Thursday, October 28, 2021

THRILLER Thursday: The Closed Cabinet.

MEW! SEASON 2!!!



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



THRILLER: The Closed Cabinet

Season: 2, Episode: 10.
Airdate: November 27, 1961

Director: Ida Lupino
Writer: Kay Lenard & Jess Carneol.
Cast: Olive Sturgess, David Frankham, Jennifer Raine, Peter Forster, Patricia Manning.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Benjamin H Kline.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Evil begats evil. And the evil does not die. The sins of the fathers doom the children through generations yet unborn. Impossible, you say? The superstition from the dark ages. Well, perhaps our story tonight will help you change your mind. We start with a curse and a riddle, inexplicabily bound together. Somewhere in this room lies the clue that will solve the riddle and lift the curse. But 300 years have passed since Dame Alice pronounced that awful curse, and still the riddle is unsolved. Tonight we are concerned with two brothers - the last of the cursed Mervyns and the women who love them. Our players are: Olive Sturgess, David Frankham, Jennifer Raine, Peter Forster, and Patricia Manning. Turn off your lights. Close your windows. And even of the wind should rise, relax... if you can! While we pick up our story in the year 1880, during the reign of her gracious majesty Queen Victoria, and when our tale is told, you’ll believe in curses as sure as my name is Boris Karloff.”



Synopsis: A dark and stormy night. 1580. Lady Beatrice (Patricia Manning) discovers her abusive husband Hugh Mervyn is drunk, and using a dagger found in a secret drawer, murders him and then herself. The bodies are discovered by a Maid (Myra Carter), who finds the dagger next to Beatrice’s corpse and screams... Dame Alice (Doris Lloyd) comes running, takes the dagger from the Maid and then spots her son murdered on the bed... and puts a curse upon the family: “Out of evil comes death! In each generation there shall be a Mervyn who will bring shame and death to the family, for eternity... An end there shall be, but it is beyond the wisdom of man to fix it, or the wit of man to discover it. Who fathoms the riddle, lifts the curse. Pure blood, stained by the blood stained knife, heals the Mervyn shame, ends the Mervyn’s strife,” she says as she returns the dagger to its secret compartment.



1880: The Mervin Castle. A coach pulls up and Evie Bishop (Olive Sturgess) steps out and is welcomed by her cousins Lucy Mervyn (Jennifer Raine) and George Mervyn (Peter Forster) and enter the castle... where handsome Alan Mervyn (David Frankham) descends the staircase and takes Evie in her arms. Alan lives in London and avoids the castle completely, but when he heard that Evie was coming to visit he braved a stay. Eveie has heard that the castle is haunted, that there is a room in the castle that is filled with ghosts... and she would like to stay there. She has never seen a ghost. As she jokes about ghosts, George and Lucy look very uncomfortable. Evie insists on staying in the haunted room, and when Lucy shows her to the room, the two men seem less than happy.

In the “haunted room” (from the opening scene) Lucy tells Evie that several Mervyn relatives have died violent deaths in this room - which would account for the ghosts. The cabinet (where the dagger is hidden) is still there, and Lucy jokes about the legend of the curse. Though there have been a bunch of deaths in this room, Lucy believes it is due to the Mervyn men’s anger issues.



Alan and George have an argument - Alan believes that the curse is real, and staying in this castle is putting Lucy’s life at risk. George believes it’s just hokum - sure, there have been a lot of murders in the family, but whose family hasn’t had them?

As Evie looks around the castle, candles flicker where there is no breeze... and she sees the ghost of Lady Beatrice for a moment. Then the ghost vanishes. When Evie heads downstairs for dinner, she hears the two men arguing and listens in. When George leaves, she comes downstairs and talks to Alan - it’s love!

When George and Lucy come in, Evie asks if their houseguest will be joining them? Who? The woman upstairs. The ghost!



After dinner, Alan takes Evie on a tour of the castle’s hallways to look at the paintings of the family - stopping at Lady Beatrice. That’s the ghost she saw!

A dark and stormy night... awakens Evie. Blows open the windows. She gets up and closes them, and when she goes back to sleep the ghost of Lady Beatrice pops up in a doorway. Trying to communicate with her. Warning her that she is the next victim of the curse?

The next morning when Evie mentions the storm, she gets funny looks: there was no storm. Is she crazy? Alan takes Evie on a tour of the castle grounds, and she tells him that she wants to solve the mystery of the curse so that Alan will feel comfortable in his home. Evie wants to see the dungeon (doesn’t everyone?), but the door is locked to When Alan goes to get the key... the door magically opens as soon as he is gone. Nothing haunted about that at all.



