Friday, October 30, 2020

HITCH 20: Mr. Blanchard's Secret (s2e1)

HITCH 20, Episode 6: Mr. BLANCHARD'S SECRET.

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.



Mr. Blanchard's Secret... we can discuss the episode in the comments section, and maybe I'll add some commentary on the episode here.

I decided I would write this *before* watching the episode, so that I wasn’t influenced by what the others said (just as if I was part of this episode)...

The big lesson in this episode for me is ABLA, Always Be Leading the Audience. Just as the director frames the shot to draw the audience’s eyes to some object, you want the story to draw the audience’s minds to some conclusion... show them the information and allow them to make the jump. You create the misdirection. In a mystery, you don’t just throw a bunch of suspects into a room and let the audience pick the most likely suspect (who ends up not being the killer), you *point to the most likely suspect* so that everyone watching the mystery thinks the same person is the killer, that way there is a twist when the real killer is exposed. How a twist works is by misdirection, and just as a magician draws attention to one hand while palming something with the other, when we tell a story we will draw attention to one thing in the story so that the audience focus on that thing... and doesn’t notice the other possibilities. We want to always be leading the audience.



This is a story about storytelling, and the protagonist, Babs Fenton is a writer. A storyteller.

It’s kind of a comedy version of REAR WINDOW.

Babs is the audience surrogate *and* the leader in this episode. She gives us the information... it’s all filtered through her, the way a movie is filtered through the camera’s angle and movement and framing. She has never seen new neighbor Mr. Blanchard’s wife, so maybe he has murdered her? Now that we have been lead in this direction, all of the things we see add further evidence to this scenario. Our vision has been narrowed so that we only see things that fit that possibility. When Babs bumped into him at the grocery store (a husband doing the shopping?) he acted strange when she asked about his wife.

Babs makes a sandwich in the middle of the night... and sees Blanchard peeking through her window! She decides this is a good reason to throw on a robe and knock on his door... and when no one answers and the door is unlocked, she pulls a Grace Kelly and enters the house! Now we get a nice little suspense/dread scene as she pokes around in the house. More evidence! The house is decorated for function rather than beauty, obviously a man’s work. And upstairs, Mrs. Blanchard’s bedroom is suspiciously immaculate. But there is a photo of the Blanchards. When Babs looks in the closet, it’s filled with nice clothes...

And that’s when Blanchard pops up behind her... and startles her. Then escorts her to the front door and out of the house.






Even though her husband John acts as the voice of reason, and keeps telling her this is all her imagination in overdrive and there is obviously some logical explanation. The audience may even know that he’s probably right... but look at this evidence! Look at how weird things are! The fascinating thing about John is that he forces the audience to take a position. We dig in... John offers no explanation for the strange things happening at the Blanchard house.

The next place the story leads the audience is to the idea that Mrs. Blanchard is a prisoner in her own home due to some dark secret... maybe she’s a drunk? That Blanchard lost his well paid university professor job and became a teacher at the high school because of his wife’s drunken scandals. This new theory also fits the evidence, the way a new suspect might in a mystery. Instead of just having some vague scandal, we are pointed in the direction of a specific scandal. That leads to Blanchard killing his wife...

Which is when Mrs. Blanchard shows up at the door. After being lead in one direction, twist! When Babs invites her in and goes to get some coffee (the story is still leading us with the coffee), Twist again as Mr. Blanchard pops up to take his wife home.

And that leads us back to the prisoner in her own home scenario.

Until, in the middle of the night, Blanchard leaves the house carrying a heavy duffel bag... filled with Mrs. Blanchard’s body?

Again, husband John says all of this sounds like her imagination at work... but offers no explanation for the duffel bag in the middle of the night.

And then Mrs. Blanchard shows up again for coffee. Explains that she and her husband had a fight and he threw some clothes in a duffel bag and left. He’ll be back for dinner.

Now we get some nice misdirection: as Babs and Mrs. Blanchard have coffee and a smoke, we are lead to think about the Blanchard’s relationship which is being discussed rather than an important clue that happens right before our eyes. Magic!






When Mrs. Blanchard leaves, she steals the ornate cigarette lighter.

When Babs discovers the ornate cigarette lighter is missing, she knows the Blanchards’ secret: Mrs. Blanchard is a klepto! This explains why he lost his university job and why he keeps her locked up in her room.

Now we get a new twist that leads the audience in a different direction: A woman fitting Mrs. Blanchard’s description has been found murdered. Beaten to death. Babs is sure that when Mr. Blanchard discovered that his klepto wife has stolen again, he went crazy and killed her. Husband John says she’s imagining things again, and insists they go down to the morgue so he can prove to her that this *isn’t* Mrs. Blanchard. Again, we have been lead by the story: the focus is on that dead woman in the morgue. The audience only thinks of: will it be Mrs. Blanchard or not? The audience is not allowed to think of other things, only what the story has focused on.

