Friday, April 29, 2016

Hitch 20: Needle In A Haystack Shot

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is a bonus episode from the third season...





Weird - that's all me!
What's also all me: HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE!
Look here tomorrow for links to the new book!












- Bill

Of course, my first book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, April 28, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: GUILLOTINE

Guillotine

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 2, Episode: 2.
Airdate: Sep. 26, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino.
Writer: Charles Beaumont based on the story by Cornell Woolrich.
Cast: Robert Middleton, Danielle de Metz, Alejandro Rey.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The early dawn. The gleaming knife. A man seized in his cell by armed guards in his stocking feet, snatched from a dream of freedom to be thrust into the waiting embrace of Madame Guillotine. Altogether an unenviable experience. Not however inevitable. It is related that there have been certain criminals, cutthroats and murderers all, who have by one means or another evaded this chilling fate. Well, the efforts of one such fellow to alter his ordained destiny form the substance of tonight’s story.

“The location: France. The year: 1875. And the theme? Well, you might call it togetherness. The normal association of a body and the head it comes with. You’re about to meet three people who enjoy seriously conflicting viewpoints on the subject. (The guillotine blade slices down, dropping a head into the basket which Karloff retrieves.) Here is the condemned man, Robert Lamont, who desires to keep his head while others about him are losing theirs. Enacted for us by Alejandro Rey. (The blade slices and the next head.) His good wife and the chief source from which his present dilemma obtains, Babette. Played by Danielle de Metz. (The blade slices and the next head.) And the third figure in this grisly triangle, the estimable and much maligned Mssr. De Paris. Public servant par excellence, portrayed by Robert Middleton.

“This drama may be considered, not to raise a tribute to the march of civilization, but also for the unconquerable spirit of convicted murderers. Of course, such practices may soon become things of the past. With modern methods of scientific liquidation instant death is now available to the masses without fuss and in most cases without undue delay. The old traditional ways were always so much more quaint.”



Synopsis: The Executioner “Mssr deParis” (Robert Middleton) tests the guillotine. They raise the blade, he locks the “trigger”, then pushes the lever with his foot to release the trigger. The blade glides down in a flash - through the neck stockade where a prisoner will soon be. The Executioner smiles. They place a cabbage in the neck piece and the Executioner pushes the trigger lever with his foot again. Wooosh! The cabbage is cleanly sliced in half. Half falls into the “head basket” below. The device is ready for it’s next victim...

Hours before dawn: In the darkest cells of the prison, two Guards have removed their shoes and creep to a cell where two condemned men sleep. Professional gambler Robert (Alejandro Rey) wakes up when the cell door opens. Are they coming for him? No, the Guards grab the other prisoner, who screams for his life. Robert watches through the cell door as they take him away...

Just before dawn: The cell door opens again and Robert turns - are they coming for him as well? No, it is his wife Babette (Danielle de Metz) who has bribed a guard for this visit. We get a nice piece of dramatic exposition on how he got to this place: he discovered Babette was cheating on him and killed the man. He claims he has forgiven Babette, but seems to rub in her indiscretion again and again, which makes her attempts at last minute reconciliation difficult. He kisses her and tells her that he has forgiven her, but can not forget. That her testimony against him may have damned him to this fate, but he knew they would force her to take the witness stand. That any other jury would have come back with a “not guilty” verdict, because of the “unwritten law”. There is all kinds of baggage in this relationship - and love and anger are in equal parts.



Cheering from outside the cell, and Robert and Babette look out the window to see the prisoner being escorted to the guillotine. Woosh! Plop - the head falls into the basket.

Robert tells her that soon it will be his turn, and Babette asks what can she do? Robert tells her that tradition, an unwritten law, that if the Executioner dies on the day of an execution the condemned man is set free. So if she can find out what day Robert is to be killed, and then kill the executioner... they can be together again. Babette isn’t all that hot on killing a man... will she do it or not?

The Executioner is given his next assignment from the warden... Robert. The clock is tricking... but ticking until *when*?



A Few Days Before The Execution: Outside a café, Babette carries a basket of flowers, selling boutonaires... and approaches Executioner. He is amazed by the bright colors of her carnations, and asks where she buys her flowers. She says she grows them herself, this is a family flower that has been in her family for generations. The Executioner’s hobby is gardening, and he asks her to sit with him for a moment and discuss flowers. She flirts with him as they discuss flowers - and there’s no shortage of words and phrases with double meanings here. He is a lonely older man, a sad man, and she is a beautiful woman. She offers him clippings of her family’s carnations... and asks when she can come by with them... cleverly finding out that he must get up very early on Thursday to work. So they make a date for Wednesday afternoon.

After he leaves, Babette accepts a drink from one of the other customers - a carriage Cab Driver (Gaylord Cavallaro) who informs her that man she was talking to was the Executioner. The most hated man in Paris. This is more sly exposition, as this guy is trying to pick her up by giving her some information... including that the Executioner will cut off a man’s head for money, but he wouldn’t hurt a cockroach without being paid...



This episode is filled with great matchcuts, and on the word “cockroach” we go from an empty saucer in the café to an identical saucer in Babette’s flat with a cockroach eating some poison on it and keeling over onto its back - legs convulsing. Babette is timing the roach’s death as she brushes her hair. She pours the poison into an ornate little tin, wraps it in her lace handkerchief and...

The Day Before The Execution: Her lace handkerchief on her lap as she sits in the Executioner’s garden on Wednesday afternoon. He plants the clippings while she flirts with him. When he’s finished he sits with her and breaks the bad news that he knows will break his own heart - he tells her that he is the city’s executioner. But she doesn’t seem to be repulsed like everyone else... like every other woman he has ever met in his life. “I am not under sentence, Mssr. And until I am, I don’t see why I should fear you.” Wait... is this a chance for the executioner to find love? Romance? This young woman knows his secret and continues to flirt with him.

This is a great scene, because she is flirting with the man who will take off her husband’s head... unless she poisons him dead. And he is a charming, shy, sympathetic man... who dislikes his job, but someone must do it.



They are close to kissing when they’re interrupted by his housekeeper Mdm LeClerc (Janine Grandel), who is calling him to dinner. The housekeeper is stern, abrasive, and reminiscent of Danvers from Hitchcock’s REBECCA. Oh, and slightly jealous. She tells Babette that she must leave now. Babette grips the lace handkerchief with the poison cannister as he walks her to the front gate. How will she poison him now? She offers to take a stroll with him later that night, but he says he must get up very early for work tomorrow. She says his dinner smells delicious and he gets the hint and asks her to dine with him.

Dinner for three. No shortage of tension as Mdm LeClerc snipes at her the whole time... while Babette tries to figure out some way to drop her poison into his food while the housekeeper isn’t looking. Had it just been the two of them dining, it would have been much easier. His wine glass is right there... but the housekeeper is watching her like a hawk. The tin of poison stays wrapped in the lace handkerchief.



After dinner, the Housekeeper steps into the kitchen for a moment and Babette asks the Executioner for a glass of water as a way to distract him so that she can pour the poison into his brandy snifter. But the moment his back is turned for a moment and the tin is out of her lace handkerchief the Housekeeper returns. Dinner is over, time for her to leave... and she still hasn’t poisoned him!

Time is ticking away until dawn and the execution!



The Housekeeper mentions that she is preparing the Executioner’s favorite breakfast for his pre-dawn breakfast - apple pancakes (pastry). Babette asks Mdm LeClerc if she will show her how they are made, and the two women go into the kitchen. On the counter is a big bowl of chopped and seasoned apples next to the dough. Babette asks her to write down the recipe, and while Mdm LeClerc is doing this she dumps the tin of poison into the apple mixture and quickly stirs it. The poison looks like the cinnamon. Babette quickly sets the stirring spoon down as the housekeeper hands her a folded piece of paper with the recipe.

In the prison, a guard slides a folded piece of paper to Robert. A note from Babette saying that he need not fear the dawn, she has completed her assignment.



