Wednesday, October 31, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Halloween (1978)

Tonight I'm having cocktails at the Rabbit In Red Cocktail Lounge...

I don't think HALLOWEEN is the scariest movie ever made, but it's the film of the day. Saw it when it first came out - and probably saw it the next night, too. Here's what HALLOWEEN did - it wasn't the first stalk and slash film, but it was the first one to get it right... so all of the ones that came after it copied and stole from it without mercy. The cavalcade of bodies scenes comes from this film - even though PSYCHO kind of sets the stage with Mrs. Bates in the fruit cellar. And one of the reasons why we all saw it was because it was Janet Leigh's daughter.



Carpenter really took the time to *build* the suspense and create the dread - and the film sticks with you. He also came up with story details that made it seem real... and frightening. And, unlike the stupid remake, Carpenter knew the way to scare the crap out of you was to show a perfectly normal suburban family and world... and have the killer come from that world. The cute little kid who knocks at your door tonight? Michael Myers. He's sweet and polite and maybe a *member of your family* - and he could just take a knife and stab the life out of you...

If he saw you having sex. It's not about family (stupid sequels), it's not about some pagan cult crap (stupid sequels), Michael sees his sister naked and kills her. Michael sees PJ and Nancy in sexual situations - and kills them. Dude doesn't like sexual situations!

Carpenter's shots are elegant, he makes Michael into a ghost - he's there one minute and gone the next... so you never know when or where he will pop up. This film still works (unlike the Zombie remake). The film was made for $300k... and made $58 million.

Happy Halloween!

- Bill




Tuesday, October 30, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004)

So, I'm not usually one for remakes - and I'm a big fan of Romero's original DAWN OF THE DEAD because it's all about how consumerism has turned us all into zombies wandering through the mall mindlessly shopping - but the 2004 remake with a script by SLITHER's James Gunn works on its own terms. When I first did my Horror Screenwriting class at the Raindance Film Festival in London, I didn't bring any clips... but *did* have the DVD of DAWN OF THE DEAD in my luggage, and found an illustration of almost every point I was going to make in the film.

The opening scene is *textbook* horror - we start out in suburbia on a normal morning...




As you can see, in very little time we have gone from order to chaos, and the police and authorities are powerless, and the monster could be anyone - the little girl next door, the man you love - ANYONE. You are not safe.

The great thing about zombie movies is that they take people you know and love and turn them into monsters, which creates a huge emotional turmoil for the protagonist(s). You love them... but they want to kill you - what do you do? You have to kill them, but...

- Bill

Monday, October 29, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Rosemary's Baby (1968)

ROSEMARY'S BABY deals with a first pregnancy... and all of the unexpected feeling and side effects. Rosemary (Mia Farrow) is a typical New York newlywed - her husband (John Cassavettes) is an actor in commercials, not famous, more the struggling type. She's quit her job so that they can start a family. When she becomes pregnant, it's a joyous occasion, but she isn't quite sure what to expect - are these odd pains she keeps having normal? What about the weight loss? The strange cravings for raw meat? Hey, pickles and ice cream is one thing, but raw meat? Is that normal? Her new doctor tells Rosemary that every pregnancy is an individual experience, you can't compare it to your friend's pregnancies. It's impossible to know what to expect. Some pregnancies are easy, some are hard... some are painful. Feeling it kick is one thing, but did it just *bite* her? What's growing inside Rosemary? It's a baby, but a baby *what*?



The great thing about this film is how it takes a normal thing and twists it - even if you have never been pregnant, you know someone who has - and nothing that happens is *that* strange. But just enough strange that Rosemary wonders what the hell is going on.

Did the nice old couple next door give her a glass of unusually potent wine which lead to a not-so-immaculate conception involving Satan? Was she drunk, or did that guy really have horns? Was it all a dream? She wakes up with claw marks on her back and there's this thing growing inside of her causing strange cravings, dizziness, nausea, and depression. Rosemary's husband and the next door neighbors seem to be controlling her life - telling her what she should do for the sake of the baby. Pregnant for the first time, she doesn't want to do anything that might harm the baby. When she stops drinking those strange tanis root "vitamin drinks" the baby begins twisting her guts - making her so sick she can't even stand up. The baby is controlling her! Hey, it could be worse - she just gets ultra-morning sickness... her husband's business rival is suddenly struck blind the day before his job interview!




Rosemary's loving husband starts out thinking her strange beliefs about their neighbors are just a side effect of her pregnancy. The more weird stuff she uncovers, the more he believes she's just imagining things. Of course, her loving husband is a member of the Satanic cult. He's turned against her - allowed Satan to have his way with her in exchange for a role on a TV series... let's hope it wasn't the CHARLIE'S ANGELS revamp.

ROSEMARY'S BABY is not a scream-outloud scare movie - it's all slow build and things that are slightly creepy. But because it seems like something happening in the real world, it gets under your skin - this could really happen!

