Wednesday, August 31, 2022

Scene Of The Week: THE GODFATHER

THE GODFATHER was released on March 15, 1972 - so I probably should have run this last week...

Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola’s THE GODFATHER has no shortage of great scenes, and this week we’re going to look at one of my favorites - Michael’s First Kill.

Irony and Contrast are two connected elements that make for a great scene. If a bad man has to do a bad thing, it’s not interesting. If a good man has to do a bad thing, *that’s* a scene! If a good man has to do something just plain evil for a good reason - that’s the stuff that makes a film memorable.

In THE GODFATHER we have three brothers vying for their father's love in order to inherit the family business - a Mafia crime family:

1) First born Sonny is strong, aggressive, combative... and won't take no for and answer. He's quick with his fists - again, we have traits that come to mind when we think of running a crime family.

2) Middle child Fredo loves drinking and gambling and women and will lie through his teeth to get what he wants. These are all traits that might be of value if he were running the criminal organization.

3) Then we come to Michael - he's studious, quiet, honorable, patriotic and could be the poster boy for traditional American family values. If you were to make a checklist of things that don't fit our image of mobster, you'd have Michael. He's completely at odds with the other characters in the film - he's NOT a criminal type at all. He's the least likely brother to be chosen to run the family... which why he is perfect for this scene.

Buy the dvd

With Michael as the protagonist of this scene (and the film) we have a story that is constantly interesting because it has built in conflict - Michael is NOT as tough as Sonny was, he is not as duplicitous as Fredo... How can he possibly survive as head of the family? The original reason why he's eventually chosen by his father is that he is the kind of "straight-arrow" non-criminal type who can lead the family out of criminal enterprises into legitimate business. But that choice hasn’t been made yet...

Michael (Al Pacino) has returned from WW2 a hero, has a girlfriend from outside the mob world Kay (Diane Keaton) and is on course to become a legit business man. But problems begin when Sollozzo (the great Al Lettieri) wants the Corleones to finance his heroin business, and the Don (Marlon Brando) refuses to become involved in the drug trade. Sollozzo causes some very violent problems like having Don Corleone shot while buying oranges. Now *someone* needs to get revenge and stop the assault on the family once and for all. Should they send violent Sonny (James Caan) or liar Fredo (John Cazale) - people who could easily pull the trigger? Problem there is that Sollozzo and his pet cop McClusky (Sterling Hayden) *know* they can’t trust those two. But the straight arrow law abiding Michael? He’s the good son, the one even the villains can trust.

Which makes him the perfect assassin... and also the most dramatic choice. Can Michael do it? Can a good man do a bad thing? Will he break down?

These questions create lots of suspense in the scene. But the scene is *filled* with suspense. Some of that comes from the good man doing the bad thing, but there are great moments - when he can’t find the gun behind the flush tank, and then that pause at the bathroom door where he wonders if he can do this. Then, we get a whole damned conversation with Sollozzo. As the conversation goes on, we wonder if Michael will ever pull the gun and do it. Time is running out. What if they finish dinner and Sollozzo and McClusky are still alive?



Because there are no subtitles for the conversation in Sicilian (it’s kind of a silent moment with talking) here’s what they say:

SOLLOZZO: "I'm sorry..."

MICHAEL: "Leave it alone." ( or ) "Forget about it."

SOLLOZZO: "What happened to your father was business. I have much respect for your father. But your father, his thinking is old-fashioned. You must understand why I had to do that."

MICHAEL: "I understand those things..."

[Waiter brings McCluskey's veal, then exits.]

SOLLOZZO: "Now let's work through where we go from here."

MICHAEL: "How do you say... ?" [Then Michael returns to speaking English.]

[After Michael returns from the bathroom]

SOLLOZZO: "Everything all right? I respect myself, understand, and cannot allow another man to hold me back. What happened was unavoidable. I had the unspoken support of the other Family dons. If your father were in better health, without his eldest son running things, no disrespect intended, we wouldn't have this nonsense. We will stop fighting until your father is well and can resume bargaining. No vengeance will be taken. We will have peace, but your Family should interfere no longer."

The great thing about a great movie is that everything gets tied together in a single scene: this is a *plot scene*, it's also a violent scene (and this is a gangster flick), and a character scene, and a story scene. It serves many purposes in the film, and is the thing that pushes Michael to the head of the family (also, Sonny gets machine gunned to pieces, so he’s kind of out of the running). It’s a fantastic scene from two fantastic movies (there is no GODFATHER 3 in my book), and there’s a good chance we’ll look at another film from one of the films later in the series. By the way, in the First 10 Pages Blue Book expansion that I’m working on, I have articles on *both* films’ opening 10 minutes. These are great films with great beginnings... plus great scenes like this one.

As usual, scene discussion in the comments section

- Bill

Tuesday, August 30, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: Death Machines (1976)

Five years ago I spent almost a month in Seattle working on a film written and directed by my friend Paul Kyriazi called FORBIDDEN POWER that’s a typical kung fu-hot alien babe-BASIC INSTINCT-biker bar fight-love story-THEY LIVE! Like conspiracy of businessmen-chess match-yachting--devil doll-car chase-noir-computer programming-supernatural-actual train wreck-country western-workplace drama-nuclear missile launch codes-piano bar-rubber run before a date-shoot out-dead body disposal-action flick. You’ve probably seen a million of them. 4 years ago I saw the finished film at a Festival in Las Vegas. Here’s a still from the film...



This is a low budget film, shot in Seattle in a little over 3 weeks (was supposed to be 2) that I ended up “producer” on - which means any job that no one else wanted to do I got stuck doing. Paul promised short days, and I’d spend most of my time sitting in a chair doing continuity. Nothing strenuous. I arrived a few days early so that I could wander around Seattle (a city I passed through on my way to Vancouver a few years back to teach a class, but haven’t *really* been to since I was 5 years old and my parents went there on vacation). So I was put to work the minute I got off the plane building sets and moving heavy stuff for days that often went 17 hours and got *no* days off until the last week of the shoot when I got a day off an spent it doing that Seattle sight seeing... when I should have just stayed in bed and slept! It was a great adventure, working with old friends I’ve known since I was 18 years old and saw this movie...





DEATH MACHINES (1976)

Directed by: Paul Kyriazi.
Written by: Paul Kyriazi & Jow Walders.
Starring: Ron Marchini, Michael Chong, Joshua Johnson, Mari Honjo, Ron Ackerman - those are the first billed and none are the lead!
Produced by: Ron Marchini.
Cinematography by: Don Rust.
Music by: Don Hulette (director of Chuck Norris movies!


My connection to this movie? It was directed by Paul Kyriazi, who got me into the biz when he gave me 2 weeks to write NINJA BUSTERS. Paul went to the same community college that I did, and took the same film class. I would constantly bump into him at the movies - which was strange when it was some cinema 30 miles away from home showing some obscure samurai film. DEATH MACHINES was made for drive ins, shot on 35mm and probably Panavision (scope) for not much money. I saw it at the "premiere" at the Pleasant Hill Motor Movies... which is now a shooping center. No champagne at this opening, but beer was smuggled in, along with some friends, in the trunk of the car.

