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

house shadows papa and victoria

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: THE SCREENPLAY. (1982) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

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

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

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

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

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

THE DARK- 1960.

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

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.

THE SEX THIEF- 1973.

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

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.

THREE FOR ALL- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.

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

HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.

SCREAMTIME- 1981.

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

LIFEFORCE- 1983.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The enormous room is brilliantly illuminated by candles.

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

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

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

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: PAGES 73-74.

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

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

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

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

The aftermath of an imagined massacre.

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

Piles of small animal bones neatly arranged into heaps,

Skeletons of dead rats and mice…

Hundreds of tiny white bones glinting in the candlelight:

Tiny white bones picked clean.

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

Down which enormous scratch marks can be seen…

Indicating the powerful fury of strong fingernails having clawed deeply

Into the dark oak wood.

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

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

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS: PAGES 105-106.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor

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

House shadows big 4

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

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

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

‘Michael Armstrong is creating history by being the first film-maker to publish his entire screenwriting output. With the original uncut screenplays in print for the first time ever and peppered with a mixture of wildly entertaining anecdotes, astounding behind-the-scenes revelations, creative and educational insights and brutal ‘no holds barred’ honesty, these books are guaranteed to provide a completely new kind of reading experience while offering a unique insight into the movie industry. Starting from his first professional screenplay written in 1960 when he was only fifteen and which he subsequently directed in 1968, the books will ultimately encompass a career that has spanned over fifty years. The books will include not only those screenplays which made it onto a cinema screen but, for the first time ever, all those that didn’t- and the reasons why…’

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

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

THE DARK- 1960.

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

THE HUNT- 1965.

MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.

THE SEX THIEF- 1973.

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

IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.

THREE FOR ALL- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.

ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.

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

HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.

SCREAMTIME- 1981.

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

LIFEFORCE- 1983.

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, film blogger, poet and book-and-movie reviewer. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:

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

You can contact Sandra at:

https://www.facebook.com/SandraHarrisPureFilthPoetry

https://sandrafirstruleoffilmclubharris.wordpress.com

http://sexysandieblog.wordpress.com

http://serenaharker.wordpress.com

sandrasandraharris@gmail.com

https://twitter.com/SandraAuthor