MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS: ROBIN HOOD. (1977) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

michael armstrong book trio

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

ROBIN HOOD. (1977)

PUBLISHED IN 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

Did’st thou hear the one about the minstrel who bought his wife a musical chastity belt and then couldn’t find the right key?

Robin: So, thou would’st join me in Sherwood Forest?

Will Scarlett: Well, we can either go there or back to my place. I’m not fussy.

Robin: And can’st handle a weapon, good Will?

Will Scarlett: I’ve never had any complaints so far.

Robin: Then thou art most welcome to come live with me in merry Sherwood.

Will Scarlett: Well, there’s no need to get that involved, is there? I mean, a quick one in the bushes’ll do me fine.

Everyone loves a nice bit of Robin Hood. He cuts such a romantic figure, doesn’t he, in his green tights and tunic and the jaunty little hat with the feather in it, swashbuckling his way with sword and bow and arrow through Sherwood Forest, with of course his faithful Ye Olde Merrie Men at his side.

Errol Flynn is probably most people’s idea of a favourite screen Robin Hood (1938 with Olivia De Havilland, Claude Rains and the magnificent Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisborne), and I agree that he made a terrific Robin Hood, but me, I always fancied the arse off Michael Praed from the ’80s TV series ROBIN OF SHERWOOD, featuring the fabulous theme tune, Robin, The Hooded Man, by Irish band Clannad.

He had such beautiful long mullety hair, this Robin, and I always felt that I was much better suited to him than that ginger-haired long drink of water they cast opposite him as Maid Marian. Humph. I wanted so badly to do a Miss Piggy on her every week. Hi-yah…! Heh-heh-heh.

The latest script-book of screenwriter, actor and director Michael Armstrong’s to roll off the presses at his publishers,’ PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS, is a fantastically funny spoof of Robin Hood, surely as thoroughly English a subject as Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES or Shakespeare’s plays about the English Kings, two of which figure in Ye Olde Tale of Robin Hood. Here’s how Michael’s Narrator opens the story:

‘Tis merry England in ye twelfth century. Upon ye royal throne sitteth good King Richard ye Lionheart. It wath a time of much trouble and strife for ’twas a country torn betwixt two peoples: ye Saxons and ye Normans. But a far greater shadow was looming up o’er ye horizon- ye Saracens had gotten Jerusalem. And so it was that good King Richard called for a crusade; a call which stirred the very heart of his people; responding in that manner so typical of ye British man when facing a national crisis…’

So, the bumbling, somewhat thick-as-a-plank King Richard goes off to fight the Crusades- I’m never quite sure why it’s any of his business but never mind, lol- and rather unwisely leaves his treacherous brother John to keep his throne warm for him in his absence:

Richard: Brother John, into thy hands do I entrust this fair land of England. Rule wisely over her till I return.

John: Don’t you worry about a thing, Dickie. You just stay out there as long as you like and have yourself a good time. Get a nice suntan, fight a few battles, all that sort of thing. No need to rush back.

Then, a bit later during their goodbye scene:

Richard: Dear brother John- ever so honest and true. How it comforts me to know I’m leaving England in safe hands. Keep up her high moral standards, brother, and don’t drop ’em for anyone.

Well, of course it would suit the snake-in-the-grass John perfectly well if Richard never came back, as he quite fancies the throne for himself, the dastardly sneak. Backed up by the oily, unctuous Sheriff of Nottingham, his toady, he plans to cripple the peasants of England with more taxes and tariffs (Prince John: Right! Right! Screw ’em for every penny!- Dirty rotten peasants.) and to grab all the power of the throne and the crown for himself.

Egged on and even manipulated by the Sheriff, he also intends to marry the lovely Maid Marian to the truly odious man-beast, Sir Guy of Gisborne, one of their minions, so that they can claim her father’s wealthy estate. Marian, of course, is madly in love with Robert of Locksley, aka Robin Hood, who now robs from the rich to give to the poor, so she won’t be one bit happy about that. No-one likes a forced marriage.

Meanwhile, Robin Hood, already an outlaw with a price on his head, is gathering to himself a little band of followers who are prepared to back him up in his attempts to shaft the soldiers and tax collectors of Prince John’s and the Sheriff’s at every opportunity.

