Tuesday, October 23, 2018

13 Days Of Halloween:
THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

On the 26th, this film is playing at the Egyptian Theater in Los Angeles...

THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES (1971)

Starring: Vincent Price, Joseph Cotten, Hugh Griffith, Terry Thomas.
Written by: James Whiton, William Goldstein.
Directed by: Robert Fuest.
Produced by: Sam Arkoff and James H. Nicholson (American International Pictures)




This one which is certainly the strangest movie in our series due to the musical numbers. Yes, musical numbers. Sometimes with dancing. In a horror movie.

Okay, it may not be as weird as what you are imagining now, because these are not big Busby Berkeley dance numbers with corpses or slasher victims dancing in formation - it’s just Vincent Price’s serial killer dude dancing with his lovely assistant or just playing a song on his organ while his band of life size mechanical musicians play along. All kinds of good old tunes from the 1920s. Between the murders. Yes, that *is* still weird.

The great thing about those mechanical musicians is that it perfectly sets the stage for Phibes serial killings - which are often have a “automated” component and use contraptions and Rube Goldberg-like devices that kill people bby some form of remote control. Which makes this fun. And that’s the tone, here - fun murders. Fun scares. Just plain fun... and maybe the predecessor of the movie SEVEN.



1920s London: Dressed in a black hooded cape, Dr. Phibes (Vincent Price) plays the organ in his own private concert hall, then grabs his baton and conducts his life size wind up band, The Clockwork Wizards, as they play. A door opens in the concert hall and his beautiful assistant Vulnavia (Virginia North) steps out and dances with Phibes... then dances down to the garage beneath the concert hall. Phibes lowers a black shrouded bird cage through a portal in the floor, and Vulnavia straps the cage onto the back of a beautiful vintage automobile and climbs inside, where she is joined by Phibes and they drive away into the night.



In his bedroom Dr. Dunwoody (Edward Burnham) turns off the light to sleep. The skylight of his bedroom opens and that black shrouded bird cage is lowered in to the room. The black shroud is removed with a string, then the cage is raised back out of the room: empty. The skylight closes.

Dr. Dunwoody hears a noise and awakens... sees something fluttering in his room. What could it be? A vampire bat! No, a dozen vampire bats! One lands on his bed and crawls up to his neck and...

Back home, Phibes enters the concert hall and sits at his organ, playing as the platform the organ is on descends to his bed chambers.

Dr. Dunwoody’s butler brings breakfast in the morning, “Good morning, sir.” But when he uncovers the breakfast a bat lands on the eggs and sausages. WTF? Where did that bat come from? He looks up and sees the dozen bats hanging upside down throughout the room... and Dunwoody’s bloody yet bloodless corpse on the bed.

In a room with nine wax statues, Phibes puts a gold chain with a symbol on its amulet around the neck of the one that looks like Dunwoody... then sets it afire.

Police at the scene of Dunwoody’s death. Inspector Trout (Peter Jeffrey) and Inspector Tom Schenley (Norman Jones) discuss the completely weird case, and a previous strange case where another surgeon died - he was stung to death by hundreds of bees in his library until his entire body was covered with boils. Could there be a connection?

In his bedroom, Phibes dresses, putting on his clothes, his ears, his nose, his hair... WTF? The great thing about this film is that there is no massive information dump at the beginning where you are told everything, instead *everything* is mysterious and you get one little clue at a time. So we don’t know what happened to Phibes or even what he looks like before he puts on his face... we just know that he does put on his face. And at this point of the story, he has not spoken a word. Phibes at his organ and plays... and it ascends into the concert hall.



At a Masquerade Party, Phibes wears a bird mask and one of those gold chains as Dr. Hargreaves (Alex Scott) chats with him. Hargreaves hasn’t brought a mask - he seems to have been given the only invitation to omit that detail, but Phibes has brought along a spare - a toad mask that fits over the entire head. As Phibes clamps it on, a ratchet operated by a hidden clockworks begins to slowly move on the mask. Hargreaves enjoys the party for a while, until the mask begins to tighten... and he falls to the floor surrounded by guests with blood spewing out the frog’s mouth and eye holes. They are shocked.

Phibes puts a gold chain around the wax figure that looks like Hargreaves and sets it ablaze.

In his office at Scotland Yard, Inspector Trout tells the Chief that they have a rash of doctor’s deaths - strange. The Chief wants him to keep this from the press: Bats, Bees, Frogs? The papers would run all kinds of wild stories. The Chief believes that the three doctor’s deaths are not connected - “There’s some very strange people practicing medicine these days.”



None stranger than Dr. Longstreet (Terry Thomas), who begins watching erotic videos of a woman dancing with a snakes as soon as his housekeeper Miss Frawley has left. His projector goes on the fritz, and when he looks up from fixing it... the beautiful Vulnavia (Dr. Phibes’ Assistant) is in the room. She sits him in a chairs and ties his arms to the arm rests with silken cords. Longstreet is no doubt thinking this will turn into 50 Shades Of Gray, when gray faced Phibes enters the room... and shoves a needle into his arm. A needle attached to a pint jar. Longstreet attempts to fight - clutching at the gold chain with the symbol medallion around Phibes’ neck and tearing it off... as his blood drains. And Vulnavia plays the violin. Soon 8 pint bottles are filled.

Inspector Tom has what might be a clue to this string of strange doctor deaths: at some point in time each of the doctors worked with a Dr. Visalius...



Inspector Trout arrives at Dr. Visalius’ (Joseph Cotton) house and finds him playing with an electric train while his teenaged son watches. “Do the names, Hargreaves, Thornton, and Dunwoody mean anything to you, sir?” Dr. Visalius knew all three, he had a conversation with Thornton only a few days ago. The phone rings, and it’s for Inspector Trout. After taking the call, Trout asks Visalius if he knew a Dr. Longstreet. “Knew?”

Yes, past tense.

At the crime scene - Inspector Trout interviews Longstreet’s housekeeper Miss Frawley, who heard violin playing in the street last night. It seemed strange at the time, but was beautiful music. She has never seen the necklace with the strange symbol on its amulet before, “It’s not mine and it’s certainly not his.”

Meanwhile, as Phibes prepares to use a blowtorch on Longstreet’s wax figure he realizes he has lost the necklace. His perfect crimes have accidentally left behind a clue. He hesitates for a moment... then torches the wax bust of Longstreet.

Trout interviews jeweler Goldsmith (John Laurie) who made the necklace with the strange amulet, who says it is one of a set of ten. Each had a different symbol. They were made for a lady. She paid in cash - now way to trace it, and she gave no name or address. A tall attractive young lady who didn’t speak much, but was fashionable. Goldsmith says he doesn’t know what the mark means, but he believes that it’s Hebrew.

Trout interviews a Rabbi (Hugh Griffith) who identifies the mark as the symbol for “Blood”... one of the Ten Curses visited upon the Pharaohs before Exodus. The Rabbi gives Trout (and us) a brief lesson in these Ten Curses: Boils, Bats, Frogs, Blood, Rats, Hail, Beasts, Locusts, Death Of The First Born, and then Darkness. Hey, something to look forward to!

Dr. Phibes plugs an electrical cable into a jack on the side of his neck and the other end of the cable is plugged into an old Victrola on a wheeled stand. Then he looks at a photo of his dead wife and tells her he will get revenge for her death. 9 people killed her and 9 shall die! His voice comes out the Victrola speaker - tinny and strange. So, Phibes not only has to put on his face before he goes out for the night, the only way he can speak is through this speaker. What the hell happened to him?

Dr. Vesalius has compiled a list of all of his recent surgeries for Inspector Trout: 1,200! Out of those, there are 37 cases where he worked with any two of the 4 victims... out of those there are 12 where he worked with 3 of the 4 dead... but only 1 where he worked with all 4. Victoria Regina Phibes. They were too late and she died. They called her husband, Dr. Anton Phibes, and he raced back... but his car drove off a cliff and he died. Burned to death. Only his ashes were recovered at the crash site. So it must be some other madman who is doing this... but who? Trout says he will provide police protection for the final five.