When Babs opens the front door on the way to the morgue... there are Mr. & Mrs. Blanchard with the ornate cigarette lighter, which Mr. Blanchard has repaired as a housewarming gift. Twist! The end.

By leading the audience the story makes them think about what the writer wants them to think about, rather than the other thousands of possibilities. This way we can perform the magic of storytelling, creating suspense and twists and a fun experience.

Now I’m going to watch the new HITCH 20 episode and see what everyone else said.

Of course, I have my own books 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:
(links actually work now)

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



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 29, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: The Prediction

The Prediction

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



Season: 1, Episode: 10.
Airdate: 11/22/1960


Director: John Brahm
Writer: Donald S. Sanford
Cast: Boris Karloff, Audrey Dalton, Alan Caillou, Abraham Sofaer, Murvyn Vye, Alex Davion.
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell (PSYCHO)




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The unfortunate gentleman you’ve just observed has had a most terrifying experience. You see, his business is *pretending* to be clairvoyant... but the glimpse he just had into the future was true, as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Imagine if you will, the plight of a man who finds his premonitions concerning those he loves coming true in the most horrible and violent ways. The name of our play is “The Prediction”, and appearing with me are Miss Audrey Dalton, Mr. Alex Davion, Mr. Abraham Sofaer, Mr. Alan Caillou, and Mr. Murvyn Vye. Let me assure you my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: In London, night club psychic Mace (Boris Karloff) is a fake... a great showman who entertains the audience with predictions of happy marriages and surprise good luck and other lightweight predictions... but tonight is different. Something weird happens to Mace and his beautiful assistant Norine (Audrey Dalton) realizes he’s going off script... when a skeptic asks who will win the big boxing match tonight, Mace screams that they must stop the fight because one of the boxers... Tommy... will die in the ring! When Mace tries to run off the stage, he trips and goes down, and the club owner Gus (Abraham Sofaer) has them drop the curtains. Backstage, Mace asks Norine’s loser father Burton (Alan Caillou) to race to the Boxing Match and stop the fight before Tommy gets killed. Burton races off...

Mace rests in his dressing room, worried that his crazy performance will get him and Norine fired. Because his beautiful assistant’s father is a drunk and a loser, Mace has become a father to her and takes care of both of them. He’s very protective of Norine... so when Gus knocks on the door and says he needs to see Mace immediately in the club. It’s a surprise party for Mace! Gus loves Mace, he’s the club’s best act. But the party is broken up by Gunner Gogan (Murvyn Vye) the manager of Tommy the boxer... who accuses Mace of making money from his fighter’s death. What? Seems that Burton *didn’t* warn anyone that Tommy would die, instead he bet against him and made $100! Gus and the others have to pull Gogan off Mace, and they tell him that Burton was sent to warn them, didn’t he? Gogan goes to find Burton...



Nadine has a secret fiancé, Grant (Alex Davion), her father Burton does not approve of their relationship. Grant wants her to marry him, now... run away and find a priest. But her father is a huge problem that has to be solved before she can get married...

Mace finds Burton in a pub, drinking and fooling around with a woman half his age (who may be a hooker, at the very least a woman of easy virtue)... spending that $100 as if there is more where that came from. And isn’t there? If Mace can keep making predictions, Burton can keep betting and winning! Mace and Burton have an argument, and Burton splits with the hooker (or whatever). Mace has another vision: Burton will be murdered!

The hooker (or whatever) leads Burton into a dark alley where a huge dude hits him in the head with a brick and steals his money and goes off with the hooker (or whatever). She was part of it all along, luring him to be mugged.

Mace feels *guilty* over Tommy and Burton’s deaths. “Did I forsee Burton’s death? Or will it to happen?” He’s a mess. When he hears that Gogan has been arrested for Burton’s murder, Mace has Gus call the police anonymously and give them the names of the hooker (or whatever) and her accomplice. He just *knew* the names! Then he has another vision... and warns Gus not to cross the stage to meet a man named Harcourt. Gus says he doesn’t know anybody named Harcourt.



Outside the night club: Grant asks Nadine to marry him now that she doesn’t have to take care of her father (I know that sounds terrible, but the dialogue makes it work). Grant has been transferred to another city and wants her to quit as Mace’s beautiful assistant and come with him. Nadine says she can’t just quit... and goes into the club. Grant follows her in to watch the show and try to change her mind afterwards.

Gus goes out on stage... when he gets a message: some guy named Harcourt is waiting in his office. Harcourt? He starts to cross the stage to his office... when a hanging sandbag falls from the rafters right at his head! But Mace runs across the stage and knocks Gus out of the way, the sandbag misses both of them.



