Friday, September 29, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock:
HITCH 20: POISON (s3e2)

COUNTDOWN TO SEASON 4!!!

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, September 28, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Fingers Of Fear

Fingers Of Fear

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



Season: 1, Episode: 22. Airdate: February. 21, 1961

Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: Robert Hardy Andrews (based on a story by Philip MacDonald)
Cast: Nehemiah Persoff, Robert Middleton, Ted DeCorsia, Thayer Roberts, Terry Burnham.
Music: Pete Rugolo.
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “No one will wake that little girl ever again. She was the victim of the most reprehensible type of criminal. The child murderer. So long asx he stalks the streets unnoticed or lurks in the shadows near the playground, no little one is safe. He preys on the innocent and trusting child. Tonight we tell the story of a community in the clutches of just such a monster. All terrified of the fingers of fear, that’s the title of our play. Our leading players are: Mr. Nehemiah Persoff, Mr. Robert Middleton, Mr. Kevin Haven, and Mr. Thayer Roberts. Join us now for a desperate manhunt, a race against time where a lost hour or wasted minute might result in another vestial senseless killing.”

Synopsis: The story begins with a bunch of kids at recess playing volleyball, but one kids hits the ball too hard and it bounces across the street and into the bushes of the city park. The teacher Miss Spencer tells the kids that she’ll get the ball, because crossing the street might be dangerous. While searching the bushes for the ball, she finds a little girl’s shoe... then finds the little girl. Dead. Murdered by some fiend.



The newspaper headlines scream that this is the fifth little girl murdered, and has a sketch of some fat creepy dude who was seen in the park the night before. That creepy dude looks just like Ohrback (Robert Middleton) the dish washer in a greasy spoon diner. The cook Sid (H.M. Wynant) teases Ohrback about having a double...

At the scene, Detective Wagner (Nehemiah Persoff) and his team examine the evidence. They find a strange piece of curved porcelain with some blood on it.

Back at the police station, Wagner wants all of the forensic tests done ASAP. Meanwhile the Commissioner (Ted DeCorsia) pulls him aside and tells him they need this case solved yesterday because Amity is a tourist town and tourist season is coming up. (Okay, all of that is true except this isn’t Amity... but it’s the whole JAWS scenario for no real reason... when a madman is killing little girls, I guess that isn’t bad enough.) They discover the new victim had two different blood types on her body: hers, and a very rare blood type they believe belongs to the killer. All of the little girls have been killed with a very sharp knife...

Ohrback drives his beat up old black car to the lake, pulls out his knife and scabbard, and throws them both into the water... not knowing that a little boy is just out of sight fishing. The boy sneaks a look at the man and the car and then hides as Ohrback gets into his car and drives away. Then the boy dives into the water and recovers the knife.

Meanwhile Detective Wagner has a new witness, an upper middle class married businessman, who was at the park and saw the fat creepy dude who is on the front page of the newspaper... while he was, um, waiting for a friend. Oh, and he got the plate number of the creepy dude’s car and it’s...



Ohrback’s beat up old black car has the same license number. Ohrback paints his car a lighter color, drives it to a used car lot and swaps it for another car. Then he goes to a cinema where his pal Zimmer (Dick Wessel) works as a projectionist and tells him he was playing hooky from work and needs an alibi for his boss. Zimmer agrees to help him.

Detective Wagner finds out who sold the knife and that gets him to Ohrback at the diner... where he beats the living hell out of Ohrback. This is the killer of all of those little girls, and Detective Wagner has a little girl. After more than enough punches, Wagner’s men pull him off of Ohrback.

They do a line up for the boy and the businessman... and both ID Ohrback.

But here’s the problem: Ohrback does not have that rare blood type. The Commissioner (and everyone else) says forget the details that don’t fit... we’ve got the killer.

Wagner goes home, hugs his daughter Kathy (Betsy Hale) and then forbids her from going to the park with her friend Joan (Terry Burnham). He’s afraid they may have arrested the wrong man. In fact, he decides to go back to the police station...



Detective Wagner and little Joan leave the house at the same time. Wagner gets in his car and drives to the police station... and Joan walks to the park, where a man in a car asks her if she likes dolls... he has a doll that is a princess, and she even laughs (when you pull a string). Joan is fascinated by the laughing doll... and gets in the car with Merriman (Thayer Roberts) the *real* serial killer of little girls.

Wagner takes that strange piece of porcelain they found at the crime scene to a doll store, where it perfectly matches the foot of a very expensive imported doll that laughs when you pull a string on its back. They have only sold 3 of them... one was sold to the parents of the first little girl murdered. From here the story cross cuts between Detective Wagner tracking down clues and Merriman in the park with little Joan and the doll.

Wagner takes a doll and a police psychiatrist to the jail to interrogate Ohrback. Ohrback says he hates little boys because they make fun of him, but really likes little girls because they are kind to him... but has never had a doll like that. He had a teddy bear... but a man did something terrible to his teddy bear... and that made him cry. Ohrbach did see a man with a doll like that at the park the night he was there...



Is Ohrback a *witness* rather than the killer? The police psychiatrist thinks that’s possible.

Meanwhile, in the park, Merriman is getting really creepy with little Joan... he's watching her eat hot dogs, pushing her on a swing, and other things that just plain wrong.

Detective Wagner goes to Mrs. Salerno’s (Nina Varela) Doll Repairs and gets the clue to who brought in the expensive imported doll with the broken foot... not a man, but a little girl. They go to the little girl’s house, where her mother says they don’t own a doll like that... but the little girl says that the man across the street Mr. Merriman has a beautiful doll like that, and when the doll was hurt, Mr. Merriman asked her to take it to the doll hospital for him. They get the call little Joan has been reported missing by her parents, and Wagner says that she was at his house just a few hours ago! She’s his daughter’s best friend!



Just as creepy Merriman is getting ready to do really nasty things to cute little Joan, and is walking with her into a wooded area of the park... School Teacher Miss Spencer leads a class out of the wooded area on some sort of field trip, and Joan runs away from Merriman to say hello to the teacher. When Joan explains she’s here with an adult man who has a very pretty doll, Miss Spencer decides to check this guy out... and Merriman and his doll run the heck away.

Detective Wagner and his men go to Merriman’s house and find him talking to his doll... and they arrest him. He has that rare blood type, and he’s the real killer.



Review: A pretty good episode, and kind of shocking subject matter for a TV show. Even today it’s kind of rough to watch the scenes with the child killer and the little girl. There’s some real suspense built in the cross cutting between Wagner trying to find the clues to the killer and Merriman and Joan in the park.