Phibes old automobile pulls up next to a country lake and parks, Vulnavia steps out and pops the hood, looking distraught, just as Dr. Hedgepath (David Hutcheson) drives by. He has his chauffeur pull over to see if the lady needs some help. The Chauffeur gets out, goes to the car and asks the attractive young lady if there is some problem with her car. That’s when Phibes kills the chauffeur, then carries a mechanical contraption to Dr. Hedgepath’s car. Vulnavia puts a music box with a dancer on the seat next to Dr. Hedgepath, who smiles at her, until she closes the door. Phibes puts his mechanical contraption between the front seats in the chauffeur’s section and...

Inspector Tom reports to Trout: Everyone of the remaining potential victims have police protection except one - Dr. Kitaj, who seems to be out of the country. He flies his own plane, so it is difficult to know where he is at any time. After Dr. Phibes’ death, his bank accounts were transferred from Switzerland to an account in London, then the account was liquidated and taken as cash by an attractive young woman. Very odd.



Crime scene - Trout and Tom at Dr. Hedgepath’s car parked near the lake... A police officer found the dead chauffeur, but the man he was driving is still in the car. The officer did not even open the door - to preserve evidence, of course. Trout goes to the car and the windows are completely frozen over. Um, it’s spring. It’s about as sunny as a day in the English countryside gets. How can the windows be *frozen*? He tries to open the door - it’s frozen shut! He finally gets it open and see Hedgepath *frozen solid* in the back seat! The curse of hail *inside the car*!

Dr. Vesalius follows up on his own clue he came across while talking to his teenaged son - Dr. Phibes was a famous organist, and the local sheet music salesman Mr. Darrow (John Laurie) knew him... and claims that he is *still* a customer, even after his death. What? How is that possible?

Trout and Vesalius go to Mr. & Mrs. Phibes crypt. Inside, two coffins. One has fresh roses on top. They open Anton Phibes’ coffin and inside find... a box with ashes. Trout says all that this proves is that *someone* was incinerated in that accident, but not necessarily Dr. Anton Phibes. Maybe his chauffeur? They open Mrs. Phibes coffin and... it’s empty!

Dr. Phibes and Vulnavia drive to an airfield owned by the London Aeroplane Club, where Dr. Kitaj (Peter Gilmore) hops in his airplane and goes through the steps involved in starting up a biplane. Meanwhile Inspector Tom races in his car to warn Dr. Kitaj that he is in danger. Kitaj get the plane going and taxis down the field... Tom chasing in his car. But Dr. Kitaj takes off...

On a hill near the airfield Phibes watches the plane take off through a telescope as Vulnavia plays the violin.



In the plane, Dr. Kitaj is attacked by a hundred hungry rats! They bite him all over... and he loses control of the plane. It crashes. Which allows Tom to finally catch up with it.

Phibes dances with Vulnavia in celebration. He drinks a glass of champagne... through a hole in the other side of his neck. What the hell is under Phibes’ face when he takes it off at night?

Inspectors Trout and Tom hustle Dr. Whitcombe (Maurice Kaufmann) off to a safehouse in the country where they can protect him 24/7. Whitcombe says he needs to return to London in a few days to tend to his patients. They assure him it will only take a few days to figure out who this killer is and capture him. As they prepare to leave Dr. Whitcombe’s building, a brass unicorn statue blasts through the doors and pierces him - screwing his body to the entry hall wall behind him. Trout and Tom must twist Whitcombe’s body around to unscrew it from the wall. The Curse Of Beasts.



Dr. Phibes puts the golden necklace with the amulet on the wax bust of Whitcome and sets it on fire. Then plays his organ and looks at photographs of his dead wife projected on the wall in a slide show. Within 24 hours his work will be finished.

Inspector Trout tells the chief that the brass unicorn was *fired from a catapult* into Dr. Whitcombe. Marvelous shot. Trout gets dressed down for not solving this case, and always showing up to prevent the next victim’s death moments after it has already occurred. His timing is terrible. Trout thinks he’s getting closer to preventing a murder, since they were actually with this last victim when he was killed.

Phibes has a wheelbarrow full of *brussell sprouts* and dumps them into a cauldron attached to what seems to be a still... and begins distilling green goop.

Inspector Trout has the hospital where soon-to-be-victim #8 Nurse Allen (Susan Travers) is working surrounded by police. Police cars. Policemen. Plain clothes officers. Undercover officers. There is no way in or out of the hospital, except maybe by balloon. Dr. Vesalius is also in the hospital, and he tries to calm down Nurse Allen who doesn’t want all of the police officers meddling in her life. The two get onto an elevator where an orderly with a cart stands in the corner... but we recognize him as Phibes. Vesalius explains to Nurse Allen that a man is trying to kill her and all of these police are just here for her protection.



Phibes rolls his cart into a room, unrolls a lifesize drawing of a naked woman on a bed onto the floor and positions it exactly where a bed would be if this room were furnished. Pulls out a drill and drills through the drawing’s head into the floor... through the ceiling of the room below where Nurse Allen sleeps. He carefully dribbles his brussell sprout syrup through the hole and onto her face as she sleeps... then unleashes a jar of *massive* locust through the hole. The locust go for the brussell sprout syrup on her face and...

Inspector Trout and Dr. Vesalius sit in the hospital - the two last potential victims are in the same place and under extreme police protection. Nothing to worry about. They discuss the remaining causes of death - locust, darkness, and death of the first born sons - and Dr. Vesalius says his older brother passed away years ago, so no chance of first born sons being his fate... and then Inspector Trout yells for police cars to speed to Dr. Vesalius’ house and make sure his teenage son is protected. They never thought of that! Vesalius goes with Inspector Tom to his house to make sure is son is okay.

Phibes puts the last of the locusts through the hole by hand, then looks through the hole at Nurse Allen...

When Inspector Tom and Dr. Vesalius get to his house, they discover the back door has been forced open and his son is gone. Inspector Tom races back to the hospital to tell Trout.



Inspector Trout tells Tom they’ve obviously been guarding the wrong potential victim, so they will give one final check on Nurse Allen and then go to Vesalius’ house and process it for clues. The police officer posted at the Nurse’s quarters is still there - no one has come in or out. They knock on the door, no answer. They open the door... and inside find Nurse Allen *covered in locusts* which have *eaten away her face*!

Phibes burns the wax bust of Nurse Allen.

Inspector Trout tells Dr. Vesalius they’re doing everything they can to find his son. The phone rings and when Vesalius picks it up - organ music. Then Phibes strange electronic voice says: “Nine killed her. Nine shall die. Eight have died, soon to be nine. Nine eternities in doom! The organ plays until midnight, the large house in Muldeen Square, come alone.” Vesalius wants to go alone, Trout insists that he come along. Vesalius says he must make a phone call first, then knocks out Trout with the phone and leaves.



Dr. Vesalius pulls up at the large house and rings the bell. Vulnavia answers the door, and leads him to Phibes. “I have killed 9 times in my life, Vesalius, how many deaths can be attributed to you?” Hey, Surgeons don’t murder people, they just make mistakes. It’s different... unless the mistake killed someone you love. Vesalius demands to see his son, pleads to see his son. Phibes says he will see his son - in a way that may bring back memories. Through the glass floor of the ballroom Vesalius sees his son on an operating table below!

Trout wakes up, takes a drink to give him courage, and heads to Phibes’ house.

Phibes tells Vesalius that his son’s neck is locked onto the operating table, and the key has been inserted into his son’s body next to his heart. There is an X-Ray showing this. To free his son he must perform an operation and remove the key. One slip and he will kill his own son! Oh, and there’s a ticking clock - there is a Rube Goldberg device that will release acid onto his son’s head in exactly 6 minutes. Starting... Now! Dr. Vesalius puts on his gloves and gets to work!



Phibes tells Vulnavia to destroy all of the evidence then turns to Dr. Vesalius and explains that Phibes’ wife lived only 6 minutes on the operating table, so his son has only six minutes. Phibes removes his *face* to show Dr. Vesalius what was left of him after he was burned in that car accident - basically just a skull! Yikes!

Trout and several policemen arrive at Phibes’ house.

With 30 seconds left, Dr. Veslaius removes the key from next to his son’s heart and quickly unlocks the padlock and moves his son out of the path of the acid drop as it drips down... onto Vulnavia!