Still known as Robert of Locksley, he’s also trying to come up with a suitable name for himself and his men. Here’s a conversation he has with Allan A Dale, MC of a local nightclub and Bella Stark, the sexy hostess of same:

Allan: Er… Robert?… Robbie, love… let me get this straight. You say you’re going to rob the rich?

Robin: You got it!

Allan: So far I like it. Great idea!… It’s the next bit I didn’t quite follow?

Robin: I rob from the rich and give it to the poor.

Allan: Give it to the poor… yes. That’s the bit I don’t quite-

Robin: Look, it’s very simple. The money I steal from-

Allan: Yes, yes, the stealing bit I understand. It’s the giving away part that I don’t get.

Bella: Is it some kind of tax dodge?

Robin: No, no. Listen- I live in Sherwood Forest and get myself a band of men together-

Allan: You’re gonna form a band? Robbie, you’ll need proper representation.

Robin: Not that kind of band. I’ve told you what we’re gonna do. Robert Fitzooth and his Merry Men! Sounds good- huh?

Allan: Fitzooth, Fitzschmutter! What’s the difference? It’s a lousy name. What kind of bookings are you going to get with a name like that? It’s gotta be something that’ll grab the attention. Something that’ll really stand out on a ”Wanted” poster. Something like Clint Travolta or Dustin de Niro.

Bella: Dustin de Niro and his Merry Men?- For a hood who’s robbing people?

Allan: Hood! That’s it! Dustin de Hood!

Shirley: Sounds like he’s running a car cleaning agency.

Robin: What’s wrong with my own name?

Allan: Robert?- Too old-fashioned. The kids’ll never go for it.

Bella: Well, if he’s gonna be robbing people and he’s a hood- why not call him Robbing Hood?

Allan: Robbin’ Hood! That’s it! Robin Hood!

They got there in the end…! This book, even more so than the others, is jam-packed with hilarious puns and one-liners and witticisms, many of them pertaining to the culture of the day (the late 1970s) because, as every good writer knows, spoofs set in Ye Olden Times are funnier when you bring in characters and situations and slang from Ye Moderne Times. (Think Blazing Saddles!) The scenes where Prince John is watching DALLAS and KOJAK on the ‘television’ are especially funny.

And the characters in ROBIN HOOD are frequently breaking the fourth wall and saying things like: ‘How come Errol Flynn (or Basil Rathbone) never had these problems?’ (That was Robin.) With so many plays-on-words and general merriment on nearly every page, the book zips along at a rip-roaring pace. Here’s a touching meeting between the two romantic leads:

Marian, on her balcony: Oh, Robin, Robin, wherefore art thou, Robin?

Robin: I’m down here behind the bushes.

Oh, the beautiful, painfully doomed romance of it all! And later, in the same scene:

Robin: And now, sweet Marian, ’tis time I headed back to leafy Sherwood. Methinks the cock hath already risen.

Marian: I’m bloody sure it did, you randy sod!

Snigger. Such delicious naughtiness. I love it. Anyway, Robin gathers to himself his crew, as I said, in the form of Much Jr., the disturbingly flatulent Stutely, the outrageously camp Will Scarlett, Little John (a super-cool black guy formerly known as Akunt-Akunta; this wicked pun has its ‘roots’ in a popular television series of the day), Friar Tuck the Flasher (‘During Communion, it wasn’t just the wafer he’d stick in your mouth.’) and Allan A Dale, his PR guy:

Allan: Ah, Robin, love- the very man I wanted to see. I need to get your okay on these. (He hands Robin a green tunic, on the front of which is printed his picture. Robin looks at it, bewildered.)

Robin: Er- great. What is it?

Allan: Official Robin Hood T-shirts. We’re planning to put them on the market by the end of the week along with horse and cart stickers and these ‘I’m merry and proud of it’ badges.

Then:

Allan: I’m telling you, Robbie, you’ve become the hottest thing since King Arthur and Camelot. I’ve even had NBC on, wanting exclusive video rights to your next robbery.