Evie goes in alone - lots of cobwebs down here, but none get on her face. She manages to completely avoid all of the webs and maintain her perfect hair. Doors open one-by-one in front of her, taking her down to the crypt... where she comes face to face with Hugh Mervyn! Well, a bust of him. And finds a cat-o-nine-tails *whip* on his coffin. What’s that all about? Deeper in the crypt she finds a secret room with Lady Beatrice’s coffin... and Lady Beatrice’s ghosts makes an appearance and points at Evie. That’s when Alan runs in, and the ghost vanishes. But was the ghost pointing at her or the wall behind her? On the wall, and inscription under the cobwebs: “Where woman sinned, the maid shall win. But God help the maid who sleeps here-in.” Alan tells her that no one in the family ever knew where Lady Beatrice’s coffin was. No one had ever discovered this secret room until now.

George, with a riding crop in hand, tells Alan and Evie that they could not have found Lady Beatrice’s coffin - no one has found it for 300 years. Men in the family have looked for it and never found it, so how could Evie have found it? George loses his temper... and we get some angry exposition about how Lady Beatrice’s ghost appeared to their mother the night before she died... and now Lady Beatrice has appeared before Evie. George loses it and almost whips Alan. George’s temper is out of control! He storms out of the room.



Alan drops a few pages of exposition on Evie about the curse... and how Hugh was physically abusive to Lady Beatrice until she killed him one night during a violent storm. The storm that was brewing inside her for all of those years of abuse by a drunken husband?

That night, as Lucy plays the harp and George naps, Alan and Evie flirt... and then he sees her to her room like a gentleman... and they almost kiss. Victorian romance at its hottest! I believe this moment was put there to show that Evie was still a virgin - pure - and therefor able to lift the curse. But it’s not set up very well, and we don’t particularly care if they kiss or not - which is a mistake.

Evie does not go to bed - she sits up, waiting for the storm to come. The storm waiting or the storm without? When it comes, it blows open the windows violently. Meanwhile, Alan looks outside his window - no storm, clear skies. This is a nice moment because it shows that the haunted room really is haunted. Evie goes to sleep and the storm blasts the windows open again... and Lady Beatrice appears. She raises her hand to beckon Evie... and Evie is back in time, drunk Hugh Mervyn sleeping in the bed she just got out of. Lady Beatrice points to the cabinet, and Evie finds the secret lever to open it... And takes out the dagger! She is possessed by Lady Beatrice!



She moves to the bed, where Hugh is sleeping, raises the knife and... stops herself from stabbing him, but slices her hand in the process. She shows her bleeding hand to Lady Beatrice’s ghost, “The maid has won,” and the ghost vanishes, leaving Evie alone in the room. The bed is empty. The storm is gone.

She runs out into the hallway, yelling for Alan. He runs from his room and they embrace in the hallway. She tells him what happened, shows him her hand... and there is no blood on her hand. He thinks it might be a nightmare, but she convinces him that she has lifted the curse. In the haunted bedroom, she tells him how to open the drawer... and he finds the dagger with Hugh Mervyn’s crusted blood on it... and another drawer opens and there is a scroll with the curse and, heck, Evie did it and lifted the curse! So he finally kisses her. They can be married with very little chance that he will physically abuse her and maybe even kill her during an argument!



Review: The luck of laziness! I had intended on writing up all of these entries a couple of years ago, and had I done that I’m not sure I would have seen the subtleties in this episode or commented on them as much as will now that we’ve had the MeToo Movement. Though domestic abuse is not the same as inappropriately touching someone, they both fall under the umbrella of ahole male dominance. Though this episode doesn’t really work, I’m cutting it some slack because it’s “a very special episode pf THRILLER”, just like the alcoholism episode. It’s 1961 and domestic violence is a major problem in America (Time Magazine would do an article on the epidemic a couple of years later) and this episode is going to slyly get the message out disguised as a ghost story.



I’m sure that Ida Lupino was hired to direct this episode to give it a woman’s sensibility, but it is not one of her better episodes. I think the screenplay may be getting in the way - but I wonder about the lead actress. The scenes where she *avoids* the cobwebs just seem odd - did the actress not want to get messy? Or was that seen as “degrading” to a female and not done in this episode? Either way, it removes the spooky element from the haunted house story. One of the elements of horror is the “Eeeew!” Factor. If you think of all of those moments in horror movies where you have went “Eeeeew!” mentally (or even outloud), that feeling of revulsion is one of the things that add to the dread and creepy feeling of the film. In horror movies people *touch* gross things and *step in* gross things and *back into* gross things and maybe even sit in gross things. Horror movies are filled with rats and bats and worms and corpses and all kinds of gross things that the characters encounter. There are things that look as if they smell bad in horror films. Things that get on your hands that you need to wash off *now*, but you are miles away from running water. Horror movies put their characters through hell - even the survivors - and that is part of what makes them work, and what makes the survivors strong.

But for whatever reason, here we remove the revulsion and end up with a lead character who just wanders through a haunted castle and easily pushes aside cobwebs as if they are curtains dividing rooms. If someone thought that the women in the story have gone through enough abuse at the hands of their husbands that they needed to avoid abusing them with cobwebs, that was a mistake. It actually weakens a character if they don’t have to go through hell.



I have noted the used of cobwebs and spider webs in earlier episodes, and how sometimes they are just a piece of the background and sometimes there are the focus of the scene. Revulsion is a “no budget” special effect that packs a punch, so you want to make cobwebs part of the scene - something that can not be avoided. So removing the revulsion was a mistake - no matter what the reason.

Lupino does get a few of her creative shots in - and that’s one of the reasons why I love her in low budget films and TV work. Other directors will just do wide shot and close ups - coverage - but she gets those Hitchcock shots in there. Here we have a couple of great early shots - a nice shot through the coach windows as Evie arrives at the castle, and a creepy paranoid shot from a balcony above as Alan watches her enter the castle’s main room. Later in the episode is a great moving shot as the group relaxes in the castle main room at night, it circles them like a Brian DePalma shot. And there is a cool shot *through* the harp at George and Lucy. I suspect with so many locations, there wasn’t time for much else, and the rest is competently directed. I wish she had done more in the creepy dungeon and crypt scenes, but it’s TV. Made on a schedule with a hard deadline. They are okay.



One of the other problems with the episode is Jennifer Raine’s decidedly non-British accent. She has some sort of Southwestern twang, and every time she opens her mouth it takes you out of the episode. Though the others don’t go full-on-British accents, they have that mid-Atlantic sound that Americans can understand but still sound vaguely British.

Though I give kudos to the script for taking on an issue, the story is muddled and the curse and riddle are just a mess. Even after watching it several times, I’m not sure that either actually makes sense. And a clue to understanding the curse ends up written on a wall in Lady Beatrice’s tomb, but this is all still confusing. Too many moving parts to the curse. Too many foot notes. Instead of being something simple (and rhyming) it’s so convoluted you need to take notes through the episode... and even though I did that I’m still confused by it! The reason for the curse also is muddled - the mother of the murdered abuser curses her own family line? There was a better way to do it - having Lady Beatrice curse the family as she is being killed by her husband, but maybe the censors said no to that?



I do like that the curse of domestic abuse is “handed down” from father to son in this story. George’s anger issues are seen as the family curse. But that scene where he has the riding crop in his hand really needed to create suspense and fear that he might use it on his wife, and not in a kinky way. Again, that may have been a censors thing - we don’t want to offend all of the wide beaters in the audience! We need to protect our ratings!

So this episode isn’t very spooky or scary, even though it takes place in a nice haunted castle. Next episode works better - a “weird tales” story about people who communicate with the dead... and the dead aren’t happy with what is going on in the world of the living!

- Bill

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Wednesday, October 27, 2021

Film Courage Plus: You Need To Keep Writing!

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. There were something like 12 segments from 2014, and probably around 24 segments for 2015... and that's 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?

You have to keep writing after making a sale!



Welcome To Your New Day Job!

The good news is that you just sold a screenplay or landed an assignment or had a screenplay go out wide - you’re in the business, baby! You can quit that awful day job you have struggled with and finally have time to write full time!

Except for one small problem...

You have a new day job. All of the business bullcrap of being a professional screenwriter. If you think you are now a full time writer, think again! One of the things that happens when you have a script go out wide or sell is that everyone in town wants to meet with you. When I had scripts go to 50 studio based producers, I usually ended up with around 48 meetings and at 2-3 meetings a day that is a full month of your time driving from one studio to another... and you will never have all of your meetings on the same lot! My meetings were always on 3 different sides of town with insane traffic between them. One meeting I was late for because I blew a tire on the freeway and ended up dirty and frazzled when I finally got there. Great first impression!

And no writing got done when I was doing all of those endless meetings. I *wanted* to write, but at the end of the day I was just too tired.

But after that month, you are free to write, right?

