MICHAEL ARMSTRONG’S ‘MUTANTS.’ (1967) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

MUTANTS. (1967)

PUBLISHED IN 2020 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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

I absolutely adored this sort of science fiction mystery thriller, penned by legendary screen-writer Michael Armstrong a few years after he himself holidayed in Venice, in the same area which he writes about in the screenplay.

His youthful exploits there nearly cost him his life on more than one occasion (just boyish high jinks, folks, nothing to see here, move along, lol), so I’m guessing the holiday had a profound effect on him, enabling him to write MUTANTS so easily and quickly, and with such feeling and a genuine sense of being there in the moment the action is taking place.

The story of why it didn’t get turned into a film, despite its massive potential and the fact that Michael had originally intended the main male role to go to iconic rock star David Bowie, star of his debut film, THE IMAGE, is told with honesty and poignancy in the chapter of the book entitled A HISTORY OF THE SCREEN PLAY.

In which, I must add, he also gives a stunningly familiar-seeming description of A Writer’s Insecurity and our general feeling that every word we’ve ever written is not fit to use as toilet paper with which to wipe Saddam Hussein’s arse, to gloriously misquote Bridget Jones in that terrific first film. You don’t mind, do ya, Bridge love…?

These books would make a fabulous Christmas present for the film fan in your life, by the way. If you’re strapped for cash, you can just buy one or two (or three!), but if you’re feeling flush, why not go for the full monty? The books come with gorgeous glossy covers and more film industry know-how and gossip inside than you can shake a stick at. I positively treasure my own copies.

EXT. VENICE NIGHT.

The sea-water splashing against the quayside-

Against the sides of moored gondola …

The pools of water on the streets …

Puddles reflecting the city’s antiquity …

Desolate now …

Barely a sound now …

Old …

So very, very old …

Now we move to a Venice beach in the late ‘sixties, which I’m guessing was a rather cool place to be. Not cool in the temperature sense, of course, as it’s pretty damn hot in the book and the sun presents as a fiery, unusually red ball in the sky.

Cathy Hinton and her older brother David are on holiday in the area, as are their two chums, Ann and Nick, who are boyfriend and girlfriend. They’re all camping at the exact site at which Michael himself once stayed as a penniless drama student on his holliers from the RADA, a place called Punta Sabioni. It’s across the lake from Venice proper, and it’s obviously cheaper than staying in one of the beautiful city’s posh hotels.

While on the beach one day, the quartet of youngsters attract the attention of a fellow English tourist, a Sarah Thornton whom Michael describes as ‘an attractive, over-dressed woman in her late forties, trying to look older.’

She immediately, and rather pushily, insists on taking the four under her obviously mature, cougar-ish wing, treating them to expensive meals, suites in the hotel where she’s staying and nights filled with champagne and laughter.

She has no family of her own and the day on which she introduces herself to them is allegedly her birthday, plus she’s got oodles of dosh and she’s paying for everything, shelling out money hand-over-fist, so the teens kind of feel like, well, if she wants to do all that for them, let her do it. They’re being shown a glimpse of the high life without having to pay a penny for it.

Sarah: Oh … well, maybe for tonight, you should stay over here? There’s plenty of space in my hotel room. I have a suite. You’d be more than welcome to stay the night- and that way we don’t have to break up the party … right?

The two boys exchange another glance, and grin back, ruefully.

Sarah beams back at them.

She has what she wanted.

What’s in it for this strange older woman who’s gone out of her way to become a feature in the youngsters’ lives? Well, the first thing she wants is David, who’s still in school and only about seventeen years old. She gets him blind drunk- on Sarah’s champagne, they all get blind drunk- and seduces him, the dirty cougar!

Sarah: You’re a beautiful child … so very young, so very, very beautiful. Are you glad you met me?

David’s younger sister Cathy can see the dangers of David getting involved with a woman who’s old enough to be his granny, but naturally David, thinking with his willy and not his head, is oblivious. Who cares, he says nonchalantly? Loads of young blokes hang out with older birds. Where’s the harm?

Sarah says some pretty far-out things. Like: You see that stretch of water over there? Well, it’s very, very deep- just that section; like an enormous black hole dug out of the sea. They once sent divers down to find out just how deep it was but they never came back and no one’s tried to find out since.

Shudder. Like the Marianas Trench in the west of the Pacific Ocean. The deepest oceanic trench there is. God knows what’s down there. Have you ever heard it said that we know more about what’s in outer space than we do about what’s in our oceans? I’d well believe it. In the meantime, our four young holiday-makers continue to swelter under a sun of an unnaturally red colour…

The last third or thereabouts of the book deals with What Happened To Poor David. I’m giving nothing away, but I will challenge you to find the Frankenstein moment in the script. A loving nod, I’m guessing, to the films Michael would have adored as a child and then a young man starting out in his career.

Okay, you’ve twisted my arm. Here’s a teensy-weensy hint of what’s to come, but don’t tell anyone I told you or I’ll send the boys round. Ah, I’m only kidding. There are no boys.

People everywhere are screaming;

Running away in alarm-

And that’s positively all I’m giving you. It’ll be well worth the suspense, I promise you.

MUTANTS is available to buy now at the following web addresses, along with other books in the Michael Armstrong collection. Get out your wallets, lads. Don’t be stingy now…!

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

Man: It’s extraordinary the way they can move separately when they grow or expand outwards...

I just want it all to stop … so we can go home. I want to go … home … I’m so scared. I just want to go home.

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

THE CORPSE VANISHES. (1942) A BELA LUGOSI HORROR FILM REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.©

corpse vanishes

THE CORPSE VANISHES. (1942) DIRECTED BY WALLACE COX. STARRING BELA LUGOSI, TRISTRAM COFFIN, ELIZABETH RUSSELL, MINERVA URECAL, ANGELO ROSSI, FRANK MORAN, VINCE BARNETT, KENNETH HARLAN AND LUANA WALTERS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Oh, Professor, do you also make a habit of collecting coffins?’

Patricia Hunter.

‘Why, yes, in a manner of speaking, I find a coffin much more comfortable than a bed.’

Dr. Lorenz.

I love these old low-budget Bela Lugosi horror movies. He made a fair few of ’em, God bless him, after his success in Universal’s DRACULA (1931), the unexpected smash hit (I don’t know why it was so unexpected; it was Bram Stoker’s masterpiece, after all!) that single-handedly launched the horror cinema genre into the stratosphere and made Universal Studios its home.

In many of these films, the tall, handsome Hungarian actor often plays a criminal mastermind, a mad scientist or some deranged professor engaged in a crazy experiment that will surely endanger the world if it’s successful. THE CORPSE VANISHES is, of course, no exception. It’s actually got quite an ingenious plot.

The American public is utterly bewildered by a spate of bride abductions, that is to say, pretty young blushing brides all over the place are swooning at the altar, being pronounced dead by puzzled medics and strapped into mortuary vans which are then waylaid en route to the morgue by a gang of unknown villains. Clever, eh? The police are left scratching their noodles in puzzlement.

The only thing these society brides have in common, apart from the fact that they are spoiled little rich girls marrying into even more money and a nice cushy lifestyle, is that they’ve all worn orchids on their persons that were mysteriously delivered to them just before the marriage ceremony. Could there be a connection between the orchids and the sudden ‘deaths’ of the brides…?

Miss Patricia Hunter, Girl Reporter Extraordinaire, certainly seems to thinks so. Tired of reporting bland nonsense for the Society pages- who wore what where; who was seen talking to whom when everyone knows his wife’s left him and she’s seeking a divorce on the grounds of unreasonable behaviour, that type of thing- she’s thrilled when her grumpy male boss (is there any other kind…?) says she can investigate the possible orchid connection if she wants. She’s out of that office and investigating her tight little caboose off before you can say ‘glass ceiling,’ lol.

She heads straight up-state for the home of the mysterious recluse scientist, Dr. Lorenz (Bela Lugosi), who just so happens to be an expert on the particular type of orchid delivered to the unfortunate society brides on their wedding day and purporting to be from their husbands-to-be. I told you earlier that the plot was ingenious, didn’t I? Who wouldn’t wear an orchid on their wedding dress that had supposedly been sent to them by their loving fiancés? Depending on what’s up with these orchids, it’s kind of like the perfect ruse, isn’t it?

He’s a charming and cordial man, this Dr. Lorenz, and, although he refuses to help her on the orchids question, citing lack of time as an excuse, he invites Patricia to stay the night at his huge palatial home in the hills while a terrible storm is raging outside. Patricia reluctantly agrees, deciding she has no choice. You’d think that, as a journalist, she’d be glad of a chance to snoop around the place, wouldn’t you?

Dr. Lorenz’s wife, an older woman known as the Countess, is mighty displeased to have such a pretty young woman on the premises for however short a time, but her husband Dr. Lorenz tells her, with a giant grin splitting his face, that she could be very useful to the Countess, whereupon the Countess, taking her husband’s meaning, relents graciously.

Also staying the night Chez Lorenz due to the inclement weather is a Dr. Foster, a colleague of Dr. Lorenz’s but definitely not his partner-in-crime. (Dr. Foster is played by a Tristram Coffin; how cool a name is that for a horror actor? Seems to be his real name as well.) There’s an instant attraction between the rather wooden, stilted Dr. Foster and the feisty, much livelier Patricia Hunter. The pair could end up enjoying nuptial bliss themselves when the Mystery of the Missing Brides is solved.

Patricia could end up having the honour of bringing Dr. Foster his pipe and slippers at the end of the working day (his, not hers; she’ll have to give up her career, naturally, to have all the babies) and stoically taking the odd punch in the kisser when Hubby’s in one of his moods.

Oh, what a wonderful thing it was, to be a blushing bride in ‘Forties America, lol. Those women with careers who pretended to eschew marriage were really just waiting on tenterhooks for some guy to ride in on his white charger, scoop them up and take them away from nasty work for ever. Everyone knows that. Those women who seemed genuinely to enjoy their careers were definitely looked upon a bit suspiciously. They couldn’t really prefer forging a name for themselves in their chosen field to washing shitty diapers and chopping the vegetables for tonight’s casserole, could they…?

Anyway, Patricia has a nightmarish experience in the massive basement of Dr. Lorenz’s rambling mansion on the night she stays over, an experience Dr. Lorenz tries to dismiss as merely a bad dream but Patricia knows better. It’s connected to the Mystery of the Missing Brides and Patricia could swear to it, no matter how much the charming Dr. Lorenz tries to convince her that it was all just a dream and she should put it out of her mind like a good little girl.

Dopey Dr. Foster is of no help to her whatsoever in the matter of Patricia’s so-called ‘bad dream,’ but never mind. Once she’s married to him, she’ll no longer be required to use her fluttery little bird-brain for anything more complicated than deciding what spices to keep on her rack. But for now, she still has a mind of her own and she comes up with a brilliant idea for catching the ‘killer’ and abductor of all these unsuspecting society brides. Phoney wedding, anyone?

The scene in the ‘mausoleum’ at night is genuinely creepy. The man called Angel, the idiot son of Dr. Lorenz’s creepy old maid Fagah, comes across as the sort of gibbering sex-pest who might enjoy a nice bit of rape if it came his way. Patricia would do well not to run into him in the cellars at night. The music in the mausoleum scene is excellent and très atmospheric. I like the cheeky dwarf butler Toby, too, he’s cute.

THE CORPSE VANISHES is a good little black-and-white horror mystery, and Bela is on top form in it. His whipping arm is still in good nick anyway. He’s always whipping the poor unfortunate inbreds who end up working for him, isn’t he, lol?

He’s still able to pick up women bodily too and carry ’em off, and even horror legend Christopher Lee needed a little bit of help with that from stunt double Eddie Powell at the end. Good old Chris and Bela, the kings of Hammer and Universal horror respectively. Wonder if they’re neighbours now…?

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

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor