell yes. I so much wanted to like this book, and so much loved parts of it, but hated it before I was through. I said at the time I would have paid someone to edit it.
posted by bongo_x at 12:55 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I found the book scary, and I hope they get the TV show right if they make it. In particular, I hope they make it right for a streaming TV show in 2019, rather than a throwback to 2000-style episodic stuff. I suspect the US colour edition I had is far far away, and I'm still kind of glad of that.

How cool would it be if the TV show got quieter and quieter dialogue-wise, with smaller and smaller picture, moving across the screen, forcing us closer? Until...
posted by Wrinkled Stumpskin at 4:54 PM on July 11, 2018 [1 favorite]

I'd watch it. And probably moan all the way through about how you can't adapt something so formally untraditional to the screen, but I'd still watch it.
posted by ahundredjarsofsky at 11:18 PM on July 11, 2018

I've gifted this book several times to people -- I got my first copy back when it first came out. Love it.

I tried to get into Only Revolutions, must have started that book 3 or 4 times, now it's holding up one of my monitors.

Still would look forward to this series.
posted by daHIFI at 9:08 AM on July 12, 2018

God, I loved the first section of this book so very very much, and I love the typographical wankery, but, man, that second skeevy bro plotline/narration that comes in. Ugh. Kind of a tone partykiller that limited my enjoyment of the rest of the thing.
Would be interesting to see what craziness a film adaptation would be like-- would have to be very loose, which could be cool if they embraced something totally outside box.
posted by Capybara at 12:48 PM on July 12, 2018

I feel like a successful TV adaptation of House of Leaves would end up being similar in tone to last year's 18-hour Twin Peaks — which was spooky as shit mainly because you had literally no idea where it was going next, especially after Episode 8 — and I love Twin Peaks so much but I don't know if anyone will ever make anything like it again. I hope someone tries.
posted by Mothlight at 9:53 PM on July 12, 2018 [2 favorites]

I was well into the comments here before I realized the comments were serious about it being scary.

I tried reading this and while I like the premise, I just gave up at some point.

Is there some place I can go for spoilers about what is scary? It seemed rather... Idk... Run of the mill to me?

If the mill was infinitely bigger on the inside and changed all the time, but still.

Maybe I should try it again.
posted by sio42 at 4:21 AM on July 13, 2018

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