Phibes is putting his face back on as Trout and the other police search the house for him. Then Trout spots the organ rising from the depths. They try to figure out how it can be lowered, as downstairs Phibes moves to his bed... where his dead (and embalmed) wife lays. He lays next to her, hooks up his arm to an IV that replaces his blood with embalming fluid and presses a button which brings the canopy down over the bed - darkness and the 10th death. By the time Trout and the police get there, no sign of Phibes. The end.

Or is it? The problem with killing your serial killer at the end is that if your film is a big hit like PHIBES was, they will want a sequel, right? So tomorrow we’ll look at that sequel which co-stars the great Robert Quarry (COUNT YORGA) who was also in one of my films as well as Peter Cushing... and which may be the predecessor of RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK!!!!

- Bill



Buy the pit



Monday, October 22, 2018

13 Days Of Halloween:
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

This year we are looking at Haunted House movies, Anthology Films, and a couple of movies that have special screenings in Los Angeles.



THE HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL (1959)

Starring: Vincent Price, Carol Ohmart, Richard Long, Elisha Cook jr, Carolyn Craig.
Written by: Robb White
Directed by: William Castle
Produced by: William Castle


William Castle was the king of gimmicks, and this film featured “Emergo” - which was nothing more than a plastic skeleton on a wire that shot out at the audience at a point in the film near the end...



The movie opens with screams over a black screen, and then Pritchard (Elisha Cook jr) says, “The ghosts are moving tonight, restless... hungry. May I introduce myself? I'm Watson Pritchard. In just a moment I'll show you the only really haunted house in the world. Since it was built a century ago, seven people, including my brother, have been murdered in it. Since then, I've owned the house. I only spent one night there and when they found me in the morning, I was almost dead.” Which sets the stage for the story without showing a single ghost or dead body. Haunted house movies often begin with the legend of the house, and both HELL HOUSE and THE HAUNTING have scenes where we hear about all of the terrible things that have happened in the house previously so that we fear for our new guests.

After Pritchard is finished, we get Frederick Loren (Vincent Price) introducing the situation in voice over as we see our guests approach, “I am Frederick Loren, and I have rented the house on Haunted Hill tonight so that my wife can give a party. She's so amusing. There'll be food and drink and ghosts, and perhaps even a few murders. You're all invited. If any of you will spend the next twelve hours in this house, I will give you each ten thousand dollars, or your next of kin in case you don't survive. Ah, but here come our other guests...” And we get an introduction and brief bio of each character. In a movie that isn’t even 75 minutes long, using voice over to introduce the characters and basic situation gets us right into the story without wasting valuable film stock on all of those introduction scenes.



This is an interesting haunted house, because despite Pritchard saying it’s 100 years old, it is ultra modern on the outside... a spooky cobwebbed set on the inside. The guests: brave test pilot Lance Schroeder (THE BIG VALLEY’s Richard Long), broke secretary Nora Manning (Carolyn Craig) who works for Loren’s company, gossip magazine columnist Ruth Bridges (Julie Mitchum), skeptical psychiatrist Dr. David Trent (Alan Marshal), and the house owner Pritchard... none have ever met each other or Loren, even though Nora works for his company. All are interested in getting paid $10k for 12 hours work... except Trent who is more interested in debunking the legend of the house.

Moments after they meet, a door slams shut (on its own) and the chandelier begins moving... then crashes down at Nora... but Lance saves her.

Upstairs the charming Loren is waiting for his fourth wife Annabelle (sexy Carol Ohmart) to get dressed for the party. He knows she’s cheating on him; but she counters by saying he can’t prove it, can he? Loren knows she’s a gold digger and suspects she is going to try to kill him and inherit. All of this in fairly witty dialogue between them, before Loren goes downstairs to meet his guests.

Pritchard pulls a giant knife from a secret compartment and shows it to the other guests, “This is what she used on my brother and her sister, hacked them to pieces. We found parts of their bodies all over the house, in places you wouldn't think. The funny thing is the heads have never been found, hands and feet and things like that, but no heads.” So there are two loose heads floating around somewhere in here?

Loren enters and mixes drinks for everyone - the caretakers will leave at midnight and the doors will be locked. No phones, bolted windows, no way out. Pritchard says that four men and three women have been murdered in this house, and Trent quips that there are four men and three women here now - that’s a ghost for each of them.



Pritchard leads them on a tour of the house - pointing out a huge blood stain on the ceiling, and when Ruth stands under it... fresh blood drips on her hand! “It’s too late - the house has marked you!” They go into the massive wine cellar, where a past resident filled a vat with acid and tossed his wife in. “There’s been a murder almost everyplace in this house.” When Nora almost falls into the vat, Lance saves her again. Pitchard tosses something into the vat to show that there is still acid in there.

When the tour moves on. Lance and Nora stay behind - our romance story (to counter the anti-romance of Loren and Annabelle). They poke around in the wine cellar until Lance finds a door that leads... somewhere. Once he gets through the door it slams shut and Nora can’t get it open! Then all of the lights go out and she sees the ghost of an Old Woman appear for a moment on the other side of the room, she races to get out of there! Nora gets help, says we’ll have to break down the door - it’s locked. Except it’s not locked... it’s open. Lance is on the other side, unconscious - hit in the head. Who could have done that? All of the others were together.



Lance and Nora go back to the wine cellar to search for secret passages and when Nora is alone, the Old Woman Ghost zooms past her - scare moment. She screams and Lance runs in... but there is no trace of the ghost.

When Nora races upstairs she bumps into Annabelle - who warns her not to go anywhere in the house alone... she is in danger. When Lance comes up stairs to look for Nora he bumps into Annabelle as well - and she makes the moves on him, and warns him that Loren is planning something... something sinister. The three wives before her died under mysterious circumstances.

About 33 minutes into the film, Loren knocks on all of the guest’s doors to announce that it is almost midnight - last chance to leave the house before the doors and windows are locked and bolted for 12 hours. Nora tells him that she will be staying, then goes back into her room and discovers one of those missing heads when she opens her suitcase. Nice shock moment. She runs out of the room, takes a wrong turn, ends up in a strange hallway... dark, spooky... she is lost in the strange house. Then a hand grabs her from the shadows! An Old Man says, “Come with us before he kills you!” She escapes from the Old Man and races downstairs to the living room... where everyone else is. Screaming that she doesn’t want to stay here.



A door blasts opens and the Old Woman Ghost and Old Man stand there!

Loren introduces them as the Caretaker and his Wife... who will be leaving at Midnight and locking the doors. Nora wants out - she doesn’t care about the $10k. Then a wind blows through the room, rattling everything. Weird! When they turn back to the Caretaker and his Wife - they are gone! They have left and locked the door behind them! Now Nora is trapped in the house for 12 more hours like everyone else.

At about 37:30 (the halfway point) they are locked in the house.

Loren provides them all with *guns* (in cute little coffin shaped boxes), and Pritchard exclaims: “These are no good against the dead... only the living.” Trent thinks the guns are a bad idea - fear is likely to have them shooting each other. Annabelle says she doesn’t need a gun, and it goes back in it’s box.

Nora drags them all upstairs to look at the severed head... but it is no longer there. Is she crazy?



Lance goes to Nora’s room to comfort her (if you know what I mean) and finds her door unlocked and Nora isn’t there... but the severed head is hanging in the closet! He grabs the head and races downstairs to the living room... where Pritchard tells him that it is too late - the house has her now. They will never see her again.

A scream from upstairs! Lance runs to the staircase where he sees... a woman dangling from a noose! Has Nora killed herself? Trent comes down the hallway, sees the hanging woman, and they take her down... and *without showing us her face* take the dead woman into a room and place her on the bed. Trent checks her pulse - pronounces her dead. Loren runs in, asks if Nora is alright, and Trent says, “She’s dead... your wife is dead” and we see the dead woman’s face for the first time: Annabelle!

Lance leaves the room, notices curtains blowing at the other end of the hallway... an open window? A secret passage? Just as he gets to the curtains Nora pops up behind him and pleads, “Hide me!” Lance takes her to his room, where Nora claims that Loren tried to strangle her and then left her for dead. It was dark, but she’s sure it was Loren. Lance tells her that Annabelle is dead - and he thinks someone killed her.

