Thursday, March 31, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: Parasite Mansion

Best Of THRILLER: Parasite Mansion.

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



Season: 1, Episode: 30.
Airdate: April 25, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Donald Sanford, based on a story by Mary Elizabeth Counselman.
Cast: Jeanette Nolan, Pippa Scott, James Griffith, Tommy Nolan and Beverly Washburn.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: John Russell
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Hospitality. Good old Southern hospitality. That’s what I like about the South. This is a room in Parasite Mansion, the name of our story tonight and the home of the Harrads. A fanily plagued for generations with a horrible curse. Parasite Mansion is a terrible place to visit, but obviously an excellent place in which to die. Featured in our story tonight are Jeannette Nolan, James Griffith, Beverly Washburn, Tommy Nolan, and Pippa Scott. One of these poor unfortunates is doomed to die before your eyes. Oh, oh! Don’t try to guess, you might be right and spoil all the fun.”

Synopsis: A stormy night somewhere in the backwoods of Louisiana. Marcia Hunter (Pippa Scott) takes a wrong turn after encountering a detour when the main highway is closed for construction... and sees a rambling old house through the pouring rain. Maybe an old plantation house. She drives towards it... and someone begins shooting at her! Marcia spins the steering wheel, hits a tree and crashes her car... hitting her head against the steering wheel and blacking out.

From the house, Victor Harrod (James Griffith) and Granny (Jeannette Nolan) brave the rain to investigate. Victor says they need to keep that rifle out of Rennie’s hands, he keeps doing stuff like this.



Marcia wakes up in an ancient bed in the old house... wearing only her underwear. What happened? Just as she works up the nerve to get out of bed and get her clothes on the other side of the room, perpetually drunk Victor and Granny enter the room and she gets back under the covers. Marcia wants to leave, Victor says that’s not possible. No phone to call for help (nearest phone is ten miles as the crow flies through the swamp), and it’s going to take a couple of days for Victor to fix her car so that it runs. Plus, she needs her rest, Victor had to put five stitches in her head. Marcia says, so you’re a doctor? Victor answers, “Not a doctor. We gotta learn to do our own doctoring out here.” Marcia pleads to leave: she was headed home to her parent’s in Shreveport... but Granny has gone through her purse, and read her mail, and knows that she’s actually headed to New Orleans to meet a man. They have completely violated her privacy. Victor tells her to just get her rest and they leave.

Marcia waits until night, puts on her clothes, and sneaks out... noticing a door at the top of the stairs with a massive padlock (what could be inside there that they need to lock it in?) on her way down to the front door... but once outside, Rennie (Tommy Nolan) starts shooting at her! Yelling that “She’s one those folks who took ma!” Victor wrestles the gun away from Rennie and Granny grabs her, “You can’t leave here alive!”



Marcia wakes up in the bed again. She tells Victor she doesn’t blame Rennie, she understands that the authorities came and took his mother to an asylum and he’s afraid he’ll be taken as well. Granny comes in with food, mentions the house’s dark secrets. “The Dark Fear”. When they leave, Victor locks Marcia in the room.

Marcia tries to find a way out... the windows are boarded up, door locked... but she notices a door frame behind the wardrobe. Pulling the wardrobe back (no shortage of cobwebs) she opens the door... into more webs and darkness. Grabbing the lantern, she finds a staircase and climbs up to a room... where a frightened teenaged girl Lolly (Beverly Washburn) is hidden. Lolly’s room is behind that padlocked door upstairs. Weird drawings on the walls of the room. Lolly says “You’re here to take me away!” Marcia calms her, says she’s a friend, offers Lolly her broach... and suddenly the broach levitates and flies across the room on its own! Lolly screams, her arm has suddenly begun bleeding. Granny is at the doorway, says now you’ve seen the whole family, time to go back to your room.



Back in the room, Granny asks if he has any last requests? Marcia tries to bribe Granny with her engagement ring, Granny says she’ll get that one way or the other anyway...

Downstairs Victor wants to let her leave, Granny says “She saw!” Now she can never leave. Victor tells her they will *all* have dinner in the dining room tonight. Marcia and Lolly and Rennie.

Marcia finds the door unlocked, goes downstairs, tells Victor that what Lolly has is stigmata, and he has read about it. Victor says he has, too... shows her a wall of books on stigmata. None of them have the answers. “We’re afraid of *it*: the thing that threw your broach, the thing that scratched Lolly.” For the past couple of generations the Harrod family has been cursed by *it*. Do you know what a poltergeist is? “An invisible parasite that attaches to people... it has attached itself to every woman in the Harrod family for the past three generations. Granny says you get used to it, like lice and other crawling things.



A tense dinner. Marcia notices that there is an extra place setting at the table. That’s for the poltergeist, she’s told. Wham! Lolly’s cup jumps off the table and begins striking the little girl in the head again and again! Granny laughs. The cup beats Lolly’s face and she begins bleeding... she runs away! Everyone is scared except Granny. Marcia says poltergeist or not, she’s going to destroy it and get the hell out of here!

When Marcia goes back to her room, Granny tells Victor they have to kill her. If she messes with the poltergeist, it’s just going to take it out on the whole family. They can kill her, put her in her car, and dump it in the swamp.

Marcia sleeps as the secret door opens and Rennie comes into the room with a knife. He creeps to the side of her bed and gets ready to stab her... but can’t. Granny whispers “Kill her! Kill her!” from the secret doorway. Granny takes the knife from Rennie to kill Marcia herself. Marcia wakes up, fights Granny for the knife, knocks it out of her hands... but Granny makes the knife levitate! The knife zips across the room into Granny’s hand! *Granny* is telekenetic! The family curse began when Granny married into the family and moved into the house. Granny has made everyone think that it’s a poltergeist haunting the Harrod women, when it was her all along! Victor comes in, hears all of this, wrestles with Granny... but Granny is more powerful! Except they have knocked over the oil lamp, and it ignites Granny’s dress, setting her on fire! She runs out of the house in flames and dies in a burning heap in the swamp.

Marcia asks Victor if their poltergeist ever acted up when Granny wasn’t around? The poltergeist is gone, the family curse is lifted... it was Granny.



Review: Nice creepy entry. They must have used a ton of cobwebs to dress this set! The cobwebs on the secret door are particularly cool because they stretch when the wardrobe is pulled away from the door. Though this was made before wires could be digitally removed, the effects are really good! You can’t see the wires at all, and the cup and broach and knife move convincingly.

One of the great things is how the story evolves. At first we think the “curse” is insanity, then it’s a poltergeist phenomena in teenage Lolly, and it finally becomes evil Granny who is secretly causing all of this dark fear in the family so that she can control them. It is a house of secrets, and when one secret is revealed it just creates another. The mysteries drive the story, with Marcia thinking that family insanity is the secret only to discover Lolly locked away, only to discover the poltergeist activity. But even that isn’t the secret, and she keeps digging until she finds out. Just when you think you know what’s going on, another secret door opens and you realize you are still in the dark.

I really wanted to read this story before writing this entry due to Granny’s line about the lice and crawly things, which are parasites like the poltergeist. I was wondering if there was more about that in the story... but the book is out of print, and my local library branch didn’t have a copy. They could get it for me, but not by “press time”... so I will have the answer to that whenever all of these entries add up to an ebook.



I know that this was one of Stephen King’s favorite TV shows, and since one of the elements of this episode is a teenage girl who seems to have telekinetic powers which includes knives shooting across a room, I wonder if this was an inspiration for his novel CARRIE?

The spooky old mansion will return in a few episode in Stephen King’s favorite episode, PIGEONS FROM HELL... but next week we have a fun episode starring Edward Andrews who did three episodes of THRILLER and specialized in whimsical malevolence. You know his face from every TV show ever made plus movies like GREMLINS. He is the adult image of mischief!

Bill

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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Old Burt Lancaster

This week we’re going to look at Burt Lancaster’s career when other actors had long since retired. Robert Mitchum continued to play tough guys, Lancaster played *retired* tough guys the way Clint Eastwood plays roles like that today.

Lancaster was an interesting guy... A working class kid who was a high school athlete, landed a college sports scholarship but dropped out to become a *circus acrobat*. He also worked as a singing waiter before WW2, and when he returned from the war he auditioned for a play and landed on Broadway... where he was discovered by a talent agent (who would later become his producing partner). He was a handsome athletic guy who could sing and dance... and make women swoon. His first role was the *lead* in THE KILLERS with Ava Gardner directed by Robert Siodmak (who directed CRISS CROSS and some other great Lancaster films). Lancaster was kind of like the George Clooney of his day: he didn’t just want to play handsome men in typical Hollywood movies, he wanted to control his career... so he formed a production company and began making his own films. Like Clooney, these were often the kind of edgy and unusual films that the studios *wouldn’t* make... like SWEET SMELL OF SUCCESS. And Lancaster grabbed his circus pal Nick to do stunts and often co star in films. Lancaster was nominated for a pile of Oscars, won one for ELMER GANTRY, and continued to make interesting films throughout his career (a string of great films with John Frankenheimer, and the recently released to BluRay THE SWIMMER which is probably the weirdest movie ever made with a Hollywood star). But when he was getting up there in years... he seemed to be rediscovered.



Though the movie that really brought him back (he didn’t go anywhere) was ATLANTIC CITY in 1980, I’m going to start off with the only movie he directed, THE MIDNIGHT MAN (1974), the story of an old tough guy ex cop working as a security guard on a college campus who finds himself at the center of a murder investigation. It’s kind of a geriatric private eye movie that deals with aging and action at the same time, I think most people have forgotten it. Susan Clark and Harris Yulin from NIGHT MOVES pop up, and screenwriters Quinn Redeker (DEER HUNTER) and Bill Lancaster (THE THING) (Burt’s son) play roles. It wasn’t a hit, but I think it got some good reviews. I read the novel (“The Midnight Lady And The Mourning Man” by David Anthony) and probably saw the movie when it opened in my town. Haven’t seen it since, and I’m curious what it looks like now that *I’m* older.



1900 (NOVECENTO) (1976) is one of my favorite movies, but a completely acquired taste. Bernardo Bertolucci’s sprawling story of Italy from the year 1900 to 1976 stars Robert DeNiro and a young handsome Gerard Depardieu as childhood friends from different sides of the tracks who fall in love with the same woman (Dominique Sanda). DeNiro is the son of the wealthy estate owner, Burt Lancaster... and Depardieu is the dirt poor kid of the senior field worker, Sterling Hayden. This film is filled with beautiful images and an amazing performance by Donald Sutherland. Lancaster and Hayden, two old tough guys, are great in the early part of the film when the two lead characters are little boys. This was one of several films that Lancaster made in Italy as an older actor.



ATLANTIC CITY (1980) was the film where people noticed Lancaster all over again, playing a retired mobster living in Atlantic City and pretending to have once been more important than he really was. He hooks up with a young casino worker played by Susan Sarandon, who applies lemon juice to various places on her body... and wants to get enough money together to move to the south of France. She’s married to a bum who steals some drugs from the mob, and brings a whole world of hurt down on them... and Lancaster’s mostly tall tales of being a mobster turn to action reality. This is a kind of a film noir mixed with Italian neo realism... and shows an Atlantic City that no longer exists. The city before it was rebuilt with all of the new casinos.



LOCAL HERO (1983) is a great film. If you haven’t seen it, stop everything you are doing now (except breathing) and check it out! This is a gentle comedy by Bill Forsythe about an oil company flunky (Peter Riegert) sent into a small Scotland town to convince the residents that they should accept and love the new oil company refinery that is going where their town used to be... and move the heck out. This is one of those great movies that feels like a life changing experience, and is kind of the prototype for many UK comedies to come like WAKING NED DEVINE about unusual occupants of small towns. When Riegert runs into trouble getting some townspeople to sell the homes that have been in their families for generations for something as silly as *money*, the big boss (Lancaster) comes to town to convince them... and ends up recapturing the magic of small town life and decided that maybe this isn’t the right spot for a refinery.



Just for fun, I’m throwing in TOUGH GUYS (1986), a buddy comedy with very old buddies... Lancaster and Kirk Douglas are the old version of the kind of gangster roles they played, just released from prison and trying to figure out how the world works now. The film is uneven, but has some funny scenes that I can still remember... including one where Lancaster and Douglas end up in a gay bar without knowing it... and are asked to dance. These two guys realize they are never going to fit in with the world now... and decide to go back to their armed robbery past.



And though his career still had a few films to go, let’s wrap it up with FIELD OF DREAMS (1989), because I saw it on the big screen at the Egyptian Theater about a year ago and it was still an experience. Lancaster plays Moonlight Graham, who played only one game in the Major Leagues and then retired to become a country doctor. Lancaster plays the old version of Graham, again playing the old retired tough guy... this time a retired athlete. Lancaster began as a high school athlete and gets to play the old version of that in FIELD OF DREAMS.

Even at the end of his career, Lancaster was charming and charismatic and commanded the screen in every scene... and still virile as hell. One of those larger than life movie stars who had a great onscreen third act playing characters who were old but still cooler than I’ll ever be.

Bill

Monday, March 28, 2016

Lancelot Link Monday: Superhero Showdown

Lancelot Link Monday! BATMAN V. SUPERMAN: No Matter Who Wins, We Lose! Because the film made so much money in its opening weekend, we're getting another round of those articles about "Critic Proof" movies - I swear they just change the film title and republish the old ones. Hey, a movie like BATMAN V SUPERMAN was *always* going to have a huge opening weekend. Even with bad reviews. Bad reviews actually *fuel* the opening weekend - "Can it be as bad as they say it is? Let's go see it and find out!" But the real issue is: The critics have seen the film, the people who bought tickets on opening weekend didn't... but now have. So will they want to see the movie again and maybe even again? Will they provide good word of mouth when their friends ask? My FB friends are mixed on this film - some think it's not that bad, others think it *is* that bad. I have yet to read a glowing excellent you've gotta see this review from any of my FB friends (many of whom are the target audience for this). I suspect next weekend will be pretty good, too - but here's the thing: STAR WARS TFA was #13 over the weekend... and that's been out since *last year*. Will BVS have that kind of staying power? 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 baker's dozen links plus this week's car chase...


1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Batman V Superm................ $170,100,000
2 Zootopia........................ $23,138,000
3 MBFGW2.......................... $18,120,000
4 Miracles......................... $9,500,000
5 Allegiant........................ $9,500,000
6 10 Cloverfield................... $6,000,000
7 Deadpool......................... $5,000,000
8 London Bridges................... $2,926,000
9 Doris............................ $1,700,925
10 Eye Sky.......................... $1,001,204


Though the *current* reported budget for BATMAN V SUPERMAN is $250 million, before the bad reviews kicked in the budget was over $410 million as of October of last year! That's before post production overages and reshoots and P&A advertising and everything else! Yikes! It's common for studios to under report budgets when things get out of hand and there's concern that a film may not perform as well as they thought. So BVS will have to do STAR WARS business to break even. Hopefully it will do great business and Warner Bros will be able to fund another MAD MAX movie.

2) Return On Investment? Small Movies With Big Profits.

3) Writing DOUBLE INDEMNITY With Wilder & Chandler.

4) Women & Minority Writers - This Get Worse According To WGA.

5) And The Actual WGA Report.

6) J.K. Rowling's Rejection Letters.

7) As The Guy Who Gave Albert Whitlock The Welcome Mat That He Used In Front Of His Trailer, I Love Old School Effects Like This...

8) From 3 Minute Proof Of Concept Short To Feature Film - LIGHTS OUT.