Paul tells a funny story about the plane explosion - they bought the plane from a guy, blew it up, then sold him back what was left for parts. The truck that drives through the restaurant? A real closed restaurant waiting to be torn down - they did it for real. The building that explodes - also set for demolition. That's how they could do this for pocket change.

The money for this film came from Ron Marchini, who wanted to be the next Chuck Norris. He wasn't much of an actor, so I think they made his character a mute. Ron has gone on to have a low budget career in action films.

DEATH MACHINES has so many bad lines, my friends and I quote them... and most of these guys worked on the film! "Hey, there go the guys that cut off my arm!" The Dragon Lady's accent is so thick you want subtitles. "I have him compweeetwy under my contwow!"

NEW TRAILER:


But here's the thing - this movie was made local, played drive ins, and was (I think) #11 in the USA when it opened in July 1976. It was a successful summer movie. Most of that is due to the big scenes on a small budget - which was creativity instead of cash. One of the things I learned from Paul, that's even in my article in the current Script Magazine, is to come up with a handful of "How Did They Do That? shots" - like the plane taxiing, starting to take off, then exploding. Did they kill the pilot for that shot? Doing something unusual or seemingly impossible on screen adds production value, and may not cost you very much money (just creativity).

And if you can sell back what's left of the plane as parts...

And now the film has been rediscovered and there's a new trailer and a Collector's Edition BluRay complete with extras and commentary track and cast interviews and other cool stuff. Paul did an introduction at Toho Studios Samurai Village backlot set. For some reason Paul's work has been rediscovered and is now playing festivals.

deathmachines
Click box for Amazon info.

So now Paul has made this new film, FORBIDDEN POWER, to capitalize on all of these blue ray special editions of his films from the 70s and 80s that are coming out. What was once drive in cheese is now some sort of low budget classic. NINJA BUSTERS being rediscovered is what started all of this. So blame me...

You can rent FORBIDDEN POWER on Amazon.

A couple more pictures from the Seattle shoot...











- Bill

Friday, August 26, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock: Family Plot (1976)

45 years ago today...

Family Plot (1976)

Screenplay: Ernest Lehman based on the novel “Rainbird Pattern” by Victor Canning.
Starring: Bruce Dern, Karen Black, William Devane, Barbra Harris.
Director Of Photography: Lenny South... who had an office on Lankershim in the Valley and I met him!
Music: Great John Williams score!



Hitchcock's final film. I have a soft spot for this film - it was the only Hitchcock movie I saw in a cinema during it's initial release. I was too young to see the others when they came out, my parents wouldn’t let me see THE BIRDS in the cinema as a kid... had to wait for the cut down TV version. Though FAMILY PLOT isn't Hitchcock at his best, it's a fun film... written by the multi-Oscared Ernest Lehman who also wrote NORTH BY NORTHWEST. Though not a chase film, both films share the same sense of humor.

I sometimes think Hitchcock should have quit after FRENZY - that was a good film to go out on. The great thing about FRENZY is that it’s a 70s film - gritty and raw and really performance oriented. It seems like an unusual film for Hitchcock. FAMILY PLOT is kind of a return to his comfort zone. It’s like an old studio movie, and much of it *looks* like it was shot on a sound stage. It seems very tame compared to FRENZY, and even the sexy dialogue seems like something from a Doris Day/Rock Hudson movie instead of a movie made in the 1970s..



Hitchcock had a bunch of projects crash and burn, and some he cancelled himself because they required extensive location shooting and he wasn’t up to it. He’d just had a pacemaker installed and was getting back up on his feet. One of the projects he was working on that didn’t pan out was an adaptation of Elmore Leonard’s “Unknown Man #89" - which has a very similar plot to this film. “Unknown Man” is about a recovering alcoholic process server - famous for once serving a rock star on stage - hired to track down a missing heir by a freakin’ evil lawyer. This lawyer obtains lists of missing stockholders, tracks them down, makes a deal to get them their stock in exchange for a large percentage. In this case, it’s the son of a chauffeur who inherited some stock that is now worth millions. The problem is, that kid has grown up to become an armed robber who does not want to be found. The great thing about the book is the process server falls off the wagon big time and has to scrape his life back together again... and along the way finds some missing self respect and kicks a little ass. He goes from doing what he’s told, to standing up to that freakin’ evil lawyer and his trigger happy bodyguard... and we discover the true meaning of “Chinese And Canadian Food”. Anyway, Hitchcock made this film instead.



FAMILY PLOT is a great experiment in storytelling, but also offers experiments in casting and an interesting technical experiment that Hitch had done once before on NORTH BY NORTHWEST (so maybe it was really an Ernie Lehman experiment).

One of the great things about FAMILY PLOT is the strange cast - it *stars* Bruce Dern. Dern played psycho Viet Nam Vets and twitchy villains and is probably most famous for being the only actor to ever *kill* John Wayne on screen. Shot him in the back in THE COWBOYS. Not a leading man... but has a great sarcastic delivery like his pal Jack Nicholson. Dern had played a role in Hitchcock’s MARNIE early in his career, and played characters on the “Hitchcock Presents” TV show. In MARNIE he was the rapist - not the kind of guy you cast as your romantic lead. One of the reasons why I was interested in this movie when it first came out was Dern as the *hero*. Totally weird casting. Gotta see that!



On the villain side we have Karen Black, who was probably the biggest star in the cast when this was made. Karen Black was *the* leading lady of the 1970s. From EASY RIDER to FIVE EASY PIECES to PORTNOY’S COMPLAINT to the Redford version of THE GREAT GATSBY to NASHVILLE to AIRPORT 75 to TRILOGY OF TERROR, Karen Black was in *everything*. She had that great combination of animal sensuality and tough vulnerability that allowed her to play wealthy Southern Belles or Truck Stop waitresses. She always seemed *real*. I mentioned in the Protagonist Blue Book that FIVE EASY PIECES is one of my favorites, and she shines in that film. You feel for her.

Her partner in crime was played by the always suave William Devane, who replaced Roy Thinnes halfway through shooting - you can still see Thinnes in long shots. Devane had played JFK on TV, and was considered a leading man... not a villain. One of the great things he brings to the film is his charisma - early in the film you are rooting for him and Black to get away with their crimes - they are so clever and elegant and cool. Hey, and the great Ed Lauter plays a childhood friend of Devane's who will kill anyone for a buck fifty. This is an eclectic cast, unusual for a big studio film.