Ohrback is played by Robert Middleton, who stars in my favorite THRILLER episode GUILLOTINE, which we will get to in a few weeks. He specialized in huge creepy guys, and played the most violent of the escaped convicts in THE DESPERATE HOURS... and the police chief in THE BIG COMBO. One of those character actors who was in everything, and has at least *fifteen* other credits in the year this episode was made! The great thing about Middleton’s performance is that you really feel sorry for this guy... even though you also are pretty sure he’s killing little girls. Being able to play both creepy *and* sympathetic seems almost impossible, but he does a great job of making us hope he isn’t the killer (even though we’re pretty sure he is).

Nehemiah Persoff is interesting casting: he’s a serious actor in films like ON THE WATERFRONT and THE HARDER THEY FALL and Hitchcock’s THE WRONG MAN... so playing this Dirty Harry like relentless and violent cop is kind of shocking. I’m sure as an actor, he loved getting the chance to totally lose it and beat the crap out of the suspect. As an actor, he’s great in the role (he’s great in everything).



One of the elements of the episode that is interesting is the focus on the procedural aspects of police work, parts of this show would seem at home on CSI. Even when they match the broken piece of the doll to the discarded doll leg at Mrs. Salerno’s Doll Repairs the camera focuses on how perfectly they fit together. The episode is filled with detectives looking into microscopes at blood samples and even the police psychiatrist (whose analysis is kind of lame) is all about the use of science to capture criminals... and works in contrast with those moments where Detective Wagner goes ape shit and starts beating on someone.

I also like how our prime suspect, who acts suspicious as can be... is innocent. Other nice touches are that married businessman who was waiting for his, um, friend in the park in the middle of the night (you wonder how many people back in 1961 wondered if the friend was male or female) and even the cook in the diner who just verbally tortures Ohrback is a great throw away character. He makes you feel sorry for the big guy... who may be a child killer.

This is a big cast, and all of the characters get their moments to shine. In two scenes the actress who plays Mrs. Salerno makes an impact. The movie projectionist character who is just an alibi is well written and well played (Guys like us are always getting into trouble) and you get a picture of his life outside the story. The teacher is in two scenes and seems like a real person. The actress who plays Joan was also in the MARK OF THE HAND episode as the kid who may be a killer does a better job here with probably less to work with. Hey, she was a few months older.



Though this isn’t one of those great episodes that everyone talks about, it’s a solid entry in the show. You wish it had been expanded into a feature (because there are places where they could have stretched the suspense even further). You could colorize this and slide it into the CSI rotation and no one would guess it was made in 1961.

Bill



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Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Scene Of The Week: THE GODFATHER

Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER has no shortage of great scenes, and this week we’re going to look at one of my favorites - Michael’s First Kill.

Irony and Contrast are two connected elements that make for a great scene. If a bad man has to do a bad thing, it’s not interesting. If a good man has to do a bad thing, *that’s* a scene! If a good man has to do something just plain evil for a good reason - that’s the stuff that makes a film memorable.

In THE GODFATHER we have three brothers vying for their father's love in order to inherit the family business - a Mafia crime family:

1) First born Sonny is strong, aggressive, combative... and won't take no for and answer. He's quick with his fists - again, we have traits that come to mind when we think of running a crime family.

2) Middle child Fredo loves drinking and gambling and women and will lie through his teeth to get what he wants. These are all traits that might be of value if he were running the criminal organization.

3) Then we come to Michael - he's studious, quiet, honorable, patriotic and could be the poster boy for traditional American family values. If you were to make a checklist of things that don't fit our image of mobster, you'd have Michael. He's completely at odds with the other characters in the film - he's NOT a criminal type at all. He's the least likely brother to be chosen to run the family... which why he is perfect for this scene.

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With Michael as the protagonist of this scene (and the film) we have a story that is constantly interesting because it has built in conflict - Michael is NOT as tough as Sonny was, he is not as duplicitous as Fredo... How can he possibly survive as head of the family? The original reason why he's eventually chosen by his father is that he is the kind of "straight-arrow" non-criminal type who can lead the family out of criminal enterprises into legitimate business. But that choice hasn’t been made yet...

Michael (Al Pacino) has returned from WW2 a hero, has a girlfriend from outside the mob world Kay (Diane Keaton) and is on course to become a legit business man. But problems begin when Sollozzo (the great Al Lettieri) wants the Corleones to finance his heroin business, and the Don (Marlon Brando) refuses to become involved in the drug trade. Sollozzo causes some very violent problems like having Don Corleone shot while buying oranges. Now *someone* needs to get revenge and stop the assault on the family once and for all. Should they send violent Sonny (James Caan) or liar Fredo (John Cazale) - people who could easily pull the trigger? Problem there is that Sollozzo and his pet cop McClusky (Sterling Hayden) *know* they can’t trust those two. But the straight arrow law abiding Michael? He’s the good son, the one even the villains can trust.

Which makes him the perfect assassin... and also the most dramatic choice. Can Michael do it? Can a good man do a bad thing? Will he break down?

These questions create lots of suspense in the scene. But the scene is *filled* with suspense. Some of that comes from the good man doing the bad thing, but there are great moments - when he can’t find the gun behind the flush tank, and then that pause at the bathroom door where he wonders if he can do this. Then, we get a whole damned conversation with Sollozzo. As the conversation goes on, we wonder if Michael will ever pull the gun and do it. Time is running out. What if they finish dinner and Sollozzo and McClusky are still alive?



Because there are no subtitles for the conversation in Sicilian (it’s kind of a silent moment with talking) here’s what they say:

SOLLOZZO: "I'm sorry..."

MICHAEL: "Leave it alone." ( or ) "Forget about it."

SOLLOZZO: "What happened to your father was business. I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned. You must understand why I had to do that."

MICHAEL: "I understand those things..."

[Waiter brings McCluskey's veal, then exits.]

SOLLOZZO: "Now let's work through where we go from here."

MICHAEL: "How do you say... ?" [Then Michael returns to speaking English.]

[After Michael returns from the bathroom]

SOLLOZZO: "Everything all right? I respect myself, understand, and cannot allow another man to hold me back. What happened was unavoidable. I had the unspoken support of the other Family dons. If your father were in better health, without his eldest son running things, no disrespect intended, we wouldn't have this nonsense. We will stop fighting until your father is well and can resume bargaining. No vengeance will be taken. We will have peace, but your Family should interfere no longer."

The great thing about a great movie is that everything gets tied together in a single scene: this is a *plot scene*, it's also a violent scene (and this is a gangster flick), and a character scene, and a story scene. It serves many purposes in the film, and is the thing that pushes Michael to the head of the family (also, Sonny gets machine gunned to pieces, so he’s kind of out of the running). It’s a fantastic scene from two fantastic movies (there is no GODFATHER 3 in my book), and there’s a good chance we’ll look at another film from one of the films later in the series. By the way, in the First 10 Pages Blue Book expansion that I’m working on, I have articles on *both* films’ opening 10 minutes. These are great films with great beginnings... plus great scenes like this one.