9) I Think The Premise Is Wrong - Hitchcock Didn't *Block* Scenes, He Used Specific Shots (Often Altering The Set For The Shot), But Interesting Look At VERTIGO.

10) Dialogue Is Like Toilet Paper...

11) The Cannes Game Begins!

12) What Script Readers And Development People Look For In Your Screenplay. This is GOLD!

13) BATMAN Vs. SUPERMAN - The Previous Fights Before This Week's Rematch!

BONUS: DEADPOOL Effects. And the Car Chase Of The Week:



RIP: Garry Shandling.

Bill

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Friday, March 25, 2016

Fridays With Hitchcock:
HITCH 20: POISON (s3e2)

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 the second episode of the third season, which looks at the terror of the unseen in Hitchcock's work.



Notes on the episode:

First off: How cool is the Poking The Tiger graphic? That totally made my day!

Many things get cut for time, so let’s talk about them here...

1) Once again, sorry for the sound issues - I think that’s why so little of my comments end up in this episode.

2) Though this story takes place somewhere in the tropics it was shot on the Revue Lot in Studio City (now CBS Radford) on a soundstage. The next three episodes covered were shot when the show had moved a couple of miles down the street at Universal, so that’s where I’ll be for those episodes.

3) This story by Roald Dahl is probably best known as a famous radio drama from Escape Radio Theater starring Jack Webb and William Conrad - that show’s most famous episode. Because this story deals with the unseen, radio is a perfect medium for it... our imaginations are already primed because we have to imagine everything else... so when you add that poisonous snake we can easily imagine the worst. Here is a page with a link to that episode: ESCAPE RADIO THEATER - POISON.

4) Hey, speaking of the unseen and that clip from JAWS - one of the cool things about this episode is that it deals with *dread*, which is a cousin to suspense. I think I talk a little more about that at the end of the episode. Dread is the “fuel” for horror because it’s roots are in “fear of the unknown” - we know that something terrible may happen but we don’t know when that will happen: it’s the Hitchcock bomb under the table and ticking clock... with no clock. When we can’t see the threat and we don’t known when or where it will strike, this creates unease in the audience and fear. Though people often credit the mechanical shark breakdown with the success of JAWS (because without the shark they had to depend on dread) I’m fairly sure that Spielberg is a smart enough filmmaker to know how dread works and had probably seen CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON (from the same studio as JAWS) and knew that it’s more effective *not* to show the monster before the attack to create dread... which is fear of the unknown, and often unseen.

By the way - even in a monster movie you eventually must show the monster (as this episode eventually shows us the snake) because the audience needs to know that it actually exists. Seeing is believing. Watch JAWS again and note how the *fin* is in almost every scene just before the shark attack. Just because the shark is below the surface and can not be seen before the attack doesn’t mean that it doesn’t exist - you still need to show it, so that the audience will know it. The monster is there - in the shadows - and eventually you must show it when it attacks!

The technique of dread may be an element of horror movies, but it can be used in any genre. One of the Trailer Tuesdays in rotation is on the noir film GUN CRAZY which uses dread in it’s final scene - where our protagonist couple are trying to escape from the police and end up huddled together in a foggy swamp with the *sounds* of the police and their barking bloodhounds all around them. Because we can not see these threats, they create dread. It’s not suspense - a known threat (ticking clock or something we can see) but dread which deals with fear of the *unknown* and/or *unseen*.

This episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS uses elements from other genres - like dread from horror movies and the heist genre. I think that’s important for filmmakers to remember - just because your story is in one genre doesn’t mean you can’t use the tools and techniques of other genres. You want to use every tool and technique to make the best possible movie... so know the techniques and how they work!

5) As I said in the episode - whether it’s suspense or dread, you need to poke the tiger and remind the audience that the threat is there, so they don’t forget. You may think, “of course they won’t forget, that’s what the story is about!” but suspense (and dread) will *dissipate* if you don’t keep reminding the audience... and when something is unseen you have to keep those tiger pokes coming. The character’s coughing is a great way to poke the tiger - think of how often something like a sneeze is used in comedy films to do the same thing. Come up with a list of “pokes” to keep your suspense bubbling! “The chloroform will be very cold, but don’t move!” Coughing, sweating, his buddy poking and prodding, the chloroform, the tube, and everything else that can keep the suspense in the forefront of the audience’s mind! Keep poking that tiger!

6) In Hitchcock’s explanation of how suspense works, he talks about the bomb under the table that we know will go off at a specific time and the clock on the wall counting down the minutes... and the two people at the table talking about something innocuous like *baseball scores*. That last part is often forgotten or misunderstood by filmmakers and screenwriters... and of course, development folks. You not only don’t want any conversation that will distract from the suspense, you also want conversation that is *pointless* - if someone is saying something important or interesting or with purpose then the audience will understand why they aren’t focusing on the bomb under the table (or whatever the suspense generator is). That dissipates the suspense because there is other important information in the scene. So suspense *increases* if the conversation is meaningless... like that wrong number when phoning for the doctor in POISON. Not just the wrong number, but *talking about it* afterwards instead of getting right back to dialing that phone and getting help. Frustration is an element of suspense - “Don’t just stand there, do something! Do something!” One of the notes I’ve gotten in suspense scenes from clueless Development Execs deals with dialogue like those baseball score conversations... they just don’t understand the basics of how suspense works! You *want* that wrong number and then the silly conversation about making the mistake before dialing it again - that ramps up the suspense!

7) The Heist Genre element that I mention in the show: Heist movies usually have a scene where the plan is discussed step-by-step, and this episode uses that technique with the doctor’s plan to knock out the snake. He explains exactly what he is going to do, so that the audience can *anticipate* each step and its effect before it happens. Suspense is the *anticipation* of a known action... so the audience is now able to anticipate the outcome of each step in the plan... and wonder if things will go wrong. If they don’t know what is going to happen, there is no suspense - just things happening. Because we know what is *supposed to happen* in a heist scene, when something doesn’t happen as planned the audience worries that it will cause larger problems. Here, each step in the plan to knock out that poisonous snake has the ability to go wrong and cause larger problems (well, the guy will be bitten and die - that’s a pretty big problem), so as each step is meticulously done and small problems occur, the audience is on the edge of their seats worried that even small deviations in the plan may have fatal consequences.

8) Love the ironic twist ending!

Next episode of HITCH 20 I’ll be a couple of miles down the street at Universal Studios, where the show moved to after this season.

- Bill

Of course, I have my own 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, March 24, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

Best Of THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

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



Season: 1, Episode: 37.
Airdate: June 13, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Block from a story by Harold Lawlor
Cast: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Henry Daniell, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Bud Thackery
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Yes, the painting did finish it’s morbid creator, but I can assure you that our story is not finished. Oh, no... it’s only just begun.”
(He swipes his hand over the scythe in the painting...)
“Blood! Think of that. This painting is over 100 years old, yet real blood still glistens on the scythe of the Grim Reaper, which by no mere coincidence is the title of our story tonight. How strange indeed that the immortality sought by a mad artist would assume the form of death. But even stranger are the fearful consequences of these others whenever the Grim Reaper’s scythe drips blood. Our principal players are: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Fifi D’Orsay, and Henry Daniell. You’ve seen the harbinger of evil, someone is in mortal danger as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Ah, ah, ah! Stay where you are! I’ll join you as we wait... and watch.”



Synopsis: 1848.... Henry Daniell shows up in the middle of the night looking for an artist named Henri Rodin, the maid shows him upstairs. Rodin is crazy, evil, a drug addict, and has been painting his “masterpiece” behind locked doors. Daniell gets her to unlock the door... because he is Rodin’s father. They find him hanging from the rafters. His “masterpiece”? A painting of the Grim Reaper! Did he finish the painting, or did the painting finish him?

Present day: A mansion in the hills named Graves End. Paul Graves (Shatner!) drives up in a sports car, spots a hearse parked out front. His Aunt Beatrice Graves (Natalie Schafer, Mrs. Howell!) greets him with a hug and explains that she bought the hearse for publicity, and drives it around town. She’s a famous mystery writer and has decorated the mansion to look like something out of a Charles Adams cartoon. The public expects her to be a bit of a character and a kook. Aunt Beatrice uses her maiden name Graves as well, much easier than using any of the names of her extensive list of exhusbands... or the name of her new one!



Gerald Keller (Scott Merrill) is half Aunt Beatrice’s age, and very pretty. He shakes Paul’s hand. Gerald is a hunk actor rapidly approaching his pull date. Paul asks for his autograph for a friend’s ten year old daughter who has a crush on him. While Aunt B is giving him the house tour, she asks why he’s visiting... does he need money? Paul says no, he’s concerned about her. Before he can explain why, Aunt B’s attractive young secretary Dorothy Lindon (Elizabeth Allen) enters. “Dorothy does all of my typing and most of my spelling as well.” Seems the cook has quit because of that thing in the library...

In the library: The Grim Reaper painting.... that’s why Paul came. He read that she had bought it, and was concerned. Since it was painted in 1848 it has had 17 owners, and 15 of them have met with violent and mysterious deaths. The painting is cursed. Everyone who owns it... dies. Aunt B says that’s exactly why she bought it! Look at all of the publicity she has gotten from it already! She doesn’t believe in the curse: the people who owned it previously were military leaders and European nobility, the kind of people who sometimes die suddenly and mysteriously. Everybody dies. Paul argues that everyone who died was warned first... the scythe in the painting began to bleed! That’s the legend. Aunt B thinks it’s just superstitious nonsense...



That’s when Paul notices that the blade is bleeding now!

Later, Dorothy starts to make a phone call to Aunt B’s shrink when Gerald stops her. Gerald hits on her, tries to kiss her... not knowing that Aunt B is in the next room watching them. Dorothy races out the balcony... where she runs into Paul. Paul tries to convince Dorothy to help him destroy the painting before it destroys his Aunt.

Paul finds his Aunt B sitting in front of the painting, drinking... drunk. She thinks Gerald and Dorothy are having an affair and hope the painting’s curse is true so that she will die and they can be together. Or maybe ship her off to an alcohol rehab clinic so that they have time together. Paul says he doesn’t think Dorothy is plotting against her, but does think the bleeding painting is a warning. But everything Paul says is a cliche from a murder mystery or horror tale, Aunt B calls him on each line! She says that Death is her business partner... she’s a mystery writer. She tells Paul to leave her alone and drinks a toast to the Grim Reaper...



In the middle of the night, a noise. Paul, Dorothy and Gerald run to the top of the stairs... and see Aunt B laying dead at the base of the stairs!

The Detective (M SQUAD’s Paul Newlan) says it’s accidental death.

Dorothy tells Paul that she suspects Gerald may have something to do with Aunt B’s death. Just as she decides to leave... Aunt B’s lawyer shows up to read the will. *Everything* was left to Gerald. Paul gets nothing, and Dorothy doesn’t even get a few thousand for doing Aunt B’s spelling. The lawyer is creeped out by the Grim Reaper painting and says he felt the that entire time he was reading the will it was watching him. But the Reaper has no eyes... just a skull.

Later: Dorothy has packed and is leaving and Paul says his goodbyes... he’s staying over the weekend. She warns him that Gerald can not be trusted.



That night: Paul is typing something when Gerald enters. He couldn’t sleep. Paul gives him a sleeping pill. Gerald says he hasn’t been able to sleep since Aunt B died. The cursed painting is his now... will the scythe drip blood again? Twist: Paul says there never was any blood, it was his trick. He was broke, needed a reason to see Aunt B again so that he could hit her up for some cash. The cursed painting was a great excuse... to inherit all of her money. *He* pushed Aunt B down the stairs, hoping to inherit a fortune. Gerald notes that Paul wasn’t even in the will, he inherited nothing. Paul counters that when Gerald dies he’ll inherit it all as Aunt B’s only remaining relative. What? Paul pulls the page from the typewriter and says it’s Gerald’s confession to the police saying that he pushed Aunt B down the stairs and killed her. Remember that “autograph” he signed? And that sleeping pill? The confession is also a suicide note. Poison. Paul watches as Gerald slowly and painfully dies.



Gerald makes it to the phone, dials the police... and before he can say anything dies. Paul grabs the phone and tells the police that he has discovered Gerald’s body...

The Detective says the confession wraps it all up, but he did some research on that painting, and there’s a pretty good case for that curse being believable. He’s a cop, but that painting is freaky. He asks if Paul plans to stay in the house, now. Paul says he’s headed back to his apartment tonight. The Detective leaves.

Paul hears a noise from the library...



When he looks at the Grim Reaper painting he hallucinates Aunt B’s face over the skull, and then Gerald’s face... this freaks him out! He runs out of the library, upstairs, grabs his suitcase and starts to leave, when there is a knock at the door. The Detective???

Dorothy. She heard on her car radio about Gerald’s death and came back. She realized that they MUST destroy that painting before more people die. Paul is the owner, now, right? She wants to burn it. In the library, Paul stops her from burning the painting, admits that he the blood was just a trick. There is no curse. Dorothy realizes that Paul killed Aunt B and Gerald... and Paul offers to share all of his new fortune with her. They can be rich together! She points to the painting and screams that the arm is moving. When Paul turns to look at it, she runs out of the library and locks him inside!



Paul pounds on the door, then walks across the library to the doors leading out to the patio... notices something strange halfway there. The painting has changed. The Grim Reaper is no longer in the painting. What? How is that possible? Then he hears the wooshing of the scythe!

Dorothy comes back with the Detective... and they find Paul sliced to pieces. How is that possible, he was locked into the room... alone! But the painting? The scythe is now dripping blood!



Review: Shatner *and* Mrs. Howell from GILLIAN’S ISLAND! This episode makes you wish that Robert Bloch had adapted last week’s PIGEONS FROM HELL, because aside from Bloch being one of the greatest horror writers of the time period, he was also a damned *clever* writer (I know I’ve mentioned his wicked wordplay in previous entries). He makes words *dance*. Here he adapts a story that reminds me of a Levinson & Link script (those guys created COLUMBO) where a mystery writer ends up at the center of a mystery. The first episode of COLUMBO, MURDER BY THE BOOK, was a corker about a mystery writing team played by Martin Milner & Jack Cassidy... and when Milner dies somewhat mysteriously his partner Cassidy becomes prime suspect... but as a mystery writer he thinks he knows how to outsmart Columbo. Some kid named Spielberg directed that one.

This one was directed by Herschel Daugherty, who did some good work here on THRILLER and next door on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. His work isn’t as inventive as Lupino’s, but is competent (unlike last week’s director). This is a clever mystery with a supernatural twist end, witty and stylish and offers the perfect part for a hambone like Shatner.



The plotting is great, and after the spooky supernatural opening with Henry Daniell I expected the rest of the story to be horror based... but as it unfolds, I began to suspect that Aunt Beatrice’s mystery writer character wasn’t an accidental choice. All of the characters are scheming against each other! This is a mystery *disguised* as a horror tale! I wonder what the audience in 1961 thought of this older woman with a husband half her age? That was before “cougar” was part of our vocabulary.

When the young husband makes a move on the young secretary, and we get the feeling Shatner is thinking about inheriting everything from his Aunt and maybe hooking up with that attractive secretary; that we begin to see this as a crime scene waiting to happen. But the story keeps us guessing! Even when we suspect Shatner may have pushed Auntie down the stairs, the story is *presented* to us in a way that seems like the cursed painting is behind her death. It keeps us guessing what the genre is: horror or mystery... and Bloch does a great job of making sure we are never quite sure.



