Thursday, January 31, 2019

THRILLER Thursday: The Weird Tailor

SEASON 2!!!

The Weird Tailor.

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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



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

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

Her turn to freak out.



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

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



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

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



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

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



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

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

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

- Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, January 30, 2019

ATLiH: Trilogy Of Terror: Part 2... I Was An Overpriced Zombie

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog for 2018-2019, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.

I WAS AN OVERPRICED ZOMBIE.

This painting in our gallery of gore starts with a director who made some forgettable low budget action films in the late 80s/early 90s and ended up directing syndicated TV shows. You remember all of those shows in the 90s that played on some non-network channel? Stuff like RISING SUN and COBRA and VIP? Well, they don’t make those shows anymore, so this director is out of work. But, like everyone else, he decided to make a horror movie because horror movies are hot right now. He assembles some private financing and a distribution deal – his budget is around a million bucks. I hint around that I would be willing to write a script for below my quote... and I even have a couple of horror scripts sitting around that could be made on that budget. He wants to develop his own project, and is going to work with a non-WGA writer (who he won’t pay until the film is completed) to save development money. Okay.

I suspect this is really a control issue. One of the strange things I’ve noticed in my career is that the more established you become, the fewer insecure people want to work with you. It’s the opposite of how it should be. If I have a script that went wide and got me 48 studio meetings, some people will refuse to read that script because they can’t easily dismiss it. A strange thing happens when directors or producers think your script may actually be good - it puts pressure on them not to screw it up. They can make a bad script better, but all they can do with a good script is screw it up... so they may be more interested in a flawed script than one that is ready to go. An actor in one of my films has a policy to *only* work with actors worse than he is, so that he always looks better. What makes no sense about this is - you should always be looking for the best elements. A good script, a good cast. If that actor surrounded himself with *better* actors, he wouldn’t look bad... he’d look like the star of a film with bigger names in supporting roles. Makes him look bigger than the other names! And with great supporting actors, the film becomes a better film. And when the supporting cast raises the bar, you’re more likely to step up and do better work... Unless you’re afraid that this will expose you as completely talentless. Then you want to work with people of lesser talent, and you end up with crappy films. That’s one of the reason B movies often suck. Even if they begin with a great script, they *need* to screw it up so that they retain their power.

So this director hires a writer with no credits... basically a typing monkey who will write whatever he says to write. He ends up with a script that he tells me is great (but will not show me) and starts pre-production. But in the small world of Hollywood, an actor friend of mine (not Jim) gets a copy of the script and passes it on to me after reading it. Why? Because this is a horror film completely without horror. It has a lot of action, some big stunts, a car chase, and several explosions... but no horror. It’s not scary. I think this director isn’t confident that he can make a scene scary, but he knows he can wrangle a car chase.

So he makes the film and his distrib releases it on DVD... and the horror fan magazines (like Fangoria) all mention the lack of actual thrills. One of the weird problems with this film is casting - he’s cast a female lead who has done horror films before, but everyone else is mostly unknown. All of my friends who have seen the film wonder where the budget went - not to the cast... but maybe the stunts were expensive. We later find out he paid himself his quote - the top $ he’s ever made - even though this made him the most expensive single element in the film. Money in his pocket, but not on screen.

The film ships okay, but it’s mostly a rental - few people buy it. The horror fans are not fans of this film, and the casting and story make it unappealing to the action fans. Not a flop, but not a hit. And everyone agrees that it stinks. The script is just awful. Obviously, this makes me angry for personal reasons - I could have done a much better job than this typing monkey did... Except I wouldn’t have been a typing monkey. The job was for a typing monkey, not a screenwriter.

And just to screw up any moral to this story... he’s just put together private financing of over a million dollar for another horror movie (even though he can’t find a distrib willing to take it before he’s made it). And this new project, with a different typing monkey (being a masochist - I hinted again that I had some horror scripts laying around and would take less than my quote - again he’s using a new, unsold writer), also seems light on horror and heavy on stunts. I wish I had a million bucks to make a horror movie!

