Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE FORBIN PROJECT

COLOSSUS: THE FORBIN PROJECT (1970)

This was one of those movies I caught on TV as a kid, probably on NBC Monday Night At The Movies With Victor Bozeman, and I loved it. It was about computers and was science fictiony and had naked parts that they showed on TV! It was one of those movies that stuck with me, and when I found it on DVD I bought it and watched it again... and though it doesn’t hold up to memory, it’s still an okay film. Seems like a TV movie today, and since it was directed by Joseph Sargent who made a mile of TV movies and was directing TV episodes (IT TAKES A THIEF) just before this, that’s probably one of the reasons why. It was obviously made low budget by Universal (no real stars) and maybe it *was* a made for TV movie in the USA that was released theatrically to the rest of the world. It’s a movie about *ideas* rather than special effects.



Dr. Charles Forbin (Eric Braeden from RAT PATROL, though your mom may know him from YOUNG AND THE RESTLESS soap opera) has created the ultimate supercomputer the size of a city block. Probably the first time a film discussed artificial intelligence, because Colossus can learn. The computer itself is deep in a Cheyenne Mountain type bunker that is impenetrable to missiles from those Ruskies. There’s a cool opening scene where Forbin starts the computer and then walks through hallways, setting electronic booby traps behind him, over a bridge that retracts behind him... basically al of the stuff Indiana Jones has to go through at the beginning of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK. Forbin leaves the mountain entrance as thick steel doors close behind him. Army guys guard the doors.

A JFK like President Of The United States (Gordon Pinsent) addresses the nation on every TV channel (all 3 of them), and says that human error will no longer be a fear when it comes to our nuclear missiles. From this point on, all of our defenses are now being controlled by Colossus. The computer can sense an attack and instantly plan a retaliation. It collects data from millions of sources (did someone at the NSA see this movie as a kid, too?) and know more about a situation than any human. It is safer than having a human at the controls of our nukes. The Prez introduces Forbin who uses all kinds of words the country doesn’t understand: dude is an aloof genius. They press the button and a computer is the most powerful person in the world. Head of the CIA (William Schallert, Patty Duke's dad on that TV show) thinks this is all a mistake, we should do things the old fashioned way.

But the minute Colossus is activated it asks about the other computer. What other computer? Well, it seems that the Russians have their own version of Colossus and didn’t tell anybody. There’s a tense scene where the two computers hook up despite both Forbin and the Ruskies trying to stop it. And then the two computers become one... one computers that is more intelligent than anyone else on Earth... and decides that humans lie and cheat and steal and can not be trusted. So, before you can say HAL 9000 or Skynet, the computer threatens us with our own nukes. Actually firing nukes at both the USA and Russia in a tense scene after they have tried to separate the two computers. One of the interesting things from a film standpoint is that most of this story takes place in the computer command center: a big room filled with consoles like NASA mission control. There are a bunch of scientist types at the consoles, including James Hong, Georg Stanford Brown, and Susan Clark... all wearing labcoats and getting a line or two of dialogue.

Except for Susan Clark as Dr. Markham who is the driven female in the group. When Colossus demands that Forbin install cameras *everywhere* so the computer can keep its eye on everyone, Forbin comes up with a plan. He tells Colossus that he needs the camera in his bedroom turned off for a few hours a night, four days a week because he has a mistress and they need some privacy when they screw. Colossus has access to all of the information in the world, checks it out... and humans *do* screw and prefer to do it in privacy... but it will only allow one hour of privacy. Colossus asks who is mistress is, Forbin answers Dr. Markham.

Best Movie Ever Made



Forbin needs someone who is believable as a mistress, but also understands all the technical stuff he needs to communicate. Colossus accepts this - she's single and young and attractive to humans. This gives Forbin and Markham one hour 4 days a week to plot against Colossus... but also requires those nekkid parts I mentioned.

Dr. Markham shows up for her hour of information exchange... and Colossus wants to watch them all the way up to the sex part. So they can have dinner together, a drink or two... and then Colossus demands that they both strip *before* going into the bedroom. Now Forbin and Marham have to strip in front of each other, then exchange information while naked in bed. Of course, in typical AUSTIN POWERS style, the naughty bits are always covered in these scenes. But it's funny to see two naked people trying to be business-like while the camera gives us shots through wine glasses with the wine covering the crotch and all sort of other silly lurid shots that were exciting when I was a kid.

While standing with their naughty parts obscured by an assortment of things on the table, they not only figure out a way to stop Colossus from taking over the world (it wants to build a factory that will make robots to keep us in line... SKYNET!!!) They also manage to fall in love. And almost the whole story takes place in that control room, the President’s briefing room, and Forbin’s living quarters. It’s an okay movie, but the first half has a handful of ticking clock scenes and the last half has people with their naughty bits obscured. Becomes less exciting as it goes along (unless you are a 12 year old boy). It really does remind you of Skynet and TERMINATOR and I wonder if James Cameron saw this around the same time he watched those OUTER LIMITS episodes that Harlan Ellison wrote?

I wasn't the only one who saw this movie as a kid, it has quite a following.

Bill

Monday, January 30, 2017

Free Short Story!


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NEW SHORT STORY!

*** PRIME RATE



Modern day cattle rustlers. If you've gone grocery shopping lately you know there's big money in stolen beef.

Chuck Skinner inherited his father’s neighborhood butcher shop. A dying business... until Lee Benjamin made him an offer he couldn’t refuse. Benjamin was the head of the Mary-Anne Mob, a group of modern day cattle rustlers who steal truckloads of cattle... and need butcher shops like Chuck’s to cut and sell the meat. If you’ve gone grocery shopping lately you know there’s a huge profit in beef... and Benjamin provides Chuck with a fake USDA Prime stamp - making his cuts of meat superior than anything you can buy in a supermarket. Chuck’s butcher shop becomes *very* profitable...

But when Mr. Benjamin, his huge violent bodyguard Woodsie, and a strange little man in wire-rimmed glasses show up one night at the butcher shop and accuse Chuck of skimming money off the top and cheating the mob, the butcher ends up in a fight for his life. Can he outsmart Mr. Benjamin? Who is that guy in the wire-rimmed glasses?

FREE From Monday Until Friday!

Friday, January 27, 2017

HITCH 20: REVENGE (s1e1)

There's a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on, and here is the very first episode - the "pilot" - which is without me.

This episode is REVENGE, and the story is a corker: a man's wife is brutally raped and he extracts his revenge when she recognizes the attacker on the street. I actually prefer the remake done in the 1980s, due to casting: Where Ralph Meeker (who played Mike Hammer) seems like the kind of guy who would have no problem extracting revenge, the remake had David Clennon (who always plays geeks with triple chins) who has a great deal of trouble with the physical aspects of revenge... making it even more gut wrenching.









Of course, I have my own books focusing on Hitchcock...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers 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 52 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.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

THRILLER Thursday: The Weird Tailor

The Weird Tailor.

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



Season: 2, Episode: 4.
Airdate: Oct. 16, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Bloch based on his (awesome) short story.
Cast: Henry Jones, George Macready, Abraham Sofaer, Sondra Kerr
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “A man cries out in vain. His son can not come back. There is no power on Earth that can bring him back. But then, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff, that was no Earthly power that took him. As you have just seen. What just took place behind those doors was strange and terrifying. I wonder just how many of you will have the courage or the curiosity to follow me through them to witness things even stranger and more terrifying. Our story is called “The Weird Tailor” and the fabric of our plot is woven by these distinguished players: Henry Jones, George Macready, Abraham Sofaer, And Sondra Kerr. Yes, my friends, they’re all waiting for you behind these doors! So come with me, come! Before it’s too late.”