Also unlike last week’s PIGEONS, all of the actors sparkle. Merrill, who was a Broadway star with only 3 TV credits, manages to be slick and sleazy and charming all at the same time. Natalie Schafer manages to be kooky and cute and then turns sad and morose after she spies on her husband making a pass at her secretary... she *acts*! There’s a good drunk scene where this eccentric and powerful woman shows how vulnerable she is beneath her armor. That’s a combination of good acting, good writing, and good directing. There’s a swell scene between Shatner and the young husband where the conversation is about having trouble sleeping but the subtext is all about Shatner not inheriting a cent. *This* is where the reveal finally comes that this is a mystery rather than a horror story, and the clever bit of plotting with the autograph *in one of the first scenes* being the signature on the suicide note is brilliant! Shatner hambones it up, smug and clever and superior. He calmly watches the man die, giving off this vibe that he wishes the guy would hurry it up... he doesn’t have all day.



And the final twist, where the story goes from mystery disguised as horror to actual horror is brilliant. When we see that the Grim Reaper has exited the painting, instead of *showing* the Grim Reaper, we only see the shadow of the scythe and hear it wooshing through the air as we slowly more closer and closer to the trapped Shatner. That shadow is more frightening than some dude in a hoodie.

There couldn’t be a better final episode of a mixed bag first season. What began as a crime show, then added horror, ends with an episode that is both crime *and* horror. Now that the show has found its footing and morphed into a horror show, season two will focus on terror. But just as the real TV show took a break for summer, THRILLER Thursday will also take a break for summer and return to the blog when Autumn warns us that Halloween is just around the corner...

Bill

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Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Film Courage Plus: Spec or Contest?

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. As they have been releasing the interview segments from 2015 every week or so, I have dug back into their archives and tweeted some of the segments from 2014... so they won't be forgotten. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 36 (or more) segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

So here is the seventh one about having a great high concept spec *or* a high quality script that wins or places in a contest like the Nicholl. After doing all of my classes they grabbed me and interrogated me when I really wanted to just go home and take a nap.



In the clip I note two of the common ways to get into screenwriting - through spec scripts going out to market and through winning or being a finalist in one of the major contests. Spec scripts tend to get read due to their interesting concepts (“What’s it about?”) and contests are often more focused on the quality of the writing rather than the concept. Of course, there are a million spec screenplays in circulation in any given year and maybe 100 of those sell, so quality of writing is a massive component in spec screenplays as well. But whichever way gets you in, all roads lead to Hollywood... and Hollywood movies. You might write the awesome high concept screenplay which leads to an assignment writing that summer tentpole movie, or you might win a contest and land an assignment working on a summer tentpole movie. These days Hollywood is pretty much all tentpole all the time, so if you are a contest winner - be prepared!

There was a time - only about a decade ago - when Hollywood still made a certain number of mid-range movies, some of which were “prestige” films or dramas, but these days those films are made independently. Outside of the system, and usually written-directed-produced by the same person. They find the funding and make the film - no screenplay is actually sold (the film is funded). A movie like SPOTLIGHT doesn’t come from a studio, but from a filmmaker - Tom McCarthy, who co-wrote the screenplay and directed the film and secured the funding through his THE VISITOR producer Jeff Skoll. If you read my daily Script Tips you know that I've been a big fan of McCarthy since his first film THE STATION AGENT (which he found funding for). If you want to work outside the system and do your own thing, it has never been easier to do that. You can make a film for pocket change these days... and many people do. If you don’t want to write tentpoles and don’t want to make your own films, there are still some options available: TV is expanding right now, and even though many shows are high concept and similar to tentpole films (check out anything on the CW) there are still shows that are more low key and dramatic oriented like SHADES OF BLUE. The other option is to head to film festivals and find a director who needs a writing partner - some of my favorite genre films lately are the work of the director & writer team of Nick Damici and Jim Mickle. If you are a great writer there is a place somewhere for you in the business - studio or indie or TV or YouTube or whatever they come up with next. Every entertainment media needs *stories*, and that’s *us*. Finding your home will require that you open your eyes a little wider - if you are not writing the kinds of movies that are being made (and don’t want to write them), you’ll have to find the place where your type of writing is needed. Wait, how many ways to break in is that now?

The first thing you need to figure out is what your skill set is. You need to know what you do well, so that you can match that to a media and a method to break in. Heck, I have a book called BREAKING IN with dozens and dozens of ways to break in... but what’s important is what you are breaking in to... Studio films? Indies? Television? What are your skills and how do they match the media? If you want to break in to studio films, know that you will be writing studio films. There are people who want to write indie type stories for studios... and that seldom happens. Even if you win a contest, chances are if a studio based producer hires you it will be to do a rewrite on some high concept tentpole or comic book movie or maybe a board game turned into a script. That’s what Hollywood does - make big expensive mass audience films. No matter how you break in, that’s what you’re in for.

CONTESTS


I look at different contests in the Breaking In Blue Book, and note that the King of all screenwriting contests is The Nicholl fellowship, which is run by those people who give out the Oscars every year. These days the Nicholl pays up to five winners $35,000... but it’s not just about the money, Hollywood producers and agents and managers *fight over* the winners! In fact, even if you don’t win they will fight over you: finalists and even semi-finalists usually get meetings with producers and agents and managers. Of course, there’s a reason *why* semi-finalists are still pretty damned good... there are *thousands* of entries every year (over 7,500 in 2014) and only about 5% advance to the competition quarter-finals, and only about 2% make it to the semi-finals and about ten entries reach the finals.

The Queen of screenwriting contests is probably Austin, and danged if my friend Max Adams didn’t win both the Nicholl and Austin in the same year with two different screenplays! This is probably why you should grab Max Adams’ book (in addition to mine).

The Prince of screenwriting contests is probably TrackingB, because winners and runners up land agents and managers, and the finalist judges are often development people who end up fighting over the winning screenplays. Where Nicholl and Austin just get you on Hollywood’s radar, TrackingB gets you in front of the buyers. The Younger Prince is Tracking Board’s Launch Pad, which is the direct competition to the TrackingB contest... Again finalists are read by people actually in the business who read and buy screenplays for a living, which means if you have a great screenplay this contest will launch your career.

In you win the Final Draft Big Break Contest, you can have a drink with me, since I’m at the big party where they announce the winner every year... along with screenwriters much more famous than I am (last year Max Landis was drinking with my group... so nobody really cared that I was there). So, maybe have a drink with all of the more famous people first.

Other good contests: PAGE, Scriptapalooza, SlamDance, ScriptPipeline, Sundance, BlueCat... and probably some that I’m forgetting, since I’m not a contest guy. Since I was a professional screenwriter before all of these contests began, I’ve been ineligible to enter them.

The thing to watch out for with small contests are the ones which are just money making schemes. Do your research! There have been some interesting scandals in the contest world, including one a few years ago where a small contest run by a script consultant had one of the contest readers admit that they didn’t read all of the screenplays... and I don’t mean they just read the first 10 or 20 pages of each screenplay (which isn’t unusual for first round on small contests, since you can usually tell a really bad screenplay after only a few pages of poorly written sentences), but there were some screenplays that they never read a single page! I discovered that another contest that is part of a small film festival had *no* “celebrity” judges and every screenplay was “read” by the person running the fest/contest and she pocketed all of the entry fees herself. I have no idea if she read all of the screenplays or even if she read any of them! It was all about her making money. The good news about fly-by-night contests like this is that the internet spreads the warnings, so usually all you have to do is Google some contest to find out whether it has had problems in the past. Always do your research!

Since I can’t enter contests, I write and send out spec scripts.