Which brings me to that writer from blog entries past - the guy with the PR firm telling everybody how brilliant he is. Well, he’s managed to burn a bunch of bridges with late scripts that aren’t very good, and he’s finding it difficult to get hired for assignments. No one wants to buy his specs (the same old ones) and all of those stars who are attached in his mind aren’t attached in reality... making the projects not so hot. But, you know, what he’s always wanted to do is direct... and horror films are hot right now.

So he decides to make a horror film about two years ago. His theory is that the horror movies are easy to make, you just need some horror stuff in a script and all of those stupid horror fans will pay to see the movie. I mean, look at some of the crap that’s made money! So he throws together a script... and tells me the story one day. I don’t think it sounds like a horror story at all - even though it deals with zombies. It’s a zombie movie with only *one* zombie. And that zombie is part of government experiments - so it’s controlled. It’s a zombie in a lab. It never attacks anyone. It can't attack anyone. But some guys in the government lab poke it with sticks. Actually, the story sounds dull. I mention that it sounds kind of short on conflict, he dismisses this. He uses his press clippings to find financing. (Yes, the world is not fair.) He uses his agency, WMA, to help him with cast - a good mix of fading stars and up and comers. I’m actually impressed by the names he has *actually* attached. Part of his funding deal involves shooting out of state in New Mexico (tax incentives). He finishes the film and shows it to distribs... and they all turn it down. No horror. Part of the reason why they turn it down is because his asking price is so high - he wants to make a bunch of money from this movie. He wants a *guaranteed* theatrical deal. He wants the deal that matches the PR firm’s image of himself.

No one wants to give him that deal. The film is slow paced and not scary at all. Even with his cast, it’s a tough sell. Who wants to watch a not-scary horror film?

Last time I saw the guy, he told me that his film is great, and he’s going to have his PR firm take a stab at marketing it. This may mean it will be coming soon to a theater near you. Like I said, the world is not fair. You may soon be paying $10 to see a boring zombie flick with a pretty good cast - and that in itself is pretty scary stuff!

Episode number three is about a guy I know who makes political films about being a minority who decided to make a horror film... because horror is a hot genre right now. Some of you may not want to stay tuned, because you already know how this one’s going to come out.

- Bill

Monday, January 28, 2019

Trailer Tuesday: THE BORDER (1982)

Directed by: Tony Richardson
Written by: Deric Washburn (DEERHUNTER) Walon Green (WILD BUNCH) David Freeman (not the guru, the guy who wrote STREET SMART).
Starring: Jack Nicholson, Harvey Keitel, Warren Oates, Valerie Perrine.


I saw this movie when it was first released and was shopping in Best Buys or someplace where the DVD was on sale, so I bought it... and it remained on my shelf in the shrink wrap ever since. With the news filled with stories of refugee children crossing the border illegally, I thought it might be time to break the seal on the DVD and use the film as a topical Trailer Tuesday. Yesterday’s earthquake in Guatemala made it even *more* topical (and I had to add that line to the already written blog entry).

When I first saw the film back in 1982 I thought it had some great performances and scenes, but the story was trying to do too much at the same time and suffered because of that. Seeing it again in 2014... pretty much the same. There are three different writers on this, and they reshot the end after test audiences hated it. The problem with doing any screenplay around an issue is that the issue might overshadow the story and you end up with a mess... which is probably what happened here.



The story begins in Guatemala after a major earthquake levels a city and kills the young husband of a teen mother, Maria. With aftershocks bringing down any building left standing, Maria (Elpidia Carrillo) and her newborn finds her little brother Juan and they head North with a group of others left homeless by the quake.

Meanwhile in Los Angeles, Charlie (Jack Nicholson) is an Immigration Officer tasked with busting illegal workers. When he enters a sweat shop, the owner begs him not to close him down. All of the employees are illegals, because his business model for maximum profit is to pay employees no more than $6 a day. Busting all of the illegals will put him out of business, not to mention make it impossible for his employees to feed their families. Charlie has been doing this for years, knows how things work in the real world, and says he’ll take *2* employees... and then finds two without wives and families and busts them. The Boss assures the two that their jobs will be waiting for them when they sneak back across the border... both are good employees.

