MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS: OUIJA-BOARD. (1989) PUBLISHED IN 2018 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©
‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’
I absolutely loved this latest book of Michael Armstrong’s, OUIJA-BOARD. Michael, as the piece above taken from his website informs us, is actually making history by being the first scriptwriter to publish almost everything he’s ever written in book form. So the history he’s making is both cinematic and literary, and I’m thrilled to bits to be a part of it.
I usually begin these reviews with a brief recap of the books of Michael’s that I’ve read so far, all of which are available to buy direct from Michael’s own website and also from Michael’s publishers, the lovely people at Paper Dragon Productions.
The books all have gorgeous glossy covers and they’re greatly improving the look of my personal library, I must say. Thus far I’ve read, or should I say devoured in one sitting, the following works:
HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1982), filmed in 1983, is my favourite of all of Michael’s marvellous scripts, and there’s a lot to choose from. It’s a wonderful ‘haunted house’ story, which I would have adored anyway on its own merits.
The fact, however, that it features horror icons Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine in the first and only film to ever star all four of them together, is the icing on an already terrific cake.
THE BLACK PANTHER (1976) was the name given to Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer whose abduction of wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975 was the subject of Michael’s controversial 1976 screenplay. The 1977 film was even banned for a bit but a change of heart by the British Film Institute saw it taking its rightful place amongst other important British films of the period.
Michael’s first movie was a short film called ‘THE IMAGE.’ (1964) It marked the first screen appearance of a certain David Bowie, who later went on to make flicks like THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, LABYRINTH and THE HUNGER.
Michael Armstrong had the pleasure, and it must have been a huge one, of directing Mr. Bowie first, though, and now the book of that script is also available to buy as part of Michael’s gorgeous collection.
GHOST TOWN (1969) is a terrific tongue-in-cheek Western comedy while A STAR IS DEAD (1977), another riotously irreverent comedy, was actually commissioned by Malcolm McLaren and intended to star The Sex Pistols in their screen acting debut. What a film that would have made!
BEELZEBUB (1984) is the story of a haunted computer that also would have made a great film and DEATH MASQUE (1988) is simultaneously an intellectual mystery thriller, a comedy and a social allegory, if you please. It contains the immortal words of operatic legend Anna Morenzi:
‘Always give the audience what it wants. Lots of T. & A. Never fails, dear: ‘Tits & Art.’ If they don’t like the show, at least give ’em something to drool over. Helps keep the snoring down.’
ESKIMO NELL (1975), starring Roy Kinnear and a ridiculously young and handsome Michael Armstrong in the flesh, is one of Britain’s most famous sex comedies. The dialogue is just so funny. Here are a few choice snippets:
‘I can’t do it, Benny, I just can’t do it! I’m just not capable of writing the first all-British pornographic Kung Fu musical western: least of all when three different girls and a drag queen all think they’re going to be playing the same part!’
‘Right then, the opening shot of the film is a big close-up of this bleedin’ great pair of tits…
but do it with integrity…’
‘Acting? Acting? You didn’t tell me I had to act! Listen, I don’t mind getting screwed but I’m not doing any of that acting stuff! What sort of a girl do you take me for?’
‘It’s all terribly wholesome family entertainment, like Hamlet… but nicer.’
‘Yes, but what’s my motivation for having an erection…?’
‘Oooooh, what lovely buns…!’
OUIJA-BOARD (1989) is a horror film-script that sadly never got made into a film, for reasons which Michael goes into, frankly and honestly, in the chapter entitled ‘THE HISTORY OF THE SCREENPLAY.’
It should serve as a cautionary tale to any budding young scriptwriters out there who still wear their rose-tinted glasses and think that everyone in the movie industry is as scrupulous as themselves…!
Michael admits himself that he wrote this script to a formula, the one that works so well for the horror movies we know and love and have been watching for years. It’s a deceptively simple formula that can be staggeringly effective.
You put a group of attractive young people in their twenties into a situation from which they absolutely can’t extricate themselves for a bit. In a ‘Cabin In The Woods,’ for example, on a weekend break from the city, and maybe their car’s broken down so they can’t go anywhere for the moment, or at least until the Park Ranger drives by on Monday morning to check on ’em. But by Monday morning, every last one of them could be stone-dead…
Throw in some booze and drugs, of course, to loosen everyone up a bit and lower their inhibitions, and make sure that several characters are wildly attracted to each other so that the chances of them having sex together are greatly improved. This beefs up the action no end, as any director worth his salt will tell you.
While all their guards and defences are down, a crazed serial killer will have no problem at all picking the horny young ‘uns off one by one, until no-one remains but the least slutty of the girls and maybe one guy, the guy she likes but thought was into the skank with the fake tits. And you can be sure that he was into her, at least at first. Until he found out that the skank with the fake tits is always the first to die…
In OUIJA-BOARD, we have a pair of young heart-throb teenage boy musicians, Brad Jackson and Li Lin, in a beach location filming a pop music video together. Also present are their three attractive backing singers, Sophie, Luanne and Marie.
Then there’s Hugh, who’s directing the video, even though he’d rather be off directing an art-house movie somewhere and is only making this crappy video to pay the bills. I’m sure we can all relate. There’s also Larry, Brad’s manager, and Paul and Joe, two young cameramen. Debbie is Brad’s sort-of girlfriend.
Early on in the script, the young people- except for Debbie, who’s rightly nervous- all mess around with a ouija-board. Even though Sophie is initially the one who’s all for it, she gets scared quickly when the board makes it clear that it really, really wants to play games with the young folks. It also loves the words blood, death and danger. A good sign? You tell me…!
Sophie: ‘You see? It’s warning us. You start asking it things like that, you might attract the wrong kind of spirit.’
Sophie: ‘I think we’re in touch with something real bad. I think we should stop.’
Sophie: ‘They’re always looking for ways in, you know? To our world. That’s how people become possessed.’
Sophie: ‘It’s all down to the vibrations our emotions give off. They all have different wavelengths and some of them can lay us open to- well, it’s like the radio- tuning into the wrong station.’
She’s bang on the money there. But remind us again, Sophie, why you wanted to fool around with the ouija-board in the first place? We all know the deal with ouija-boards by now. You might think you’re only trying to get in touch with your dear deceased old granny or Tweety the canary, who sadly departed this life when he mistook a pane of glass for the open air, but when you open that door to the Afterlife there’s no telling what kind of horrors you’re allowing in to your world.
A ghost is one thing, the ghost of someone who once lived, but if you attract the attention of a demon, something that’s never walked the Earth in human form, you are basically fucked. I learned this from demonologists Ed and Lorraine Warren in James Wan’s THE CONJURING movies, lol. Who says you can’t learn anything from watching movies…?
Anyway, when something gory happens to Luanne as a direct result of the ouija-board session, Hugh and Larry decide that everyone on the team must move up to their mountain location and hang loose there while they, Hugh and Larry, take Luanne to the hospital. Larry comes out with what I can only refer to as Famous Last Words:
Larry: ‘There’s not much that can happen to them stuck on top of a mountain miles from nowhere.’
The demon unleashed by the young peoples’ unwise dabblings with the ouija-board of course follows Brad, Li Lin, Sophie, Marie, Debbie, Paul and Joe up the mountain, to the lodge where they’re supposed to be filming the mountainy parts of their pop video.
Oh Larry, you poor sweet fool! ‘There’s not much that can happen to them stuck on top of a mountain miles from nowhere.’ Are you FKM…? Killing this group of unsupervised high ‘n’ horny young ‘uns is going to be a piece of cake for the demon. The words shooting, fish and barrel come immediately to mind.
Brad, a cocaine addict, intends to spend this enforced sabbatical getting high and partying. Fair enough. With a blonde-haired-captain-of-the-football-team name like Brad, I guess he’s kind of morally obliged to.
Debbie wants to talk to Brad about Their Failing Relationship, but Ain’t Nobody Got Time For That. Marie wants to have sex with Li Lin, but there’s something pretty important she needs to learn about him first.
The sneaky Demon, meanwhile, has decided to confuse the issue by possessing first one and then another of the horny young ‘uns in turn, rather in the style of John Carpenter’s THE THING.
The killing scenes are gloriously gory (Now (s)he is cleansed from the squalor of the kill) as things go from seriously bad to much, much worse for the group of pop teens and their entourage abandoned, for the moment, to their own devices on the mountain-side.
When shit really starts going down, Paul the camera-man has kind of a Famous Last Words moment himself when he says:
‘Look… We’ll be okay. Nothing’s gonna happen to us just as long as we all stick together and don’t go wandering off on our own.’
Well, if everyone in horror movies paid attention to this little maxim, we’d have nothing good to watch. Thankfully, the dopes never do. Sophie, at whose door can be laid the blame for everything that’s gone wrong as the whole ouija-board thing was her idea, hits the nail on the head when she says:
‘It’s like it’s playing this horrible game with us. We’re its entertainment.’
Why don’t we ask the Demon itself what it wants…?
The Demon: ‘I want to play! Blood! Killing! I want to play!’
Can somebody please break out the travel Scrabble…?
OUIJA-BOARD and Michael’s other new book, THE CLICHÉ-CUTTER, are hot off the presses right now, direct from Michael’s own website and that of his publisher’s:
AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.
Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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