SPEC SCRIPTS


Spec screenplays are the most versatile choice (even the screenplays you enter in contests are specs, right?) because there are so many different ways that you can submit them. In addition to contests, you can submit them directly to production companies (after a query and a request) and to managers (again - query and request) and agents (query and request), plus there are many other ways specs can open a door for you. One thing to keep in mind: the reason why anyone will request your screenplay is that the *concept* sounds interesting. Mangers and Agents and Producers are *business people* who only earn money when a script sells or a writer lands a writing assignment. (Producers are last paid, so they need a screenplay or writer who can create something that gets made if they want to get paid.) Even managers and agents who may be looking for writers they can send out for assignments will be looking for specs with great concepts (unless the writer is one of the handful who wins a contest). The way an Agent or Manager introduces a writer to potential employers is through specs - and the way they get people to read specs screenplays is the same way *we* get people to read our spec screenplays: a killer logline or killer elevator pitch that’s all about the concept. If your concept is dull or mundane or something that doesn’t sound like something millions of people worldwide will be lining up tp pay to see, it will be difficult to get and Agent or Manager to request your screenplay... and then difficult for that Agent or Manager to get reads for you. Yes - there are exceptions. Nothing is an absolute in this business. But you may have noticed that everything in the world is cutting frills and focusing on profit, and Agents and Managers and Producers are no different. Even with referrals, someone is going to ask, “What’s it about?” and then it’s up to the concept to sell them.

This is the reason why there is so much focus on that concept, and why so many new writers fail by writing a script that’s based on a dull or mundane idea. I used to say that TV was the only place where Private Eye and Cop stories were wanted, but if you’ve watched TV of late you may have noticed that the trend for *weird* cops and detectives has gone to extremes - a zombie who eats the brains of victims to solve crimes? So, unless you plan on using the contest method make sure you begin with a great idea! One of these Film Courage Interviews has my “100 Idea Theory” - where you should come up with 100 great ideas and then select the best of them all to script. A well written screenplay with a bland idea is going to be tough to get reads with... and a terribly written script with a great idea isn’t going to get you very far, either! As I’ve said before - there is no “or” in screenwriting. If the question is: which is more important, concept or execution? the answer is: BOTH!

But spec screenplays can also *travel*, and I think that’s come up in one of these Film Courage segments. This is a business of referrals, and there are referrals you know about and ones that you don’t know about. If someone reads your screenplay and thinks it’s great and passes it to someone else in the industry (“You’ve gotta read this!”) that screenplay can travel all over town, from one person to another, and eventually land somewhere that matters. I’ve said before that a great spec script given to the *wrong person* or just left on the street in Beverly Hills has a pretty good chance of being discovered and landing you a gig. There are so few screenplays that get everything right that one which does will go places. People who complain about the gate keepers in Hollywood don’t understand that those gate keepers are *actively* looking for that great screenplay that will earn them points with the boss and further their careers. Everyone wants to be the one who discovered the next big thing!

That next big thing could be *you*!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill

Monday, March 21, 2016

Lancelot Link: Spring Has Sprung!

Lancelot Link Monday! This is the second day of Spring... which means giant blockbusters are just around the corner! Those big summer tentpoles! BATMAN vs SUPERMAN just premiered for press in New York City, and soon there will be leaks about whether it's good or bad or just is. If it flops, with all of those DC Comics characters in the film, what will Warner Brothers do? MATRIX 4? 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 Zootopia........................ $38,042,000
2 Allegiant....................... $29,050,000
3 Miracles From Heaven............ $15,000,000
4 10 Cloverfield.................. $12,500,000
5 Deadpool......................... $8,000,000
6 London........................... $6,894,000
7 WTF?............................. $2,805,000
8 Perfect Match.................... $1,900,000
9 Brothers Grimms(by).............. $1,400,000
10 Revenant.......................... $1,225,000


Just a note: DEADPOOL has now made $340,941,383 in the USA alone on a budget of under $60m (making it one of the cheapest superhero comic book movies ever made). More than twice that when the rest of the world is factored in. It's one of the main reason this year's Box Office is shattering records - 10.1% ahead of last year, 15.9% ahead of 2014, 25.0% ahead of 2013, 9.1% ahead of 2012, and only 25.8% ahead of 2011. Yikes!

2) Max Landis (who thinks I'm funny) Just Sold A Spec For $3 Million To Netflix.

3) Joel Edgerton On MIDNIGHT SPECIAL.

4) Want To Go Indie? Prepare To Make 7 Features In ONE YEAR... Every Year.

5) Michael Mann Becomes Book Publisher - Announces HEAT Prequel & True Crime Film.

6) The Reality Of Screenwriting.

7) James Rollins' Novel MAP OF BONES Comes To The Big Screen.

8) Relativity Comes Out Of Bankruptcy - What Does This Mean

9) Want To Hear The Score To Ben Wheatley's HIGH RISE?

10) Black List's BUBBLES Becomes Stop Motion Film.

11) MIDNIGHT SPECIAL's Jeff Nichols on AQUAMAN and More!

12) The Talented Max Adams Picks 15 Screenwriting Books.

And the Car Chase Of The Week:



Well, cars and space ships!

Bill

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Movie:

Thursday, March 17, 2016

THRILLER Thursday: YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER

Best Of Thriller...

Yours Truly Jack The Ripper

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



Season: 1, Episode: 28.
Airdate: April 11, 1961

Director: Ray Milland (the movie star).
Writer: Barre Lyndon (?) based on a story by Robert Bloch
Cast: John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), Donald Woods, Adam Williams (NORTH By NORTHWEST), Edmon Ryan, Miss Beverly Hills.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith.
Cinematography: Kenneth Peach.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The surgeon’s scalpel. An instrument of mercy in the hands of a skilled physician. A lethal weapon in the hands of a madman. A murder, such as the subject of our story for tonight. No one knows who this man was. No one ever saw his face. His identity has always been one of the world’s great mysteries. He killed only women. And only a certain kind of women. And his murders were often accompanied by stranger forbidden rites. For months on end he terrorized London, defying whole divisions of police. And it was they who nicknamed him Jack The Ripper. Well, he disappeared from the scene as suddenly as he had come. Similar murders followed at intervals in other countries. There are many who believe that Jack The Ripper still walks the Earth. Still continues his diabolical activities. That’s a chilling thought. Especially when it’s accompanied by highly convincing proof that it may be true. Let us discover the facts for ourselves in the company of such distinguished players as Mr. John Williams, Mr. Donald Woods, Mr. Edmon Ryan, and Miss Nancy Valentine. I suggest that you viewers draw just a little closer together... the Ripper always struck down solitary victims, you know. It would be a pity if a member of our audience became *dis*membered.”



Synopsis: In 1888 prostitute Mary Jane Kelly leaves a pub in London and walks home down the foggy streets. She sneaks past a policeman, turns a corner in the fog and bumps into another policeman. This cop tells her she knows better than to be out at night... Jack The Ripper might be hiding in the shadows waiting for her. We get exposition about the past murders, and then the cop tells her to buzz off and get home. Mary Jane enters her room, locks the door... and then is attacked by Jack The Ripper! He holds a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams as pulls out his knife and inserts it into her body again and again...

On the street a man and woman sing the ballad of Jack The Ripper. “What do I look like? Who can I be? All the blinking coppers is out after me! They think I’m here, they think I’m there; but when they come to collar me I vanish in the air! Oh what do I look like? Who can I be? Well here’s a bit of something they can say of me: I ain’t a butcher, I ain’t a kid, and I ain’t a flurrying skipper. I’m just your own dear loving friend... Yours truly, Jack The Ripper!”