Robin Hood is now the biggest thing since the Beatles. The cult of Robin Hood makes  Beatlemania look like a fassing pad. I mean a passing fad. Excuse my Spoonerism. The teeny-boppers love Robin. In between signing autographs and working on firming up the Robin Hood brand, how will he ever find the time to enter the evil Sheriff of Nottingham’s archery contest, specially rigged to catch Robin the outlaw? Here’s what the contest’s News commentator has to say about it:

NEWS COMMENTATOR: And now we’re taking you over to Centre Court for live coverage of ye olde archery contest and this- the first match of the day- is between the number one seed, John Muckyrow of ye yet to be discovered United States-

(And a John McEnroe lookalike stands there, unloading a veritable arsenal of longbows from neat little zipper-bags.)

NEWS COMMENTATOR: -and Bjorn Bouf of Sherwood Forest, seeded 1,642.

(Which proves to be none other than ROBIN; no longer dressed in a Harlequin costume but now sporting a perky little Wimbledon tennis outfit in Lincoln Green. Their respective names appear on the scoreboard while the archery version of ball-boys crouch down in readiness.)

So now, the game is on. Will Robin come up to the mark? Will he get the girl, having first to rescue her from the clutches of the ape-like Sir Guy of Gisborne? Will King Richard come back and foil Baldrick’s- I mean, the Sheriff’s- cunning plans for world domination?

There’s loads more to come before the finale, including an hilarious torture scene, an even more hilarious scene in which Prince John’s castle is attacked by a very, very small army, a scene straight out of MACBETH and an unintentionally funny and prophetic reference to… ahem… Jimmy Saville. Ahem. I’ll get the eye-wash so you can pretend you didn’t read that bit, lol. Share it around now. The eye-wash, I mean.

Anyway, even JAWS himself makes an appearance in this, the funniest and wittiest of all Michael Armstrong’s script-books to date. It’s like MONTY PYTHON meets BLACKADDER meets MAID MARIAN AND HER MERRY MEN (Baldrick’s absolutely marvellous TV series on this exact subject!). Would I advise that you buy it? Verily, forsooth and, erm, loads more Ye Olden Times talk. Run and get it now. You’ll bloody well love it.

E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL, THE MAZE and ROBIN HOOD are available to buy now from Michael Armstrong’s website and also from his publishers, Paper Dragon Productions. Don’t waste any time. Go get ’em!

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS: THE MAZE. (1968) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

michael armstrong book trio

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

THE MAZE. (1968)

PUBLISHED IN 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

Screen-writer, actor and director Michael Armstrong has written some absolutely cracking horror screenplays. Some were made into films, such as THE DARK (1960), MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1982).

This last film, as well as being a rollicking great horror romp, has the distinction of being the only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

Some of his other screenplays, for one reason and another (showbusiness is a fickle and fluctuating mistress!), never made it onto the big screen, unfortunately for the public. These include the fantastic GHOST TOWN (1969), a comedy Western; BEELZEBUB (1984), the story of a haunted computer that would have made a terrific ‘Eighties horror movie; DEATH MASQUE (1988) and OUIJA-BOARD (1989).

Directors have been making films about ouija-boards for the last couple of decades now, but Michael Armstrong was one of the first, if not the first, to realise the potential of the humble ouija-board to be the subject of a major horror film.

Now, on to- or should I say into- THE MAZE (1968), a screenplay cut in the same mould as the excellent BEELZEBUB, GHOST TOWN and the aforementioned OUIJA-BOARD. I enjoyed it every bit as much as the screenplays of Michael’s (I can call him that; we’re great pals…!) that came before and after. I bet you guys can’t guess what it’s about, lol…

I’ll be kind and give you tons of clues. First off, we have a handsome young celebrity footballer fella called Bob Harding. Bob’s agent tells him one day that he’s positively got to go to this classy shindig on some dude’s private island, because the press will be there and a ton of other celebrities as well (‘-movie stars, pop, fashion- it’s a media coup!’), and this will be the perfect opportunity for Bob to grab some quick easy publicity.

What can Bob do but say yes? When he’s picked up at a Maltese airport by a handsome young Greek chappie called Alexis, who works for the island-owning millionaire, the pair have the following rather disturbing exchange:

Bob: This island we’re going to- I tried finding it on the map but it didn’t seem to exist. Does it have a name?

Alexis: No name. It isn’t on the map.

Bob: So, how far is it off the mainland?

Alexis: Far enough. Dr. Seresion likes privacy.

Okay. A mysterious island that’s not on any map, miles from anywhere, owned by some creepy-sounding doctor dude? (Remember THE ISLAND OF DR. HIBBERT from THE SIMPSONS?) I’d have turned the boat round and headed for home at this point, but dopey Bob has seemingly never watched that episode of THE SIMPSONS, lol.

Once on the island, he’s chauffeured by Alexis and Maurits, another hot Greek dude, to the magnificent palace of Dr. Seresion. The palace stands in beautiful, idyllic grounds with the following amenities: flower, rock and water gardens; tennis courts; croquet lawns; swimming pools and other sporting facilities; two theatres- one open-air, a butterfly house, a maze and a pagoda. See how the maze just sneaked in there, all innocent-like? Heh-heh-heh.

The rather sinister Dr. Seresion greets Bob and his other celebrity guests with the following speech. I’ve put in capital letters the sentence I feel to be the most portentous. The guests don’t seem to notice the undercurrents of menace running through the welcome speech, but then maybe I’ve seen more horror films than these guys have:

‘So, it is as fellow members of Mankind that I shall welcome you to my island. MAY YOUR YOUTH AND YOUR ENERGIES FILL IT WITH THE LIFE IT HAS SORELY CRAVED OVER THE YEARS. For that I welcome you- and wish you an enjoyable and fulfilling stay here.’

The guests include Bob, an obnoxiously brash and pushy journalist called Rowena and her photographer Mike, a young pop star called Brian who’s sweet on Rowena (unfortunately for him; she’s a total bitch!), a young heart-throb actor by the name of Simon and a ravishing young actress, Jenny Raine, who confounds expectations by not leaping into bed with every male starlet who looks at her twice. A woman of principles, eh? Curiouser and curiouser…

The press, as personified by Rowena, don’t come off very well in the screenplay at all. Here’s what Jenny thinks of Rowena and her ilk:

‘That’s what Ro and the rest of her species offer us: instant celebrity- ‘Be nice to me, do what I want, say what I want you to say and, if I feel like it, I’ll make you into a sexual icon to be worshipped and adored by millions.’

Jenny, a thoughtful and insightful woman, has this to say on the subject of her and Bob’s so-called ‘celebrity’:

‘And there we all are- society’s golden calves with more money than sense- hiding behind giant egos frightened someone’ll suddenly find out we’re not really divine at all… just pathetically mundane like everyone else.’

She’s rather an extraordinary woman, is this Jenny. I certainly hope she makes it to the end of the story. Some people don’t, you know, because there’s a serial killer loose on the Island of Dr. Hibbert (sorry!) who seems to be hell-bent on bumping off the famous guests.

But why? And who is it? And is it anything to do with the sound of underground drumming that’s been bothering some of the guests? Are The Rolling Stones secreted somewhere on the island, giving impromptu concerts to the moles and the fishes?

There’s also the titular maze, of course, ‘enormously tall, perfectly trimmed hedges eerily floodlit in the darkness.’ Nothing bad could ever happen in a maze, I hear you say. Don’t you believe it. There was a maze in THE SHINING, wasn’t there? The maze on the island seems to have almost a sentience about it, like it’s a living, breathing thing. Let’s hope that it never gets… gulp… hungry… and… eeek… needs f-f-f-feeding! Yikes, Scoob, let’s get outta here…!

Guests are disappearing and no-one is exactly sure where or why. An enormous shrine to the mother of Dr. Seresion, the mother he never knew, is discovered in a fabulous pagoda on the island. Dr. Seresion maintains ‘the island has no secrets’ but, the deeper you get into both the book and the island, the more you are disinclined to believe him.

Alex and Maurits, ‘Dr. Seresion’s creatures,’ who ‘grovel to do his bidding’ but don’t have humps and a snaggle-tooth apiece, haha, are at pains to reassure the guests that everything on the island is all nice and normal, but surely even the more cerebrally challenged among their number can read the writing on the wall…?