Pounding at the door. Lance opens it carefully - Trent on the other side of the threshold says he doesn’t believe Annabelle hung herself and he wants to meet with everyone (except Loren) downstairs.

Loren is looking down at his dead wife, not exactly mourning, when there’s a noise behind him - Pritchard. “Your wife isn't there anymore. She's already joined them!” Loren says he’s drunk and throws him out of the room.



In the living room (where most of this film takes place) Trent takes charge - and we are in AND THEN THERE WERE NONE territory as he explains that there are no ghosts, but one of them is a murderer. There was nothing Annabelle could have stood on before hanging herself. Loren says he believes she was murdered... by one of you. Lance chimes in that to want to murder someone, you must know them... but we were all strangers to Annabelle except Loren. He is the only logical suspect. The problem now is that one of them is a killer and now they are trapped with each other for 6 more hours. The plan: since all have guns, they will all stay in their rooms alone for the next 6 hours, and if anyone comes into their rooms - shoot them!

At 56 minutes they are all locked safely in their rooms...

Trent sees his doorknob moving, but when he opens the door - no one in the hallway.

Blood drips on Ruth’s hand - the blood pool has appeared on her bedroom ceiling.

Lance goes into Nora’s room (hormones) to make sure she’s safe... then goes exploring in that mystery hallway where the curtains were blowing before. Finds a secret passage in the wall and enters.

The lights go out due to the convenient storm, and Nora thinks she sees a rope crawling through her window like a snake and coil itself around her legs! Floating outside the window - Annabelle’s ghost! When Nora grabs the gun, Annabelle floats away taking the rope with her. Nora freaks out, runs down the hallway with the gun... right into Annabelle’s hanging body near the stairs! She backs against a door... and a dead hand reaches around the door to grab her! She runs downstairs... where a dusty old organ begins to play a funeral dirge by itself! She screams and runs away.

Upstairs - Trent knocks on Loren’s door and they aim their guns at each other. Trent heard a scream and running, thinks they should search the house: Loren downstairs and he will search upstairs. When Loren is gone, Trent goes into the room where Dead Annabelle lays on the bed, says to her corpse: “It’s almost over, darling. Every detail was perfect.” Then Annabelle’s eyes pop open, and she begins to rise! “Get me out of this hanging harness.” And at 65:20 minutes we get the scheme - Trent and Annabelle are driving Nora crazy, making her believe that Loren has murdered his wife and is now trying to kill her; and just waiting for Nora to find Loren and shoot him dead... so that Annabelle inherits everything and can run off with her lover Trent. “When you hear the shot, come down to the cellar”, Trent tells her before he goes.

In the cellar: Nora and her gun search the darkness... as Loren enters from the shadows behind her. She lifts her gun and shoots him!

Trent enters from a secret passage, opens up the vat of acid, drags Loren’s body to it as the lights flicker out again. In the darkness: A man’s death scream!



Annabelle goes into the cellar looking for Trent, can’t find him. But the doors slowly creak closed one by one trapping her in the cellar. Trapping her in the darkness! Shadows everywhere! She creeps up to the vat of acid... bubbling... and a skeleton emerges from the depths... and *keeps* emerging! It comes out of the vat, and starts moving across the room towards her! (Emergo - and zips at the audience!) “At last you have it all, everything I have. Even my life, But you’re not going to live to enjoy it. Come with me murderess, come with me!” says Loren’s voice from the skeleton! She tries to open the door - locked! The skeleton grabs her - freaking her out. Then the skeleton slowly walks towards her, backing her into... the vat of acid! She falls in... and her body is dissolved.

From the shadows Loren emerges - with a marionette rig - the skeleton was just a puppet. He tosses the rig and skeleton into the acid and all of the evidence is gone. When the others finally make it into the cellar, they find Loren standing over the bubbling acid. He tells them that Annabelle and Trent plotted to kill him - using Nora as an unknowing assassin - but he discovered their plan and filled her gun with blanks. When Trent tried to throw him into the acid, Loren struggled and Trent fell in. When Annabelle came down, she stumbled and fell into the acid. Loren is more than willing to turn himself over to the authorities and see that justice is done.

The doors pop open and everyone is free to go.

Pritchard looks at the bubbling acid - bones and skulls bobbing - and says, “Now there are nine. There’ll be more, many more. They’re coming for me, now... and then they’ll come for you!”

Tomorrow we'll look at one of the great Corman adaptations of Poe starring Vincent Price.

- Bill

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Sunday, October 21, 2018

13 Days Of Halloween:
FROM A WHISPER TO A SCREAM

FROM A WHISPER TO SCREAM (1987)
Aka THE OFFSPRING

Starring: Vincent Price, Clu Gulager, Susan Tyrell, Cameron Mitchell, Lawrence Tierney, Terry Kiser (WEEKEND AT BERNIES), Rosalin Cash (OMEGA MAN) and many others - great cast!
Written by: C. Courtney Joyner, Darin Scott, Jeff Burr.
Directed by: Jeff Burr
Produced by: Bill Burr & Darin Scott




Along with Haunted House movies, I'm sprinkling in some Anthology Films this year, including this late film in Vincent Price’s career, after his “retirement” from movies. When you read a biography of Price they always say he came out of retirement to do two films, WHALES OF AUGUST and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS... but they never mention this film! The actual return from retirement movie. Oh, and made by a whole bunch of people I know. Directed by my friend Jeff Burr, produced by my friend Darin Scott, written by my friend C. Courtney Joyner (plus Darin and Jeff), and even some of the cast members are people I know. Met these folks at a series of Fangoria conventions I went to when I was still living in the Bay Area... and at AFM (maybe the year they were selling the film as THE OFFSPRING - I had a long conversation with Bill Burr on one of the balconies as we looked down at the “Lobby Rats”). Since the film was 1986, and that was my first year ever at AFM, these guys may have been the first people I met in Los Angeles! I saw the film at AFM, which means I probably saw it before it was released by MGM under the new title the next year.



Katherine White (Martine Beswick) is being executed in a Tennessee prison, as the Warden (Lawrence Tierney, pre-RESEVOIR DOGS “comeback”), the death is not instantaneous nor pleasant. Reporter Beth Chandler (Susan Tyrrell) watches in horror...

Oldfield, Tennessee: a spooky old house that is a combination town Library, town bureau of records, and residence - where the White family lived. Beth knocks on the door, finds it open, ventures inside to discover Mr. Julian White (Vincent Price) in the library section. He was the uncle of the executed woman. Beth wants the full story - Katherine killed her first man at age 7 and continued her killing spree until she was caught at 32. Why? What could have caused her to kill at 7? White says his niece’s execution will not end the problem - Oldfield is serial killer central, many a killer has called this place home. A cursed town. White tells the stories of some of the residents like...



Stanley Burnside (Clu Gulager), who wakes up screaming after dreaming of his dead and bloody wife. A quiet small town man. Lonely. He watches a pretty girl, Grace (Megan McFarland), at en employee barbeque for the meat packing company he works for. That night his sister Ellen (Miriam Bird-Nethery) is suffering from a fever and he has to bathe her in ice water, washing down her naked old body. This is more horrifying than that execution - as the wrinkled old sister is digging having her brother touch her naked flesh.

At work he shyly flirts with Grace, who gives him the cold shoulder.

One night, he calls her to ask her out on a date... and she refuses at first... then relents. Sister Ellen is jealous that he’s got a date.



At some cheap family chain restaurant they have an awkward meal together... afterwards on the drive back, she pretty much shoots him down big time. He forces a kiss on her, and she insists he take her home. When she keeps shooting him down, he strangles her to death... the tail light of the car blinking as they struggle. He dumps her on the side of the road and drives away.

Next day at work the Foreman announces that a fellow employee was killed the night before. There will be a funeral in a couple of days and they will be given time off to attend. A coworker notices that Stanley has scratches on the side of his face.



Night. The funeral home. Someone breaks a basement window and crawls inside... Stanley making a late night visit. Grace is laid out in a coffin for tomorrow’s funeral, surrounded by flowers. Stanley brings champagne, tells the corpse they can’ let something like this get in the way of their romance. Oh, yeah - it’s going there. Stanley kisses her corpse, then undresses both of them and gets busy...

Nine months later...



He comes home from work to find his sister wanting a bath... and wearing a ton of make up. Um, what’s up with that? Stanley breaks up the ice with an ice pick and pours some in the tub. His sister keeps talking on and on and on... and finally Stanley just pushes her head under the water and tries to drown her. That doesn’t work, and he grabs for the ice pick., ends up getting her robe belt - that works just fine to strangle her. She ends up dead and naked in the tub of ice water.

Meanwhile, at Grace’s grave, something crawls out of the dirt! Crawls across a field to Stanley’s house.

Stanley hears noises in the house - a broken window in the kitchen. A tree branch? No, something messy on the floor - dirt and slime. And there’s something crawling around in his house - like the totem dude in TRILOGY OF TERROR. Now it’s Stanley versus this little crawling thing! He reaches under he couch for it and it bites his hand! He grabs a knife to defend himself as it terrorizes him - what the hell is it? It skitters upstairs. When he follows, he finds his sister’s naked corpse at the base of the stairs! He climbs the stairs carefully, knife ready... when that *thing* trips him at the top of the staircase. Stanley tumbles all the way down... into the arms of his dead sister. He looks up to see what that thing is... and it’s a dead baby. A dead baby that keeps saying, “Daddy!” Then the baby comes down to attack him!



Back to Mr. White who tells the next story... that happened over 30 years ago.

Jesse Hardwick (Terry Kiser) lives in a crappy trailer and has the ultimate in relationship problems - his girlfriend says she’s leaving, and that she’s tipped off the McCoy Brothers that he was cheating them... and they are on their way.

Just the, the McCoy Brothers show up - guns drawn - and Jesse blasts through the wall of the house trailer and runs. But he can’t outrun a bullet, and one of the McCoy Brothers shoots him and leaves his body on the side of the road. But Jesse isn’t quite dead, and drags himself to the river where he has his boat stashed and then passes out in the boat. The boat drifts down the river... until someone pulls it ashore.

Jesse wakes up in an old shack filled with some really weird stuff. The old man who owns the shack, Felder Evans (Harry Ceasar) comes home and tells Jesse he’s been asleep for days. Gives him some soup. That night, old man Felder is practicing voodoo on the back porch and Jesse overhears.



The next day, Jesse asks Felder some prying personal questions and can’t get any straight answers. How old is Felder? How long has he been living here? Felder just talks about carving wooden buffalo while standing in the middle of a herd. No herds of buffalo for decades. How old is this guy? When Felder leaves, Jesse ransacks the shack - looking for valuables. Finds a hidden trunk filled with “valuables” - some antique guns, a book of voodoo spells, a scrap book with clipping about Felder that go back over *two centuries*. What? How is that possible?

Felder comes home and Jesse asks him how a man gets to be 200 years old. Is it that voodoo? Jesse demands to know how it’s done. If you could live that long, you could become rich! Jesse wants to take voodoo lessons...



Three weeks later, Jesse is frustrated. He’s a guy who is looking for a get rich quick scheme and this voodoo thing is a lot of work. Jesse has seen Felder drink from a little vial - is that his secret to eternal life? He knocks out Felder, puts him on the boat, and takes him out on the swamp. Threatens to throw him overboard if Felder doesn’t tell where the vial of magic water is. Felder doesn’t tell, and Jesse screws up yet again and accidentally shoves him all the way out of the boat. Felder sinks into the swamp. Jesse can’t see his body anywhere. Crap!

At Felder’s shack, Jesse is tearing the place apart looking for the vial - can’t find it. When Felder - covered in swamp mud - blasts through the door and slams him in the head with the boat paddle!

Jesse wakes up tied to the dock. Felder tells him when he first dragged Jesse and that boat in, Jesse was already dead. Felder used that potion from the vial on him to bring him back to life - so Jesse has just been trying to steal something that he already had. “You can’t die. I gave you enough that you’ll last another 70 years or more.” Felder pours kerosine on Jesse’s chest. Then chops off one of Jesse’s arms and sets him on fire and...



Two kids find a *moving* sack on the side of the road, call the police.

Hospital: The doctor says it is impossible for this... man... to be alive in his condition. But he is. And then we see what is left of Jesse - burned torso and head and... yech! Felder’s voice echoes, “You’ll last another 70 years or more.”

Back to Mr. White and Beth, who still isn't convinced it is the *town* that is evil. All of these bad things happening in the same place is just a coincidence. Mr. White tells her the Librarian who was here 40 years ago killed two people and buried them under this very floor (what that Mr. White?) then he tells her a story from his childhood - when the carnival came to town, bringing along the sideshow. And he remember Amarrillis Caulfield....



1933: The Carnival - crowded - pretty small town girl Amarrillis (Didi Lanier) walks along the midway until she comes to the sideshows, and enters the tent for Arden The Amazing (Ron Brooks) - who eats nails and screws and broken glass and razor blades and other things not on the standard food pyramid. After the performance she waits for Arden, and kisses him. Small town girl attractive to “sophisticated” carny. As they kiss, fellow carny Leonard (Gordon Paddison) watches them. Arden tells her he has a poker game with the guys, so she’s gotta go. She doesn’t want to leave... and makes him a deal - she’ll leave tonight if he meets her for a necking party at the graveyard after tomorrow’s shows have finished. He agrees and tells her to leave, “You don’t know how dangerous it is here if she finds you.” Amarrillis wants to know “Who’s she?” but Arden tells her to just leave.



Arden plays poker with the other carnies... when SnakeWoman (Rosalind Cash) steps from the darkness and wants to know who’s the girl she saw Arden with. Arden asks *who* saw him, SnakeWoman or Leonard? Leonard sneaks up behind Arden and blows on his neck. Tiny Tinker (Angelo Rossitto) says that SnakeWoman has no control over their personal lives, and she threatens him with the police... Tinker relents. SnakeWoman says that she protects all of them from the police in exchange for their talents - maybe in the case of the freak “No Face” (Barney Burman) she gave him his talent (by removing parts of his face). “This is my carnival. I own everything in it. Even you,” she says to Arden. “I own the tears you weep and the blood you shed.” Arden splits.

Amarrillis goes to the graveyard to put flowers on Father’s grave, when Arden arrives. Arden says he can’t stay long, she needs to forget about him. She says since she first saw his act she wanted to marry him, or just be with him. He tells her he’s a freak. She puts his hand on her breast and gets her freak on. They make out on her father’s grave, and begin undressing each other. But when he puts his hands “down there” she screams and bleeds - is it supposed to hurt like that? He takes his hand out of her panties - and screws and nails that he’s eaten in the past have erupted from his finger tips. He screams and staggers back to the carnival, where SnakeWoman is there to meet him. “Welcome home, glass eater.” SnakeWoman is a voodoo priestess - whose tent is filled with snakes. She makes his bleeding stop... and tells him to forget the girl. She makes the glass and nails he has eaten poke through his insides! Tells him to love that girl and know what pain really is.



When Arden returns to his tent, Amarrillis is waiting for him - she begs him to leave with her. He decides that might not be a bad idea. But on the way to her car they are discovered by Leonard - who has a gun. When he threatens to kill Arden, Tiny Tinker comes out of the shadows and stabs Leonard in the back. As Leonard lays dying he tears open his shirt, exposing a third eye on his chest, and says “I can still see you!”

Arden and Amarrillis drive off together.

In a roadside motel, they once again try to make whoopi... then he begins screaming in pain as all of the nails and screws and glass and razors he has eaten over the years *burst* from his body! Blood sprays everywhere - drenching Amarrillis - and piercing her body again and again!



Back to the side show, where they have a new attraction: Amarrillis The Human Pincushion. She has holes in her body that you can see through!

Mr. White finishes the story, and Beth is coming around... she is starting to believe that Oldfield might just be an evil town. “Oldfield’s history is written in human blood, on pages of human skin.” All the way back to when the town was founded during the Civil War. He shows her a series of Civil War photos, and one comes to life before our eyes for the last story...