Harcourt is a police detective who wants to know who made the anonymous call about Burton’s murder... because they were right. Was this a witness to the murder who didn’t come forward? Gus protects Mace by telling Harcourt that there are many phones in the club, and it could have been anyone. But Harcourt is suspicious.

Mace and Nadine do their act... when Mace has another vision and starts yelling for a man named Grant to come forward, he knows a man with that name is in the audience. Grant this is Mace’s way to break up the relationship and keep his beautiful assistant... and ducks out the back doors. Mace yells that the man named Grant must not make his trip... because he will die!

Later in a pub: Grant tells Nadine he is leaving the next night and wants her to go with him no matter what Mace says. She says no.



Grant goes to Mace, says he loves Nadine and wants to marry her... and Mace says: Great! Congratulations to both of you! I want whatever makes Nadine happy. Grant asks about the prediction, was it just a ruse? Mace says it was real, and Grant *will* die if he travels tomorrow night. Grant doesn’t believe him, and *needs* to leave tomorrow night to get to his job on time. So Mace tells him if he sees a sign that says “Edinburgh, 50 miles” he needs to turn around and come back. Grant agrees to this.

The next night, after the show, Mace and Nadine have a big emotional goodbye. And he warns her about the “Edinburgh, 50 miles” sign. Nadine leaves, gets in the car with Grant and drives off...

And Mace has another premonition: Grant and Nadine will be in an accident and a fire will burn them to death! Mace grabs Gus and they try to chase them down and stop it.

Now we get all kinds of clever stuff right out of Mace’s premonition as Grant and Nadine drive down the highway at night. This is where the story gets fun, because offhand things Mace said like “You’ll need a raincoat” even though it isn’t raining start to become true, and that makes us start to worry that both Nadine and Grant will die in a fiery car wreck. They do almost hit a stalled truck full of refuse in the middle of the road (at night) but Grant brakes at the last minute. The truck driver’s flare had burned out. Truck driver asks if they will tell the repair service at the big truck stop down the road to send help back, and they agree and drive off... just as the truck driver tosses a bent up old road sign deeper into his truck bed. What do you think that sign said?



Meanwhile, Mace and Gus as speeding to save them... take a short cut... and get to the big truck stop before they do, asking an attendant if they’ve passed by yet. Nope. So they head down the road towards Grant and Nadine. After only a few minutes Mace asks Gus to stop the car, and Mace gets out in the rain and stands in middle of the street with his hands up... just as Grant and Nadine’s car rounds the corner towards him! Grant tries to stop the car, but the asphalt is slick and they skid into Mace... killing him! And a minute later, the big truck stop behind them EXPLODES in a giant fireball! So Mace gave his life to prevent Grant and Nadine from going to that truck stop. The end is both a twist and emotional.

Review: The great thing about having Boris Karloff as your host is that he’s also a fine actor, and in this episode he is completely believable as the paternal fake psychic (the kind of role he might have played in a film) and gets two pretty good emotional scenes where he gets a chance to act. Though not one of the great episodes, it’s a lot of fun and there are some nice twists along the way.

The fake psychic who becomes real is a great plot, better used in one of my favorite Cornell Woolrich novels THE NIGHT HAS A THOUSAND EYES (made into an okay movie with Edward G Robinson). That book has a great prediction: that a man will die at the claws of a lion... and takes place in *New York City* where that seems unlikely... until a lion escapes from the zoo! The great twist in that book is that the man dies at the feet of one of the lion statues in front of the library. Here the fun is in watching all of the small elements of Mace’s prediction come true, which builds dread that the big one will come true. That’s a great writing technique, by the way: have a prediction and piece by piece have it come true, leading us to believe it will *all* come true... then find that twist where it comes true im an unexpected way!



For a TV episode, it feels much bigger than whatever its budget was: the two cars on country roads at the end has a great deal of production value, and the night club set seems very real. The pub gets used twice in the story, so it earns its keep.

Once again we are on the right track! This is the type of story I think of when I think of the THRILLER TV show. Something that is either straight suspense or creepy weird tale. Will next week’s episode stay on track? It stars Elisha Cook, jr and a pre DICK VAN DYKE SHOW Mary Tyler Moore and has some elements of SPEED!

Bill



Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 28, 2020

Film Courage Plus: Myth Of Overnight Success

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015, around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Dispelling the myth of the Overnight Success:

No one ever tells you this: Prepare to start at the bottom and work your way up.

You aren't going to sell the first script you write.

So you probably shouldn't quit your day job.