Nope. One of the side effects of meetings is the “busy work” of “pitching your take” on projects. Out of those 48 meetings, none of them bought me screenplay but many of them had writing jobs they thought I might be a good fit for - so they gave me books and magazine articles and all kinds of other stuff to read and then return with my take on. Of course, I wasn’t the only one doing this - every writer they had met with over the past few weeks was reading the same book and pitching their take. But you end up spending a lot of time doing this... when you should be writing.

Meetings becomes your full time job, and you have to squeeze in writing in whatever spare time you have left over. It’s like you are back to having a day job!

But here’s the problem: Once you get done with all of the meetings and the meetings generated by the meetings? You need a new script in order to get new meetings. The hope is that one of these scripts sells or one of your takes gets you an assignment. But you need a constant supply of new screenplays.

One of the things I learned the hard way was that it’s a good idea to have a stockpile of scripts ready to go. Though I had a bunch of scripts written, most of them needed some rewrite work to match them with the current market... and that slowed things down a little. The more prepared you are for that big break, the better you can handle it. And you will need to adjust from writing in your spare time with your old day job to writing in your spare time with your new day job... and getting pages done!

Your career is going to be like a treadmill where you need to keep running!

ONE FOR ME

But what if your script sells or lands you and assignment? Will you still need to do all of those meetings?

Yes. That’s part of the problem: you will need to strike while the iron is hot. It’s common for a screenwriter to do all of those meetings for the next gig while you are supposed to be writing the assignment you were just paid for. It’s common to “stack” assignments - use the heat from one job as bait to get other jobs and end up with two or three assignments with similar deadlines.... and now all you have to do is write them all! I once ended up with walking pneumonia because I was working non-stop on a couple of different screenplays that were going into production. A man’s gotta know his limitations - and I learned where mine are!

Your so called career will always be about the next script and the next gig. But even if you land an assignment, you will need to figure out how to squeeze in a new spec script so that you can do the next round of meetings and land your next assignment - because once you finish that assignment you are unemployed! One of the things I did on assignments was treat everything as “one for them, one for me” - I would make sure that I had enough time and made enough money to write a spec script that I could send out as bait for new assignments (or maybe even sell). Even in the years where I had three scripts go to screen (the mid 90s were very very good to me), and all of the rewriting on those three projects; I made sure to write 2-3 scripts a year for myself. So I wrote 5-6 scripts a year, 3 of them got made and went through all of the hell of rewrites. But I had new scripts to recharge my career if need be... and it often did. You are always breaking in!

One of the problems with those extremely low budget gigs that you see on places like Ink Tip is that you can’t earn enough money to pay for the time to write that one for me script, and it’s like the treadmill moving faster and faster. So part of every script deal you make needs to include some plan on your part for writing a new spec script. If you take one of those low pay gigs, you need to make sure you are paid enough to write a one for you. That probably means asking for more money, but if that ends up a deal breaker: “Reading Periods” can be the answer.

One of the wacky things with assignment contracts is that they spell out how much time you have to write each draft, and how much time the production company has to read the screenplay and give you notes before the next draft. Now, *you* must turn in your draft on time... but they often screw up when it comes to the reading period. It might be 2 weeks in the contract... and end up a month! Hurry up and wait! But that 2 weeks which may end up a month? That’s the one for you. When I was having three scripts filmed a year, if they weren’t all happening at the same time, I would use the reading period to work on my own project. A great “palate cleanser”, and I would end up with some work done on the “one for me” script.

The important thing is not to get so tied up with *their* project that you neglect *your* project. I don’t expect you to have three projects going a year for a few years like I did... but that *could happen*!

CELEBRATE GOOD TIMES!

There is a tendency when you sell a script or land an assignment to relax. I think in another of the Film Courage interviews I talk about selling COURTING DEATH to the company with the deal at Paramount and then holing up in my apartment and just leisurely writing - living the dream! But the problem became that after my 2 years of money was gone, I had some new scripts but had done nothing to network or get those scripts to market... and had to scramble to find a deal. I know some people who didn’t even write new scripts... and were in real trouble! You have to keep generating material, even after you are “successful”. Every month there is a new “flavor of the month”.

Here’s the problem with waiting until you *need* a gig to write a bunch of new screenplays - you will be writing from desperation. Instead of having fun writing your spec scripts, you will be trying so hard to make this the one that will start the deals and meetings happening again that the script will suck. I have a friend on FaceBook who has been single for a long time and is at the point of begging women to date him. Do I have to tell you that doesn’t work? Well, it doesn’t work with screenplays either - they can read in your writing that you are trying desperately to make a deal. You want your scripts to be so cool they think they don’t have a chance to date them, not so desperate and needy that they are the nightmare date. So don’t wait until the last minute! Make sure writing new screenplays is part of your “business plan” and included in writing those assignments!

You can have a sale or assignment and think that you have “made it” and can take it easy for a while... but you can’t! You have to keep writing, keep generating new material, and keep getting that material out there in the world so that when this deal has run its course you have a new one waiting. Yes, take a vacation... but that’s a week or two, right? Taking a vacation for a month or six months is probably a mistake. When you are not on vacation, you need to be working! This is a career - a marathon rather than a sprint. You need to always be writing new screenplays... even when you think you have “made it”. The problem with being a freelance writer is that once you have sold a screenplay or completed and assignment... you are unemployed! You will always be looking for work. Which means you will always be working.

Make sure you have a plan to keep writing scripts after you have landed a gig!

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



Tuesday, October 26, 2021

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 22, 2021

HITCH 20: The Case Of Mr. Pelham (s1e3)

There's a great new documentary video series focusing on the 20 TV episodes that Hitchcock directed called HITCH 20, where I am one of the "guest experts". This episode is on THE CASE OF MR. PELHAM about a man who is haunted by a double who is trying to take over his life! A really weird tale, which may have been more at home of the THRILLER TV Show which was shot on the same lot. It's really a lot of fun, so take a look:



Two important things I talked about were cut for time:

1) This episode is based on a book by the screenwriter of Hitch's YOUNG AND INNOCENT which had actually been adapted into a film *the same year* in England. It has even been made a few times since then, including a film with Roger Moore titled THE MAN WHO HAUNTED HIMSELF in 1970. And someone should sue *Harlan Ellison* because his SHATTERDAY short story (made into one of my favorite NEW TWILIGHT ZONE episodes) uses the same idea. (kidding... but it would be funny payback for the TERMINATOR lawsuit.)

2) The *magic* shot. There's part of the shot in the HITCH 20 episode, we see a wide shot of the bar, move in to Pelham flagging down the Psychiatrist, then asking him to join him, and then the camera dollies backwards as they walk to a table and sit down... except that table could *not* have been there when they were dollying back! The camera would have bumped into it! So *off camera* the table was rolled into place as the camera was dollying backwards! It's one of those crazy furniture moves that Hitchcock used in ROPE so that the camera would be able to move fluidly "through" furniture and walls. By making the furniture and walls movable, they could dolly backwards "through" that table in the bar that Pelham and the Psychiatrist would be sitting at! A magic shot!

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






USA Readers click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Thriller Thursday: ROSE'S LAST SUMMER

Rose’s Last Summer

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



Season: 1, Episode: 5.
Airdate: 10/11/1960


Director: Arthur Hiller
Writer: Marie Baumer, based on a novel by Margaret Millar
Cast: Mary Astor, Lin McCarthy, Jack Livesey
Music: Pete Rugolo
Cinematography: John L. Russell




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Rose French. In the blur of memory the face grows dim, but do you remember the name? Twenty years ago, Rose French... the remarkable Rose French.. As a servant girl or as a princess? She was a quicksilver star in a celluloid heaven. If a woman would sell her soul to achieve such fame, what wouldn’t she do to get it back? Poor Rose, that was all she wanted, to relive the past. And those who loved her, Frank Clyde for instance, could do nothing to stop her. For the comeback trail could lead to strange and sinister places. To a lonely garden, into a night of terror, it could even lead to the face of a painted doll. For the comeback trail is a journey without maps, sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Poor Rose French, and her last desperate summer. That’s the name of our story: Rose’s Last Summer. Let me assure you, my friends, this is a thriller.”

Synopsis: Mary Astor famously explained the Five Stages Of Stardom: “Who's Mary Astor? Get me Mary Astor. Get me a Mary Astor Type. Get me a young Mary Astor. Who's Mary Astor?”



Rose French (Mary Astor) is a once famous movie star, a real doll; now a washed up drunk living in a crappy apartment in Los Angeles... forgotten by time. She was married to three men... and divorced by them. Two were pretty boy actors who lived off her fame, one was a Howard Hughes like millionaire who may be the only man she has ever loved. But now she is alone. When she gets an unusual acting job out of the blue, she takes it... No fame or fortune involved, no spotlights and red carpets; that’s not what Rose is looking for. Just a chance to practice her craft... in some town in California called LaMesa. What’s the role?

A few weeks later, Rose French is found dead in LaMesa, in the garden of some dead millionaire’s toy manufacturer’s mansion. The young doctor at the rehab facility where she once dried out Frank Clyde (Lin McCarthy) and that Howard Hughes like ex husband Dalloway (Jack Livesey) show up at the inquest, where it is revealed she died of a massive heart attack, and had been in poor health for years. The two men team up, because the doctor had examined Rose not that long ago, and she had *no* heart condition and was in pretty good health for a boozer. Did someone kill her? Poison her and make it look like a heart attack? They head to LaMesa to investigate.



The garden of the dead toy manufacturer’s mansion is accessible from the street, did she just wander in and die? While poking around they spot an old woman watching from the window, and ring the bell. They talk to the son of the toy millionaire, Willet Goodfield (Hardie Albright) and his wife Ethel (Dorothy Green), about Rose’s death, and they claim they know nothing. She was just this strange woman who wandered into their yard and dropped dead. When they ask to talk to Willet’s mother, who may have seen something from her window, Willet tries to dissuade them. When they insist, old Mrs. Goodfield yells from upstairs that she will see them.

Mrs. Goodfield is heir to Horace Goodfield’s Sweet Marie Doll fortune, and old woman who walks with a cane and spends much of her time confined to her bed. She’s cranky, but answers Frank and Dalloway’s questions. She didn’t see anything, but it’s a tragedy that the woman died on their property. When Dalloway continues with a bunch of follow up questions, Mrs. Goodfield orders him out of the room, she needs her rest. While this is going on, Frank pokes around the house and discovers a piece of evidence that makes it look like Rose may have been inside the house. Frank and Dalloway leave highly suspicious of the family, and do further investigation...



Now we get our big twist, much like in the classic thriller MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS, the role Rose was hired to play is playing is a real person... Mrs. Goodfield. Millionaire toy maker Horace Goodfield left his fortune in an odd trust: his widow must live to her sixty fifth birthday for she and Willet to inherit... but the widow has a bad heart, and the family is afraid she will pass away before her birthday. So they hire Rose to play the window in the event she dies before her upcoming birthday. Rose does an amazing job, and Willet and his wife have trouble telling them apart. But when Mrs. Goodfield does die before her birthday, they have to figure out some way to get rid of the body... and decide to dye her hair, put her in Rose’s clothes with all of Rose’s ID and place it in the garden. Plan worked: nobody thought it was Mrs. Goodfield, and when her birthday rolled around Rose played the role perfectly and Willet got his hands on his father’s fortune...

But when Rose wants her money so that she can go back to her life, Willet asks, “What life?” You see, Rose is *dead*. Rose has nowhere to go, no life to live... nothing. Willet gives her a bottle of booze to wash away her depression... and when she’s passed out drunk they carry her out to their car to dispose of her. But Rose was *acting* passed out, and she escapes, running for her life as Willet and Ethel chase her in the car trying to run her down. A nice suspense scene, ending with Frank and Dalloway arriving at the Goodfield mansion with the police, hearing the screams from the car chase a few streets over, and rescuing Rose. Nice ending as Rose and Dalloway walk off together.



Review: MY NAME IS JULIA ROSS is about an actress who gets trapped in the role of a real person who was murdered, and can’t escape after she discovers they are setting her up as a suicide. This episode tells a similar story, but through characters outside the conflict who are investigating the mystery. This works fine, because by the halfway point we switch POVs and get Rose’s story, the character who *is* inside the conflict. What’s great is that Mary Astor gets to play duel roles, and pulls off both of them. When she is playing Mrs. Goodfield, you don’t recognize her at all and think she may be part of the conspiracy to kill Rose. And in the flashback sequence, she gets a *third* role, playing the real Mrs. Goodfield under the name “Helen Quintal” in the opening credits so that the audience won’t jump ahead of the story... the way Hitchcock did publicity shots with the chair for Mrs. Bates. She does a great job of playing the real Mrs. Goodfield against Rose playing Mrs. Goodfield, and manages to make each distinctive. So we get a great performance by Mary Astor at that time in her career she was probably the latter “Who is Mary Astor?”



The episode does some stock footage jet setting, from Dalloway’s yacht to San Francisco (where Horace Goodfield died) and from gritty downtown to the luxurious gated estate. All of this is very convincing, and gives the show some scope. Though the car chase and attack scene is tame compared to what we might expect on a TV series today, it’s great for the time. The novel it’s based on is by Margaret Millar, who was Mrs. Ross Macdonald (“Archer” filmed as HARPER with Paul Newman) and a great crime novelist in her own right. Again we get PSYCHO cinematographer John L. Russell shooting the episode, and Arthur Hiller who would go on to direct the hit LOVE STORY as well as critical favorite THE HOSPITAL does a good job... but on a show like this it’s all about pacing, and this episode works well.



