Thursday, December 31, 2020

THRILLER Thursday: THE STORM

NEW! SEASON 2: THE STORM

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



Season: 2, Episode: 18.
Airdate: January 22, 1962.

Director: Hershell Daugherty Writer: William D. Gordon, based on a story by MacIntoch Malmar.
Cast: Nancy Kelly, David McLean, James Griffith, Jean Carroll.
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: John F. Warren.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “George Herbert, rector of Bemerton once wrote, ‘By all means tale some time to be alone. Salute thyself. See what thy soul doth wear.’ One wonders if it is possible ever to heed that advice. Does the condition of safe solitude exist? Here, for example, we have a wide still space about us, and a curtain of heavy weather descended to cut off the rest of the world. Yes, we have the illusion of solitude. But here too are some witnesses who will attest that the illusion is grotesquely false: Janet Wilson whose character is portrayed by Nancy Kelly, Ben Wilson to be played by David McLean, and Ed Brandes played by James Griffith. And... dear ,em I think I’ve forgotten someone - of course, it’s Baba. (He picks up the black cat.) Baba who perpetuates the name of the Egyptian philosopher of the 18th Dynasty, 1600 BC. It’s a pity, wouldn’t you say, that Baba was the only witness to a murder? And such a brutal one. The victim so young, so beautiful, so helpless. The killer safe - free to roam the stormy night, perhaps to kill again. And again. As for little Baba, I suspect that only he knows the secret of solitude without danger. But the others? Seclusion will become the cradle of panic. The storm, from which the story derives its title from, has many ingredients: wind, rain, wickedness, terror. But I needn’t tell you anymore - you’ll be there to see it explode in all its glory.”



Synopsis: A storm rages. Outside a large country home - miles away from the next house - a black cat watches as a Man chases a Woman. We see neither’s face. The man catches the woman near a fence and strikes her... killing her... and she falls to the ground. Her limp arm tangled in a fence. We see that she is wearing a distinctive diamond ring.

There is a killer on the loose in the storm.

Janet Willsom (Nancy Kelly) pulls up in front of that large country home in a taxi cab driven by creepy Ed Brandes (James Griffith - more quirky than creepy) who warns her that the storm will be getting worse, there will be flooding and road closures, so maybe he should take her to the hotel in town. She says that she has been away, and just wants to get home. He offers to carry her bags inside...



Once inside, the cat (Baba) greets her... and Brandes the taxi driver continues to come on to her like a super lonely guy. You feel sorry for him. He offers to take the suitcases to the bedroom, he asks if she has anything alcoholic to drink, he asks if she wants him to spend the night to keep her safe. Janet tells him that she is expecting her husband any minute, pays him and gets him to leave.

Now she is alone in the house during the storm. Just her and the cat.

Lightning. Thunder. Wind. Rain.

The house is cold, so she turns on the furnace... but it isn’t working. Cold, So she puts on a jacket. Bundled up. She starts a fire in the fireplace, and goes to the phone to call her husband. This is a rural area, and every call goes through an operator, who Janet talks to for a while. The gossip line. She gets some information on the storm - which is getting worse - as the operator tries to connect to her husband Ben (David McLean). No answer at the office, he must already be headed home. Driving in this weather. Janet was going to warn him that she came home a day early after tending to a sick sister.

She hangs up the phone and we get an exposition filled flashback of her and Ben’s relationship. Even though both are middle aged, they have only been married a couple of years. They found each other late in life, and Ben swept her off her feet. This is the first of a couple of exposition dump flashbacks, and one major thing that it does is put a face on the offscreen husband.

The flashback ends when the power flickers... then goes out. Suddenly there is a loud banging from outside and the cat shoots across the room.

Janet looks out the window and discovers the noise is the cellar door banging open and closed. She grabs her raincoat and goes outside to secure it. Weird that it wasn’t latched closed.

Back inside the house, the power goes out. Darkness.



She grabs her coat and a flashlight, goes back outside and opens the cellar door, descending into the darkness. The cellar is creepy (but the spider webs never come into contact with the actress). She goes to the fuse box and checks the fuses - all are good. This is a downed power line somewhere. She goes back into the house, securing the cellar doors behind her. Grabs candles and hopes that Ben comes home soon.

The fire has died down, and when she stokes it with newspapers from a bin, she finds a letter addressed to her husband, and we get another flashback - this time to explain that in the past her husband kept getting letters from some woman named Agnes that he claimed was his cousin. Ben doesn’t open the letters in front of Janet and refuses to talk about them. All of this seems suspicious as hell in a brief flashback, but for some reason Janet just accepts it. We aren’t even at the first commercial and I already know who the killer and the victim are in this story.



She puts the cat outside, and then notices that the cellar window is open. It’s as if the cellar is beckoning to her. She grabs the flashlight and raincoat and goes down to close and lock the cellar window... and discovers a dead woman in a trunk! And the dead woman is wearing that distinctive diamond ring!

She races back inside the house and tries to call the police, but the storm has fouled up the phone lines - she can hear the operator but the operator can’t hear her.

She hears someone outside! She runs out to the garage, goes to the hook on the wall where the keys to the old pick up truck should be... but they are gone! She gets into the pick up, and the keys are in the ignition. She starts it up and drives away from the house, but a tree branch blocks the road. When she tries to get around it, she gets stuck in the mud. She runs back to the house, closes and locks the door, then notices an icepick on the kitchen table (earlier she had told the taxi driver that neither she nor her husband drinks, so what the heck is the ice pick for?). She grabs the ice pick to use as a weapon, and searches the house... finding the cat inside and wet shoe prints on the floor. Someone else is in the house!



The front door rattles. She goes up to the door, ice pick ready, and unlocks the door... daring the killer to come in. This does not seem like a safe thing to do, nor a sensible thing to do.

A man enters and when she tries to stab him with the ice pick, he grabs her... it’s Ben, her husband. She tells him about the dead woman in the cellar and he doesn’t believe her. He takes her down into the cellar to show her that it’s all her imagination... and there is no dead woman in the trunk. She imagined it all.

Back inside the house, she still wants to phone the police, and he talks her out of it. She mentions the letter that she found, but it isn’t where she put it. Ben says that he noticed it when he came in and put it in his pocket. When he pulls it out, that distinctive diamond ring comes with it, and falls on the floor. Ben is the killer!