Now, I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but I’ve decided to share one maze-related passage with you which I found particularly frightening and atmospheric:

His head is surrounded by leaves on four sides

As he endeavours to breathe through the encompassing foliage-

One arm becomes twisted behind his back,

As the leaves press around his body

Like the tightening coils of a large snake-

Pathetically he struggles to free his legs-

Arms…

And still they continue to press in on him…

Slowly squeezing…

And crushing his body…

Compressing it…

And smothering his face…

Blocking his ability to breathe in or out…

The leaves are inside his mouth-

Twigs slowly skewering into his eyeballs-

Piercing into his ears-

Trickles of blood…

Seep through the tightly packed leaves…

I won’t go any further with this passage, but it’s the stuff of nightmares. The maze stands silently in the moonlight. All is quiet. Yeah well, all is quiet now, sure, but there are times when it’s all go in there, trust me.

The ending is truly terrifying. Stephen King himself couldn’t have done a better job. It’s put me right off going into mazes, anyway. Not that I’ve been in many. In point of fact, I’ve been in none, and I’m not too sure if we have any here in Dublin, but even if we did, I wouldn’t be tempted anywhere near them. Too leafy for me…

So here you are giving shelter to the local looney. All terribly Hitchcock and noire. So, now what? Do you both get handcuffed together and run around the windswept countryside trying to learn the secret of the thirty-nine hedges?

Come to bleed me some more, daddy dearest?

The maze!- I know what’s at the centre!

I have to be kept alive… for the maze.

It’s coming for us! It’s coming!-

THE MAZE, E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL and ROBIN HOOD (see illustration) by Michael Armstrong are available to buy now from:

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: MICHAEL ARMSTRONG’S 1982 SCRIPT-BOOK REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

house shadows papa and victoria

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: THE SCREENPLAY. (1982) 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

‘Room for every nightmare… A nightmare in every room…’

The opening passage is lifted directly from Michael Armstrong’s own website and I think it describes his work better than I ever could, but I’ve been asked to say a few words myself in promotion of this fantastic new collection of books that he’s putting out, therefore I will now proceed to say several. Words, that is. Give me an inch and I’ll almost certainly take a mile. I’m a pushy broad and, anyway, there’s actually a lot to say about the man and his works.

Michael Armstrong (there’s a really cute photo of him on the back covers of all the books) is the screenwriter/director behind a load of films that you guys probably already know quite well. Some of you may even know his name already but, for others, this may be your first time hearing it.

Unlikely, as this rather prolific and obviously hard-working fella’s been penning film scripts for over fifty years, but you never know. Some folks who’ve been on Mars since the turn of the last century may need to be filled in on all the developments in the film industry since they’ve been ‘off-planet,’ so to speak…!

So, if you want to know where or how you might have heard of Michael before, I can tell you that he wrote the screenplays for the following films:

THE DARK- 1960.

THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring David Bowie in his first screen appearance.

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.

THE SEX THIEF- 1973.

ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.

THREE FOR ALL- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.

THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.

HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.

SCREAMTIME- 1981.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

LIFEFORCE- 1983.

Michael Armstrong’s writing is an absolute treat to read. Reading the pictures he paints with his words, as it were, is not much different to seeing them played out in front of you on the cinema screen.

I read the script of HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS on a dreary Monday morning when I was supposed to be doing boring housework. It was a more than acceptable alternative, I can assure you.

While I was reading it, I first amused and then annoyed the hell out of the family members present by constantly bursting out with: ‘They actually say this in the film! This is in the film, and this is in the film, and Christopher Lee actually DOES this in the film!’ And so on until they threw the book at me. The book and several cushions and a plastic sheep to boot. I said no more from then on, humph. I sulked royally and kept my additional (m)utterings to myself.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, the film-script book of which features a darling haunted house on the cover, wasn’t just a great slice of ‘Eighties horror hokum. It had the distinction of being the first and, as it turned out, the only film to ever feature the four greatest horror icons of all time all together, namely, the aforementioned Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and John Carradine as well. Horror royalty, every last one of ’em.

