MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
REGIONS OF DARKNESS. (1971)
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…’
‘Demons are our bad desires that have been suppressed.’ Sigmund Freud.
‘Within every human being, suppressed deep in his sub-conscious, lie the impulses of his own demonic origin. They are latent, always unwholesome and intensely horrific.’ Geoffrey Harding.
Simone looks at the closed door, half-hidden in the shadows at the end of the corridor…
I love REGIONS OF DARKNESS, originally intended to be one half of a Michael Armstrong/Hollywood horror movie double bill along with his screenplay THE LAMIA, but unfortunately this idea never came to fruition, for reasons you can read about in A History of the Screenplay in the REGIONS OF DARKNESS film script book. The book is out now from Michael’s publishers, Paper Dragon Productions.
I also love that screen-writer Michael Armstrong researched his screenplay by boning up, if you’ll excuse the rather obvious pun, on the works of that shy, retiring character known to history as Donatien Alphonse Francois, the Marquis de Sade.
De Sade’s oeuvres abound with graphic depictions of sexual fantasies involving violence, often extreme violence, sado-masochism, rape, sodomy and other, erm, things like that. Not the type of thing you’d read aloud to a blind and infirm aged aunt, in other words, not unless said aged aunt had been quite the swinger in her youth. Ahem.
Just to say, incidentally, that graphic depictions of sexual fantasies involving violence, often extreme violence, sado-masochism, rape, sodomy and other, erm, things like that, are also to be found in REGIONS OF DARKNESS, but naturally, here, none of it is gratuitous and is all done purely for the sake of art and the furtherance of story. Ahem again. Naughty Michael Armstrong…
This is the creepy tale of a beautiful young Frenchwoman called Simone Rangod, who comes from France to live in a gorgeous but spooky English country house where she has been engaged by a Mrs. Alice Harding to work as an au pair.
Alice Harding’s three sons, who all still live with her, are grown-up and not likely to need tucking into bed with a bottle of warm milk and a re-telling of Peter Pan, so Simone can take it that she’s here to help with the housework and not with the rearing of the sons, Peter, Roger and Eric Harding.
That’s not to say that the sons are oblivious to her not inconsiderable Continental charms. Eric, in particular, the widowed Mrs. Harding’s adopted son, takes a shine to Simone and she to him. She leaps willingly into Eric’s bed, but it’s not long before Simone is asking herself some pretty serious questions.
Why does Eric never leave the house? (Eric: I never leave the house.) Why do his mother and brothers keep such a close eye on him? Why is one half of the mansion closed off? (Okay, that could genuinely be just a housekeeping issue, but still…?)
Why do the family still set a place at table for the deceased paterfamilias, and why, in general, do they act as if Geoffrey Harding, the dad who died, is still alive when he’s, erm, not? ‘Sometimes, the way they all carry on, you’d think he was still alive.‘
Why are his paintings so gruesome, depicting nightmarish scenes of torture and cruelty the way they do? Was Geoffrey Harding, Esquire, sick in the head or what? Does this upcoming snippet of conversation shed any light?
Alice: My husband was a painter…
She notices Simone’s face, as she stares at the collection of ghoulish paintings.
Alice: He never seemed interested in doing landscapes or bowls of fruit like most artists.
Simone stops by one wall, on which hang portraits of young men interspersed with several nightmarish faces.
Alice: He met Austin Spare once- the painter- who got him interested in atavism.
Alice: … It’s to do with discovering one’s previous existences. My husband actually wrote a book on it called: THE DEMON IN MAN- hardly a bestseller but if you’re interested I can lend you a copy- provided you’ve got a strong stomach and don’t frighten easily?
Simone: Thank you, but I think these paintings will give me enough nightmares already…
Demons, eh? The plot thickens. And the more Simone tries to find out things about the Hardings and her beloved Eric, the murkier things appear. Doors open and close in the house, but no-one’s there when Simone goes to investigate. Demonic-looking faces peer in at her from the windows.
Eric’s self-portraits (yes, he’s an artist like his adopted Pops, Geoffrey Harding) are almost more horrific than his father’s…
Simone: … Why are they all so cruel?
Eric: Then that’s me. It must be. Through painting each one, I discover more and more about myself.
Simone: They’re like his (Geoffrey’s) paintings … They’re just like his paintings.
Eric: He taught me …
A shiver just ran through me there when I re-read that bit. Shades of Dorian Gray, much? Shades of M.R. James too, later on, when the young rent boy encounters the dust-sheets in the deserted part of the house doing that thing that sheets in ghost stories do. Here’s another snatch of conversation between Simone and Eric:
Simone: Eric, tell me? What is it you dream about that’s so frightening?
Eric: Myself … my previous existences, the torment of my soul … my death …
Okay, so, either he’s a giant narcissist, who could benefit from going out into the world a bit and seeing that there are other things out there to obsess on besides himself, or a raving lunatic. I’ll give you just one more clue to the mystery that’s unravelling chez Harding, and it’s Peter’s answer to Simone’s question, what is atavism?
Peter: It’s a way of tracing back all your previous existences … earlier existences … back to the point of pre-human consciousness … to the time of creatures that were half-human, half-beast … and then even earlier … to our very beginnings. And that’s when he (Geoffrey Harding) found the source within those dark secret regions of his sub-conscious.
Well, I’ve said too much. This is another terrific, atmospheric story from Michael Armstrong that would have made a great horror film. I know that Michael had his own ideas as to whom he would have cast in the roles of Eric and Simone, but I’ve had a couple of brainwaves too.
For Eric, Shane Briant, a posh blonde frilly fellow best known for his performances in four Hammer horror films, including one aptly called DEMONS OF THE MIND, in which his frilliness and incestuous brain-sickness know practically no bounds.
A Hammer actress for Simone, a beautiful Frenchwoman called Yvonne Monlaur, whose sexy accent would charm ze birds from ze trees, and no fooling. I wonder what Michael would make of my two choices?
I love his own choice of the legendary Diana Dors for the part of Mrs. Ellesmere, the astonishingly well-read cook and charwoman to the Hardings: I like a bit of Dostoyevsky now and again. Doesn’t take so long to read as Tolstoy…!
REGIONS OF DARKNESS is available to buy now at these links:
‘Let us speak of unwholesome things. Let us speak of our inner desires and private fantasies; our secret impulses. For a vision of hell, look into the deepest regions of your own being.’
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