Nicholson gives a great performance in this film, *not* playing Jack Nicholson... but the character. He’s subdued, stuck in a rut at work and at home... and kind of a loser. Charlie and his wife Marcy (the great Valerie Perrine, nominated for Best Actress in LENNY) live in a trailer park, but Marcy dreams of living in her dream home... and goads Charlie into asking for a transfer to El Paso where her cheerleading friend from high school Savannah (Shannon Wilcox stealing every scene she’s in) and her Border Patrol husband Cat (Harvey Keitel) have a duplex... with the other side vacant. It could be their dream home!

Buy the border

El Paso is very different than Los Angeles: it’s the front lines in the illegal immigrant war. There is a constant flow of people being smuggled in by coyotes in vans and cars and delivery trucks... plus individuals who sneak across the Rio Grande. Add to that the drug couriers and mules offered free passage into the United States by coyotes in exchange for taping drugs onto their bodies. The boring job of busting illegal workers in Los Angeles is nothing compared to the chases and shoot outs along the border in El Paso.

Cat (Keitel) is his partner, and Red (Warren Oates) is the boss. My friend Gary Grubbs plays one of the other Border Patrol Officers in his first credited film role! Early on, Cat tells Charlie that illegals are a commodity, and like any commodity, you can make a fair amount of money for delivering them to the right people. Would he like some extra cash? Charlie turns it down, he’s compassionate but not corrupt.

After picking up a group of illegals and taking them to the giant outdoor pens where they wait for processing, Cat introduced Charlie to a slimy Border Officer from Mexico, Manuel. Cat seems to have some side deal going on with Manuel...



While chasing some illegals trying to sneak across the Rio Grande, a boy steals all of the hubcaps off his patrol truck and runs back across to the Mexico side. Charlie chases the boy (who is Juan) but loses him. One of his first days on the job and he’s going to get into trouble for bringing the truck back without hubcaps! That’s when Maria and her baby shows up on the bank of the river to return the hubcaps. Her brother shouldn’t have stolen them. Charlie thanks her.

When they bust a delivery truck full of illegals, Maria, her newborn, and Juan are in the group and get sent to the outdoor pens, which are separated by sex. One of the other illegals asks Maria if she would like her to take care of the baby while she went to get water... and this ends up a ploy to steal the baby. Manuel the Mexican Border Officer has a business stealing and selling babies, smuggling in drugs and illegals, forcing any attractive women into a life of prostitution or sex slavery, and *killing* any competition. The theft of the baby starts a small riot, which is quelled in time for the buses to come and transport the illegals back to Mexico. Maria *does not* want to be taken away from her stolen baby. Maria spits in Charlie’s face: now he has become the enemy to her...



Meanwhile, Charlie’s wife is spending more than he makes turning their half of the duplex into a dream house. Charlie is drowning in debt and asks Cat if there’s still a chance he can do some of that corrupt cop work? Of course! They next bust they make, they find two drug couriers among the illegals and Cat has Charlie load up the others while he deals with the two couriers... and then Cat just shoots them dead. They were not Manuel’s couriers, and part of the corrupt gig is killing the competition. Charlie says he didn’t sign up for killing people... Cat warns him he nets to get along to go along.

Later, when a group of illegals try to escape onto a freight train, young Juan attempts to jump onto the speeding train, falls between cars, and Charlie risks his life to save him. Maria changes her mind about him, he’s not the typical Border Patrol Officer (who would have just let Juan die). Maria says she will do anything to get her baby back... and this becomes Charlie’s mission.

When he goes to Red about Cat and the corrupt border officers group... he discovers that Red is part of it! In fact, Red runs the corrupt group. Now it’s basically Charlie vs. all of the other border officers. Red and Cat set up an ambush an attack Charlie in an interesting if poorly choreographed shoot out in a lots filled with giant earth moves and construction vehicles. Charlie kills both of them, goes to Manuel’s headquarters on this side of the border, kills the toothless dude in charge and rescues the baby... but Manuel gets away. The movie ends with Charlie crossing the Rio Grand to give Maria her baby back...