In 1961 New York City the Chief Of Detective Jago (Edmon Ryan) and his team look over a map marked with the locations of the murders. Police Psychologist Dr. John Carmody (Donald Woods) introduces him to a British consultant Sir Guy Hollis (John Williams) who has flown over to aid them in the quest for the killer. Sir Guy is the foremost expert of Jack The Ripper, and has a crazy theory: this isn’t some killer imitating Jack The Ripper, this *is* Jack The Ripper. Detective Jago says he’d have to be, what, 90 to 100 years old? How is that even possible? Sir Guy explains that the Ripper was responsible for six murders in London, and since then there have been groupings of six murders in the exact same pattern with similar M.O.s over the years in one country after another. Every 2 years and 8 months there has been a month of carnage... for 70 years. “Suppose he hasn’t gotten any older?” When Detective Jago says the natural process of life is to grow older, Sir Guy counters with the *unnatural* process of life. Sir Guy doesn’t know whether Jack The Ripper kills to stay young or uses the stolen organs as demonic sacrifices or what.. But the *facts* point to all of these murders as being his: they contain elements of the original Jack The Ripper crimes that were never made public. Things from police reports that were kept from the press. Detective Jago thinks this is all unbelievable bull crap, but Sir Guy has charts that predict the next murder will be in 3 days and gives Jago the general location of the killing as well.



Detective Jago thinks Sir Guy is crazy... but sees nothing wrong with an increased police presence in the area Sir Guy says the murder will take place three nights from now. If they catch the killer in the act, Jago is a hero... if nothing happens it will just prove that Sir Guy is a crackpot.

On the dark foggy street Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody drink coffee at the police command post, waiting...

A prostitute leaves a bar and walks down the foggy streets of New York City. Just as Mary Jane Kelly did in the opening scene, she sneaks past one policeman and then is startled by another policeman. This policeman tells her she shouldn’t be out at night alone with these killings, just as the policeman told Mary Jane in 1888. This policeman walks the prostitute back to her apartment, and makes sure she locks and bolts the door. Once the prostitute is safe inside her apartment, she disrobes and lays on her bed, when the phone rings... a client. She gets his hotel room number, hangs up and gets off the bed... when Jack The Ripper attacks! He has crawled through an open window, just as he’d done back in 1888 with Mary Jane. He clamps a leather gloved hand over her mouth to stifle her screams, then inserts the knife again and again...

Later That Night: Detectives on the scene. The CSI Team dusts for fingerprints, collects evidence, Sir Guy tells a skeptical Detective Jago that this crime scene is *identical* to the Ripper crime scene. Jago is confused: the streets were filled with cops. How could The Ripper have got past all of them? “He was here... now he’s gone.”



The Next Morning: Every newspaper’s headline is about the Ripper murders.

Detective Jago reluctantly asks Sir Guy what their next step should be. Sir Guy explains that evidence points to Jack The Ripper hiding among artists and Bohemians over the years. He would be accepted there, and one of the suspects in the original murders in 1888 was a painter. The other murders over the years have also had painter suspects. So let’s see if any strangers have popped up in the beatnik corner of the city? They go to Greenwich Village to interview beatnik artists, a really odd bunch, including strange painter Kralik (Adam Williams) who has just painted beautiful model Arlene (Nancy Valentine)... in a strange painting filled with death imagery. Is this Jack The Ripper?

When they ask him how it is possible for Jack The Ripper to still be alive and killing, Sir Guy gives a great bit of Freakonomics, “There’s a strange rhythm to The Ripper’s murders. Just as there are cyclical rhythms which control other things. There are rhythms which control the sun spots, every seventeen years a particular type of locusts swarms and flies. Every fourteen years the price of nutmeg peaks then drops again. But in The Ripper’s murders, there’s always 126 days between his first and second murder, but only half that, sixty three days, between the second and the last... the sixth.”

One of the other beatniks thinks it would be fun to go to the hooker’s funeral. Sir Guy and Dr. John Carmody think this is a good idea... if Kralik (or one of the other painters or beatniks) is Jack The Ripper, maybe they’ll do something at the funeral to expose their identity?

At the hooker’s funeral, there’s a pallbearer mishap and the coffin is dropped in front of the model, the lid pops open, the corpse pops out... with all of the carvings on display. The corpse of the hooker’s eyes pop open and it *stares* at Arlene and Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody and Detective Jago. Complete freak out! Screaming erupts. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody look for signs that one of the beatniks might be the Ripper... nothing. They are all freaked out... except Kralik.



At The Police Station: Sir Guy uses his past case histories to predict the next murder. It seems tied to the Art Gallery Event which will display creepy Kralik’s painting and the work of the other beatniks. The police set up flood lamps and up the security around the Gallery. No way someone can sneak in or out without being seen this time! But if Kralik or one of the other beatnik artists is Jack The Ripper, they will have an invitation to the event, right? They will *already* be inside.

Detective Jago and the beatnik artists do not mix... giving us a little comedy. But Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody seem to get along well with the weirdos. Dr. Carmody admits he studied sculpture when he was a student, but was so bad he’s glad he had that doctor thing to fall back on. At the gallery there is a contest for best work of art by the beatniks, and a serious art critic as the judge. An amusing bit where he insults each piece of art (and the creator) as he goes around the room making notes on who will win the prize. He’s mean and destructive to everyone... and ends up completely tearing Sir Guy apart as well. Hmmm, what if Jack The Ripper was an *art critic* instead of an artist?

Sir Guy sits with Arlene and what begins slightly pervy with Sir Guy talking about how beautiful she is, turns into something emotional when she tells him that she has a daughter (she’s not married) and her kid is in the Children’s Hospital right now. Arlene goes every night to visit and kiss her goodnight. A powerful emotional moment. She tells Sir Guy that she must leave now, before the winner of the contest is announced, but she’ll be back after she kisses her daughter goodnight.

Kralik’s painting of Arlene wins, and everyone wonders where Arlene is. Sir Guy says she has gone to visit her daughter at...



Children’s Hospital. Night. Fog. Spooky. Arlene walks through a maze of cars in the parking lot to get to the entrance. Suspense builds. The silhouette of a Man is following her between the cars... or is he just going to the hospital as well? When Arlene makes it through the maze of cars to the hospital steps, The Ripper steps from that shadows and puts a leather gloved hand over her mouth... that’s when a Police Car cruises past, stops, and shines it’s spotlight through the parking lot. Arlene struggles to scream for help, then stops when she realizes the alternative. Torn between screaming and not getting stabbed, Arlene stays still until the Police Car moves on... then it is too late for her. The Ripper uses his blade on her.

The graveyard. Kralik in front of a headstone not far from the hooker’s headstone... Arlene’s. He tells Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody that he’s going crazy: did he paint all of that death imagery in the painting because he *knew* she was going to be killed? Or did The Ripper see his painting and decide to make Arlene his next victim? Kralik says he’s been visiting Arlene’s daughter in the hospital every night, but hasn’t worked up the nerve to tell her that her mother is dead. He’ll have to tell her eventually... but dreads it.

Police Station: Sir Guy knows the final murder will be tomorrow night, and believes he knows where. But Dr. Carmody questions his methods: using the same “formula” couldn’t the murder site be here or here? Sir Guy admits that is possible, but thinks his choice is most likely. By this point, complete skeptic Detective Jago is a believer. As crazy as Sir Guy’s theories seemed at first, he has *accurately* predicted the murders.



The next location perfectly matches the location of a strip club. Cops all over the streets outside, undercover inside. Sir Guy asks Carmody what happens in a strip club, and when Carmody explains, Sir Guy decides they should go inside and watch. Det Jago is in there, pretending to be a customer... but, um, distracted by Miss Beverly Hills taking it all off (we get a shot of her high heels by the time she gets down to bra and panties). After the stripping, Carmody says someone should make sure Miss Beverly Hills is okay and elects himself. We follow him back as he checks on her in the dressing room, then returns. Sir Guy suggests they step outside for some fresh air, and so that Sir Guy can smoke.

In the dark foggy alley behind the strip club, they hear a noise... a man walks through the shadows... when he steps into the light, just some guy. Sir Guy and Dr. Carmody relax. Sir Guy says if they don’t catch the Ripper tonight, he has learned enough from this series of killings to capture him the next time. They have gotten very very close this time. Sir Guy pulls out a cigarette, asks Dr. Carmody for a light... but Carmody pulls a knife and STABS Sir Guy! Sir Guy is confused: “John, why?” Dr. John Carmody smiles and says, “Not John... Jack!” and disappears int the fog.



