Tuesday, April 24, 2018

Trailer Tuesday: DRAG ME TO HELL!



DRAG ME TO HELL (2009)
Directed by: Sam Raimi.
Written by: Sam Raimi, Ivan Raimi.
Starring: Alison Lohman, Justin Long, Ruth Livier, Dileep Rao, David Paymer, Octavia Spencer.
Director Of Photography: Peter Deming.
Music: Christopher Young.

One of the best reviewed films of 2009 was a horror flick from Sam Raimi (no kidding, 92% on Rotten Tomatoes) and it was one of the best times I’ve had sitting in a cinema that year - a crazy funhouse ride at a disreputable carnival that has you laughing as much as screaming. Though I always stress the importance of having a unique idea, this film gives us horror plot #17 (the gypsy curse one, see THINNER and a few dozen other films) but shows us the importance of *execution*. A good script needs a great idea, well written. Here we just get some great writing and directing and it overcomes the tired concept. Oh, if you are wondering why SPIDER-MAN’s Sam Raimi directed  this film, the guy has a whole bunch of horror skeletons in his closet, including the EVIL DEAD movies. For more on the EVIL DEAD flicks, check out But The Third One Was Great blog, which features those films this week! 



In DRAG ME TO HELL, Alison Lohman plays a nice girl destined to always finish last. She used to be fat, has a white-trash Southern accent she’s desperately trying to lose, and is doing her damndest to move up a couple of rungs on the social ladder. She works as a loan officer at a bank, and covets the empty Vice President desk across from her - the name plate is empty as if to visually announce Your Name Here. Her boss is played by David Paymer, kind of the older male version of her... and to keep his job, the person he needs to promote to VP has to be someone strong and aggressive. That’s not Alison, but it is the new guy Reggie Lee who seems to have seen WALL STREET a few too many times and actually believes that Greed Is Good. Alison and Reggie quietly battle it out at the bank every day, each hoping to slide their name into that empty VP name plate.

When a really gross phlegm spewing one eyed old gypsy woman comes in, home in foreclosure, and begs for Alison to give her a third extension; she puts the promotion over compassion. The old woman begs... and Alison calls security on her and has her removed from the bank. This puts her at the top of the promotion list, and the top of the gypsy woman’s shit list.

On her lunch hour, Alison visits her boyfriend Justin Long at the University where he’s a first year professor, and I kept waiting for the “I’m A PC” guy to pop up behind him. Justin is arranging a meet-the-tight-assed-upper-class parents dinner, and Alison is afraid to go - she’s fat white trash. As she leaves his office, she overhears his half of a phone conversation with his mother... and knows his parents will hate her and maybe worries that Justin might be charity-dating her. One of the great things about this film is that it’s all about the characters... and still a horror film. There are so many little background thing on Alison’s character peppered through the film that we really get to know and care about her. Hey, she was in the 4H (or, that reasonable facsimile of the 4H the lawyers and E&O insurance folks signed off on). And the film is really about her character arc, from meek bank employee to bad ass demon fighter who will do things you and I wouldn’t dream of doing.



At the end of the work day she goes to the empty underground garage to grab her subcompact crapo car... and notices the old gypsie woman’s ancient rusted out 70s lemon in the garage. Now, you may not know this, but that car has probably been in more movies that David Paymer.  It was Uncle Ben’s car in SPIDER-MAN... and has been featured in every film Sam Raimi has directed. It falls from the sky in ARMY OF DARKNESS... It was Raimi’s personal car for years, and when he could afford better, he kept it and uses it in every film. Here it works wonderfully as the barely running gypsy’s car.

One of the great things about this funhouse ride of a film is that there are no shortage of jump moments. And great jump moments - not some silly cat (though, there are a couple of those) but real scares from unexpected sources. Be prepared to spend half of the movie about a foot above your seat. One great series of jump moments is in the spooky garage, when the gypsie shows up and puts her curse on Alison. This film manages to get us to jump over a handkerchief... and it’s the skill of Raimi that the handkerchief also manages to be creeps and suspenseful and build dread in other scenes. You are scared of a piece of cloth!

Once the curse is on Alison she will die within 3 days and be dragged to hell. But those three days will be hell on earth. And all kinds of sick fun.

One of my favorite scenes has Alison go to the gypsy’s daughter’s house to beg that the curse be removed. The daughter doesn’t live in some magical castle with dark windows - this is Los Angeles, she lives in a typical house in the city with no yard and an ally running down the back where the garbage dumpsters are. It’s plain. She goes there, wants to see the gypsy woman, the daughter says she has caused enough trouble - getting the woman kicked out of her house... but Alison barges in... and she’s in some stranger’s house. And this is uncomfortable. And Raimi finds ways to ramp up the feelings of discomfort, including having the entire gypsy family there for dinner. She’s completely out numbered, and all of these people hate her. This could be a scene from a drama... and it *is* a big dramatic scene... but this is also a horror film. Drama *and* horror. And after the drama scene, we get some horror. Sick, disgusting, and funny horror.

Raimi does a great job of building dread with some very simple things. When Alison comes home one night, she is alone in a dark, spooky... but completely normal house. There is these terrible noise - link fingers on a chalk board - that ends up being the wind blowing open a rusted metal gate. So many everyday things are turned into terror by Raimi that you worry about going home after the film. By creating terror and building dread with normal things you’d find in almost every house, he gets us where we live. This isn’t some alien world - this is a house just like the one you live in. Raimi did this in the EVIL DEAD movies with tree branches in the wind... which become something else entirely. He can make the raisins in a cake creepy and threatening.



By the way - one of the cool things about the film is how ex-fatty Alison seems to constantly be attacked by *food*.  It’s like the curse knows her weakness, knows what scares her on a more emotional level (that she’s going to gain the weight back, or maybe people still think of her as the fat girl) and finds ways to attack her using the things she *emotionally* fears most. Food becomes scary in this film... in that wacky funhouse way.

Oh, and there’s some between the lines social message in this film. Alison is white trash who is social climbing and hopes to marry wealthy Justin. To do that, she must foreclose on the home of someone one rung beneath her in society... turn against someone similar to her, the same way she is turning against her accent and her 4H past and everything that made her who she used to be. Trash the poor so that she can become rich. Again - this is a horror movie, but that doesn’t mean there can’t be more going on in it... in fact, there should always be more than just the surface story.

DRAG ME TO HELL Is rated PG-13, and many horror fans have discounted it before even seeing it. How can you make a good horror movie that isn’t R rated? Well, Raimi knows how to do that. He substitutes gross for gore - and keeps the gross coming! If you’ve seen the trailer, you know there’s a scene where the gypsy woman vomits all kinds of bugs and worms and icky stuff on Alison Lohman’s face. In her eyes, in her mouth, up her nose, in her ears. This is worse that seeing a half gallon of blood spraying from someone’s neck. Your brain knows the blood geyser is fake, but these insects and worms in her mouth and nose? Um, they probably really did that. Yech! You won’t see severed limbs in this film, but you will see things that are worse. This film doesn’t wimp out at all - it just has a different kind of horror. It’s gross (in a fun way).



Which I think brings us to another thing those pimple faced horror fans have complained about on several of the message boards I frequent - that somehow this subgenre of horror is less valid than SAW and FRIDAY THE 13th. That funhouse horror movies are lesser films because they make you laugh. Hey! BRIDE OF FRANKENSTEIN! Plus a million other flicks, some starring Vincent Price, some starring the late great Bob Quarry (in one of my films, lived in my neighborhood, just passed away, miss that guy!), and of course the Raimi EVIL DEAD movies. If anything, the funhouse style horror films are *more* legit than torture porn and slasher films - they’ve been around longer. These films are crazy scary rides with all kinds of sick laughs.

And DRAG ME TO HELL is full of sick humor. “Here, kitty kitty...”

One of the cool things about this film is the Multicultural Curse. The film opens in the 1940s when a child has been cursed by a gypsy and the immigrant parents take him to a female Hispanic medium who tries to lift the curse... and fails. The boy is dragged to hell by all kinds of demons. That’s what Alison is in for. After she is cursed, she goes to an Indian store front psychic played by Dileep Rao. Dileep plays the role as if he always has one eyebrow raised quizzically. As if *he* doesn’t believe what is happening. He manages to be both the psychic *and* the skeptic at the same time. He also manages to be funny with the non-funny straight man lines. And he manages to play his store front psychic in such a way that we do not know if he’s for real or just a scam artist. This is like the Whoopi Goldberg role in GHOST - does this mean Dileep will be nominated for an Oscar?  Oh, wait, this is both a horror film *and* a comedy. When Dileep is overwhelmed by the curse, he knows right where to take Alison - to the female Hispanic woman from the opening scene, who is now an old woman.

And this is where we get the real star of the movie... a goat. It’s always funny when there is an animal in a long scene filled with special effects and crazy horror stuff, because the animal has no idea what is going on. There is a long seance scene with the goat tethered to the table, and it was funny to watch the goat’s reactions (when I was supposed to be watching Alison or Dileep). The goat was completely confused at all times.

