MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.
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…’
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.
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.
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:
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:
Her debut romantic fiction novel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:
The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books: