Wednesday, January 31, 2018

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

Tuesday, January 30, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: DAVE (1993)

Hey, the State Of The Union Address is tonight!

Director: Ivan Reitman.
Writer: Gary Ross.
Starring: Kevin Kline, Sigourney Weaver, Frank Langella, Ving Rhames.

Because the President will give his first State Of The Union Address tonight, we're going to look at the Carpraesque DAVE (1993) about a nice guy who runs a temp employment agency and has a side job as a celebrity look alike for the President, who ends up becoming the temp President when the real one goes into a coma. This is a sweet film that managed to do it all: it’s a great film about American Politics, it has traces of romantic comedy, it’s shows the corrupt back alley deals that go in on (a version of the real life Keating Five Savings And Loan Scandal), it’s about a regular guy taking on the establishment (like Capra’s MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON) and it’s a fun comedy. Oh, and it’s probably the first film I ever noticed Ving Rhames in, because he steals the show as the President’s #1 Secret Service Agent. He has a line at the end that makes me tear up every time I see the movie, and the way that line is set up is a great lesson in screenwriting.

Crap, now I have to talk about that, huh?

First we need to have the story set up...

Okay, the story has Dave Kovick (Kevin Kline), a nice guy who just wants everyone to have a job on Monday morning so that they can pay their rent by the end of the month, picked to be a “decoy President”... not by the Secret Service, but by the President’s cronies played by the always evil Frank Langella and comic turned actor Kevin Dunn. You see, the President has a girlfriend (played by Laura Linney before we knew her name!) and would like to slip away from the press to meet with her in a hotel. So while Dave is leading the Press in one direction, the real President is going in another direction. The President is stiff, overly serious, and a bit of a dick. Dave, while walking down a hallway in front of the press accidentally adds a little humanity to the President, and is sure they will be mad at him for doing that. You know, he could use the extra money being a Presidential decoy now and then.

But the President’s tryst with his girlfriend goes wrong... he has a stroke mid stroke and goes into a coma. Usually the Vice President would be sworn into office at this time, but Langella and Dunn think the V.P. (Ben Kingsley) is a “boy scout” who won’t go along with the President’s not so nice policies; and hatch a scheme. *Dave* will continue to pretend to be President (but be less visible for a while), they will keep him away from the First Lady (who sleeps in a separate room anyway) (played by Sigourney Weaver), the V.P. will be sent on a tour of foreign countries to get him out of the way, they will pin a scandal on the V.P. while he’s away to discredit him, accept the V.P.’s resignation, and then Dave will appoint Langella acting V.P... and then the President will “have a stroke” and Dave will go back to his temp employment agency as the real President will publically go to the hospital and... well, Langella will take over as President and run the country instead of just being the puppet master behind the President. Great plan!

Except for Dave.

While pretending to be the President Dave is a nice guy who realizes the President’s policies are often not so nice. They often benefit the President’s cronies more than the American people. So when President Dave has a chance to do something good, he does it... making Langella very angry. Dunn is the “pivot character” here who starts out as an antagonist but is won over by Dave and becomes his ally.

Which brings us to that great set up and pay off...

Early in the film, when Dave first gets the job as temp President, he asks the Secret Service Agent played by Ving Rhames if it’s true that Secret Service Agents would take a bullet for the President. Rhames says he would gladly sacrifice his life for the President. Dave asks if Rhames would take a bullet for *him*? Rhames gives him a look. Dave realizes he’s in trouble if someone shoots at him...

This is a great gag...

But also secretly sets up one of the last lines of the movie, when Rhames says he’d gladly take a bullet for Dave. This is one of those big moments that comes out of nowhere and makes your eyes moist.

DAVE is one of those films that manages to be both sweet and savage at the same time. If you haven’t seen it, or just haven’t seen it in a while, check it out.


Monday, January 29, 2018

Surreal Conversation

Sorry, missed Lancelot Link this week!

From 2007...

So, I’m talking to a friend of mine, guy I’ve known for almost ten years, telling him that I’m on my way out of town for the holidays because there’s Thanksgiving and Christmas and New Years and in the middle of it all one of my nieces is getting married - so I might as well stay the whole danged month, and he asks...

“Where you going to stay?” he asks.

“At my parent’s house - in my old room,” I answer.

“Your real parents?”

“Well, yeah.” (?)

“So, you know who they are?”

“I’m not understanding what you’re saying,” is he implying my parents are fake?

“You know who your biological parents are - and you’re going to stay with them. Does that bother your other parents?”

“What other parents?” (One set of parents is enough... sometimes more than enough.)

“You know, the people who raised you.”

“My parents raised me.”

“But not your biological parents...”

“What are you talking about?”

“You know, the people who adopted you...”

“I'm not adopted.”

“Sure you are. You told me you were adopted.”

“Um, I’m not adopted and I don’t ever remember telling you that I was. If I did, I was just joking.”

“No. You were serious. You *are* adopted.”

“Look, I would know if I’m adopted or not, and I’m not.”

“Yes you are.”

“No. I am not adopted.”

“But you told me that you were. You are adopted.”

“Okay, somewhere along the line I must have made some sort of joke and you –“

“No. You weren’t joking. You were serious. And you *are* adopted.”

“But, I’m not.”

“Whatever... I *know* you’re adopted, I don’t know why you’re lying to me about it...”

Okay, I don’t understand conversations like this, because it seems he wants to convince me that I’m adopted. I don’t even remember joking about it. I’m thinking he has me mixed up with somebody else... but once I’ve said I’m not adopted, why doesn’t he believe me? Why would he even consider that he knows me better than I know me? Does he think he can persuade me that he’s right about me and I’m wrong?

People can be strange.

- Bill

Friday, January 26, 2018

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...



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!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



USA Readers click here for more info!


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 25, 2018

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

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Wednesday, January 24, 2018

Book Report: The GREAT WAY Trilogy

The Great Way Trilogy by Harry Connolly

May contain light spoilers... but I also may lie about who survives, so there!


Best Movie Ever Made

My friend Harry Connolly (20 PALACES novels) has a new epic trilogy and the last book was released yesterday... but I have already read it along with it’s brother and sister. Harry’s first 20 PALACES novel CHILD OF FIRE was one of Publisher’s Weekly’s 100 Best Books Of 2009 and got a starred review. The first novel in this new series also got a great starred review from Publisher’s Weekly, so you don’t have to take my word for it’s quality. It kicks ass.

My plan with the first book, THE WAY INTO CHAOS, was to read a chapter or two every night before going to sleep, except every danged chapter ends with a cliffhanger and you end up reading the next chapter and the next chapter and the next chapter and suddenly it is 4am and you realize you have to work the next day (well, that same day), and... There’s a chapter that ends with the hero falling off a flying boat into a city overrun with monsters! How are we expected to just set the book down and falll asleep? Impossible!

There are two protagonists, and if you pay attention to the art next to the chapter number you’ll know which this chapter is about.

“Tyr” Tejohn is a legendary warrior without a war, who ends up with a cushy palace job as weapons instructor and bodyguard to the slacker Prince. A good thing, because age has crept up on Tejohn and his knees and eyesight aren’t what they once were. But he still has his hands full, the Prince would rather get drunk and cause trouble. When the Empire suddenly falls to an unknown enemy (monsters they call “grunts” who hunt, kill & eat humans), Tejohn must get the Prince and his slacker friends to safety... but what if there is no safety?

Cazia is one of the Prince’s slacker friends, a spoiled teenaged sorcery student who may be the last survivor who knows how to cast spells. She and Tejohn don’t like each other, but both are sworn to protect the Prince. So we have our sword and our sorcery... in a world which has suddenly gone to hell. All of the characters are fully formed flesh and blood people and the world created is complex and fascinating. I particularly liked how before the fall of the empire, the ability to sing a song that tugs the heartstrings of the audience is more valuable than gold. The book also does a great job of giving both male and female characters equal time, so whether you’re looking for epic battle scenes with an aging warrior or a magical story about a teen sorceress learning how to use her powers with the fate of the world at stake, this book has you covered.

Publisher’s Weekly called it “immersive, thrilling, and elf-free epic fantasy”, and even though this is epic fantasy, the story is more like King Arthur and Merlin than Lord Of The Rings. The magic is logical and well grounded: one of the handful of spells turns air into water... which might even be possible through science. In other words: I had no trouble believing any of it even though I’m more into crime fiction these days. Oh, and though there is violence there is no sex of any kind. This is something I might have read as a teenager.


Best Movie Ever Made

The second book in the trilogy is my favorite, it’s the EMPIRE STRIKES BACK of the trilogy. That’s not to imply there are singing teddy bears who live in a tree house city in the third book (though there are talking alligators in a log city at the bottom of a lake, but they’re scary as hell!). Tejohn our warrior and Cazia our apprentice sorceress split up on two different missions to try to save whatever’s left of their world... and both face darkness within that they never knew existed.

Tejohn travels across the ravaged land to find the Prince’s wizard uncle who may know a spell that can save mankind from the grunts... before there isn’t any mankind left to save. Now that the empire has dissolved, his status is no longer currency and he finds himself struggling to survive as a commoner (and worse). In the past he could roll into a city and they would give him the best room and meals and anything else he wanted, he was a “Tyr”... now that his privilege is gone he must pay for everything in labor (which doesn’t get him much). Plus, all of the kingdoms which were in alliance as the Empire are now fighting among themselves, and Tejohn speaks the language of the enemy. No shortage of battles... and Tejohn comes to realize frightening truths about himself that he never wanted to know.

Cazia leads two other girls into the forbidden Valley Of Qorr, where monsters lurk... and perhaps the answers to where the grunts came from. Yes, girls. Not women. Cazia is only 15 years old, and with her is the preteen Princess Ivy who is betrothed to the Prince in an arranged marriage, plus a beautiful slave girl Kinz. The three go on an amazing adventure which could have been a full length novel in itself. When I was a kid MYSTERIOUS ISLAND was one of my favorite movies, and the Valley Of Qorr has all of the adventure and monsters of that film... or maybe of the Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. It’s big fantasy adventure, and these three girls are challenged every step of the way. But just as Luke Skywalker learns about the darkside of The Force in EMPIRE, Cazia learns about the darkside of sorcery on this adventure... and it takes a toll that I will not spoil for you.

The great thing about these books is that *anyone* can die in them, and all of the characters are so well drawn that you care about even the minor characters. There’s an old woman traveling saleswoman who turns everything into a deal and has so much personality that she leaps off the page. Also, the world building continues in this book, and the details are amazing. The way an oxen herd is fed as it is on the move is impossible to forget. Oh, and note how fleshtone is part of the class system in this world... that’s kind of fun. One of the great things about all three books are the bits of mystery: in this book we discover that someone from the surprise attack on the castle in the first book has survived... but we don’t know who that is until it is revealed later in the book. Is it the King? The Queen? One of the other characters we grew to love who we thought died? Things like this help drive the story. The other great thing are the characters dealing with the dark sides... and throughout all three books the idea that everything they know is wrong. They see the world from their point of view, and when that world is destroyed they see things as they really are... which is often the opposite of what they believed it to be.

Though everything gets worse for our two heroes in this book, they get better for the reader!


Best Movie Ever Made

The final book continues to twist expectations. Tejohn and Cazia are reunited and find the Prince’s Master Sorcerer Uncle, who has extremely poor housekeeping skills. They develop the weapon that can kill the “grunts”, but now they need an army to go into battle and use that weapon. Problem is, soldiers are the first casualties in any war... and now they are left with farmers and children. Tejohn and Cazia try to round up an army: Tejohn at the Twofin Fortress where he knows there are a handful of good soldiers, and Cazia in the castle of her estranged father (which is far enough away from ground zero in the grunt attack that they may not have been attacked yet). Both find situations are not exactly as they seem, and must resolve these problems before they can put together any sort of army...

Once again, anyone can die in these books. There’s a character we come to love who doesn’t make it until the end of the book. That one shocked me, and I had to reread that scene because I just could not believe this person would die. Again, well drawn minor characters make the whole story seem real. There are a bunch of old women servants to the Master Sorcerer Uncle who both love and hate their jobs, and we completely understand each of them. Because the story pushes forward, there are also characters who kind of get left behind (like Kinz) who I really want to spend more time with. The side effect of well drawn characters is that you don’t want them to die or have their subplot stories end.

The other thing that drives this final chapter is the question: why? Why did the grunts attack now? Where did they come from? What do they want (other than to eat people)? And who is behind all of this? These answers are the real solution to the conflict, because if they can find out *why* they can prevent it from happening again. This requires Tejohn and Cazia to form some strange alliances in order to get information... like those scary as hell alligators in their log city. The alligators (Lakeboys) regularly feed on humans, so you are never sure if they are working with Tejohn and Cazia to save themselves from the grunts... or if they are just preparing dinner.

One of the interesting things about this book is a chapter that plays like a scene from 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. I know that sounds crazy, but there is a scene in this book that has the same feel as that trippy light show end of the Kubrick film. This plays into the idea that everything we know is wrong... that we see the world around us through our eyes and we may not see the truth (which is more complicated). Sometimes we think it’s all about us, when really it has nothing to do with us... we’re just so vain we think that we are the center of the world when we don’t really matter that much. Though these are sword and sorcery fantasy novels filled with sword fights and intrigue, they also have characters who are forced to reevaluate their lives and a story that might make the reader stop and think about our world here on Earth (where we don’t have as many sword fights or giant birds).

I finished reading the third book a few days ago, and I already miss Tejohn and Cazia and Princess Ivy and Kinz. I felt as if I went of this epic adventure with them... and I want to go on another one!

(click on any of the covers above for more info on Amazon!)


Monday, January 22, 2018

Lancelot Link Monday: And The Winner Is....

Lancelot Link Monday! There are now more awards shows every year than there are movies. As we lead up to the Oscar *nominations announcement* we have a ton of award shows from critics and guilds, and lambs and sloths, and carp and anchovies, and orangutans and breakfast cereals, and fruit-bats and... When will it end? Soon, everyone will have an awards show for 15 minutes! While you're thinking about that, here are this week's links to some great screenwriting and film articles, plus some fun stuff that may be of interest to you. Brought to you by that suave and sophisticated secret agent...

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

1) Weekend Box Office Estimates:
1 Jumanji ........................ $20,040,000
2 12 Strong ....................... $16,500,000
3 Den Of Thieves .................. $15,320,000
4 Post ............................ $12,150,000
5 Showman.......................... $11,000,000
6 Paddington 2 ..................... $8,240,000
7 Commuter ......................... $6,685,000
8 Star Wars TLJ .................... $6,566,000
9 Insidious TLK .................... $5,945,000
10 Forever ......................... $4,703,000

The JUMANJI reboot/remake/rewhatever has now made $317 million domestic... which is amazing. The film only dropped 28% from last weekend, and has made $768m around the world on a $90m budget. When it drops out of the #1 position, it may still hang around the top 5 long enough to crack a billion bucks. So look for a sequel, and maybe an Extended Jumanji Universe. Meanwhile flop GREATEST SHOWMAN dropped only 11.8% and has secretly made $114m domestic and $231m globally on an $84m budget... so it's not a flop afterall.

2) The Screen Actor's Guild Awards!

3) The 63rd FilmFair Awards (India)

4) The Producer's Guild Awards

5) The Writers Guild Award Nominations.

6) The Image Awards.

7) BAFTA Nominations (British Film Awards)

8) AFI Awards.

9) IDA Awards (Documentaries)

10) IDA Awards (Furniture)

11) New York Film Critics Circle Award Winners.

12) Critics Choice Awards.

Oscar Nominations will be announced tomorrow morning while I am sound asleep!

And the Car Chase Of The Week:


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Friday, January 19, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock: FRENZY (1972)

FRENZY (1972)

Screenplay: Anthony Schaffer based on the novel by Arthur La Bern.
Starring: Jon Finch, Barry Foster, Anna Massey, Barbara Leigh-Hunt, Alec McCowen.

Hitchcock’s second-to-last film manages to combine many of his most popular elements into one story: We get the wrongly accused man story - this time very similar to one of his other lost gems, YOUNG AND INNOCENT. We also get a STRANGERS ON A TRAIN story of guilt transferred. Plus we get a sexy, violent, shocking serial killer story like PSYCHO. Hey, add a twist ending and you've got quintessential Hitchcock. Oh, and it's funny and clever, too - screenplay by the brilliant Anthony Shaffer...writer of the original SLEUTH, the original WICKER MAN, and SOMMERSBY. This is the best Hitchcock film in the post-PSYCHO period.

After a bunch of interesting failures after PSYCHO - movies that only Robin Wood could love - Hitchcock needed a hit... and here it is. FRENZY is a return to England and to London. The business had changed, and Hitchcock - who always seemed ahead of the curve - had coasted on past brilliance in the 60s until he stopped dead. This was the film that restarted him - and probably the film he should have gone out on. Though it’s about a man who is wrongly accused, he isn’t on the run like in NORTH BY NORTHWEST, instead he’s kind of “a man on the hide” - trying to find some safe place to hole up or some scheme to avoid the police by being smuggled out of the country. After years of sly winks from Hitchcock about sex - trains entering tunnels - the new permissive world of cinema practically demanded that he do a film full of nudity and sex. This is Hitchcock’s only R rated film. Instead of those glossy Hollywood “personality” stars like Cary Grant that he had used in the past, or the new method actors and low-key guys like Paul Newman - who didn’t match his style, FRENZY stars a bunch of fine British stage actors. You don’t know their names, but you may have seen them in movies or on TV before. The hostess of Masterpiece Theater, Jean Marsh, plays a role. Whether Hitchcock was returning to his roots or his comfort zone, the results are a fun and frightening little film that is still fun to watch.

Nutshell: Bitter bartender Richard Blaney (Jon Finch) seems to have lost everything in his divorce, including many of his friends. The one pal who took his side was Bob Rusk (Barry Foster) who runs a produce company at Covent Garden. These two are polar opposites. Where Blaney's life is a mess, Rusk is on top of the world.

London is plagued by the Neck Tie Killer - who strangles swinging single women with neck ties. When Blaney’s ex-wife (Barbara Leigh-Hunt) becomes the latest victim only a day after they had a very public fight, he finds himself on the run from the police. Unfortunately, everyone sided with the ex-wife in the divorce, and no one will believe he's innocent. And when another Neck Tie Killer victim can be traced back to Blaney? Even his old pal Rusk thinks he’s guilty... and turns him in to the police. Lots of twists and turns, and one of those great end twists where the real killer is revealed.

Hitch Appearance: In a crowd listening to a political speech - right
at the beginning of the film... then someone spots a dead woman floating in the Thames River, naked except for a neck tie. “Is that my club tie?” someone asks.

Hitch Stock Company: Elsie Randolph who plays the Hotel Clerk was also in RICH AND STRANGE (1931).

Birds: One of the few Hitchcock films without birds - though there are some seagulls in the opening shot and a quail is served at dinner.

Experiment: Hitchcock plays it safe as far as story is concerned. FRENZY is a great example of taking us into a world, Hero & Villain “Flipsides”, character flaw creating story, set ups, and traditional twist endings. There are also some visual experiments in the film that we look at in MASTERING SUSPENSE.

A great summation of Hitchcock's thrillers that also works as kind of a little tour of London and a behind the scenes of Covent Garden market. Lots of suspense, twists, and a fun look at what happens when you lose all of your friends in the divorce... except for the bad boys you used to hang out with as a bachelor. Great script by Shaffer, great cinematography by Gilbert Taylor. Marred by iffy music by Ron Goodwin (replacing Bernard Herrmann after he had a falling out with Hitch). Hitchcock's best film in the Post-“Psycho” era (after he began to believe all of those critics that called him a genius - and made mostly cruddy films). A modern film, that holds up really well and has some great lessons on protagonist and antagonist relationships and twists.

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

- Bill



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!


Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

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UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.



USA Readers click here for more info!


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 18, 2018

THRILLER Thursday:

SEASON 2!!!!

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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