You’ve read the stories about someone who sold their first script for a pile of money and kissed their day job goodbye - from nobody to the hottest writer in Hollywood! Well, 99% of the time, those stories are BS - created by a publicist somewhere to turn this script sale into a Cinderella story, instead of that gritty real story of struggle and hard work that got them to that point where they could sell a script for a pile of money. The article says it was their first script... but that just means it was their first script that *sold*. We know from that old WGA survey that the average screenwriter wrote (and rewrote) 9 screenplays before they made a cent, so even if this is the story of the 1% who actually was some sort of overnight success, that screws up the odds for everyone else - the average number of scripts that you will have to write goes *up* for everyone who isn’t that person.

One of the reasons for publicists to ignore the truth and give us the Cinderella stories is that they want everyone to ignore the past credits of that new million dollar screenwriter. Because no one starts at the top, that means those early credits are often at the bottom. And maybe a little embarrassing. When Jeff Maguire sold IN THE LINE OF FIRE back in 1993, there was all kinds of publicity about how this was his first script and how he turned down Tom Cruise’s offer, because Cruise was too young for the role... but this was not his first script sale. Not even close. His first produced credit was in 1975, and we’ll get back to that in a minute. He had written the successful family adventure film TOBY McTEAGUE in 1986, and wrote VICTORY starring Sylvester Stallone and Michael Caine in 1981. Before that he had been writing low budget exploitation movies for a living, like RECKLESS (1979 version) and the actual first screenplay that he sold (not the first script that he wrote - remember that average) was VAMPIRE LUST back in 1975. So only 18 years to become an overnight success!

I met Jack Nicholson at the San Francisco Film Festival sometime between 1975 and 1979 - I had snuck backstage past security and found him in the green room before he was supposed to go on stage - and he told me that it only took him 25 years to become an overnight success. His first TV role was in 1955, his first movie role was in 1958, and his breakthrough role was FIVE EASY PIECES in 1970 - so it was really only 15 years, right? But those 15 years were spent working in low budget movies for Roger Corman, have you seen the original LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS?



Everyone starts at the bottom and works their way up.

Because there’s a new TERMINATOR movie out, the last successful TERMINATOR was RISE OF THE MACHINES in 2003 and that was written by the two guys who wrote THE GAME... and THE NET with Sandra Bullock, and that was their first script sale according to the publicists. But not in real life. Like Jack Nicholson, those guys began by working for Roger Corman - they wrote BLOODFIST 2 starring Don “The Dragon” Wilson and around a dozen other movies before they sold THE NET. And here’s a bit of encouragement from all of that struggle that the publicists left out of the story - the reason why they were hired to write TERMINATOR 3 is because the director who was hired to make the film had worked with them in their low budget days and thought that they were great writers. So that time you are working your way up from the bottom you are making connections that can put you on top!

I often mention my ill-advised Super 8mm feature film, made in my home town when I was in my early 20s. I cast the movie out of the Diablo Valley College drama department, and my female lead was the most beautiful and talented actress there. I believe that she was super disappointed to discover that I was not some big Hollywood producer, just some guy in the Film Appreciation class who owned a Super 8 sound camera and some lights and was the entire crew for the movie. Just me. Well, she moved to Hollywood and was cast in a low budget T&A comedy called BEACH GIRLS as the lead - the girl who didn’t get naked until the end. That film was a drive in and grindhouse hit, which lead to her starring in some other films and a guest star gig on T.J. HOOKER. Many years later, when I had moved to Los Angeles and was an active member of Scriptwriters Network, our guest speaking is the writer of Mr. HOLLAND’S OPUS and COURAGE UNDER FIRE, Pat Duncan, and afterwards I talked with him... about his first produced credit - BEACH GIRLS, starring that actress in my Super 8 feature! Pat had spent years writing low budget films and Saturday morning cartoons before he became the serious writer whose scripts got actors Oscar nominations. He did rewrite work on my favorite Chuck Norris movie...

Speaking of Chuck Norris, Oscar winning screenwriter Steve Zaillian (SCHINDLER’S LIST, THE IRISHMAN) got his start on a Chuck Norris movie. I’ll bet the publicists leave that off his resume!

The point of all of this is that a writer writes. The door that opens for you is probably not going to be a big studio film, it’s most likely going to be something at the bottom. Just like any other job, you don’t walk in after you have graduated high school and fill out a job application for CEO of the company. You start at the bottom and work your way up.

If you plan on writing TV, you don’t start by selling a pilot script. That pilot script is what may get you hired as a writer’s assistant on a low end TV show, or maybe get you work writing Saturday morning cartoons (check the credits of your favorite TV writers - a lot began in cartoons, that’s where they hire new writers). But writers write, so you will be learning on the job - writing against deadlines and working your way slowly up the ladder until you are hired on staff for a hit TV show and someone at the network pulls you aside and asks if you have any ideas for new TV shows... and you whip out that pilot that got you the job on that cartoon many years ago. Or, more likely, a new pilot that incorporates what you have learned over those many years. You aren’t going to start at the top.

You will grab hold of that first cartoon job or Roger Corman film (or whatever) job and give it your best shot, because you are a writer and love writing and want to do as much writing as possible. Paid to write? Heaven! You are getting paid for what you love! Up until this point you were working some possibly crappy job that you may have hated... and now you are writing for money!

Being a screenwriter is not a single screenplay, it is writing maybe 100 or more screenplays over your career. So you need to get used to writing screenplay after screenplay after screenplay. You’d better love that, or at least like having finished writing those screenplays - because that’s what being a screenwriter *is*. Writing a stack of screenplays. Writing screenplays for a living. Writing screenplays for others, based on an existing property (book, movie remakes, board games) or for specific requirements (we have Adam Sandler signed to a 5 picture deal! Or Chuck Norris wants to do a low budget horror movie where he kicks a monster’s butt!) because that’s what a professional screenwriter does. Spec screenplays are job applications for assignments like that. This is a job. You write for a living, on deadlines, with crazy bosses, and have to do great work no matter what the assignment - or you will be fired. More writers than jobs, maybe someone else can do what you can not? But if you love writing, you will look at any challenge as a chance to show your creative stuff. Embrace those entry level jobs, because you are WORKING. Getting paid for writing. Is there anything better?

And the thing that I didn't mention in the clip: All of those terrible writing jobs on cartoons or low level TV shows or non blockbuster films? Are JOBS! Writers are needed to write those - and you may end up writing cartoons for the rest of your life. Guess what? That's writing for a living. It's better than doing that horrible day job that you had to do before you broke in. Is there anything better than writing for a living?

Good luck and keep writing.

- Bill

PS: In the clip I also talk about keeping screenplay copies in the trunk of my car. These days, I would just ask for the person's e-mail and ask if I can send them a logline.



Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Trailer Tuesday:
HOUSE ON HAUNTED HILL

It's that time of year...



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

Buy the border

Friday, October 23, 2020

HITCH 20: WET SATURDAY (s1e5)

This documentary video series focuses on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode is WET SATURDAY which also stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF), this time as the guy who has no idea he's being framed for murder. This is an interesting episode because it's a calm discussion of a violent act, which somehow makes the violence more violent. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a croquet mallet to the side of the head!



This was the last episode of HITCH 20 of the first season... and I hope soon to have the new (and last) season of HITCH 20 up on Fridays (I'm told is on its way!)



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:
(links actually work now)

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



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.

Price: $5.99

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Might have the third and last Hitchcock book done this year, too!

Thursday, October 22, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: The Devil's Ticket

THRILLER: Devil’s Ticket

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



Season: 1, Episode: 29.
Airdate: April 18, 1961

Director: Jules Bricken
Writer: Robert Bloch adapts... Robert Bloch!
Cast: Macdonald Carey, Patricia Medina, Joan Tetzel, John Emery.
Music: Big lush Morton Stevens score... heard it somewhere before.
Cinematography: John Russell.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The name of our story is The Devil’s Ticket. It has to do with an artist, and they tell us that one picture is worth a thousand words. You will see Macdonald Carey, Joan Tetzel, Patricia Medina, and John Emery. Now there’s a rogue’s gallery if I ever saw one! And I can assure you they’re up to no good, as you’ll find out for yourself if you have the courage to stay with us.”

Synopsis: A Pawn Shop as the sun sets. Pawn Shop owner Spengler (Robert Cornthwaite) is nervous as he closes up, makes sure all of the doors and windows are locked as if he’s expecting an invasion... that’s when the bell over the door begins ringing like crazy. He carefully opens the front door... what could be on the other side? A creature? Sees his cat jumping up and grabbing the bell cord. Brings in the cat, relocks and bolts the front door, and goes to the counter where there’s a HUGE pile of money. He starts counting it when the back door BLASTS open, and fog enters the Pawn Shop. A voice startles him: it’s Satan, saying they had a deal... and now it’s time for him to pay. The cat freaks out...



Crappy apartment: Hector Vane (Macdonald Carey) and his wife Marie (Joan Tetzel) sit at the dinner table eating the last of their food. They are flat broke. He’s a painter who does amazing portraits which capture the souls of his subjects... but everyone wants abstracts these days. He hasn’t sold a painting in ages. He looks for something to take to pawn for a few bucks so that they can eat... realizes they have nothing left except his ratty old coat, and his paintings. He swore he’d never pawn a painting, but...