As usual, scene discussion in the comments section

- Bill

Tuesday, September 26, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: Dead Of Night (1945)

James Wan who directed SAW has a thing about killer puppet movies, and I'll bet it can all be traced back to seeing this film as a kid on TV. I know *my* fear of killer puppets stems from this, and the knowledge that Grover on Sesame Street is really a serial killer. But all of the ventriloquist dummy movies like William Goldman's MAGIC come from this creepy film.

Dead Of Night (1945)
Directed by: Cavalcanti ("Christmas Party", "The Ventriloquist's Dummy"), Charles Crichton ("Golfing Story"), Basil Dearden ("Hearse Driver", "Linking Narrative"), Robert Hamer ("The Haunted Mirror")
Written by: John Baines & Angus MacPhail.
Starring: Mervyn Johns, Michael Redgrave, Roland Culver, Basil Radford, Naunton Wayne, Googie Withers.

An architect arrives at a country estate and has a strange feeling of deja vu. The group of people at the estate each tell stories of terror... while the architect's deja vu increases. Has he been here before? He feels as if he has heard each story before... and feels like something terrible will happen when the last tale has been told. Each of the stories is frightening, but the ventriloquist and the dummy that controls him is the one most people remember...



The cast is worth noting, since most of them were in Hitchcock's LADY VANISHES. Not only do we get a variation on Caldecott & Charters, we get Bridesmaid Googie Withers and leading man Michael Redgrave! It's the whole gang! The cast is great, the film is spooky... yet realistic enough that you believe everything that happens no matter how crazy. The film was from Ealing Studios, famous for comedies... but this may be their most famous non-comedy film.




Five great stories of terror, with the "wrap" at the country house with our group. Directed by 4 different directors.
1) "Christmas Party" is about a girl at a Christmas Party who finds a hidden staircase that leads to...
2) "The Haunted Mirror" is about an newlywed couple - the wife buys a mirror that is... haunted.
3) "The Hearse Driver" is about a man who dreams a hearse drives by him and the driver says: "There's room for one more"... and then his dream seems to come true.
4) "Golfing Story" is about two golfers (Wayne & Radford) make a bet on the golf course - winner gets to marry the girl they both love, and the loser must die.
5) "The Ventriloquist" is the most frightening of all, about a ventriloquist who thinks his dummy is out to get him... and he is.
Often stories like this peter out at the end, but DEAD OF NIGHT has an ending that will give you nightmares!

"There's room for one more."

- Bill

Monday, September 25, 2017

Briarpatch

Here's an old blog post from August of 2009:

The late, great, Ross Thomas, who specialized in action and spy novels with a healthy dose of humor, has a book called BRIARPATCH. In Thomas’ world, a Briarpatch was the territory under the control of a spy or criminal or political king maker. Might be a city or a larger territory, or maybe even a country. These guys built their territory from the ground up, and now nothing happened in their Briarpatch that wasn’t approved of or licensed or taxed by them. One of my favorite Thomas novels, THE FOOLS IN TOWN ARE ON OUR SIDE, is about an organization that moves in and takes over U.S. City Briarpatches from the old guard and installs their own governments - conquering the Briarpatch and making it their own. Behind this scheme was, I think, a retired spy with a thirst for power. They destabilized some U.S. city’s government - some old political machine that was some old guy’s Briarpatch, and then installed their own government... just as the ex-spy had done for the CIA in a number of oil rich third world countries.


Friday’s Hitchcock entry was originally postponed because I was traveling to the San Francisco Bay Area for a class reunion... and to help my dad with some manual labor around the house. I figured I’d write it and get it up Sunday, but that was before I fell into two different Briarpatches... which means you won’t get to read about ROPE and Hitchcock’s one shot movie until this coming Friday.

I spent Saturday afternoon helping my friend John doing some interesting construction work. John has been a friend of mine forever, he acted in some of my little movies decades ago and crewed on others. These days he makes short films for those 48 hour film challenge contests, directs live theater in the Bay Area, and has written a couple of plays that have been performed. He’s one of the founders of a Bay Area theatre company, too. But it’s not *his* Briarpatch that this story is about...

A local playwright named Kathy - John has directed a couple of her plays - read an article about a group who were trying to preserve one of the Word War 2 Victory ships, the Red Oak, which had been in the “Moth Ball Fleet” (hundreds of old Navy ships “stored” in the San Francisco Bay for decades - and featured in the Sam Peckinpah film THE KILLER ELITE). Since there was no World War Three, these ships had no purpose and were going to be scrapped by the Navy. The Red Oak Victory was built in Richmond, CA - in the Kaiser Shipyards - so a group turned preserving this ship into their Briarpatch. They had it towed back to the shipyards where it was built and have set about restoring it - as a floating museum. I’ve toured the ship and it’s really cool - many of the rooms are exactly like they were in WW2 - and they do sleepovers for Scouts in the crew’s bunks (which the kids probably think are neat, but the crew probably thought was just this side of torture) and tours and events.

Kathy was fascinated by the way these ships were built - often a whole ship was built in a single day - by shipbuilding crews that included a large number of women... Rosie The Riveter. My grandfather worked in the Richmond Shipyards, and probably worked on this ship, too. But Kathy wrote a play about the women in the WW2 workforce who built ships and did “man work” while most of the men where off fighting the war. And she contacted the people in charge of the Red Oak Victory to see if they would be interested in staging her play *on the ship*. They said yes, and the project I helped John and Kathy with was building a stage area in one of the ship’s holds. As we were working on this, one of the people in charge of the Red Oak Victory restoration/museum project was talking to Kathy about other plays that might also be performed on this new theater space - like MR. ROBERTS. Now it seems that Kathy may have her own Briarpatch - doing plays about the Navy and ship building on the Red Oak Victory. She built this territory from the ground up. Read about the ship being restored, talked to the people in charge about doing a play onboard, and now may be the “theatre director” for the ship. She’s in charge of the plays done in the new theatre area we built on the ship - and may even turn that into a career. Before Kathy, no one had even thought about doing plays on the ship.

TRASH FILM ORGY


After we finished work on the stage area, I dragged John to Sacramento to the Trash Film Orgy Midnight Movie. I know Trashy Christy Savage from online (and may have met her before, but don’t remember). She (and a couple of friends) have created their own interesting Briarpatch - during summer they do a midnight movie festival at Sacramento’s historic Crest Theater - one of those grand old movie palaces from the 1930s. The place is huge! Because next weekend is my reunion, this was my only chance to go to the midnight show.