Okay, now I don’t want to spoil the film if you haven't seen it (almost 10 years old!), but I want to talk about one of the great things in this film - the Twist On A Twist.  This is one of those great techniques that Raimi uses which elevates this film from your standard horror film to one hell of a great ride that you probably want to take again. There is a twist in the film that you see coming from a mile away. It is set up, it is confirmed, and you suddenly know exactly what is gong to happen. You figure out the twist... and want to yell at Alison that she is making a big mistake, because there’s this twist thing she hasn’t figured out but you have. Here’s the thing - Raimi *wants* you to figure out the twist. That creates audience superiority and creates suspense. You know what’s going to happen! You know the very very bad thing that Alison hasn’t figured out yet! But what you haven’t figured out is the twist on the twist - because what you think is going to happen is *half* right. But if you were really paying close attention, you would realize that the twist you think is going to happen isn’t going to happen... something even stranger is. And that’s the part you don’t see coming at all. The twist on the twist. So, Raimi sets it up so that you know *part* of what will happen, but still be shocked and surprised by the other part. Great technique!



One of the strange things about DRAG ME TO HELL is that it was one of the best reviewed films of 2009... but didn't do great box office. Broke even, but didn't break box office records. You would think a fun film with great reviews would have opened at #1 and done great business. So why didn't it tear up the box office? My guess is that the sophisticated audience member who would see any other film with this many great reviews is staying away because it’s a horror movie... The average audience member is also staying away because it’s a horror movie - those films are crap made for hard core horror fans. And the hard core horror fans stayed away... because it’s one of the best reviewed films of the year! Hey, that stamp of society’s approval means this can’t be a dark, edgy, nasty horror film... it’s probably some watered down safe movie!  The critics *great* reviews may have doomed this film! If you look at horror films the critics have loved in the past - SLITHER, BLACK SHEEP, etc - all of those films died at the box office. Good reviews scare away the horror audience. Yet films with *awful* reviews like FRIDAY THE 13th and BLOODY VALENTINE did great business in 2009... maybe even because of the bad reviews. If the critics hate this film, it’s gotta be good!

So DRAG ME TO HELL slipped between the cracks... only remembered by Trailer Tuesday and a bunch of fans.

- Bill

Friday, April 20, 2018

Fridays With Hitchcock:
HITCH 20: Dip In The Pool (s3e1)

This is a great new documentary series called HITCH 20 that I am a "guest expert" on. The series looks at the 20 TV episodes directed by Hitchcock and here is the first episode of the third season, which looks at the importance of shot selection in Hitchcock's work on screen.



Notes On The Episode:

Many things get cut for time, so let’s talk about them here...

1) First off - sorry for the bad sound! My friend who was scheduled to shoot my episodes this season landed a studio gig and couldn’t shoot the first two episodes, so I called another friend who does sound on movies (thinking that the sound is more important than the picture, right?). He shows up completely unprepared, with no headset - so he has no idea what any of this sounds like until it’s too late to do anything about it. Weird, because I have a pair of cheap headphones in my camera bag (with my cheap camera). So the first two episodes this year will have iffy sound quality in my segments. Now on to the episode itself...

2) This story hits the ground running when it comes to characters - the Wife appreciates things that are internal and emotional (experiencing all of these wonderful places on vacation) and the Husband is completely external. This opening discussion does a great job of defining their differences as they discuss their vacation plans. I love her line, “That’s the whole trouble with you, William. If you can’t drink it, wear it, or ride in it you think it has no value.” Finding a great jab like that which both sums up the character and is the kind of witty put down that makes the audience laugh is a great two-fer. That’s not an OTN line of dialogue because it’s *mean*. The Wife has put up with a bunch of his crap in this conversation and she gets the last word (sort of).

3) Is that line the trigger for the Husband’s bet? This gets into the “tennis plotting” thing in my SECRETS OF ACTION SCREENWRITING - every action causes an equal and opposite reaction, and the characters knock the tennis ball of plot back and forth between them. The Husband triggers the Wife’s comment, her comment triggers his wish to prove himself (he’s very insecure), and it goes back and forth until we reach the end.



4) Leading The Audience. This is a big part of playing the audience like a musical instrument, though it has to do with the story elements rather that the shots (actually, in harmony with the shots). As writers our job is to Always Be Leading. We know this isn’t the best marriage in the world, then the Husband bribes the Steward for a vial of pills. He takes the vial of pills with him when he mixes his Wife’s drink. What does this lead the audience to believe? What does the audience expect to happen next? By leading the audience to jump to a conclusion, what *actually* happens becomes unexpected. Hey, this is HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, people poison each other on this show! So the audience jumps to the conclusion that the pill vial may be poison and the Husband will put some poison in his Wife’s drink and kill her... But the “twist” is that they are seasick pills and the Husband just doesn’t want his Wife to see his weakness - he’s seasick and needs to take a pill to keep from vomiting. The great thing about this is that it isn’t just leading the audience to jump to that poisoning scenario (adding a bit of excitement in this opening scene) it’s also all about *character* - the Husband not wanting to appear weak. Remember, he’s all about appearances, about the external.

The other nice little bit of Leading The Audience is the word “Pool”. Just as the Husband is lead to believe that this “pool” might involve swimming, so does the audience at first. The great thing about words with multiple meanings is that they can lead to confusion, and confusion creates realistic dialogue (we look at that technique in the Dialogue Blue Book). Always be looking for words with multiple meanings to use in dialogue, then lead the audience to think one meaning is being used when it is actually another meaning. That creates unpredictable dialogue which seems real. The odd thing about leading the audience is that the more a writer *plans* the more the result seems *unplanned*. If a conversation is about the “Ship’s Pool” the audience will jump to the conclusion that it is the swimming pool on the ship, instead of a *betting* pool on the ship.

5) Last but totally not least - this episode has a busted twist. The twist comes out of the blue and makes no sense at all! This lead me to re-read the Roald Dahl short story again to see where the episode went wrong. The answer: casting.


In the short story, the two women passengers are also Aged Mother and Middle Aged Daughter... but the “witness” was the Aged Mother who is slyly established as suffering from dementia, so the Daughter doesn’t believe her. Somehow in casting these roles were reversed and a middle aged actress was cast in the “Aged Mother” role and an elderly actress cast in the “Middle Aged Daughter” role. I know that sounds confusing, but the results are that the twist end where the Mother is not believed because she has dementia is flipped so that the Daughter is disbelieved by her Mother. Why? Never set up! Makes no sense at all! So the twist end is more of a WTF? moment than a twist.

How they could have fixed this: The earlier scene where the Husband and the (witness) Daughter character bump into each other in the passageway should have given her dialogue with double meanings. One meaning should have seemed innocuous and the other clearly showing that the character is delusional. Just off the top of my head, the word “unbalanced” can deal with rocking boats and sanity. That’s the obvious choice, with a little thought I could probably come up with the more clever version... but it just shows you how easy this problem was to solve (yet it didn’t get solved). Even if the script was written with the intention of the “witness” character being that Aged Mother, you still want to do all that you can at the script stage to make the story work. As writers we have no control over casting, so I always write for the worst possible casting choice instead of the best possible casting choice - just in case. You don’t want to depend on everything going right, because there are so many variables in making a film that something is always going to go wrong. Often many things! So you want the screenplay to be the very best that it can be and not depend on the competency of others. I’m sure the casting choice on this episode made sense at the time (I’m guessing that the younger woman seemed like a potential love interest in that earlier scene so they swapped the roles of Mother and Daughter... not realizing that would bust the twist ending). A plot twist is revealing what has always been true, so in earlier scenes that trust must be present. There is a Leading The Audience element to this - we want to lead the audience to *not* see that truth earlier in the story, even though it is there. Something like dialogue with two meanings or actions which can be understood in two different ways or a clever diversion so that we are too busy looking at A when the obvious trust is B are things that can help a twist. The HITCHCOCK PRESENTS show was famous for it’s twist endings, so this is something that they should have under control.

I think the next episode up is POISON, based on a famous short story that was adapted into a famous ESCAPE RADIO THEATER episode.

- Bill

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




HITCHCOCK: EXPERIMENTS IN TERROR



Click here for more info!

HITCHCOCK DID IT FIRST!

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

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

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

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

UK Folks Click Here.

German Folks Click Here.

French Folks Click Here.

Espania Folks Click Here.

Canadian Folks Click Here.