Pawn Shop: Hector goes to pawn one of his paintings, but Spengler isn’t there. A strange man lets him in... he doesn’t introduce himself, but he goes by many names (Satan played wickedly by John Emery). Satan loves the painting, but tells Hector that he’d rather loan him money on another commodity. In a sly and subtle scene, Satan introduces himself without names, explains that he will pawn Hector’s soul for 90 days in exchange for Hector’s dreams of success as a painter... but at the end of those 90 days Hector must return and give Satan the pawn ticket *and* a painting of someone else... a painting that captures their very soul. Hector’s soul will be returned, but the subject of his painting will lose theirs.

Hector puts the pawn ticket in the pocket of his ratty coat and heads home...



Where Marie tells him a gallery just called, they want to do a one man show of his work. Not just any gallery, but a big uptown gallery where rich people go to buy paintings! Any skepticism about whether the new pawnshop owner was Satan or not disappears.

The Gallery: *All* of Hector’s paintings sell for top dollar, and there are art collectors eagerly awaiting whatever he paints next! They are *rich*!

Luxurious apartment: Hector and Marie sit at a massive dinner table eating a feast. The same scene as before, just with a whole lot more money.



Hector goes to the Pawn Shop with a painting... a landscape. Satan tells him that’s not the way it works: it must be the painting of someone you know... and it must capture their soul. Their soul for yours.... and he has 26 days left to paint and deliver the picture.

Hector tells Marie he’s going to their old apartment, now his studio, to paint. She doesn’t understand why he kept that place... why not find a nice studio? They can afford it. Hector says he likes to be reminded of where he came from...

But really, he uses the studio to meet his mistress Nadja (Patricia Medina) a model he never got around to painting... but bedding? That’s what he does now instead of paint. Nadja wants him to ditch his wife and go to the Mexican Riviera with her. Problem is, the day she leaves is the day he needs to deliver his painting.



Hector sees a psychiatrist Dr. Frank (Hayden Rorke, Dr. Bellows from I DREAM OF JEANNIE) and explains the whole Satan thing. Dr. Frank doesn’t believe in Satan, thinks this new Pawnshop Owner is just some dude playing with Hector’s mind. He only has Hector’s soul if that’s what Hector believes. Hector asks if the dude isn’t Satan, how come Hector became instantly successful after making the deal? Dr. Frank agrees to go to the pawn shop and talk to this guy who may or may not be Satan.

At a fancy restaurant, Hector has dinner with Nadja... and tells her he *will* go away with her.

When he goes to see Dr. Frank the next day, the doctor is gone and Satan is behind his desk. Satan warns him not to do anything like that again. Don’t go to the police, don’t call a lawyer (“In my time, I’ve had dealings with many lawyers”), just deliver the painting... in 13 days.

Hector thinks he has a solution: he will paint Marie... who he no longer loves. But as he paints his wife, he falls in love with her all over again. This creates a problem: he finished the painting with just over 2 days until his pawn ticket and the painting are due... but now he’s fallen back in love with is wife.


When the wife is out, he brings his mistress over to see the painting... and she reacts like a madwoman! She can see that Hector is still in love with his wife just by looking at it, so she SLASHES the painting to ribbons! Then she runs off, saying their relationship is over. To make things worse, the phone rings and it’s Satan reminding him he has 48 hours to deliver the painting.

Hector locks himself in his room and paints nonstop for 48 hours... falls asleep. Marie knocks on the door, he says come in... that the painting is finished. As soon as he delivers it to the customer, they can run off together... a second honeymoon. Marie leaves for a moment, then returns... tells Hector he has a visitor. It’s Satan.

“You know why I’m here. Give me my painting!”



Hector invites Satan in, tells him he will really like the painting he’s done, it really captures the subject’s soul. He unveils the painting, and it’s... Satan! Hector explains that Satan kept asking for *his* painting, so this is a painting of *him*, as per contract. Satan is shocked, he has actually been bested by a mortal. This has never happened before! Satan tells Hector to give him the pawn ticket and Hector’s soul will be returned, and he gets to keep all of the fame and fortune he’s built for the past 90 days plus any he makes for himself in the future. Hector asks Marie to get him his old coat...

She returns with a brand new one. “Surprise!” She got him a new coat for their second honeymoon! Hector asks what she did with his old coat? Marie says it was so old and ratty that she burned it...

Satan smiles at Hector, “Now it’s your turn to burn!”



Review: Bloch adapts Bloch this week in a clever little weird tale probably from Weird Tales Magazine originally. There have been some Bloch short stories adapted on Thriller before, but this is the first time he did it himself. Though best known for PSYCHO, Bloch is one of the great horror writers of the 1950s and one of my favorites. I probably discovered him through Norman Bates, but stayed for Weird Tailors and all of his wonderful short stories and novels. He is the master of the clever writing with lines like “He cut off her scream, and her head” and “He'd captured her heart, and put it in a glass jar”. In this episode there’s all kinds of clever lines, like Satan’s line about knowing a bunch of lawyers.