Though not on a par with some of the great edge of your seat suspense episodes or the creepy horror episodes of the show, this is a solid entry that really showcases the talent of Mary Astor... and makes you realize there should *never* be a time when Hollywood asks “Who is Mary Astor?” just because an actor or actress is older. Mary Astor doesn’t play a 30 or 40 year old in this episode, and looks great... no crazy plastic surgery. For an actress who was a star in the silent age, and the femme fatale in the Bogart version of THE MALTESE FALCON, she gives a great star turn here and shows that she could still act circles around most actors half her age. What is the reason for that? Oh, yeah: *Experience*.

FADE OUT.

Bill

Buy The DVD!

Wednesday, October 20, 2021

Film Courage: Are Writers Damned?

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me, around 36 (or more) 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?

And the first segment...

I had done a full day of classes at Story Expo, it was the hottest day on record in Los Angeles (since broken a few times), I was seriously dehydrated after running from class to class all day, and the first question they ask me is...

A softball questions to start out with, like...

"Are Writers Damned?"

How the hell do you answer that?

Well, yes.



In Woody Allen’s Oscar Winning ANNIE HALL, there’s a great scene where Alvy Singer, who’s perfect relationship has fallen apart, sees the perfect couple walking down the street and decides to ask them the secret to the success of their relationship, and their response is: “I’m very shallow and empty and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say.” And the woman responds, “And I’m exactly the same way.”

Writers are not shallow and empty, and we have something to say. Where “civilians” move through life not thinking about other people’s secret motivations and hidden agendas and all of the other things that your Mom might be *really* thinking when she says that you could use some new shirts, writers can’t help but think about these things. We know 57 ways to kill someone with a ripe tomato, thanks to research on that screenplay, and when we are in the produce section of the grocery store and see the seemingly nice little old lady trying to find the perfect tomato... we wonder just who she is planning to kill. Is it me? I don’t even know her! But what if this is some sort of STRANGERS ON A TRAIN club, where a hundred people swap murders so that there is no way for any of them to be a suspect, and she ended up doing the murder for some long forgotten person who considers me their enemy? Someone like that guy from SLAUGHTERHOUSE-FIVE who has spent his life tracking down Billy Pilgrim for splashing mud on his trousers decades ago? I once spilled a drink on a guy in a suit in a bar, and that guy had been hitting on this woman, and maybe I ruined his love life forever and now he was part of this Murder Tanda and had given my name to that nice little old lady in the supermarket who was going to kill me with that tomato that she has just selected? As a writer I am constantly thinking about stuff like that - which is probably why I have insomnia - not only is my mind still working and I wish that I could shut it off, but I am a little worried that tonight might be the night that the nice little old lady strikes. I don’t really want to sleep through getting murdered with a tomato.

So we tend to look at the world a bit differently than most people, and over-think things and we can be a little bit paranoid because we know what evil can lurk in the hearts of men... and nice little old ladies. So we are probably damned.

But what about the writing part, Bill?

NO RESPECT!

The other way that we are damned is that nobody knows that screenwriters exist. There’s that line from IN A LONELY PLACE about how the audience thinks that movie stars make up the dialogue themselves, and if they become big enough stars - they do. Heck, even screenwriters don’t know who screenwriters are! A few years ago, for fun, I made up a quiz about who wrote what famous film and posted it on my website... and none of the screenwriters who frequent the site could get all of the answers right (without looking them up). Lots of “I didn’t know that writer wrote that!” Heck, if screenwriters don’t know who wrote the screenplays for movies that they have seen and loved, why would civilians, let alone hot underwear models (you may choose whatever sex you want - they will not be choosing you in return). So screenwriters are never famous. If you subtract the famous *playwrights* who became screenwriters, and writer-directors and famous novelists who became screenwriters, you probably don’t know the single name of a screenwriter who just *writes screenplays*. Like you want to.

So your plans to become a famous screenwriter?

The other common fantasy that goes along with famous is rich, and we have all seen those deals in the trades where some new writer’s screenplay was in a bidding war and sold for $1.2 million. Hey, I can write 3 screenplays a year if all I do is write one page a day, that’s $3.6 million a year... that ought to attract the underwear models! I can buy a Lamborghini every year! I can live in a mansion! I can eat my weight in lobster twice a day! I will be rich! Except, that’s not really how it works. Because that $1.2 million works like this: The $1 million is when and if they make the film - and only around 10% of the screenplays they buy or develop ever get made. So the odds are against you ever making that $1 million. The $200k is what you will be paid - for the screenplay and all of the rewrites, and these days they sometimes decide not to do the rewrites (great! until you realize that you won't be paid that part if the $200k)and you might end up with just over $100k total. That still sounds pretty good, right? But that’s for a screenplay that sold for $1.2 million - which is a huge sale that makes the trades. And a sale - you see, most screenplays don’t ever sell. There are around 1 million screenplays in circulation in any given year and fewer than 100 sell to studios. Okay, there are screenplays that sell to low budget genre companies and companies that make films for Lifetime and SyFy Channel and Hallmark... for much much less. A friend of mine sold a screenplay to a company that makes SyFy Channel movies... for $2k. I didn’t leave out any zeros. This is a tough business to make a living in! Most of the professional screenwriters I know make an okay living... But I often joke that if I had kept my job at Safeway Grocery I would probably be making more now (as a District Manager or something).

So your plans to become a rich screenwriter?

And if you are looking at those million screenplays and fewer than a hundred sell, that means that a whole bunch do not sell. The writers wrote them for nothing!

Or did they?

And that is the key to avoiding being damned.

The writing itself needs to be its own reward.

MOTIVATIONS

If you're having a problem getting your scripts finished it may be tied to your motivation - maybe you aren't writing because you want to tell a story, perhaps you're writing because you want fame and glory. Guess what? There is no fame and glory in the screenwriting world - name the three Oscar winning writers of CASABLANCA. You probably can't, and you're the MOST LIKELY person who could do that (you want to be an Oscar winning screenwriter). So if your motivation is fame, is having people acknowledge and love you... you're in the wrong business. Screenwriters are either ignored or blamed or crapped on.

If your motivation is "I like to write" or "I need to write" then it's all about writing and writing is what you should be doing (actually, you'll already be doing it). This is the motivation you want to have - the need or desire to tell stories. That way your motivation is all about the work - not the rewards. I hate to be a cold blanket, but this is a business where the rewards are few and far between and usually out of our control. The only thing really in our control is doing the work. So writing needs to be its own reward!

If your motivation is "I want to write to prove I'm somebody important" or "I want to write to prove my enemies were wrong" then it's not about the writing - it's about your personal problems. If you are writing to solve personal problems (and trying to solve them by changing OTHERS) your focus isn't going to be on writing, so you WILL have trouble finishing scripts or starting them or anything else that has to do with WRITING. If your motivation for writing is anything other than "to write", you're going to run into problems because those other motivations will get in the way of your writing.

If you aren't in the biz because you have to tell your stories, because you're PASSIONATE about writing, you're in for a future of heartache. You don't see screenwriters on eitherr of the Jimmys or Colbert. You don't see them interviewed on ET or Access Hollywood or any other TV version of National Enquirer. Screenwriters just toil away in obscurity... we write because we have stories inside of us that they have no choice but to tell. We are writers.

A writer writes.

I have a stack of unsold screenplays that I am now planning on adapting into novels. I also have a stack of unread screenplays - no one ever requested them. Many of those are from early in my screenwriting "careeer" where I was writing typical genre screenplays instead of focusing on an amazing high concept that could attract producers from the logline alone. Those unread screenplays are good - just not interesting enough. Some I have rewritten with a “high concept injection”, others I have figured out how to adapt into novels with a more interesting central idea. Everything that I have written, from my very first screenplay, is written. It is not just some idea bouncing around in my head, it is something that was fleshed out and set on paper or floppy or whatever. It actually exists. And that is the key to being a successful writer - actually writing.

A writer writes.

A sure fire way to be damned as a writer is to focus on the things that you do not control, instead of the things that you do control. If you focus on the prestige or the money or the respect or anything else that is completely outside of our control... you are going to end up damned disappointed. Even if you are a successful screenwriter, not everything you write will end up on screen, and I guarantee that what ends up on screen isn’t going to be the way you wrote it. Probably mentioned the huge list of unsold and unproduced screenplays by multiple Oscar winner Robert Bolt, and even Oscar winners will get rewritten by a string of other writers. That’s just how it works - out of our control. If you focus on the stuff that you can’t control, you will go crazy. But there is one thing that you control 100% - that is the actual writing. Getting pages done every day. Writing a stack of screenplays that may or may not sell - but they are accomplishments! You wrote that screenplay! You got to Fade Out!

So you probably aren’t ever going to become rich and famous and respected and have your choice of underwear models to fly to Europe with for a weekend with The Countess, but you are going to actually accomplish something that very few do - you will have a growing stack of screenplays or short stories or novels. So if you want to be a writer, you need to enjoy (in some way) the writing part.

Writing needs to be its own reward.

That’s the way to avoid being damned.

Good luck and keep writing!

- Bill



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Print version was 48 pages, Kindle version is over 400 pages!
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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

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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