Synopsis: Spoiled rich college kid Arthur (Gary Clarke) comes home top his father’s mansion from a night of drinking... interrupting his father’s occult experiment just as things are happening. Mr. Smith (George Macready from GILDA) has laid out a pentagram on the floor of his study, done some incantations... and now the pentagram is beginning to smoke. A lot! When Arthur knocks on the door Smith tells him to go away - but that’s like telling a drunk to come on in. “Hey, candles! I get it, you’re fumigating the joint.” Smith explains that he’s doing an experiment and Arthur needs to leave *now*. But the bar is across the room - across the smoking pentagram - and Arthur wants to get a drink first. He walks right into the center of the pentagram - there’s a flash of light, and Arthur is dead! And that’s just the set up for the story!



Mr. Smith visits psychic Madame Roberti (Iphigenie Castiglioni) who looks into her crystal ball and sees darkness within the light - Smith explains that his son has died and he would do *anything* to bring him back - anything. He says he would give his entire fortune to have his son back. She hands him a card with a name and address...

Nice little twist at the end of the scene where the psychic reaches down for her *guide dog* and we realize that she is blind (and all of the things she has seen and commented on about Smith were not seen through her eyes). This also adds a bit of weird to the scene - a blind woman who looks him right in the eye.

Honest Abe’s used cars is where the address leads Smith. Can this be right? The car salesman Nick (Abraham Sofaer), an older middle eastern man with a mustache who owns the place, takes him into the office where they can talk of things not of this Earth. Smith explains some of why he is here, and Nick says they must be careful - there are laws. Not police laws, laws of nature... laws of good and evil. Nick has an ancient spell book - Mysteries Of The Worm - one of 3 copies in the world. The rest were burned along with their owners. Nick is asking one million dollars for the book - which is all of Mr. Smith’s fortune. Mr. Smith balks... but eventually buys the book.



Erich Borg’s Custom Tailor Shop - somewhere in the wrong part of town. Landlord Mr. Schwenk (Stanley Adams) goes into the shop and yells for Borg in the apartment in back. No customers today. Borg (Henry Jones) comes out and asks if this is about a suit? But Schwenk is here about the late rent, and gives Borg one week to pay up or he’s out on the street. Borg has no idea how he will be able to pay this bill...

After the landlord leaves, Borg goes into the back room: workshop and apartment, where his wife Anna (Sondra Kerr) runs a sewing machine. Customer? No - landlord demanding they pay their back rent or move. Anna attempts to cheer him up, and gets beaten for her troubles. Borg is a violent jerk... and he takes out his frustrations on his wife. Borg says that on;y a miracle could save them... and the bell over the front door rings. They have a customer.

Mr. Smith has a very special job for Borg...

He needs a suit for his son. His son can not come in for a fitting, but he has his measurements. The suit will be made of this special material that Smith is providing and must be sewed by hand - no machines. Also, can only be sewn during certain odd hours in the middle of the night when the stars are aligned just right. He’ll pay $500 for the suit... and gives Borg his card. Borg wants an advance, but Smith says he’ll pay on delivery. Borg will have the suit finished in a week.



When Smith leaves, Anna comes out from the back room and asks if this is a job, money? Borg manhandles her again, tells her to leave him alone. She return to the back room, crying. Talks to a damaged mannequin she has named Hans about her abusive husband... then cries on its shoulder. “You are the only friend I have, Hans.” She breaks down crying.

Anna wakes up in the middle of the night - Borg is not in bed. Has he left her? She creeps out into the shop to find him hand sewing the suit. It’s the middle of the night? This is when the suit is supposed to be sewn, Borg has tried other times but the needle will not go into the strange fabric. The only thing that Borg cares about is that he gets $500 when he delivers the suit.

A few days later, Borg has finished with the suit. He folds it up and puts it in a box, preparing to deliver it. Anna has a feeling that something is wrong - the fabric is strange and hurts her eyes to look at it and tingles - maybe vibrates - when she touches it. Borg should know this, he made the suit. She begs him not to deliver the suit. But - $500.



Borg wonders what she considers weird - since she spends half the day talking to a mannequin. She’s even named it. Hans? There is a word for people who talk to statues. The reason why Borg took the mannequin from the front window and tossed it in the back room - it’s head is cracked. Is that her problem, too? A cracked head? Borg says maybe when he gets the $500 he’ll just go away by himself - she can keep the mannequin. He leaves to deliver the suit and she worried that he will never come back, leave her with the back rent problems.

She goes back and pours out her heart to the mannequin. How did the mannequin get its cracked head? Borg was drunk and beat it - just as he gets drunk and beats her. “When you get hit over and over and over again, something has got to break.” The front door bell rings, landlord Schwenk looking for the rent.

Borg finds the address on Mr. Smith’s card - this can’t be right. A tenement down by the docks? He knocks on the door and Smith answers... happy to have the suit. But Borg wants his $500 before he hands over the suit, and Smith wants the suit now and he will pay for it on the first of the month. Smith spent his entire fortune on the spell book and material to make the suit... but he’ll have money again, soon.



Borg wants to know how Smith can afford a huge freezer if he’s broke, and opens the freezer to see how much food is inside... except there isn’t any food, only Smith’s frozen dead son Arthur! Yikes! Smith and Borg fight over the suit - each fighting for their life. Borg stabs Smith to death! What has he done? He wipes away all traces that he was ever in the room, grabs the suit and races out.

Borg returns to his shop, worried that the police will find him. Anna is relieved to see that he did not leave her... but if he got the $500 why does he still have the suit box? Borg threatens her - don’t tell anyone about the customer or the suit or the $500. He orders her to burn the suit *now*! Then runs out of the shop.



To a bar. Borg is getting drunk when Schwenk finds him and demands the back rent. Borg is drunk and has delusions - sees Mr. Smith dead, see’s Smith’s frozen dead son... throws his beer at Schwenk and runs out of the bar.

Borg returns to the tailor shop; very drunk, very angry, very confused. He yells for Anna, asks if she burned the suit. She says not yet - she put it on the mannequin to see what it looked like. Borg screams that the suit must be burned at once - it’s evidence. He tells her that Smith tried to take the suit from him without paying for it... and he killed him. She wants him to go to the police... and Borg freaks and starts beating her. Trying to kill her so that she doesn’t go to the police...

And that is when the old broken mannequin wearing the strange suit *moves*.



It herky-jerky walks out of the shadows. Legs moving as one piece because they have no joints. Eyes focused on Borg. It slowly crosses the room to him and takes her off Anna. As Borg backs up, the mannequin moves forward. Step by step. Anna watches as they both move out of the backroom into the store and then there is a scream.

A shadow over the door as someone walks back... back to her. The broken mannequin Hans! He approaches her, and his plaster face says that he has dealt with the man who beat both of them, and now they can be together.

Her turn to freak out.



Review: Just as the 1930s and 1940s were awesome decades for crime fiction, the 1950s and 1960s were awesome years for horror and science fiction. Suddenly, all of these writers like Richard Matheson and Robert Silverberg and Ray Bradbury and PKD and Robert Bloch just came on the scene all, seemingly, at the same time. There was an explosion of great genre fiction in the sci-fi and horror genres and a bunch of magazines that sprang up to accommodate them all. Many of these writers clicked with the anthology TV trend that coincided - and shows like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and THE OUTER LIMITS and even THRILLER benefitted from this.

Bloch, probably best known as the writer of PSYCHO, wrote a ton of great short stories during this period and many of them were adapted to television... including the notorious banned episode of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS with Brandon DeWilde THE SORCERER’S APPRENTICE. He often adapted his own work, and segued into TV writing - working on a number of shows. He either scripted or was source material (or both) for 10 episodes of HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, ten episodes of THRILLER, 7 episodes of the HITCHCOCK HOUR, and 3 episodes of STAR TREK (plus a bunch of other TV shows). Here he adapts one of his most famous stories, which you may know from the movie ASYLUM (1972) which was Bloch’s own anthology film - based on his short stories and adapted by Bloch himself. That version of WEIRD TAILOR may have better production value, but this is the first version that I watched... as a kid. And that mannequin that comes alive freaked me out. They did a pretty good job of making the actor look like he was maybe made of plaster, and that really helped.