Even though this episode has a built in ticking clock, with the 90 day pawn ticket and the days ticking down throughout; this is more a twist end story than a tale of suspense like YOURS TRULY JACK THE RIPPER (which also has a twist end, but manages to build some real suspense and dread whenever one of the women goes walking after dark). No suspense situations in this episode, it ends up being more of a drama about the toll of success. Part of the problem might be the direction, which is typical TV so some of the things which might be milked for suspense end up being used for surprise. But the*type* of story is less suspense and more twisted tale.



Macdonald Carey is a really odd choice for the lead, who is supposed to be a young struggling artists and is even called “young man” by a couple of characters... Carey was not young when this was made. The other characters were adjusted upwards as well, with Nadja his mistress looking late 30s... compare her to the hot young artist’s model from YOURS TRULY! Even though Carey seems to old, that age adds a layer of desperation which may not have been there with a younger actor. This old man has been struggling all of these years and *still* hasn’t made it?



Just as beatniks were part of the time period so they pop up in YOURS TRULY, having an analyst or psychiatrist was also an element of the times... and shows up in this story, When Hector goes to see Dr. Frank, that would make more sense at the time than going to the police... people went to their shrinks. Their shrink would solve the problem. One of the elements of a thriller story like NORTH BY NORTHWEST is that the authorities have to be taken out of the equation... so Roger Thornhill is accused of a murder and can’t go to the police for help. Here, Hector goes to his shrink for help... and we must remove the authorities from the equation... so Dr. Frank’s power must be nullified. That kind of tells us something about the power of psychoanalysis at the time period: it’s equal to calling the police!

How do you show Hector worrying about his pawned soul? You can’t *show* someone’s soul, right? So you need to find a symbol of their soul... and that’s the pawn ticket. I call this a “twitch”, it’s a physical manifestation of the protagonist’s emotional conflict. He’s worried about his soul, so he pulls the pawn ticket out of the pocket of his ratty old coat and looks at it, and we understand that he’s worried that he might lose his soul. You find a symbol, and this one comes directly from the story. It’s a great device to show us what is going on inside a character’s head. Every time Hector takes the ticket out and looks at it, we understand what he’s thinking.



Speaking of that ratty old coat, because it’s the big end twist, in order to “play fair” we have to establish that the wife wants to get rid of that coat and make sure that’s understood by the audience but also forgotten by the audience (to make it a twist). Here’s where *the story* makes this work: Hector has a secret reason for keeping the ratty old coat that his wife doesn’t know: the pawn picket in the pocket. So even though it makes sense for him to throw away the old coat, we know why he wants to keep it. Several times, when the wife is wearing new clothes and Hector puts on his ratty old coat it makes sense for her to comment on it... and the audience doesn’t notice that they are being set up for that twist at the end. We’re so busy worrying that the wife will discover the pawn ticket that we don’t realize we’re being set up for her *not* discovering the pawn ticket. That’s some good writing!

Probably because I’m more into the suspense based episodes, this one is in the good category but not in my great category. It is very entertaining, and John Emery kills it as Satan... he milks every one of Bloch’s clever lines!

Next week we look at an episode that may have inspired Stephen King’s CARRIE.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Film Courage Plus: Take This Job And Shove It!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015, around 36 segments total. That's almost a year's worth of material! So why not add a new craft article and make it a weekly blog entry? All I have to do is write that new article, right?

Take This Job And Shove It:

What’s interesting to me about this clip is that the first question is about when you should quit your day job, but evolved into a story about my early career... and the troubled path TREACHEROUS took to get to the screen. What do they have in common? I had no idea at the time of the interview, but looking back on it I’ve realized that the TREACHEROUS story is a perfect example of how being a professional screenwriter is often not a dependable source of income. That’s one of the problems with any creative occupation - no regular paychecks.

Screenwriting is freelance - which means that you are the boss. Which means that you pay yourself. Which means that you need to find the jobs so that you can pay yourself. You will be an independent businessperson. Though you may fantasize about an Agent or Manager handling the business side, that is only a fantasy. Most of the deals you get will come from your hard work... and they will get their 10%. You are the only one who cares about your career, so you will need to get out there and find jobs.

One of the questions that new writers frequently ask is: when should I move to Los Angeles?