Janet runs, Ben chases. She runs to the pick up truck, and we get a “cavalcade of bodies” scene when she pulls a tarp from the back and there is the dead woman! She screams, then keeps running. Ben stops chasing her for some reason, the end. Kind of a weird ending - it’s as if they ran out of film or time, so Ben just stops chasing her.



Review: This episode predates the classic Hitchcock Hour AN UNLOCKED WINDOW by a couple of years, and shows how the same idea can be a great episode and a bland one. This is the bland one. The one that keeps making mis-steps at the script stage.

Right from the beginning we get odd choices in the story. If the Taxi Driver is supposed to be our potential killer, he certainly doesn’t act like it. Though casting was a huge mistake here, James Griiffith seems like the guy at the top of the list when you look up “Taxi Drivers” in the casting directory, when the role really needs someone seriously creepy and strange; the real problem is the dialogue isn’t creepy and strange enough. He seems like a lonely guy hitting on a woman alone, instead of a potential murderer. This is where you want “two way dialogue” that has both a conversational meaning and a deeply disturbing meaning. Things that can be taken two ways. But you also want just straight out crazy stuff. If the Taxi Driver had talked about the dangers of the storm and how he once saw a new litter of puppies drown in a house basement... his house’s basement when he was a child... and he just watched them from the stairway... that would have made this guy a potential killer. He needed to be a serious threat that she must get out of her house... and then we fear that he might be waiting in the cellar for her. But he’s a lonely guy with lonely guy talk... pathetic instead of a threat.



Once he’s gone, it’s just Janet and the cat for most of the story - and it seems as if they have padded out the story instead of tried to create actual suspense and dread. Various noises keep sending her into the cellar... but because we have no idea that there is the body of a dead woman down there, it really doesn’t matter. Unlike the Hitchcock episode where we know that there is an escaped lunatic killer on the loose in the storm, here we have no constant warning that something bad might happen. Once we have negated the Taxi Driver as a threat, we just have the storm and that opening teaser where a woman is killed. Now, if that teaser had shown the killer taking the body into the cellar, where he maybe is waiting out the storm, that might have made those pointless trips to the cellar to latch a window more suspenseful... but minus a threat in the cellar, it’s just a woman in the dark securing a window - no big deal. And a huge chunk of this episode is her securing windows and being afraid of owls. They must have thought the storm was enough to be afraid of - but a storm is just rain, and it washes off.



The other issue with the script are these dead flashbacks designed to give us information that the exposition dumps on the phone with the operator didn’t cover. I’m sure in the story that this was adapted from, she sees the letter addressed to her husband and remembers their conversations about the letters... but instead of finding a way to *adapt* this scene to a visual dramatic medium, the script just does what the story does. It comes off as boring *and* an obvious exposition plant for the Husband Is The Killer Twist (which kills the twist). Instead, I would have had her read the letter and discover that her husband has a crazy admirer who is threatening to come to the house - making this mystery woman another possible killer in the storm.



If they had also made the mystery woman a threat, they could have had all sorts of fun with wet or muddy footprints in the house... a woman’s shoes... and now she tries to match her shoes to the prints. It would have given her something active to do, and built up the suspense.

It’s as if every time there is a chance to make the episode work, the script does the opposite of what it should have done.

Instead of racheting up the suspense and dread with actual things that are potential threats - things that are legitimate fears - if comes up with a bunch of excuses that just pad out the story until we get to the twist ending. This is where “poking the tiger” is important in a screenplay or story - whatever the actual physical threat is, it needs to be regularly shown in the story in order to remind the audience that it is there. Once we have that unlocked window in the Hitchcock episode, things begin to happen in the house that remind us of the crazy killer... and tell us that the killer is IN THE HOUSE. Not a potential threat, but an actual threat. Here, that noise outside is just an owl.



One of the other things that doesn’t work is that cat - which seems to exist only for scenes where she put the cat outside and then somehow the cat is inside. I didn’t even nothing this until she mentions it outloud close to the end. Was I supposed to be keeping track of the cat this whole time?

The end is also a complete let down. It seems like they just ran out of time or film and ended it with the husband in the storm. He could still have chassed and killed her. A better ending would have been to have a police car roll up (the operator had them do a check) or even the creepy Taxi Driver return because he stole something personal from the house and decided to return it an apologize. Something to actually resolve the conflict of the killer husband. But nope.

Next week we go to Hollywood for the story of a washed up old sexpot who gets one last chance at stardom... with a little help from a witch.

- Bill

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Wednesday, December 30, 2020

ATLIH: American Film Market...
The Lobby Rats
(it's part 2)

From 2006...

The big convention of All The Losers In Hollywood takes place in the Loew’s lobby. You see, it takes a badge to get upstairs to the dealing rooms... and that costs money. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that everyone who goes upstairs must come downstairs... and if you wait in the lobby with your movie posters or headshots or screenplays, you may be able to ambush one of those big shot distributors when they wander down for lunch. At least, that’s the plan of the Lobby Rats.

THE LAYOUT

First, how about some geography? To get into the Loew’s Hotel, you’ll have to go through a security checkpoint where they will search your bag for bombs and handguns. You might think this is all about terrorism, but I suspect what it’s really about are those disreputable distributors upstairs who owe producers money. Every year there is at least one raid by the Sheriff’s Office due to some legal action taken against a distributor. It’s kind of exciting - a bunch of Deputies with guns storm into the market and march up to one of the suites... then serve papers and often close down the distrib for the rest of the market. I know a producer who sold his film for $5k and a high % of the back-end... except there wasn’t any back-end. After his contract was up, he pulled the film... but the distrib kept selling it! So checking for weapons is a good idea - more on this in part 3.



Once you get passed the guards, you go through the revolving door and are ambushed by people trying to give you Hollywood Reporter and Variety and the foreign Trades (Screen International, Film Business, etc). They practically assault you. I hate taking the magazines when I arrive, because that means I’ll have to carry them with me for the rest of the day - and they get heavy. Most of the people handing you magazines are actors picking up some spare change. Up until a few years ago, they were mostly hot actresses. Hollywood Reporter had this “uniform” of black shorts and tight white T shirts. They “cast” every really hot actress in town. I remember one, Alicia, who may have started out handing out Hollywood Reporter when AFM was in Beverly Hills... and eventually became the head of development for an AFM company.