The movies are promised to be trashy and bad, and the whole thing is like a ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW party. The event begins at 11:30pm with kind of carnival booths in the lobby of the cinema... I believe a fair number of folks had come from the bars nearby and were in a good mood to see a bad movie, so it was a party atmosphere. At the booth up front you could buy festival T shirts and paraphernalia, *plus* DVDs of the low budget movies Christy has produced. Christy and her friends make movies like
MONSTER FROM BIKINI BEACH in Sacramento - no reason to move to Hollywood - and sell the films online. MONSTER is a fun combo of 1960s beach movie and 1950s monster movie, and delivers everything you would want from a movie with that title. Unlike the Frankie Avalon/Annette Funicello movies from the 60s, bikini tops do *not* stay on (the monster’s first move always seems to be tearing off the bikini top). This is the kind of film that would play at some second string drive in as the B side of the double bill - and that is meant as a compliment. Christy has made the perfect film for $2 a carload night when you smuggled in a couple of cases of beer.

Now, I don’t know whether the midnight shows exist to further their filmmaking projects, or if the filmmaking is an extension of the midnight shows... but it’s all Christy’s Briarpatch. She has built this territory in Sacramento where she gets to make films and have a party almost every Saturday night over summer where she shows so-bad-they-are-good exploitation movies. At midnight (actually, it was 12:08) they start the party in the theatre with a comedy group doing a skit to warm up the audience. Oh, there’s a DJ who has been playing records up until now - lots of metal. There is a giant talking Tiki Head who is MC - and gets the audience chanting all kinds of silly things. After the comedy, they start the film...


LADY TERMINATOR should not be seen sober. It’s a Indonesian knock off of TERMINATOR, but obviously someone in the legal department was worried, so the opening of the film sets it up as based on the legend of the South Sea Queen (I think) who had 100 husbands and bite off all of their man-parts with an eel she hides in her woman-parts. Blood sprays from many a man’s groin area in this film. Like a garden hose of red liquid. Not subtle or realistic. Well, after husband #100 pulls out the eel and saves his man-parts, the South Sea Queen puts a curse on his family - specifically his great grand daughter - and returns to the sea.

Cut to decades later, this smokin’ hot babe who could not act her way out of a rice paper bag, claims to be an anthropologist studying for her thesis who is researching the South Sea Queen legend. Whenever she said she was an anthropologist, it got a laugh - like Denise Richards as a nuclear scientist in that James Bond movie.

Just when you are about to leave the cinema because her acting is so bad it actually hurts, she dons a bikini and dives into the cursed area of the South Sea where the Queen vanished, and comes back as the Lady Terminator... hell bent on finding that Great Grand Daughter and killing her.


And now we get the silliest rip off of TERMINATOR you can imagine, as this often topless killing machine (not really a machine, just a possessed anthropologist) chases the Great Grand Daughter chick - who is a disco singer (so that we can get a bunch of disco numbers throughout the film) and also uses the eel hidden in her woman-parts to bite the man-parts off a bunch of guys. Yes, she comes naked from the ocean and steals the clothes from some punkers on the beach (and bites off their man parts with her hidden eel), yes there is a TechNoir bar scene where she finds the Great Grand Daughter chick singing and machineguns at least a hundred extras, yes there is a scene where her eye is injured and she cuts it out... then washes it off in the sink, dries it on a towel, and replaces it, yes there is a scene where she drives a car into the police station and kills at least a hundred extras dressed as cops with a machine gun, yes she (thankfully) doesn’t talk much as the Lady Terminator. She just walks around bare chested with a machinegun and kills people. Just like Ah-nuld did.

But the funniest parts of this movie are when they try to make it look like it takes place in America. The cops - in a police station unlike any you have ever seen before (there are sofas and recliners) have a never-ending conversation about how much they love hot dogs. After about the third hot dog conversation you wonder if there is supposed to be a strang Gay subtext to these scenes... and wonder if this is plot related. Will the Gay cops save the day because they don't put their man-parts in lady-parts and are immune to the Lady Terminator?

Two of the cops are some sort of Starsky & Hutch undercover team - one has a dyed blond mullet that does not match his very ethnic features at all. They say strange things like, “I’m here in the States” which make you wonder where they might have been before. It’s just crazy - bad!

The often topless Terminator chick can not be killed - she takes a million bullet hits that don’t scar her smokin’ hot body at all, her car gets hit by missiles (and even the car is unscratched!) and almost at the end of the movie after she has caught fire and comes out of it with a totally burned face - but her boobs are completely undamaged. This film has its priorities!

Oh, for some unexplained reason after catching on fire and losing her machine gun, she develops laser rays from here eyes that burn men’s man-parts off. The writer of this film has some issues.

Anyway, halfway through this mess of a movie the Trash Film Orgy has an intermission, which is a good thing. Bad movies are only entertaining for so long, and then they just become bad. Because of all of the cop-talk about how much they enjoy eating hot dogs, the intermission show included a hot dog eating contest. I donated some Classes on CD as part of the prize package. All of the contestants were gals, and the Giant Tiki Head MC commented on this. Members of the comedy team gave play-by-play, and it was a lot of fun - people sitting in the first 8 rows were pelted with hot dogs. This primed us for the second half of the movie - which was just as silly as the first.

By the way, whenever the Great Grand Daughter chick did a disco number (which was fairly often considering she had a killing machine babe hunting her night and day), people got up and danced. Many comments were hurled at the screen (hey, it looks so easy on Mystery Science Theater - but most of the comments were just not funny). (They should have had the comedy folks or Tiki Head come up with some prepared funny material to throw at the screen, and I think the Tiki Head needs some Dean Martin style dancers.) And before they showed the film there were some comedy shorts and trailers for locally made films. It was a fun little party... I did a quick headcount and there were more than 200 people in the audience... Christy’s little cult, her Briarpatch.

To me, the most interesting thing wasn’t the awful movie and it’s odd ideas about male and female relationships and the care and feeding of eels, it was that Christy had carved out this piece of the world for herself where she can make her fun little movies and have a weekly party during summer showing old trashy movies. She didn’t need to move to Hollywood, she created her own Hollywood and became a big fish in a small pond.

There are alternatives to Hollywood. You don’t need to sell a script to a studio. You can create your own little Briarpatch and make your own little movies and have your own local events. You can be the big fish in the small pond - and never have to deal with stupid story notes or bone-head producers or all of the crap in this business. You can do it yourself like Christy and Kathy.

Saturday night at the Trash Film Orgy - BLACK BELT JONES with Jim Kelly (star of one of my favorite flicks, THREE THE HARD WAY) and more foley work than 20 studio films put together - if you’re in the Sacramento area, check it out!

* The Red Oak Victory
* RIVETS - The Musical
* Trash Film Orgy Midnight Movie
* Monster From Bikini Beach

Classes On CD - Recession Sale!

- Bill

IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Point Of View and RUNNING SCARED.
Yesterday’s Dinner: Denny's Grand Slam halfway to Sacto.