There was a great supporting cast starring alongside the lads as well, people like Desi Arnaz Jr., Sheila Keith, a smashing horror icon in her own right, and Julie Peasgood, you know, ‘er off BROOKSIDE. She played Fran Pearson in the early ‘Nineties.

I loved a nice bit of Brookie, I did, on a Sat’day afternoon back in the day. Eatin’ me dinner while the Omnibus was on the telly, like. I’m imagining these words in a Scouser accent, by the way, so you’d better be too, or I’ll ‘ave ta tell ya to do one, as it were. Quaite.

Anyway, Michael based his marvellous screenplay on the 1913 novel, SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE by the curiously named Earl Derr Biggers. (Incidentally, he was the writer of the Charlie Chan detective novels, so obviously he loved a good juicy mystery.) It’s the story of a young American novelist who holes up at the titular Baldpate Manor to speed-write a book in order to win a bet with his agent.

Baldpate Manor is in fact a magnificent old Welsh mansion that’s supposed to be deserted, the perfect oasis of peace in which to do some serious writing. Supposed to be deserted. In fact, it ends up being more populated than the post office on dole day, and the baffled novelist will have a hell of a job getting any writing at all done with all the famous faces popping up there continuously to distract him from his goal.

The script may have been based on someone else’s novel, but the little tributes and homages and nods in it to various other iconic horror movies like PSYCHO and THE FALL OF THE HOUSE OF USHER are all Michael’s idea and no-one else’s. His writing really sets a scene for the reader too. Here’s a passage in which the novelist, Kenneth, and the damsel-in-distress Mary (‘er off Brookie), are entering the fabulous old dining-room of Baldpate Manor:

‘They enter the dining-room and stare in amazement.

The enormous room is brilliantly illuminated by candles.

The long polished table is formally laid out: cut-glass and silver, sparkling royally.

By the fire: GRISBANE and VICTORIA and the mysterious figure of SEBASTIAN; a slight, gaunt-faced man in his sixties, wearing a wing collar and a dark suit.

The three of them are gathered in a conspiratorial huddle. They break quickly, like naughty children caught out. KENNETH stares in amazement at the scene before him.’

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: PAGES 73-74.

I don’t know about you guys, but I can totally picture that scene in my mind’s eye. I’m moving now to the scene where the motley crew enter Roderick’s room for the first time. I won’t tell you just yet who Roderick (perhaps I should say ‘Wodewick?’) is but, after reading these lines from the script, I reckon you’ll be bursting to know.

‘A silence hovers over the room as they move slowly about, looking in amazement at its bizarre sights: clues to Roderick’s warped mind.

A toy fort on the floor, laid out as for a savage battle…

Scores of soldiers scattered around as though dead; all horribly mutilated,

The aftermath of an imagined massacre.

MARY gives an involuntary shudder as she spies in the corner of the room…

Piles of small animal bones neatly arranged into heaps,

Skeletons of dead rats and mice…

Hundreds of tiny white bones glinting in the candlelight:

Tiny white bones picked clean.

KENNETH glances behind him to notice the back of the bedroom door…

Down which enormous scratch marks can be seen…

Indicating the powerful fury of strong fingernails having clawed deeply

Into the dark oak wood.

VICTORIA indicates a narrow panel at the bottom of the door.

VICTORIA: I’d slide food into him through there… every night…

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: PAGES 105-106.

Cripes! Fair sent a shiver down my spine, that did, when I read it there in black and white. It’s every bit as effective as the corresponding scenes in the film, if not more so. Sometimes, when you read something really chilling, your mind works overtime visualising the scene and you do a better job yourself than the film-maker, almost.

It looks like Kenneth, the successful writer from America, isn’t going to get much work done in good old Baldpate Manor over this particular weekend. When the house is at its fullest, it contains the grim-faced Papa Grisbane and his daughter Victoria (Sheila Keith), his two sons Lionel (Vincent Price) and Sebastian (Peter Cushing), the posh rich property developer Mr. Corrigan (Christopher Lee) and the warring young couple (played by Louise English and Richard Hunter) who’ve lost their way while hiking.