Bill

Thursday, April 19, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: Papa Benjamin

Papa Benjamin

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



Season: 1, Episode: 26.
Airdate: March 21st, 1961

Director: Ted Post (MAGNUM FORCE, GOODGUYS WEAR BLACK)
Writer: John Kneubuhl (PIGEONS FROM HELL episode) based on a story by Cornell Woolrich.
Cast: John Ireland, Jester Hairston, Jeanne Bal, Henry Scott, Peter Forster, Alibe Copage.
Music: Pete Rugolo (who was a big band leader).
Cinematography: Lionel Lindon
Producer: Maxwell Shane




Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The harassed gentleman Eddie Wilson insists that he killed the man because he himself was being killed... with voodoo. Is there really such a thing? Can a voodoo Houngan really work black magic? Papa Benjamin does in this terrifying story by Cornell Woolrich. Our leading players are: Mr. John Ireland as Eddie Wilson, Miss Jeanne Bal as Judy Wilson, Mr. Henry Scott as Staats, and Mr. Robert Harris as Jerry. As sure as my name is Boris Karloff, you will witness fantastic events in this Thriller. Events as dark as the jungle where the voodoo rites and voodoo drums are seen and heard. It may even lead you to wonder what you yourself could accomplish with just an ordinary pin and a doll shaped like someone of whom you’re not particularly fond. Well I commend you to Papa Benjamin and an hour of thrills. I have things to do.” (pokes voodoo doll with pin)

Synopsis: Eddie Wilson (John Ireland) staggers into a police station on “Santa Isabel Island” (next to Haiti), dripping with sweat and looking ill. They lay him on a couch and ask if he needs a doctor... he says it’s too late for that. He pulls out a gun and says he killed a man. In self defense. A detective asks if the man was also armed? No. Was he strangling you? Hitting you? Did he have a knife? No to all of these. Wilson explains: it was Voodoo.



Detective Daniels (Peter Forster) says that there hasn’t been any voodoo on this island in fifty years, it was outlawed. He checks Wilson’s wallet, finds his name... hey, isn’t this that famous bandleader that was playing at the big hotel?

Flashback: That big tourist hotel a year ago... In the ballroom Eddie Wilson is stuck writing a new tune that he really needs *now*. He’s been playing the same stuff for too long, and that effects repeat business. The crowd in the hotel’s lounge is dwindling and he needs a new song to keep them coming. But he has “composer’s block”. He goes back to his room upstairs where his wife Judy (Jeanne Bal) who is also the band’s vocalist consoles him. Eddie says let’s go down to the ballroom and go over a song...

At the door to the ballroom they hear their drummer Staats (Henry Scott) playing an exotic beat and humming. (Just for fun, compare this humming and beat to humming and chest thumping Matthew McConnaugh did in THE WOLF OF WALL STREET... so *that’s* where he got it from!) As they spy on Staats from the doorway, it looks as if the drummer is in a trance. Is he on drugs again? Shooting up? Staats’ wife recently died, so that might explain a relapse. Wilson goes up to the piano and Staats breaks out of his trance. When he asks what Staats was playing, Staats says he doesn’t know, just kinda playing off the top of his head... and leaves. Wilson and Judy go over their number...

But Wilson can’t get that sound out of his head... it’s mesmerizing.



That night after their performance, Wilson and Judy are heading up to their room when Wilson realizes he has left his glasses on the piano and goes back to the ballroom... where he finds a chicken foot with a red ribbon tied to it on te stage. When he shows it to the (islander) cleaning woman, she freaks and runs out of the room. WTF? He hears someone coming and puts the chicken foot back onto the stage, and hides... as Staats comes back, grabs the chicken foot, and leaves. Wilson follows him into the night...

Staats walks through the city at night, down dark alleys, through bad neighborhoods, until he comes to an old abandoned plantation. Wilson watches as Staats knocks on the door, shows the chicken foot to a HUGE doorman, and is allowed entrance. Wilson sneaks up and starts looking through the windows... he can hear the music, that same beat that Staats was playing, coming from within, and climbs through a window into an empty room to get a closer look... spying on a Voodoo ritual!



Wham! He is *captured* and brought before the old Voodoo Priest Papa Benjamin (Jester Hairston) who wants to kill him. Wilson claims he came to *join* them, and Staats vouches for Wilson. “He is my friend.” Papa Benjamin indoctrinates him into the voodoo religion, making Wilson say “I believe” until Wilson may actually believe. Then making him say, “If I betray you in any way, I will die.” The ritual continues with some Carribean dancing (though Karloff did not introduce any of the Black cast members, the other stand out in the Voodoo scenes besides Hairston is dancer Alibe Copage who is not only hot, but insanely limber... though I suspect she had a ballet background I can find nothing on her online except her film credits).

When Wilson and Staats leave, Wilson explains that he was there to hear more of that music... and he’s going to write a rhapsody based on it. Staats says that music is sacred and if he uses it he’ll die. Wilson thinks Voodoo is fake. Staats says, “Goodbe dead man” and walks away... into the shadows. Never to be seen again. Creepy. Wilson goes back to the hotel, and writes the new Voodoo Rhapsody as if the music owned him. He’s so focused on the writing the new music that he ignores Judy... and their marriage begins to deteriorate.



The Premiere Of The Voodoo Rhapsody. Wilson makes sure the ballroom is packed with bigwigs from New York, and his agent Jerry (Robert Harris) is there. They play the music, and the crowd goes wild! Wilson’s career is about to skyrocket! But at the end of the piece, Wilson collapses on stage! Judy and Jerry come up to him, and he says it’s as if someone suddenly stuck a knife deep into his back. They think he’s just overworked... but behind him on stage is a Voodoo doll with a pin shoved deep into its back!

New York City: Wilson and his band play bigger and bigger venues. But it seems the more famous he gets, the more he battles illness. He is wasting away. After he passes out a few more times during Voodoo Rhapsody, some of his bookings cancel and Jerry gets worried. That’s when Judy asks for a divorce: Wilson hasn’t been himself lately, it’s as if the music owns him, control him... and there is no place for his wife in any of this. He has become so driven that his health is an issue, and he’s acting crazy. He tells her about the Voodoo curse, but she doesn’t believe him. She thinks he needs to see a psychiatrist. When he refuses, she *physically* walks out on him, closing the door in his face. Now he is alone, and wasting away more and more every day. The only way he can see to survive is to go back to the Island and have Papa Benjamin lift this curse!

The Island: Wilson is sweating and ill when he makes his way back to that old abandoned plantation. No music this time, no dancing. He finds Papa Benjamin and begs to have the curse lifted. Benjamin says Wilson had his chance, what is done is done and can not be undone. “Go away, dead man!” But Wilson doesn’t go away, he pulls out a gun and shoots Papa Benjamin dead! Then runs to the Island Police Station...



This is where we came in: Detective Daniels has Wilson show him to the Abandoned Plantation, and the body of Papa Benjamin... but the Plantation really is abandoned... spiderwebs fill the place, sticking to Wilson’s face as he leads the Detective and other policemen back to the room where he killed Papa Benjamin. All of the furniture is gone. And in that back room? No corpse. “I killed him, I tell you! Right here in this room!” They take him away...

New York City: Jerry visits Wilson in the mental ward. He’s getting better, and will soon be released.

When Wilson is released, he feels fine. Gained back weight. He goes to Jerry’s Office where he bumps into Judy. They’ve booked the band... on the island. Is Wilson up to this? Sure, that Voodoo stuff is fake. Superstition. He’s over it...

The Island: Wilson and Judy and the Band (minus Staats of course) play to a packed house. Wilson has never felt better. The crowd loves them. Then someone requests Voodoo Rhapsody. A moment... will Wilson play it? Of course! That whole voodoo thing was just superstition! The band starts playing, the crowd is loving it, then right as they get to the end... Wilson DROPS DEAD ON STAGE!

On the corner of the stage, a voodoo doll.



Review: This is the first of many THRILLER episodes that are based on a story by Cornell Woolrich (REAR WINDOW) and I wonder why it took them so long. Woolrich was a prolific pulp writer who turned out hundreds of thriller stories, many of which have been put on screen. Woolrich wrote all kinds of things for the pulp mags, from Noirs to Thrillers to Hardboiled to Crime Fiction to Police Procedurals to Supernatural stories to "Whiz Bangs" (sort of screwball crime fiction) and is one of the three fathers of modern Noir fiction (along with Horace McCoy and James M. Cain). His “Black Series” is one of the reasons why “noir” is noir, and when Truffaut did his pair of Hitchcock homages he picked a pair of novels by Woolrich, THE BRIDE WORE BLACK and WALTZ INTO DARKNESS. Hitchcock only made one film based on a Woolrich story (REAR WINDOW), which is surprising, but directed several short stories for his TV show and one for a *rival* TV show (FOUR O'CLOCK - a real nail-biter of a story about a husband who plots his wife's murder... then gets caught in his own trap and realizes *he* will die at 4 O'clock along with her!). Years ago I was up for a gig to adapt a great Woolrich story about an arson investigator who ends up prime suspect in a series of huge fires and must find the real arsonist... but all of the clues lead directly to him. Funny thing: I already had a treatment written, because this was one of my dream projects. Not funny thing: this was for a TV movie and they could not afford to have any buildings burn down... making a film about arson impossible. Hey, there are so many Woolrich stories out there, eventually I’ll get my chance.

Buy The DVD!

But what about *this* story? This is an okay episode, and Ted Post does some great work with having Staats just vanish into the darkness and that scene where the spiderwebs cling to Wilson’s face make you go Yech! But in mainstreaming the story I think they took some of the punch out. The problem is, this story is all about mood. It’s a set up/punchline story that has not just been expanded to an hour (when it might have made a nice half hour show) they also start with the punchline: the episode opens with us knowing that voodoo is real. That’s actually the way the short story begins as well. But the short story is a metaphor for heroin addiction, and is about a New Orleans Jazz Band rather than a Ballroom Orchestra, and Staats doesn’t just vanish into the darkness, he comes back as a human skeleton... wasted away by his addiction to Voodoo. And Staats *dies* in the short story, as an early warning to Wilson (Bloch in the short story) of what will happen to him if he continues along this road. But in Noir when the protagonist sees that he or she is on the wrong path, that doesn’t stop them... they are addicted to the woman or the drug or the whatever else plays that “spider woman” role in the story. Because the Voodoo As Drug thing is muted, the focus ends up on that “twist end” which really isn’t a twist. Also, some of the suspense in the short story isn’t transferred to the screen: when Wilson follows Staats to the old Plantation is filled with tension and once they get to the Plantation there is all kind of suspense built up around the Wilson character being caught (in the story he creates a fake chicken foot to get him through the front gate, and suspense is built around him being discovered as an impostor). One of the things that’s great about Woolrich stories is the suspense, and that wasn’t really exploited in this episode... check out next week’s episode, though.

John Ireland is an odd choice, but gives a good performance. The wife character and the romance thing was an invention for the TV episode, probably as a way to externalize what the protagonist was going through... but it ends up adding a soapy element to the story. In REAR WINDOW the love interest was also an addition, but there it was done brilliantly: they made it thematic. Here it was just an additional character, and no effort was made to make Judy into a believer/non believer to take us deeper into the story.

The episode is still entertaining, and they do a great job of creating an island off the coast of Haiti on the backlot. But this isn’t the best episode of THRILLER based on a Cornell Woolrich story.

Bill

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Wednesday, April 18, 2018

The Joy Of Page Count

Because I'm way behind on the current project, here is a blog entry from 11 years ago when I was on schedule!

Yesterday I wrote 5 pages. That’s my quota. My goal. I can write more pages than that, but if I manage to turn out 5 pages every day, six days a week, I am a script machine.

The day before yesterday, I wrote 5 pages.

The day before that I wrote 5 pages.

The day before that... well, it was just too damned hot to do anything. In fact, there were a few days where I did almost nothing.

Now, I am a human being. I would rather goof off than actually have to do something. Work is a four letter word (and I have seen the David Warner movie). Given the choice between working and spending the day in a cinema watching awful movies? Get me some Red Vines and a Sprite! Sitting around the (air conditioned) house watching a stack of DVDs? Sounds great! I’m an addict, and I have a huge stack of of DVDs I bought and haven’t seen, yet. Probably *months* of unwatched DVDs. I’d better put off work and watch some of them!

But when I get into the groove and start turning out pages, not only do I have that great feeling of accomplishment, I realize how much I really love writing. My problem is inertia. It’s tough to get started, but once I get going, I get going. When I’m working on an assignment, I *have to* turn out pages - and I can do my 5 a day and turn out a pretty good first draft in a month. I can also adjust my quota for really crazy deadlines if someone needs a script in 2 weeks. I’m good with deadlines.

But specs? Well, no deadline, no producer waiting for the draft, no pressure. Inertia can take control. I’d rather watch a DVD, I’d rather go online and argue with someone. I’d rather read other people’s blogs. It’s hard for me to get started. I’m like a car that needs to be push started... and how the hell do you push start the car *and* sit in the driver’s seat? Easier just to pop in a DVD.

But once I get going, like I have been, I realize how much I really love writing screenplays. The spec I’m working on, SLEEPER AGENT, is an action script. My theory on this one is to Always Be Moving. After a couple of set up scenes, there will not be any scenes that are not moving. You know those scenes where people are sitting somewhere having a conversation? Not in this script. If people are talking, either they will be running or in a speeding vehicle. And the more they talk, the faster the vehicle.

So, yesterday I had a talk scene... on a speeding hydrofoil ferry going 42 knots. This was a “catch your breath scene” after some action, but even on the speeding ferry I wanted to have something else happening... so I added some suspense. Now, the joy for me was figuring out what little things happened in the scene - I already knew what the big things would be (the conversation). Creating the details - not just the way the characters say what they say, but the suspense “scene subplot” and the cool way a suddenly violent fight scene turned out (I came up with a weird shock moment that actually gives us a bunch of information about the villains - and the *how* was created on the spot and was exciting to write)... but my favorite thing I came up with yesterday was the very end of the sequence - which left our heroes alone with a pair of crying Greek girls. You know when you come up with a little moment that turns an okay scene into a much better scene?

I love that stuff. I love writing that stuff. I love when some little thing that I wrote that had no meaning suddenly has a meaning. You create something that seems too good for you to have come up with. It’s like God, or maybe Steve Zaillian, was working through you. It’s that amazing moment of creation where a scene comes alive, or a moment seems real, or a scene has some original element and you have no idea where it came from... and you realize you are a freakin’ writer after all. That all of those days where you sat around avoiding writing were a huge mistake, because when you’re really in the groove, writing is *fun*. Writing is cool.

And the pages keep piling up, and you realize you will have a NEW finished screenplay in just a few weeks. A new baby.

Hey, this is why I go through all of the crap that comes with this job... I really like writing.

- Bill

Friday, April 13, 2018

On The Red Carpet With Jason Voorhees

A blog entry from 2009 - logged a few days before another Friday the 13th when I went to the premiere of the FRIDAY THE 13th remake...



This has been a busy week. I’m still playing catch up after turning in the quicky second draft (which I’m not counting as an official draft because I only made a few changes from the version we did our pile of meetings on) and on top off all the work that piled up over the holidays, on Thursday my parents were in town on their way elsewhere - and I had lunch with them, then on Friday my ex was in town and we spent the day together, and it’s been raining like crazy, and Saturday and Sunday I did a bunch of errands - and saw a movie Sunday night.... and then on Monday I went to the premiere of the new FRIDAY THE 13TH movie at Grauman’s Chinese Theater, then the party afterwards. My top secret remake is for the producer of F13, and I was invited to the big premiere... maybe buttering me up before I get fired. “Let’s invite Bill to walk on the red carpet with the stars, it will be a nice memory for him when we replace him with David Koepp.”

The question is always - eat first? Since I was early, I decided to grab some food at one of the Hollywood & Highland restaurants - this place where you look at pictures of food on a screen at your table and touch the screen - ordering by computer - and then the waiter brings the food to your table. Kind of cool - except when I had my touch screen menu in GRID RUNNERS it was the table surface instead of this monitor in the middle of the table. Not as cool as my sci-fi version.

Because it’s been raining in Los Angeles, and I don’t mean the usual light sprinkles that brings out the TV news logos for STORM WATCH!, this has been danged heavy rain - no car windshield wiper can keep up with it. Buckets. Monday it was supposed to rain, so they had set up tents on Hollywood Blvd and a tent hallway over the red carpet. Because a prompt man is a lonely man, I was already in the cinema when the stars arrived, but it’s strange when the rope is up to keep people away from *you* (instead of the other way around).

This link takes you to the red carpet slide show at IMDB... no shots of me.

Friday The 13th Red Carpet.

Dress was “business casual”, and since I have never worked in an office in my life, I have no idea what that is. I worked at Safeway, where we wore ties and aprons... and I worked in a warehouse where I wore jeans and steel toed boots. For the past 20 years I have worked as a writer... that is my business. Marcel Proust worked in his dressing gown and pajamas... in an interview Susannah Grant (ERIN BROCKOVICH) said she wrote naked (and she’s a very attractive woman) - could I show up at the premiere in my PJs or nekked and be allowed in? I wore a good pair of jeans, a black dress shirt, and a tan sport jacket... and noticed some people who appeared to be dressed in some new homeless style that must be all the rage in Paris - they looked like they were going through the dumpsters behind Grauman’s moments before. Others were in suits... and the women who weren’t subscribers to homeless chic were in hot evening wear.



In the lobby I bumped into the producer - my boss - and he seemed happy to see me, but didn’t say a word about that second draft. I’m fired for sure. My giant ticket has an assigned seat number on it, and the ushers are freakin’ Nazis about making sure you sit in the correct seat. They are polite, they show you to the seat... but then they stand there and make sure you sit in the seat on your ticket and not some better seat. All of the ushers are big guys - probably bouncers in real life. My seat is okay, on the left side aisle. The stars and real VIPs are sitting in the center section. The producer and his date are sitting in the center section, along with some entourage members. The stars are the last to arrive... except for the guy who plays Jason - he’s early, and squeezing out every second of fame he can. There’s actually a line of people getting autographs.

The Head Of Production guy from the company and his girlfriend come down the aisle, lead by a bouncer/usher, and he stops to say hello. He mentions that everybody loves my draft, but also mentions with FRIDAY THE 13TH coming out, everybody is just loving the producer - they expect it to be a big hit, and studio eager to work with him on the next project... which seems to be mine. Then the bouncer/usher prods the HOP and his GF down to their seats, and I don’t get to ask follow up questions... so does he think they really loved my script or are just saying that to kiss the producer’s butt? Too late... but I do notice the HOP and GF have worse seats than I do - way on the end of a row. How did I get a better seat? Maybe he *asked* for a seat in the corner so that he could zip out if he got a phone call?

Then, the last stars trickled in as the house lights went down and the movie started....



The new FRIDAY THE 13th is okay. Not a remake, not a re-imagining, but kind of a sequel to the first film... using parts of the first 3 original films. Totally respects the first film (and its end twist) even though it has Jason alive instead of drowned... and then we get a totally 80s style horror movie, just with a much bigger budget. Boobs and blood and some cool kills. I would tell you my favorite kill, but that would be a spoiler. Let’s just say, it’s at the pier. We eventually even get the shh-shh-shh-shh-ha-ha--ha theme, too. There was a scene where they are being chased by Jason and blast into the cabin and the stoner kid is smoking.... and I wish the lead (Jared Padelecki - who is as tall as I am) would have told the stoner “Shh-shh-shh” and the stoner kid would have laughed. I also wish they had Kevin Bacon and Betsy Palmer do cameos, that would have been cool. There are some okay kills (some recycled from the first 3 films), some okay suspense scenes, and some stuff swiped from SEE NO EVIL and HILLS HAVE EYES (remake) 2. Completely delivered - and has the longest prologue scene ever. It starts out funny, some great lines and a good scene where a guy and gal are trying to hook up but the nerd just keeps getting in the way. And once we see Camp Crystal Lake, it’s abandoned, desolate, spooky... kind of reminded me of Mandalay from REBECCA.

Four problems (for me at least):

1) We get the Jason legend up front, so the people have nothing to discover or learn over the course of the film. No goal, no secrets to uncover... nothing to do except get killed one by one in interesting ways with a machete. Most of these films (like the first one) have the kids piece together the mystery of why they are getting killed as they are getting killed one-by-one. That gives them a goal and a purpose, other than just having the machete strike them in an unusual way.

2) There are two sets of teen victims, and they are interchangeable. Both sets have stoner kids, both have geek kids, both have handsome a-holes, etc. They needed a better variety of characters, since these guys were all lunchmeat. And the characters need to be not complete cliches. Not only did we get two identical sets of teens, they were stock characters... not real at all.

3) Jason has zero motivation. Yes, I know it’s a FRIDAY THE 13TH movie, but there is a completely illogical kill in the film (actually two of them) that kind of make the film impossible. Yes, these kills are similar to ones from the original movies - but they didn't make any sense there, either. Jason has to have some reason to kill, and his motivation must aim directly at kids who go camping around Crystal Lake (like the camp counselors in the original, and all of the rest of the kids in the sequels). But here Jason kills some people who will bring in the authorities, and he can’t do that. There’s no reason for him to do it, and if he does it that will bring in the law. We don’t need an FBI task force at Crystal Lake headed by Will Graham and/or Clarice Starling.

4) and this ties to #1 - I love it when one of the characters fight back - that always gets a cheer from the audience. And you’d expect out of all of these *victims* that one person would have balls. Here, we *almost* get a fighting back scene - but it’s, um, nipped in the bud.

But I laughed and screamed and (this is sick) laughed at the more inventive kills and had a good time. It is what it is. It delivers what you want from a FRIDAY THE 13th movie. I think it's going to make some money.



Afterwards, I tracked down the producer to suggest a director I like (we don’t have one at this time - nor do we have our star anymore - and there’s a story behind that which I will tell after the statute of limitations runs out for this job) (oh, and I didn't tell him those 4 problems I had with the film - I'm not *trying* to get fired), and found him on the stairs - people passing him and congratulating him. He introduced some people to me as “the writer of the next one” - which made me feel like I am probably not going to be fired tomorrow - and then asked if I had a ticket to the afterparty in my envelope... *many* people didn’t get them. I had a ticket and free valet parking ticket with a map on the back. Cool that he made sure I had one. We all kind of walked out at the same time...

But the party was a block away at My House on LaBrea, so I decided to walk (with some other people) and they drove. Another rope to keep others out... but I got right in without a problem. The club was big, already crowded, and lines for food. There were also wait-people with trays of food, so I figured I’d avoid the lines, grab a beer, and grab stuff off trays. I ended up talking to another writer I know, a woman who I later discovered was a producer, and an FX guy I know. I know stunt men and FX guys - I have no idea why. I know Kane Hodder, who was Jason in some of the original films, he was also in at least one film I wrote.

Anyway, I’m not good at socializing. I don’t mingle well. I usually know somebody, and hang out with them at parties... but I had this pocket ful of business cards and I didn’t get out a single one. I basically sat in the corner and talked to people I already knew.



Okay, I have a thing for redheads. In any FRIDAY THE 13th movie (or clone) there are hot girls who get nekkid and get killed and the nice girl who keeps her clothes on and survives. This new film kind of mixes that up so that you aren’t sure who will die, but the nice girl from the first group of victims was this cute redhead, Amanda Righetti. I had joked on a message board that if anyone else was at the premiere to say hello to me (because I’d be wallflowering in some corner), but if I was with a hot starlet half my age - wait until she shoots me down before saying hello. The table we were at was away from the DJ so that we could talk... and most of the stars ended up in that area (so they could talk). That meant we were surrounded by hot starlets half my age in great evening gowns. Check out the IMDB slide show. Anyway, the FX guy went to get a round of drinks and I said if that redhead came over I would give away his seat. And here’s where it gets funny - FX guy comes back with drinks, other writer and producer go to mingle... and someone asks if they can sit down in the now empty seats... Amanda Righetti! And her boyfriend. So I say hello and try to start a conversation... but she completely shuts me down and focuses on her BF... and if I’m not sitting an inch away from her.

Eventually I do a circle of the club, Wes Craven nods and smiles to me - we were on a panel together once, but there’s no way he remembers my name. I’m just a familiar face. I also pass the Producer, his back to me, and overhear him say my name... but pass by before I hear the end of the sentence ("I'm firing him tomorrow!") - but that's my paranoia kicking in. Things seem to be going pretty good on this project. After drinking free beers and eating free food (chocolate chip cookie and chocolate milk shooters for desert), I split... passing some guy that looks a little like Carl Ellsworth (who wrote RED EYE and DISTURBIA and the LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT remake) and it wasn’t until I was out the doors that I realized it probably *was* Carl. I thought about going back to say hello, but instead I walked back to Hollywood & Highland and my vehicle and headed home...

Where a couple of streets over, every police and news helicopter was hovering and a couple dozen police cars and something like three SWAT trucks were ready for action because a night-long police pursuit had come to an end there. It had been on the news live for 2 hours as they chased this guy all over Los Angeles, ending up a couple of blocks away from my apartment. Eventually the helicopters stopped and I went to sleep.

Now I’ve only got a screening on Wednesday, a thing on Thursday, meeting friends for drinks on Friday... and all of the stuff still in my in basket from before the holidays.

UPDATE: Nada! We lost another star and another director and I think the perfect window of opportunity for this film closed. The heat disapated. A strange thing happens when a project has been sitting on the desk for too long - the producer thinks it needs to be "made fresh" by doing a rewrite that may change the very reason why people liked it in the first place. Several months after this premiere, the producer had a new idea for the script to freshen it up... and I thought the idea was a script killer that would destroy the project. I was afraid if this version were ever put to paper if would kill the film's chances of *ever* being made - so I became a difficult writer and walked away. Could have made a rewrite fee - but would rather have the film get made. Around the same time horror remakes as a genre lost heat, on to found footage... so now I don't think it will *ever* be made. Pisser. Only 1 in 10 scripts that are bought or developed ever get made, most end up on the shelf forever. I have scripts at studios all over town on the shelves...

- Bill
IMPORTANT UPDATE:

TODAY'S SCRIPT TIP: Planned Unpredictablity - and SEVEN MEN FROM NOW.



Movies: PUSH - One of those scripts that needed a lot of work or a great director... it didn't seem to get either. The story has this fatal flaw - the MacGuffin doesn't show up until act 3, and before that it's a lot of people talking in grungy rooms and every so often a completely pointless fight scene that doesn't accomplish anything and winning or losing doesn't matter to the story. So it's all filler material. Imagine RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK, but instead of finding the ark and having it stolen and trying to steal it back... they don't find the ark until the very end of the movie, and the rest of the time Indy and the Nazis just say mean things to each other. Indy can't kill the Nazis because the movie would be over, and the Nazis can't kill Indy for the same reason... so it would just be pointless filler action. That's PUSH.

There's a point in one of the fights where Fanning tells Hounsou they can't kill Evans, it will change the future - so Hounsou tells his guy to stop. And I wondered - what was the point if all they can do is beat him up and let him go so that they can have another fight where they *have* to let him go. It's pointless. Everyone is just wasting time until Act 3 when we can actually have an action scene that changes the story... maybe.

Dialogue is often terrible and expositional, characters are often caricatures, and action scenes are pointless - and often silly (things that looked good on paper look like cartoons in real life - telekinetic guns are just funny to watch). Also, key elements aren't introduced until *way* too late - sinking the story. Again - it's like they were making it up as they went along, when the plot twists required things to be set up.

I think most acting is brought down by dialogue - but the acting is okay. Hounsou needed to be given more to do - he's one of those great guys who can elevate crap, and they mostly just had him stand there. Fanning is okay - drunk scene is a highlight. Belle looks stoned, and is playing the femme fatale, but in the most unsexy clothes you can imagine. Evans is kind of the lead, and needed more character - or at least some personality. Cliff Curtis has a great role, and he's also one of those actors you can put in a crap film and he makes it better (10,000 BC with Belle).

Plot, by the way, makes no sense.

Plus, what is The Division going to do with this stuff? We don't have a demonstration of what's possible, and we don't have a villain's plan to thwart. They are cardboard villains after a worthless MacGuffin.

Directing is crap. The whole movie looks like they forgot to color time it. The angles and composition are often weird. They have these ultra grainy shots, and at first I thought it was for a purpose... but then they'll have one when there's no remote viewing, so maybe there is no purpose. Shaky cam, quick cuts, the usual crap. It's difficult to make Hong Kong look this bad on film - it's lighted wrong. Things that should be magic on film end up being dull. Fanning is psychic and has a sketch pad where she draws these images of the future, and instead of the magical match of sketch and reality, it's just kind of there. Hard to screw something like that up, but they do.

The film needed to be more fun, more exciting, and more emotionally involving. Just kind of lays there like a carp. No envelopes were pushed, though they did use some pretty red envelopes as part of the story.

- Bill


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Thursday, April 12, 2018

THRILLER Thursday: The Prisoner In The Mirror

Best Of Thriller: Prisoner In The Mirror

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



Season: 1, Episode: 34.
Airdate: May 23, 1961

Director: Herschel Daugherty
Writer: Robert Arthur
Cast: Henry Daniell, Lloyd “It’s a cookbook” Bochner, Marion Ross.
Music: Morton Stevens
Cinematography: Benjamin Kline
Producer: William Frye.



Boris Karloff’s Introduction: “The hand of death strikes suddenly, and without regard for the plain, the beautiful, the bad or the good. For when the hand of death is controlled by a force of evil the consequences can defy belief. Our story tonight concerns just such a force and it features a most unusual star: This mirror. In it you will see our players caught in a strange reflection. Mr. Lloyd Bochner, Miss Marion Ross, Mr. Jack Mullaney, Miss Pat Michon, and Mr. Henry Daniell. So be prepared to gaze through a glass darkly. But don’t! Please don’t stand too close! I should hate to see this happen to any of you.”

(Break to continue the prologue story in 1910)

“Young Robert was no murderer, nor was he mad as he may have seemed. He was a victim of one of the most diabolical practitioners of black magic ever known, Count Alessandro Cagliostro. Only a legend you say? Well, perhaps, but that’s for you to decide. Now we resume our tale, more than half a century later.”

(Now to present day)



Synopsis: Paris, 1910: The elegant Robert de Chantenay (David Frankham) and woman Marie Blanchard (Erika Peters) sip champagne in a restaurant. Robert does some amazing slight of hand magic producing a bouquet of roses, a bird, a diamond necklace! She is amazed and amused and wants more. He uses the diamond necklace to hypnotize her... but the end of his hypnosis is a frightening: “Life transformed into death.” He suddenly turns into a skeleton, and puts the necklace around her neck with a boney hand! Who is Robert de Chantenay? A sorcerer? A demon?

Later, Robert paints the mirror in his room black... when there is a knock at the door. It is his Mother (Frieda Inescort), who says there are men downstairs who want to speak to him... *police*men! They have a warrant for his arrest for the murder of Marie! Robert tells his Mother that he is innocent, but could never prove it... so he jumps out a window to his death! Splat! On the cobblestones below.

Back to Karloff for the second half of his introduction, then...



Paris, Today: In the Societe Curiosites Historiques, Professor Harry Langham (Lloyd Bochner) is investigating the historical figure known as Count Alesssandro Cagliostro but is warned not to by Professor Thibault (Peter Brocco) because Cagliostro was pure evil... undying evil. They are interrupted by Harry’s research assistant Fred Forrest (Jack Mullaney) who reminds Harry of an appointment. Harry tells Thibault that his research has lead him to look for a large mirror owned by Cagliostro that was acquired by Robert de Chantenay and sold soon after his suicide in 1910. Thibault suggests he look through the records at Armand’s, where every valuable antique bought or sold or stolen in Paris has been catalogued. Professor Thibault still wants Harry to abandon his quest for information about Cagliostro and offers to take him to the tomb of Yvette Dulaine, a favorite at the court of Louis The Sixteenth who fell under the spell of Cagliostro which lead to a strange and terrible fate. A dark tomb of a beautiful woman who suffered a terrible fate? Who could say no to that?

The Tomb: downstairs, gated and padlocked. Dark and creepy. Harry asks, “How did she die?” Thibault answers, “Did she die at all?” He opens the coffin and... Yvette (Patricia Michon) looks exactly the same as when she died in 1780. Is she dead or under a spell? Harry looks at her, she’s young and attractive... forever. Also probably dead. Is he falling in love with a dead woman? How could she remain so well preserved?



Harry talks to Mssr. Armand (Louis Mercier), who has a huge collection of antique mirrors... including one covered with black paint which was once owned by Robert de Chantenay. When Armand steps away to speak with someone else, Harry begins to remove the paint seeing the reflection of himself... and Yvette standing behind him!



Boston, Today: Professor Harry’s house, Fred and his sister Kay (Marion Ross looking nothing like Richie’s mom on HAPPY DAYS) are unpacking the mirror that Harry paid a fortune for in Paris. Cagliostro’s mirror? Fred wants Kay to hurry up and marry Harry so that he’ll settle down and stop these obsessive searches for weird historical artifacts. That’s when Harry comes home, kisses Kay, and asks Fred to help him carry the mirror upstairs. They place the mirror in the bedroom, and as soon as Fred and Kay are gone, Harry looks into the mirror for Yvette. He scrapes off the rest of the paint, until it’s a normal mirror again. No reflections but his own. Harry pulls up a chair to watch the mirror... and as darkness falls outside, he goes downstairs to dinner.

Professor Fred has dinner with his fiance Kay, who asks why he’s so distant. He tells her the story of Yvette... forever young and dead in that crypt. Kay wonders if he’s fallen in love with... a corpse. How can she compete with that? After dinner Harry goes up to his room and look at the mirror again. He is *obsessed* with Dead Yvette! Kay’s fears are not unfounded.



In the middle of the night, a weird reflection in the mirror: a flame? Yes! It’s Yvette lighting candles on “her side” of the mirror. Her side of the mirror is another room in another time, and Harry is not reflected there. It’s as if the mirror is a portal into another world. Harry talks to the mirror, on “her side” Yvette shakes her head when asked if she can speak... he wants to help her. Maybe he wants to kiss her, too, but Kay knocks on the door. She was worried about him. He was acting strangely at dinner, and then raced upstairs afterwards. Is he okay? Harry opens the door, but wants to keep her away from the mirror (and Yvette, the other woman in his life)... Then asks her to look in the mirror and tell him what she sees. Kay moves to the mirror, looks straight into the glass... but only sees her own reflection. The world on the other side of the mirror has vanished! “She’s gone! You scared her away!” He yells at Kay to get out of the room. She thinks he may have gone a little crazy and splits. He *has* gone a little crazy...

When Harry goes back to the mirror, instead of Yvette’s reflection in that other world he sees “another victim of Count Alexander Cagliosto” (the awesome Henry Daniel) who claims Cagliostro’s evil spell has made him and Yvette prisoners in this mirror... and Harry can help them escape. Harry looks at the beautiful Yvette, he can help her escape? All he has to do is repeat aloud one of Cagliostro’s spells... and then the Man hypnotizes Harry. Hey, that’s not a victim of Cagliostro, that’s the evil man himself! As Harry speaks back the spell, Cagliostro orders his soul to join them in the mirror... and Harry’s soul gets up from the chair (his body left behind) and walks *into the mirror*! Joining them on the other side! This is done in one shot, by the way: which is totally cool. A “how did they do that?” moment.



Harry wakes up in the mirror world...

Where Cagliostro tells him that he has left his body unoccupied by a soul, which will allow Cagliostro to occupy it! Harry watches as Cagliostro exist the mirror and enters Harry’s sleeping body on the other side... and then his body awakens! Harry has allowed the evil of Cagliostro to be release once more upon the world! He is trapped in the mirror with Yvette while his body goes on an evil rampage!

The body of Harry picks up some hot babe named Laura (Pamela Curran) in a sleazy waterfront bar, does some slight of hand magic to make flowers appear and gives them to her. He takes her for a walk in the moonlight...

Wakes up the next morning and has a conversation with Harry’s soul, trapped in the mirror. A knock on the bedroom door... and Kay says there’s a man downstairs to see you... a Policeman (echo from the opening scene!). Harry/Cagliostro tells Key he’ll talk to the Policeman in private, and then apologizes to her for acting strange these past few days. When Kay leaves, Harry/Cagliostro goes to the mirror and tells Harry that he plans on nailing her later. Why wait until after the marriage for the honeymoon? How can Harry get out of the mirror world and stop him?



Harry/Cagliostro goes downstairs and talks to Sgt. Burke from Homicide (Walter Reed) who wants to know where he was at 3AM this morning. Harry says he was here, working. Burke says that a cop on the beat saw him enter the house at 4:15 AM. Harry explains that he took a walk at 4AM. Well, Sgt Burke say it seems that one of his students saw him leave the bar with Laura... who was later found murdered. Harry/Cagliostro says he isn’t exactly the type to hang out in bars like that, and his students shouldn’t be, either. I mean, he’s a college professor! What would he be doing in such a place? Obviously a case of mistaken identity. Sgt. Burke leaves, agreeing that it’s most likely a case of mistaken identity.

Then Harry/Cagliostro lays a massive kiss on Kay. Rotor rooter tongue action!

That night Harry/Cagliostro and Kay leave for a night on the town, passing Fred... who has a copy of the paper with the murder headline in his hands.

In the mirror world, Harry is trapped... worried about Kay.

Fred goes up to Harry’s room to look for clues to Harry’s recent strange actions (is he the killer of that woman?), but as much as Harry yells from inside the mirror, Fred can not hear him. Fred eventually falls asleep in the chair facing the mirror...



Harry/Cagliostro and Kay come back from their night out and Kay wants a cigarette, looks in Harry’s coat pocket and finds some women’s ear rings... which match the ear rings in the newspaper photo of the murdered girl that Fred left on the table. Suspense: is her fiancĂ© a killer? What should she do? Run? Wimpy women run, Kay confronts Harry/Cagliostro... who takes the ear ring out of her hands and uses it to hypnotize her!

Fred hears a noise and goes downstairs, finding Kay... murdered! Fred chases Harry/Cagliostro upstairs into the bedroom. They have a big fight, and *the mirror breaks*! Harry/Cagliostro dies... and Harry’s soul is trapped with Yvette in the mirror world forever!



Review: That might be a happy ending, since he gets the girl, or a frightening ending because he should have been more careful what he wished for!

On a message board we’re talking about how amazingly high concept TWILIGHT ZONES were, considering they were made on sixties TV show budgets. This is another example of what you can do on a very limited budget. We not only have the idea of the mirror world, we have *body swapping* years before FREAKY FRIDAY! The great thing about body swapping is that it’s just two actors acting like each other. What does that cost? Here it’s particularly sinister because we have an evil man taking joy rides in other people’s bodies and leaving the body owner to clean up the mess (or commit suicide because there is no way to clean it up). It’s a frightening idea, and it’s dirt cheap to film.



The Mirror World is another great idea that costs nothing (but talent) to film. The “sells it shot” where Harry’s soul detaches from his body and walks into the mirror is done with two simple shots. One is a double exposure with the camera locked down and Harry sitting in the chair, then a shot of harry getting up and walking away from the chair. Marry them and you have one Harry sitting as a translucent Harry gets up and walks away from his sitting self. The other shot is a little more complicated, but still not a budget buster. We see Harry *walk into the mirror* and disappear from this side as he exists only in the other side! All one shot. Of course, this is a $1.98 special effect where the mirror is just a frame with the “mirror world” on the other side. Harry just walks up to the frame, steps over it, and continues walking on the other side where Yvette is. Then he turns and looks out at a shot of his body in that chair. The Marx Brothers did a more complicated version of this in DUCK SOUP for laughs. When the mirror world disappeared, they just put a mirror in that frame! Though they didn’t do this for the episode, if you wanted to do this now I’d get a semi silvered mirror (two way mirror) and you could make a real reflection fade out into the mirror world without any cuts at all. (It looks like they might have done this in the episode, but the fade is too quick.) If you are doing a low budget movie you have to use much more imagination... that’s what you have instead of money. Same was true in television when this episode was made.

The echo scene of the police coming to talk to Robert in 1910 Paris and later Harry in present day America is great because we know the outcome of the Robert scene and fear that this will be the outcome for Harry as well. Things like this work in any genre and create suspense and dread... at no cost.



Henry Daniell was in five episode of THRILLER and is one of those great hambone British actors who just stole every second he was on screen. No one could be as deliciously evil as Daniell. He was an excellent Professor Moriarty in the Universal Sherlock Holmes movies and costarred with Karloff in THE BODY SNATCHER in 1945.

Marion Ross, Mrs. Cunningham from HAPPY DAYS, is a that young wholesome woman you’d take home to the parents and marry. She’s young and attractive, but not in an overt sexual way. This totally works for the story, because it’s one thing for Cagliostro to rape and murder some slutty bar girl, but much more shocking if it’s the super nice virgin. I realize that’s just plain wrong to say: it’s awful either way. But the in visual shorthand it’s one thing to kill a growling pittbull and another to kill a cute puppy. Yeah, both are dead dogs, but audience’s make value judgements and sometimes we use those value judgements for dramatic purposes.



Lloyd Bochner is one of those actors who are *everywhere*. The year after this he would be on TWILIGHT ZONE in Richard Matheson’s TO SERVE MAN, and he’s *everywhere*. He’s in my favorite film POINT BLANK, he’s a villain on THE WILD WILD WEST, he’s on both THE MAN and THE GIRL FROM UNCLE, he’s on HOAGN’S HEROES and IT TAKES A THIEF, he’s on MISSION IMPOSSIBLE and COLUMBO. He has 202 show credits on IMDB and some of those are TV shows where he was a recurring character, so it’s *hundreds* of total credits! This is a guy who could play heroes and villains and everything in between. This is his only THRILLER episode, and TO SERVE MAN was his only TWILIGHT ZONE episode, but he is memorable in both.

Though this episode isn’t as scary as some of the other horror eps, it has a creepy idea that sticks with you. What if someone could take your body for a joyride?

Bill



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Wednesday, April 11, 2018

ATLiH: Stunt Trouble

All The Losers In Hollywood...

For some reason, I know a bunch of stuntmen and special effects guys. My friend Rick’s friend Chuck rolled down the stairs at the end of THE EXORCIST and then, the next day, fell off the top of the Space Needle in PARALLAX VIEW. He’s an interesting guy - he’s worked on almost every Clint Eastwood movie and is still working now... even though he is no longer a young man. I’ll bet I know at least one stuntman on every U.S. movie that hits the big screen... and DVD. For this little story. I’m going to either change the names or leave them out... since these stuntmen want to keep working.

There is this low budget company that began by making low-end direct to video horror films. The company began as a distributor - and that’s really what studios like Paramount and Warner Brothers and Universal are - they distribute films. This company is way way way down the list from those studios. They “buy” a completed low budget film from an indie filmmaker (usually horror), then take it to American Film Market and sell foreign territories for as much as they can get... then release the film on DVD in the USA. They probably began with a boiler room, with out of work actors on the phone selling the movies to mom & pop video stores. Doing a hard sell, because these films have no stars in the cast, and probably no one who can even act in the cast. Plus, they were made on a shoe string and probably look like crap.

The problem these companies have is that they are dependent on the indie producers to make a film they can sell. As you know from my Trilogy Of Terror blog entries, most indie producers don’t have a clue... and end up making horror movies without any horror. I have no idea why they do this. But these really low end distribs have to wade through all of those movies, trying to find a horror film with some horror in it... at least enough to cut together a trailer. Eventually they find some indie filmmakers that have a clue, and they work with those guys - often telling them what sort of horror movie they would buy, so that the indie filmmaker can make that film. But people who have a clue tend to move on to bigger and better distribs... so eventually these low end companies decide it would be much easier to just make the films themselves.

And they start doing “in house” - making their own films.

Now, the creative force behind these films... are salesmen. The guys who sell the films at AFM or have graduated from the boiler room to VP Sales. They are not writers. They are not directors. They are not even producers. They are SALESMEN. They know what sells (boobs, blood) but know absolutely nothing about story or making movies.

They do know that if they are going to make a lot of money on these films, they have to be made for pocket change. So this company makes movies for $100k maximum and pays $1k for the screenplay. They started out paying $2k, but discovered the writer who would take $2k would take $1k. So why not pay the writer less and pocket the difference?

Now, here’s where it gets really good. At the company in this story, after they pay the writer $1k for the script, one of the salesmen does a rewrite. They don’t hire a writer to do the rewrite, because writers don’t know *what sells* the way a salesman does. This company makes over a dozen films a year - and has a deal with Blockbuster video. I have no idea how much Blockbuster pays them per film, but they make them for $100k. SAG signatory (extreme low budget deal) so they can get some names in the cast.

YOU GET WHAT YOU PAY FOR

So one of my stunman friends gets hired to work on a film from this company. The company has decided horror movies are oversaturated, so they’ve decided to make an action flick. Hey, and they are going to spend a little more (because they have to). My friend is a stuntman who wants to become a stunt coordinator (a step up) and they hire him in that position. He reads the script, and it’s not great, but it’s okay.

He goes to the first production meeting and discovers there is very little money in the stunt budget, but a whole lotta action in the script. My friend doesn’t want to be stunt coordinator on a film with very few stunts, how would that look on his resume? He wants to get a bunch of great clips for his reel out of this film, so that he never has to work for a company this low on the totem pole ever again. That means he’s going to have to pull favors.

He realizes the best way to get good clips on *his* reel is to find other stuntmen friends who want good clips on their reels. So he asks all of his buddies what stunts they have always wanted to do... stunts they would do just to have them on their reel (so that other companies will hire them at top dollar to do the same stunts in much better films). My friend goes back to the “producers” with a list of “stunts at cost” and they work them into the script. This is easier than you might think, since action films tend to have the same basic stunts. There are car chases and a high fall and fist fights and things like that.

Now, at this budget, the most impressive “stunt at cost” he can get is a car doing a multiple roll and exploding. My friend knows a stuntman who has always wanted a big car roll on his reel. If you’ve seen THE KINGDOM, you know that a good car roll can be really impressive. The SUV chase and explosion in that film is just amazing. There’s a behind the scenes on HBO that shows how they did it - and *that* is amazing. Back in the 70s when John Wayne was losing popularity, he made a film called McQ where he played a Dirty Harry type cop - and to sell the film, they did a record breaking car roll. The only reason why I own that film on DVD - the car roll.

Now, the car roll stuntman has never done one of these before, so he pulls all of *his* favors - and gets five top stunt guys in Hollywood to help him with his first car roll (and be there to watch... so they might hire him or recommend him later). They buy a car, build a roll cage, do all of the prep stuff. These expenses come out of pocket, now - the stuntguy will be paid for after the stunt. The stuntguy gets a pyrotech friend of his to explode a second car for cost. They will need an ambulance and a water truck on set for this... but the “producers” argue that they can do without both. The producers are thinking they can save money... and pocket it. What’s more, the ambulance and water truck and Fire Marshal don’t show up on film, so why pay for them? If it’s not on screen, it’s not important.

Well, the law says differently, so the producers are forced to comply. The producers will take care of the water truck and ambulance and Fire Marshal... because they are afraid if my friend the stunt coordinator does it, he won’t get the best price.

A week before the film goes into production, one of the two salesmen who own the company does his script rewrite... and now the script is much much worse than when my friend signed on. Now it’s crap. But the two salesmen turned “producers” who own the company think it’s brilliant. They think they know what they are doing, and what is good... and they are wrong.

But my friend thinks that maybe all of the cool stunts will make up for the (now) really bad screenplay....

THE CAR ROLL AND EXPLOSION

The call time is 9am. The stunt guys show up at 9am with the vehicles.... and no one else is there.

No one.

They wait around, and people start trickling in.

The pyro guy wants to run a test - explode the second car with a quarter of the pyro stuff... but there is no fire marshal on set. He asks when the fire marshal is supposed to show, and the Assistant Director says call time was 9am (even though he didn't show until after 10am himself). But he assured the pyro guy that there was a permit to explode stuff.

Well, the pyro guy *knows* the fire marshal who would be assigned to this film, and calls him. Guess what? There was never a permit. No one ever applied for a permit. This makes the pyro guy angry, but he’s already out here and set up... so he talks to the fire marshal. Smooths things over. Finds a way to make it work. The fire marshal will come out on set and they can fill out the paperwork and get a permit when he arrives. He will allow them to do the explosions (if they have a water truck on site) as soon as he arrives. By the way - this is a huge favor the pyro guy is pulling - he's getting a fire marshal to show up and do a permit on site... and it was the guy's day off.

The fire marshal gives them even a bigger break - he allows the pyro guy to do a test before he arrives.

My friend the stunt coordinator realizes that the test may provide an additional angle of the explosion (this is a low budget film - they have *one* camera to film the explosion) and tells the camera crew he needs a camera set up in 30 minutes. The camera crew seems to be working at their own pace, but assures him that the camera will be ready in half an hour.

Fifteen minutes later, my friend checks in with the camera crew, and they don’t seem to be working very fast. Part of this may be that my friend is the stunt coordinator, not the director... but it’s not like the camera crew is doing anything else. Today is a stunt day - it’s all about the stunt. The director, who is somewhere at the location on his cell phone talking to someone about something that has nothing to do with the movie. Seems not to care. I have no idea what they pay the directors on these films, but if the writer’s fee is any indicator, the director is probably making minimum wage. Now. I have this belief that what you are getting paid should have nothing to do with the amount of energy and enthusiasm you give a project. If you decide to do a crappy job because you are being paid crap... you won’t ever be offered a better job. Anyway, neither the director nor the camera guys seemed to give a damn.

This stunt man is going to risk his life by the end of the day, doing a dangerous car roll for peanuts, and the camera guys and director don’t care.

Half an hour later, the car is ready to explode... the camera is not ready to shoot. Now, my friend thinks the test explosion is pretty important on a low budget film... so he begs the pryo guy to give them another half hour to get the camera set up. Then he tells the camera crew that they have a half hour to get the camera set up and pointed at the car that is going to explode. If they aren’t ready in half an hour, they will explode the car anyway.

A half hour later, the camera is still not ready, and the pyro guy says he's going to do his test. The test is cool... and not on film.

When the camera finally is ready, the stunt guy gets ready to do his car roll. All of his buddies - big time stunt guys - are there to see the big event... and maybe pull him from the wreckage if things go wrong. They give him last minute advice on how to do the car roll, things to watch out for, things to remember... Then they all shake his hand. He’s about to do something very dangerous... roll a car over several times *on purpose*. Stuntmen are crazy.

The stuntguy asks when the ambulance is going to show, the Assistant Director says, “I don't know, but we're behind time, so just do it.”

The stuntguy thinks that is a very bad idea - they are *miles* from the nearest town out in the middle of nowhere. He asks how far the nearest hospital is - and the AD doesn't know. Folks, in case you don't know - the rules say they need to know where the nearest hospital is, and have directions on how to get there, even if all they are shooting is a *dialogue scene*. Usually the map to the hospital, along with all of the emergency numbers, is on the back of the call sheet. If a film is shooting a dialogue scene and someone gets hurt, has a heart attack, whatever, they need to know where the nearest hospital is.

This is a day where they are doing dangerous stunts *and* explosions and the Assistant Director has no idea where the nearest hospital is... not even the phone number!

Well, the stuntguy blows his top. The AD gets on the phone to one of the two salesmen turned film producers who run this company and explains that the stuntguy refuses to do the stunt unless they have an ambulance. The “producer” asks if an ambulance is really required? Maybe he can talk the stuntguy into doing the car roll without it, put him on the phone.

The stuntguy controls his temper as he explains how dangerous this stunt is. They have the car with the roll-cage, they have all of the safety equipment, they have a stunt team... it would be a shame to lose the stunt because they don’t have an ambulance. The “producer” tells the AD it's up to him to get an ambulance out there - free or dirt cheap.

Well, while the AD is calling ambulance companies, the fire marshal shows up - so they can blow up the second car. The fire marshal sees the water truck, and, for some reason, decides to tap the tank with his knuckles... it's empty. See, filling it with water would cost extra - somewhere between $20 and $50 - so they didn't do that. Well, the fire marshal blows up - what kind of morons are these guys? He's not going to let them do *anything* - even bullet hits - unless they get the water truck filled with water. The first AD calls HQ again, and the “producer” decides it's too much trouble to send a PA to fill the water truck, plus pay for an ambulance, etc.

So, they change the scene. They just want the car to drive up and down the dirt road, and they'll do everything else in post. They’ll superimpose some fake looking fireball on the car, and instead of the car roll, well... it just comes to a stop.

The stunt guys are all pissed off. The pyro guy is pissed off. The fire marshal is threatening an investigation.

Everyone has wasted their time, wasted their efforts, wasted their credibility... they’ve pulled all kinds of favors... for nothing. For want of a single horse a mighty empire fell... All of the cool stunts they would have had in their low budget movie for *free*? Not there.

This is why so many low budget film makers remain low budget film makers. They think it’s more important to save $20 than to make a better film. Who the hell would even *rent* a water truck and then not put water in it? These guys are low budget losers... the kind of people you never want to work for. They don't care, and they don't want to improve their work. The most important thing - the basic requirement - you have to care. You have to love what you do. You need to constantly be trying to do something better - to improve yourself and your work. Even if you are making a low budget horror flick, you need to try to make the *best* low budget horror film possible. If you don't have the money, use your imagination.

My friend and all of his stuntmen friends are never going to work for these low budget loser again, and have spread the word. No one will ever do them a favor again... no more free stunts, they'll have to pay full price. But the crappy film without stunts? On the shelves at Blockbuster.

Only in Hollywood, baby!

- Bill

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