Once you get past the trade-hawkers, to the left are the restrooms, where you may find yourself standing at a urinal next to the guy who played Billy Bear in 48 HOURS or maybe one of the more mutant Baldwin Brothers. To the right is a hallway leading to the 4th floors and the AFM Info desk and the wide circular staircase overlooking the pool which leads up to the restricted floors. Past the stairs is something they added a couple of years ago - a cart where you can buy coffee at prices that make Starbucks look cheap. If you look straight up, you can see the balcony-hallways of every floor, and all of those distribs and sales agents and buyers who can afford a badge looking down. Maybe even spitting. You won’t be able to see much of them, though, because couple of years ago they started plastering the balconies with banners. Huge ads for the movies upstairs. Last year and the year before there were ads for movies I wrote - but not this year. If you’ve ever wondered, “What’s Ed Azner doing these days?” All you have to do is look up at the banners and see a couple of new movies he’s in.

The lobby is cut in half by a bank of hanging TV monitors, showing trailers for the films upstairs. One thing you notice about AFM is that the movies are *concentrated*. There used to be this section in Blockbuster called “Super Action” - that’s where some of my movies ended up. All of the movies at AFM are “Super Action” or “Super Horror” or “Super T&A Comedy” or some other “Super”. Makes me laugh when I’ve watched a rotation of car explosion and chainsaw trailers... then there’s an epic drama trailer from Korea complete with sweeping vistas and a million costumes... oh, and swordfights.

On the other side of the monitor bank is the half of the lobby with the bar. Just past the bar are the doors leading out to the pool - where the really cool lobby rats hang out. I always hope to go out there and see Uma Thurman swimming laps in a bikini, but it’s usually some fat, hairy German guy in a speedo. Up until a few years ago, a group of folks from upstairs would come down to watch the sunset every night. It’s really beautiful, and a great way to get your priorities straight after a day of haggling over Lithuanian rights to BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS. I haven’t seen those people for a couple of years - more proof that the business is changing.

Opposite the doors to the pool there is a restaurant that is sometimes used for meetings and used to be used for big parties. I remember a few years back South Korea had this big Godzilla-like monster movie, and they held party there... complete with a huge ice sculpture of the monster attacking a building. This year, there weren’t any parties there... and least, none that anyone told me about.

There are pillars with ferns or something every so many feet on the edges of the lobby, and tall tables are set up - this is where the lobby rats congregate. A handful of them at each table, or leaning against a pillar, or with a briefcase set up on a potted fern. They read the trades or talk business or pretend to talk on cell-phones. Or they just pose. The big days for the Lobby Rats are Saturday and Sunday (when they aren’t working at their day jobs) you’ll find a bunch of them down there every day during AFM. They come in all shapes and sizes, but the main categories are:

STARVING ACTORS

Though you won’t find Dennis Woodruff in the lobby, you’ll find almost every other out of work actor in town. Both wannabes and has-beens. Unknowns and the once famous crowd the little tables, hoping that someone from upstairs will walk past and hire them to be in BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS 2: FULL FRONTAL BLOOD FRENZY. Holding court at a center table is Fred “The Hammer” Williamson - star of one of my favorite films, THREE THE HARD WAY. Last year Fred was promoting both my awful 18th film and BLACK KISSINGER from the crazy guys who made JESUS CHRIST: VAMPIRE HUNTER. This year, he’s just trolling for work - and signing autographs and posing for cell-phone pictures with lobby-rat fans. Fred is the King of the lobby - the most famous guy who just hangs out there every day. Though you may see someone like Andy Garcia breeze through, Fred hangs out there.

A table away from Fred are the Action Guys. You probably don’t know their names, but if you watch ROAD HOUSE, they play all of the other bouncers in that movie. They also pop up in all kinds of action films - if Ah-nuld has a team of commandos, these are the guys who aren’t Bill Duke or Carl Weathers or Jessie Ventura. You know, Commando #4 and #5. The first guys to die. They also pop up as bad guys. They’re big muscular guys, often with Martial Arts training. They buy each other beers and slap each other on the back and hope that someone will cast them inj the lead of a low budget film. That actually happens often enough to keep them coming back to the lobby every year. You ever heard of Sam J. Jones? I know some of these guys, and will nod to them. Last year I talked to Olivier Gruner about a project (STEEL CHAMELEONS) but missed him this year. He was down there while I was upstairs, but had left by the time I came down.

Scattered around the other tables are the Babes. Hot wanna-be actresses in various stages of decomposition. All of them wearing as little as legally possible. For the past couple of years there has been the same hot 20 something gal who wears backless white sun dresses that you can see through. Yes, see through. Yes, see that she’s not wearing undergarments of any kind. She flutters through the lobby, going from table to table and positioning herself in front of the elevator banks to snag any producer who comes down. I actually saw her on the arm of a couple of guys this year. Often the hot actresses will align themselves with a journalist with an all-access badge so that they can get into parties and maybe even sneak upstairs for an afternoon late in the market. Smile at any of them and you’ll get a head shot. Some even have lingerie photos - if you have business cards that say you’re a producer. Many have websites where you can see even more of them... for a price. There are dozens of these young Babes fluttering around the hotel lobby looking for a big juicy part in your low budget horror flick...

And also some older ones. You know that great bit in KISS KISS BANG BANG where Michelle Monaghan rags on the other actress for being 35 - over the hill - when she’s still got a chance at 34? Nothing is more frightening than the over-the-hill starlets in the lobby. You get to see the whole deterioration process - like a museum display. There are those Babes in their 20s, then the ones fighting to hang on in their 30s. Now, I have nothing against 30 year old women... but there’s this thing that happens with these starlets as they grow older - they wear fewer clothes. You’d think this would be a good thing, but it’s really sad and a little frightening. I’ve been going to AFM for 20 years, now, and have seen some of those hot 20 something babes turn into 40 something women wearing almost no clothes at all - and enough make up to spackle a house. They are still trying for the 20 year old babe roles when they are probably someone’s grandmother.

And life has been hard on some of these women - one actress I know who wears almost no clothes these days, DeeDee, claims she’s in her early 30s... but anyone looking at her would guess mid-40s. She has a website and fan club and lingerie photos and with a credit card you can see photos of her on the website with no clothes at all. She’s been in a few really low budget horror movies - you know, the kind shot on a consumer camera in somebody’s back yard. She’s *starred* in those films. I don’t know if she lies about her age, or if she really looks haggard after beating her face against the big wall of Hollywood for so long. Doesn’t matter either way. If I were her, I’d say I was 50 and let everyone tell me how good I looked...