But this episode has more than that scary ending scene - one of the great things about genre fiction is that it allows the writer to deal with serious social issues in a medium that people want to see. Genre is a great “spoonful of sugar” that makes discussions of issues people might find boring or too serious into something tasty and fun. TWILIGHT ZONE was famous for stories like this, but the same writers often worked for other anthology shows...

So we end up with this THRILLER episode that deals with the serious issue of domestic violence. This whole episode explores domestic violence - Borg beating his wife, Smith ignoring his son - and shows us two different paths. Smith’s more psychological abuse of his son results in the boy’s death - and Smith realizes he was wrong and that all of the wealth in the world doesn’t matter as much as his son. It’s kind of amazing that we see Smith go from that mansion to the hell-hole apartment just to bring his son back to life. Smith gets his priorities straight... but it’s too late. Borg just keeps beating on Anna, no matter what happens. He drinks and beats his wife. This is a great role for Henry Jones, who always plays nice guys and shows us that even the fellow that you think could not be a violent wife beater may actually be one. Your next door neighbor may beat his wife... or her husband. It’s not some issue that only belongs to big blue collar guys - anyone can be a perpetrator or victim of domestic violence.



Sondra Kerr gives off a Terri Garr vibe in this episode, quirky and funny and vulnerable. A month after this episode aired she married Robert Blake... and one wonders what kind of marriage that was. She was in a bunch of movies in the 70s, guest starred on a bunch of TV shows in the 70s and is still working - was in a movie made last year.

George Macready, who is great in GILDA, is equally great a decade and a half later here. Though we have two intertwining stories and his thread takes the backseat to the weird tailor’s after the first commercial, he continues to make an impression in the brief scenes he has as a father who realizes he has made the selfish mistake which cost his son his life and will do anything to bring him back. Anything.



Herschel Daugherty’s direction in this episode gives us some great shots like that opening longshot down the hallway as the son returns, along with a nice sequence with slightly canted shots when Smith hires Borg to make the suit. And there’s a great superimposition of a skull on the crystal ball in the medium scene... plus a great scene with Smith and Borg fighting shot through a wall made of fencing material in Smith's hell-hole apartment.

The big lesson from this episode is that Genre Fiction is a great way to explore social issues.

This episode continues the second season streak of great shows... but all of that will change with next week’s episode.

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, January 25, 2017

Bill's Retirement Plan

Because I'm busy trying to finish this danged Blue Book, here is a blog entry from 2006 (over a decade ago) where I came up with the idea for Mitch Robertson (who will return in a new novelette at the end of February). Hopefully a new blog entry here next week!
- Bill


So, one of my problems with having a bunch of great behind the scenes stories is that I still have to work in this town... so there are some I just can’t tell. But I want to. I’m even compelled to tell these stories. Stop me before I dish again! I never knew what to do with these stories....

Until a couple of days ago.



While I was on my working vacation I bought a stack of books to read on the plane and in the airport, and finally got around to reading one after I returned. BLONDE LIGHTNING is the second book in a 2 book mystery series by T.L. Lankford. I’ve meet T.L. a few times because we have a friend in common - director Fred Olen Ray. Fred is a low budget director with zillions of films to his credit - many under pseudonyms. He directed by DROID GUNNER flick and my INVISIBLE MOM flick, and is a heck of a nice guy. Fred directed a few T.L. Lankford scripts before my stuff, and T.L. was at the DROID GUNNER wrap party... which Fred paid for out of his own pocket. So when BLONDE LIGHTNING hit paperback and got a great write up in Entertainment Weekly and the L.A. Times, I figured I should read it.

I’m a mystery and thriller guy, so this is my genre...

The bad news about BLONDE LIGHTNING (and the first book EARTHQUAKE WEATHER):
1) No real mystery. You know who done it, there are no clues and no twists.
2) Not much of a detective story. The protagonist, Mark Hayes, doesn’t do much to actively solve the crimes in the books, he just kind of hangs around until things sort themselves out. He doesn’t question witnesses or run down clues or anything like that. In LIGHTNING, the villain may not even be the villain - nobody ever actually investigates to find out whether he’s behind the crimes or not.
3) Not much suspense. Though Mark becomes a suspect in EARTHQUAKE, he’s not really a man on the run or anything. In LIGHTNING he’s never really in much jeopardy, and there are no suspense set pieces in either book and no real plot twists.
4) Not much action. The two biggest action scenes in LIGHTING are off screen - and don’t involve Mark. The villain gets wacked, then a mobster gets wacked (with Mark as look out - but he's in some other room when the action happens). There’s a great shoot out at the end where Mark gets to shoot a guy, but the rest of the book is pretty light on action. There’s a car wreck and a small fist fight, but 50 pages of any Mickey Spillane novel has more action than the entire book.

Okay, you’d think that was a bad review, right? Well here’s the good news...

1) Though the mystery and thriller stuff is kind of light, LIGHTNING is still a page turner. Why? It deals with making a low budget film. The hero is Development Exec who is on the short list of suspects when his jerk-producer is murdered in EARTHQUAKE, and after being a studio level pariah, manages to land a job working on a low budget film with many problems in LIGHTNING. You may not care if the bad guy is captured in LIGHTNING, but you constantly worry when the film gets behind schedule or an actor completely screws up an entire day of filming. At one point the First AD quits the film, and I had to keep reading to find out if the film crashed and burned or not. What we have here is a Hollywood novel.
2) The film takes you behind the scenes and shows you how films are really made. Though I wish it had been more "Tom Clancy" small detail oriented, you still get a great picture of all of those things that really happen on a film - and so much of the book is devoted to the hell of making a film on a tight budget, it’s almost like being there. If you’ve never been on a film set, if you’ve never had a script put on film, this book will teach you what really happens - and it's not a pretty picture! Most Hollywood novels are about flashy movie stars and sex scandals, but LIGHTNING is about actually making a movie. I can’t think of another novel that’s about making a movie.
3) The roman-a-clef aspect. Lankford has combined real life people to create his characters, and I recognized some portions of his composites. One of the actors has some characteristics of an actor I know personally - a guy I’ve worked with. A guy Lankford has worked with. So he gets to dish about all kinds of behind the scenes scandals without actually naming names...

Which brings me to my retirement plan.

See, I have all of these juicy stories I can’t really tell... unless I fictionalize the incidents and create composite characters.

Hmmm...

So, when I get too much gray in my hair to sell scripts, my plan is to "retire" to writing novels. Long ago I wrote 3 novels - all in dusty boxes - two comedy spy novels and a noir thriller. The plan is to follow in Lankford’s footsteps and write some Hollywood mysteries... but do it my way. Real mysteries with lots of twists, real thrills with lots of suspense scenes, and that "Tom Clancy" detail that will make each book a lesson in how films are really made. So, without being too Harlan-Ellison-The-Novel-I’m-Writing-In-Ten-Years-Is-Titled.... my first "retirement" novel will be called FIRST TAKE and it will follow screenwriter Mitch Robertson as his first script is produced... and the producer is murdered while on location in Mexico and the films funds mysteriously vanish... and Mitch is #1 suspect on the run from the South-Of-The-Border law. Any resemblance to the filming of TREACHEROUS will be strictly coincidental. The fun thing is - I can tell all of those stories that will get me banned from Hollywood for life... in a completely fictional world.

Of course, before I retire I still have a big stack of scripts to write... and some new classes on audio CD to record, and I have to take that 6 screenwriting books worth of articles on my hard drive and actually turn it into 6 new screenwriting books (actually working on that now)...

And sell a stack of new scripts so that I can have some more adventures to share with you in this blog. In fact, I’d better get to work on that!

- Bill

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Trailer Tuesday: THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947)

LADY IN THE LAKE

70 years ago *yesterday* (January 23, 1947) this movie opened in the USA...

About a year ago I watched all of the REC movies again and think the first one may be the best Found Footage movie ever made (*much* superior to the American remake) because, even though the entire movie is seen from the perspective of the news camera, the shots are composed beautifully. The American remake (QUARANTINE) just didn’t seem to understand the degree of difficulty ... and is filled with sloppy framing and soft focus. REC manages to have *artistic* framing even when the camera is “dropped” in an attack scene. I often wonder how many times they “dropped” the camera to get that perfect framing of what would be seen in the action that comes afterwards. But the very idea of Found Footage from someone’s video camera all traces back to this film, THE LADY IN THE LAKE (1947), an interesting experiment that fails.



Robert Montgomery was a star at MGM, who played pretty boys and dashing romantic leads... but he was ambitious and knew the days of being a handsome guy were numbered and wanted to direct (where you could get old and nobody cared). This was his first film as a director... and he managed to make the most experimental film made by a studio at that time (actually, no one has done this since). The Raymond Chandler Philip Marlowe novels were all told first person, so he thought he would make the *film* first person... as in “first person shooter games”. You see the story through Marlowe’s eyes. Sounds interesting doesn’t it?

Here are the problems:

1) The cameras at the time were huge and heavy, so instead of agile movements that mimic a human walking, we have limited dolly shots. Most of the time the camera moves into a position and then *sits there*, maybe with an occasional pan to follow a pretty receptionist. Unlike Hitchcock’s ROPE which features a story told in a single take (sort of) and a fluid camera that moves from one amazing angle to another, these shots seldom move. Once the camera dollies into a room, it just sits there and people talk to it. There are a couple of scenes where the camera does a limited dolly in the middle of a scene to “look at something”, but mostly it just sits there. So we have these static shots most of the time which are *dull*!

2) No cutting! Because it’s Marlowe’s POV we can’t cut from one shot to another, we are stuck with the same shot for the whole scene! This kills the pacing. In ROPE we also have no traditional editing, but the camera moves from “shot” to “shot” and angle to angle, giving us the feeling of different shots. It’s that “dog juice” thing, because there are no cuts in ROPE the camera has to do even more movement to make up for it. But here: no cuts... and no camera movement.

3) One of the side effects of the limited mobility of the camera is that the film ends up mostly set bound. That title LADY IN THE LAKE? Well, a big chunk of the novel takes place at Little Fawn Lake (Lake Arrowhead)... where a dead body is found in the lake... but the film never goes to Little Fawn Lake so we never see the murder victim or any of the suspects from there! The problem is: there's a reason for the novel's title. The body found in the lake, and Marlowe discovering it (along with cabin caretaker Bill Chess) is critical to the story. It's what the story is *about*. Instead, about 75 percent of this film is Audrey Totter looking at the camera talking. This is a private eye movie, and when you think about other Marlowe movies like THE BIG SLEEP and MURDER MY SWEET, they are filled with action scenes! Here, no action scenes! The closest we get is a car chase done with process shots (so it’s still in a studio) which ends with a car wreck... where Marlowe/Camera dollies to a bush and hides behind it as a police car arrives. The fistfight scene is *one punch*, and you wonder what a director more interested in the action elements of the story could have done with that fight scene.

4) Because we never go to Little Fawn Lake, we get these scenes where Marlowe talks *straight to the camera* as he sits in his office, telling us the story. What this means is when Audrey Totter isn’t looking RIGHT AT US and talking to us, Marlowe is LOOKING RIGHT AT US and talking to us! It’s all exposition, all the time! So with damaged pacing from the experiment we add boring exposition... we might as well be sitting in a room having Robert Montgomery and Audrey Totter just telling us the story! But even that would probably be better because we’d get Chandler’s great writing. Instead we get a pile of plotty exposition.

Oh, in addition to Audrey Totter, some other cast members may look familiar to you from TV! Lloyd Nolan went from B movie cops to TV doctors, playing the doctor lead on JULIA (first TV series starring an African American woman) and played doctors on QUINCY and ELLERY QUEEN and a million other TV shows as guest star or recurring characters. Leon Ames also played doctors on TV, but you know him as next door neighbor Gordon Kirkwood on MR. ED. Hottie Jayne Meadows has also been in a million TV episodes and has even played Florence Nightingale... but she also looks just like her sister Audrey who was Jackie Gleason's wife on THE HONEYMOONERS. All of these actors look straight into the camera whenever they are in a scene!



The screenplay is by Steve Fischer, a pulp writer turned screenwriter (I WAKE UP SCREAMING) and his work is usually really good... but I think here he is shackled by the concept and Montgomery’s idea of how the story should be told. Somewhere along the way, Marlowe has been changed from Private Eye to Pulp Fiction Writer for this story... so, if all of the above wasn’t boring enough now we have conversations about writing and publishing! In the novel the missing woman Marlowe is searching for is the wife of a perfume and cosmetics millionaire, in the film this is changed to the publisher of pulp novels... so that we can have even more talk about publishing! This film is trying to put us to sleep! Add to that, it takes place at *Christmas* so the opening title cards are happy Christmas Card pictures over Christmas Carols! You wonder if you may have put in the wrong DVD! It *does* end with a gun, but instead of being kind of a twist, it seems to me like a tonal car wreck (and the rest of the film continues that wreck). The audience at the time knew who Chandler was, and had seen a couple of Marlowe movies and were expecting something like THE BIG SLEEP... and ended up with this!

Lloyd Nolan, who played MICHAEL SHAYNE on the big screen (one of those films was based on Chandler’s THE HIGH WINDOW which would later be made as a Marlowe film starring *George* Montgomery) plays the cop, here... and not only do we lose Little Fawn Lake in this story, we also lose Bay City (seeing only the inside of the police station). Hey, Bay City is a major part of the novel! Chandler’s Bay City is one of those great fictional locations, but not in this film. Though we get slugged in the eye and kissed, it’s really lame compared to the subjective camera work in DARK PASSAGE made the year before. In that film, the camera doesn’t stick with the lead’s POV, but cuts all over the place to keep the pace going. Just, when we have those shots in the story that would have been “over the shoulders” instead we get a full POV shot. DARK PASSAGE *works*! This film does not. And having the whole film being people LOOKING DIRECTLY AT YOU is really weird!



Another issue with LADY IN THE LAKE is that there are *a couple* of shots of Montgomery's reflection in a mirror, which I'm sure was tricky, but there are a half dozen shots with mirrors where Montgomery is *not* reflected at all! Once you establish that we will see him reflected in mirrors, you have to show his reflection in mirrors from that point on (or get rid of the mirrors from the sets!). They show a mirror in some scene where he *should* be reflected, and he's not! It's like an epic fail!

I think people underestimate the difficulty of just making a movie. In this case, Montgomery (who seemed to have not a clue about the language of cinema) tried to do a huge experiment right out of the gate... and it fails big time. It would be interesting to see a first person movie like this *now*, with the level of action we expect to see in a first person shooter game. This film is a curio: like most experimental films, it fails. But interesting to see... and you instantly learn how *not* to make a private eye movie.

Skip the film, read the Chandler novel instead.

Bill

Friday, January 20, 2017

Fridays With Hitchcock: TOPAZ (1969)

“Topaz” (1969)

Screenplay: Samuel Taylor based on the novel by Leon Uris Starring: Frederick Stafford, John Vernon, John Forsythe Roscoe Lee Brown.

This film was based on a big best selling beach read by Leon Uris - one of those ripped from the headlines things about the secret shenanigans behind the Cuban missile crisis, filled with as much intrigue between the sheets as behind the doors of the embassies... and a cast of thousands. And the major problem with TOPAZ is probably with the source material's scope. Novels are an entirely different medium than screenplays and the movies that come from them. There are many things that you can do in a novel that just don't work in a movie. As I noted in the last chapter, a movie is viewed all in one gulp and we expect the story to flow and the pieces to connect to each other. Usually the audience does what I call the “skin jump” where they imagine themselves as the lead character and live the story on screen vicariously. They imagine they are James Bond or Indiana Jones or Neo from THE MATRIX or the character looking for love in a romantic comedy.




A book is a completely different animal – though there *are* books that you might read in one gulp, for the most part books are read chapter-by-chapter and we put a book marker in and set it aside. We may take days or weeks or even months to read a single book. So the focus is often on the *chapters* rather than the overall story. Even if a chapter ends with a cliff-hanger, it also usually works as a self-contained unit, giving us someplace to put a book mark and set the book aside. Due to the way the story is delivered to us – chapter by chapter – a book can be episodic and doesn't need to be from the protagonist's point of view. Because we can “get into a character's head” it is easier for us to identify with everyone, even the antagonist. We can bounce from character to character without ever being pulled out of the story. So the problem with adapting some novels is that they work so much differently than a movie works that our best set is probably just to toss the book and just run with the concept... or just leave it as a book. Some things are more at home in the medium they were created in.



The big problem with TOPAZ is that there is no lead character - it bounces back and forth between characters - so most of the scenes “star” minor characters that we haven't really gotten to know. The tone also works against it – a “ripped from the headlines” story often plays like a “just the facts” documentary, which means low key drama and less focus on emotions and drama. Combine that tone with no lead character to identify with and we end up with a story that was probably exciting in book form but ends up dull on screen. The screenplay is by Sam Taylor who wrote VERTIGO, but his skill set may not have been able to tame this all- over-the-place novel. The film just isn't very good, but does contain an amazing experiment which makes it well ahead of its time. Twenty five years before PULP FICTION, this film does a very similar story experiment.

Experiment: A big one! The film actually has four plots - and each is like its own little story. Like PULP FICTION, different lead characters in each story with some overlapping characters who show up in more than one story, and one character who connects all four. It's a great experiment that probably comes directly from the novel's structure – but like most experiments, it ultimately fails. But let's look at it anyway, since PULP FICTION shows that it *can* work. Here are the four stories...

In Denmark: A top ranking Russian and his family defect to the USA.
In the USA: While the Cuban delegation is in town, secret documents are photographed that hint at Russian missiles sent to Cuba.
In CUBA: Spies find the Russian missiles.
In FRANCE: A high level spy ring in the French government is exposed.

Wow, that seems almost linear and not nearly as complicated as the movie is. But when Frederick Stafford (who?) walks into frame, we have no idea who the hell he is and he has to “earn” our identification... and in TOPAZ the characters are each on screen for only a brief time before we are on to the next character. Not enough time to get to know them, let alone like them or care about them or hope they resolve whatever problems we really don't have enough time to learn about. So that Hitchcock aversion to paying star salaries backfires in this film.



Nutshell: In the USA segment, an American CIA agent (John Forsythe) wants to bribe the secretary (Donald Randolph) to Castro's right hand man (John Vernon) to steal his papers.... but doesn't want it traced back to the USA, so he goes to his pal in the French espionage pal (Frederick Stafford) who is having problems with his wife (Dany Robin) to get his son-in-law (Claude Jade) to provide a sketch of the secretary so that his agent (the late great Roscoe Lee Brown) whose cover is a florist, can pretend to be a reporter for Ebony Magazine in order to get past security and bribe the secretary so that he can photograph the papers. Oh, and Castro's right hand man has a head of security and the florist has an assistant and the son-in-law is obviously married to the French espionage pal's daughter and... well, there are no shortage of characters in this one segment alone! And the character who does the actual spying stuff is Roscoe Lee Brown - a peripheral character who we will never see again.

That's the big problem with the story - in the Cuba section it's not any of our main *Cuba story* characters who sneak onto the military base to photograph the missiles, it's some characters we've never seen before who are only in this once sequence... so when they are in trouble, we don't care. They are disposable characters... and *all* of the characters in this film are disposable - they do their little bit of the story and then we never see them again.



It's like a movie about the extras instead of stars.... and there are no movie stars in the film. Zilch. Hitchcock had paid *half* the budget of his previous film TORN CURTAIN on Newman and Julie Andrews' salaries and that film bombed... so he ditched stars completely for this film, and it suffers because of it. The closest we have to a lead character is the French espionage guy played by Stafford - but he never goes on any dangerous missions himself - he hires someone else. Which means he ends up with soap opera plots - his marriage is in trouble, he's having an affair with an agent, his wife is having an affair with a guy who ends up being a Russian spy, his daughter and son in law have issues... All kinds of silly things that make for a great beach read, but don't work very well on the big screen.

Hitch Appearance: A nurse pushes him through the airport in a wheelchair... then he stands up and walks away.

Music: Maurice Jarre does an okay score that sounds a lot like his JUDGE ROY BEAN score - so maybe he recycled it.

Bird Sightings: Hey, a seagull ruins their whole mission in Cuba!

Hitchcock Stock Company: John Forsythe was an odd choice for romantic lead in THE TROUBLE WITH HARRY.

The whole film is kind of ho-hum and shows the problem with doing experiments in a script and film - most experiments fail. That’s why we call them experiments. Even though some of the experiments in Hitchcock’s films don’t entirely succeed, they usually have a handful of great scenes to make up for it, or the experiment itself is interesting to watch (like in ROPE). Here we discover the importance of having a protagonist who is involved in the entire story - *the* pivotal character in each segment. We learn this because this experiment fails in this case - four stories with four different protagonists squeezed into a 143 minute film doesn’t give us much time to care about any of these people or get to know them... so they remain chess pieces moved around the board to tell the story. The more you split the focus among different protagonists, the more you split our emotions so that we don’t have time to care. We take a closer look at this film and it’s episodic structure (and how it paved the way for PULP FICTION) in HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR.

- Bill






Of course, I have my own books focusing on Hitchcock...

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

Alfred Hitchcock, who directed 52 movies, was known as the “Master Of Suspense”; but what exactly is suspense and how can *we* master it? How does suspense work? How can *we* create “Hitchcockian” suspense scenes in our screenplays, novels, stories and films?

This book uses seventeen of Hitchcock’s films to show the difference between suspense and surprise, how to use “focus objects” to create suspense, the 20 iconic suspense scenes and situations, how plot twists work, using secrets for suspense, how to use Dread (the cousin of suspense) in horror stories, and dozens of other amazing storytelling lessons. From classics like “Strangers On A Train” and “The Birds” and “Vertigo” and “To Catch A Thief” to older films from the British period like “The 39 Steps” and “The Man Who Knew Too Much” to his hits from the silent era like “The Lodger” (about Jack The Ripper), we’ll look at all of the techniques to create suspense!

Films Included: NOTORIOUS, SABOTAGE, STRANGERS ON A TRAIN, THE 39 STEPS, REBECCA, TO CATCH A THIEF, FRENZY, FOREIGN CORRESPONDENT, THE LODGER, THE BIRDS, TORN CURTAIN, SABOTEUR, VERTIGO, THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1934), THE MAN WHO KNEW TOO MUCH (1955), SUSPICION, and NUMBER SEVENTEEN. 17 Great Films!

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers 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 52 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.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

THRILLER Thursday:
THE PREMATURE BURIAL

The Premature Burial.