The story seems scattershot at times, not knowing if it’s an action film or an issues movie or a domestic drama or a SERPICO like corrupt cop saga. All of the acting is top notch, and the scenes between Keitel and Nicholson are a million times better than anything in TWO JAKES. It’s interesting to look up the young actress who played Maria on IMDB, because her career took off big time. She’s the rebel woman in PREDATOR! (And PREDATOR 2!) She’s in SEVEN POUNDS with Will Smith! She’s in the SOLARIS remake with Clooney!

Tony Richardson was a really odd choice for director, he’s best known for costume dramas like TOM JONES and JOSEPH ANDREWS and comedies like TASTE OF HONEY and THE LOVED ONE. It makes you wonder if some early draft of this was a straight drama and they added the action scenes to turn it into the kind of movie that would sell tickets... which might account for the patchwork feel of the story. The action scenes are not well done, even though you cam see the *intentions* by what the characters do. The big “ambush” shoot out is over in a minute, even though you can see that it was written to go much longer (Cat’s death is a cool idea... that isn’t set up in the shoot out at all).



What this film shows is that there is no easy solution to any of this. A few weeks back I watched the 40s movie BORDER INCIDENT with Ricardo Montalban about the same subject, with many similar scenes. Because RKO was one of the producers of THE BORDER I wondered if it was a remake of some earlier film, and when I looked up movies with similar titles on IMDB there were Mexican/American Border movies going back to the silent era! Couldn’t find one from RKO with “border” in the title, so it may have been based on some film with a different title. But there are over 200 movies with the word “border” in the title, and most deal with the Mexican/American border. I may do the Montalban movie sometime down the road because I really liked that one.

THE BORDER is a mostly forgotten film with good performances, but a story that’s all over the place.

Bill

Friday, January 25, 2019

Fridays With Hitchcock: TOPAZ (1969)

“Topaz” (1969)

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

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




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



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

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

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

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



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

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



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

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

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

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

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

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

- Bill






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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, January 24, 2019

THRILLER Thursday:
THE PREMATURE BURIAL

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

Buy The DVD!

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

ATLiH: Trilogy Of Terror: Part 1.... The Acting Dead!

ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know all the losers in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography (or this blog). But instead, this blog ened up being called SEX IN A SUBMARINE due to a crazy script note I got from HBO on CRASH DIVE, and ALL THE LOSERS IN HOLLYWOOD was a title without a story... until now.

When looking for regular features for the blog for 2018-2019, I thought it would be fun to tell a bunch of those stories of the oddballs I’ve met in the almost 30 years I’ve been in this business. I’m changing all of the names to protect the very very guilty (and avoid meeting lawyers) but the stories you are about to read are true... well, mostly true.

THE ACTING DEAD.

Ready for some really scary stuff?

This is a fable, even though the stories are true and the names have been changed to protect... well they aren’t exactly innocent, are they? A fable is when a story has a larger meaning, but I’m going to let you figure out that meaning on your own and take away any lessons you want. Our little fable concerns four people who set out to make horror movies. Horror films are hot these days...

We’ll begin our tour of this gallery of gore with the actor. You don’t know his name, but you know his face. He’s mostly a TV actor, but he’s done a bunch of movies, too. If the movie is about a prosecutor, he plays the defense attorney’s 2nd chair. If the story is about a defense attorney, he plays the #2 prosecutor - the sounding board guy. He also plays corporate VPs and the detective in a buddy cop movie who isn’t one of the buddies and FBI Agents. Oh, and I’ve seen him play a gangster before - but he’s kind of too clean cut for that. Basically, he’s *one* step down from the important characters in the film - a guy who gets two dozen lines in the whole film. That makes him a character actor - but one who is almost always working. Problem is, he’d like to be a star. Wait, that’s not the fable part - it’s not about hubris.

So, several years ago he started making his own movies, starring himself (of course). He’d gather together some other character actor friends and make a serious drama... but the films have no story at all. They are like a collection of really great scenes. You haven’t seen any of these movies, because none have ever found distribution. One actually played out of competition at Sundance one year (probably because of all the names in the cast) but no distrib picked it up. You need more than just some good TV names in your film, the disrib needs to make money from the film... and these films don’t even have a *story*. They are “actor porn”.

For instance, one is about four guys in their 40s who play golf together every Tuesday morning. The film isn’t about the relationship between the four guys (though there was a little of that), most of the film is about each one of the guys in some big dramatic scene. The scenes aren’t thematic - it’s not about 4 guys and their love lives, or 4 guys dealing with growing older, or 4 guys learning to accept (or not) how their lives turned out. That would be some form of story. No, the film was just a collection of great scenes with these 4 guys... and, of course, my character actor acquaintance getting twice as many scenes as everyone else. Only fair - it was his money. One character may have a big blow up with his wife. Another character might have a great big dramatic scene with his boss. And there was a scene where a character has a melt-down at a fast food place. None of the scenes were connected in any way - except these 4 guys played golf together every Tuesday morning.

After I saw the film, I thought it was like one of those books they sell at Sam French, 25 GREAT SCENES FOR ACTORS, shot with the same 4 actors and a couple of scenes where they golf together.

Because I know this guy, I’ve tried to give him a little advice about story... all of which he’s argued with or completely ignored. “It’s all about the truth of the dramatic moment, not some contrived story”. Okay... Every time I do my class in Los Angeles, his name is on the comp list... and he never shows. But after the third film he has funded out of pocket wasn’t picked up by *any* distrib for *any* medium (not DVD, not TV, nothing)... and his wife was about to divorce him, he decided to make a horror film (because they’re hot right now, and he can make some quick cash and save his marriage).

So he asks me for a little advice. I *give him* some Blue Books and the Horror CD and advise him to watch 5 to 10 horror movies and *study them* - figure out how and why they work. Then apply that information to his script. Kind of my basic advice.

So he makes his film... Whenever I bump into him, I ask him about it... and he tells me it’s great. The best horror film ever made. That’s good, because his wife files for divorce. He also missed pilot season for the first time ever. In other words - everything is now riding on this horror film. Now *that’s* a dramatic situation!

There’s this strange and illogical phenomena where the more important something is to a person, the more important it should be to everyone else in the world. If it is important for you to sell your next script, your next script is the best work you’ve ever done. It has to be, because if it’s just your average script, you’re screwed. This makes no sense at all - the script is the script and it doesn’t get better or worse depending on how much you need a sale. But this is often the way we think. So the more that was riding on my friend’s film, the better that film became. Had to be great, or he was screwed. In reality, it’s just creating and believing your own BS. Jim’s a good actor - and he convinced himself that he made a great film.

He rents a screening room on Sunset, to show the film to distribs. And he’s managed to get all of the major players to show up. He rounds up some folks to fill all of the empty seats in the screening room - a “warm body” audience to laugh and scream. Because I’m not an actor the distribs might recognize, I get to fill a seat. See - I’m good for something! This will be the first time I’ve seen one of his films on the big screen... and without the words “For Screening Purposes Only” not fading in and out at the bottom of the screen. I take my seat, he does a little speech to the distribs, the light dim, and...

We get off to an okay start - a maniac escapes from a mental institution, grabs an ax, steals a car. He doesn’t kill anyone, yet, but it’s early. Then we get some hot teen actors going on vacation at a cabin in the woods... then Jim playing the Town Sheriff (he’s still trying to ride this film to stardom) who warns the kids about the escaped maniac. Then we get about 20 minutes of completely unrelated big dramatic scenes with the kids (plus two, count ‘em, two, with the overly educated Town Sheriff chewing scenery like crazy.) (Dude, you won the audition, take it easy!) None of these scenes are about the maniac. A handful of the distribs sneak out during these 20 minutes.

About 30 minutes in, one of the teens is *discovered* dead on the back deck of the cabin. Killed by an ax. There’s blood and a lot of it... but we didn’t see the character killed or chased or anything. The guy’s just dead. Some FX guy has done great job of creating gore - but it just sits there.

This leads to maybe another 20 minutes where the teens have big dramatic discussions... but they seem more interested in chewing scenery than being afraid of some maniac with an ax (or that one of their friends is chopped up on the back deck). All but one of the distribs sneaks out during these 20 minutes. To tell you the truth, I want to sneak out, too. And I almost do. But what am I going to tell Jim the next time I bump into him? So I stick it out.

Another kid is found murdered with an ax. We never see the kid killed, we just see him dead. No stalk, no slash... just a body. This, of course, leads to about 20 minutes of big dramatic scenes about the nature of life and responsibility and all kinds of other things that start a little laughter in the screening room.

It’s difficult not to laugh when people are wasting time with these big dramatic scenes while some maniac with an ax is killing them one by one offscreen. Why don’t they *do something*? Why don’t they shut up and try to stop the maniac? Or at least run for their lives? The last distrib sneaks out sometime during these scenes. Now the screening room is nothing but shills. The screening room is being rented by the hour, and maybe Jim can get a partial refund if he stops the movie right now... but he keeps the projectors running. Like some maniac with a movie, he traps us in that screening room and forces us to watch the whole film.

“Stop me before I screen again!”

And it doesn’t get better. Another teen is found dead, which leads to another 20 minutes of big dramatic scenes. Not only are the dramatic scenes kind of funny given the situation, they also make the film boring. It’s all talking heads. And because the big dramatic scenes often have little or nothing to do with maniacs and axes, it’s almost as if the scenes are at war with the story... and the scenes are winning. There is no stalk, no slash in the entire stalk & slash movie. No suspense. No dread. No violence. The closest we get to anything even resembling a horror film is the dead people who are discovered *after* the action. The best gore money can buy.

Of course, the film ends with a 30 second battle between the leading lady and the maniac with the ax - no chase, no struggle, she just kills the sucker - the end.

Afterwards Jim says there’s a celebration at the Standard Hotel (rooftop) bar - he’s buying the drinks. If he’s buying drinks, I’m going next door. I want to be paid for my time. He compares the film to *Oscar Winner* SILENCE OF THE LAMBS, and I mention that SILENCE wasn’t just Hopkins and Foster having endless conversations. “Yes! My film is better than that because I minimized all of the chase bullshit and focused on the drama.” My only response was to agree with that.

Jim thinks the distribs will begin calling in the next few days. They don’t. A couple of months ago, he calls me to ask if he can sleep on my sofa for a while. SAG has screwed up on some residual checks and he’s broke. All of his money was tied up in the movie... and his divorce pretty much wiped him out. I really want to tell him that he should have just listened to me and made a real horror movie, instead of some actor’s showcase. But instead I tell him this isn’t a good time for me, and suggest another mutual acquaintance who would hate me, now... except SAG got Jim his residual check before he was evicted, and he just landed a recurring role on a new TV show. For a couple of weeks I was sure he would end up sleeping on my sofa. I’m too nice to say no to people who are really in trouble... but part of me wants to start a serious discussion about personal responsibility that will drag on for 20 minutes until someone finds me hacked to death on the patio.

The next segment of our Trilogy Of Terror deals with a director I know who decided to make a horror movie... because horror is a hot genre right now. And that screenwriter who hired the PR firm, who decided to write and direct a horror film... because horror is a hot genre right now. Stay tuned... the really scary stuff is yet to come!

- Bill

Friday, January 18, 2019

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

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And....

HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

We all know that Alfred Hitchcock was the Master Of Suspense, but did you know he was the most *experimental* filmmaker in history?

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 52 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

Films Examined: “Rear Window”, “Psycho”, “Family Plot”, “Topaz”, “Rope”, “The Wrong Man”, “Easy Virtue”, “Lifeboat”, “Bon Voyage”, “Aventure Malgache”, “Elstree Calling”, “Dial M for Murder”, “Stage Fright”, “Champagne”, “Spellbound”, “I Confess”, and “The Trouble with Harry”, with glances at “Vertigo” and several others.

Professional screenwriter William C. Martell takes you into the world of The Master Of Suspense and shows you the daring experiments that changed cinema. Over 77,000 words.

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

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