Thursday, September 21, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: Choose A Victim

CHOOSE A VICTIM

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



Season: 1, Episode: 19.
Airdate: January 24, 1961


Director: Richard Carlson
Writer: George Bellak
Cast: Larry Blyden, Susan Oliver, Vaughn Taylor, Billy Barty, Tracey Roberts.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “What the young man is touching is the rotor of her beautiful expensive sports car, without which it will never start. The first gambit by Ralphie Teal, who feels that the world is his oyster. Whose tastes are becoming very expensive. And who knows, if the only way he can satisfy those tastes is for him to Choose A Victim, the title of tonight’s story. Our leading players are Mr. Larry Blyden, Miss Susan Oliver, Mr. Vaughn Taylor, and Miss Tracy Roberts. And as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you’ll find it puzzling to choose the victim of tonight’s macabre events. You may find yourself grossly mislead, possibly surprised, but we do hope that you enjoy this thriller.”

Synopsis: Past his pull date beach bum Ralphie Teal (Larry Blyden) imagines himself a player... he may hang out with his main squeeze Fay (Tracey Roberts) who works at the beach’s boardwalk arcade, but he’s always scanning the girls on the beach for fresh talent. When Edith Landers (Susan Oliver) pulls up in a sports car and steps out in a bathing suit, Ralphie comes up with a scheme. He pulls the rotor cap from the sports car and waits for Edith to return. When he car doesn’t start, he has her pop the hood... tells her the engine is flooded and she’ll have to wait a half hour before trying to start it again, and he knows a great little coffee shop around the corner. During that half hour he hits on her *hard*, trying to create an instant relationship with this wealthy young woman. Oh, she has jewelry in her purse which catches Ralphie’s eyes. He waits to make sure his car starts right up (he’s replaced the rotor cap) and comes up with a plan for their next meeting.



The next day she drives up to the beach again, and Ralphie goes down to the sand to flirt with her. He invites her back to his little beachfront apartment for coffee... and she says yes. Somewhere in here Fay knocks at the door and Ralphie gets rid of her, but Fay starts to become supicious and jealous. Edith tells Ralphie that her parents died and left her a fortune, but her mean Uncle is the executor and has her on an allowance and is always after her to settle down and get married to someone in her social strata. She’ll never have any fun as long as her Uncle is around. When she leaves, Ralphie asks if he can hitch a ride, because his car is being repaired near where she lives (this makes absolutely no sense, but she agrees).

At the mansion where she lives, Ralphie gets out and insists on walking to the car repair place (which probably doesn’t exist). When she goes inside the house, Ralphie takes note of the address and security measures.

Edith’s mean Uncle (Vaughn Taylor) gives her a lecture when she comes inside. He is kind of a pain in the butt...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie, but he says he’s got something to do... Dressed in all black, wearing black gloves, he slides a big glittering knife into his pocket.

That night, while Edith sleeps, Ralphie breaks into her bedroom looking for all of those jewels in her purse: a diamond bracelet and necklace. She wakes up! Ralphie puts his hand over her mouth and his big glittering knife to her throat. When the wind blows the closet door shut, mean Uncle asks if Edith is okay, and she says she’s fine... and *doesn’t* tell him that Ralphie is in her room. She even lets Ralphie leave (without jewelry) and tells him to meet her tomorrow under the boardwalk.



The next day, Edith tells Ralphie that they must not be seen together because her mean Uncle will get mad... and Ralphie agrees, since he doesn’t want Fay to find out he’s cheating on her. Edith gives Ralphie a very expensive cigarette lighter and some other gifts, and begins planting the idea that they could be together in her mansion if only mean Uncle would drop dead. It takes a while for Ralphie to catch on, and suggest that maybe they should *help* her Uncle drop dead somehow.

Ralphie comes up with a plan. Uncle often drives on a winding cliffside road into town to drink at a luxurious bar... and drives back over that dangerous road when drunk. They can stop him at a particularly dangerous curve, Ralphie will tell him his car has broken down, and while Uncle is distracted, Edith can ram his car over the cliff with Ralphie’s car. When Uncle leaves the house, she’s to call the payphone at the arcade and let it ring 2 times then hang up. No completed call means it can’t be traced by the police later on. But Ralphie will hear it, come and pick up Edith, and they will wait on that dangerous curve for Uncle to return drunk...

Fay wants to go out with Ralphie when the phone rings, and he has to stop the Arcade Boss (Billy Barty) from answering. Two rings, then nothing. Ralphie says he’s busy and splits.



Ralphie and Edith wait in the dark car until Uncle’s car drives up, and Ralphie gets out and stops it. He has to keep talking to Uncle while Edith puts the car in gear and rams Uncle’s car... be she never does. Uncle drives off and Ralphie blows up at Edith. She says she just couldn’t do it. Ralphie realizes he’ll have to do it himself, and it’s probably best for Edith to be somewhere public getting an alibi.

There’s a bit of suspense that doesn’t work, when after Edith calls the arcade phone booth and lets it ring twice, Uncle ends up loaning his car to a friend and she must stop Ralphie for killing the wrong man, but eventually it’s Ralphie and Mean Uncle on that dangerous curve, and Mean Uncle goes over the cliff (where his car, like a good movie or TV car, explodes for no apparent reason on its way down). Mean Uncle is dead and Ralphie and Edith can live happily ever after in her mansion.

When Ralphie gets back to his apartment, he find Edith waiting there for him! She was supposed to be somewhere establishing an alibi! But she says she was worried and wanted to make sure it went well. There’s some kissing, and then Edith leaves so that she’ll be home when the police come to tell her about the terrible accident. But when Edit leaves, she forgets one of her gloves.

Next morning, Ralphie is awoken by pounding on his door: the police! Detective Hazlett (Guy Mitchell) says they need to take him downtown for questioning.



Detective Hazlett and others interrogate him, they *know* he killed mean Unlce. But how? They search him and find: Mean Uncle’s cigarette lighter and wallet! Ralphie claims the lighter is his, a gift! Has no idea where the wallet came from. Then call in Edith and she I.D.s him as the creep who kept hitting on her at the beach and might have followed her home once. Ralphie keeps insisting that they have a relationship, but Edith asks the police why a woman like her would ever date a beach bum like him. Makes no sense at all. The police believe her, and she walks out... leaving Ralphie in line for the electric chair while she no longer has a mean Uncle.

On the street in front of the Police Station she goes to put on her gloves... and can only find one! She left the other at Ralphie’s apartment! When she goes to break in and retrieve it, she spots *Fay* breaking into Ralphie’s apartment, looking for evidence of his cheating... and Fay find the glove! Edith follows Fay, waiting for a chance to steal the glove back. Fay goes to work, where the Arcade Manager tells her that Ralphie was arrested for murder. Fay can’t believe this. Ralphie is a cheater and a thief, but not a killer! When Fay sets the glove down on the counter and goes to the back of the arcade, Edith moves quickly to snatch up the glove... But Detective Hazlett gets there first. He smelled Edith’s expensive perfume on Ralphie’s clothes, and wondered if maybe Ralphie was telling the truth about Edith being in on the murder. They slap the cuffs on Edith and haul her away.



Review: This is the kind of story you would find on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, and has some great twists and nice possibilities for suspense... but it just doesn’t deliver. The suspense scenes don’t seem to work, even though you can clearly see that they were written to work. The director, Richard Carlson, was an actor who had directed some TV episodes by this time, but seems not to have the skill set to shoot a suspense scene. On a show like HITCHCOCK every episode was suspense based, so they hired directors who could do that, and if you were a director hired for the show you know that’s what they needed from you. THRILLER was so erratic that a director may have been originally considered for one of the more dramatic episodes and then end up doing a horror episode or a suspense episode. The scene where Ralphie breaks in to Edith’s bedroom has her asleep in the background, which is a suspense situation... but it comes off flat and kind of boring. It’s Ralphie looking for the bracelet and necklace with no real possibility of being caught... even though you can see that possibility is how the writer intended the scene to work. Every scene that seems to be written for suspense comes off kind of dull. When Ralphie has to keep talking to mean Uncle as he waits for Edith to ram the car is just a talk scene... when it was obviously written to be nail biting suspense as he must keep talking and talking. So the episode is bland.

Also, Larry Blyden seems miscast. I don’t know his career, but he seems more light a light comedy guy... that funny next door neighbor in a sitcom... than a sleazy beach bum / thief. Though both women are attractive, this is James M. Cain territory and Edith seems particularly non sexy for a femme fatale. I have no idea whether that was a censorship issue or more bland direction, but for a hot woman in a bathing suit she comes off cold in scene after scene. The actress Susan Oliver had a career playing vamps, so it’s not like she didn’t know how to do that... it was someone else’s choice.

Again, because this is a Pete Rugolo score, I wonder if this wasn’t an earlier episode held until later to make room for good ones like HUNGRY GLASS?

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

Hunger Games Is A Rip Off Of...

From 2012...

THE HUNGER GAMES (2012) is based on a novel from 4 years ago - and happened to be the #1 film of the weekend again.




So there’s a funny little picture being passed around on Facebook with a shot from PULP FICTION and the question - “Do you know what they call HUNGER GAMES in France? BATTLE ROYALE with cheese.” Amusing, but shouldn’t it be Japan?

The thing that I find most amusing about this are the people who think that HUNGER GAMES is just a rip-off of BATTLE ROYALE - as if the history of cinema began a dozen years ago. Hey, this story has been around almost as long as film! At least 80 years ago they made the same basic story!

"Do you like Gladiator Movies?"

So I thought ot would be fun to look at some of the films that came before HUNGER GAME and added to it’s story...

We’ll get to CONDEMNED (2007) when we look at the movies about prisoners who get chosen to play the game where they fight to the death, but first let’s take a look at innocent school children who are chosen in a lottery to fight to the death...

You are probably thinking about BATTLE ROYALE, and we’ll get to that, but about the same time as BATTLE ROYALE came out one of my favorite movies that no one has ever seen came out - SERIES 7. This indie flick is about a hit reality TV show where random people are chosen to fight each other to the death as SURVIVOR-like camera crews follow them. Instead of an island or an abandoned part of the city or a wooded area these contestants play in the city. They hunt and kill each other in the real world. The film follows a handful of contestants including the pregnant champion and a *cheerleader* who is driven to kills by her parents. I love this movie! It’s savage and funny and looks just like an episode of SURVIVOR.

SERIES 7 (2001)


Just before SERIES 7 we had the Japanese version of the story which seems most similar to HUNGER GAMES... except the tone is completely different and the characters and motivations and reasons for the game and even the details of the game are completely different. The parts that are the same? Kids as contestants. If you consider how many times this story has been made and how many other variables there are that are direct-connections to HUNGER GAMES... plus LORD OF THE FLIES which was remade the same year (2000) and was *originally* made in 1963 (Peter Brooks) and based on a novel that predates the BATTLE ROYALE novel by *decades*, why the heck is this the first film people think of when they are looking for a HUNGER GAMES source?

BATTLE ROYALE (2000)


By the way, BATTLE was directed by the same guy who gave us GREEN SLIME (not the pink stuff). The novel was written in 1996... which is long after Stephen King’s RUNNING MAN (published in 1982) which was made into a movie 3 years before BATTLE ROYALE. Hey! How come no one points to RUNNING MAN as the source for HUNGER GAMES? Probably more similarities between the two - the major difference being prisoners instead of just kids... but if you have read the book you know the prisoner thing was an invention of the screenwriters, in the book the protagonist was an out of work guy from a District called Co-Op City which is very much like the coal mining world of District 12, who volunteers for the game to save his daughter. The tone and feel of the book is similar to HUNGER GAMES - they almost share the same dystopian future. The movie?

RUNNING MAN (1987)
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Though there are plenty of battles to the death on an island (HELL IN THE PACIFIC, 1967) and people hunting each other flicks (RUN FOR THE SUN (1956), NAKED PREY (1966), and the cheese-fest DEATH CHASE from 1988), but if there was ever a source for HUNGER GAMES it’s a crazy Italian film from 1965 based on a novel by Robert Sheckley called THE TENTH VICTIM. The film is about a TV reality show where ten normal people are chosen at random and given guns in order to hunt each other through the city. There is an MC, there is a TV audience, there are bets made on the outcome, just about everything in HUNGER GAMES is in this film... including the “star crossed lovers” aspect! Because the strangest part about THE TENTH VICTIM is that it’s kind of a rom-com! Marcello Mastroianni and Ursula Andress are contestants who fall in love along the way - even though they must kill each other in the end. Will they change the rules so that two can survive?

TENTH VICTIM (1965)


I love Ursula’s bra-gun! My James Bond parody film FOR SORE EYES ONLY featured a villainess named Greta Goodtits who had machineguns surgically implanted in her breasts - a pair of blazing 38s! The most amazing thing about this film is that it was made in 1965 and predicts reality TV shows... but the Sheckley story was published in 1953! How the heck could he have predicted reality TV shows in 1953?

I mentioned that RUNNING MAN changed the unemployed everyman who would have fit right in working in those District 12 coal mines with a prisoner played by Ah-nuld, but for the past 20 years or some we have had many versions of this story as junky action films about *prisoners* who get a chance at freedom if they kill each other on live TV. CONDEMNED was a recent version where prisoners fought to death on an island (like in BATTLE ROYALE), and the DEATH RACE remake they fought to the death in cars. There are a zillion steel cage match movies like THE OCTAGON which feature fights to the death, and lots of movies like HARD TARGET and SURVIVING THE GAME where the game isn’t televised - but still is played to the death,

I believe I am probably the only one who has seen this Prisoners Battle To The Death On A TV Game Show flick in a cinema - DEATHROW GAMESHOW directed by Northridge’s Mark Pirro... who makes films on Super 8mm, though this was shot on 16mm. I saw this flick at AFM one year...