Four Confederate Soldiers, lead by Sgt. Gallen (Cameron Mitchell) have been separated from their division, and come across a group of Union Soldiers - also separated from their division. The Union soldiers haven’t seen them yet, so Gallen orders his men to fire on them. Everyone fires except Pike... whose man is getting away. Gallen grabs Pike’s rifle and kills the running survivor. Gallen has them loot the bodies. They find documents on the dead Union soldiers - the war is over, and has been for a month. Gallen thinks there’s still some raping and looting left to do. Pike says if the war is over, he’s going home... and walks away. Gallen shoots him in the back, killing him.



Gallen and the two other soldiers (Bullock and McBride) go looking for a house where they can rape and loot, when they’re fired upon... and captured. They’re taken in a wagon to an old house named Oldfield with a bunch of children in the yard. Some of the children have been mutilated in the war - missing limbs or eyes or parts of their face. A little boy in a Union Army uniform, Andrew (Tommy Nowell), comes out of the house and tells Gallen that he is their prisoner now. Gallen can’t take this little boy seriously. Bullock (Tim Wingard) tells them their just a bunch of kids... and gets stabbed in the balls with a knife. Suddenly Gallen is taking this seriously. He tries to convince the boy that the war is over... but little Andrew does not believe them. Andrew takes the three Confederate soldiers into the house and warns them that the Magistrate will decide their fate. The Magistrate taught them everything they know - how to fight.

Soldier Bullock who was stabbed in the balls? They don’t expect him to last the night, so they’ll prepare a game for him. The other soldier, McBride (Leon Edwards), is in a different room, so he won’t be able to conspire with Gallen to escape.



A little girl with only one leg and only one eye, Amanda (Ashli Bare), brings Gallen dinner. He tries to talk her into letting him go when the ball rings - the Magistrate is calling a meeting. She leaves.

Andrew tells Amanda that he has a surprise for her, and takes her into the room where they have McBride. The Confederate soldier is now strapped to a table. Andrew tells Amanda to take off her eye patch... and then he inserts one of McBride’s eyes into her socket. McBride screams - and we see that his eye has been cut out.

When Amanda brings his next meal, Gallen convinces her to untie him... he’s adopt her and be her daddy. She untie him... Then he gives her a full on kiss... which is just wrong. She fights him. And he kills her and escapes... to find the kids playing a game in the front yard.

Pinata with meat hooks and the body of dead soldier Bullock. You know, for kids!



Gallen gets the hell out of there - running through the woods at top speed. Until he runs into Pike, who wasn’t killed by Gallen’s shot in the back. Pike knocks Gallen to the ground. Gallen says - you have to help me get away, those kids are going to kill me!

And Andrew has discovered Amanda’s body and the kids *are* chasing through the woods to find Gallen. But Andrew doesn’t help Gallen... he turns him over to the kids.



Gallen wakes up in the Magistrate’s Room. Andrew tells him they don’t murder people, they take them before the Magistrate and the Magistrate passes sentence. Then Andrew pulls aside a curtain so that Gallen can see the Magistrate: a Frankenstein’s monster made of the body parts of these kid’s parents... who were murdered in the war.

And the sentence for Gallen? Barbecue. They cook him up and eat him.

And that’s where the town of Oldfield came from - those cannibal kids.



Mr. White tells Beth that Poe and Lovecraft’s monsters where inventions of their imaginations, but here in Oldfield they walk the streets. Beth asks how Mr. White managed to survive this town, and he answers: “How do you know that I did?” Beth reaches into her purse and touches the handle of her knife... Mr. White smiles and tells her that he managed to just remain an observer of the parade of violence, but his niece Katherine became part of the parade. Beth says that she reported on Katherine’s murders, then after the arrest became Katherine’s pen pall while she was in prison... and learned all about this town and how Katherine was brought up... by Mr. White. And now she’s here to deliver Katherine’s parting gift to the man who raised her - pulls out her knife and stabs Mr. White, who dies saying: “Welcome to Oldfield.”

One of the final credits on the film: “When In Tennessee Visit Oldfield”!

- Bill

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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

Friday, October 19, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock: HITCH 20: One More Mile To Go (s2e2)

HITCH 20, Episode 7: ONE MORE MILE TO GO.

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I have been a "guest expert" on (season 1). The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the first episode of the second season, which looks at the importance of specifics on screen (and on the page, or it never gets to the screen). This new season is without me. I was juggling too many things and thought I'd squeeze it in, but just didn't have the time. But I'm still be featuring it here, because it's a great show.

This is one of the episodes I wanted to cover, because I have some interesting connections to it... and not just that David Wayne played Ellery Queen’s dad on the TV show that I loved as a kid.

First: I seemed to have accidentally homaged this episode with my DANGEROUS CURVES screenplay. When I was a kid, all of these shows were rerunning on other TV stations and I would watch them after school. THRILLER and HITCHCOCK PRESENTS and TWILIGHT ZONE and a bunch of others. They were great! Well, somewhere in my 20s I began writing DANGEROUS CURVES as a novel, and the scene that made my girlfriend at the time wonder if maybe she should break up with me was where the husband confronts his cheating wife while tending the fireplace and that barbed fireplace poker ends up going right through her... and it’s not easy to get out! In the screenplay version, she hits her head on the edge of the fireplace (the poker thing was way too graphic, and what could be alluded to in prose would be seen on film).

And after that? He wraps his dead wife in a blanket and puts her in the passenger seat of *her* car and drives here across town to where he lover waits for her. Um, “homaged” from the THRILLER episode LATE DATE which was based on a Woolrich story called “Boy With Body”. It’s like all of these TV shows I saw as a kid went into my head, percolated, and then came out in this novel/screenplay.




Well, in my novel/screenplay the husband gets pulled over by a friendly cop for having a broken tail light (just like in this episode), but instead of the body in the trunk... it’s right there next to him in the passenger seat! He tells the cop that his wife is asleep... and the cop says his girlfriend snores like a chainsaw, unlike the quiet sleeping wife. I had a lot of fun with that friendly cop, building suspense because he’s talkative and nice and not seeming to be a threat at all... except the husband is sweating bullets because his wife is *dead*! After the cop gives him the ticket and tells him to make sure he gets the tail light fixed first thing in the morning, the husband drives away... and I stop “homaging” this episode and start to do something original...

Because the dead wife wakes up (she wasn’t quite dead) and this startles the husband so much he drives off a cliff and wakes up in the hospital where the doctor says: “I have good news and bad news. Good news - you came out of the accident with only bruises and scrapes. Bad news - your wife died in the accident.” So our husband has kind of gotten away with murder... end Act One. Then things go really really wrong. So, um, I subconsciously swiped some stuff from this episode, plus...

Second: The guy who plays the friendly Highway Patrol officer in this episode, Steve Brody? Well, he’s Robert Mitchum’s double crossing partner in one of my favorite movies OUT OF THE PAST... and he was the father of the director of my first “Hollywood movie” TREACHEROUS. How Hollywood works: if your dad was a famous character actor, they let you direct some movies... until you have so many flops that they don’t let you direct any more. But it was cool when the director told me his dad was Steve Brody, because I knew exactly who that was because he was in one of my favorite films. I had no memory of him in this episode, probably because he’d gained some weight between OUT OF THE PAST and this. But a weird connection to a HITCHCOCK episode... I’ve worked with the actor who played the antagonist’s son!

THE EPISODE...



One amazing thing about this episode is that the first 10 minutes of the 25 minute episode are completely dialogue free! It’s all visual storytelling. We begin *outside* the window of the house, spying on the couple who lives inside. We can discuss rear window ethics later, but the whole idea of the audience as voyeur which Hitchcock explored in many films is explored here as well. We watch the wife confront her husband (who is trying to read the newspaper) and see the argument escalate and the husband pick up the fireplace poker... but we can’t hear what they are saying. We are outside the house looking through the window. We don’t go inside until *after* the husband has struck his wife repeatedly with that firepoker. Once inside the house, and inside the *character* of the husband (we are seeing the story from his point of view, now) (not physically his point of view, but he is the character we identify with), the story remains without dialogue (well, who is there to talk to?) as the husband wraps up the dead wife and puts her and some chains and weights in the trunk of his car, then drives off to the boondocks to dump her in a lake... and our first piece of dialogue is when the friendly Highway Patrolman pulls him over for the faulty tail light.