The Morning Of The Execution: The Executioner’s Assistant (Peter Brocco) preps the bladeless guillotine for Robert’s execution.

The two Guards take off their shoes and creep to a cell where condemned men sleep... this time they have come for Robert. The Warden (Gregory Morton) enters with a Priest (Guy deVestel) for Robert’s final confession. Robert apologizes for getting the Priest up so early in the morning, but he has nothing to confess.

The Executioner finishes a big plate of his favorite breakfast, the apple (poisoned) pancakes. Checks his watch - time to go. Grabs the guillotine blade in it’s leather carrying case and checks the blade - very sharp. Puts on his coat and leaves the house - briskly walking across town in the pre-dawn light.



In the pre-dawn light the Warden and Priest and Guards escort Robert through the prison hallways to his death. Robert continues to turn down the Priest - if he dies without final confession he will be sent to Hell. Robert wonders why everyone is so sure that he will die today, and makes a 2 to 1 bet with the Warden that he will live to see the sun set again.

The Executioner continues briskly walking across town - almost marching - to Robert’s execution. But he halfway down this street he stops for a moment, removes his handkerchief and wipes sweat from his brow. Is the poison finally taking effect? Or is it just a warm morning? He checks his watch...

The Executioner’s Assistant checks his watch - the Executioner is running a little late this morning, but there is still plenty of time.

The Warden and Guards escort Robert downstairs, Robert almost tripping at one point. “Watch your step, Mssr.”



The Executioner almost trips... he is now feeling sick. He holds his stomach, has to stop for a moment to wipe the sweat again. Passes a bar with a sign advertising Cognac...

The Warden pours Robert a snifter of Cognac, and one for himself - the condemned man’s final drink. A philosophical conversation... then Robert asks if it is true that if the Executioner dies on the day of the execution the next man in line is pardoned? Yes... but this Executioner has never been late, never been ill... never had so much as a stomach ache.

The Executioner holds his stomach, leaning over a fountain - sick. He staggers down the street, face sweating, sees a pharmacy and pounds on the doors. No one answers - it’s before dawn. He continues staggering forward, hanging onto the pillars of a building to stay upright. Marching forward to Robert’s execution, the case with the guillotine blade at his side. He passes a barber shop...

The Barber (scene stealer Marcel Hillaire) arrives to shave Robert and cut his hair - must look good for his execution, right? A very macabre conversation between the two: they talk of going to Hell, and the Barber says it is a myth that he draws the line on the neck for the Executioner to follow, and he has never loaned his razor to a prisoner so that he wouldn’t have to face the national blade... all myths.

The Executioner continues forward in agony. He *will* make it to the execution. Nothing can stop him... even though he is sweating like a horse.



A sweaty horse and the cab behind it stops at the prison’s side gate. The Cab Driver helps Babette down from the carriage, joking with her about being front row for the execution. Flirting with her in an odd way. She shoots him down, he drives away. Babette asks the Gate Guard if she can enter here to see the execution. Nope - this gate is only for the Executioner. The public gate is around the corner. Has the Executioner arrived yet? Not yet. She smiles.

The Warden tells Robert that the Executioner is here, now, testing the machine. He has never been late. “I can assure you that at this very moment he is raising his hand in a signal to his assistants.” For the first time Robert looks worried.



The Executioner raises his hand to hail the taxicab as it comes towards him. The Cab Driver stops, climbs down to where the Executioner is doubled over in agony. “Something I ate...” The Cab Driver offers to take him to a doctor, but the Executioner says he *must* get to the prison to fulfill his duty. The Cab Driver says he will take the man to a doctor because that is the right thing to do, but he will *not* take him to the prison to take another man’s life. One of the great things about this episode is that it manages to keep you on the edge of your seat while discussing capital punishment. If the Cab Driver takes the Executioner to the prison, Robert dies. If he refuses, Robert has a chance at living. So the stakes in this conversation are the stakes in the story. And it’s dramatic, because the Executioner is seriously ill... but still arguing that he must do his sworn duty. And the great side-effect of budget constraints in television is that this is the same Cab Driver from the café, the same one who just took Babette to the prison and was on his way back from the prison when the Executioner flagged him down. So we *know* this character. His earlier conversation with Babette about how the Executioner wouldn’t kill a cockroach but sees nothing wrong with killing a man tints this conversation. The Cab Driver tells him that his conscience will not permit him to take him to the prison, but it is only a few hundred yards away, and drives off.

The Executioner continues staggering towards the prison... towards Robert’s death.



Ten Minutes Before The Execution: The Assistant tells the Warden that the Executioner has not arrived yet, not even a message from him. There will not be time for a test before the execution. Robert is no longer worried... the Warden is worried.

The Executioner staggers relentlessly towards the prison - it is within sight now. He leans up against a wall, sick. A Policeman approaches, thinks he’s a drunk, tells him he should go home and sleep it off. The Executioner says he *must* get to the prison... then keels over.

Robert and the Warden have a conversation about execution versus rehabilitation - again, this is perfectly in context for the story and even adds to the suspense because the longer they stall the execution the more likely that the Executioner will finally stagger into the prison with the guillotine blade and Robert will lose his head. Robert - the gambler - asks if he shouldn’t be taken to the execution platform about now. Hey, the spectators must be disappointed. The Warden has Robert taken out to the courtyard, knowing that if the Executioner doesn’t show up it will be a major public embarrassment for him.

That Policeman wants to get the Executioner to a doctor, but he *must do his duty*... so the Policeman helps him to the prison.



They bring Robert out to the courtyard - the spectators go wild. Robert looks through the crowd for Babette - can’t see her. The Priest makes one final effort to get Robert’s confession, but he refuses. Minutes tick away - if they get to the time of the execution and the Executioner has not arrived, Robert goes free.

Babette is not in the crowd because she is still at the prison’s side gate - counting down the minutes there, worried that the Executioner still may arrive. He is a big man, did she put enough poison in his food for such a big man? What if he is *not* dead? What if he is still coming to the execution?



And then the Executioner appears across the street, held up by the Policeman (Vance Howard, Opie’s dad). The Policeman yells for the Gate Guard to give him a hand. Babette backs up, hiding in the doorway. Terrified that the Executioner will fulfill his duties. The Policeman and Gate Guard practically carry the Executioner to the gate, leaning him against the wall only inches from Babette as they open the door. The Executioner looks right at her and asks, “Why?” She tries to get away from him, but is trapped in the doorway - trapped with the man she murdered. A shy and lonely man... now close to death. “I thought you were fond of me. For the first time in my life someone who... Why?” Big dramatic moment. Babette says she has never seen him before in her life and walks away.

The Executioner tells the Policeman to stop her, and she is taken into custody. The Executioner tells her that he *will* keep his appointment, and there’s an echo here of her earlier line about not having to fear him because she is not under sentence. Well, she will be now!

The Executioner’s Assistant and the Prison Doctor (Charles LaTorre) come out, and they take the Executioner into the courtyard... and the guillotine... and Robert.



Robert is preparing for victory, when the Executioner is carried into the courtyard. The spectators cheer - the show will not be cancelled! Robert realizes this can go either way - his confidence vanishes.

The Executioner falls to the ground. The Assistant takes the case with the guillotine blade from him and attaches the blade. They help the Executioner to his feet.

Robert says, “He will never make it,” but he’s not sure he believes that.



The Executioner’s legs no longer can hold up his stout body, but they carry him towards the platform... closer... closer... closer! Robert repeating, “He’ll never make it!” with less confidence with every foot closer to the platform.

Robert is taken up to the guillotine, his neck placed in the stockade, his head dangling over the head basket. He yells that no one but the Executioner must touch the trigger.

Only the Executioner and the Prisoner are allowed on the platform, so they lay the Executioner down at the base of the steps.

“No one else! You hear me, no one else!” Robert is screaming and crying and...

The Executioner is *crawling* slowly up the stairs to the platform. Each step is agony.



The spectators are screaming.

Robert is screaming.

The Executioner is slowly crawling across the platform to the guillotine. One inch at a time. Closer... closer... closer.

Robert is screaming, “He can’t kill me! He can’t kill me!”

The Executioner crawls right up to the guillotine trigger! And then drops to the platform - unmoving.



Robert’s screaming turns from terror to hope.

The Prison Doctor climbs up onto the platform, holds up the Executioner’s arm to take his pulse. Conforms that he is dead.

Robert’s hope turns to triumph, to joy - he will be set free! “He’s dead! I win! I win! I win!”

The Prison Doctor lets go of the Executioner’s wrist... and his arm falls... and hits the trigger... and the blade falls... and so does Robert’s head.

The end.



Review: Another perfect storm for me - Ida Lupino *and* Cornell Woolrich! When I first watched the THRILLER show as a kid, this is the episode that stuck with me. It had me on the edge of my seat for a full hour. Would the executioner make it to the prison? I was a little concerned when watching it again that it wouldn’t hold up to my memories... but it was just as great as I remembered it.

As I’ve said before, Woolrich is known as one of the three fathers of modern Noir fiction, and the films made from the work of those three and their contemporaries are what we know as Film Noir. Woolrich is the guy who put the Noir in Noir thanks to his “Black Series” of novels, including BRIDE WORE BLACK, BLACK PATH OF FEAR, BLACK ANGEL, and many others. And if you are wondering how Noir can have three fathers and no mothers, Woolrich is probably closest to taking that mother role... not because he was Gay, but because he specialized in female lead stories. Noir from the woman’s point of view. Many of his stories, including this one, deal with women doing terrible things to save the men in their lives. Since Noir is about good people doing bad things... and discovering the darkness within that they wish they’d never uncovered, the idea of an “innocent” housewife stepping over the line to help her husband out of a jam is prime Noir territory and Woolrich mined it throughout his career.



I have always wanted to do a more faithful film adaptation of his novel BLACK ANGEL about a basically quiet and subservient suburban housewife whose husband is accused of murder and there is so much evidence that he *will* be convicted... so comes out of her shell and becomes a detective, going undercover to trace his steps on the days leading up to the murder in order to uncover the real killer. But this quest creates one line after another that she must cross - creating a spiral of descent into the darkness. How far will she go? Will she start using drugs in order to be accepted by addicts as she goes undercover following a lead? Yes! Will she become a prostitute and sleep with a bunch of strange men in order to follow a lead? Yes! As the quiet housewife spirals down and down in search of the evidence to clear her husband of these charges - degrading herself again and again - we begin to wonder if this man is worth all of this. If *anyone* is worth all of this. And also - if she proves him innocent, will he want whatever is left of her back? This is an awesome Noir story that Hollywood cleaned up for film - robbing it of all of its darkness. In the novel she proves that he is innocent and they live happily ever after... but Woolrich, like Raymond Chandler and many other pulp writers of the time, based his novels on short story material he’d previously had published... and in the short story version, “Angel Face”, she degrades herself only to discover that her husband is guilty, was always guilty, and their whole marriage was based on her believing his lies. And that’s the Noir ending I would use on a new film version. Darker than dark.

A similar ending to this story GUILLOTINE - where our wife character Babette must seduce and murder the executioner in order to save her husband’s life... and after she does all of these terrible things, it ends up being all for nothing. How dark can you get?



Though this is a fairly simple story - will Babette be able to poison the Executioner for the first half and then will the Executioner make it to the execution for the second half - it is all about suspense. Both of those situations are focused on suspense and the episode (and Lupino’s direction) are relentless in keeping us on the edge of our seats in anticipation. This is another Woolrich trait - where Hitchcock was the master of suspense on screen, Woolrich was the master of suspense on the page. Where they two intersect - the movie REAR WINDOW and the TV episode 4 O’CLOCK - we end up with classics. Woolrich knew how to keep the suspense escalating on the page, and in his novel PHANTOM LADY (which also needs a more faithful remake) the chapter titles tell us how many days until the protagonist will be executed for a murder he did not commit - even before the murder has occurred in the story! Talk about a page turner! You can’t finish one chapter without seeing the title of the next chapter with the number of days left... and you end up continuing to read. Can’t put it down! This episode uses those same suspense tools. We know when Robert will be executed and count down the days, hours, minutes, seconds until that happens.



One of the reasons why the suspense works in this episode is what I call the “THUNDERBALL Theory” in my Secrets Of Action Screenwriting book. In the James Bond movie THUNDERBALL the villain Largo has *two* nuclear weapons, and “tests” one on an island before hiding the other somewhere in Miami. That way the audience can see the destruction this weapon causes so that they know what would happen if the one in Miami detonates. If the audience doesn’t understand what will happen, if it remains abstract, there is less suspense generated. In GUILLOTINE we open with the title device being tested so that we understand what will happen later if Robert’s neck ends up meeting that hurtling blade. We get some great visual exposition showing us step-by-step how the device works - including that trigger which will become very important at the very end of the episode where there is no time to explain anything. You always want to get exposition up front so that it doesn’t get int the way of the ending. We don’t want to be explaining how that trigger works moments before the Executioner’s arm drops on it! Plus, knowing the full scope of the “event” gives the anticipation of that event (suspense) more weight. It’s not an abstract concept, this execution by guillotine, we have seen what that blade can do to a cabbage. And they *do* use this blade on the necks of men - which we know because that test at the beginning of the episode is for Robert’s cellmate... who loses his head soon after that test.

Hey, that brings up another great storytelling tool used in this episode - repeating the events that lead up to the execution. The episode opens with the Guards taking off their shoes and sneaking up to the death row cell to take the next victim of the guillotine... and grabbing Robert’s cellmate. By showing this procedure early in the episode, when we see the same procedure happening again we *know* that Robert will suffer the same fate. It makes the execution *real* and amps up the suspense in the situation. It’s a cousin to the THUNDDERBALL Theory - by showing what happens early, we turn an abstract idea into something tangible and that creates suspense later. This isn’t just some vague idea of a bad thing that might happen, we’ve *seen it happen*.



But the key to this episode and the key to this being effective as Noir is Robert Middleton’s performance and the way his character is portrayed. The Executioner must be both a serious threat *and* a sympathetic victim. Simultaneously. That’s a tough thing to pull off for a writer and a director and an actor - and here all three manage to walk that razor’s edge without being cut. Middleton, a character actor probably best known for the brutish escaped convict in DESPERATE HOURS, probably does his best work in this episode. When his blurry vision clears for a moment at the prison doors and he recognizes Babette, we genuinely feel for him. “Why? I thought you were fond of me. For the first time in my life someone who... Why?” That’s a heartbreaker!

The amazing thing this episode does is make up both want the Executioner to succeed in getting to the prison to do his job, and *not* make it to the prison so that Robert won’t lose his head. Ida Lupino manages to pull that off (with the help of Middleton and TWILIGHT ZONE screenwriter Beaumont - 22 episodes!) masterfully. Lupino is one of those great directors who somehow has slipped through the cracks and is not studied today. Part of that may be because she had to fight for every credit and ended up directing a bunch of silly TV shows like GILLIGAN’S ISLAND, but her work was always imaginative and amazing. Here she gives us POV shots from the Executioner that replicate the blurry fever vision of a poisoned man. Her THRILLER episodes and films are often filled with amazing visual experiments (frequently mentioned in this series), but she also knows exactly how to create suspense through editing and angle and camera movement. Her film THE HITCHHIKER is edge of the seat suspense. Here we have a simple story which is just a guy walking to work, right? Some other director might have made it just as exciting as some guy walking to work, but Lupino turns out an episode that was my favorite as a kid and still holds up as an adult.



Oh, gotta mention the amazing Jerry Goldsmith score! One of the major components in creating the suspense in this episode is his relentless score makes us feel the determination of the Executioner. Goldsmith was my favorite composer of film music from my lifetime, and long before he became one of cinema’s greatest composers of the 70s and 80s, he cut his teeth doing weekly scores for TV shows like THRILLER. His music elevates many of the weaker episodes and turns great ones like this into classics.

Okay, I’ve probably oversold this episode, but it’s still my favorite after all of these years and Stephen King and his PIGEONS FROM HELL can go suck it. Next week the streak of good episodes continues with an adaptation of Poe’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL, and after that another great creepy episode based on Robert Bloch’s THE WEIRD TAILOR. Stay tuned!

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

The Thing Prequel And Suspense

From 2011...

I once saw John Carpenter in Dupar's Diner in Studio City eating breakfast. He'd have a forkful of eggs, then amble outside and have a smoke, then come back in for another forkful of eggs. When he walked past me, I whistled the theme to ASSAULT ON PRECINCT 13. He either didn't notice, or purposely ignored me. My guess is the latter. But even after he has said terrible things about the profession of screenwriting, and given us some recent stinkers – I am still a big fan.

Carpenter movies are well-crafted, goofy, fun. To me they are meatloaf and mashed potatoes – comfort food. You won't find them on the menu at some snooty restaurant, and gourmet chefs will look down their noses... but it tastes great! Carpenter is never going to win an Oscar, but 50 years from now some of his films will be classics in the same way his idol Howard Hawks' films used to be popcorn and are now masterpieces. Some of his films are some form of classics *now*. Can we talk about modern horror films without bringing up HALLOWEEN? And then there is that great remake he did of a film Howard Hawks may have secretly directed, THE THING.




You can tell THE THING is considered a classic by the amount of anger over the remake-prequel from the moment it was announced. I thought much of this was amusing, in the same way I find the current outrage over the new remake of SCARFACE to be amusing – um, remaking a remake isn't exactly sacrilege. Hey, this could be THE THING for a new generation! But the weird thing about the “prequel” was that it would be the story of the Norwegians from the first couple of minutes of the Carpenter version... except Carpenter's version has video of the Norwegians that is either footage from the Hawks' version or a recreation... making the *Hawks* version the prequel. Um, are they remaking the Hawks version?

Just before the new prequel came out, I posted a scene from the Hawks Version here that was also in the Carpenter Version as the video footage. That was an iconic scene that, um, found its way into one of my scripts (in a completely different situation). In the Hawks Version the scientists circle the flying saucer in the ice with arms stretched to get an idea of the size of the object, in my script a group of people – one of whom may be a werewolf – join hands in a circle and wait for the moon to come up (while one sings a bastardized song from ANNIE). The thing about THE THING is that you have *two* great previous versions you have to match in quality. That's tough.

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT?




The problem with remakes is that people will compare them to the original – but the *solution* is that the original shows you the path to doing it right. Though you want it to be “the same but different” that doesn't mean you can just do a substitution thing like they did with HANGOVER 2 – because one of the things that make films work is their *originality*. Both ALIEN and ALIENS are spooky monsters in a dark house movies – and work in similar ways: isolating a member from the group in a dark place where we know that monsters lurk. But each tackles the basic idea from a different direction, and become different films. No “search and replace” involved in the screenplays. They understood that *originality* is one of the elements that made the first film popular, so they did something original and different for the sequel. Not a carbon copy – but still a member of the family.

And the two previous versions of THE THING were different and yet the same. The Hawks Version (directed by Christian Nyby) was a straight monster attack movie - and it was creepy as hell. A group of people living in isolation – no escape - with that carrot dude *somewhere* in the building. Not blasting through walls and killing people. Mostly hiding in the shadows. Suspense and dread were created by people walking through the Air Force Station hallways knowing that it was... somewhere. When the monster *does* attack – they are shock attacks where the creature is exposed for a couple of minutes before disappearing back into the shadows. I'm sure that one of the reason the “carrot-monster” played by James Arness (Matt Dillon from GUNSMOKE) is only seen briefly is that make up effects weren't that great at the time, so keeping the monster in the shadows was a great way to keep it from looking stupid. But as we know from JAWS, that's also a great way to amp up the dread-factor. So our shrinking group of survivors – civilians and scientists and Air Force guys – must learn to work together to fight the monster and survive. I'm sure this was a Cold War anti-Commie movie about coming together for the common good (ironic, huh?).




The Carpenter Version is is a paranoid horror story about the difficulty in trusting people these days. Going back to the original story by John Campbell, screenwriter Bill Lancaster (Burt's son – writer of THE BAD NEWS BEARS... and *there's* a double bill) has a monster that basically takes over the bodies of others... so that trusted friend may actually be the monster in disguise. We have the same snow-bound lab full of scientists (though I think they changed poles) and the same dark hallways and the same possibility for a monster to spring from the darkness, but the difference is that the monster may also be that guy sitting next to you at dinner. This is a core change that makes the film all about trust. And I think that is why the Carpenter Version is still will us all of these years later. The film was not a theatrical success, but had a long shelf life on video... because it's actually about something. Sure, it's got cutting edge for the time special effects that crank it to 11 on the gross-out meter, and some snappy dialogue... but the theme of *trust* is something we can relate to even today. Every scene in the film ends up being about *trust* - and all of those great moments are trust related: the wire in the blood is all about “who can we trust”?

Though the Rob Bottin special effects were cutting edge then (and look amazing now – better than much of the CGI stuff in the prequel) they were still smart enough to keep the monster mostly off screen and create *mystery* around it. Yeah, we got to get a good long look at the spider-head, but when the thing is in the dog cage it's mostly in the shadows. Familiarity breeds contempt – and that extends to monsters in monster movies. There are some great monster set-pieces where we see the monster, but like the Hawks Version the creature is never on screen long enough to wear out its welcome... or just become a boring effect. We fear the unknown – and the minute we “know” the monster too well, we can not fear it.




Which brings us to the “prequel”. I wanted to like it, because the first two versions are great and it would be swell if the third was great in its own way. The ALIEN series dropped the ball on the third film and never really recovered. Can THE THING have a great third entry? I really like Mary Elizabeth Winstead from SCOTT PILGRIM (and if you have not seen that one – it's a blast) even without blue hair... but she doesn't look the least bit Norwegian. And that angry guy from BOURNE IDENTITY who played Robert Mugabe doesn't look Norwegian, either. This film *is* about Norwegians, right?

FORSHADOWING IN THE SHADOWS

One of the things that I anticipated would be fun in this film would be the plants that all pay off in that scene in the Carpenter Version where MacReady and Blair visit the Norwegian camp. One of the things that made the 3rd STAR WARS prequel barely tolerable were the things leading up to Anakin becoming Darth Vader. So I was waiting to see which character was *defined* by using an old fashioned straight razor to shave with. That's unusual, so it's character related... but no razor is used in the film until their tacked-on ending. It's almost as if it became a “prequel” in post production. Talk about missed opportunities! A straight razor is such a cool thing for a character to use, that it would have added to the film even if it wasn't part of that tacked on ending. One of the great things about the Carpenter Version is that all of the characters – and it's a large cast – are distinctive and different. Each has an arc, too. I love how Gary shoots the Norwegian in that opening scene and takes flack from the others for *wanting* to use his gun, but the character gets this great moment of regret and sadness. He has taken a man's life. And if we take Gary or any of the other characters in the story and just follow them – they have their own story and their own journey in the film. In the “prequel” the characters are thin and not well defined... and none of them uses a straight razor.




By the way – if the fear was that showing one of the characters using the straight razor would be a dead giveaway that they'd be that frozen suicide dude at the end, the solution is to have another character *hate* that straight razor, think it's dangerous and doesn't want to be in the bathroom while the guy is shaving with it... and *that's* the character who uses the straight razor to kill themselves at the end. Or some fake-out version. But by *not* establishing that there even *is* a straight razor, that end just seems tacked on fake and makes me want to kill the filmmakers. But not with a straight razor. A ripe tomato.

The funny thing about the “prequel” is that it ends up being a remake of the Hawks Version, kind of... and yet also a "search and replace" of Carpenter's version. It's a monster attack movie in a snowbound location. But unlike the Hawks version – the monster is always in full light and they *dwell* on it! And it seems like every scene from the Carpenter Version gets a dopey version here: they did a "search and replace" on the wire in the blood scene and gave us a fillings in the mouth scene. Huh?

My main complaint with the prequel is that it's hollow - a movie about nothing. Not about a group of different people banding together to fight a common enemy like the Hawks Version (Cold War stuff) nor about the difficulty of trusting people in the modern world (Carpenter Version). It's just a monster attacking people. And it has no logic - if the creature doesn't want to be discovered why is it blasting out of places and killing people? And if it just wants to blast out and kill people, why doesn't it just do that (and the movie will be over in 10 minutes)? The story makes no sense at all. There is a point in the film where the monster has *escaped* - but then comes back just to kill some more people. It's one of those movies where the monster's goal seems to be: kill everyone, but kill the cute girl last.

The cute non-Norwegian girl.

ROM-COM THING




The Hawks Version had a female in the cast, the Carpenter Version was all testosterone – and used that as an element. The “prequel” has a female lead and another female character – and this might have been an interesting thing to make the film *about*. To give it a story between monster attacks. As silly as it sounds, rom-com THING would have been a good angle for this film: not the com part, but use romantic part - and have these isolated people hook up because they are lonely... "Trust in a relationship's a tough thing to come by these days." We all seem to live in some form of isolation these days – we used to interact with each other in person, but instead of sitting in Residuals Bar listening to me talk about THE THING you are reading this online and I am writing it online. We do more and more things *alone* - and we may even date people who we previously knew *from online*. So, take an isolated group of people who are stuck in the same building for months, maybe years... and they become more lonely and more likely to hook up and the dating pool is all shallow-end.

I can tell you from experience that a film crew – working together for 12 hour days and maybe staying at the same Holiday Inn on location will sprout a bunch of set romances. And that leads to set break ups and no shortage of awkward situations where people who just broke up badly must be inches away from each other. That's some great drama to happen between monster attacks – and can become part of the story when your monster assimilates the bodies and memories of its victims. Oh, and monster-wise: if I'm going to have a scene where two guys' heads meld together, one of those guys is going to be set up hitting on the other earlier in the film... and have the other guy turn him down flat and be creeped out having to work with him for the rest of their time in the research center. Put a bunch of guys in an isolated snow bound place together and a certain amount of homophobia will bubble to the surface – and we can explore that in the story. They could have made the monster elements about the characters and the story instead of just a series of attacks in full light.

So the “prequel” becomes nothing more than a crappo monster movie with a tacked on ending that turns it into a prequel. But not only is the version of the script that ended up on film lacking, the direction kills any suspense and dread and scares that might have existed even after they keep showing the monster for expended periods in full light. This director has no idea what he is doing and needs to be kicked out of Hollywood as soon as possible – or forced to watch good movies until he can figure out *what makes them good*.

SUSPENSE ON SCREEN

Okay - someone is walking through dark, spooky room... what is it we (audience) want to see? The person *walking* or what might be skittering in that shadow in front of them? It's all about POV - what is important isn't the person walking, it's *what they see* (or think they see). Only an idiot director would keep the camera on the girl with the flashlight and not show us what the girl *sees* with that flashlight! If you look at 1955s DIABOLIQUE's end - there's more screen time spent on what Vera Clouzot is looking at than on hottie Vera Clouzot looking. The long hallway, the sliver of light coming from the door - jeeze - is her dead husband in there *typing*? The key to creating suspense is to put the audience in the protagonist's shoes – and we can't be in their shoes and be looking at the shoes. The most important shots are *not* the star, but what the star is looking at. The problem with THE THING prequel is that we **never** see what she is seeing – we only see her looking. No suspense or dread in that at all. That DIABOLIQUE scene works – not because we see *the star*, but because we see *what the star sees* - and by alternating those shots we feel like we are in her shoes looking through the shadows. Wait... I can describe that scene from DIABOLIQUE, but why not just show it to you and talk about it afterwords?

OKAY: MAJOR MAJOR MAJOR SPOILERS!!!!!!!
THIS IS THE **END** OF THE MOVIE!!!!!!





The story until now: Vera Clouzot is a shy (but hot) school teacher who has inherited this huge old private school. She has also inherited a heart condition, and could drop dead at any time. She's frail. Isn't supposed to get excited. And discovers that her slimy husband has found excitement outside of their marriage... with another teacher at the school played by the sultry Simone Signoret. Now usually these two would be fighting each other, but did I mention the husband is slimy? What happens is both women turn against the husband, and decide to kill him. Over a holiday break, Signoret lures him to her house where the two women drug his wine and drown him in the bathtub, and then take his corpse back to the school in a huge wicker basket and throw his corpse in the school's swimming pool that is closed for he season. A drowning accident. But the body is never discovered, and when they find an excuse to drain the pool... no corpse. WTF? The two women panic – what could have happened to his body? Did animals drag it away? If so, how can they prove that he's dead?

Which brings us to the scene....



Okay, let's take a look at how it works.

1) She's sleeping and a sound wakes her up... Footsteps climbing the stairs - then light from across the courtyard.

2) She looks out her window and there is a light on in her husband's office. Notice that she looks out the window, then we see out the window (and from her point of view – in Hitchcock/Truffaut they talk about the remake of THE 39 STEPS and how instead of using Hannay's POV looking at the two men watching on the street, they have a non-POV eye-level shot of the two men, which doesn't come from anywhere and takes us *out* of the protagonist's shoes, undercutting our identification – when people say “well, maybe the editor decided to do that”, the problem is that the editor can only work with the shots the director gives her... and if the director doesn't have a plan for the sequence and just shoots coverage, you end up with a bunch of junk shots that do not work). We see what Vera sees, then back to Vera looking, as she decides to investigate.

3) She opens the door and looks down the hallway... and WE see down the hallway from her POV. She walks down the hallway. She hears footsteps... and we see someone walking – this is a break in POV, and I think it doesn't work well. It splits us from knowing only what Vera knows and also having the additional knowledge that there is a man walking in the hallway. In the film there is a nosy cop – and I'm sure this was put here to suspect the nosy cop of setting her up... but *that* undercuts the scene. I think these shots are stumbles... but there are only a couple of them, and the rest of the scene just kicks ass.

4) She enters the next hallway. Looks down the long hallway... and WE see down the hallway from OVER HER SHOULDER at a faint light at the end of the hall (this is a great moving shot). An Over The Shoulder Shot is a great combo of POV *and* Star – even though it's usually just the star's back. Sometimes there's enough of the side of their face that it's really the best of both shots. Here the shot continues to see a door open *behind her* and someone step out. The cop?

5) The sound of the typewriter pounding away in the office. How is that possible? She walks down the long hallway, and this is the core of the scene. We cut back and forth between her cautiously walking to her husband's office and a POV shot of her getting closer to the office door... the light slicing from under it. In NORTH BY NORTHWEST we get shots of Cary Grant running and looking over his shoulder alternating with the zooming crop duster heading right at him. One of the great things in that sequence is the *pacing* - the length of the shots (in frames) becomes shorter with each shot – making the scene more and more frantic as it goes on. This was a common suspense editing technique in the days of Steinbeck Film Editors where actual physical frames of film were part of cutting. You counted frames and created a rhythm... or created an anti-rhythm to throw the audience off. Now, with editing on digital media I'm not sure editors even think in terms of frames anymore. The technique of shaving a frame or three with each shot to build tension may be lost.

6) When Vera gets to the end of the hall, the office door slowly opens sending a slice of light towards her – as if it's searching for her... and finds her!

7) She cautiously enters the office – and again we get shots of her alternating with her POV of inside the office – this puts us in her shoes and builds suspense up the wazoo. She sees the typewriter on the desk with a piece of paper in it – and that is two shots. She moves to the typewriter (shots of her, POV shots of the dark spooky room), pulls out the paper, and reads it – and we get a POV shot of the paper so that *we* can also read it. Her husband's name over and over again.

8) Footsteps coming from the darkness in her husband's room. She runs like hell.

9) Shots of her running all the way back to her bedroom - her running away, her running towards, her feet running. This is all about panic.

10) In her bathroom, she splashes water on her face... sees something and clutches her heart – this is a great tease shot, because we have not yet seen what she sees... THEN we get her POV shot of her dead husband's corpse in the bathtub. How did he get there? Who put him there? The nosy cop?

11) She backs up, looks... Her POV of her husband rising up!

And that's how you create a suspense scene on film. It's not just shots of cute Mary Elizabeth Winstead holding a flashlight walking from room to room – it's WHAT SHE SEES. That flashlight's pale beam searching the shadows and things skittering in the darkness.

I thought THE THING “prequel” was a let down on many levels, but just as a monster attack movie, the *director* screwed up by not giving us those POV shots and only shooting the star wandering around with a flashlight. Is that because they think it is all about the star? Or because they are *not* thinking about the audience and how to create emotions within the audience? Alternating shots of the character and shots of what the character sees goes back to the pioneers of cinema – they knew how to do this stuff... how come directors today don't seem to know it?

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Research For Story - and BLUE CRUSH... some warm weather background on a chilly day!
Dinner: China Wall in Concord, CA - all you can eat Chinese food.
Pages: Well, I finished revising the Action Book... and today I wrote this blog entry, and I *still* plan to write a new spec by the end of the year in warp drive mode!
Bicycle: No... but a long walk.

Movies: THE MUPPET MOVIE - I laughed, I cried. But, then, I love The Muppets. And the Muppets are back - in a great fun film filled with big Hollywood musical numbers. It's the most old fashioned musical made in the past couple of decades. I loved it - but that made me wonder who the audience for this nostalgic flick about smart-ass puppets is: It seems to be made for fans of the 70s TV show and the 1979 movie... and we are, um, old people. Will kids like this film? That's actually part of the plot - are the Muppets *relevant* in 2011? Well, whether they are or not - they are still entertaining. There's a huge musical number with thousands of dancers on Hollywood Blvd, a great song about being a man or a muppet than opened my tear ducts, and some other great stuff. At one point I thought we were going to go full-on MEET THE FEEBLES when they round up the old gang, but they kinda pulled that punch. A nice return for these furry friends, but I think the script needed another pass - especially in the Kermie-Piggy subplot. Also - considering all of the guest stars from the past, why pick these people? James Carville?

Movies: DESCENDANTS - Screw Sean Penn, George Clooney is our greatest living actor. Clooney manages to be a *real* movie star, plus do films like this that are small and interesting and dramatic... and the dude can act. There are scenes in this film that require a bunch of emotions playing behind his smile - and he does an amazing job of showing you each layer of emotion. The story: Clooney is a Hawaiian businessman whose wife gets hurt in an accident and is not expected to live - so this absent father must now take care of his two daughters while he tracks down all of his wife's friends and family to break the news that she's got about a week of life left. It's a sad movie, and an angry one. Here's a great screenwriting lesson: the story may sound like a small drama, but it has stakes up the wazoo. Clooney is the most hated man in Hawaii - his family owns a huge chunk of the island, and they may sell it to turn it into condos and crap. That's the big business deal that he's working on. And his family - "the cousins" - have formed groups and each has a developer to sell to - and Clooney is the man in the middle getting beat up on all sides... and that's before his wife gets in the accident and has about a week to live. His two daughters? Not some sweet sitcom kids - one is a recovering drug addict in a boarding school for problem kids, and his youngest (aged 10) is about to be expelled from school for acting out big time. She's a hellion. He has no idea what to do with these girls. So instead of some small quiet drama - he's in the eye of a tornado of crap... and his wife will be dead in a week. High stakes. Not some little story about a dying wife - the fate of Hawaii hangs in the balance, here. Oh, and I forgot to mention that the wife has/had a HUGE secret that is uncovered along the way. One of the things I liked about the film was how every character gets a great moment - there's this idiot stoner that the teen drug addict daughter *brings with them* as they go to tell friends and family of the wife to go to the hospital and say goodbye *now* because she'll be dead in a week. This dofus is great comic relief - when scenes get tense he says something stupid (and in one scene someone has a negative reaction to that) - but he also gets a great scene later in the film where you understand him. The two actresses playing the girls are both great. This is not a great film - but it's a very good one. And all of the cast does a great job - especially Clooney, who manages to use his charm in dark scenes where I think any other actor would have taken it too far. He gives a great layered performance.

- Bill

bluebook

IT'S BACK!

*** SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Kindle!

*** SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING *** - For Nook! (coming soon)

Why pay $510 for a *used* copy of the 2000 version when you can buy the Expanded 2011 Version - now over 460 pages - for $9.99? NEW Chapters! NEW Techniques! NEW Examples! It's the book pro screenwriters recommend! An Oscar Winner and the co-writer of FOUR of the Top 20 Box Office Movies Of All Time recommend it! (which is probably why someone is selling a used copy for $510.) Filled with techniques you will not find anywhere else!

Only $9.99 - and no postage!



bluebook

NEW!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Kindle!

*** DIALOGUE SECRETS *** - For Nook! (coming soon)

Expanded version with dozens of ways to improve your dialogue! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is almost 200 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!



bluebook

NEW!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Kindle!

*** YOUR IDEA MACHINE *** - For Nook!

Expanded version with more ways to find great ideas! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is around 155 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!



bluebook

NEW!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Kindle!

*** CREATING STRONG PROTAGONISTS *** - For Nook! (coming soon)

Expanded version with more ways to create interesting protagonists! Print version is 48 pages, Kindle version is once again around 155 pages!

Only $2.99 - and no postage!

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Trailer Tuesday: The Haunting (1963)

"It was an evil house from the beginning - a house that was born bad."

I first saw this film in grade school on a rainy day when instead of going out to play we went to the multi-purpose room for a movie... and instead of just getting wet outside, all of us got scared to death and probably scarred for life. This film scares me *now*.



THE HAUNTING doesn't have any blood at all... yet it has regular scares throughout the film - and lots of DIRECT CONFLICT between the source of the scares and the protagonists. This is tricky, because THE HAUNTING is about ghosts and has no special effects - no guys in sheets, no double exposure FXs, nothing we can *see*.

The biggest mistake of the remake was turning it into a CGI fest... we fear the unknown, when we see a bunch of FX, it isn't unknown anymore.

"'Unknown.' That's the key word. 'Unknown.' When we become involved in a supernatural event, we're scared out of our wits just because it's unknown. The night cry of a child. A face on the wall. Knockings, bangings. What's there to be afraid of? You weren't threatened. It was harmless, like a joke that doesn't come out."

Though we can't see the ghosts in the original, we CAN see what they do. The original version of THE HAUNTING has five characters and only one of them dies - at the very end. But they are constantly in peril throughout the film, and often in conflict with each other. Even though nobody dies for 99% of the film's running time, there are a bunch of big scary scenes - it's as much fun to have a character *almost* killed as it is to have them killed.

"Haven't you noticed how nothing in this house seems to move until you look away and then you just... catch something out of the corner of your eye?"




It's a haunted house story about a team of ghostbusters who are going to "cleanse" a very haunted house. Richard Johnson is the professor leading the expedition into the world's most haunted house. Claire Bloom and Julie
Harris are two different kinds of psychics, Rusty Tamblin (from my INVISIBLE MOM movie) represents the owner of the house and the actress playing Johnson's wife (can't remember her name). The scares are (brilliantly directed) scenes with ghosts pounding on the walls or doors samming on their own or people almost being swept off balconies by the wind or spiral staircases becoming untethered and almost falling over or people having to walk down long hallways in the dark while wind or shadows chase them. The ghosts are constantly chasing our heroes! The ghosts are looking for fresh blood - and our five ghostbusters are in peril from the moment they enter that house. The ghosts don't just call on the phone and breathe heavy, they actively try to kill every member of the team!

"Look, I know the supernatural is something that isn't supposed to happen, but it does happen."

