MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS: THE LAMIA. (1972) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

michael armstrong 2

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

THE LAMIA. (1972)

PUBLISHED IN NOVEMBER 2019 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…’

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

… her hands slowly slide upwards…

To her breasts…

And rest there for a moment…

Feeling the flesh of her perfectly formed bosoms beneath her dress…

Then her hands begin to slide upwards once more…

To rest upon the smooth incline of her throat…

Before continuing to slide upwards even further…

To her face…

Sliding, caressingly, over her cheeks…

As, with her thumbs,

She presses her eyes out from their sockets…

And lays them carefully on the bedside table…

I adored the story about how a sixteen-year-old Michael tried to sell his screenplay of The Lamia to the then thriving Hammer Studios, thinking that his Snake-Woman hybrid might be a nice addition to their stable of Draculas, Frankensteins, Wolfmen, Abominable Snowmen and other screen monsters. Thank you for your interest but it’s not for us at this time, came back the disappointing reply. Ah well. Them’s the breaks, sadly.

Of course, a few years later, Hammer made the hugely successful horror flick The Reptile, in which, if I’m not much mistaken, the monster is… you guessed it… a Snake-Woman hybrid. Sigh. Showbiz is indeed a hideous bitch-goddesssssss… Yes, the extra ssssssibilance is totally intentional, lol. Hisssssssss…

This story, by the by, can be found in the chapter entitled A History of the Screenplay in Michael’s latest luxurious film script book, The Lamia. Before we discuss the screenplay itself, I think you might get a kick out of Michael’s rather witty commentary on industry critics contained in the History chapter:

‘Most critics, in reality, are about as useful as wasps at a picnic and are best ignored. There’s no point in trying to swat them or they’ll only get angry. Put a critic on the defensive and they’ll sting you. All you can do is leave them to their own devices and hope they won’t crawl around on the food too much.’

Miaow…! Now where did I put the Raid…?

The Lamia is set in England in 1831, in and around the mansion home of the aristocratic Spencer family, the leading family in the otherwise poor district. We open on a homecoming, as the youngest son of the Spencer family, Jack, returns from a trip to Europe with his posh chum, Tristram Ryder.

As Jack’s father, local magistrate Sir Richard, his older brother Giles and his sister Ann are greeting the pair rapturously, however, they discover that their beloved Jack has brought more home from the Continent than a sun-tan and a few sticks of rock.

The main thing he’s brought back is a stunningly beautiful young Grecian woman called Helena Paxinou, a self-possessed creature he intends to marry who has Jack wrapped round her little finger. Although that’s nothing compared to the things that she could wrap around him, if she had a mind to… Ooops. I’ve said too much, lol.

Things in the village start to go awry pretty much from the time Helena Paxinou arrives in town.

There was a gypsy lad killed last night in the woods not far from here. They say it were done by someone in the village. The village says it were done by one of the gypsies’ own. Though the Constable says it were more likely to have been some wild animal.

Judging by the shocking state of the corpse, my money’s on the wild animal.

So far, from my initial examination of the body, I can only confirm that it was badly torn by enormous claws of some kind.

Jack’s sister Ann and his close friend Tristram each agree that there is something a trifle odd and unnerving about Jack’s new fiancée, Helena. And what kind of woman would order all the mirrors in her bedroom to be removed? I can imagine that a certain Dr. Van Helsing from a certain rather popular gothic novel would have plenty to say about people who don’t care to gaze upon their likenesses in the looking-glass…

Jack Spencer and Helena Paxinou are both keeping secrets from each other. On reflection, Helena’s is a million times worse. This is possibly the most graphically violent, graphically sexual of all of Michael’s screenplays that I’ve read and reviewed thus far.

If the film had been made, I’m not sure how far the film-makers would have been prepared to go with the scenes of physical and sexual torture. I definitely can’t imagine a certain tall, dark Prince of Darkness volunteering his nether regions for such indignities and appalling manhandling…!

Mindful of spoilers, I can only share a small amount of such graphic content here. This is one of the scenes involving Gammer (Grandma) Pilkington, an ancient and infirm crone from the village whose beloved grandson, Thomas, one of the Spencers’ groundsmen, has just fallen afoul of the terrible supernatural monster currently plaguing the area:

Gammer stumbles out of her room with a cry

And starts to crawl down the landing towards Thomas’s bedroom…

Crying out his name with a terrible desperation…

O.S. The unpleasant sound of what resembles suction…

It grows in strength as she nears the open door…

A gruelling, squelchy, sucking sound…

Well, bleurgh, lol.

It’s not all squelching and sucking, however. The wives of the Spencer family doctor, minister and solicitor provide plenty of light relief with their comic asides, their insatiable nosiness and their loudly-expressed opinions born out of pure ignorance. Here’s a snippet of a conversation I love:

Mrs. Ridgeway and the other wives are still gossiping, cheerfully.

Mrs. Armand, the doctor’s wife: Apparently, there were large bite marks on their necks.

Mrs. Cox, the minister’s wife: That is what carnal desire makes you do, so I hear.

Mrs. Ridgeway, the solicitor’s wife: Oh, I shudder at the very thought of such a gross act! Mr. Ridgeway would never dream of biting me in the neck! He would not dare!

Mrs. Cox: Men are such animals, Mrs. Ridgeway!

Mrs. Ridgeway: They are indeed, Mrs. Cox!

Mrs. Cox: It is why I thank the good Lord to have blessed me with a man of the cloth as a husband. It gives me such peace of mind, knowing Cyril’s holy work protects him from such impure thoughts.

Mrs. Ridgeway: As indeed with my own husband- being a solicitor…!

The ending is thrilling. Will Jack and the Spencer family discover the awful truth about Helena Paxinou before it’s too late? In a text filled with references to Greek mythology, who are ‘the filthy women,’ and are they the kind of broads you’d want at your stag or hen do? Will readers be able to ‘stomach’ the scene with The Rat in it? I’d advise an empty stomach before reading it, certainly!

I love the Hammer feel to this particular screenplay. There’s one tavern scene which absolutely calls for a jovial Michael Ripper to be behind the bar, dispensing the frothy, suds-topped pints along with the genial ripostes. And, of course, the feeling of impending horror and the atmosphere of encroaching dread is always in the background:

Above, in the night sky,

The dark silent shape of the screech owl circles…

Before disappearing into the blackness beyond…

Watch out for low-flying birds…

I will leave you with some words of wisdom of Mrs. Ridgeway’s for the women of today…

It is not fashionable for a young lady to have thoughts- especially of her own. She may be permitted to muse upon a subject from time to time but it would be most unbecoming were she to think about it. Who knows where that might lead?

And also with some invaluable words of Michael’s own from the History chapter:

Trust your soul. It is your voice. It is uniquely yours for the brief duration of your life. It will never be heard again for as long as Man survives. It is as sacred as your identity and who and what you are. Let it be heard in your work and let its truth echo out across countless generations. But let it be your voice and yours alone, because even the greatest ‘expert’ will never have sufficient expertise to be better than you at being you.

I couldn’t have put it better myself, if I’d tried for a thousand years.

FALCONFELL, MY SCARE LADY and THE LAMIA are all available to buy now. You can purchase them at either of these websites:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk/publications

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. 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, women’s 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:

http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

You can contact Sandra at:

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

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