And there are 50 year olds there in clothes revealing every sag and wrinkle. Yikes! You just want to tell them to *act* their age. One actress in particular who I see every year. She tries to out-do the sundress girl, and it backfires. You have to turn away. It’s like seeing grandma working at a strip club.

Which is probably where some of these “starlets” work when they aren’t trolling for work in the lobby of Leows. The saddest part about many of the female lobby rats is that they are the “after” picture in those dreams about hopping a Greyhound bus for Hollywood to become a star.

Though there are probably some actors who don’t fit either the action guy category or the babe category, they are the minority. That always surprises me, because there really are producers who wander downstairs and an actor armed with headshots might be able to hand one to that producer who is trying to get one of the action guys for their next flick. Sure, it’s a long shot, but this is a tough business.

FLY-BY-NIGHT DISTRIBUTORS

Okay, it costs thousands of dollars for a suite at AFM, and some of the smaller distribs even share suites. So what happens if you are so small you can’t even afford to share a suite? You hang out in the lobby. Because it’s not just the distributors who must come down, it’s the buyers, too. Hundreds of buyers fly in from every country in the world to attend AFM, and when they wander down, you can be there with your portfolio of films and maybe make deal. There were so many fly-by-night distribs, that a year ago they made a rule that you could not have a portable DVD devices or show films on a computer in the lobby. That doesn’t mean no one does it, but now it’s kind of like a bad movie version of a drug deal - some guy asks if you’re interested in horror movies, and if you say “yes” they lead you to a corner where they whip out a 7" DVD player and show you some clips. One day while passing through the lobby I saw a security guard close down a guy’s DVD player and ask him to leave.

There used to be this Asian guy named Joe who had a portfolio of movie posters and would try to sell his movies to everyone who walked past him. Dozens of posters - all completed films for sale. He had a whole library of films! I must have a dozen of his business cards from past AFMs - but didn’t see him this year.

FLY-BY-NIGHT PRODUCERS

Some of those portfolios of posters are for “proposed films” - do you know anyone with money to invest? Would you like to invest money? You know, for a small investment, you can get an Executive Producer credit on a real feature film! There are two kinds of producers in the lobby at Loew’s: the wannabes and the has-beens. The wanna-bes are eager to thrust their mock up poster into your hands. They scatter them all over the tables, hoping that someone important will see them. They tend to hang out in the bar, often having meetings there. Often having *pretend* meetings there with people they know who pretend to be someone important. There’s one guy I know who made *one* film back in the 70s and has been trying to make his second film ever since. He hangs out in the bar with all of his schedules and budgets for whatever his new project is - always something that just sounds awful. Really bad horror or really bad T&A or really bad genre-of-the-month. Often he has some of the 20 something starlets hanging around - he’s promised them roles. This guy has one of those “true-artist-beards” that shows he’s a creative guy rather than a suit. And he dresses like a cowboy. But that beard (along with whatever hair he has left on his head) has gone gray... so he dyes it. Dark brown. It looks so fake, it’s difficult to look at him without laughing. He’s trying to look hip, but ends up looking just as ridiculous as those 40-50 something babes in see-through clothing.

One of the other “producers” is a guy I see once a year at AFM - and he’s always trying to put together a film. He’s been trying for at least a dozen years. One year he grabbed me and told me he had a completed film that he was unable to sell, would I take a look at him and tell him how he could do *1* day of reshoots and sell the sucker? Because I have a problem saying “no” I ended up taking a screener video home with me. The poorly shot movie was about a producer who was having problems on his low budget film - the actors were screwing up lines and wasting film and the director kept going over budget. The acting was awful. There was actually a top-pop scene (nudity) but nothing else that you could put in a trailer to play on that bank of monitors over the lobby. It was the worst kind of vanity film - all about the filmmaker. So I told him my advice was to scrap the film and find something more like that stuff playing on the monitors. He didn’t like that advice, and continued trying to find a buyer for a couple of years... now he’s trying to find some money to make another film. A dozen years, and he has no finished film to show for it!

The other kind of producer you find in the lobby are the disgraced. About fifteen years ago, my friend Jim and I were looking for money for our Russian Project, and Jim stumbled on this guy with an office on Sunset Blvd named David. He was a typical producer - that is, he had a business selling cell phones to movie stars and that gave him the contacts required to make some movies with either stars on their way up or stars on their way down. I think at the time he’d just made a film with Burt Reynolds that you’ve never heard of. Anyway, he was interested in the Russian Project until he read my RIPTIDES script - then he wanted us to put that together... with his fallen-star connections in the leads. Eventually the whole thing crashed an burned - when he had trouble finding the money. But anyone with Frank Stallone’s cell phone number can still make movies in this town... and eventually David had a production and distribution company at AFM making all kinds of crappy films. For a while he was after me to write some of his crappy films, but he couldn’t afford me. My quote at the time was at lest five times what he was offering. Then, one year, he was the guy being ransacked by Sheriff’s Department deputies. They closed him down for not paying any of the producers who distributed through him. For a couple of years after that, he had disappeared... but he shows up this year with a new company. Just not a company upstairs. He’s wandering around the lobby looking to sell films and acquire films. He invites me to his big party one night... but it’s miles away from AFM and I’m just not in the mood to drive out there for one free drink... and a chance to be raided by the Sheriff’s Department.

STARVING WRITERS & DIRECTORS

The KING of all lobby rats is this guy named Mel - he wears a hat. He dresses sharp. He claims to be a writer-director. He’s there every year at AFM, trolling the lobby. For me, the highlight of this year’s AFM was watching David Carradine trying to break free of Mel as he tried to cross the lobby to a meeting. Carradine was like the gazelle on the Discover Channel who gets attacked by the lion. It’s only a matter of time before that lion is going to wear him down and bring him to the ground. Mel was just all over him. Carradine tried every single Kung Fu move to pull himself out of Mel’s iron grip... but had yet to extract himself when he left the lobby.

After a few years of AFMs, Mel showed me one page of his amazing script. The script that was so great, it would win all the Oscars and break every Box Office record. This was screenwriting gold, and Mel is armed with NDCs so that no one can steal his ideas. I think no one with an NDC ever has a single idea worth stealing... and Mel’s script was just plain awful. The format was screwed up. I mean, they have computer programs that make sure your format is right... and this thing was all wrong. I tried to read an entire page, but I could feel the brain cells dying with every word. This was mind-killing bad. Everything about it was awful. I told Mel it could use a quick rewrite... and he snatched it from my hands and insisted it was fine. They’d change everything when they made it, anyway, right? So what did a few typos matter? And the dialogue was brilliant, no matter what I thought. Anyway - David Carradine probably had to sign the NDC and read a page or two this year. I’m sure it caused more brain damage than all of his past drug use combined.

Not all of the writers and directors in the lobby are losers. I was there... okay, maybe they are all losers. Anyway, some of the Thursday Night Gang showed up, and I spent some time talking to them. My friend Jeff was there for a meeting about a couple of horror movie sequels. He brought along my friend Duane, who was in PULP FICTION and FEAST. Even though Duane has been in one of the most well known indie films of all time, he’s constantly out of work. Why? Well, we’re in the lobby talking while Jeff’s at one of his meetings, and some people are recognizing him... but Duane has no headshots or cards to give them. He didn’t forget them, he just doesn’t want to look like a guy who is looking for work - didn’t want to be part of that whole lobby rat zoo. Okay, I understand that... sort of. But luck favors the prepared man. He should have had a stack of headshots for when people asked... and he should have figured out how to get upstairs and distribute headshots to every producer he could find. One good day at AFM and Duane could make a years worth of deals. People know who he is.

One of the people that knows who Duane is and stops by to say hello is the director of Don “The Dragon” Wilson’s latest film. I introduce myself, and he tells me how completely unlucky I am. You see, on my film Don pushed his weight around and ended up with a yes-man director (who this director said was “supremely untalented”) and Don didn’t want anyone more famous than he is in the film (so he turned down all of the actors I sent him - the very least known of which was Duane who was *starring* in FEAST at the time) and thought he had some better ideas for the story and dialogue and even the concept! Result is a movie that really sucks big time... and had some trouble selling. The director tells me that Don learned a lesson on my film, so was much easier to work with on his film. This new film has some real names in the cast, Don didn’t mess with the script, and Don followed directions on set. Don kept telling me that his fans didn’t care about that theme stuff or dialogue or character - they just wanted to see him kick ass. Well, on the new film he’s much more of a team player... and uses a gun more than his feet. I’ve seen footage from it... and it really pissed me off. It’s so much better than the piece of crap that SOFT TARGET turned into. And SOFT TARGET was one of those scripts that had almost been made a couple of times for much much bigger budgets (the month it was finished I optioned it to a studio producer who was attaching cast when his money fell through)... and a script that a couple of my pro writer friends (who make a lot more than I do) thought was really good. Don turned it into shit... and I can’t sell it again.

I also bump into a couple of other Thursday nighters in the lobby, Rolfe (horror director I’ve mentioned before... he seems to keep remaking the same awful kids-in-a-cabin-get-hacked-up movie over and over again... and it’s not getting any better) and Ron The International Man Of Mystery. Rolfe is walking on air - he’s just discovered that an old script of his is getting made... with Pamela Anderson in the lead. When DUMB & DUMBER came out, Rolfe had written a T&A version called BLONDE & BLONDER. Basically a cut&paste version of D&D with boobies. (REPLACE: He with She). Story is just about the same - road trip, bla-bla-bla. This thing had sat on some producer’s shelf for a decade... then someone had pulled it out and cast Anderson and the ex-Mrs. Charlie Sheen in the leads. Filming in Canada for pocket change... but this is the biggest thing that’s ever happened to Rolfe. He’s gonna use the buzz to put together financing on a couple more films.

Ron The International Man Of Mystery is... well, I’m not really sure what he is. I used to call him the center of the Hollywood universe, because everyone I asked knew him. Everyone. My guess is that if you asked Mel Gibson, he’d know him. If you asked Paul Newman, he’d know Ron. Everybody does. Ron is everywhere. When I talk to Ron, he tells me about some screenwriting deal he was involved in ten years ago. One Thursday night a musician friend was talking to Ron, and I overheard Ron talking about his band. Ron talks about his film editing career to editors, his directing career with directors, his acting career with actors. Ron is all things to all people. I can’t really figure him out - famous people know who he is, but he’s not famous. You look him up on IMDB and don’t get much. Ron is like that joke, where the punchline is “I don’t know who the guy in the backseat is, but he’s gotta be important because the Pope is his chauffeur!”

THE TOXIC AVENGER

I’m sure if you were to ask The Toxic Avenger, he’d know Ron. You may be wondering who The Toxic Avenger is, or where you might find him to ask such a question... but Toxie and the rest of the Troma Characters and other publicity stunt people can also be found in the lobby. Troma is Lloyd Kauffman’s company - they distribute schlock. Classic Oscar-bait like STUFF STEPHANIE IN THE INCINERATOR and SGT. KABUKIMAN, NYPD and TROMEO & JULIET and DIE YOU ZOMBIE BASTARDS and his new classic POULTRYGEIST (about a KFC-like chain with zombie chicken problems). They are proud of how junky their films are. Every year, for the entire danged market, they hire actors to walk around in the costumes of their characters. Here’s the strange part: sometimes the actors in the costumes are the actors who were wearing that costume in the actual movie! Hey, it’s a paycheck. These characters come up and bother you, handing out fliers for the films. They also pose for photos.

Aside from the Troma characters, there are other publicity stunt folks wandering the lobby. Zombies, astronauts, lots of pretty girls in movie T shirts, and this year we had some dopey looking guys in hats and bomber jackets with their film’s logo. Sometimes they have a party for their film, and it might be worth going for free food and drinks. Last year I went to some horror movie party where the food was free and the drinks cost... and the movie was playing on the bar’s TV. It was poorly shot and the gore effects were laugh-out-loud bad. The free food wasn’t worth it, and I split. But mostly these publicity stunt people just hand you a one pager for the film and try to talk you into going upstairs to see a trailer (if you have a badge). If you don’t have a badge, they may leave you alone or they may just sing and dance around you and make a scene. That’s their job.

The Toxic Avenger will actually grab your arm and escort you upstairs to the Troma suite, if you let him. Though the lobby rats don’t have badges and are trapped downstairs for the entire market, next post we’ll sneak upstairs with Toxie and I’ll show you all of the treasures available at the American Film Market.

- Bill

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

Trailer Tuesday: THE ABOMINABLE DR. PHIBES

Is this a New Years Eve movie? It's about death and rebirth... and revenege!

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 horror movie 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



Thursday, December 24, 2020

Thriller Thursday: The Grinch

Okay, not an episode of THRILLER, but Boris Karloff as the Grinch Who Stole Christmas. This is one of those Christmas classics that everyone my age grew up watching, and having Karloff be in an animated kid's film filled with songs is just... weird. William Henry Pratt (Karloff) was the host of THRILLER but also a legendary star of horror movies since the 1930s. He played Frankenstein's monster! He played The Mummy! And in some *great* Val Lewton horror movies like BEDLAM and ISLE OF THE DEAD (say that outloud). He was so famous as a horror actor, he starred in ABBOTT AND COSTELLO MEET THE KILLER, BORIS KARLOFF. In the early sixties he starred in AIP's COMEDY OF TERRORS with Peter Lorre and Vincent Price. This guy was SCARY! So to put him in a cartoon aimed at kids was genius.

Here's the big song about his character...



And here's part of the ending...



Jim Carrey is no match for Karloff. You wonder who had the dumb idea to remake this as a live action movie, since nothing could be better than the original. They always seem to remake the great films (so that the remake seems terrible in comparison) instead of remake those films that had potential but didn't quite work (where the remake might be an improvement).

Bill

Karloff as Santa?







Buy the DVD.

Wednesday, December 23, 2020

ATLIH: American Film Market... All The Losers In Hollywood

From 2006...

One night, sitting in Residuals Bar in Studio City (where the DRAGONHEART script was conceived) and drinking a Guiness, I was telling one of the stories that usually end up on this blog - a story about some poor misguided person in the film biz, and one of my friends said: “Where do you find these people?” I replied, “I bet I know every loser in Hollywood”.... and they said that should be the title of my autobiography. (or this blog)

Well, the annual convention of All The Losers In Hollywood took place in early November. Losers from all over Hollywood, and losers from the film biz in other countries all descend on the Leow’s Santa Monica Hotel for a week of fun and games otherwise known as the America Film Market. You’ve never seen so many losers under one roof! I always wonder why Springer doesn’t do a special show about AFM... he even had a movie here, once.

WHAT IS AMERICA FILM MARKET?



Movies are a global business. The same Tom Hanks movie you saw at the mall multiplex last week is going to play in every country in the world - and is *designed* to play in every country in the world. The average American film makes 60%-70% of it’s income outside the United States & Canada... in countries like Japan and Germany and Spain and South Korea. When they are making a movie, they don’t ask “Will it play in Peoria?” anymore, they ask: “Will it play in Pakistan? Paris? Phnom Pen?”

Now, chances are that Tom Hanks movie was made by a big studio like Universal or Paramount or Fox or Sony or Disney or Warner Bros. The big guys control their own distribution overseas (because that’s where the money is) - they either have distribution deals in place or distribute the film themselves in Phnom Pen. But an Indie film doesn’t have distribution in place... that’s because most indie films are made... independently. Outside the system. Someone in Nebraska says, “Hey! I’ve got a barn, let’s put on a show!” If you don’t get the Andy Hardy reference* (shame on you), basically Indie films are made with private resources - someone writes a script, finds some money and some actors and some locations and props and they make a movie outside the system. Indie films are do-it-yourselfers. Once this film is finished, they hunt for a distributor so that people will be able to see the movie (and so that they can repay their private investors - often themselves - many people finance movies with second mortgages).

At VSDA a few years ago, a panel of indie distribs said there are 27,000 indie films made every year... and only a little over 1% of those find any sort of distribution. ANY sort. That includes DVD and TV distribution. Most indie films are never seen. Never.

Okay, there’s self distribution. The ultimate Hollywood loser is this guy named Dennis Woodruff - you’ve seen his car in that Tommy Lee Jones Volcano-In-LA movie. Dennis is this *old* wanna-be actor who cruises around town in this beat up old car hand painted with advertisements for his amazing acting skills. Oh, and he sells VHS tapes of his new movie... co-starring Jack Nicholson! So, Dennis will pull into a Denny’s parking lot and then go from table to table inside trying to sell his VHS tapes. If you spend the $20 to buy the tape, you’ll see an amazing scene where Dennis ambushes Jack Nicholson outside a restaurant somewhere and starts a rambling and half-crazy conversation with him... and that’s the star power in Woodruff’s film. He’s become so famous, that they put his *car* in movies, now. (They still don’t seem to be hiring brilliant master thespian Dennis to be in movies, so it’s good that his car earns a living). So, that’s self-distribution, if you’re interested.

Unless you’re Dennis Woodruff, you probably want a distrib from your indie film, and the two places to find distribs are Film Festivals and Film markets. Both venues revolve around the idea of competition to assign value. So, you’ve got this little indie film that you’ve made yourself, and you enter it into a bunch of festivals where distribs hang out in hopes that one of the distribs will want to buy it. Actually, you hope that a few distribs will want to buy it and you end up with a bidding war - raising the price. This year at the Toronto Film Festival, there were films like VENUS and COPYING BEETHOVEN and TEN ITEMS OR LESS in competition, but the big bidding war was over a horror movie playing at one of the midnight shows, ALL THE BOYS LOVE MANDY LANE. The Weinsteins won the bidding war, paying $3.5 million to distribute the film. They also paid top dollar to pick up the other horror movie playing midnight shows, BLACK SHEEP. Okay, I have to admit that I know the guys who made both of those movies.

You may be wondering what happened to all of those serious dramas playing in competition... well, most of them probably didn’t get picked up at all! I guess that means horror movies are still hot (and dramas are still a hard sell - even to art house distribs like the Weinsteins).

I know, you’re wondering what this has to do with AFM... well, the next step is for these distribs to sell the films to all of those other countries. So they show up at Loew’s Hotel and take a suite (the rooms are all converted into offices for the event) and then engage in the second part of the bidding war - getting distribs within a country (or territory) to fight over the rights to show a film in their country... thereby raising the price. If Poland has 4 major distribs, you want them to all be fighting over your movie so that they pay the best price. Add up all the territories and you can make a lot of money on the right film...