The reason behind the odd casting experiment? Hitchcock came up through the studio system where stars were under contract with the studio and didn’t really cost the production anything, the studio would assign a star to a movie or the star might select a movie based on script and director. Hitchcock was a name director and all of the stars wanted to work with him. He could pick and choose. But when the studio system began to disintegrate in the 1960s, stars became free agents and began demanding high salaries... and getting them. Hitchcock *hated* paying a huge chunk of his film’s budget to stars, after paying half of his budget on the stars for TORN CURTAIN in 1966 (when stars were still “cheap”) he never made another movie with a star in the lead. TOPAZ, FRENZY and FAMILY PLOT all use character actors in their lead roles. Karen Black, the only one who might be considered a star in this cast, was never the star of any of those films she was in. The closest she comes to being the main attraction in a movie are FAMILY PLOT and DAY OF THE LOCUST, where the rest of the cast are character types. TRILOGY OF TERROR was a TV movie, where she was big enough to carry the movie.

Though the cast of FAMILY PLOT is more edgy/indie than a typical studio film, that may have also lead to it’s relatively poor box office. Great to see Bruce Dern play the romantic lead... but few people did.

Hitch Appearance: Silhouetted in a window at city hall's bureau of records.



Nutshell: Fake psychic Harris learns that a wealthy client’s sister gave up a kid born out of wedlock when she was a teen, and now wants to find the kid and put him in her will. If Harris and Dern find him, the wealthy client will pay them a huge chunk of money. Only one problem - that bastard child is now a notorious jewel thief known as “The Trader” who is the top story on every TV news program. How do you find a man who is doing everything in his power not to be found?

Dern is a failed actor who drives a cab, and throughout the film gets to use his acting abilities to play everything from a private detective to a sympathetic friend in order to get information.

Meanwhile, suave criminal Devane and his accomplice Black have a novel way of getting rich - they steal wealthy *people* and ask for famous jewels as ransom. Hey, aren’t you supposed to steal jewels from wealthy people? By twisting that around, it makes Devane’s “Trader” an unusual jewel thief.



The film contains some great Hitchcock set pieces, including a Bishop kidnaped in the middle of Mass, a crazy out of control car going down a winding mountain road, a car chasing our couple who are on foot, and several other great scenes.

There’s more on this film in my HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR book where we look at its use of *Intersecting Story Lines* and Extreme POV Car Chase and Double Entendres and the Puzzle Set Piece and the Arthur Adamson Montage and using Weird Weapons in the Thriller Genre and Start/Stop Story Issues. Check it out!

- Bill

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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:
(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, August 25, 2022

THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

Best Of THRILLER Thursday: The Grim Reaper

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



Season: 1, Episode: 37.
Airdate: June 13, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Block from a story by Harold Lawlor
Cast: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Henry Daniell, Paul Newlan.
Music: Jerry Goldsmith
Cinematography: Bud Thackery
Producer: William Frye



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “Yes, the painting did finish it’s morbid creator, but I can assure you that our story is not finished. Oh, no... it’s only just begun.”
(He swipes his hand over the scythe in the painting...)
“Blood! Think of that. This painting is over 100 years old, yet real blood still glistens on the scythe of the Grim Reaper, which by no mere coincidence is the title of our story tonight. How strange indeed that the immortality sought by a mad artist would assume the form of death. But even stranger are the fearful consequences of these others whenever the Grim Reaper’s scythe drips blood. Our principal players are: William Shatner, Natalie Schafer, Elizabeth Allen, Scott Merrill, Fifi D’Orsay, and Henry Daniell. You’ve seen the harbinger of evil, someone is in mortal danger as sure as my name is Boris Karloff. Ah, ah, ah! Stay where you are! I’ll join you as we wait... and watch.”



Synopsis: 1848.... Henry Daniell shows up in the middle of the night looking for an artist named Henri Rodin, the maid shows him upstairs. Rodin is crazy, evil, a drug addict, and has been painting his “masterpiece” behind locked doors. Daniell gets her to unlock the door... because he is Rodin’s father. They find him hanging from the rafters. His “masterpiece”? A painting of the Grim Reaper! Did he finish the painting, or did the painting finish him?

Present day: A mansion in the hills named Graves End. Paul Graves (Shatner!) drives up in a sports car, spots a hearse parked out front. His Aunt Beatrice Graves (Natalie Schafer, Mrs. Howell!) greets him with a hug and explains that she bought the hearse for publicity, and drives it around town. She’s a famous mystery writer and has decorated the mansion to look like something out of a Charles Adams cartoon. The public expects her to be a bit of a character and a kook. Aunt Beatrice uses her maiden name Graves as well, much easier than using any of the names of her extensive list of exhusbands... or the name of her new one!



Gerald Keller (Scott Merrill) is half Aunt Beatrice’s age, and very pretty. He shakes Paul’s hand. Gerald is a hunk actor rapidly approaching his pull date. Paul asks for his autograph for a friend’s ten year old daughter who has a crush on him. While Aunt B is giving him the house tour, she asks why he’s visiting... does he need money? Paul says no, he’s concerned about her. Before he can explain why, Aunt B’s attractive young secretary Dorothy Lindon (Elizabeth Allen) enters. “Dorothy does all of my typing and most of my spelling as well.” Seems the cook has quit because of that thing in the library...

In the library: The Grim Reaper painting.... that’s why Paul came. He read that she had bought it, and was concerned. Since it was painted in 1848 it has had 17 owners, and 15 of them have met with violent and mysterious deaths. The painting is cursed. Everyone who owns it... dies. Aunt B says that’s exactly why she bought it! Look at all of the publicity she has gotten from it already! She doesn’t believe in the curse: the people who owned it previously were military leaders and European nobility, the kind of people who sometimes die suddenly and mysteriously. Everybody dies. Paul argues that everyone who died was warned first... the scythe in the painting began to bleed! That’s the legend. Aunt B thinks it’s just superstitious nonsense...



That’s when Paul notices that the blade is bleeding now!

Later, Dorothy starts to make a phone call to Aunt B’s shrink when Gerald stops her. Gerald hits on her, tries to kiss her... not knowing that Aunt B is in the next room watching them. Dorothy races out the balcony... where she runs into Paul. Paul tries to convince Dorothy to help him destroy the painting before it destroys his Aunt.

Paul finds his Aunt B sitting in front of the painting, drinking... drunk. She thinks Gerald and Dorothy are having an affair and hope the painting’s curse is true so that she will die and they can be together. Or maybe ship her off to an alcohol rehab clinic so that they have time together. Paul says he doesn’t think Dorothy is plotting against her, but does think the bleeding painting is a warning. But everything Paul says is a cliche from a murder mystery or horror tale, Aunt B calls him on each line! She says that Death is her business partner... she’s a mystery writer. She tells Paul to leave her alone and drinks a toast to the Grim Reaper...



In the middle of the night, a noise. Paul, Dorothy and Gerald run to the top of the stairs... and see Aunt B laying dead at the base of the stairs!

The Detective (M SQUAD’s Paul Newlan) says it’s accidental death.

Dorothy tells Paul that she suspects Gerald may have something to do with Aunt B’s death. Just as she decides to leave... Aunt B’s lawyer shows up to read the will. *Everything* was left to Gerald. Paul gets nothing, and Dorothy doesn’t even get a few thousand for doing Aunt B’s spelling. The lawyer is creeped out by the Grim Reaper painting and says he felt the that entire time he was reading the will it was watching him. But the Reaper has no eyes... just a skull.

Later: Dorothy has packed and is leaving and Paul says his goodbyes... he’s staying over the weekend. She warns him that Gerald can not be trusted.



That night: Paul is typing something when Gerald enters. He couldn’t sleep. Paul gives him a sleeping pill. Gerald says he hasn’t been able to sleep since Aunt B died. The cursed painting is his now... will the scythe drip blood again? Twist: Paul says there never was any blood, it was his trick. He was broke, needed a reason to see Aunt B again so that he could hit her up for some cash. The cursed painting was a great excuse... to inherit all of her money. *He* pushed Aunt B down the stairs, hoping to inherit a fortune. Gerald notes that Paul wasn’t even in the will, he inherited nothing. Paul counters that when Gerald dies he’ll inherit it all as Aunt B’s only remaining relative. What? Paul pulls the page from the typewriter and says it’s Gerald’s confession to the police saying that he pushed Aunt B down the stairs and killed her. Remember that “autograph” he signed? And that sleeping pill? The confession is also a suicide note. Poison. Paul watches as Gerald slowly and painfully dies.



Gerald makes it to the phone, dials the police... and before he can say anything dies. Paul grabs the phone and tells the police that he has discovered Gerald’s body...

The Detective says the confession wraps it all up, but he did some research on that painting, and there’s a pretty good case for that curse being believable. He’s a cop, but that painting is freaky. He asks if Paul plans to stay in the house, now. Paul says he’s headed back to his apartment tonight. The Detective leaves.

Paul hears a noise from the library...



When he looks at the Grim Reaper painting he hallucinates Aunt B’s face over the skull, and then Gerald’s face... this freaks him out! He runs out of the library, upstairs, grabs his suitcase and starts to leave, when there is a knock at the door. The Detective???

Dorothy. She heard on her car radio about Gerald’s death and came back. She realized that they MUST destroy that painting before more people die. Paul is the owner, now, right? She wants to burn it. In the library, Paul stops her from burning the painting, admits that he the blood was just a trick. There is no curse. Dorothy realizes that Paul killed Aunt B and Gerald... and Paul offers to share all of his new fortune with her. They can be rich together! She points to the painting and screams that the arm is moving. When Paul turns to look at it, she runs out of the library and locks him inside!



Paul pounds on the door, then walks across the library to the doors leading out to the patio... notices something strange halfway there. The painting has changed. The Grim Reaper is no longer in the painting. What? How is that possible? Then he hears the wooshing of the scythe!

Dorothy comes back with the Detective... and they find Paul sliced to pieces. How is that possible, he was locked into the room... alone! But the painting? The scythe is now dripping blood!



Review: Shatner *and* Mrs. Howell from GILLIAN’S ISLAND! This episode makes you wish that Robert Bloch had adapted last week’s PIGEONS FROM HELL, because aside from Bloch being one of the greatest horror writers of the time period, he was also a damned *clever* writer (I know I’ve mentioned his wicked wordplay in previous entries). He makes words *dance*. Here he adapts a story that reminds me of a Levinson & Link script (those guys created COLUMBO) where a mystery writer ends up at the center of a mystery. The first episode of COLUMBO, MURDER BY THE BOOK, was a corker about a mystery writing team played by Martin Milner & Jack Cassidy... and when Milner dies somewhat mysteriously his partner Cassidy becomes prime suspect... but as a mystery writer he thinks he knows how to outsmart Columbo. Some kid named Spielberg directed that one.

This one was directed by Herschel Daugherty, who did some good work here on THRILLER and next door on ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS. His work isn’t as inventive as Lupino’s, but is competent (unlike last week’s director). This is a clever mystery with a supernatural twist end, witty and stylish and offers the perfect part for a hambone like Shatner.



The plotting is great, and after the spooky supernatural opening with Henry Daniell I expected the rest of the story to be horror based... but as it unfolds, I began to suspect that Aunt Beatrice’s mystery writer character wasn’t an accidental choice. All of the characters are scheming against each other! This is a mystery *disguised* as a horror tale! I wonder what the audience in 1961 thought of this older woman with a husband half her age? That was before “cougar” was part of our vocabulary.

When the young husband makes a move on the young secretary, and we get the feeling Shatner is thinking about inheriting everything from his Aunt and maybe hooking up with that attractive secretary; that we begin to see this as a crime scene waiting to happen. But the story keeps us guessing! Even when we suspect Shatner may have pushed Auntie down the stairs, the story is *presented* to us in a way that seems like the cursed painting is behind her death. It keeps us guessing what the genre is: horror or mystery... and Bloch does a great job of making sure we are never quite sure.



Also unlike last week’s PIGEONS, all of the actors sparkle. Merrill, who was a Broadway star with only 3 TV credits, manages to be slick and sleazy and charming all at the same time. Natalie Schafer manages to be kooky and cute and then turns sad and morose after she spies on her husband making a pass at her secretary... she *acts*! There’s a good drunk scene where this eccentric and powerful woman shows how vulnerable she is beneath her armor. That’s a combination of good acting, good writing, and good directing. There’s a swell scene between Shatner and the young husband where the conversation is about having trouble sleeping but the subtext is all about Shatner not inheriting a cent. *This* is where the reveal finally comes that this is a mystery rather than a horror story, and the clever bit of plotting with the autograph *in one of the first scenes* being the signature on the suicide note is brilliant! Shatner hambones it up, smug and clever and superior. He calmly watches the man die, giving off this vibe that he wishes the guy would hurry it up... he doesn’t have all day.



And the final twist, where the story goes from mystery disguised as horror to actual horror is brilliant. When we see that the Grim Reaper has exited the painting, instead of *showing* the Grim Reaper, we only see the shadow of the scythe and hear it wooshing through the air as we slowly more closer and closer to the trapped Shatner. That shadow is more frightening than some dude in a hoodie.

There couldn’t be a better final episode of a mixed bag first season. What began as a crime show, then added horror, ends with an episode that is both crime *and* horror. Now that the show has found its footing and morphed into a horror show, season two will focus on terror. But just as the real TV show took a break for summer, THRILLER Thursday will also take a break for summer and return to the blog when Autumn warns us that Halloween is just around the corner...

Bill

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Wednesday, August 24, 2022

Film Courage Plus: Researching A Screenplay

FILM COURAGE did a series of interviews with me at the end of 2014, and then again at the end of 2015. And that's 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?

To Research Your Screenplay:

According to Rogers & Hammerstein’s CINDERELLA musical, “In my own little corner in my own little room I can be whatever I want to be.” And that pretty much describes me as a writer, and probably you as well. I first saw that musical on TV as a kid with Lesley Ann Warren playing Cinderella, and developed a massive crush on her which I still have to this day... I also developed a love for action and adventure and romance and suspense - as long as it was something I could experience by reading or writing in my own little corner in my own little room. The world outside of that room was scary, and didn’t seem to like me very much. I was happier in my fantasy worlds, whether they were created by others or myself. I suspect this may also be true for most of you reading this - we become writers to create better worlds for ourselves... and we hope that phrase works in two ways. We hope that not only do we get to escape in fantasyland while writing our stories, but that the fantasy is something others will want to experience and pay us for a ticket to the worlds and adventures that we have created.

But here’s the problem: Input = Output.

To write realistically about people and places and things that are exciting, we must venture out from that corner of our room and enter the (scary) real world. We can’t just stay locked in our rooms. We have to live a life to write about life - and that means broken hearts and probably even some broken bones. We need to go out there and face life in order to bring home those experiences and write about them. You may not have to run with the bulls like Hemingway, but you need to get out of the comfort of that little corner and *do things*. That can be scary. If we wanted to actually *live* adventures we wouldn’t have become writers in the first place, right?

If we isolate ourselves from the world, we may be safe... but we also cut off all of the raw materials we need to create stories. Though you don’t need to *be* someone like Dirty Harry to write a character like that, it helps to do some research so that your writing is authentic and the adventure has enough details to be realistic.

BOOKS & FIRST HAND

There are two basic kinds of research that a writer will do - reading about things and either experiencing them or talking with people who have experienced them. Many writers are comfortable with hitting the books, but avoid hitting the real world. But you have to do both. And it’s best to do them in the correct order.

I’ve written a couple of US Navy Cooperation movies for HBO, and they gave me a submarine and aircraft carrier tour and allowed me to question some crew members. They do these tours in groups, so I was with a couple of other project’s writers & directors... and was amazed at the stupid questions they asked. When you have real people you don’t want to ask them questions you could easily find the answers to in books. You are just wasting their time and yours. Read the books first, so that you can ask questions about things not covered in the books. Technical stuff - the facts and the “hard information” can be found in books, but the “soft details” - the “people stuff” is what you want to ask the people about. Sure, those people know the technical stuff... but books are the better place to find that information. While you are talking to people, ask people questions. While the others were asking (really dumb) technical questions to the submarine crew, I was asking them about how they dealt with the living conditions in cramped quarters for four months. They “hot bunk” on submarines - which means they sleep in shifts and share a bed with some crew member on another shift. They have no private space. How do you deal with that? How do you deal with smells after 4 months? How do you deal with personal problems with other crew members - there’s no place you can go to get away from them. I wanted to know about the *people* on the submarine - I’d read a couple of books to learn about the submarine (and the physical tour helped fill in the gaps).

So start your research by hitting the books. Magazines and internet are included in that. Find several different sources of information, because one source may miss something that another includes. When I was doing these Navy Cooperation movies and BLACK THUNDER (stealth fighter planes) and THE BASE (Marines), I read stacks of books. I wanted to know as much as I could before I wrote the screenplay, and *find* all of the cool things that would make that script more fun. That’s one of the great side-effects of research: you discover all kinds of cool details that spark story ideas. On BLACK THUNDER one of the first things I learned is that stealth technology is a “passive system” - it absorbs radar beams so that it doesn’t bounce back to the source... and that triggered my imagination and the “rule of the logical opposite” to come up with *active* stealth - a system that *creates* invisibility... a “cloaking device”. That turned a standard military action flick into something cool and high concept. Wouldn’t have come up with that without hitting the books. Research triggers story ideas.

After all of the tech stuff, I needed to talk to a human with air combat experience... and my friend Bill Jones had been a Navy Top Gun pilot and did a couple of tours in Viet Nam... so I bought him lunch and asked him about the people stuff. Because Bill had never flown a stealth fighter, I also read an autobiography by a stealth fighter pilot which filled in other details I was unable to get from a human being (on my deadline - had this been a spec I may have tried to find a pilot to interview). The great thing about talking to real humans is that you get details that turn your characters into flesh and blood people. In some Script Tip I mentioned buying pitchers of beer for auto workers when I researched my RECALL script, and the guy who told me that he was afraid to touch his wife because his hands were so rough from work. Wow! Things like that can’t help but improve your script!




IT'S ONLY A MOVIE

Film is a dramatic medium. I've said many times that films are shared dreams - we all sit in the dark and a dream unspools before us. Just like in a dream, a character can be at one location and then (in a cut) be at a different location. We don't have to watch the screen for 24 hours until we get to the next day - a film compresses time and with a cut, it's tomorrow or a year from now. Film is not reality...

And that extends to everything that we learn in research.

Once we have learned all of the facts about how things are actually done and what actually happens, we still need to tell a dramatic and exciting story. So if in real life something takes 48 hours, in reel life it might only take a minute. The audience isn't going to watch people wait around for results in 48 hours, so we are going to compress the time. We don't want our research to shackle us, we want it to inform us. We want to use the research to make the scenes more realistic, but we don't want to make them boring. Or confusing. If there are ten steps to do something, we may only cover three of them in the screenplay to compress time and avoid boring the audience. That's a decision that a screenwriter needs to make - what are the exciting and interesting things we discovered in our research? And what would slow down the story or require too much explanation?

Even though we want to be as accurate as possible in a dramatic form to add realism, we don't want to get bogged down in all of the details or even important things that are just not dramatic or exciting. Sometimes we are going to "adapt" facts to fit the dramatic medium of film. Or leave something out that will just slow down the story or cause the audience to get sidetracked. I have left out things because I was afraid that it would pull the audience out of the story. At the end of the day, after we do all of the research, we are still trying to write the most exciting film possibe. We still need to make the screenplay into a page turner.

My theory is that if I get most of the facts right and bend a few things here and there, anyone who is an expert in that field will cut me some slack. They will understand that we couldn't just have the characters standing around for 48 hours awaiting results... we had to keep the story moving forward! We had to keep it exciting!

People who hate research often make the excuse that "Only a doctor would know if this was right or wrong" - but if you get something easy completely wrong (and it isn't something that will kill the drama) those doctors will be danged vocal about how you blew it when they are watching the movie. Also, you might be underestimating the sophistciation of the audience - we have watched a million medical shows and sitting in our livingrooms watching CHICAGO MED or whatever we might be yelling at the TV "Intubate him!" I hate watching cop shows where they seem to completely ignore procedure - stuff that we know from watching the news and better researched cop shows. You don't want to pull the audience out of the story with research, but you don't want to pull them out of the story with NO research. Our job is to make these decisions.

So make sure that you get enough right for the audience to forgive what you may heve changed for dramatic effect or to keep things exciting. We are writing exciting, dramatic screenplays... but we still want the audience to believe them. If you fudge everything, you will lose the audience! Don't be a slave to research, but use it whenever you can.


BOLO!

BOLO is Police Code for Be On The Look Out, and the best part about getting out into the real world is that you see and experience all kinds of wonderful things that can end up in a screenplay or novel. There’s a Script Tip in rotation on my website called Listen & Observe about paying attention to the world around you. Though I’m assuming that we are all avid readers and curious people who are always on the look out for an interesting story or strange fact... or just some odd ting in the world; I’ve known a few people who want to be writers who seem to go through the world with blinders on. They don’t seem to notice the world around them at all. I find that strange, and more than a little frightening. They have no idea all of the things they are missing - from story ideas to cool little details about real life. All of those things that make our stories better. More vivid. More interesting. More realistic. More fantastic.

An odd part of our job is often to synchronize our stories to what is happening in the world, and we can’t do that if we are not actively participating in the world. We need to get out of our comfortable homes and home offices and all of those places that keep the world hidden from us and experience things - look for things- that are new to us. Don’t take the same route twice - you’ll become blind to the scenery. Don’t be afraid to try new things. And keep your eyes open for things that might add a cool moment of detail to your screenplay... or might even add production value.

I’ve seen cool things that no one else seemed to notice and written screenplays around them. CRASH DIVE and STEEL SHARKS both came about because I had read in Variety about the Navy’s Cooperation program that can get you aircraft carriers and jet planes and submarines and helicopters for *free*. I once found out about a 727 owned by San Jose State College as part of their airplane maintenance courses... which they rented out for TV commercials. I’ve noticed all kinds of things that would be great on film but didn’t cost much (or was free). Those things can help turn a producer’s interest into a sale. “How the hell are we going to shoot that?” “Here’s how – “

Another important part of living in the real world is having interests *other than* screenwriting. Hobbies. Skills. Part of screenwriting is “self branding” - figuring out who you are in the business so that they can put some label on you to remember you later. Look, everyone a development executive meets is a screenwriter, so what makes *you* different and special? “Oh, he’s the guy who can tell you the B side of every hit single record from the 1950s to the 1980s.” (I actually know that guy). This not only helps them remember you, guys who they are going to call if they are doing a movie about the record industry or hiring a new writer on VINYL? Hobbies and other interests are part of having a life... part of living your life... part of being a member of the world and not just someone who spends their entire life in their own little corner in their own little room.

- Bill

Tuesday, August 23, 2022

Trailer Tuesday: THE LAST DETAIL

THE LAST DETAIL (1973)

There was a time when Jack Nicholson wasn’t a parody of himself and played a variety of diverse roles on film like the introverted writer in KING OF MARVIN GARDENS and the troubled oil rig worker in FIVE EASY PIECES. He usually played a rebel, but part of that had to do with the films being made in the 70s. Though he’d been in films and on TV since 1956, he got his big break when he replaced Rip Torn as the lawyer in EASY RIDER... which, of course, lead to the romantic interest in a Barbra Streisand musical. Seriously. Back in the late 70s the San Francisco Film Festival did a retrospective on Jack Nicholson, and being a stupid teenager I decided to sneak back stage after wards and talk to Jack, because he was a screenwriter as well as an actor. Did you know that? Yes, he’s written six produced scripts (and probably a stack of others) and directed 4 films. He’s not just a pretty face. Anyway, Nicholson could have had security remove me, but instead talked to me and called my business cards “pretty fancy”. Basically he encouraged me to stick with it, and told me it took him fifteen years to become an overnight success (everybody says that, but he *did* tell me that). So many of Nicholson’s films are kind of forgotten today, so I thought we’d look at one of my favorites.



Between KING OF MARVIN GARDENS and CHINATOWN, Nicholson made THE LAST DETAIL, which is another one of those “perfect storm” movies for me, where the writer is one of my favorites, the director is one of my favorites, and the star is one of my favorites. The script is based on a novel by Darryl Ponicsan, who was one of my favorite writers at the time... and was a hot novelist at the time who wrote CINDERELLA LIBERTY which was made into a hit movie, and his novels TOM MIX DIED FOR YOUR SINS, THE RINGMASTER, and THE ACCOMPLICE were some of my favorite books at the time. The screenwriter is Robert Towne, who wrote CHINATOWN and a bunch of others and got his start writing movies for Roger Corman (probably some starring Nicholson). The director is Hal Ashby, who directed HAROLD & MAUDE, SHAMPOO, BOUND FOR GLORY, COMING HOME, BEING THERE and many others. Music by Johnny Mandel who wrote the theme to M*A*S*H which you probably know. And, of course Nicholson starred in the film. All of these people I love working on the same film!

Best Movie Ever Made



The story is about an impossibly young Randy Quaid playing a new Navy recruit named Meadows who has been convicted of stealing some change from the camp charity box and sentenced to 8 years in prison. The two Shore Patrol Officers who will take him to prison are Badass Buddusky (Nicholson) and Mule Mulhall (Otis Young), and they start out thinking this is just another transport job, but when they find out Meadows is a virgin who has never had a drink in his life... they decide to take a little detour and show him a good time before he spends the next 8 years behind bars. Carol Kane is the hooker who pops his cherry and Gilda Radner is a hippy chick and Nancy Allen is in there, too. It’s basically a road trip with these three guys going by train, car, and on foot sometimes from the Navy Base to the Naval Prison, with some side trips to New York City. At the core of the story, the two Shore Patrol guys have to follow rules that make no sense at all... and begin to question the authority of the government and maybe even society. The film is funny and rebellious and melancholy.

"I am the motherfucking shore patrol, motherfucker! I am the motherfucking shore patrol! Give this man a beer."

It’s weird that films like this, which were hits in their day and starred people who are still stars and working in Hollywood, seem to have been lost. People don’t know about them, and they aren’t on BluRay and the DVD is 15 years old. I remember when the film first came out, it was notorious for having lots of bad language (which doesn’t seem so bad these days), but it may not be for everyone. Check it out.

Bill

Friday, August 19, 2022

Fridays With Hitchcock: Psycho Hitch?

Here's a great short film that takes shots from PSYCHO and other Hitchcock movies and some of the trailer footage from PSYCHO and FRENZY and creates a story starring Hitchcock!

Master of Suspense. Short Film. from Fabrice Mathieu on Vimeo.

- Bill



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

HITCHCOCK: MASTERING SUSPENSE


LEARN SUSPENSE FROM THE MASTER!

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

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

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

Only 125,000 words!

Price: $5.99

Click here for more info!

OTHER COUNTRIES:


UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.






HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

Contained Thrillers like “Buried”? Serial Protagonists like “Place Beyond The Pines”? Multiple Connecting Stories like “Pulp Fiction”? Same Story Multiple Times like “Run, Lola, Run”? This book focuses on 18 of Hitchcock’s 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.

Bill

Thursday, August 18, 2022

THRILLER Thursday:
THE PREMATURE BURIAL

The Premature Burial.

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



Season: 2, Episode: 3.
Airdate: Oct. 2, 1961

Director: Douglas Heyes.
Writer: William Gordon and Douglas Heyes, based on the story by Edgar Allan Poe.
Cast: Patricia Medina, Sidney Blackmer, Scott Marlowe, William Gordon, and Boris Karloff
Music: Morton Stevens.
Cinematography: Bud Thackery.
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The boundaries which separate life and death are shadowy and vague. Who is to say where exactly the one ends and the other begins? In certain mysterious maladies all functions of vitality in the human body seem to stop. And then, some unseen force sets that magic pinions and the wizard wheels in motion once again. The silver cords has not been cut, the golden bowl has not been broken. And the soul? One wonders. What meantime has happened to the soul? Many years ago, Edgar Allan Poe pondered the questions of mysterious sleeps and strange awakenings in a story entitled ‘The Premature Burial’. Well, we’ve prepared a new adaptation of that story for you to enjoy tonight. And tonight, Poe’s characters will be brought to life by... Patricia Medina as Victorine Lafourcade, Sidney Blackmer as Edward Stapleton, Scott Marlowe as Julian Boucher, William Gordon as Dr. March, and this sinister gentleman as Dr. Thorne. And as sure as his name is Boris Karloff, this is a Thriller!”



Synopsis: A rainy day. A funeral. Dr. Thorne (Boris Karloff) and Dr. March (William Gordon) watch as their friend Edward Stapleton (Sydney Blackmer) is laid to rest in his family crypt... today was to be his wedding day, but instead is his funeral. Thorne doesn’t understand how a 50 year old man in good health suddenly dies. He was Stapleton’s physician, but was away for few days so Dr. March attended to his sudden death. Was he poisoned? Dr. Thorne plans on pulling the coffin from the crypt and doing a post mortem... whether his bride-to-be Victorine likes it or not.

As everyone leaves the cemetery, the coffin inside the crypt begins moving... Shaking! It falls over and a hand breaks out from within and attempts to *open the coffin*! Failing, it becomes motionless.



Thorne and March bring the coffin back to the hospital, where Thorne is amazed that Stapleton’s skin is still pink... and he twitches a bit. March thinks perhaps a poison used to kill him may have also preserved the body. Thorne decides to try the galvanic battery on him - an early version of defribrillator paddles - to see if they can restart his heart. And it works! The dead man suddenly lurches to his feet, speaking gibberish... some sort of Frankenstein’s monster? He passes out - but his heart is beating, he’s alive! Alive!

Stapleton recovers in a hospital room... Dr. Thorne has diagnosed him with a form of catalepsy. Stapleton says he was never unconscious - he was aware of every moment he was trapped in that coffin. Aware of being pronounced dead when he was alive. It was worse than hell - completely paralyzed and unable to tell anyone that he was alive! He worries about Victorine, his bride-to-be. How is she taking his death?



Victorine (Patricia Medina) is busy making out with her lover Julian (Scott Marlowe), the painter hired by Stapleton to paint his soon-to-be wife. Unfortunately, Stapleton died *before* the marriage, so she is not a wealthy widow... and will be unable to continue paying for his artist loft and their secret relationship. There is an interesting age dynamic here - Julian is younger than Victorine (her boy-toy) and Stapleton is older than Victorine (making her his trophy wife). The age differences in the relationships bring out all sorts of character conflicts in both couples - it’s an important element in the story. Just as they kiss, the doorbell rings...

Dr. Thorne tells the widow that she may put away her grief... Edward Stapleton is alive.

At the hospital, Thorne tells Victorine that Stapleton is terrified that he will be buried alive again, so he has notified every doctor in the county of his condition and shows her a medical bracelet and neck medallion he has created for Stapleton to wear which say “Do Not Bury Me” with information about his condition, this way there will be no mistakes... no reason for Stapleton to fear a premature burial again. Thorne believes that Stapleton over-exerted himself in an attempt to impress his younger fiancĂ©, and that lead to his attack. So please - when he is discharged from the hospital, make sure he does not over-exert himself again.

Julian sees a second chance at inheritance - Victorine can now marry Stapleton, and if he dies they’ll become rich.



Wedding bells. A strange honeymoon night - Stapleton shows her the crypt in the backyard of his estate that he designed and had built while he was in the hospital recovering. The stone door can be opened automatically by pressing a lever. There is ventilation, and water and food and blankets... and a dram of good brandy. The coffin is designed for comfort, and there is a cord which she is to *personally* place in his dead hands - if he revives inside the coffin he can pull the cord and ring a bell on the roof of the crypt. If she hears the bell, she is to come to the crypt and rescue him. He makes her promise that he will not be buried anywhere but in this crypt, with the cord in his hands. He will not live through being buried alive again.

As they settle into marriage, Stapleton takes it easy in his library - playing his lyre and reading Sir. Walter Scott... and Victorine finds ways to prod him into over exerting himself again. She suggests they travel...



While on holiday she does everything in her power to push him to his limits, and finally he collapses in the woods. She carefully removes the medical bracelet and medallion, rolls a stone away and buries them underneath... then calls for a doctor.

Stapleton is *not* taken home to be buried, but buried in that foreign land. Not in his special coffin, in his special crypt... but in a standard coffin (with a small glass window for viewing the body) buried in the ground. Awesome shot from inside the coffin at Victorine and the other mourners as the dirt is shoveled over the small window.



Wealthy widow Victorine Stapleton visits her lover Julian and tells him that now she can give him *everything* she has promised him. They get it on!

Dr. Thorne visits the widow , he is executor of Stapleton’s estate. He wonders why (and how) the medical bracelet and necklace were missing from his body... you see, he’s been doing a little investigating. Victorine believes the medals - made of silver - were probably stolen. “Are you certain that Edward was dead when they buried him?” She gets angry at the hidden accusation in that question - isn’t Thorne’s reason to be here a discussion of Stapleton’s will? Yes - Stapleton left his entire fortune to her. Just one thing - for her to inherit, Stapleton’s body must be buried in that special crypt with that cord in his dead hands. No inheritance until his body has been moved. Yikes!



Dr. Thorne will oversee the transportation of the body - all she has to do is sign the exhumation request. If she refuses, Stapleton’s fortune goes to his cousins. She signs.

The special crypt. The coffin he was buried in is opened, and his corpse transferred to his special coffin. Dr. Thorne places the cord between his dead hands... closes the coffin lid. Victorine watches, repulsed by all of this. Before the crypt’s stone door is closed, she places a picnic basket of canned food inside.

That night, Julian comes to the house to celebrate their new fortune, their new relationship... but that crypt in the backyard is a huge buzz-kill. How can they have a relationship with her dead husband out there? Julian laughs, “Let the old jack in the box deteriorate where it pleases him. We probably owe him that, darling.” Victorine relaxes, drinks to her dead husband... and the soon-to-be husband across from her. But before they can kiss, the bell tolls.

Not Wedding Bells...

The bell from the crypt...

The bell with the cord in Stapleton’s dead hands.

Julian believes it’s just the wind... until the crypt’s door opens!

Julian and Victorine creep into the vault to make sure he’s still dead in his coffin...



But the coffin is empty.

In the moonlight, Victorine sees a man in a shroud wandering the grounds in the distance. Impossible! Impossible! The man had been buried for six weeks! No food. No water. He can not have still been alive! Victorine freaks out.

Julian is still trying to find some rational explanation - but there really isn’t any.



In the library, Stapleton’s Sir Walter Scott book is open on his chair, his lyre nearby. Did these things get there on their own? Julian believes it is Dr. Thorne - who suspects, doesn’t he? - pretending to be Stapleton, placing these things in the library. It’s all Thorne’s evil trick! In the window behind Julian - the corpse of Stapelton in its shroud! Freak out moment! As the corpse glides away from the window, Julian yells for Thorne to come back - to take off the shroud and show himself.

Julian takes Victorine upstairs to her bedroom - she needs to rest. But on the bed - the medical bracelet and necklace! How could they get there? No one knew where she buried it... except Stapleton! His eyes were open as he lay there... he saw her! Only he knew where she buried them!

Then the lyre music drifts up from the library.



When they get to the library, the lyre is there but no shrouded corpse. But then Victorine sees him in the window watching them. She grabs Stapleton’s pistol and hands it to Julian, “You’ll have to kill him.” Julian takes the pistol, aims it at the shrouded form, “I see you Thorne, now leave us alone! Leave us alone, or so help me I’ll shoot!” Before he can fire, a voice behind him... Dr. Thorne. Then who was that in the window? Victorine looks from the corpse in the window over to Thorne - two different people. “It was never you... it *was* Edward!” Then she faints.

Julian and Thorne carry her to her bed... then Thorne asks Julian if Stapleton is alive? The crypt door is open, the bell rang? Julian says it is impossible... but Dr. Thorne says it is possible - men have survived long periods of cataleptic coma, like a bear in hibernation. He and Julian go downstairs... where the front door opens and Stapelton enters. Wrapped in his shroud. He slowly approaches Julian - close enough that the artists can see his face. It *is* Stapleton! He slowly walks upstairs. A hand on Julian’s shoulder - Thorne. The doctor says that Stapleton is alive and wants to be with his wife. He wants to share his joy of being alive with the woman who loves him. Julian says that she never loved Stapleton, she just married him for his money... so that she and Julian could be wealthy together. Dr. Thorne asks Julian if Victorine knowingly buried Stapleton alive? Yes! “The necklace and bracelet - she took them off him and buried them under a stone.”

Upstairs, Stapleton’s shrouded corpse wakes up Victorine... who is now close to insane.

Victorine comes downstairs holding the necklace, says she tried to persuade Stapleton to put it back on... maybe Dr. Thorne can help her. She’s gone over the edge.



That’s when Stapleton’s corpse glides to the top of the staircase. Thorne asks him to come downstairs... and Julian freaks out. Tries to run away. But Thorne grabs him. As Stapleton’s corpse slowly comes down the stairs, Julian admits to everything - Victorine drove Stapleton to another attack, hid the necklace and bracelet, did not tell the doctors of his condition, had him buried in foreign soil... all of this so that they could be together and inherit his fortune! Stapleton keeps climbing down the stairs, closer, closer, closer! His face a pale mask - skin white! After Julian has confessed to everything, implicated Victorine in murder; Stapleton’s corpse touches him... the Stapleton reaches up and *takes off his face*.

It is a pale white mask - Stapleton’s death mask. Underneath it - Dr. March.

When Dr. Thorne went to retrieve the body, he went to the place in the woods where he had died... and found a stone with no moss on it. Moved. Underneath the stone - the bracelet and necklace. And inside the coffin? Stapleton had been buried alive and tried to claw his way out! Died a horrible death from suffocation inside that coffin. Murdered by Victorine. The only way to prove it - get Victorine and Julian to admit their guilt.



Review:One of the most interesting things about this episode is how it uses the raw material of Poe’s story in unusual ways. The Karloff introduction is almost taken word for word from Poe’s introduction in the story. Though the narrator in Poe’s story is the fellow who is buried alive, he tells us of previous incidents of people buried before their time - including the story of Victorine and Julian (a writer in the story instead of a painter & sculptor) - she was the one buried alive in that story. Also the story of Stapleton, who broke open his coffin inside his crypt... but was unable to escape the stone slab which walled him inside... they later discovered his skeleton! By taking all of these pieces and reforming them into a Weird Tales type story of murder and revenge, we have a great Season 2 entry... and great roles for both Karloff and the screenwriter as doctors!



The story has traces of Poe’s TELL TALE HEART mixed in around the halfway point, where the dead man haunts his two killers, and that’s what makes this episode more than just the original Poe story... turning it into something that will make you squirm and scream. All kinds of nice horror moments, and that great moment where they think it’s Thorne pretending to be Stapleton... but Thorne is in the room behind them. Kind of a jump moment and a twist all in one.

That idea of having the corpse return for revenge is a stroke of genius, and we have to give a bunch of credit to screenwriter William Gordon (who gets to play the corpse) for coming up with a way to turn the creepy Poe story about being buried alive into an all out scare-fest. The great twist that it’s a scam to force the killers into admitting their guilt is icing on an already delicious cake. This episode was made a year before the Corman AIP version, and I think they did more in an hour than the feature did in half again as much time. Here’s the link to that movie.



Some great direction in this episode as well, with shots like the one from inside the coffin as the dirt is being shoveled into a grave a stand out. Some great low angles and high angles and moving camera shots and reveals. One of the things the elevate the good episodes of the series is the *cinema* style direction (based on specific shots) and often is present in the bad episodes is the “TV style direction” (master shot, close up, coverage - but no specific shots). It seems like there was a secret war of direction styles going on behind the scenes, between old school like television style and movie style on this show... which points out the importance of directors. Even with the same DP, one director turns in a pedestrian episode and another turns in an amazing episode.

And this is one of the handful of episodes where Karloff gets to do more than hosting duties. He’s basically the lead character, here, and gives a great performance again. Karloff’s deal on the show involved getting the chance to act in some of the episodes, and even though he was an old man at the time he always seems to give it his all when he could have easily coasted. This was the guy who played the monster in the original FRANKENSTEIN back in 1931... and thirty years later he’s using electricity to bring a dead guy back to life.

Season 2 of THRILLER is on a roll! And next week is another great episode - the weirdly twisted Robert Bloch story about a custom made suit... where the custom is demon worship!

- Bill

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