The locations then and now: http://www.scoutingny.com/?p=1135

- Bill

Sunday, October 28, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Night Of The Living Dead

One of the other films I first saw on Bob Wilkins' Creature Features was the original NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD – and it freaked me out! I think it freaked out everyone who saw it, and basically created the modern zombie film. Before that, Zombies were from Haiti and under the spell of a Voodoo Priest... after NOTLD zombies were flesh eating undead friends and relatives. The reason this works even today is because it takes regular people and turns them into the monsters. You can not trust *anyone*. The person sitting next to you in the cinema or on the sofa in your living room can turn into a flesh eating goul!



When I was a kid I used to scare the crap out of my little sister by saying “I am the monster!” - and the idea that someone you know and love can suddenly turn into a monster is at the heart of many horror films. In NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD Barbara and her brother go to visit their father's grave on the same day a satellite from Venus crashes in the country side and brings the dead back to life... a harmless old man puts the bite on her brother, killing him... Barbara eventually runs into her brother Johnny again - but now he's a mindless zombie with a taste for human flesh. The people who you love have lost their free will and have turned into monsters! "They're dead! They're all messed up!" Some of the other survivors in the farm house, Cooper and his wife, watch their cute little daughter slowly turning into a monster... then she attacks Cooper and eats him! When mom tries to stop her, she attacks and eats her, too. You can't reason with these zombies, all you can do is shoot them in the head or burn them. And if one bites you? You lose your free will and start thinking of your friends and loved ones as lunch. That's a scary core concept!




The other element of NOTLD is the gore factor – which was way beyond anything I had ever seen at that time... and is even pushing the envelope by today's standards. Of course, the guts they eat are animal parts – but even *that* is pretty sick! Though Romero has said the casting of Duane Jones as the lead was not intended to make a racial point, the timing was in the film's favor – it hit at the height of the Civil Rights Movement and showed a hick sheriff killing an innocent African American man – our hero!

NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD is the ultimate in friends turning against you. You can't trust anyone, because they may turn into a zombie. Kids attack and eat their own parents! Don't see it with someone you love... you'll wonder about them later.

- Bill
TODAY'S JACK-O-LANTERN:



IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: HIGH CONCEPT... OR HIGH STAKES? - Global or Personal stakes.
Dinner: Chicken Caesar Salad to make up for all of the junk I've been eating lately.
Pages: Finished a chapter on the Action Book!

Today's Amazon Rank:

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
The Exorcist (1973)

My first job (other than mowing lawns and delivering papers and helping my dad) was at the Century Movie Theater in Pleasant Hill... when THE EXORCIST opened. I was too young to see the film, but old enough to work in the cinema... so I ended up seeing it 144 times. I can tell you how each scene works, how many shots are in the stair roll at the end, and all kinds of little details about the film.

But the big details are what make it scary.

The film (and novel) was a product of its time - but has also seemed to stand the test of time. The turbulent late 60s and early 70s, when children grew up too fast and became fouled mouthed hippies who believed in free love. Your kid was having sex and doing drugs and saying words that would make a sailor blush. So a film about a kid who goes through all of that - because they are possessed by Satan - connected with the audience on a primal level. The perfect film for parents.



But one of the reasons why it is with us today is that it's also a perfect film for kids. You reach puberty, and all of these crazy things happen to you - and it's as if you are possessed. You are not in control. I think the best horror films are the ones that take some real life problem and twist it - so that you can imagine this (impossible) thing happening to you, or someone you love. THE EXORCIST manages to work for parents of teens *and* teens. Plus, people who used to be teens and have had parents. The idea of someone you love turning into a monster is *emotional* and scary.



It's amazing how much fear a few gallons of split pea soup can produce.

- Bill

Friday, October 26, 2018

13 Days Of Halloween: Dead Of Night (1945)

One of the first horror anthology movies...

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

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

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



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




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

"There's room for one more."

- Bill

Thursday, October 25, 2018

The 13 Days Of Halloween:
Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein (1948)

When I was a kid this was one of my favorite movies... because it was funny *and* scary. And it was so scary when I was a kid that parts of it were seen through the fingers covering my eyes. Though Bob Hope had made a comedy horror film before, this is the movie that does it best - and I think inspires most of the others. The great thing about the film is that it never makes fun of the monsters and treats the horror elements seriously. So there are *real* scares.



Universal studios had their two big box office draws fading fast - the monsters from their monster movie series and their comedy team Abbott & Costello - and some genius at the studio decided to combine them in the kind of "MEETS" movie that we might come up with as a joke today (HANGOVER MEETS JASON?). But the studio wanted to protect their monsters and not have them ridiculed, and that resulted in a great film where the comedy team ends up in a horror movie and cracks jokes in response to the situations. They never laugh at the monsters - they never make fun of them... they are real, and the conflict - the danger - is the fuel for the gags.



In that clip Lou Costello is not making fun of Dracula - he believes in him! He believes he is real danger.

In my horror class I talk about this film, and how the comedy makes the horror more frightening and the horror makes the comedy more funny. They compliment each other. In successful modern horror comedies they treat the horror elements seriously - but the characters are funny. Everything from PIRANHA to THE HOWLING to AMERICAN WEREWOLF IN LONDON to SLITHER to BLACK SHEEP to SHAUN OF THE DEAD to SCREAM keep the scares real but has funny characters making jokes while they are in danger.

(My first produced script, the Oscar nominated NINJA BUSTERS, was inspired by this film... and even has a version of the Dracula coffin scene above... just with Ninjas.)




I don't remember whether the first time I saw this film as a kid was on TV or at one of the Bob Wilkins Creature Features roadshow screenings he did during the summer at the middle school behind my house. They would take over the multipurpose room and show films for kids and raffle off prizes. I'm sure the purpose was to keep us from getting into trouble, but these films were an important part of my life growing up. We didn't have much money when I was a kid so the only time I ever saw a movie was either at the drive in (reflected off the back window of the car while I was *supposed* to be asleep on the back seat) or those rare times we saw a Disney film at the cinema where my Aunt Norma worked (she'd sneak us in). But just going to the movies? Didn't happen. So these weekly summer showings were like heaven - it was all of the kids from my neighborhood - all of my friends (Mickey Gillan, Mike Webb, Bob Hayes, John Thomas, etc) and we'd sit together and scream at the monsters and laugh at the jokes. Once I won an autographed picture of Godzilla!

Now that I'm writing movies, I often write funny horror movies inspired by ABBOTT & COSTELLO MEET FRANKENSTEIN...

- Bill

PS: Here's John Landis talking about the film on TRAILERS FROM HELL:

Wednesday, October 24, 2018

13 Films Of Halloween:
DR. PHIBES RISES AGAIN!

PHIBES RISES AGAIN (1972)

Starring: Vincent Price, Robert Quarry, Peter Cushing, Terry Thomas, Hugh Griffith
Written by: Robert Fuest, Robert Blees.
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Produced by: Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)



When we last left Phibes he was dead - and embalming himself in his crypt. Obviously no one was thinking there would ever be a sequel, but here we are a year later and Phibes has returned. What’s interesting about this film is that it shows us how to engineer a sequel using “clues” to that sequel in the original film... so Dr. Phibes used the Ten Plagues Of The Pharaohs in the first film, and it was mentioned that he was an expert on Egypt... so what they hell can happen in Egypt that makes sense for a sequel? Hey, maybe Phibes was there trying to find some way to bring his dead wife back to life? Once you find that idea in the previous film, what in that previous film can be used to support that idea? You assemble more “clues” - clues that were never planted there because every intention was that Phibes was *dead* and there would never be a sequel. Hey, there were stars and planets on his crypt - what if opens when the stars and moon are in a certain position? More pieces of the puzzle can be found, and now with a bit of rewriting of the past, Phibes can Rise Again.

In Egypt.

In a story that now seems like some sort of mash up between RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK and FINAL DESTINATION. Yes, RAIDERS - which would be made nine years later. This story is about the search for an ancient Egyptian treasure - and the race between two rivals - an evil archeologist and his cutthroat team and our lone protagonist who wants the treasure for (discussed at the end of the film) selfless reasons. There are secret chambers and ancient curses and all kinds of stuff shared by both RAIDERS and RISES AGAIN! The key to the search is a map... with a twist that changes what the map means, and that map is stolen. Oh, that lone protagonist *does* have a sidekick... who is much better looking that Sallah. The lone protagonist also has a romantic interest who is kidnaped by the bad guys at one point. Oh, and lead bad guy: German. Though mentor archeologist’s name Ambrose only sounds a little like mentor archeologist Abner, that seemed close enough for me to scribble down while watching the movie. There’s even a truck loaded with the treasure that gets stolen - and a chase... which is basically off screen because this is not an adventure film it’s a horror film. Instead of exciting action and great stunts we get bizarre deaths.

The FINAL DESTINATION stuff is carried over from the first film - Phibes has his crazy Rube Goldberg murder methods where no matter how hard the victim tries to escape death... they just make it worse!



We open with a recap of the first film, with a bit of a rewrite in the V.O. narration (though not on the screen) where instead of embalming fluid replacing Dr. Phibes’ blood, it is some sort of suspended animation fluid - and Phibes and his dead wife are actually alive. Hey, he *didn’t* die at the end of the first film (so that final curse of Eternal Darkness just meant he turned out the lights and he can turn them back on for the sequel).

Three years later...

The moon comes into conjunction with the other planets and shines on his crypt... waking him!

He strokes his dead (?) wife’s hair in the crypt, climbs out, goes to his organ (covered in 3 years of dust) and plays, plugging in the voice jack to his neck. “Victoria, for three years I have rested by your side. Now the moon has risen to the exact position which last occurred two thousand years ago, signaling the opening of this crypt, and the beginning of our greatest adventure. We shall embark to the land of Egypt, where years ago in a mountain overlooking the Valley Of The Pharaohs, I did prepare for us a wondrous shrine, unknown by any living man. There, my beloved, awaits the key to resurrection for you and eternal life for both of us.”