Then, of course, there’s Kenneth the writer himself and also the blonde and bubbly Mary, his publisher Sam’s secretary. At least, that’s who she says she is, anyway. Sam the publisher (Richard Todd) even makes an appearance at Baldpate Manor at one point, and then there’s also the ever-present, rather sinister shadow of Roderick Grisbane.

Roderick (Wodewick!) is the one strangely absent family member who appears to have slipped through the rather gaping cracks in the family infrastructure somehow. And yet he’s tied up inexplicably in the reasons for the family’s converging upon Baldpate Manor on this particular night, this grim anniversary for which only the Grisbanes know the grisly reason.

What horrors lie behind Roderick’s stoutly locked bedroom door in the upper floors of the ramshackle old manor house and, once they are revealed, can the Family Grisbane withstand the after-shocks? Not to mention where all this intense Grisbane family stuff leaves Kenneth and Mary, the two truly innocent bystanders? Or are they? Truly innocent, I mean? I wouldn’t bet on it, dear readers. I wouldn’t bet on it…

In the extra features on the DVD of HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, Michael Armstrong reminisces fondly, alongside ‘er offa BROOKIE, about the making of the film. He talks so passionately and enthusiastically about it that it’s lovely to see. He comes across as the kind of guy who’d sit chatting to you in the pub about films till the cows come home, or the landlord calls time, whichever comes first.

So that’s it, anyway. I’ve said way more than the few words I was asked for but whatevs, it was an interesting subject and I enjoyed myself. Michael’s books can be purchased through his website and from Paper Dragon Productions, Michael’s publishers, and they’d make the perfect present for film buffs and students of cinema everywhere. I’m keeping mine for myself, however. Ain’t no-one but me getting their hands on these babies…!

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

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:

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

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. (1983) SCREENPLAY BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG. FILM REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

House shadows big 4

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS. (1983) DIRECTED BY PETER WALKER. PRODUCED BY MENAHEM GOLAN AND YORAM GLOBUS. SCREENPLAY BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG. BASED ON THE NOVEL ‘SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE’ BY EARL DERR BIGGERS. MUSIC BY RICHARD HARVEY.

STARRING CHRISTOPHER LEE, PETER CUSHING, VINCENT PRICE, JOHN CARRADINE, SHEILA KEITH, JULIE PEASGOOD, DESI ARNAZ JR., RICHARD TODD, LOUISE ENGLISH AND RICHARD HUNTER.

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

‘Room for every nightmare… A nightmare in every room…’

Aw, I love this marvellous old gothic horror-comedy film, famous for starring four of the most iconic horror legends of all time. Namely, Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine, the daddy of Bobby, Keith, Bruce and David and the founding member of what you might like to call the Carradine acting dynasty.

The screenplay was penned by Michael Armstrong, a screen-writer whose luxurious script-books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing over the last year or so. As the blurb above says, he’s actually publishing his entire screen-writing output in physical book form, and the books are utterly gorgeous. As I think I’ve remarked in another review of his work, they’re greatly improving the look of my personal library.

The film itself was shot in Rotherfield Park, an absolutely fabulous manor house in rural Hampshire in England. It’s the ‘House Of The Long Shadows’ all right, lit by guttering candles, furnished with all manner (all manor?!) of wonderfully gothic bits and pieces and riddled with tunnels and secret underground passages and tower bedrooms atop the winding staircases without which no self-respecting haunted house would be seen dead, as it were.

It’s the perfect setting for this darkly comic murder mystery movie set in Wales, in the house known as ‘Baldpate Manor’ to the taciturn locals. The film-makers, in fact, couldn’t have found a better, more atmospheric place in which to weave their cinematic web of lies, intrigue, deceit, betrayal, a little bit of lust and a giant dollop of honest-to-goodness tongue-in-cheek humour. It’s a film well worth your time and effort.

The four horror greats ham it up wonderfully as members of an ancient aristocratic family known as the Grisbanes. They’ve all converged on the magnificent old mansion house in the middle of a terrible thunderstorm to commemorate a grim and grisly deed that took place in the house forty years ago on this very night. It turns out to be a momentous family reunion…

John Carradine (1906-1988) plays the oh-so-prim-and-proper English paterfamilias, complete with one of those terrific old velvety smoking caps with the tassels hanging down from them that you don’t see anymore.