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



Season: 2, Episode: 3.
Airdate: Oct. 2, 1961

Director: Douglas Heyes.
Writer: William Gordon and Douglas Heyes, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Cast: Patricia Medina, Sidney Blackmer, Scott Marlowe, William Gordon, and Boris Karloff
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The boundaries which separate life and death are shadowy and vague. Who is to say where exactly the one ends and the other begins? In certain mysterious maladies all functions of vitality in the human body seem to stop. And then, some unseen force sets that magic pinions and the wizard wheels in motion once again. The silver cords has not been cut, the golden bowl has not been broken. And the soul? One wonders. What meantime has happened to the soul? Many years ago, Edgar Allan Poe pondered the questions of mysterious sleeps and strange awakenings in a story entitled ‘The Premature Burial’. Well, we’ve prepared a new adaptation of that story for you to enjoy tonight. And tonight, Poe’s characters will be brought to life by... Patricia Medina as Victorine Lafourcade, Sidney Blackmer as Edward Stapleton, Scott Marlowe as Julian Boucher, William Gordon as Dr. March, and this sinister gentleman as Dr. Thorne. And as sure as his name is Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller!”



Synopsis: A rainy day. A funeral. Dr. Thorne (Boris Karloff) and Dr. March (William Gordon) watch as their friend Edward Stapleton (Sydney Blackmer) is laid to rest in his family crypt... today was to be his wedding day, but instead is his funeral. Thorne doesn’t understand how a 50 year old man in good health suddenly dies. He was Stapleton’s physician, but was away for few days so Dr. March attended to his sudden death. Was he poisoned? Dr. Thorne plans on pulling the coffin from the crypt and doing a post mortem... whether his bride-to-be Victorine likes it or not.

As everyone leaves the cemetery, the coffin inside the crypt begins moving... Shaking! It falls over and a hand breaks out from within and attempts to *open the coffin*! Failing, it becomes motionless.



Thorne and March bring the coffin back to the hospital, where Thorne is amazed that Stapleton’s skin is still pink... and he twitches a bit. March thinks perhaps a poison used to kill him may have also preserved the body. Thorne decides to try the galvanic battery on him - an early version of defribrillator paddles - to see if they can restart his heart. And it works! The dead man suddenly lurches to his feet, speaking gibberish... some sort of Frankenstein’s monster? He passes out - but his heart is beating, he’s alive! Alive!

Stapleton recovers in a hospital room... Dr. Thorne has diagnosed him with a form of catalepsy. Stapleton says he was never unconscious - he was aware of every moment he was trapped in that coffin. Aware of being pronounced dead when he was alive. It was worse than hell - completely paralyzed and unable to tell anyone that he was alive! He worries about Victorine, his bride-to-be. How is she taking his death?



Victorine (Patricia Medina) is busy making out with her lover Julian (Scott Marlowe), the painter hired by Stapleton to paint his soon-to-be wife. Unfortunately, Stapleton died *before* the marriage, so she is not a wealthy widow... and will be unable to continue paying for his artist loft and their secret relationship. There is an interesting age dynamic here - Julian is younger than Victorine (her boy-toy) and Stapleton is older than Victorine (making her his trophy wife). The age differences in the relationships bring out all sorts of character conflicts in both couples - it’s an important element in the story. Just as they kiss, the doorbell rings...

Dr. Thorne tells the widow that she may put away her grief... Edward Stapleton is alive.

At the hospital, Thorne tells Victorine that Stapleton is terrified that he will be buried alive again, so he has notified every doctor in the county of his condition and shows her a medical bracelet and neck medallion he has created for Stapleton to wear which say “Do Not Bury Me” with information about his condition, this way there will be no mistakes... no reason for Stapleton to fear a premature burial again. Thorne believes that Stapleton over-exerted himself in an attempt to impress his younger fiancĂ©, and that lead to his attack. So please - when he is discharged from the hospital, make sure he does not over-exert himself again.

Julian sees a second chance at inheritance - Victorine can now marry Stapleton, and if he dies they’ll become rich.



Wedding bells. A strange honeymoon night - Stapleton shows her the crypt in the backyard of his estate that he designed and had built while he was in the hospital recovering. The stone door can be opened automatically by pressing a lever. There is ventilation, and water and food and blankets... and a dram of good brandy. The coffin is designed for comfort, and there is a cord which she is to *personally* place in his dead hands - if he revives inside the coffin he can pull the cord and ring a bell on the roof of the crypt. If she hears the bell, she is to come to the crypt and rescue him. He makes her promise that he will not be buried anywhere but in this crypt, with the cord in his hands. He will not live through being buried alive again.

As they settle into marriage, Stapleton takes it easy in his library - playing his lyre and reading Sir. Walter Scott... and Victorine finds ways to prod him into over exerting himself again. She suggests they travel...



While on holiday she does everything in her power to push him to his limits, and finally he collapses in the woods. She carefully removes the medical bracelet and medallion, rolls a stone away and buries them underneath... then calls for a doctor.

Stapleton is *not* taken home to be buried, but buried in that foreign land. Not in his special coffin, in his special crypt... but in a standard coffin (with a small glass window for viewing the body) buried in the ground. Awesome shot from inside the coffin at Victorine and the other mourners as the dirt is shoveled over the small window.



Wealthy widow Victorine Stapleton visits her lover Julian and tells him that now she can give him *everything* she has promised him. They get it on!

Dr. Thorne visits the widow , he is executor of Stapleton’s estate. He wonders why (and how) the medical bracelet and necklace were missing from his body... you see, he’s been doing a little investigating. Victorine believes the medals - made of silver - were probably stolen. “Are you certain that Edward was dead when they buried him?” She gets angry at the hidden accusation in that question - isn’t Thorne’s reason to be here a discussion of Stapleton’s will? Yes - Stapleton left his entire fortune to her. Just one thing - for her to inherit, Stapleton’s body must be buried in that special crypt with that cord in his dead hands. No inheritance until his body has been moved. Yikes!



Dr. Thorne will oversee the transportation of the body - all she has to do is sign the exhumation request. If she refuses, Stapleton’s fortune goes to his cousins. She signs.

The special crypt. The coffin he was buried in is opened, and his corpse transferred to his special coffin. Dr. Thorne places the cord between his dead hands... closes the coffin lid. Victorine watches, repulsed by all of this. Before the crypt’s stone door is closed, she places a picnic basket of canned food inside.

That night, Julian comes to the house to celebrate their new fortune, their new relationship... but that crypt in the backyard is a huge buzz-kill. How can they have a relationship with her dead husband out there? Julian laughs, “Let the old jack in the box deteriorate where it pleases him. We probably owe him that, darling.” Victorine relaxes, drinks to her dead husband... and the soon-to-be husband across from her. But before they can kiss, the bell tolls.

Not Wedding Bells...

The bell from the crypt...

The bell with the cord in Stapleton’s dead hands.

Julian believes it’s just the wind... until the crypt’s door opens!

Julian and Victorine creep into the vault to make sure he’s still dead in his coffin...



But the coffin is empty.

In the moonlight, Victorine sees a man in a shroud wandering the grounds in the distance. Impossible! Impossible! The man had been buried for six weeks! No food. No water. He can not have still been alive! Victorine freaks out.

Julian is still trying to find some rational explanation - but there really isn’t any.



In the library, Stapleton’s Sir Walter Scott book is open on his chair, his lyre nearby. Did these things get there on their own? Julian believes it is Dr. Thorne - who suspects, doesn’t he? - pretending to be Stapleton, placing these things in the library. It’s all Thorne’s evil trick! In the window behind Julian - the corpse of Stapelton in its shroud! Freak out moment! As the corpse glides away from the window, Julian yells for Thorne to come back - to take off the shroud and show himself.

Julian takes Victorine upstairs to her bedroom - she needs to rest. But on the bed - the medical bracelet and necklace! How could they get there? No one knew where she buried it... except Stapleton! His eyes were open as he lay there... he saw her! Only he knew where she buried them!

Then the lyre music drifts up from the library.



When they get to the library, the lyre is there but no shrouded corpse. But then Victorine sees him in the window watching them. She grabs Stapleton’s pistol and hands it to Julian, “You’ll have to kill him.” Julian takes the pistol, aims it at the shrouded form, “I see you Thorne, now leave us alone! Leave us alone, or so help me I’ll shoot!” Before he can fire, a voice behind him... Dr. Thorne. Then who was that in the window? Victorine looks from the corpse in the window over to Thorne - two different people. “It was never you... it *was* Edward!” Then she faints.

Julian and Thorne carry her to her bed... then Thorne asks Julian if Stapleton is alive? The crypt door is open, the bell rang? Julian says it is impossible... but Dr. Thorne says it is possible - men have survived long periods of cataleptic coma, like a bear in hibernation. He and Julian go downstairs... where the front door opens and Stapelton enters. Wrapped in his shroud. He slowly approaches Julian - close enough that the artists can see his face. It *is* Stapleton! He slowly walks upstairs. A hand on Julian’s shoulder - Thorne. The doctor says that Stapleton is alive and wants to be with his wife. He wants to share his joy of being alive with the woman who loves him. Julian says that she never loved Stapleton, she just married him for his money... so that she and Julian could be wealthy together. Dr. Thorne asks Julian if Victorine knowingly buried Stapleton alive? Yes! “The necklace and bracelet - she took them off him and buried them under a stone.”

Upstairs, Stapleton’s shrouded corpse wakes up Victorine... who is now close to insane.

Victorine comes downstairs holding the necklace, says she tried to persuade Stapleton to put it back on... maybe Dr. Thorne can help her. She’s gone over the edge.



That’s when Stapleton’s corpse glides to the top of the staircase. Thorne asks him to come downstairs... and Julian freaks out. Tries to run away. But Thorne grabs him. As Stapleton’s corpse slowly comes down the stairs, Julian admits to everything - Victorine drove Stapleton to another attack, hid the necklace and bracelet, did not tell the doctors of his condition, had him buried in foreign soil... all of this so that they could be together and inherit his fortune! Stapleton keeps climbing down the stairs, closer, closer, closer! His face a pale mask - skin white! After Julian has confessed to everything, implicated Victorine in murder; Stapleton’s corpse touches him... the Stapleton reaches up and *takes off his face*.

It is a pale white mask - Stapleton’s death mask. Underneath it - Dr. March.

When Dr. Thorne went to retrieve the body, he went to the place in the woods where he had died... and found a stone with no moss on it. Moved. Underneath the stone - the bracelet and necklace. And inside the coffin? Stapleton had been buried alive and tried to claw his way out! Died a horrible death from suffocation inside that coffin. Murdered by Victorine. The only way to prove it - get Victorine and Julian to admit their guilt.



Review:One of the most interesting things about this episode is how it uses the raw material of Poe’s story in unusual ways. The Karloff introduction is almost taken word for word from Poe’s introduction in the story. Though the narrator in Poe’s story is the fellow who is buried alive, he tells us of previous incidents of people buried before their time - including the story of Victorine and Julian (a writer in the story instead of a painter & sculptor) - she was the one buried alive in that story. Also the story of Stapleton, who broke open his coffin inside his crypt... but was unable to escape the stone slab which walled him inside... they later discovered his skeleton! By taking all of these pieces and reforming them into a Weird Tales type story of murder and revenge, we have a great Season 2 entry... and great roles for both Karloff and the screenwriter as doctors!



The story has traces of Poe’s TELL TALE HEART mixed in around the halfway point, where the dead man haunts his two killers, and that’s what makes this episode more than just the original Poe story... turning it into something that will make you squirm and scream. All kinds of nice horror moments, and that great moment where they think it’s Thorne pretending to be Stapleton... but Thorne is in the room behind them. Kind of a jump moment and a twist all in one.

That idea of having the corpse return for revenge is a stroke of genius, and we have to give a bunch of credit to screenwriter William Gordon (who gets to play the corpse) for coming up with a way to turn the creepy Poe story about being buried alive into an all out scare-fest. The great twist that it’s a scam to force the killers into admitting their guilt is icing on an already delicious cake. This episode was made a year before the Corman AIP version, and I think they did more in an hour than the feature did in half again as much time. Here’s the link to that movie.



Some great direction in this episode as well, with shots like the one from inside the coffin as the dirt is being shoveled into a grave a stand out. Some great low angles and high angles and moving camera shots and reveals. One of the things the elevate the good episodes of the series is the *cinema* style direction (based on specific shots) and often is present in the bad episodes is the “TV style direction” (master shot, close up, coverage - but no specific shots). It seems like there was a secret war of direction styles going on behind the scenes, between old school like television style and movie style on this show... which points out the importance of directors. Even with the same DP, one director turns in a pedestrian episode and another turns in an amazing episode.

And this is one of the handful of episodes where Karloff gets to do more than hosting duties. He’s basically the lead character, here, and gives a great performance again. Karloff’s deal on the show involved getting the chance to act in some of the episodes, and even though he was an old man at the time he always seems to give it his all when he could have easily coasted. This was the guy who played the monster in the original FRANKENSTEIN back in 1931... and thirty years later he’s using electricity to bring a dead guy back to life.

Season 2 of THRILLER is on a roll! And next week is another great episode - the weirdly twisted Robert Bloch story about a custom made suit... where the custom is demon worship!

- Bill

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Wednesday, January 18, 2017

ATLiH: Rubber Gloves Of Death!

As usual, the names and details have been changed to protect the very very guilty!

One of the things about low budget movies that bothers me these days is that so many of them just suck. Now, I fully understand films made on low budgets have little or no money to do things, but often it seems as if no one on the film is trying to make up for that with creativity, imagination, and passion. It often seems like they just don’t care. I know that good films, even great films, can be made for no money. I see films in festivals made on a shoestring like FAVOR and DOWN AND DANGEROUS and FOREV and JOE SHERMANN SONG and dozens of others (sorry if I didn’t mention your film) that just kick ass. They are often *better* than anything Hollywood could do on a Hollywood budget. I also see some films that don’t quite work, but you can see the filmmakers really trying to make something excellent, they just didn’t have the cash or some small thing sunk them. But often I see low budget films where it seems like nobody gave a damn...

And that’s a problem.

Recently I rented a low budget film that a guy I know was involved in. A sci fi action flick. Now, I can get behind a cheap sci fi action flick. I interviewed the guys who made SIX STRING SAMURAI before the film came out, and *that’s* a wild ride! But this film just sucked... because the people involved obviously didn’t care. They were just making a product - and not even a very good one.

The way to become a loser in Hollywood is not to care. Even if you are making a cheapo genre film, make it the best it can possibly be. Not the best you can make it, because you always want to stretch and grow - so make it the best it can be (which is better than you can do... you have to stretch). In this case, the writer-director just didn’t care and made 90 minutes of pure torture.





This was one of those “Mockbusters” - a cheapo film designed to have enough similarities to a big studio blockbuster to maybe fool someone into thinking it’s a prequel or sequel or maybe that studio blockbuster available in a RedBox kiosk or on the shelves at Walmart at the same time it’s in the cinemas. These films basically use the TV adverts and trailers of the big studio blockbuster to help sell their cheapo version. Before striking gold with the SHARKNADO movies, producer The Asylum made a ton of these - even being sued by studios because they copied the posters and other elements of movies like BATTLESHIP (AMERICAN BATTLESHIP) and THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (THE DAY THE EARTH STOPPED) and THOR (ALMIGHTY THOR) and TRANSFORMERS (TRANSMORPHERS) and 40 YEAR OLD VIRGIN (18 YEAR OLD VIRGIN) and I AM LEGEND (I AM OMEGA). But this wasn’t an Asylum movie - it was made by other folks with the same scheme. Can I tell you the biggest problem with a “Mockbuster”? You can easily compare it to the actual big budget blockbuster... and these films don’t compare well.

The story opened on a space ship... which was the worst CGI exterior I have ever seen (why not use a model if you can’t afford good CGI? This looked like a really bad cartoon of a spaceship. Heck, you could build your own unique model of the space ship - all that takes is time *before production begins* when you don’t have a cast and crew waiting.) And when we cut to the interior? It was some office with a drop ceiling and a visible drinking fountain in the background (how would that work in zero gravity?) and there was a gameboy console or something on a desk. Nothing was done to dress the office to make it look like a spaceship. The space ship had drop ceilings and florescent lights and a drinking fountain and square windows with vertical blinds. WTF?





I worked on a friend’s sci fi movie where he took cardboard and curved it to look like a space ship wall and painted it gray and made some oval windows with black cardboard sheets that had little LED lights punched into them as stars. Cost him a couple bucks total. He also built a pretty nice control console and put a couple of $29 desk chairs behind it (the actor’s bodies covered the chairs, but they could turn like STAR TREK chairs). The console had knobs and buttons and blinking lights and screens with green gel and lights behind them. Basically, he took a couple of weeks before he made the film to build the space ship set in his garage. It looked amazing on film. This film made by this looser that I paid real money to rent? No time spent on anything!

The story had a spaceship filled with hot female prisoners crashing on an alien planet, and (of course) the aliens want to capture the women and mate with them... because if a spaceship filled with *alien* females crash landed on Earth, the first thing you’d think was: can we have sex with them? Sure, they’re green and look like lizards or something, but can we have sex with them? That’s the whole danged plot! Except the escaped female prisoners are attractive human women.

Now here’s the thing about cheapo films like this - they are exploitation flicks. My friend Fred Olen Ray says that “nudity is the cheapest special effect”, and many a bad film I rented back in the VHS days and watched with buddies from work while drinking beer and eating pizza were saved by nudity and inventive action and some funny lines. Here are two things about nudity (female or male or aliens wearing rubber gloves for some reason) - and these not only appeared in ever version of my SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING book, they go all the way back to the xeroxed “generic script notes” that spawned that book: 1) A rape scene is **not** a sex scene (it’s a violence scene, and if you write it or film it to be “sexy” that’s just plain disturbing and wrong), and 2) All nudity must make sense! If a character just gets naked for no reason, that’s stupid! They have to get naked for a logical reason! Fred has a movie (don’t remember which one) where a character gets completely spattered with blood when one of their friends is killed by a monster, and what would *you* do if you were covered in blood? Wash it off! So the character takes a shower - and now we get a suspense scene where we know the monster is out there and this character is *vulnerable* because they are naked. Hey, it’s the danged “Psycho” shower scene, but with a monster instead of Mrs. Bates. I’m not saying this is art, but you understand why the character takes off her clothes. She’s not just disrobing for the pervs in the audience - there’s a logical reason. Nudity has to make sense! Even a crappy film where nudity might be the only thing that saves the movie from being torture needs to have *motivated* nudity. Or else it just seems cheap (which it is, but we don’t want the audience to be thinking that). Even with the six pack and the pizza, you want the story to make some sort of sense.





When I pitched my BLADE RUNNER type script STEEL CHAMELEONS about the underground railroad for androids that wanted to pass as human... and ended up getting paid to write a movie about robot hookers from outer space, I decided to write the exact kind of movie that my buddies from work would want to see. A six pack and pizza movie. Funny, lots of action, some inventive elements, maybe a little parody of some popular film snuck in there (EMPIRE STRIKES BACK in that case) and some *motivated* female nudity (and even some shirtless dudes in case someone watched it with their girlfriend). Fred directed that, by the way. So you might have watched that film and thought it was stupid, but it would at least be *fun* and include all of the elements the target audience wanted to see. “Hey, I saw this movie, and it was terrible... but funny and had a cool spaceship battle and beautiful women.” (Or hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoyed). But there’s a *criteria* for films like this... do you think this film delivered on any of the required elements?

The aliens chasing our escaped women? Well, they obviously bought some cheap alien masks the day after Halloween, and then had the actors playing the aliens dress in jeans and long sleeve shirts (so they didn’t need to do full body make up). Oh, and tennis shoes. But what about the *hands*? The alien hands that would be grabbing for these escaped women? Well, instead of doing any sort of make up, they just gave them yellow rubber gloves. Worst looking aliens *ever*! I did better stuff when I was making super 8mm films in High School!





Then the rest of that film was filled with “we don’t care” costumes and “we don’t care” acting and “we don’t care” sets and “we don’t care” props and a “we don’t care” script and, worst of all, no action! Most of the film was two or more characters standing somewhere talking about action that had happened earlier. No action scenes at all!!!!

You know what’s almost as cheap as nudity? A foot chase or a fight scene. Or even a shoot out - when I was doing those stupid super 8mm films in High School I had toy guys from Toys R Us painted to look real, and created cool muzzle flares by wrapping match heads in aluminum foil and heating the end (this was built into the toy gun - a disposable cigarette lighter to do the heating). The match heads exploded out of the barrel, which looked really cool at night. I also used flash bulbs built into those Toys R Us plastic guns with a battery that connected when the trigger was pulled. And blood squibs - a bent piece of aluminum tubing hidden in the victim’s shirt, plastic aquarium hose going down the body connecting the tubing to a lens cleaner bellows taped onto the bottom of their shoe, filled with Kayro Syrup blood. The victim stomps on the bellows and the blood sprays from their chest! You could shoot them in a long shot! People always wanted to know how I did that - because there was no visible special effects rig and the victim could show their empty hands on camera (no trigger in their hands). As long as the foot was angled right or off screen. So if I could do a cool shoot out when I was an idiot High School student, someone making a film that I could rent from a legit rental source could probably do the same... if they cared.





Now, here was the funny part: this was obviously shot in the woods somewhere. Once they were off the flying rental office, they landed on some wooded planet where the female prisoners escaped and those aliens in Playtex gloves chased them. Except they didn’t. There was no chasing in the film at all. When the hero woman escaped, she instantly twisted her ankle and was recaptured within seconds.

She got maybe two steps, max.

Then it was back to evil alien in bad Halloween mask making a never ending speech gesturing with his rubber gloved hands as if he had been interrupted while scrubbing the toilet as attractive female hero just sits there listening and waiting her turn to make *her* never ending speech. If I had the woods, I would sure as hell use them for a great foot chase. I would have characters hide and almost be discovered, generating suspense. I would have spent the time to write a great script, because the one thing a low budget film has as an advantage is pre-production time. The more time you spend in prep, the more you can solve problems long before they pop up on set. The more you can craft something exciting that won’t cost a lot of money to make. I would have taken the time to write the greatest script ever. I would do a big action chase thing like MOST DANGEROUS GAME, but with aliens! MOST DANGEROUS GAME was a low budget film when it was made...

But here? No chases, no danger, no nothing... just people sitting and talking.

Wearing rubber gloves and Halloween masks.

For 90 very very long minutes.

With absolutely no nudity, motivated or not.

And no hunky dudes, if that’s what you enjoy.





And nothing they said was clever or amusing - it was dead serious, as if they expected the audience to take all of this stuff as if were Shakespeare or something. Hey, wait, Shakespeare is damned funny! All of that clever word play and those dirty jokes for the groundlings!

But nobody involved cared enough to make this even slightly amusing, or have any chases or suspense or action or anything else that people might want to see. That’s what makes the writer-director of this mess a loser. They didn’t care. They were just trying to fill 90 minutes of film so they could collect their check and go home.

You have to care. You have to do the best that can be done with what you have. You have to give it your all... even if the movie is about robot hookers from outer space when you wanted to make something like BLADE RUNNER. It’s better to try and fail than to not try at all.

- Bill

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