Though the most famous scary scene is probably that spiral staircase sequence, my favorite couple of minutes of absolute terror is a scene where ghosts pounding on the door to Harris and Bloom's bedroom actually begin to push the door inwards - bending it to the breaking point! The door just keeps bending inwards. Will the ghosts break through the door to get our team of psychics? This scene goes on so long you almost pass out from holding your breath in fear! And that door bows so far inwards you know it will break any minute! No blood (but the scene will drain the blood from *you*!) but scary as hell! This is the kind of "old school horror" audiences
are looking for - direct conflict between the terrifying and the protagonists... and when a movie like PARANORMAL ACTIVITY (1,2,3) comes along, the reason why it's a success is that it builds that sense of dread that gets us on a primal level...

Real suspense based on a real threat.

"When people believed the earth was flat, the idea of a round world scared them silly. Then they found out how the round world works. It's the same with the world of the supernatural. Until we know how it works, we'll continue to carry around this unnecessary burden of fear."

The best part about the original HAUNTING is that between these great bloodless scare scenes, you get to "catch your breath" with scenes of mentally unbalanced romance as Julie Harris interprets everything that Richard Johnson does as proof that he's secretly in love with her. The guy's married and doesn't even flirt with her - but she's so delusional that she's sure it's love. This is almost as creepy as the ghost attacks (just in a different way). So the "valleys" in the ghost story are "peaks" in the twisted romance story (kind of Harris's character coming of age late in life - she's been sheltered since that incident where stones rained on the family home when she was a kid... and has never been on her own or in love before). There are no slow spots in a (good) movie, just different kinds of excitement.

Robert Wise, the director, got his start as editor of a little film called CITIZEN KANE... and went on to direct CURSE OF THE CAT PEOPLE and BODY SNATCHER for Val Lewton. After that, he directed a string of great films - everything from ODDS AGAINST TOMORROW to WEST SIDE STORY to THE SOUND OF MUSIC to ANDROMEDA STRAIN. I think he kind pf blows apart the autuer theory because all of his films are just *good* - but I don't see much connection between them other than - *good*. THE HAUNTING was the height of his career - and it's a million times for frightening than the remake.

It was totally cool working with Rusty Tamblyn on INVISIBLE MOM - I made sure to show up on his days. It was totally cool.

Though THE HAUNTING is okay for kids - no sex, no blood, no gore - know that it is damned scary...

- Bill

Monday, April 25, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Are Spec Scripts Dead?

Lancelot Link Monday! After a bunch of articles claiming the spec script was dead (as far as sales go - that's still the way to get assignments), we suddenly had two big spec sales. Is this a chicken and egg situation? Do we need a bunch more articles about how dead the spec sales market is in order to get a bunch more spec sales? If so, can someone get on that? I've got a new script that needs a new home... While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...




Here are a dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Jungle Book..................... $60,803,000
2 Huntsman WW..................... $20,080,000
3 Barber Shop TNC................. $10,830,000
4 Zootopia......................... $6,611,000
5 The Boss......................... $6,080,000
6 BVSDOJ........................... $5,520,000
7 Criminal......................... $3,100,000
8 MBFGW2........................... $2,100,000
9 Compadres........................ $1,350,000
10 Eye Sky.......................... $1,214,963


Tom Hanks new movie opened at #11 with $1,206,850.

2) Indie & Specialty Film Box Office.

3) IT Is Coming! - This is to be the first in the Warner Bros "Stephen King Multi-Verse".

4) A Look At VERTIGO - What's With Those Colors?

5) Marvel Films - It's Inhuman!!!!

6) Jeremy Saulnier on THE GREEN ROOM.

7) Bidding War Spec Script Sale #1.

8) Spec Script Sale #2 (is this a trend?)

9) Vince Vaughn Cast In BRUTAL Prison Screenplay BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99.

10) CHIPS: THE MOTION PICTURE.

11) BLADE RUNNER 2: ELECTRIC BUGALOO Changes Release Date.

12) Cannes Film Fest (and Market) Is Right Around The Corner!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



From a movie I haven't seen in ages, that was the first time I saw Ed Harris on screen.

Bill

Buy The DVDs

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

-
Dinner:
Pages:
Bicycle:

Movie:

Friday, April 22, 2016

THE BIRDS: Storyboards

THE BIRDS just turned fifty one... Should we celebrate by heading to Bodega Bay and letting seagulls peck out our eyes? Or just look at the movie?



Alfred Hitchcock believed you didn’t want to be figuring out what the heck you were going to shoot and how you were going to shoot it with the entire cast and crew waiting around on the clock... The place to figure out your movie was before you had hundreds of people standing around waiting. So Hitchcock (and many other directors of the time) storyboarded their films. Sometimes just the tricky scenes, sometimes the whole film. You could shot list the easy stuff, but actions scenes or scenes that required trained birds or special effects of some sort? Better to have those boarded so that you could show each department what was required for them in each shot. So here are some of the storyboards for THE BIRDS.

BIRDS Storyboards and a swell article from BFI.

To read the Fridays With Hitchcock on THE BIRDS, click back there.

bluebook

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

THRILLER Thursday:
WHAT BECKONING GHOST?

What Beckoning Ghost?

The spider web fills the screen, it's Boris Karloff's THRILLER!



Season: 2, Episode: 1.
Airdate: Sep. 18, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Donald Sanford based on a story by Harold Lawlor.
Cast: Judith Evelyn, Tom Helmore, Adele Mara, Frank Wilcox.
Music: The great Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: John F. Warren
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Imagine entering a room and discovering your own coffin? And a wreath inscribed: “To My Dear Wife, Rest In Peace”. Now, then: would you believe your eyes, or would you think, perhaps, that you have actually caught some glimpse into the future. Or, perhaps you might suspect some grisly plot against your sanity. Now please - no snap judgements. You might be right, and then there would be no need for you to suffer through the frightening ordeal as time runs out for... Mildred Beaumont, played by Judith Evely, her husband Eric played by Tom Helmore, and her young sister Lydia as played by Adele Mara. What’s that? You think you have the answer? Don’t be too sure, because I warn you as sure as my name is Boris Karloff you’re in for a terrifying surprise. And if you’re tempted to scream, just sit back and follow this advice: Rest In Peace.”



Synopsis: A luxurious estate, middle aged Mildred (Judith Evelyn) a famous concert pianist and her once pretty boy boozer husband Eric (Tom Helmore from VERTIGO) are celebrating her release form the hospital. He wants her to take it easy, her heart is still fragile. But she insists on celebrating and goes downstairs to fetch a bottle of champagne while he lights the bedroom fireplace. Downstairs she hears a noise, goes into the dark drawing room - and what she sees shocks her! A coffin with a funeral wreath which says: “My Dear Wife Requiescat In Peace”. She staggers out of the room... falls to the floor.

Mildred wakes up on the sofa to find Eric and her younger sister Lydia (Adele Mara) over her - but where the coffin was there is now a table. Has she gone crazy? They call for her doctor...



Mildred wakes up the next morning, and Eric has pills ready - the doctor said she must take them. Not her doctor - he’s on vacation - Dr. Bartoli who is looking after his patients. Lydia comes in with coffee and where Eric is protective of Mildred, she is more compassionate. They have two very different ways of caring for her - and are often fighting each other over her. Husband and sister do not get along, but her illness has placed them all under the same roof to take care of her. Mildred has no memory of the doctor coming... though she has a perfect memory of the coffin and funeral wreath. When Eric leaves she looks at the pill vial - prescription by Dr. Bartoli. Why can’t she remember him?



Lydia wakes her up for dinner... but Mildred thinks it’s still morning and this is breakfast. She has no memory of the entire day... and Dr. Bartoli’s visit. Lydia asks if she remembers Dr. Bartoli’s visit this afternoon, and Eric tells Lydia not to badger her - of course she remembers... she’s had no sedation today. Mildred lies and says she remembers. Lydia replies, “See? You’re just as sane as I am.” The phone rings, it’s Dr. Bartoli... Eric says he’ll take the call in the next room so that Mildred can rest. The moment he’s out of the room Mildred picks up the bedside phone and listens in - Eric tells the doctor she seems to have had another memory lapse, and Bartoli replies that if this continues she will have to be institutionalized. When she hears Eric hang up, she does as well. Dr. Bartoli is real - why can’t she remember him? Is she crazy?