DEATHROW GAMESHOW (1987) - caution: boobies!


But all of these films go back to that film shot at the same time and on the same sets as KING KONG, the amazing MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932) based on a story by Richard Connell published in 1924. Here we have the island, the hunting of people, the star-crossed lovers... and the hounds! Those killer dogs in HUNGER GAMES? They are in this version of the story, too! Not the DNA mutants from HUNGER GAMES, but dogs specially breed to find humans. I was looking for a trailer or good clip of the film, but could only find the whole damned movie (it’s in public domain). So don’t click on the clip below unless you have over an hour to kill watching people hunting people on an island.

MOST DANGEROUS GAME (1932)


So there you go - 80 years ago the first film that could be called a source for HUNGER GAMES was made, and in every decade since there have been a handful of movies with the same basic plot. Like all basic stories, this one is as old as time. There were probably cave men telling the story of fighting each other to the death... Hey, wait a minute - how does 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY begin?

What's important about a movie or screenplay isn't the similarities, it's the differences. Every story is like a bunch of other stories, but what are the elements that make *this version* unique?

- Bill


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Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: Death Machines

A week ago I returned from almost a month working on a film written and directed by my friend Paul Kyriazi called FORBIDDEN POWER that’s a typical kung fu-hot alien babe-BASIC INSTINCT-biker bar fight-love story-THEY LIVE! Like conspiracy of businessmen-chess match-yachting--devil doll-car chase-noir-computer programming-supernatural-actual train wreck-country western-workplace drama-nuclear missile launch codes-piano bar-rubber run before a date-shoot out-dead body disposal-action flick. You’ve probably seen a million of them. Here’s a still from the film...



This is a low budget film, shot in Seattle in 3 weeks (was supposed to be 2) that I ended up “producer” on - which means any job that no one else wanted to do I got stuck doing. Paul promised short days, and I’d spend most of my time sitting in a chair doing continuity. Nothing strenuous. I arrived a few days early so that I could wander around Seattle (a city I passed through on my way to Vancouver a few years back to teach a class, but haven’t *really* been to since I was 5 years old and my parents went there on vacation). So I was put to work the minute I got off the plane building sets and moving heavy stuff for days that often went 17 hours and got *no* days off until the last week of the shoot when I got a day off an spent it doing that Seattle sight seeing... when I should have just stayed in bed and slept! It was a great adventure, working with old friends I’ve known since I was 18 years old and saw this movie...



My connection to this movie? It was directed by Paul Kyriazi, who got me into the biz when he gave me 2 weeks to write NINJA BUSTERS. Paul went to the same community college that I did, and took the same film class. I would constantly bump into him at the movies - which was strange when it was some cinema 30 miles away from home showing some obscure samurai film. DEATH MACHINES was made for drive ins, shot on 35mm and probably Panavision (scope) for not much money. I saw it at the "premiere" at the Pleasant Hill Motor Movies... which is now a shooping center. No champagne at this opening, but beer was smuggled in, along with some friends, in the trunk of the car.

Paul tells a funny story about the plane explosion - they bought the plane from a guy, blew it up, then sold him back what was left for parts. The truck that drives through the restaurant? A real closed restaurant waiting to be torn down - they did it for real. The building that explodes - also set for demolition. That's how they could do this for pocket change.

The money for this film came from Ron Marchini, who wanted to be the next Chuck Norris. He wasn't much of an actor, so I think they made his character a mute. Ron has gone on to have a low budget career in action films.

DEATH MACHINES has so many bad lines, my friends and I quote them... and most of these guys worked on the film! "Hey, there go the guys that cut off my arm!" The Dragon Lady's accent is so thick you want subtitles. "I have him compweeetwy under my contwow!"

NEW TRAILER:


But here's the thing - this movie was made local, played drive ins, and was (I think) #11 in the USA when it opened in July 1976. It was a successful summer movie. Most of that is due to the big scenes on a small budget - which was creativity instead of cash. One of the things I learned from Paul, that's even in my article in the current Script Magazine, is to come up with a handful of "How Did They Do That? shots" - like the plane taxiing, starting to take off, then exploding. Did they kill the pilot for that shot? Doing something unusual or seemingly impossible on screen adds production value, and may not cost you very much money (just creativity).

And if you can sell back what's left of the plane as parts...

And now the film has been rediscovered and there's a new trailer and a Collector's Edition BluRay complete with extras and commentary track and cast interviews and other cool stuff. Paul did an introduction at Toho Studios Samurai Village backlot set. For some reason Paul's work has been rediscovered and is now playing festivals.

deathmachines
Click box for Amazon info.

So now Paul is making this new film, FORBIDDEN POWER, to capitalize on all of these blue ray special editions of his films from the 70s and 80s that are coming out. What was once drive in cheese is now some sort of low budget classic. NINJA BUSTERS being rediscovered is what started all of this. So blame me...

A couple more pictures from the Seattle shoot...











- Bill

Monday, September 18, 2017

I was a *Thespian* in High School!

From 2009...

So, over the holidays I had drinks with an old friend from High School, Janet Englebert. We were both in drama class and all of the shows together. She not only had a program from one of the shows - she had *pictures*! Of me at 16 years old! When I was working almost full time, going to high school, and working on or being in all of the plays. No time to eat - so it was one of the few skinny periods in my life.




The Program...


Cast List...


The Star's Bios (I remember this play, have no memory of Gloria Mundi)...


Here is a scene with Janet and me...


And me with a very sharp knife...


And Janet and the very sharp knife...


And Patty Loveland after she sees what happens through the rear window of her apartment...


And my *favorite* part of being an actor in High School - the chance to see girls in their underwear. That's Nora in her bra reflected in the mirror.

My goal was to see every girl in class in their underwear... and maybe even topless! That could happen when there were quick changes backstage.


We did a haunted house every year to earn money to put on plays. That's my severed head...






What a strange thing to see myself that young - and people who were my closest friends at the time... now, just memories. I wonder what happened to them all?

- Bill

Thursday, September 14, 2017

Thriller Thursday: WORSE THAN MURDER

Worse Than Murder

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



Season: 1, Episode: 3. Airdate: 09-27-1960

Director: Mitchell Lieson (Woolrich’s NO MAN OF HER OWN). Writer: Mel Goldberg based on a novel by Evelyn Berckman. Cast: Constance Ford, John Baragrey, Christine White, Harriet MacGibbon, Dan Tobin, Jocelyn Brando. Music: Pete Rugolo. Cinematography: John F. Warren (from HITCHCOCK HOUR).



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “It is difficult to violate the privacy of dreams. After all, there are no witnesses to our night time fantasies. But when a man’s nightmares are an accurate reflection of the truth, and in trying to relieve his suffering he commits that truth to paper, there he creates greater torments than those of his restless sleep, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. We’re concerned now with a woman who makes use of a nightmare to persecute the innocent as well as the guilty. A persecution that is much worse than murder. That’s the name of our story. We assure you my friends, this is a thriller!”