Despite the fact that, as we see in the film, he’s actually committed a rather dreadful crime, he’s a real stickler for the more pettifogging rules and regulations regarding manners and etiquette. He even calls other men ‘Sirrah!’ when he’s giving ’em a bollocking, lol. How posh is that?

His two sons Lionel and Sebastian are played by Vincent Price (1911-1993), who camps it up as theatrically as only he could do (‘I have returned…!), and a touchingly old-looking and humorously-lithping Peter Cushing (1913-1994).

He calls his brother Roderick his bwother Wodewick! According to the film’s back-story, Peter Cushing came up with the idea of the ‘lithp’ himself and the screen-writer Michael Armstrong was delighted with the actor’s little improvised bit of characterisation.

Christopher Lee (1922-2015), as handsome and as forbidding as Count Dracula himself, plays an upper-class property developer called Mr. Corrigan who has gate-crashed the Grisbanes’ grisly commemoration dinner for reasons of his own.

Cult horror actress Sheila Keith (1920-2004), she of FRIGHTMARE fame, does a top-notch job of playing Victoria, the only daughter of the Grisbane family. In her stiffly-starched black dress and severe hairstyle, she’s straight out of the Victorian era and therefore utterly perfect in the role. She’s known heartache in her time too, has Victoria. ‘He DID love me, I know he did! We were to be married! Oh, Ashley, Ashley…!’ Shades of GONE WITH THE WIND, much?

Desi Arnaz Jr., himself of good Hollywood stock, plays the American writer who holes up at Baldpate Manor for a couple of days to write a completed gothic novel and thereby win a bet with his agent. A twenty-thousand-dollar bet, to be precise, and most definitely not to be sniffed at.

I’ve often longed to be able to speed-write summat myself, only to be faced with the indisputable fact that I’m more of a literary marathon-runner than a sprinter. Still, you know what they say. Slow and steady wins the race.

Julie Peasgood, the blonde actress from long-running Scouser soap opera BROOKSIDE (I used to live for it!), is cast as the essential love interest. In the lovely ninety-minute documentary that accompanies the long-awaited DVD release of this cult horror-comedy, she acknowledges how absolutely lucky, lucky, lucky she was to have been included in the one and only film project ever to have involved these four horror greats. Damn right she was lucky, lol. It was the experience of a lifetime by anyone’s standards and only a handful of people were privileged enough to receive invites, as it were, to the party.

The film, directly or indirectly, references a load of other films in an affectionate homage, everything from PSYCHO to THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, from GONE WITH THE WIND (see above) to James Whale’s THE OLD DARK HOUSE. 

Not to mention just about every horror picture ever made that featured a revolving bookcase leading to a secret tunnel by which the killer could freely roam about gaining access to every room in the house and all his hapless victims, too.

The murders are terrifically gruesome and grisly and the plot twists really do come thick and fast. So much so, in fact, that to this day I still don’t understand the very final plot twist, the one that comes just as the film is ending. Never mind, though. It doesn’t really matter.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is a superb piece of horror memorabilia that every collector should own. The four horror legends have great fun sending each other- and themselves- up, to the point where they’re almost parodying themselves and their old horror roles, and the fun they’re having really does show.

What a labour of love. What a smashing souvenir to have of a wonderful old era of film that can never come again, what a perfect- and permanent- reminder of those golden days. Watch it and love it. How could any of us horror fans do otherwise…?

Michael’s books can be purchased through his website and from Paper Dragon Productions, Michael’s publishers, and they’d make the perfect present for film buffs and students of cinema everywhere. Here are the direct links:

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

If you want to know where or how you might have heard of Michael before, I can tell you that he wrote the screenplays for the following films:

THE DARK- 1960.

THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring David Bowie in his first screen appearance.

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.

THE SEX THIEF- 1973.

ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.

THREE FOR ALL- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.

THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.

HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.

SCREAMTIME- 1981.

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS- 1982. The only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

LIFEFORCE- 1983.

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:

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

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor