THE HUNT. (1965/1969) THE MICHAEL ARMSTRONG SCREENPLAY BOOK REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

THE HUNT. (1965/1969)

PUBLISHED IN 2022 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

The screenplay for Michael Armstrong’s THE HUNT was actually written twice, if you please. Once in 1965 as a sort of story-telling exercise to satisfy Michael’s own insatiable desire for learning and self-improvement (and, I daresay, his need to be Always Writing Something, an affliction from which most writers, including myself, suffer!) and again in 1969 with the intention of filming it as a short film of about twenty-five minutes duration.

It could then appear in cinemas accompanying a longer film. There were backers and a wonderful location and no-one was breathing down Michael’s neck trying to stunt his creativity. Happy Days!

He was inspired to write the screenplay after seeing his RADA chum Kenneth Cranham performing a mime of a soldier jumping in to a lake to avoid captivity, then swimming like billy-o, being shot and gracefully sinking to his death in an elegant slow motion.

The 1965 version of THE HUNT is shorter and simpler than the later one. We know straightaway that a young man, no more than a boy, really, is desperately running away from something or somebody, and we get a very real sense of his terror:

He glances behind him,

Scared-

Through foliage-

Which becomes-

Thicker-

Darker-

. . .

He stops,

For a moment,

Against a tree-

Almost hiding-

Almost crouching-

And looks behind him-

. . .

On, he runs-

Frightened-

His face is scared-

He runs-

On-

On-

It’s impossible not to want to offer the poor young fella a place to hide and a bed for the night with some hot food, especially when we find out that he is being pursued by a trio of determined soldiers.

What do they want him for? I very much doubt if it’s to give him a medal, or the chocolates and fragrant bath oils he lavishes on all his employees! (A Mr. Burns joke from THE SIMPSONS there, forgive me!)

In fact, one gets the disturbing feeling that something very unpleasant is coming down the track for this poor lad, and, even as we urge him on with all our might, things just keep going from bad to worse with him:

Gone are the sounds of the forest-

The hunt is on again-

As panic flashes into his face-

The terror has returned,

The fear,

As he frantically looks for somewhere,

Anywhere to run-

The THREE SOLDIERS are nearer,

Still at the same steady jogging trot-

The BOY

Darts away-

Flashing through the forest-

On-

On-

On-

And they follow-

The ending is shocking, and wholly unexpected. I won’t give it away. You’ll have much more fun reading the screenplay and finding out for yourself, hint hint, lol.

The 1969 screenplay has been filled out a good bit so that it could be made, as I said, into a short film of about twenty-five minutes in length. We still have our soldiers in pursuit, but this time we are shown the reason they are pursuing the young man. The chase is on once more, but with one or two little differences, or should I say, additions.

The bit where the young man being pursued meets up with a beautiful young girl and they start laughing and dancing and cavorting all around the meadows and whatnot really speaks to me. Michael, as a posh RADA type, had Beethoven’s Symphony No. 2 in mind for the music, but, for this scene in particular, I would personally use either of these two pieces of music:

  1. Men Without Hats; the Safety Dance. (We can dance if we want to, etc.)
  2. The Turtles: Happy Together.

Michael will probably choke on his posh-person coffee when he reads these suggestions, lol, but I could see them working, I totally could! (It’s the kind of scene you might see in the aforementioned SIMPSONS; a scene where Homer is happily prancing about singing or laughing joyfully, only for it to be revealed that he’s actually asleep at the wheel and about to unwittingly drive off a cliff . . .)  

Anyway, things go pear-shaped for the poor young fugitive almost immediately after his brief dalliance with his beautiful maiden:

THREE FIGURES can be seen moving through the trees-

Gone is the silence-

The hunt is on again-

As panic-

Sets him running frantically-

The THREE SOLDIERS are nearer-

He darts away-

Running-

On-

On-

Will the desperate young man ever ‘reach the winning post,’ and ‘the gleaming, prize-winning cup it has to offer,’ or will he go the way of our hero in the 1965 screenplay version? I’ll never tell, but it would be well worth your while to check the story out for yourself.

The foreword of the screenplay book is written by Kenneth Cranham, Michael’s RADA chum who pretty much inspired the whole shebang, and Michael himself has penned detailed, affectionate accounts of what it was like to shoot the 1969 production, which make for fantastic reading:

Michael: My favourite image of that day, however, will always be that of seeing Olive Negus-Fancey (Michael’s backer, whose farmland he was using for the shoot) perched on a tractor, happily ploughing a field.

Aw, wish I’d been there!

By the way, what ultimately happened to ‘the only film I ever shot and edited to my own satisfaction?’ (Michael’s words.) Well, again, reader, you’ll have to read this beautiful, glossy-covered screenplay book to find out.

One last word, though it’s neither Michael’s nor my own.

Q. What three things go to make a great film?

A. The screenplay, the screenplay, the screenplay!

Find out to whom these words are attributed in the book . . .

  You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other works as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

THE FINAL CHAPTER OF DR. CHEKHOV. (1990) THE MICHAEL ARMSTRONG SCREENPLAY REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

THE FINAL CHAPTER OF DR. CHEKHOV. (1990)

PUBLISHED IN 2022 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

‘You can’t stop him writing. It’d be like stopping him breathing.’

‘I wouldn’t want to be known as the man who killed Anton Chekhov.’

‘The worst thing’s my haemorrhoids. I’ve had them for years but, now, it’s like they’ve taken on a life of their own.’

I think this is my favourite screenplay of Michael Armstrong’s, and this is the guy who penned the screenplays for MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970), a gruesome but frighteningly real depiction of eighteenth-century witch-burnings, 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, and 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.

This screenplay tells a part of the story of Anton Chekhov (1860-1904), the Russian medical doctor, playwright and short story writer whom some people consider to be the greatest writer who ever lived. Certainly he’s Michael Armstrong’s personal favourite author. I devoured the screenplay book as if it were a shockingly sexy bonkbuster or unputdownable thriller, not even setting it aside to eat.

It’s so full of gossip, inside information, humour, bitchiness and wit that it makes you feel like you’re genuinely privy to a slice of Anton Chekhov’s life, and that it was a life of variety, romance, learning and culture mixed with the inevitable sadness and loss.

When we meet the man himself, he is living in splendour in his mansion with his doting mother Yevgenia, his embittered father Pavel, a failed shopkeeper who used to beat his offspring savagely when they were young, a servant, Katerina, a drunken but satisfactory cook called Darya and, most important of all, his devoted sister Masha. Masha adores Anton and is prepared to embrace a life of perpetual spinsterhood in order to be able to take better care of him. That’s some sisterly devotion.

Anyway, the screenplay starts off with Chekhov reacting with anger to a poor reception of his play, THE SEAGULL. He is determined to have done with the theatre from then on. Until his pal, Vladimir Nemirovich-Danchenko decides, A, to open his own theatre company, and, B, to include Anton’s play THE SEAGULL in its opening season…

Anton: ‘No thanks! I’ve already had my fingers burnt twice. A third time and I’d probably be entirely incinerated.’

Chekhov has some fixed ideas about his own value as a writer:

Anton: ‘… the reason I don’t pursue writing exclusively is because I don’t personally think I’m all that good at it whereas I find being a doctor a more reliable and, indeed, rewarding job. If you’d like an analogy, you might say, I’m married to medicine and writing’s my mistress…’

He also comments: ‘I’m just a short story writer considered fashionable in drawing room circles but of no real worth elsewhere.’

So, will Chekhov allow his chum to perform THE SEAGULL in his theatre? That remains to be seen, dear reader. But hear this. Chekhov is full of statements of intent and fixed ideas about things, but he has been known to change his mind.

For example, here’s what he thinks about marriage:

Anton: ‘I’ll never get married. I know women too well. They’ll lie to you at least five times before they’ve even had time to wear out a pair of shoes.’

So, why, if he feels so strongly against mawwidge (The Princess Bride), I mean, marriage, why does he find himself thoroughly spliced in holy matrimony to one of Russia’s most famous actresses, Olga Knipper, halfway through the book? Heh-heh-heh. Looks like Russia’s hottest literary bachelor has been caught, hook, line and sinker…

Masha and Olga are friends at first, until Masha discovers that Olga, whom she supposes to be a gold-digging hussy and social climber, has gone and married Anton on the sly. Well, I never…! The very idea.

Each of them struggles to be mistress of the house and mistress to Anton, while Anton is content not to make a choice but continues to let himself live comfortably and do his writing and doctoring while being fussed over and pampered by his two ladies. The scenes where the two women openly fight over this one man are hilarious, and could just as easily be set in today times. ‘Get yo’ filthy hands off my fella, bitch!’

Mind you, the poor chap is dying…

Anton to his doctor: ‘Dr. Obolonsky, let’s save a lot of time by my saying I do know what’s wrong with me. My brother Nikolai died of it. I know there’s no cure.

Dr. Obolonksy: How long have you known you’ve had it?

Anton: Since the first signs. The only thing I haven’t been certain of was its state of advancement.

Dr. Obolonsky: Until today.

Anton: Until today.

We know this from quite early on, so we can see how Chekhov tries to live his life in the present without worrying too much about the future, in so far as it’s possible for him to do so. He writes his plays and his stories, and he carouses and hobnobs with the great artists of the day like Ivan Bunin, Maxim Gorky and Leo Tolstoy, even Sergei Rachmaninoff and Peter Ilyich Tchaikovsky, the famous composers.

He has his family, who worship him, and Olga, who double-worships him, lol, though he claims not to like all the fussing. Yeah, right. Here is Anton, telling his sister Masha the almost outrageous conditions under which he has agreed to marry Olga:

Anton: ‘I told her I wasn’t remotely interested in marriage unless it guaranteed absolutely no change in my life, whatsoever; not in my working habits, my relationships- especially with friends and family . . . and with you, my dearest and closest and only true friend.’

Masha: ‘And she agreed?’

Anton: ‘Yes.’

Masha looks at him cynically. ‘And you believed her?’

Anton: ‘Yes.’

Typical bloke, wanting it all his own way.

When Masha is told by a friend, Ivan Bunin, that she should use Anton’s marriage to Olga as a great opportunity to go off and start enjoying her own life, she replies: ‘My own life? I don’t even know what that is.’

Well, now’s your chance, Masha, love.

Anton gets so lonely when Olga is off actressing. He says on one such occasion to Maxim Gorky: ‘Melville’s a good writer but he does go on a bit,’ to which Gorky replies: ‘Clearly a great white whale’s no substitute for an absent wife.’ Snigger.

Those of you who know me and my writing will know that I’ve been reviewing Michael’s screenplay books for the last few years. The gorgeous thick book of THE FINAL CHAPTER OF DR. CHEKHOV (1990) makes for deeply absorbing reading.

It, or any of Michael’s glossy and luxurious film script books, would make the perfect Christmas present for the film fan in your life. Or you could buy it for yourself, and to hell with them…! You know they’re only gonna buy you a LYNX gift set in return…

You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

Happy shopping!

‘Once you can actually see death directly ahead of you, beckoning to you: days, months, years suddenly seem to fly by, which makes you very conscious of your mortality . . . and that, I find, is a most humbling experience . . .’ Anton Chekhov to a friend.

THE BLACK PANTHER. (1977) THE MICHAEL ARMSTRONG MOVIE AND SCRIPT-BOOK REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

THE BLACK PANTHER. (1976)

PUBLISHED IN 2017 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

THE BLACK PANTHER. (1977)

DIRECTED AND PRODUCED BY IAN MERRICK.

WRITTEN BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG.

STARRING DONALD SUMPTER, DEBBIE FARRINGTON, MARJORIE YATES AND SYLVIA O’DONNELL.

FILM REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

Wow. This film is surely a forgotten or overlooked gem. It’s the deeply gripping and compelling story of ex-military man Donald Neilson’s bizarre and excessively violent crime spree, that took place between the years of 1972 and 1975 in England.

It was characterised by a lot of idiotic bungling, not to mention impulsive actions and poor judgement on the part of Neilson. The police were baffled for a while by the messy and seemingly poorly-planned crimes committed by the man the press dubbed ‘the Black Panther’ because he always wore a black hood and was quick and light on his feet, this last being pretty much his only redeeming feature as a criminal. Other than that, one would be obliged to say, I fear, that he greatly sucked at committing crimes, lol.

He starts off in the film robbing a load of country post offices with his shotgun while wearing his ‘Black Panther’ disguise. He usually ends up botching the job, however, like the time he accidentally sprays an ammonia solution intended for his victim into his own eyes.

How bizarre it must have been for the poor post-master in his pyjamas, to open his door and then find the would-be robber falling all over the place, screaming and pawing frantically at his temporarily blinded eyes! I call that poetic justice.

Neilson invariably wakes up the people he’s trying to rob and then, of course, the whole operation goes tits-up and he ends up running for his life, having shot someone fatally and escaped with only a few bags of coins for his trouble.

Even the way he’s trained himself to run with rocks in his backpack and stones in his clothing so that he can carry away coins from a burglary just shows us what a pitifully small-time crook he is. He’s even then only thinking in terms of pennies and tuppences.

He gives his wife and daughter a miserable life, with his monosyllabic bullying, shouting and domineering. ‘Dirty! Clean it better! Clean it again!’ He treats them both like raw recruits under the rule of a prickly sergeant-major.

He disappears for weeks on end, telling his wife he’s ‘looking for work,’ so why does he never have any money? Because his money-making schemes and plans never come to anything, that’s why. Why doesn’t he just work a normal job for his money? He mightn’t be rich, but at least he wouldn’t be in constant danger of being picked up by the cops for burglary and murder.

It’s clear that the happiest days of Neilson’s life were spent in the army. He spends hours dressing up in his old kit, poring over old photos of him and his army buddies doing army things.

He should never have left the army, as he’s only comfortable there; he’s probably perfectly happy with the rules, regulations, strict timetable and structure, regular meals and bed-times and showers and changes of linen, etc. He clearly loved the company of other men, the camaraderie of living and working side-by-side with them.

He’s never been happy or comfortable in or with civilian life. He probably got married and had a child because it was expected of him. Now three people are miserable because of it, and Neilson treats his family like underlings in his own private army. No wonder they can’t wait to see the back of him when he goes off on his ‘jaunts.’

It was said of mass murderer Ed Gein that he enjoyed prison immensely- the regularity of things, the company of living people- because it was far preferable to the way he was living outside on his own.

I imagine that Neilson would have loved prison nearly as much as he’d loved the army. It’s much the same deal. Three hots and a cot, things happen at the same time every day, you keep your mouth shut and follow orders and you’re surrounded by other men like you who aren’t going anywhere either for a while.

Neilson is also a highly dangerous man, however, probably a sociopath, one who throws tantrums like a child when he doesn’t get his own way and who blames others for his own failings. We see this with our own eyes in the film. For the safety of the public, he needs to be kept away from society forever.

He decides to up his game for what I presume he doesn’t know is to be his last ever ‘job,’ the abduction for ransom of sixteen-year-old Lesley Whittle, the heiress to a motor coach transport company. Neilson plans the kidnapping down to the nth degree, but he complicates things as usual and, as usual, it comes off disastrously for all parties concerned. 

He spends countless hours in preparation, making lists in his notebook, checking his plans, his outfit, his travel routes and his ammunition, guns and equipment before he goes out on the ‘job,’ but it still all goes haywire. Why?

Well, I’m sorry to say that he just looks and sounds like one of life’s failures, a nobody who thinks small and is going nowhere. Why doesn’t he do a regular job and make money that way, as I said earlier? He’s handy enough. I wonder why it never occurs to him to pursue a life outside of crime?

It’s a very hard film to watch, because of all the innocent people in it who are hurt almost randomly by Neilson. Contrary to claims levelled at it at the time of release, however, it most definitely is not a sensationalistic piece of exploitation film-making designed to titillate and arouse the viewer.

Certainly not. It treats the painful subject matter delicately and responsibly, and the lasting impression of the film is one of deep sorrow for the victims of Donald Neilson, a petty little man who obviously thought he was bigger and vastly more important than he was.

The script-book, from which the film is of course made, is beautifully and tightly written. There’s not a single extraneous word in there, not one word there that does not sing most eloquently for its supper. The film, therefore, is not bogged down by endless monologues and verbiage. It moves along at a cracking pace.

And, yes, it shocks us, but not gratuitously. There are no scantily-clad busty blondes in it, shrieking at the presence of the hooded man pressing a gun into an expanse of soft white breast before he throws the woman down on the bed and brutally rapes her. Sorry if that’s what you were expecting…!

Those of you who know me and my writing will know that I’ve been reviewing Michael’s screenplay books for the last few years. The book of THE BLACK PANTHER (1976) makes for absolutely compelling reading. It, or any of Michael’s glossy and luxurious film script books, would make the perfect Christmas present for the film fan in your life. Or you could buy it for yourself, and to hell with them…!

You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

Happy shopping!

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG’S ‘THE ENCHANTED ORCHESTRA.’ (1979) THE SCREENPLAY BOOK REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS.

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

THE ENCHANTED ORCHESTRA. (1979)

PUBLISHED IN 2021 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’m delighted to be able to say that, after a brief hiatus, Michael Armstrong’s gorgeous glossy-covered screenplay books are rolling off the presses again. Just in time for Christmas, and just as you were tearing your hair out by the roots over what to buy the film buff in your life to show your love this festive season, lol.

In the unlikely event of your not recognising the name, I can tell you that Michael is a writer/actor/director who’s been working in the film industry for a very long time, knows it inside-out and upside-down, warts and all, and is famous for having written the screenplays (and, in some cases, acting in and directing) to the following films:

THE DARK- 1960.

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

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970. A gruesome but frighteningly real depiction of eighteenth century witch-burnings.

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.

‘Every year on midsummer night at the stroke of twelve, we come alive…’

THE ENCHANTED ORCHESTRA, sadly, is one of those screenplays that didn’t, for one reason and another, make it onto the big screen (See A History of the Screenplay for more detailed information), but I thoroughly enjoyed reading it.

It will appeal in particular to anyone with a deep passion for and knowledge of classical music (two things Michael clearly has in abundance), but also to those who like a side-order of child-like whimsy and wonder with their main course.

Intended to fuse both animated and spectacular live-action sequences, it would have translated, I think, into something truly glorious and multi-coloured on the big screen, and might even have become a perennial Christmas favourite with the nippers and adults alike. Let’s set the scene…

‘In England, King George V was on the throne, Noel Coward and Gertrude Lawrence ruled the popular stage and Jazz was here to stay. Poverty and unemployment may have filled the streets outside but the theatres and picture houses were packed, dance music was all the rage and the fashionable young people of London society indulged and frolicked as they always have done and probably always will…

And, in the world of classical music, a strange and mysterious legend was about to be born…’

It all sounds terribly decadent, doesn’t it? You half expect Jay Gatsby to pop up, bearing expensive gifts and yelling ‘Daisy! Hey, Daisy!’ up at Daisy Buchanan’s bedroom window in the manner of a vest-ripping Stanley Kowalski from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE.

We’re catapulted early on into ‘a young person’s dance party, being held in the huge garden of the Granville’s Mayfair House.’ In a scene straight out of Bertie Wooster, the handsome young hunk of the house, Robert Granville, and his posh but ditzy socialite fiancée, Amanda Harcourt-Compton, catch Robert’s nine-year-old brother, Peter, under the table at the party scaring the female guests with his pet toad, King. Can’t you imagine the horror of the Bright Young Things?

‘Peter, you beastly beast, how could you do something so utterly, utterly beastly, you little beast, you?’

Peter is the youngest member of the rich and cultured Granville family, of whom Sir Arthur Granville is its paterfamilias and head. He’s not a nasty Pa, though, he’s a tolerant and kindly one who even considers his son Robert’s beloved dance and jazz music on a par with the classical music he himself favours. In fact, he’s a conductor of classical music himself, and a man of some international renown. He’s passed on his love of classical music to his youngest son, Peter.

Young Peter is the main protagonist. He probably has two or three main things going on in his little nine-year-old life at the moment. One, his kindly, much adored but sexy Nanny is leaving him to marry his Uncle Henry, the dirty devil. She was only a factory girl, anyone?

It certainly does call to mind the trend in Wodehouse for rich and titled older men to lose their aristocratic heads over shopgirls, parlourmaids and tearoom waitresses. Much to the disgust of their money-grubbing relatives, I might add.

Peter’s Nanny, judging from the description, reminds me of a certain bosomy District Nurse Gladys Emanuel from sitcom OPEN ALL HOURS. Peter will definitely miss laying his head comfortably on her generous knockers of a bedtime, added to which he also has to get used to the idea that his primary care-giver from now on will be the odious Miss Grisby, ‘the archetypal strict governess, a fearful sight for any small boy.’

The other thing occupying all Peter’s attention at the moment is a concert at the Royal Albert Hall at which his very own father is performing, but which he himself is not allowed to attend because of his tender years:

At a huge hoarding outside:

NEWS CHRONICLE

24TH JUNE 1932

MIDSUMMER’S NIGHT GALA CONCERT

UNDER THE PATRONAGE OF THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING AND QUEEN

IN AID OF THE MUSICIANS’ BENEVOLENT FUND-

Peter is devastated that he can’t go, but must stay home with the awful Miss Grisby instead. He is determined to attend this magical gala evening, however, and employs the well-known tearing-and-tying-your-sheets-together-to-make-an-escape-rope method of leaving the house at night before hurrying to where the concert is being held, the Royal Albert Hall.

‘A slight fog is starting to settle

As PETER hurries along the lamp-lit streets…

Passing glimpses of London’s nightlife:

People in evening dress-

Paupers around Hyde Park-

Fashionable restaurants-

Carriages and automobiles…

The blinding dazzle of Harrods shop-windows,

Resplendent with tempting luxuries and fashions…

And on PETER runs…

The writing is so evocative, and the images so easy to see in our mind’s eye, that we have no difficulty in imagining ourselves right there with Peter, in that foggy, gas-lit London of nearly a century ago. In the hours that follow, the magic happens.

I can’t tell you too much for fear of spoilers, so suffice it to say that a small boy who loves music more than anything else in the world (except, maybe, for Nanny’s magnificent knockers), is introduced to a behind-the-scenes world of musical magic where instruments come alive and historical figures of immense greatness- Beethoven, Puccini, Verdi, Handel, Tchaikovsky, Wagner (Hitler’s favourite composer, lol), Strauss and Mussorgsky are only dying to come back to life and dispense their acidic wisdom.

We end up asking ourselves questions like, are musical instruments only as good as the human beings who play them, or can they, if left to it, make music on their own? Do musical instruments have feelings?

1st Violin: We feel things when humans play us.

Bass Drum: They hit me. I feel that.

Horn: Good.

Horn is clearly a bit of a sadist, lol.

The screenplay contains haunting descriptions of Stonehenge and the obliteration of Pompeii by the volcano Vesuvius. You’ll meet adorable little riverside creatures who could have hopped straight off the pages of Beatrix Potter and Kenneth Grahame, and you’ll get to watch Michael poke satirical fun at the double-barrelled nonsense of the Bright Young Things of the ‘thirties. Amanda Harcourt-Compton-Fink-Nottle, indeed.

On the back cover of this beautiful book (which, by the way, contains seventy-odd pages of fabulous illustrations) is a quote from myself, actually, saying that:‘The film fan in your life would be eternally grateful for a gift from this luxurious, glossy-covered collection.’

Well, Christmas is just around the corner, folks. You know what to do.

Ta-ta for now and kind regards,

Sandra Harris-de Cadenet-de Havilland-Little-Glossop.

You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

Happy shopping!

PLATINUM DREAMS. (1984) THE SCREENPLAY BOOK BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

PLATINUM DREAMS. (1984)

PUBLISHED IN 2021 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

My readers will be well familiar with Michael Armstrong by now, if they weren’t already. He is, of course, the famous British director and screen-writer who wrote the screenplays for the following films:

THE DARK- 1960.

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

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970. A gruesome but frighteningly real depiction of eighteenth century witch-burnings.

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.

That’s quite an impressive back catalogue, isn’t it, and that’s only a fraction of the screenplays Michael has penned over the years. As with all screen-writers, a few scripts are bound to fall through the cracks the odd time and not get made into films. This, sadly, was the case with PLATINUM DREAMS, the screenplay I want us to have a closer look at today.

As Andrew Porter, a good friend of Michael’s, says in his excellent foreword to the book, ‘Michael’s first task with PLATINUM DREAMS was to expose and satirise the hypocrisies of Hollywood- the platitudes hiding between the façade of show business glamour- the dream that is, in reality, no more than a mirage.

‘And the characters he created, similar to those in Fellini’s classic, LA DOLCE VITA, were doomed to live this pretence, prisoners of their hopeless ambition, eventually succumbing in a downward spiral of self-destruction…’

Cheerful, innit, lol. Michael himself, in the section of the film script book entitled A History of the Screen Play, says the following about his lead character Diane: ‘It was written to expose her interview, in hindsight, as a chilling and dangerous set of evasive platitudes hiding behind the façade of a glit & glam show business that, in reality, is no more than a mirage created to sell product…’

Let me explain what Michael means about ‘her interview’ in the lines above. PLATINUM DREAMS has a female protagonist- hear, hear!- called Diane Hayden. Diane is an attractive young English secretary to a minor music mogul.

She has no intention of remaining a humble PA forever, however. She wants to be the mogul, not just the assistant to a mogul. She’s fiercely ambitious, and she’s even prepared to be ruthless if she has to be.

She tries to advance in the company she works for, Centaur Records, but her progress is blocked every which way by the glass ceiling. In other words, the male executives progress up the ladder while Diane is patted on the head and told to be a good little quiet secretary and, look, here’s a nice bunch of flowers to keep you sweet, darlin’.

Diane explodes. She quits her job, breaks up with her boyfriend- after telling him unceremoniously that she was faking it pretty much the whole time- and catches a flight to Los Angeles on Centaur Records‘s tab. She doesn’t even tell her parents that she’s leaving. When they finally find out about it, it’s already a fait accompli.

Diane makes it big, really big, in the music industry in the City of Angels. Throughout the book, there are snippets of her being interviewed by a major showbiz magazine. (That’s the interview Michael is referring to above.) She’s quizzed about her life and her meteoric rise to the top, but the answers she gives are not the real ones.

She puts a glossy spin on everything and sanitises it, saying how lovely and polite and civilised everything was when we know from the rest of the narrative that her rise to fame was excruciatingly painful and head-wrecking and mired in drugs, booze, aimless thrill-seeking and sex with all the wrong people. (Erm, where do I sign up, please…?)

Not to mention the fact that you seem to have to kiss your values goodbye when you’re clawing your way to the top in an industry like the music business, in a city like Los Angeles, where all that glitters is almost certainly not gold. It’s much the same in the film and television industry and the modelling business as well, I imagine, though I’m no expert on the high life, haha.

Diane: ‘Money, sex, drugs and movies. Aren’t there any other topics of interest in this town…?’ That’d be a ‘no,’ love…

The story takes us through Diane’s relationships with the various men who populate her life as she goes on her journey to find fame, money and success in L.A. There’s Mel, a ‘lecherous ex-junkie songwriter,’ in Diane’s own words.

There’s a very funny bit where Diane is telling the interviewer how ‘spiritual’ Mel was, and how their relationship always remained ‘a purely professional one,’ on account of his wife and all. It was just all innocent fun and good hard honest graft.

What’s so funny is that her words are sandwiched in between two scenes where we clearly see Diane and Mel rutting like wild boars on the Apocalypse. There are many examples of this hilarious inter-slicing in the screenplay, and it’s just one of the many reasons it would have worked so well as a movie. Even in the book, though, you can actually see the irony…!

Anyway, then there’s the Jewish plastic surgeon with an extremely interesting background, Jerry Golba, who would be happy to make Diane his ‘kept woman,’ but Diane wants more than that. We get an insight here into the women who use Jerry’s services as a plastic surgeon, the ageing but rich women who will go to extraordinary lengths to ‘keep young and beautiful.’

One such woman tells Diane: ‘I say, if you’ve got imperfections, get ‘em fixed. Guys out there don’t go looking for women with imperfections. Ain’t that the truth?’ If it is the truth, then it’s curtains for the ninety-nine-point-nine percent of us with so-called imperfections…!

Jerry himself says of the ‘self-delusion and pretence’ that holds Los Angeles in a stranglehold: ‘It’s what I call the L.A. ‘disease’- a state of mind similar to being stoned. You lose track of what’s real and what’s an illusion.’ And of the lights of L.A. itself: ‘They’re nothing but bright lights, Diane. They may look pretty at night but they soon lose their glitter in the daylight.’ And ain’t that the truth…?

Finally, there’s Bobby, a very good-looking teenage gay guy with whom Diane has what could be termed a strange and unhealthy relationship. Things happen between them sexually that might have been called ‘rape’ had a man been doing them to a woman.

But Diane seems obsessed with Bobby, even though his much older millionaire lover, Paul Farrell, strongly disapproves and fears losing Bobby to this sexually aware and sophisticated English woman.

It’s a bizarre set-up, but it’s probably no more bizarre than any of the other sexual shenanigans that go on in the city of ridiculously lavish parties and anything-goes-as-long-as-you’re-young-and-beautiful-and-having-fun. I just despair of where it’s all going to end, that’s all…

I love the bit about the Charlie Manson-style ‘Children of the Avenger’ cult murders. Okay, yes, lol, I’m a ghoul, all right? Even though it’s gruesome and violent possibly beyond anything I’ve read before, I still loved it. I also love but kind of abhor the clear message the screenplay sends out that everyone in this city is disposable and no-one is irreplaceable.

For example, a guy who stars in a crime drama gets killed in the book. We’ll never forget him, everyone solemnly vows. Will the series he stars in be scrapped? Will it f**k. Here’s what someone in the ‘industry’ says: ‘Aw, they’ll find a way. Shoot round it like they always do. Use a double. Whatever. A few re-writes, no-one’ll miss him. Insurance’ll cover it. No big deal. Get their accounts department on it, they’ll probably even turn it into a tax loss.’

So much for ‘we’ll never forget him…!’

I’ll leave you with the following quote from Diane:

‘It’s all about winning, here. And if you’re not a winner, you’re some kind of lesser human being…. In Los Angeles, everyone comes- not to be the best at anything- but to be rich and famous- because that’s what making it’s all about.’

And so much for: ‘What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul…?’

PS, if you happen to meet Michael on the street some day, ask him from me if he’s got a female Rambo yet, he’ll know what it means…!

You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

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 Vampirology. 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

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

ORPHANAGE. (1980) THE SCREENPLAY BOOK BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

ORPHANAGE. (1980)

PUBLISHED IN 2021 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

This fantastic screenplay was intended to be written along the lines of the humongous ‘sleeper’ hit of the era, FRIDAY 13TH, and, yes, there are certainly loads of ‘killings’ in it, but, Michael being Michael, he actually put some great believable plot in there as well and gave one or two of his characters some genuinely heart-rending back stories and life issues.

And, knowing what we know nowadays regarding pretty much every state institution ever, from Mother & Baby Homes and industrial schools to children’s homes and Magdalen Laundries, it’s not difficult to imagine traumatic starts in life and horrific emotional scarring for all the poor kids who find themselves living in a state orphanage through absolutely no fault of their own.

The plot is set in an English orphanage, not an Irish one, by the way, and, thankfully, the kids aren’t being abused by the staff like they might have been over here, but, as it’s horror fiction, the protagonists do have a rather pressing problem of their own to deal with, namely a slasher-cum-paedophile killer who cuts a murderous swathe through their numbers like… well, I was going to say like a knife through butter but that’s not very original, is it? Think of something that’s very effective at cutting that’s not a knife and we’ll use that instead, lol.

Michael Armstrong, by the way, is the famous British director and screen-writer who wrote the screenplays for the following films:

THE DARK- 1960.

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

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970. A gruesome but frighteningly real depiction of eighteenth century witch-burnings.

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.

I’ve said this before, I know, but Michael Armstrong’s writing is an absolute joy to read. Reading the pictures he paints with his words is actually not much different to seeing them played out in front of you on the cinema screen. ORPHANAGE is particularly vivid. You’ll enjoy it, I promise you, although I must warn you all that the subject matter is very, very dark and some people just won’t be able for it.

We are all of us orphans in one way or another. All of us alone, isolated, looking for someone to hold onto, to love- and all of us are frightened of that shadow, that terrifying something, forever lurking just out of sight; that unexpected moment of death. It is the only thing in the world of which we can be certain; that it will always be there waiting to strike when we least expect it…

You know that guy? He’s sent the police this letter saying he’s going to do a whole load of murders next time. It was on the news.

The girl steps from a bus and crosses the road to start across some wasteland; a shortcut to her home…

Oh, horror films don’t frighten me. It’s when things are real… I mean, that’s different, isn’t it?

It doesn’t take long- especially if I cut through the woods…

Come and meet some of the kids, why don’t you? Mike is the hero, a teenage boy struggling with the twin unexploded bombs of the murder of his mother and his confusion regarding his sexuality.

Mike really likes an older guy called Brandon, but we don’t know yet if Brandon swings that way… Mike is someone with whom we can truly empathise, a decent young fella just trying to cope with the rotten curve-balls life keeps chucking at him.

‘I keep trying to fit in with the others but- all I really want to do is run away and curl up in a cave somewhere far away where no-one can ever find me.’ Poor Mike.

Terry is a bully, and, in particular, Mike’s very own special personal bully. The scene in which Terry forces Mike to act out some particularly graphic scenes from the book they’ve been studying in school, LORD OF THE FLIES, made me want to call Childline, and no kidding. Terry makes Mike’s life a misery, but Mike’s life is already tough enough. Someone should really put Terry back in his box.

‘Right! We’ve caught the pig! Now we do like they do in the book: we’re gonna stick him! Stick the pig and make him squeal! Make him wriggle! Stick him and kill him!’

 The little bollix, seriously.

Jan is a young black girl and she’s kind of Terry’s girlfriend. The scene involving their disastrous attempt at sex puts me in mind of Rachel screaming the following at Ross in FRIENDS: ‘It IS a big deal, it DOES matter and it DOESN’T happen to everyone…!’ Yeah, I think we can all guess what she’s talking about there, lol.

On the serious side, if Jan stays with Terry in the long-term, she’ll have a baby every year and a shiner every Friday and Saturday nights, and you can take that to the bank. Maggie is Jan’s younger, not-as-streetwise friend whom Terry delights in taunting.

Joey, an adorable five-year-old with obvious emotional problems and an unbreakable attachment to his teddy bear, is the kind of character that would just break your heart. He needs a mammy so much, and the one thing he doesn’t need is to be parted from his beloved teddy bear before he’s ready.

Anyway, one fateful night, the boss of the children’s home and his female co-worker go off to have dinner with someone who might possibly donate some much-needed cash to the home.

This makes it easier for the sick paedophile-killer who’s been stalking the home- and the kids- to gain access to the building… and the children who live in it… (Shades of Ted Bundy in the sorority house in Tallahassee, Florida, in 1978 here.)

The killer’s hand selects a knife with a serrated edge to the blade…

By the way, taking the short-cut home through the woods has never done any character in a film any good. Two of my favourite but possibly little-known movies from the early ‘Seventies can attest to this: THE APPOINTMENT and ASSAULT. In ORPHANAGE, there are some fantastically atmospheric scenes set in the woods in which characters get an overwhelming sense of impending doom.

There is someone else out there… in the darkness of the woods…

The screenplay puts me in mind of so many grisly things and serial killers. Peter Sutcliffe, the Yorkshire Ripper. The original Jack the Ripper and his letters to the constabulary. Ted Bundy, as I said, and any serial killer in the movies who’s ever skulked through a darkened dormitory in the dead of night with murderous intent.

The two above-mentioned films, THE APPOINTMENT and ASSAULT, but also a film about a children’s home and several mysterious deaths called NOTHING BUT THE NIGHT, featuring Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing and Diana Dors. Another film too, entitled WHEN A STRANGER CALLS. ‘Have you checked the children…?’ 

I don’t know about you guys, but I’m locking my bedroom door tonight and sleeping with the lights on…

By the way, all of these gorgeous glossy script books of Michael’s feature a chapter called: A HISTORY OF THE SCREEN PLAY. I always make a point of reading these because they usually contain hilariously funny anecdotes, cautionary tales and interesting snippets of showbizzy-type gossip from when Michael was actually sitting down to pen the film script in question. Read the one in ORPHANAGE and you’ll find out why Michael says: ‘That left me broke and stranded in Paris.’ Broke and stranded in Paris, lol. That’s such a writer thing to be…!

 You can buy this book and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

Joey continues drawing closer…

Every step taking him nearer to the open doorway…

His teddy bear…

And the waiting killer…

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 Vampirology. 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

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

MARK OF THE DEVIL. (1970) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©


MARK OF THE DEVIL. (1970) DIRECTED BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG. PRODUCED BY ADRIAN HOVEN. SCREENPLAY WRITTEN BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG AND ADRIAN HOVEN.
STARRING HERBERT LOM, REGGIE NALDER, OLIVERA VUCA, GABY FUCHS, UDO KIER, INGEBORG SCHONER, ADRIAN HOVEN AND HERBERT FUX.
REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

I absolutely love this film, but, if I tell you that vomit bags were issued to movie patrons during screenings of it in America, it might give you a teensy-weensy clue as to how violent and stomach-churning it can be at times. If you’re of a nervous or wobbly disposition, I strongly suggest you refrain from viewing it.

If, however, you’re like me and thoroughly enjoy a good witch-burning movie from the late sixties/early seventies, you’ll absolutely bloody love it. When a horror film starts with nuns being raped, you know it’s time to usher the kids up to bed, hunker down and open the wine. Some seriously adult stuff is about to go down…

The original screenplay was for a film entitled THE WITCH-HUNT OF DOCTOR DRACULA, the brainchild of producer Adrian Hoven, which (sadly?!) never got made. Instead, hot young British director Michael Armstrong was invited on board and he turned the film into pretty much the best witch-finding film ever made. It even out-witch-finder-ed Michael Reeves’s WITCHFINDER GENERAL from 1968 starring Vincent Price, and that’s a cracking film.

Although the finished product is a top-notch horror film, the production was troubled from the start. All the juicy, funny and even at times outrageous behind-the-scenes gossip can be found in Michael Armstrong’s gorgeous glossy screenplay book, MARK OF THE DEVIL, currently for sale from Michael’s own website and from his publishers, Paper Dragon Productions. I’ll pop links in at the end.

The film itself is unforgettable. Set in a village in seventeenth-century Austria, it begins with the local witchfinder, a hideous-looking villainous murderer called Albino, capturing the aforementioned nuns and one monk and sentencing them to death for allegedly practising witchcraft.

Without a shred of proof, a hint of a formal indictment or a ghost of a proper trial, I might add. But that’s just the way they did it back then. The nuns and monk die horribly, but that’s only the beginning of the viewer’s nightmarish trip back in time to witch-burning Europe.

Back in those days, you could accuse someone of witchcraft if they’d pissed you off even slightly or if you fancied taking their cow or pig for yourself. It seemed like all you had to do was point the finger and an angry mob would form behind you, baying for the ‘witch’s’ blood. Remember Homer in THE SIMPSONS? ‘I accuse Goody Flanders…!’

And these are only the locals. When the Church-and-state-appointed Witchfinder trundles into town in his carriage (which may have been used by a real witch-finder back in the day; filming was done in an Austrian castle which contained a genuine torture chamber and real, authentic instruments of torture), things are about to get a whole lot worse. Oh yes, they can get worse…!

The horrible local witchfinder Albino has accused a beautiful young barmaid called Vanessa Benedict of being a witch. Why? Because she won’t have sex with him and fights off his attempted rape of her, and who would blame her?

He’s a vicious, murdering thug who enjoys raping women and hurting people of either sex. He gets immense satisfaction out of pricking her with his infamous ‘witchfinder’s needle,’ looking for the so-called ‘Devil’s mark.’

Vanessa is brought before the ‘court’ of the new witchfinder in town, the stern Lord Cumberland, well played by Herbert Lom. Vanessa is thrown in jail to await the preparation of the formal indictment against her, much to the distress of Count Christian von Meru, Lord Cumberland’s young apprentice witchfinder.

The divinely handsome Christian (oh God, those beautiful eyes!)  is madly in love with the busty Vanessa and she with him, but Lord Cumberland advises Christian to put aside the temptations of the flesh and concentrate on ridding the world of the evils of witchcraft.

But Christian has extremely high ideals and morals, and when one fateful day he sees his adviser and mentor Lord Cumberland commit an act that no decent man of the cloth would ever so much as contemplate, he finds himself terribly torn, torn between his love of Mother Church and his love for Vanessa, a real human female who can fill his life with love, warmth and laughter. Which will he choose, and what will it cost him…?

The Austrian scenery- the mountains, the lakes, the rolling green hills- is stunning to look at (the hills are certainly alive), and I love the score as well. The film is most famous- or should that be notorious- for its torture scenes, and the reputation is warranted, I tells ya, warranted. Don’t you be telling me it’s not warranted. And if you tell me you think the film’s depiction of torture is too graphic, I’ll just say this: it all happened that way in real life, didn’t it…?

Poor beautiful Deirdre von Bergenstein and the young Baron Daumer experience the full benefits of Lord Cumberland’s dubious hospitality. What’s on the menu? Well, the thumbscrews, the rack, whipping, both on the body and on the soles of the feet, a special chair with nails sticking up out of it for the posterior and, for Deirdre, something so disgusting and terrible that vomit bags had to be issued alongside your cinema ticket back in the day. And some of them were actually used for that exact purpose, as well. By the way, I thought the water torture guy was getting off lightly at first, but, by the time we’d witnessed his total mental degeneration, I wasn’t so sure…

The film does an excellent job of showing us exactly why witch-finding was so popular back in those days. The Church benefited by confiscating the property and riches of any wealthy noblemen- or women- they accused of witchcraft.

The prisoners might escape with their lives if they signed their estates over to the Church, and if they refused to do so, they were burned as witches and the Church nicked their stuff anyway. Win-win, but not for the poor victims. Talk about a cast-iron, Church-and-state-sanctioned excuse for raping and pillaging. Disgusting.

I love Herbert Fux as Jeff Wilkins, the witchfinder’s heavy. He carries out the torture with such gusto! You don’t often get to see a man enjoying his job so much. Gaby Fuchs is wonderful too as the poor brutalised Deirdre, and Udo Kier and Olivera Vuco as Christian and Vanessa make an exceedingly good-looking couple. Does their story have a happy ending? You’ll have to watch this controversial cult classic to find out, folks. But keep those vomit bags handy, just in case…    
  
You can buy all of Michael’s screenplay books at the following links:
 
http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk
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 Vampirology. 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

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) THE SCREENPLAY BOOK BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

MARK OF THE DEVIL. (1970)

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

The witch-hunting film that was made from this screenplay we’re about to discuss was one of the most controversial releases of all time. I watched it recently, but, due to the horrifically realistic torture and mutilation scenes, I was watching it with my legs tightly crossed, my hands clamped firmly over my mouth, my ankles wrapped around each other and my eyes shut, lol, that’s how frightening it is. No part of the body goes unmutilated. No wonder vomit bags were issued at the box office along with your cinema ticket back in the day. I can’t really imagine getting through the movie without one…

MARK OF THE DEVIL started life as a screenplay called THE WITCH-HUNT OF DOCTOR DRACULA, penned by Adrian Hoven, an Austrian actor, film director and producer. Both he and his son Percy actually have small roles in MARK OF THE DEVIL, which is what the screenplay became when Michael Armstrong was invited on board the project as one of Britain’s most bankable, up-and-coming young directors, having just made THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR (1969).

Michael virtually re-wrote the entire script, also changing the title to a much snappier one, and then he filmed the whole shebang under difficult circumstances in a fabulous old castle in Austria that contained genuine implements of torture from the actual age of witch-hunting, a few hundred years or so ago. Michael Armstrong turned this film into a success story that out-box-officed Michael Reeves’ WITCHFINDER GENERAL (1968), probably the Big Daddy of the witch-hunting films.

What were the difficult circumstances, I hear you ask? Well, how much time ya got, lol? There were language barriers amongst the multi-lingual cast and crew, everyone else spoke German but poor Michael, the sound equipment went AWOL and a certain Adrian Hoven, backed up by some of the crew and very obviously put out not to be making DOCTOR DRACULA, placed obstacles in Michael’s path at various stages.

Sometimes, Herr Hoven would even film things without Michael’s permission or cut some of Michael’s work without so much as a by-your-leave. In particular, a fabulous scene Michael intended to put at the end of the film was brutally chopped out, and I personally think that it would have been the perfect nightmarish ending for the movie. But don’t worry, anything that was left out of the film is in the screenplay, and you can read it at your leisure in the comfort of your own home when you buy the book.

Wikipedia politely maintains that ‘Producer Adrian Hoven and director Michael Armstrong disliked each other intensely and often argued over the slightest of things,’ but if you want the full low-down on just how hard it was for Michael to get the job done with Hoven’s constant interference, read the chapters entitled A HISTORY OF THE SCREENPLAY and THE 1970 FILM in the book. Michael personally debunks some myths about the film in a manner both painfully honest and wickedly bitchy. Not to be missed, seriously. A moment’s silence for DOCTOR DRACULA…? No? Okay, moving on…

‘In the name of our beloved master, the Prince, I hereby proclaim that an attack by the powers of darkness has been sent against us. Be warned: the Devil is everywhere and can tempt any one of you so, wherever the hand of the Prosecutor points- you must not hesitate to follow.’

‘… and that this person has confessed before God to have committed sacrilege four times in the eyes of our crucified Lord for which he is sentenced to lose four fingers of his right hand and be tarred and feathered before being set loose to be chased through the streets like an animal until he falls dead.’

‘For such blasphemies you shall first be stretched on the rack till you confess that this child is really the Devil’s. Then you shall have your tongue torn from your head by the roots! Next?’

‘She’s the one who had intercourse with the Devil on Goat’s Mountain! He took her to his den in the guise of a little donkey, and there they fornicated all night long!’

‘Having confessed practising witchcraft in the sight of God, both prisoners have been condemned to death by burning.’

‘It’s so lovely here. This is my truth!- What I can touch and feel. It’s wonderful! Don’t you feel it?’

‘Can you only see through his eyes? Can you be so blind?’

‘We must never weaken in performing God’s work.’

‘I couldn’t find the Devil’s mark, my lord.’

Picture the scene, a primitive little town in Austria in the Middle Ages. Largely illiterate, uneducated and superstitious peasants and yokels caught in the stranglehold of Mother Church. If the Church says that this woman or that man is a witch, well, then, we’d better burn them at the stake, but not before we torture them to within an inch of their lives first to get a ‘confession’ of witchcraft out of them. Never mind that, under hideous torture, a person will confess to being a fan of Showaddywaddy’s music in order to get the pain to stop.

This screenplay does an excellent job of showing us why the Church was so gung-ho for witch-burning. They could confiscate the estates and monies of any nobleman so accused, and they could rape and abuse terrified young women by threatening them with being burned at the stake if they refused to submit to unwanted sexual attentions.

Albino in the screenplay is not a churchman, but he’s as bad as one. He’s the self-appointed local witch-finder and he’s a really nasty, ugly-looking and sadistic character. He accuses a beautiful, feisty young barmaid called Vanessa Benedict of being a witch when she, not unnaturally, refuses his sexual advances. She is thrown in jail and brought before the ‘court’ of Lord Cumberland, the official state-appointed witchfinder who has just arrived in town.

Christian to Albino on Lord Cumberland: ‘He’s been sent here by your Lord and Master, the Prince, and entrusted with the difficult task of tracking down and punishing all the witches in the region.’

Lord Cumberland supplants Albino as the town’s head witch-burning guy, much to Albino’s disgust. The only difference between them, however, is that Albino is an ignorant peasant and Cumberland an educated, wealthy aristocrat with the might and riches of the Church behind him. In terms of sadism, however, they are very much equally matched.

Cumberland is attended by his apprentice, the extraordinarily handsome Count Christian Von Meru, who is secretly in love with Vanessa and she with him. The charges against Vanessa, as dreamed up by Albino, are utterly ludicrous: ‘She’s ridden in the Sabbath. She is a witch. She’s mixed frogs and toads with her own blood… to poison Lord Cumberland.’ It seems like you could make up any old gobbledy-gook about a supposed ‘witch’ and the local simpletons would lap it up. The script really emphasises this aspect of those terrible times.

Poor Christian. He loves Vanessa with all the strength and compassion of his young man’s heart. But Cumberland has been ‘like a second father to him.’ Christian is committed to helping his boss to ‘free the world from all evil.’ How can the two things be reconciled?

And won’t Christian have to realise sooner or later that Cumberland has massive feet of clay- and a limp willy to boot- and is advocating torture, cruelty and unlawful murder in the name of a diabolically corrupt Church? Absolute power has corrupted absolutely in Cumberland’s case. Can Christian find the courage to be his own man, and, just as importantly, the man Vanessa needs him to be right now…?

The torture of poor, poor condemned Deirdre von Bergenstein made me feel weak and sick to read about it. It might be quicker to tell you what wasn’t done to her, haha. All the implements of torture you’ve ever heard about, like the rack and thumbscrews and the Witch-finder’s infamous pricking needle, are in here, plus a few you probably haven’t, like myself.

What is done to Deirdre in the script just before her burning at the stake is possibly the main reason for the vomit bags that were handed out at screenings of the film in America. Just be warned, that’s all.

Poor old Baron Daumer and the nobleman who gets the water torture are equally to be pitied. Well, almost. You can practically smell the corruption oozing from the words Cumberland utters to Baron Daumer:

‘Sign everything over to the Church and I promise you your life- otherwise I must denounce you as a sorcerer and have you executed.’  

There are some gorgeous stills from the film, both in full colour and in black-and-white, in the screenplay book, which would make a fantastic gift for fans of the movie. You can buy this one and all of Michael’s other books as well at the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

I’ll leave you with two of the scariest, most chilling lines from the script:

Christian: ‘But, then… where does safety lie?’

Cumberland: ‘There is no safety! Anywhere!’

You said it, Pops…

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 Vampirology. 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

Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: https://www.amazon.com/dp/1781994234

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG’S ‘ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE.’ (1976) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE. (1976)

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

VOICE: Emergency. Which service do you require?

Miss Friggin, an elderly lady: Police. There’s a sex maniac outside.

I remember once watching a brilliant old film of Buster Keaton’s, in which Buster’s character goes out one day to play a nice relaxing game of golf and ends up on the gallows, about to be hanged.

I forget the name of this film but, if you read the film-script book of Michael Armstrong’s hilarious sex comedy, ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE, like I just have, you’ll probably be able to work out why I connected the two oeuvres in my mind…

Derek: How anyone can turn a simple visit to a police station into a low-budget British sex comedy, I do not know …!

We first meet the titular private dick, Bob West, after he’s just delivered what used to be known as a jolly good seeing-to to a married woman, Gretchen Prentiss, whose husband’s out working nights.

Milkman: Morning, Mr. Prentiss. You’re up early?

Mr. Prentiss: Up early? I’m on nights this week.

Milkman: I bet the wife doesn’t like that?

Mr. Prentiss: Doesn’t seem to bother her.

Well, now we know why, lol. Why would she be lonely when she has Bob West, private dick, to keep her company? Although, to be brutally honest, Bob is not so much a private dick as the assistant to a private dick.

His boss, Judd Blake, is the one who really gets all the perks, the life of luxury and excitement … cocktails in St. Moritz, intrigue in Morocco, South of France on the yacht then straight off in a private jet to some dangerous assignment in South America or Tangiers …

Bob is understandably jealous of his suave, sophisticated boss. He works his way through secretaries like a chain-smoker. Judd Blake is handsome, debonair, middle-aged, elegant and vain, and, boy, doesn’t he know it.

Judd to the gauche, socially awkward Bob: Think yourself lucky you’re working for the biggest dick in the business. That says it all … But then one fine day, Judd and his latest secretary sweetie go away for a bit and Bob is unexpectedly left holding the reins.

Judd: Cases, Robert … cases.

Bob’s face instantly lights up.

Bob: Do you want me to handle them while you’re away?

Judd: No. I want you to take them down to the car.

The screenplay is chock-full of hilarious lines like that. Judd is adamant that Bob keeps his nose out of any ‘cases’ which may arise. He’s to hold the fort and take messages and that’s about it. But Bob has other ideas, especially when a gorgeous broad called Laura Sutton comes in to the office looking for help and mistakes Bob for his boss. Laura is a real hot tamale.

Laura: Let me explain. I used to be a professional model- fashion model. To be honest, I lived a pretty wild life, Mr. Blake … Until I met Ashley … Ashley Dotrice. It was love at first sight. The fact that he was eighty-seven and a multi-millionaire with a bad heart condition had nothing to do with it, naturally.

Oh, naturally. You can’t argue with love at first sight. Laura has a little problem, however. A nasty rotten anonymous blackmailer is threatening to scupper her lovely plans to inherit the now deceased Mr. Dotrice’s massive estate.

Will Mr. Blake please help her to see off the blackmailer so she can inherit her ancient lover’s millions without having to keep looking over her elegant shoulder? Bob, now cast ineluctably in the role of Judd Blake, Private Eye, eagerly agrees to help the stunning model in distress …

Laura invites Bob (still thinking he’s Judd Blake, his boss) down to Ashley’s rural seat, the rather sinister-sounding Grimsdyke Manor, to see what’s what. The house is chock-a-block with relatives and aged retainers.

There’s Craddock, the rusty old butler, and Zelda, the busty maid. There are Ashley’s two daughters: Medea, a tall, exotically attired woman with green hair who fancies herself as a bit of a psychic (I see the mark of death upon you), and Violet, step-mother to the well-endowed Clarissa and wife to spanking enthusiast Sydney Burke.

Violet: … We have a lovely house in Esher. Sydney built it. He’s a building contractor. Remember that block of flats that fell down last year? That was one of his.

So much for Sydney …! Anyway, Bob is determined to uncover the identity of Laura’s dastardly blackmailer and prove himself as big a dick as Judd Blake any day. Even if he has to bonk, screw, roger, diddle, fiddle, poke, pork, fondle, caress, ride, bump and grind, hump or jump the bones (did I leave any out?) of every female from Land’s End to John o’ Groats to do it. Well, or thereabouts …!

Sally, a desperate housewife: Then there’s the dustman. We’ve been working our way through ‘Emmanuelle’ in the mornings, then into the high-heeled boots and Gestapo uniform for a quick bit of ‘The Night Porter’ with the window cleaner. It helps liven up the day.

I’ll say it does. And then there’s Jane: Tell me, is it getting harder? Ahem. And as for Little Willy: Another man came and jumped up and down on Mummy last week. I’ll bet he did …!

The humping and jumping of bones Bob can do with one hand tied behind his back. But I doubt if he was prepared for his lovely, farcical sex comedy of errors and mistaken identity to turn into a proper, Agatha Christie-style murder mystery along the way:

Bob: What about the police? I mean, you can’t just go around the place hiding dead bodies when you feel like it. There’s laws about that sort of thing.

Laura: Nobody need know. There’s an old chalk quarry only a few miles from here. He wouldn’t be discovered for days.

Well, well, well. The plot definitely thickens. Bob’s time as Judd comes to an hilarious climax in a spot of cross-dressing:

Stage Manager: I thought we were only booking four girls? Who’s the big ugly one in the middle?

Who indeed? I’ll give you three guesses. By the way, here’s a riddle for y’all. Why did the private dick stab himself in the balls with a fork? Because it’s in the plot, that’s why, silly!

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE was filmed in 1976 with two of my absolute favourite actresses of the period, the fabulous Diana Dors and Suzy Kendall, in the cast-list. Harry H. Corbett from STEPTOE AND SON also starred, as Sydney the Spanker. The film script book, along with Michael’s other beautiful film books, are all available to buy now from the following links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

I’ll give internationally famous superstar Lisa Moroni the last word:

‘You know, ever since I was a little girl- you know? I’ve had secret fantasies about dicks.’

Haven’t we all, Lisa lovey, haven’t we all … ?

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

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