The subject of that argument between the husband and wife is unimportant. The details might even be distracting, the story isn’t about if he left his dirty socks on the floor or flirted with a waitress or whatever... it’s about a dead body in the trunk of a car. The argument is like a MacGuffin, it causes the story but the specifics aren’t as important as people might think they are. Hey, husbands and wives argue. Why isn’t as important as what this leads to... that dead body in the trunk.



The friendly antagonist is also a great touch. Often writers think the antagonist has to be a bad guy, but an antagonist is just the person that comes between the protagonist and their goal... and our protagonist wants to find a place to bury the wife he just killed, so a cop is a logical antagonist. Doesn’t have to be an evil cop... in fact, the more helpful this cop is the better for the story. I have a script tip about nice antagonists like Cameron Diaz in MY BEST FRIEND’S WEDDING... she’s the nicest character in that movie! The great thing about this Highway Patrolman is that he’s nice and friendly and also an authority figure. So when he tells the husband that he needs to get that tail light fixed right away, to make sure he doesn’t get into an accident; the husband *must* do as the Patrolman says. The Highway Patrolman doesn’t want the husband to get into an accident, and those things can happen; he’s seen them first hand. The more the husband tries to avoid fixing the tail light, the more the Patrolman explains how dangerous it can be. The Patrolman and his tail light repair are right between our protagonist and his goal. He has to get the tail light fixed before he can bury his dead wife in the trunk.

Now we get some great nail biting suspense as the husband and Patrolman go to a nearby gas station, where the mechanic installs a brand new tail light bulb... which doesn’t light. Is it the bulb? The Patrolman looks at the bulb, looks good. So what could it be? Hey, probably a wire in the trunk... let’s pop it open and take a look!

And now it escalates. Whether it’s action of suspense, it’s important for it to escalate. After the husband hides his trunk key, the Patrolman says that’s okay... he can pop the trunk on these old cars by hand! When he fails at that, he asks the mechanic for a crow bar, because he can pop the trunk that way. When the husband says he doesn’t want his paint scratched, the Patrolman says he’ll be really careful. Thing just keep escalating! In the chapter in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR on ROPE I look at “poking the tiger”, reminding the audience about the suspense situation. In ROPE it’s a body in a shipping trunk, here’s it’s a body in a car trunk. But in both cases, people have to keep hanging around the trunk and trying to open it... and that’s what keeps the suspense going. And they have to keep poking around the situation itself, poking that tiger as well. The Patrolman asks why the back of the car is so heavy... what does he have in the trunk? “Tools.” What kind of tools? While the Patrolman is trying to get open the trunk (physically) he is also prying away verbally. This keeps that suspense escalating on two fronts!






Peaks And Valleys: nonstop action and nonstop suspense will result in diminishing returns... so your story needs peaks and valleys. Just when you think the Patrolman is going to pop that trunk open with the crowbar and discover the dead wife’s body... the husband realizes that the tail light has come one! All of this shaking of the car has “fixed” that wire problem, at least temporarily. The husband tells the Patrolman he’ll have it fixed first thing in the morning, is it okay if he drives home? The Patrolman says sure, and the husband hands the mechanic some money for the bulb, gets in the car, and gets the hell out of there. Away from the threat. Away from the conflict. We go from a peak to a valley, and the audience has a chance to catch their breath. We can relax... kind of. Just as the husband keeps looking in the rearview mirror for that Patrolman, so do we. There’s still a dead body in the trunk. There’s still a problem. The protagonist has not reached their goal, yet... one more mile to go.

Peak... just when we have relaxed, the Patrolman zooms up and pulls over the Husband. Poking the tiger again. The Patrolman says he zoomed off so fast, he forgot to get his change. Here you go! By being *helpful* the Patrolman is causing more problems than if he were a cliche antagonist. You can get mad at a cliche antagonist, you can lose your cool... but a nice guy? You have to remain completely calm and friendly, which isn’t easy when your wife is dead in the trunk of your car.

Valley... Husband takes the money and the Patrolman tells him to be careful.

Peak... That tail light goes out again, and the Patrolman pulls him over again...

Back and forth. By allowing the audience the relax, the next peak is that much more frightening.

Okay, those were my thoughts on the episode, now let me watch it and see what everyone else said...

Bill

Of course, I have my own book on Hitchcock...




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 53 films with wild cinema and story experiments which paved the way for modern films. Almost one hundred different experiments that you may think are recent cinema or story inventions... but some date back to Hitchcock’s *silent* films! We’ll examine these experiments and how they work. Great for film makers, screenwriters, film fans, producers and directors.

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, October 18, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Portrait Without A Face

NEW SEASON 2!!!

THRILLER: Portrait Without A Face

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



Season: 2, Episode: 14.
Airdate: Dec. 25, 1961 (The Christmas episode?) Director: John Newland
Writer: Jason Wingreen.
Cast: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Katherine Squire, George Mitchell, John Banner.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Robertson Moffat’s greatest masterpiece doomed by the shot of an assassin’s crossbow to remain just as we see it - blank, lifeless as the murdered artist himself. It is said that art is a human effort, having for its purpose the transmission to others of the highest and noblest feelings which men have risen. Well, my friends, tonight you’ll see that the activity of art can be inhuman as well. And that its purpose, at least in this case, is shall we say, unexpected. The victim’s vacant canvas should give you a hint of the title our play. It’s called Portrait Without A Face. Look closely, and it will reveal the identity of our leading players. They are: Jane Greer, Robert Webber, Catherine Squire, George Mitchell, and Brian Gaffikin. Sit back, relax if you can, while we whet your pallete with some bold strokes of terror. Oh, do you have a skylight? Be sure to bolt it securely, otherwise you won’t know that you are absolutely alone.”



Synopsis: In his studio, egotistical painter Roberston Moffat (John Newland) is strangling over-acting newspaper reporter Nat Fairchild (Brian Gaffikin) and tosses him to the floor. Fairchild says he didn’t want to come, but she begged him to try and get the painting back. Moffat laughs - says she begged him to paint her nude. Moffat pours himself a drink and pontificates on death... and says he’s going to paint the Angel Of Death, and orders Fairchild to get out. Once Fairchild is gone, the phone rings - Marie, the woman in the nude painting begs him to give it to her. He refuses.... but does ask if she wants to hook up. She hangs up instead.

As Moffat gets his brushes and paints ready, someone climbs the wall of the studio with a crossbow, opens the skylight, fires an arrow into Moffat’s *head*, killing him. Closes the window and vanishes.



Six Months Later: Art Appraiser Arthur Henshaw (Robert Webber) arrives at the Moffat house and is *greeted* by crazy old Aunt Agatha Moffat (Katherine Squire) who asks if he’s from the Janus Gallery in New York. Moffat left all of his paintings to Janus because he discovered him, but Moffat’s wife Ann keeps all of the paintings in the house until she dies... so Janus will probably be long dead before he sees any of the paintings. Crazy old Aunt Agatha is an exposition machine who rattles off information and backstory and plot points and just about anything else the story needs. She tells him the police still have no clues as to who shot the arrow into Moffat’s head.

Ann Moffat (Jane Greer from OUT OF THE PAST) descends the stairs and introduces herself, and crazy Aunt Agatha scampers away. As Ann shows him out the backdoor of the house and across the courtyard to the studio, Henshaw says he’s here to catalogue all of the paintings so Janus can decide what to show at Moffat’s last exhibition. No one has been in the studio since the murder.

She unlocks the door and shows Henshaw around, pointing out Moffat’s last canvas... which is blank. But Henshaw looks at it and says it is not blank... Ann takes a look, and there is a painting of Moffat’s head on the floor with the arrow sticking out of it in the corner of the canvas - the rest is blank. Ann faints.



Dr. Grant (Gage Clarke), who has the worst bedside manner ever, scolds Ann for fainting and yells at her to keep calm. On his way out, Dr. Grant has a conversation with Henshaw about why she fainted. Henshaw says the canvas was blank, and then there was part of a painting on it. “Do you realize what you’re saying?” Dr. Grant replies. Unfortunately, I’m not sure anyone has any idea what they are talking about - because they avoid the word “ghost” and avoid anything that might make you think that’s what they are talking about. Also, they forgot to plant that the painting of dead Moffat was in Moffat’s style. Grant scolds and yells at Henshaw, then leaves.

Ann gets out of bed, tells Henshaw that she must destroy the painting, and heads out the backdoor into a night thick with fog. They have a conversation about the key to the studio - there was only one, Ann didn’t even have a key until her husband died and she was given his. They discuss the arrow shot through the skylight - could someone have entered the studio through the skylight and painted on the canvas... maybe the killer? The fog is so think in some of these shots that the actors didn’t have to show up for work that day.

In the studio, crazy Aunt Agatha is looking at the painting a cackling. They send her away, and Henshaw closes the door. Henshaw goes to get the canvas... and looks at it for a long long long time. Anne eventually comes over and sees that someone has added to the painting - dead Moffat’s body has now been added. Henshaw wants to leave and lock the studio door behind them and call the police. Now we get Ann saying that the painting is in her husband’s style. “He’s dead, but he’s painting this picture.”



Sheriff Pete Browning (George Mitchell - the old drunk in ANDROMEDA STRAIN) shows up and says it’s crazy - Moffat can’t be painting from beyond the grave. Henshaw tells him that he’s sent for the greatest art critic in the world to authenticate the painting. Browning isn’t sure what that will prove... and that’s when Fairchild shows up unannounced. He’s heard rumor that Moffat is painting from beyond the grave, can Sheriff Browning or Henshaw verify this? Again, this guy is over-acting like crazy. Browning shows Fairchild out... then asks Ann for the key to the studio so that he can investigate this alleged ghost painting.

Henshaw helps Ann upstairs, then goes to the studio - where Browning is looking at the painting. Browning pulls up a chair to make sure no ghosts add to the painting overnight. Henshaw goes upstairs in the studio to catalogue paintings.

Crazy Aunt Agatha runs around in the thick fog cackling.

Ann looks out her bedroom window at the fog.

Fairchild looks through the gates at the fog.

Crazy Aunt Agatha makes a cup of coffee, then looks out the window at the fog... and sees a MAN! She screams!



Sheriff Browning hears this and runs out of the studio and through the fog into the kitchen, where Ann is comforting crazy Aunt Agatha... and the MAN is standing in the kitchen. He is Professor Martin Vanderhoven (John Banner, Sgt Schultz) the art expert. He explains how many times he knocked at the front door before coming around to the back and looking through the kitchen window, scaring Agatha, Then he explains exactly why he came here... to examine the painting. Browning realizes that no one is guarding the painting and races back to the studio... Everyone follows.

Browning looks at the canvas and calls for Henshaw, who has been upstairs all along, and says that no one has entered or left the studio. Except, more of the room has been painted - including a roughed out version of the ceiling and skylight!

Vanderhoven says this is definitely Moffat’s work. How is that possible? He’s been dead for six months. Vanderhoven touches the new portion of the painting - and the paint is still wet. Impossible! Vanderhoven wants to take more time to study the painting.



Meanwhile, crazy Aunt Agatha is using a Ouija Board in the livingroom and cackling... while all of the other cast members wait. For some reason, Fairchild is there.

Vanderhoven comes back from the studio and says it is Moffat’s work - but that is impossible. Everybody freaks out in their own way.

Sheriff Browning wants to take the painting to the police station, and Henshaw stops him in the fog - neither actor really needed to show up for this scene, the fog is so thick you can barely see them. Henshaw says the painting belongs to Janus Galleries, and as the representative of the owner, he can’t let Browning have it. Besides - it’s not finished. Browning goes to get a court order.



Henshaw is going to spend the night in the studio guarding the painting.

Fairchild spends the night in a bar. Someone sits across from him - unseen. Fairchild has a file on Henshaw... he was captain of the archery team in college.

Ann grabs a knife and goes into the studio to destroy the painting... but Henshaw wakes up and stops her. That’s when they notice that more of the painting has been filled in. The skylight, but not the face of the killer. Henshaw asks if she killed her husband - she says she hated him, but didn’t kill him. Dude was an a-hole, and screwed every woman who posed for him.



Henshaw says he believes that the killer will return to the scene of the crime to destroy the painting...

And a masked man climbs over the wall with a cross bow!

Henshaw tells her that *he* has been doing the painting - as an art student he learned how to mimic the styles of other painters. He is doing this to catch the killer. He couldn’t tell her until he knew that she wasn’t a suspect. That’s when they hear the noise from the skylight. Henshaw tells her to sit in the chair, and then he races upstairs to the door overlooking the skylight (um, kind of negates the locked room aspect of the mystery) and tangles with the masked cross-bow dude... throwing him through the skylight!

Outside, Fairchild grabs a screaming girl in the fog and brings her into the studio for no apparent reason, where Henshaw rolls over the dead masked man and pulls off the mask... exposing Sheriff Browning. The screaming girl is Marie, Browning’s wife (Alberta Nelson)... who was the nekkid girl Moffat painted who called him in the first scene. Browning found out and got jealous and...

Then, for no apparent reason, everyone looks at the painting as Browning’s face is painted by Moffat’s ghost! Creepy... not!



Review: Newland’s technical direction is a small step better than in his last episode, there is actually a moving shot in this hour! But still, most of his plan is to set up a camera and have actors act in front of it - zero actual direction. This stands out in scenes in the living room set and the art studio set when characters are so far away from the camera that it is like watching a stage play. In the episode’s teaser, where he plays the famous artist *and* directs, there is an awkwardly shot conversation where Fairchild is in close up talking to Moffat in long shot... and the different sizes of the characters on screen is confusing. Had this been done for some purpose it might be okay, but it just seems like Newland wasn’t thinking about how the shots would cut together.

The living room scenes often have the camera planted somewhere and characters move back and forth across a diagonal in front of it - again, making it seem like a stage play. One of the weird things about that moving shot is that it goes from two characters talking to each other on the sides of the screen in profile (flat shot), to behind one of the characters so we can only see the back of his head for the rest of the conversation. What’s that all about? Newland’s flat lack of style has been an issue with all of his episodes since Stephen King’s favorite PIGEONS FROM HELL, where he couldn’t make cobwebs creepy... here he doesn’t make fog creepy.



But the biggest problem with this episode is that it doesn’t get the creepy concept to the audience until close to the end. Whether that is the fault of the screenplay or the direction (most likely both), despite several chunks of exposition, the concept that Moffat is painting his killer’s face from beyond the grave isn’t made clear or even made creepy and strange until the episode is almost over. Yeah, someone is painting that canvas, but the critical information that the painting is in Moffat’s style is never mentioned - and never shown - until Sgt Schultz shows up. The direction is so flat that it can’t make the additions to the painting spooky - someone is just painting - and the writing seems to miss that this is important information. The writer, Wingreen, is a character actor whose face you would recognize - but this is one of 5 TV episodes he wrote, and no one ever asked him back. My guess - due to all of that clunky exposition in an early scene - is that *on the page* we are told that the painting is in Moffat’s style, but because it is never shown in any way - that information stays on the page.



One of the issues here is that for a story that hinges on the painter’s style, prop paintings all seem to be from different painters with different styles. There is never a sequence after the post-death painting has begun that shows shots of Moffat’s previous work and compares it to the post death painting to show the audience that it’s the dead guy doing the painting. One of the checks and balances in cinema is that if the writer drops the ball and the information is on the page but not the stage, the director can rectify that and come us with a visual way to show that information. Here, that wasn’t done. So the concept of a dead man painting his killer doesn’t pop up until too close to the end.



Oh, and the painting is NOT of the killer. Another big issue. The painting is of Dead Moffat with a tiny little piece of the painting being where the killer was. Prop department failure? Writer failure? Director failure? All three?

Though better than his previous entry, Newland’s theory on shooting fast for TV seems to be minimal set ups - and not in a great Stanley Kubrick’s THE KILLING way. He has one more episode coming up, let’s see if there is more camera movement and style than in his previous entries. Meanwhile, the next episode is a clever little crime story about the family that slays together...

- Bill

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