He calls once again for beautiful Vulnavia (this time played by Valli Kemp) his trusted aid, to help him bring his dead wife back to life. He has her get the map of the River Of Life, which they must find at its flood, and prepare for their journey...

But upstairs - the house has been destroyed... and the safe has been broken into and the ancient map stolen. Only one man could have done this - Biederbeck (Robert Quarry)!

Biederbeck shows Ambrose (Hugh Griffith) the ancient map. Biederbeck had one section of the map, and claims to have bought this other section from a dealer who found it in the rubble of Phibes house. Ambrose doesn’t understand Biederbeck’s *obsession* with these weird spiritual artifacts, is he not a man of science? Why deal with these superstitions? Ambrose has excavated the entire area and found nothing. Biederbeck says that Ambrose’s problem is that he looks down instead of up - the stars will show the way to the Temple Of Ibisis... if there’s treasure - gold - Ambrose can keep that, Biederbeck is looking for something legendary and possibly supernatural (the Ark Of The Covenant?). Beiderbeck’s attractive fiance Diana (Fiona Lewis) enters to remind him they are having dinner with the Princess tonight. Biederbeck puts the map in his safe and they leave.

Outside, Phibes and Vulnavia get out of their car when they see them leave and grab a basket filled with... something.

In the house, Biederback’s Bodyguard (Milton Reid) is playing pool as he guards the safe, when he hears a slithering. A golden snake under the pool table. He beats it to death with his pool cue, Then another slithering sound. Another golden snake - another death by pool cue. Except the snake keeps slithering! The bodyguard picks up the snake and sees that it is a mechanical wind up toy. Another snake slithers onto the pool table - just a toy... Not this one! It bites him! He quickly grabs a knife, slices open the bite and sucks out the venom, then goes to the phone to call for an ambulance.

Phibes waits until the Bodyguard gets the phone up to his ear and then nods to Vulnavia, who pushes a button... and a steel spike shoots from the earpiece of the phone and pierces the Bodyguard’s head - on one ear and out the other! As Phibes goes to the safe, Vulnavia picks up the snakes and hangs up the phone.

Crime scene - Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey returning) examines the Bodyguard’s body and questions Biederbeck... who seems to care more about his missing map than his dead Bodyguard. Trout asks who would want to steal this old map? There are a dozen living scholars who might find it of value, but they are all *scholars* not thieves. Trout thinks that this is a calculated act - not just some random burglary.

Phibes puts his dead wife in a special air-tight glass coffin, and takes it along with his assistant Vulnavia to South Hampton where they board a ship...

On the deck of the ship, Phibes and Vulnavia dance.

On the same ship, Biederbeck worries that he is down to his last vials of his Elixir Of Life - he must take 3 drops per day - if he fails to find the Temple Of Ibisis he will die.



Biederbeck tells his archeologist mentor Ambrose that mountains erode, rivers find new courses, everything on the land changes with time... but starts remain the same. That is why he will find the temple that others have been unable to find - he will use the stars! He sends Ambrose down to get the model of the mountain which is in their automobile on the cargo deck... and tell no one about this. As Ambrose leaves, he passes Diana who was listening at the door.

On the cargo deck, Ambrose searches for their car, passing a huge plywood advertisement for a Gin brand featuring cut out women and a massive glass Gin bottle... wishes the gin bottle (and the women) were real. Finally finding the car and the model of the mountain... then spotting a strange thing in the corner - another big advertisement display? A Woman in a glass case! Seemingly a *real* woman! (Mrs. Phibes). And a life size mechanical band. Ambrose presses a button and the band plays... as he watches it play, Phibes comes up behind him and grabs his neck.

The Ship’s Captain (Peter Cushing) comes to Biederbeck’s cabin to inform him that the search for Ambrose has turned up nothing - it’s as if he has vanished off the ship. Biederbeck seems unconcerned by this. He would rather they continue forward than stop and search for him in the water.

Meanwhile - off the coast of England - a giant glass gin bottle washes to shore. A message inside? Nope - Ambrose. How the hell did he get in the bottle? Trout ends up getting the case, of course.

In Egypt, Phibes and Vulnavia go into an underground Pharaoh’s Tomb, between the towering legs of a huge Anibus god statue (just like in RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK’s Well Of Souls scene... and this set is its twin) where Phibes has built a secret passage to his Egyptian headquarters - which may need some minor decorating, a little touching up, but will suit his current purposes. A dance floor, an organ, and the transplanted mechanical band.



Back in England, Trout is questioning the shipping agent Lombardo (Terry Thomas) about the giant gin bottle and the dead man inside, Ambrose. He tells them that Ambrose, being and archeologist, was a regular traveler to Egypt on their ships. Trout asks if there was any passenger on the ship that might be a little... odd. Lombardo seems to think that most of the passengers are odd. Or oddish. Well, on this last trip an attractive and fashionable young woman had them install an organ in one of the cabins. Some passengers enjoy playing the piano on these long voyages, but this was the first request for an organ. Trout asks if this passenger with the organ was named... Phibes. “No, Smith... we get a lot of Smiths.” Oh, and he also had in cargo a group of mechanical musicians... Lombardo has all of the details on the ship’s manifest. Trout wants to look at the manifest. Lombardo says Mr. Smith’s ticket was one way. The Chief Inspector hopes that means that Phibes won’t be coming back to England. Trout says, “He always comes back.” (Potentially setting up further sequels which never happened, but *could have*.)

Phibes and Vulnavia touch up the new digs.

At the police station, Miss Ambrose (Beryl Reid) cousin of the dead man washed ashore in the giant bottle, and provides information as to where he was going in Egypt.



Back in Egypt, Biederbeck and his group arrive at base camp and ask where the others are. Archeologist Hackett (Gerald Sim) says they have all gone ahead to the dig site. Biederbeck tells his fiance Diana to wait here while they go to stop the others from premature digging.

At the archeological site, Stewart (Keith Buckley) goes into an ancient Egyptian tomb and pokes around the darkness with his lantern. Climbs a stone stairway into a narrow passageway. Something fluttering in the darkness. A falcon! The falcon attacks Stewart’s face, tearing it to pieces and eating parts of him!

In Phibes new digs, the falcon returns to its perch. “Did you have a good dinner?”

Phibes has found a secret chamber - invisible because this section is usually flooded with water, but the moon’s position at this time (when all of the planets align) creates a gravitational pull that recedes the water... exposing a passageway which may lead to the River Of Life! Phibes enters the passage, finding a secret doorway, and a golden sarcophagus! Inside, the remains of a mummy. But in a secret compartment inside that sarcophagus - a silver key!



Biederbeck and Hacket arrive at the dig site - the same one with the secret passage which leads to Phibes new digs. He chastises Shavers (John Thaw) and Baker (Lewis Fiander) for starting without him. The two young diggers are insolent and creep right to the edge of insulting Biederbeck (later they will watch the shadow of Diana undress on the side of his tent and make sexually suggestive comments - and we will get to see the shadows of naked boobies in a movie rated so that even a 13 year old boy could see it).

At basecamp, fiancé Diana discovers something sparkly in the sand. She carefully brushes away the sand to find what seems to be a golden sarcophagus. Bushes away more sand exposing... a skull with still a little meat on it. She runs to the dig and grabs Biederbeck - she has a little discovery of her own that she thinks he ought to see. As they leave, one of the skulls littered about on the floor under the giant god statue opens its eyes - it’s Phibes without his face.

In his new digs, Vulnavia brings Phibes a tray with his face and wig, and he gets dressed. Mrs. Phibes is in a chrome and glass coffin... which moves on rails into that secret compartment where the sarcophagus was - where the River Of Life will rise when the planetary alignment comes. Phibes vows to kill everyone who gets in their way - if you haven’t been paying attention, instead of the Ten Plagues from the Bible, this time people are killed by Things Found In Hieroglyphics (for $100, Alex).

At basecamp Shavers sees a woman in veils dancing in the moonlight (Vulnavia) and follows her into the desert night to a luxurious tent. As she dances near a giant golden statue of a scorpion inside the tent, he comes closer to her... closer... then Phibes (dressed as a sheik) enters the tent and turns a key on the scorpion statue and the pincers close on Shaver’s arms, trapping him! Golden needles in the pincers pin his arms in place. Phibes puts the key in a plaster statue of a dog just out of reach of Shaver’s hands, and he and Vulnavia leave the tent. Shavers realizes he can maybe reach the plaster dog if he moves his arms... which rams the golden needles deeper into his arms. He does this - ouch - and grabs the statue. Tries to break it open. The good news is that he succeeds, the bad news is that he drops it on the floor just out of reach, the worse news is that inside that plaster dog statue were a dozen *real* scorpions! They crawl up his legs - and he can’t brush them off! He screams as the scorpions sting him all over his body - yes, even there - they crawl into his pants!

Inspector Trout and Chief Inspector Waverley have arrived in Egypt and are slightly lost in the desert. No one to ask for directions. Then they spot something on the hillside... a luxurious tent.

Phibes and Vulnavia go to the tomb... and discover that both the golden sarcophagus *and* Mrs. Phibes coffin have been stolen!



Biederbeck has the golden sarcophagus loaded up on the back of a truck, and finds the silver key...

Just as Trout and Waverley pull up at basecamp... with Shavers on the golden scorpion attached to the roof. When Biederbeck asks who would do such a crazy thing to a man, Trout asks him if he’s ever heard of a Dr. Anton Phibes?

As Biederbeck tries to patch up his relationship with Diana, Trout and the other Archeologists wonder if you need a search warrant to go through all of the tunnels and catacombs of that tomb where they found the sarcophagus to see if they can find Phibes?

Baker ends up pulling guard duty - sleeping in the sarcophagus tent. A wind is blowing through the desert, so he zips uo his sleeping bag and buries his head inside. What he doesn’t know is that Phibes has a giant theatrical wind machine that he is blowing at basecamp. While Baker is wrapped up in his mummybag, Vulnavia secretly straps him onto his cot, then slices a hole in the tent. She goes to man the wind machine as Phibes goes down to Baker’s tent and begins twisting the crank on a giant vice that compresses Baker’s cot - and his body...

As Inspector Trout and Chief Inspector Waverley sleep in a tent a few feet away, huddling together from the wind... unable to hear Baker’s screams over the wind.

Phibes and Vulnavia have retrieved Mrs. Phibes coffin and the sarcophagus and taken them back to the room... but when he pulls the lever on the sarcophagus - the silver key is gone.

Biederbeck discovers the compressed version of Baker. Trout tells Biederbeck that there is no hope of winning against Phibes - he’s just too damned clever. Biederback is going to stay, but tells everyone else to strike basecamp and go back... back to England. Trout and Waverley discuss if they should dispose of Baker’s body - or just bury his head?

Hackett drives Diana to safety when they hear bagpipes... and see a British military flag on the horizon. There’s a military regiment out here? They can help! He orders Diana to stay in the car while he climbs the hill to get help. At the top of the hill - no regiment, just a lone soldier holding the flag and three other soldiers playing the bagpipes. When he gets closer still, he discovers that they are Phibes lifesize mechanical musicians. He races back to the truck... but Diana is gone. Crap! He starts up the truck - and sand *blasts* out of the vent... sandblasting him into a skeleton!

Biederbeck realizes Phibes has Diana, races into the tombs and looks through the tunnels and catacombs until he hears the organ music... follows it to Phibes. Phibes and Biederbeck face off. Diana for the silver key. He has 3 minutes too save Diana - Phibes has her chained to a platform in a well... which is slowly filling with water!

Biederbeck tries to release her... then sees that as the platform rises, the ceiling lowers. And on the ceiling are dozens of golden serpents with spiked tongues. He wedges a board between the two - which temporarily saves her life. He runs up to confront Phibes.

Phibes and Biederbeck make a deal - the key for Diana... and there is a chance that Biederbeck can *share* in the River Of Life. He hands over the silver key... just as that board that Biederbeck wedged in there breaks! The golden serpents begin to descend again. But when Phibes uses the silver key, the water rushes into Phibes’ chamber and leaves Diana’s... so her platform moves down, away from the golden serpents. Diana will live! But has Phibes (and Mrs. Phibes coffin) floated into the River Of Life?

Trout and Waverley finally find Phibes fantastic headquarters - just in time to see Vulnavia walk into a tunnel and vanish. Where does she go between films? Is she from a temp service or something?

Biederbeck runs out, dives into the water in the chamber and swims to the open gates leading to the River Of Life... which close as he gets to them. He yells through the closed gates for Phibes to come back and let him in as well. But Phibes rows Mrs. Phibes coffin down a flooded tunnel to the River Of Life. Diana tells Biederbeck that it’s not the end of the world... but for him it *is*... he has run out of elixir and without the River Of Life begins *rapidly* aging. He goes from handsome Robert Quarry to and withered old man in seconds. The wedding with Diana is probably off!

Phibes and Mrs. Phibes head to eternal life...

Tomorrow we bring this series to an end on Halloween... with Vincent Price’s return to films after his retirement in a film made by a bunch of guys I know!

- Bill

Buy the pit



Saturday, October 20, 2018

13 Days Of Halloween: The Haunting (1963)

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

Director: Robert Wise.
Writers: Nelson Gidding based on the novel by Shirley Jackson.
Starring: Julie Harris, Claire Bloom, Richard Johnson, Lois Maxwell, and Rusty Tamblin.
Produced by: Robert Wise.
Cinematographer: Davis Boulton.
Music by: Humphrey Searle


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



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

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

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

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

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




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

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

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

Real suspense based on a real threat.

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

Quentin Tarantino's Early Muppet Movies

From 2009....

Most people don't know that before Tarantino directed most of the films we know of... in fact, before he even directed his *first* film, MY BEST FRIEND'S BIRTHDAY, he worked extensively with the Muppets. Here are some trailers for those early films, to prepare you for KILL HITLER VOLUME 1... I mean, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS...



The thing about Tarantino - he pushes everything to the limit so that you *remember* his work, his dialogue, his characters. That's a lesson we can apply to our scripts - don't wimp out, don't pull punches.

Classes On CD - Recession Sale! Stock market is going up, buy now!

- Bill

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Book Report: The Night And The Music

From Seven Years Ago...

Thanks to Lawrence Block having a great time with this new e-book technology and rounding up his old work, dusting it off, and putting it up on Kindle – I've been reading a lot of his stuff lately. I've been a fan since I bought SINS OF THE FATHERS at DeLauers News Stand in Oakland because it had some James M. Cain quote on the cover – and I love James M. Cain. Block has been a prolific writer since he was in college – check out AFTERTHOUGHTS for a strange history of his career in the form of collected afterwords to his books – and the most important lesson we can learn from him is...

MATERIAL.




This is a lesson that I have recently learned while expanding the Blue Books. If you seldom write anything, you end up with not much material to collect and publish somewhere. On the Blue Books I find that I have a pile of articles and Script Tips and long answers to people's online questions that for some reason I saved (most are not saved anywhere – maybe a million words lost). And all of these things can be rewritten and used to expand the Blue Books. Someone once asked me a question about some subject, I gave a long and detailed answer, and now that answer goes into a Blue Book and helps a bunch of people. But that only works if you've done the writing first. If you *have* the material. The same is true with screenplays – if someone is looking for a female lead thriller with limited locations – I have something like that. Because I wrote it instead of just thought about writing it. (Though, I have *many* stories I only thought about writing – and I don't have anything to show for that.)




Well, Lawrence Block wrote a pile of short stories and novels and novellas. In AFTERTHOUGHTS he talks about writing a novel a month for one publisher, and then setting up a deal with another publisher for *another* novel a month. Dude was a machine! And you might think that the stuff he just jammed out under some crazy deadline would be crap... but it's not. That ends up being the strange thing about reading these guys who write fast – speed has nothing to do with accuracy. They are two different things. A pulp writer like Walter Gibson could turn out a novel (or two) a month and those books read better than much of the stuff that some writer spent years to write today. And those Walter Gibson titles are still in print! Block was writing two novels a month for years when he started out... and now most (or all) of those novels have reverted back to him – and he's putting them up on Amazon for Kindle and B&N for Nook (and other formats). He has all of these books and short stories that he owns, and he's not just embracing new technology and putting them on Kindle – he's freakin' all over it! It's been fun to watch him progress – from some short stories with no covers, to some photo of Block as the cover (the one with the cute Panda from his China trip on the cover of some violent action story was kind of amusing), to his current covers that kick ass. He's become an e-book maven! And he has a huge catalogue of material to release.

So the lesson I have learned from all of this is – write a stack of stories and scripts! Later these things will be worth something. That *idea* you had yesterday? Why didn't you just write it? Then you would *have something*. And if the writing sucks – just rewrite it later! But a story unwritten is... well, it's nothing! Block has been taking all of these things he's written long ago and not only turned them into some money for his pocket, he's made these stories available to all of his long time fans... and probably created *new* fans. He would not have been able to do that without having written them in the first place.




Which brings us to THE NIGHT AND THE MUSIC, which is a collection of Matthew Scudder short stories. After I bought those first three Matt Scudder novels at DeLauer's Newsstand in Oakland (12th Street BART station) I waited for more... and there weren't any. But there were some short stories every once in a while in Ellery Queen Mystery Magazine or Alfred Hitchcock Magazine (I don't remember which) and it was always cool to see that Scudder was still alive and kicking... and eventually the novels came back.

I have probably said this here before, but SINS OF THE FATHERS is one of my favorite mystery novels of all time... because it's all about the characters. Matt Scudder's investigation is more about *why* these people did these things than *who* did them. He really digs in to motivations... and traces the whole crime back to one moment in a character's past when she was a little girl. That moment triggered at least two deaths.

After the first three Scudder novels, Block moved on to other characters... but every once in a while had an idea for short story with the character – and now those are collected here along with some new stories. To make this world even smaller for me – the introduction is written by screenwriter Brian Koppelman (ROUNDERS, SOLITARY MAN) who has some knowledge of my existence.

If you don't know Scudder – he was a NYC cop who drank on duty, took a bribe now and then, and was no saint... but when he kills a kid by accident, he gets fired from the force, drinks even more and loses his wife and kids to divorce... and now lives in a crappy hotel downtown and hangs out in Armstrong's Bar (and some others) and will help out “friends” for a fee. He's not a private detective, he's just a guy with skills. He drops 10% of whatever he makes into the poor box of the nearest Catholic Church, even though he's not much of a believer. He's a man riddled with guilt who figures helping people with his donations might make him feel better about himself... I don't think it ever does. If you want to hire him, you drop by Armstrong's and the bartender or waitress will point him out.




The first short story in the collection I read in AHMM when it was first published – I had a subscription. It's about one of those waitresses at Armstrong's who takes a dive out of her apartment window. Her sister hires Scudder, because she's sure her sister was murdered. The story takes all kinds of twists – but the great thing about it is that it all comes back to motivations and characters and the *human* side of crime. The second story is about a dead bag lady – one of those street people you might see every day but never think about. After she's killed, her lawyer finds Scudder in the bar and tells him she left him some money – not much. Scudder feels guilty getting money for nothing, and decides to find out who she was and how she died. Again, instead of seeing the surface of the person, Scudder really digs in to who the person was... and you will never look at a homeless person the same way after reading this story. Each of these stories takes some person you might never think of – that guy who bought a round in the bar once – and digs deep into their lives, and you learn about them *and* Scudder in the process.

One of the great things with the stories is that they often explore “holes” in the series between novels (the new novel A DROP OF THE HARD STUFF does this) – and one of the stories flashes back to *before* SINS OF THE FATHERS to give us a story of Scudder while he was still a cop on the force solving a crime with his old partner. The cool part of this is that the partner is talked about in other books (and may even be a character in some books – I forget... hey, a good reason to re-read them all!) - but here we get a story about a young Scudder working with his partner back in the days before his life imploded... as remembered by the old Scudder. Again, the great thing here is that it's about his partner and a sort of mixed up morality where sometimes doing the wrong thing is really the right thing. A story that will haunt you – as most of these will. You'll be thinking about the bag lady for months, I guarantee it.




When we get to the new stories – and Mick Ballou, the retired hitman/mobster who shows up in later Scudder novels – the tales are full of melancholy and regret and deal with aging and death. Scudder has kicked the bottle, taken up the 12 steps, and has a new wife... who was part of his old cop life. The last story (brand new - written for this collection) takes place at Mick's after hours bar on the night before it meets the wrecking ball – and how reckless driven young men end up being thoughtful old men remembering their pasts... kind of like me remembering reading most of these stories when they were first printed and telling you about it here.

The great thing about Scudder as a character is that he has gone through profound changes in his life – ups and downs – yet continues to be a series character that we look forward to spending more time with. Other series characters either don't change and often get stale, or change in ways that seem to remove their emotional problems leaving us with an empty coat solving crimes. These stories show Scudder at different points in his life, dealing with different issues in his life and those issues as a doorway into the problems of others. It's a great collection of stories... and makes me glad I happened to walk into DeLauers Newsstand that day and spot that one paperback out of the thousands and met Matt Scudder.

- Bill

Note: Picture of DeLauers above was taken from my cellphone over the holidays (when I actually read this book) - it's still there.


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Sunday, October 07, 2018

Raindance 2018 Winners

Here they are, the winners for this year's Raindance Film Festival!

Film of the Festival – Princesita

Best UK Feature – We The Kings

Best International Feature – Princesita

Best Director – Rene Eller (We)

Best Screenplay – Sophie Fillières (When Margaux Meets Margaux)

Best Cinematography – Sergio Armstrong (Princesita)

Best Performance – Sara Caballero (Princesita)

Best DocumentaryFeature – Tre Maison Dasan

Discovery Award – Silent Night

Best Short of the Festival – Souls Of Totality

Best UK Short – Landsharks

Best Documentary Short – Earthrise

Best Animation Short – Blind Mice

Best Music Video – Solicitous

Best Festival Campaign - Mike Rogers for Matsuchiyo - Life Of A Geisha

Webfest Jury Award – Bidune Kais (Undocumented)

Webfest Audience Award – Gimel

Raindance Spirit Award – This Is Love

Congratulations to everyone!

- Bill

Wednesday, October 03, 2018

I Don't Want To Brag, But.....

From March 9, 2007... just another day in my life.

I need to develop an ego.

It seems I didn’t just have two films released on DVD on the same day, according to the big rental chart over at Video Business Magazine, I wrote the #4 and #10 original DVD titles last week. That’s in the USA. The whole USA. Now, the #4 movie kind of makes sense - I walk into my local Blockbuster and there are 20 copies on the shelf... but they have ZERO copies of the #10 movie (CROOKED) - I did find 2 copies at my local Hollywood Video. The funny thing about CROOKED is that the star’s face isn’t on the DVD box - from looking at the box you would think no one stars in the movie. So why did so many people rent it?

Anyway, here I am with these two films on the top ten rental chart... and I go to my usual Thursday night drinking group and listen to an unproduced writer friend pontificate for a couple of hours. I listen. Eventually I get into a conversation with some of the actors about how there are no manly male actors and very few character leads. We’re talking about guys like Lee Marvin and Bronson and Karl Malden and Ernie Borgnine. Today it seems like everyone is a pretty boy like DiCaprio... even the sidekicks are pretty boys. Anyway, I go through the night mostly listening or talking about subjects of interest to everyone... and never mention my two movies placement on the big charts. I *do* invite everyone in the group to come see the films when I screen them - but I don’t give it a hard sell. People are either going to come or they aren’t.

On my way from one Starbucks to another I stop in at Frys Electronics to buy a DVD for an upcoming tip... and notice they have 4 copies of one of the films and 3 of the other on the shelf. That’s nice.

I get to Starbucks and talk to some fellow writers about *their* scripts, then go online and avoid work by answering some questions on message boards. Some posters give me abuse - but who cares. And somewhere along the line it hits me that all across the grand and glorious country of ours, people are watching a couple of really crappy movies I wrote. Man, I should do something with that!

So I sent a mass e-mail to some people and post it on a couple of message boards and then think about how I need to do laundry.

I know so many blow hard writers - guys who can talk on and on about themselves. Between last night and today at Starbucks I listened to a bunch of ego-talk. But I’m just not good at doing that. Whenever I realize I should maybe mention something, I either just casually mention it - and no one hears, or I blurt it out in some weird too-loud boast. I’m just not good at tooting my own horn. And that might be why the blow hards have three letter agents while I have... well, nothing.

Except the #4 and #10 movies on the Video Business Rental Charts.

- Bill
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