A few days later, Eric tells Mildred that he will be away for a week on a business trip, but Lydia will be there to take care of her. And he has ordered a piano for her bedroom so that she can practice... get back to normal. Dr. Bartoli doesn’t want her to go downstairs and use the piano in the drawing room due to her... incident. He has Mildred sign all of the checks to pay the bills before he leaves - which shows us that he has no access to the money. Lydia enters while she’s signing checks, and they have a heart-to-heart. Though Lydia dislikes Eric, Mildred’s control over the finances has made Eric chase all of these terrible business deals so that he can have money of his own... without going to Mildred for an allowance. She ends up paying when the businesses go bust, and sooner or later he’s going to leave her. Why not take him off the leash and let him share in her estate - let him write the checks and feel more like a man? Mildred decides to call her lawyer in the morning.



When Eric returns from his business trip her hears Mildred upstairs playing the new piano... Lydia bumps into him on the staircase and tells him that Mildred has agreed to sharing the estate with him and the paperwork has been signed. And Eric kisses her - one heck of a kiss. Twist!

Eric greets Mildred, and she tells him she has a surprise: the legal document that shares all of her wealth with him... without any conditions or exceptions. Eric takes the document, then calls her lawyer - says that the document was a mistake, and asks that the lawyer *destroy* the office copy. After hanging up he tells Mildred that he didn’t marry her for her money, he married her because he loves her - and he tears up the document and throws it in the fireplace. Mildred smiles and that night they celebrate with champagne... he loves her!



In the middle of the night Mildred wakes up - hears an organ playing a funeral dirge. She goes downstairs to the drawing room, heart pounding, and inside the room is the coffin and funeral wreath! The coffin is open for viewing... and she looks inside. At herself! She is dead in the coffin! Mildred has a heart attack and dies.

Eric comes in, checks her pulse... dead. The Mildred in the coffin rises up and steps out - it’s Lydia in make up.



Eric hides the coffin and wreath in the basement, and we see all of the elements of the scheme - including a tape recording of the false Dr. Bartoli and the bust of Mildred that they used to create the make up for Lydia to wear. After they’ve hidden the evidence, Eric and Lydia call an ambulance...

The crypt: Mildred’s headstone with birth and death date above Eric’s with only birth date. Eric and Lydia pay their respects... then return home to celebrate their new fortunes. Lydia flips through a stack of sympathy cards and laughs at one with a mistake: “Heartfelt sympathy on the loss of your dear husband Eric Beaumont,” unsigned.

Eric is surrounded by memories of his dead wife, plus some full bottles of booze...

In the middle of the night Eric hears music from Mildred’s room and staggers upstairs - he’s so drunk he can barely walk. In the bedroom he finds the piano lid open... someone steps behind him (jump moment) - Lydia. She didn’t hear anyone playing the piano - could it be that he’s drunk? She puts him in Mildred’s bed to sleep it off.



The next morning Eric goes downstairs and finds a funeral wreath by the door: “My Beloved Husband, Rest In Peace”. What? Lydia enters, has no idea where the wreath came from... but there’s a card. Inside the envelope... Mildred’s wedding ring. She was *buried* wearing the ring, how is this possible? But it *is* her ring. Lydia thinks it’s just a copy of the ring - if it isn’t it means that Mildred has escaped her grave, right?

Eric goes to the crypt - the stone vault is intact. But Eric’s headstone now has a death date engraved on it! One day from now!

The next morning Lydia prods Eric about what he found at the crypt. Eric is very calm and in control when he tells her that someone has filled in the date of his death. He accuses her of being behind it, since she was the one who convinced him to “gaslight” Mildred into having a heart attack. If Eric dies or is found legally insane, all of the money goes to Lydia. Lydia thinks Eric is just trying to blame her for his guilt... that this is his scheme to drive her crazy. If Eric did hear the piano playing, as he claimed, it couldn’t have been Lydia - she can’t even play Chopsticks. That only leaves Mildred’s ghost...



That night, Eric is drunk again... hears the piano playing from downstairs... staggers out of his room, sure that it’s Lydia playing... but he bumps into Lydia in the upstairs hallway. And Lydia doesn’t hear the piano playing. “It’s just your imagination.” It can’t be Mildred returned from the grave. It can’t be. She takes the bottle of booze away from him, says he’s drunk. Eric pushes Lydia aside - booze bottle breaking all over her - and staggers down the stairs to confront Mildred’s ghost.

In the drawing room - a coffin! The doors close behind Eric, the piano begins playing on its own!



Lydia comes downstairs - pounds on the locked door to the drawing room.

Inside the room, drunken Eric looks at the piano and says it’s not real - ghosts don’t exist - and is then *hurled* out the window to his death by... something unseen.

A Detective (Frank Wilcox) questions Lydia - who smells of booze and explains that Eric was alone in the room, doors locked, when he fell out the window. But the doors were not locked, and the evidence shows force was involved in Eric’s window exit - he had to be pushed. Lydia should just admit that they’d been drinking, fought, and she pushed him out the window. Then, Lydia hears the piano music - the Detective nor any of the other policemen can hear it. She tries to jump out the window, but the Detective stops her. Lydia is taken to an asylum... and the photo of Mildred on the piano is smiling.



Review: And we’re back! Season Two of THRILLER starts off with a solid episode that perfectly marries the thriller and horror side of the series. Where Season One was trying to find itself, trying to figure out if it was a crime drama or a thriller show or a horror or weird tales; this season the show knows exactly what it is. No more crime drama, no more mobsters, no more bland episodes.

This episode is a nice riff on DIABOLIQUE with a horror twist... directed by the awesome Ida Lupino who directed some of the best episodes of season one. The screenplay here is by Donald Sanford who wrote 15 episodes of THRILLER including MR. GEORGE. One of the best writers on the show.



Lupino always pushes the envelope technically, doing the kind of directorial work that would be impressive in a film with a long shooting schedule, let alone on a quick TV schedule. On MR. GEORGE she did that amazing POV shot on the swing - I still have no idea how she got a huge TV camera to move like that. Here she does some amazing work as well - there is an awesome shot with a three section mirror where Mildred and Lydia take different panes in the mirror and the whole shot is their reflections moving from pane to pane. Fantastic shot, and much better than just shooting the same scene without the reflection. Still an easy mostly stationary shot, but the reflection allows the shot to be broken into three sections and have the characters move between them.



But the most amazing shot of the episode is a tipsy hand held shot as a drunken Eric staggers down the stairs. It’s a single take and would be an impressive shot with today’s lightweight equipment... but with those huge heavy 1960s studio cameras? Impossible! Yet the shot remains in perfect focus - when today even stationary shots often end up soft and fuzzy. This hand held shot reminded me of some of the great stuff that Sam Fuller was doing a few years earlier in his Korean War movies with hand held camera work on rugged terrain. Though Lupino was a Don Siegel protégé, I think she pulled inspiration from everywhere... and the idea of using hand held to put us in the shoes of the character is a great way to give a film or TV show a sense of realism. Today directors use “shaky cam” for no apparent reason, which makes it pointless. It doesn’t add to the story. But here the hand held is used for a specific reason, to give the audience the tipsy feeling of trying to get down those stairs when you’re almost too drunk to stand on your own.

And last but totally not least is a great POV shot of Mildred’s ghost as she throws Eric out window. Instead of showing us the ghost, the audience *is* the ghost... and we get to get revenge for Mildred’s murder. Though I’m sure the TV censors were behind the ironic twist end, with Lydia innocent of Eric’s murder by guilty of Mildred’s murder... but it’s a great touch that she gets her just deserts in the end.

Though this is a pretty good episode, it pales when compared with the episode that comes next week!

Bill

Buy The DVD!
eXTReMe Tracker