But you can make some pretty good money on the right film that never played in any festival and wasn’t part of some huge bidding war. A distrib or foreign sales company might pick up some indie film like BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS and use the competition between Poland’s distribs to raise the price. Sometimes these films get theatrical in Poland, but in the case of BLOOD OF THE NAKED MUTILATORS it will probably be direct to DVD... hey, Poland needs schlock, too! Right now, there are drunk Polish frat boys longing to see a movie where a hot blonde girl takes off her top and is then killed by the maniac. The goal at AFM is to sell to all of the countries for a reasonable price and make a profit. Often the deals with distribs and foreign sales agents are set up so that you split the money after expenses - and they have all kinds of expenses to tack on! Sometimes your film can make the distrib or foreign sales agent wealthy while you see almost nothing. Welcome to Hollywood, baby! There’s a reason why they lump in Motion Picture Distribution with Global Terrorism in KENTUCKY FRIED MOVIE. These guys are crooks! So if you are negotiating a film deal with them on *your* film, bring a lawyer! Their "standard contract" includes all of those expenses including the yacht, the champagne, and the hookers when they take your film to Cannes! You need a lawyer to get a good deal for your film! But the low budget distributors aren’t the *losers* in Hollywood... you’ll find them below the dealing floors in the lobby.

The big convention of All The Losers In Hollywood takes place in the Loew’s lobby. You see, it takes a badge to get upstairs to the dealing rooms... and that costs money. But Sir Isaac Newton taught us that everyone who goes upstairs must come downstairs... and if you wait in the lobby with your movie posters or headshots or screenplays, you may be able to ambush one of those big shot distributors when they wander down for lunch. In the next blog entry, we’ll wander downstairs and I’ll introduce you to All The Losers In Hollywood....

- Bill

* Actually, not an ANDY HARDY movie! It's from BABES IN ARMS, starring almost the enire cast of all of those Andy Hardy movies.

Tuesday, December 22, 2020

Trailer Tuesday:
BLACK CHRISTMAS

BLACK CHRISTMAS (1974)




Directed by: Bob Clark.
Written by: Roy Moore.
Starring: Olivia Hussey, Keir Dullea, Margot Kidder, John Saxon, Andrea Martin.
Produced by: Findlay Quinn and Bob Clark.
Cinematography by: Reginald H. Morris (Oswald Morris’ brother).
Music by:Carl Zittrer .


Usually when we think of director Bob Clark and Christmas, we think of his classic film A CHRISTMAS STORY about that wacky family (that's much like yours and mine) and that kid's quest for a Red Ryder BB gun and his father’s quest for that unusual lamp... but I'm trying to avoid the obvious and find holiday films in unexpected genres. Films that may not be showing in the Network’s Holiday Films line up. Like Bob Clark's horror masterpiece BLACK CHRISTMAS - the original "We've traced the call... it's coming from INSIDE the house!" movie.



This film was originally titled SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT, but I saw it way back when on the bottom half of a horror double bill (might have been IT’S ALIVE) a couple of years after its initial release under the BLACK CHRISTMAS title. This is not just a fun holiday film, it’s an important film in horror history - the prototype for the 80s Slasher Film and the inspiration for John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN (1978) which began as a potential sequel to this film. It’s also packed with stars from that time period, and just like THE SILENT PARTNER there’s an SCTV star in a small role playing it straight. When I saw this film sometime in the mid-70s I was blown away - and parts of this movie still creep me out. That crank phone call at the beginning of SCREAM? This is where that idea came from...

The concept is great, a college sorority house at Christmas break as the girls leave to head home for the holidays one by one... but *are* they going home? Or are they being murdered by a maniac and stored up in the attic? This film turns the holiday break background into mystery and suspense. One of the great things about this film is the sense of humor and the look at the “generation gap” - both of these things carried by Margot Kidder before her big break as Lois Lane in SUPERMAN a couple of years later.

The movie opens with that scene from HALLOWEEN where we see the Killer’s POV outside the house as they look through the windows, enter the house to begin their killing spree - this time they climb through a window into the attic - which is filled with all kinds of junk covered in cobwebs. A spooky location that may seem like a cliche - but this film was one of the first...



DOWNSTAIRS the Pi Kappa Sigma Sorority Girls are preparing to leave for the Holidays. They are: sexually liberated and potty mouthed Barb (Margot Kidder) who lives to push everyone’s buttons, especially uptight conservative Claire Harrison (Lynn Griffin) who has lead a very sheltered life. Studious Phyllis (Andrea Martin) and our leading lady Jess (Olivia Hussey) try to get Barb to tone it down - but Barb has had too much to drink (as usual). Jess is the nice popular girl who has a steady boyfriend Peter (Keir Dullea), and instead of going home for the holidays they have a ski vacation planned - this is a serious relationship. When Peter calls, she says she needs to talk to him in person... When the phone rings again, it’s a prank phone call on steroids - it starts with heavy breathing, then goes into weird crazy voices about Billy killing baby Agnes - screeching and laughing and then, “I’m going to kill you”.



Presiding over the sorority is House Mother Mrs. Mac (Marian Waldman) who is a drunk - and has a bottle hidden in every room of the house. There’s a great scene where she pulls a bottle out of the toilet tank, takes a long drink from it without even wiping it off, then replaces it. Lots of humor from where the next bottle will be hidden. Mrs. Mac’s cat is always getting lost in some spooky place in the house and she must go into the darkness to search for him.

Claire, angry at Barb for pushing her buttons, goes upstairs to pack - her Father is going to pick her up and take her home for the holidays tomorrow, As she’s packing, she finds the missing cat in the closet (hey - the first cat scare!) And then the clothes begin moving and - WHAM! - the killer from the attic pulls a clear garment bag over her head and asphyxiates her... then carries her up to the attic and puts her in an old rocking chair - looking out the window. This is scary and the asphyxiated Claire looking out the window through the plastic garment bag is effing creepy!

The next morning Claire’s Father (James Edmond) shows to pick her up... and she isn’t there. Claire’s Father is *very* conservative, and the sorority house is filled with sexy posters and pot posters and counter culture stuff... and in Claire’s bedroom is a picture of... a boy! Chris (Art Hindle) who is Claire’s townie boyfriend. This sends Claire’s Father over the edge - she is too young for a boyfriend! “I didn't send my daughter in here to be drinking and picking up the boys!”

They go to the police department to fill out a missing persons form, and we get one of the film’s great scenes of Barb vs. Authority Figure as she tells Desk Sgt Nash (Doug McGrath) when she gives him the sorority house phone number....

		SERGEANT NASH
	Excuse me? Could you give me the 
	number at the sorority house? Please?

		BARB 
	Yeah, sure. It's, ah... Fellatio 20880. 
	Fellatio. It's a new exchange, FE.

		SERGEANT NASH
	That's a new one on me. How do 
	you spell it?

		BARB 
	Capital F, E, little L, LA, TIO.

		SERGEANT NASH
	Thanks.




A couple of scenes later, Chief of Police Fuller (John Saxon) thinks that maybe they should take this missing person seriously when Chris shows up and says that Claire isn’t with him and there is no place where she could be... none of her friends have seen or heard from her. And she’s the conservative girl - she’s not out drinking or smoking pot or anything else. She’s *gone*.

Meanwhile, Jess is meeting with Peter, who is practicing for his big piano recital later that day. Peter is a *very* serious artist - and super emotional - anything will set him off... and Jess tells him that she’s pregnant. He wants her to keep the baby, she wants an abortion, and this relationship is in trouble. When Jess gets back to the Sorority House, the phone is ringing... the crank caller with even more weird voices and screeches and more about Billy killing baby Agnes. “Little baby bunting, Daddy's went a-hunting, Gonna fetch a rabbit skin, To wrap his baby Agnes in!” These calls scared the crap out of me first time I saw it (and still work) because they are just crazy.



The great thing about this film is the way the characters turn against each other when the killing starts - and it’s all character oriented. Barb feels guilty about ridiculing Claire for being such a goody two shoes and fears that she is responsible for Claire running away. When Peter blows his recital and takes it out on Jess, she begins to think that her boyfriend is a psycho. The Sorority House becomes a crucible - and all of the characters turn against each other in the foreground, as other characters go missing and the crank calls continue. Adding to all of this is a missing 13 year old girl and the fears that Claire vanishing might be related. A great moment when Claire’s Father is at the police station when Jess calls about the obscene phone calls, and puts two and two together - the missing 13 year old girl and his missing daughter... and the obscene calls. There’s a great search of the park at night where the Sorority Girls help to look for the little girl, fearing that they may find Claire... and they find the little girl brutally murdered. And Mrs Mac finds her missing cat... eating Claire’s face in the attic! After that, Mrs. Mac goes missing... and the bodies continue to pile up in the attic! Like John Carpenter's THE THING, this film gets much of its mileage by having the characters suspect each other; and also gives us a logical possibility that no one has been murdered... and maybe it's all in Jess’s head. It’s a clever screenplay that always keeps you guessing - and makes you wonder which character is the killer.

This film also has a couple of amazing "you can't do that in a movie" twists, including one where we are *sure* we know who the killer is... and are then proven wrong only *after* that character has been killed. Hey, that's kind of like THE THING, too!

But the main thing about BLACK CHRISTMAS is that it's spooky and probably the first "kill a bunch of people in a house" movie. Okay, TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE was released the same year, so it may have technically been the second movie with that basic plot - but BLACK CHRISTMAS is the version of that basic plot that you can trace through HALLOWEEN to SCREAM. In fact, HALLOWEEN began as a sequel to BLACK CHRISTMAS...



John Carpenter was a huge fan on the film and talked to Bob Clark about making a sequel at one point in time. BLACK CHRISTMAS was inspired by the urban legend of the babysitter who gets a phone call from a crazy person about checking on the babies... and when the babysitter goes in to check on the children, the kids are gone and she is killed by the lunatic on the phone. Those elements are still in BLACK CHRISTMAS even though it’s been transposed onto the sorority house of a college campus... but Carpenter wanted to go back to the roots and make a film called THE BABYSITTER MURDERS... which was the original title of HALLOWEEN. He wanted to have the killer from BLACK CHRISTMAS caught and put in a mental institution, and then escape and go back to the town to kill babysitters. Because the idea was completely different than BLACK CHRISTMAS, Clark thought it didn’t need to be a sequel (and all of the rights issues required) and Carpenter and Debra Hill wrote it as an original and the rest is history. Though there are similarities between the two films, they are very different as well - instead of a random crazy killer, HALLOWEEN has Michael Myers as a little boy who kills his sister, then is institutionalized... and escapes years later as an adult. There are no calls coming from inside the house - Michael Myers isn’t at all chatty. So Carpenter made his own movie, but would that movie have existed without BLACK CHRISTMAS?

		SERGEANT NASH
	Who is this?

		JESS
	It's Jess.

		SERGEANT NASH
	Ms. Bradford, this is Sergeant Nash. 
	Are you the only one in the house?

		JESS
	No. Phyll and Barb are upstairs asleep. 
	Why?

		SERGEANT NASH
	Alright. Now I want do you exactly what 
	I tell you without asking any questions, 
	okay?

		JESS
	Wh...

		SERGEANT BRADFORD
	No, no, no... no questions. Now just put 
	the phone back on the hook, walk to the 
	front door and leave the house.

		JESS
	What's wrong?

		SERGEANT NASH
	Please, Ms. Bradford, please just do as I 
	tell you.

		JESS
	Okay. I'll get Phyll and Barb.

		SERGEANT NASH
	No, no, no, don't do that Jess.
			(beat)
	Jess, the caller is in the house. 
	The calls are coming from the house!



Plus BLACK CHRISTMAS is a great holiday film, since Christmas is going on in the background. A disturbing double bill with Bob Clark's CHRISTMAS STORY... something to warm your heart, then cut it out with a rusty knife!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!



Friday, December 18, 2020

HITCH 20: BACK FOR CHRISTMAS (s1e4)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20. This episode is BACK FOR CHRISTMAS which stars Hitchcock regular John Williams (TO CATCH A THIEF) as a henpecked husband who finds a permanent solution to his marital problems. In my Thriller class, I talk about the importance of comedy in a thriller to balance the story and make the thrills even more thrilling (peaks and valleys), and this episode has a great light comedy tone which heightens the suspense. Hitch called PSYCHO a comedy... and this episode is as funny as a steel pipe to the side of the head!



There is one more episode of HITCH 20 in this season, which I'll post next Friday.



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

Bill

- 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






HITCHCOCK'S MOST DARING EXPERIMENTS!



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.

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