Synopsis: High estrogen crime drama. Three women, each commit some horrible crime, while the men stand by on the sidelines. Oh, and all of these women are related by marriage or blood, so this is a *family* of killers! A wealthy family.

The episode opens with ancient Uncle Archer in a hospital bed dreaming about the time he helped kill his father... then he passes away. Leaving behind a stack of diaries, including a new one on his hospital bed. High maintenance Connie Walworth, Archer’s “favorite nephew’s widow” arrives for a visit with flowers, is told that Archer has passed away, and lifts the new diary on a lark. Connie has been kissing up to Uncle Archer in hopes of a prime space in his will, but Archer died intestate... and all of the money will go to his bedridden sister Myra (Harriet MacGibbon) (who is Connie’s mother in law) and her plain jane daughter Anne (Christine White). Oh, and Myra *hates* Connie, since she’s been living off her since the death of her son (Connie’s husband) in a car wreck. When Connie goes to the family mansion and hits Myra up for a loan, she is refused... it’s time for her to find a job or a man or both. But when Connie mentions that Uncle Archer kept diaries, Myra reconsiders and gives Connie the loan in hopes that she will forget about the diaries. This, of course, makes Connie wonder what could be in the diaries.



Plain jane daughter Anne is dating Myra’s doctor Dr. Mitchell (probably old enough to be Anne’s father) (John Baragrey) and it’s fairly obvious he’s sniffing around for Myra’s money... When Connie leaves, Anne notices Dr. Mitchell checking her out. Maybe she should dye her hair blonde and dress more provocatively?

Connie is a sexy, scheming bottle blonde predator... a real femme fatale, in a story where the men are secondary characters. As in Robert Wise’s BORN TO KILL, the female lead here uses men to get what she wants... and in Connie’s case, manipulates and blackmails women as well. It’s obvious she only married her (late) husband for his money, and after spending all of it on her and then dying; Connie needs a new source of income. If she can find a way to cut in to the family fortune, she’ll do it... even if that means playing dirty.



When Connie gets to her apartment, her landlord Ray (Dan Tobin) is waiting for her... wondering where the rent is. When she tells him Uncle Archer died and left her nothing, Ray *insists* on the rent, he’s waited long enough! Connie invites him up to her apartment to settle the bill. Yes, this is a 1960 TV episode, and she’s gonna screw her landlord to pay the rent! And our next scene has Connie in lingerie in bed reading the diary outloud to Ray the landlord! Yikes! The diary passage is Uncle Archer’s recurring nightmare about the night he and “M” murdered their father so they could inherit his fortune. Is “M” for Myra?

Connie calls to see if she can stop by the hospital to pick up the other diaries... finds that they have already been delivered to Myra. So Connie heads to the newspaper morgue where she discovers a story about Myra and Archer’s father’s death by accidental overdose of insulin... a nurse lost her job as a result. Connie goes to talk to the Doctor, only to find that he has passed away, but the disgraced nurse is still alive... living in a crappy apartment downtown. The Nurse (Jocelyn Brando) is a drunk, living in poverty because that long ago accident with Myra and Archer’s father still hangs over her. The Nurse refuses to answer Connie’s questions, but when she leaves the room, Connie searches her closet and jewelry... and finds all kinds of expensive things. Where did they come from? The Nurse breaks down and says she has been blackmailing *Myra* because Myra and Archer murdered their father.



When Connie confronts Myra with this, spilling the details that the Nurse gave her; Myra almost has a heart attack (literally) and Connie holds Myra’s digitalis over her head like a carrot. Then gives it to the old woman. Connie says she’ll take $100,000 to hand over the diary and not go to the police. Oh, and in 24 hours.

Listening at the door is plain jane Anne... who has fixed up her hair, put on some make up, and dressed up; to keep her Dr. Mitchell boyfriend from straying. She hears everything and realizes her aged mother might be thrown in jail if she doesn’t do something. She breaks her date with Dr. Mitchell, throwing the relationship into turmoil. When Myra phones the bank to have $100,000 delivered, Anne *knows* her mother is a murderer. To protect her, Anne becomes a criminal...

Anne breaks into Connie’s apartment, searching for the diary. Finds it... just as Connie pulls up, with Dr. Mitchell! See, Connie has been making a play for the doctor just to cover all the bases. She invites him upstairs to her room (to screw?) as both Anne... and Ray the landlord... watch. Dr. Mitchell kisses her and declines instead of reclines. Then Connie goes up stairs, and Anne scurries to find a hiding place in the apartment.



Problem is, when Connie enters she sees Anne hiding behind the sofa reflected in a mirror and grabs a fire poker. There’s a scuffle, Anne splits with the diary... Connie chasing after her.

Meanwhile, Myra’s condition gets worse and she is taken to the hospital... dying. She admits to Dr. Mitchell killing her own mother with Uncle Archer so they could inherit her money... and now Connie is doing something similar to Myra. She begs Dr. Mitchell to make sure Connie gets no more money... then dies.

Anne returns to the mansion, doesn’t notice the package of money from the bank waiting for Connie to claim it; and burns the diary in the fireplace. When Connie arrives, she pulls the burning diary out of the fireplace, then Connie and Anne scuffle as the burning diary sets the curtains and house on fire! Cat fight in the flames! Then Connie splits (never seeing the money) and the mansion burns to the ground. Anne escapes the fire into Dr. Mitchell’s arms... and Connie is arrested for blackmail.



Review: This is more like it! Though more of a crime drama instead of a thriller, it’s fast paced, filled with twists and turns and has some *awesome* dialogue. Not just the catty conflict lines (which are clever and fun), but the rest of this episode is filled with witty and quotable lines. I don’t know if this is the work of screenwriter Goldberg or if he pulled them from the novel, but it’s constantly entertaining. And lots of juicy scenes with women tangling (verbally and even physically). Constance Ford plays Connie like a sexual force of nature, and I believe costume department neglected to supply her with a bra, in addition to the blatant implied sex scene with her landlord there’s no shortage of what appears to be nipplage in many shots. Were the censors asleep?

The men in this episode are disposable objects used by the three women, even Uncle Archer only held his mother with Myra gave her the lethal injection. It’s interesting to see a show that focuses on the sex that is deadlier than the male... and has so much fun turning men into playthings. Director Lieson was a “woman’s director” in Hollywood, who made many lush female lead films... including the adaptation of Cornell Woolrich’s “I Married A Dead Man” with Barbara Stanwick called NO MAN OF HER OWN, which is kind of a guilty pleasure of mine. This episode has gloss and a real feeling of those old Joan Crawford potboilers. Bitchy fun, with clever and cutting dialogue. This was a good (not great) episode, but on the right track! Will the next episode continue towards greatness... or derail?

FADE OUT.



Bill

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