I thought for the longest time that I wouldn’t have to move to Los Angeles at all. My first script deal, back when I was 21 years old, was writing a comedy martial arts film NINJA BUSTERS for a guy from my hometown community college and it was made in Oakland, CA - the nearest big city to where I grew up - and even starred the World Champion Oakland Raiders. Cool! I believed that I could have a career in my hometown, and NINJA BUSTERS was the first in a three script deal with the guy who produced and directed it, Paul Kyriazi. Paul had made a few successful kung fu movies for the drive in circuit and set up a company that would make more drive in films. After writing NINJA BUSTERS I wrote the next two scripts... and then NINJA BUSTERS hit some financial snags and there would not be two more films. The weird part was that there was enough publicity surrounding the film that I found a couple more local jobs - one of the producers on NINJA BUSTERS had an idea for a movie, and a real estate guy my girlfriend at the time knew had a bunch of vacant properties he thought we could use as film locations. So even after NINJA BUSTERS hit a snag, there were two more deals to be had in the Oakland area. And then there was nothing. I was the big fish in the small pond and had eaten up all of the fish food. I spent ten years working in a warehouse...

And during that time I optioned a script to a company in Beverly Hills and eventually sold another script to a company at Paramount... and that is when I moved.

Looking back on it: I wish I had moved right after NINJA BUSTERS hit the snag, because I could have forklift jousted in Los Angeles as easily as I did in my home town. I was working for Safeway Grocery, and they had stores and warehouses in Los Angeles. Could have easily moved here much earlier instead of driving down once a year for American Film Market. One of the benefits of living in Los Angeles is that you bump into people in line at the grocery store and can easily go to a bunch of meetings. I had an agent for a while still living in my home town and had no idea how terrible he was until I optioned that script to the producer in Beverly Hills and saw his 8x8 windowless office above a motorcycle repair shop in the slums. I would have been a lot more proactive had I known that he was doing nothing for me. I was probably the oldest dude to sell a script to Roger Corman - and had I moved to Los Angeles earlier I probably would have written a stack of scripts for him in my 20s!

WHEN TO MOVE?

One of the questions people often ask is when they should move to Los Angeles - before they make their first sale or after? That’s a very good question and everything depends on what you have established where you live now. I moved after my first sale and once I got here wished I had moved earlier - all of those Corman scripts I could have written. All of those connections I could have made. And I probably never would have signed with that terrible agent!

But it is likely that you will move here at some point.

Los Angeles is where the business is located. All of the studios are here, all of the production companies are here, all of those meetings you will need to go to are here. Though there are other places in the USA where films are frequently produced and you can make connections there, those films are made by companies in Los Angeles. New York doesn’t seem to be doing much these days - Miramax is closed and most of the New York City companies dried up when the indie film business evolved into guys and gals in their backyards with digital cameras a decade ago.

I have friends who live out of town and come here a couple of times a year for a couple of weeks to do wall-to-wall meetings so that they can maintain their career out of town. The rest they do by phone or Skype. That is a possibility, especially if you have a family and a house and a life set up elsewhere.

If you are single? Why not be single here? Yeah, it’s so expensive you’ll probably be living in some terrible apartment with room mates, but when you are single and young it’s an adventure! And there are places you can live within driving distance of Los Angeles that are affordable if you are looking for a house and no roommates.

If you have a good job in your hometown, that can be an issue... but do they have a branch office or store or whatever in Los Angeles? Can you transfer? Keep the good job, just do it in Los Angeles? If not, then you might want to keep the good job. One of the problems with trying to re-establish yourself in a new city is that all of the “ground work” takes time. I got my job at Safeway Grocery because I bumped into a store manager at a business we both frequented, and his son knew my brother. That sort of thing is a lot more difficult when your brother lives in your hometown and that store manager’s son lives in Los Angeles. So if you have a good job, you may want to move after the sale... or not at all.

You don’t want to get into a position where you are stressed about money and can’t write. That defeats the purpose!

WHEN I QUIT MY JOB

After selling COURTING DEATH - a series of flights to Los Angeles - I put in my 2 weeks notice, and I think I ended up working even longer. I was a good employee. And that’s a factor that some people miss - if you are a crappy employee at your day job, how do you think you’ll do when you are the boss of your own one person company and have to make deadlines and show up to meetings on time and all of the other things you may have hated about the day job? I was always a hard working employee, always the guy who would take an extra shift if need be, always the guy that the other employees got along with. Always on time. All of the things that make you a good employee at your day job are the same factors that will make you successful as a screenwriter. If you are not the very best employee at your day job, the person they can trust to show up on time and get the work done without mistakes, you will never be ready to quit your day job and write full time... because how will you (as boss) get you (as employee) to do better? You have already proven yourself a terrible employee - why would you hire yourself? I was the great employee then, and a pretty good employee now. So when I quit my day job, they threw a big party for me.

I moved to Los Angeles to begin this adventure in screenwriting... which is still going! I haven't had to fire myself yet!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: 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




When you read a biography of Vincent 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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