Review: You can’t lose with a serial killer on the loose in a foggy city at night. One of the great things the episode does is give us the same sequence twice, which builds dread and suspense the second time because we know what happened the first time. When the hooker is killed in 1888 that completely sets up the terror in the present day scene. Once she sneaks past the first cop exactly the same way it happened before, we know what is coming... and just want to warn her not to go home.



Arlene’s parking lot scene is great, suspense stretched to the breaking point... and then all of the little “gags” like the police car stopping.





Lots of good red herring characters, including Kralik and even one of the weird beatnik women. And the story plays fair: though you don’t really suspect Dr. Carmody, we do know that his first name is John and that he used to be a sculptor and he doesn’t react normally to any of the crimes (but we think it’s just because he’s a police psychologist). We suspect Sir Guy for a long stretch of the story. He’s the weirdo, and Dr. Carmody is more of the voice of reason. What’s cool is that once we know Carmody is Jack, we realize that “voice of reason” stuff was trying to sway Sir Guy and Detective Jago into being cautious so that Jack could take advantage of that caution and strike.

Both Arlene’s scene where she talks about her daughter and Kralik’s scene where he talks about Arlene and her daughter are nice moments of real emotion which elevate this episode above most twist ending tales. It’s been a while since I read the short story, so I don’t remember if those moments were in the story or something added by the screenwriter. Either way, they create a reality which makes the murder of Arlene even more shocking.



Well directed by movie star Ray Milland, who worked with John Williams on Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER (which we look at in my EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book). The episode is very atmospheric, both in the feeling of dread on those foggy streets and the world of the beatnik painters and sculptors on the edge of the art world. Detective Jago’s “conversion” from complete non believer to someone who is sure that Sir Guy is right is done with subtlety.

I mentioned Sir Guy’s “Freakenomics” speech because it’s crazy logical and adds a strange kind of verisimilitude to his wacky theories. It helps sell the idea that Jack The Ripper really could still be alive and killing...

Which brings me to the last part of this week’s entry! When telling a friend about this episode, I mentioned that the Bloch short story had been adapted twice, here and on STAR TREK. So I thought I’d rewatch that STAR TREK episode... and discovered that it was not a direct adaptation of YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER, even though it was also written by Robert Bloch. But the STAR TREK episode is somewhere between a sequel and a rewrite of the story, so let’s take a look at it as well!



STAR TREK: WOLF IN THE FOLD

Written by Robert Bloch.



From Miss Beverly Hills in that strip club we cut to a Belly Dancer Kara (Tania Lemani) is a similar club. Kirk, Scotty and Bones are taking some shore leave on the “pleasure planet” Argelia known for it’s pacifist hedonists... and Scotty is digging on the dancer. Kirk as arranged for her to come to their table afterwards and be Scotty’s date for the night. Scotty has just recovered from some sort of accident on the Enterprise and this is his reward. The customer at the next table Morla (Charles Dierkop) and a member of the band Tark (Joseph Bernard) give Scotty the stink eye when he flirts with the Belly Dancer and makes plans to take her on a walk, if you know what I mean and I think you do.

After Scotty and the Belly Dancer are gone, Kirk and Bones decide to head to another bar and find their own entertainment... but in the foggy streets of the village, they hear a woman’s scream and run over to find the Belly Dancer stabbed multiple times... and Scotty standing over her with a knife in his hand!



Because everyone on this planet would rather make love not war, they are not set up for a murder investigation. The sole policeman is Detective Hengist (John Fiedler) who questions Scotty... getting nothing because Mr. Scott is suffering from amnesia. The Prefect of the planet Jaris (Carles Macauley) and his uberhot wife Sybo (Pilar Seurat - INDEPENDENCE DAY screenwriter Dean Devlin's *mom*!) want to use the traditional Argelian Empathic Contact to find out whether Scotty killed the Belly Dancer or not. Kirk asks if they can beam down a technician with a special tricorder that can probe Scotty’s mind to find out what his amnesia may be covering up. When the pretty technician Lt. Tracy (a redshirt in a blue shirt played by Virginia Aldridge) beams down she goes with Scotty into a private room to probe his mind...

Uberhot psychic wife Sybo wants to touch the knife to see what she can get a vibe off of it, but they can not find the knife. It has vanished! And then there is a scream. Technician Tracy dead, Scotty standing over her with the murder knife! That’s when Detective Hengist shows up with the two guys who gave Scotty the stink eye earlier.

Detective Hengist wants to interrogate Scotty, wants to jail him and start the trial as soon as possible. Hey, one woman murdered at Scotty’s feet and he’s discovered with the murder knife might be some sort of accident (well, not really) but *two*? Even if Scotty can’t remember a thing, he’s still guilty as hell! Kirk talks the Prefect into allowing them to use the Argelian Empathic Contact to find out what happened, and everyone joins hands in a circle, like a seance, and Uberhot Sybo starts seeing visions. Visions of Redjac, and the Hunger That Will Never Die. An evil spirit that murders women to stay alive. That’s when the lights go out. When they come back on, Scotty is holding the Uberhot Sybo’s blood soaked body... and that damned knife again!

Detective Hengist is ready to jail Scotty when Kirk appeals to Prefect Jaris: can they transport everyone onto te Enterprise and use their lie detector gizmo to find out if Scotty has murdered these three women or not? The Prefect, whose wife as just been brutally murdered, says “Sure”.



Onboard the Enterprise they put Scotty on the lie detector to testify. He did not kill Sybo... but he is not lying when he says he has no memory of Kara and Lt. Tracy’s murders. Detective Hengist as had enough of this nonsense. They put Morla on the machine, he’s innocent, too. Kirk turns detective and decides to use the computer to run Sybo’s last words... Redjac. Discovers it’s a nickname for Jack The Ripper! “A man couldn’t survive all these centuries!” But what if it *isn’t* a man, but an evil alien spirit thingie that lives forever and possess the bodies of humans? Hengist wants to arrest Scotty and quit chasing after ghosts. Kirk asks the computer for dates and places for murders similar to Jack The Ripper’s... and we get the same list from YOURS TRULY with some additions on other planets between Earth and Argelia. The same spacing patterns, etc... the computer is playing John William’s role... and Hengist the detective is very similar to Dr. Carmody. The last murders where on Hengist’s home planet of Rigel 4! Hengist freaks, tries to escape, is captured... and drops dead!

Jack The Ripper (the spirit) has entered the Enterprise’s computer and now controls the ship... and the air supply! It will soon kill the entire crew, slowly, and feed off their fear!

Kirk and Spock hatch a plan to keep the computer busy trying to find the last digit of Pi as they give the crew a sedative that keeps them docile and happy and try to eradicate the evil spirit. The spirit pops into Prefect Jaris and then Hengist again... and Kirk takes Hengist, tosses his onto the transporter, and beams him out into space. The end.



So many similarities to YOURS TRULY, especially the idea of one of the investigators being the killer. The same murder pattern information is shared by both, and the post 1888 crime locations are the same (until we leave Earth, that is). It’s somewhere between a major rewrite of YOURS TRULY and a sequel, but certainly interesting to see both episodes back to back! John Fiedler is perfect casting, he usually plays mousey little guys... and fits perfectly as the overly officious Detective on a planet with no crime. Last person you’d expect to be Redjac!

Robert Bloch is one of my favorite horror writers, and his stories pop up here and on TWILIGHT ZONE and on HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. In addition to PSYCHO he has some great novels like AMERICAN GOTHIC and FIREBUG (neither have been adapted into movies) and has a pun filled, clever writing style.

Next episode is a deal with the Devil gone wrong... do these deals ever go right?



Bill

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