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 ‘DELIVER US FROM EVIL.’ (1969) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL. (1969)

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

‘… but I guess you knew I’d come back once we were both older.’

‘I’ve run things far too long to see them jeopardised by anyone- including you! The past’s the past, Nikki! What happened is over; gone! This whole neurosis about your childhood- it’s all in your head! That’s all!’

‘Blackmail? How can you accuse me of that when you know why I’m really here… that I’ve finally come back for you after all these years!’

Downstairs …

The darkness of the hall …

The empty rooms …

The stairs …

Upstairs …

The closed bedroom doors …

Silence.

I’ve been reading and reviewing Michael Armstrong’s gorgeous glossy-covered film script books for about three years now, and, next to HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, I actually think DELIVER US FROM EVIL might just be my favourite, for reasons I’ll explain in a minute.

But for those who might not yet know (what’s the weather like up there on Pluto, by the way? Not too inclement for the time of year, I hope!), HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, the screen-writer’s addition to the canon of ‘Old Dark House’ movies, is one of Michael’s most well-known films.

Not just because it’s brilliantly written and full of terrific comic turns and horror movie references that’ll make you feel very pleased with yourself for spotting them, but because it’s the only film ever made that features horror icons Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all under the one roof, so to speak.

Incidentally, former BROOKSIDE actress Julie Peasgood, who has penned the foreword to DELIVER US FROM EVIL (all the forewords are written by movie industry insiders, including ME; I did the one for SCREAMTIME!), was the sexy blonde love interest in HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS.

Her co-star was Desi Arnaz Jr.. He played an American writer who agreed to hole up in the titular ‘House’ for a weekend, in order to speed-write a novel and thereby win a bet with his literary agent. But he didn’t, of course, reckon on the fact that four of the greatest horror actors on the planet were going to drop by and grievously interrupt him…!

Anyway, now we move onto DELIVER US FROM EVIL. Like Julie Peasgood, I devoured it in one sitting, because it’s just so easy to read (all the books are supremely reader-friendly) and a fantastically gripping storyline. It’s the story of the beautiful young Nikki Wynter, a woman who’s had rather more of a traumatic childhood than most of us can lay claim to …

Nikki: ‘If- if Mommy ever got better … if they ever let her out of that place …?’

And, later … Doctor: ‘You’re still worried it’s hereditary, aren’t you?’

Heh-heh-heh. The plot reminds me a little bit of John Carpenter’s fantastic serial killer horror film from 1978, HALLOWEEN. In this movie, a man who murdered his teenage sister when he was a little boy escapes from the mental institution in which he’s been incarcerated for years and returns to his hometown, where he immediately starts stalking a teenage babysitter and her unfortunate group of friends.

(Did I ever tell you that I met John Carpenter back in October 2016 when he played the music from his films live at Vicar Street in Dublin? Well, I say I met him, and I WAS there, but it’s probably closer to the truth to say that I glimpsed a teensy bit of his black jumper from my seat near the back while hundreds of big hairy male John Carpenter fans, every one of them wearing black movie T-shirts and holding up phones, blocked all but a tiny percentage of my view. Bastards, lol.)

Anyway, Michael’s story, which, incidentally, was penned nearly a whole decade before the release of HALLOWEEN, sees the return into Nikki’s life, not of an escaped mental patient, but of someone whom you’d imagine would have an even tougher time materialising back in someone’s life than an escaped lunatic.

All the lunatic has to do, if horror movies have taught us anything, is to slip his and his fellow inmates’ sleeping pills into the cup of tea or coffee of the orderly in charge of the ward. Wait a few minutes, then bada-bing bada-boom, Bob’s your uncle and a nod’s as good as a wink to a blind horse and so on.

But to come back from where Nikki’s unwelcome visitor has been, well, I can’t even imagine what you’d have to do. At the very least, the paperwork you’d have to fill out …!

After her horrific start in life, Nikki is now a rich privileged heiress to the fortune of her deceased adoptive parents, the Wynters. The action moves from a New York tenement in the ‘Fifties to Nikki’s swish villa in Nice in 1967.

Nikki’s adoptive parents are now dead and gone, and she has no-one to look out for her but her devoted boyfriend Ben Anderson and the family solicitor, Howard Doyle.

One fateful night, as they say, she goes for a solitary walk on her very own private beach, the lucky cow!

The twilight before dark …

A half-real, half-unreal world …

In which Nikki stands, deep in her own thoughts.

She moves further along the beach …

Enjoying the seemingly timeless solitude and the stillness …

Only the sound of the waves soothingly caressing the beach.

She glances back-

To see a figure approaching her some distance away;

Indistinct in the fading light.

Nikki turns

And tries to make out who it is in the onrushing darkness-

The figure draws nearer to her

Across the darkening and deserted beach.

Nikki struggles to make out his features-

This is the beginning of Nikki’s nightmare. And I don’t mean the nightmare of having some peasant trespassing on your personal beach, possibly just yards from where your own private yacht is moored. God knows, I’ve had terrible trouble with that type of thing myself. And don’t even talk to me about servants …! Can’t anyone starch a collar properly nowadays?

I mean the nightmare of knowing that someone who couldn’t possibly be there is nonetheless standing right in front of you on a darkened beach at night. And they don’t have any intention of going away now they’re back. And that’s all I’m going to say, even though my fingers are itching to type more. And more and more and more, lol.

DELIVER US FROM EVIL is a cracker of a story that would have played so well on the big screen had it been filmed. It would make a fantastic Christmas present for the film fan in your life, as indeed would any of Michael’s collection of gorgeous film-script books. DELIVER US FROM EVIL and all of Michael’s books are available to buy from 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 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 ‘REGIONS OF DARKNESS.’ (1971) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

REGIONS OF DARKNESS. (1971)

PUBLISHED IN 2020 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

‘Demons are our bad desires that have been suppressed.’ Sigmund Freud.

‘Within every human being, suppressed deep in his sub-conscious, lie the impulses of his own demonic origin. They are latent, always unwholesome and intensely horrific.’ Geoffrey Harding.

Simone looks at the closed door, half-hidden in the shadows at the end of the corridor…

I love REGIONS OF DARKNESS, originally intended to be one half of a Michael Armstrong/Hollywood horror movie double bill along with his screenplay THE LAMIA, but unfortunately this idea never came to fruition, for reasons you can read about in A History of the Screenplay in the REGIONS OF DARKNESS film script book. The book is out now from Michael’s publishers, Paper Dragon Productions.

I also love that screen-writer Michael Armstrong researched his screenplay by boning up, if you’ll excuse the rather obvious pun, on the works of that shy, retiring character known to history as Donatien Alphonse Francois, the Marquis de Sade.

De Sade’s oeuvres abound with graphic depictions of sexual fantasies involving violence, often extreme violence, sado-masochism, rape, sodomy and other, erm, things like that. Not the type of thing you’d read aloud to a blind and infirm aged aunt, in other words, not unless said aged aunt had been quite the swinger in her youth. Ahem.

Just to say, incidentally, that graphic depictions of sexual fantasies involving violence, often extreme violence, sado-masochism, rape, sodomy and other, erm, things like that, are also to be found in REGIONS OF DARKNESS, but naturally, here, none of it is gratuitous and is all done purely for the sake of art and the furtherance of story. Ahem again. Naughty Michael Armstrong…

This is the creepy tale of a beautiful young Frenchwoman called Simone Rangod, who comes from France to live in a gorgeous but spooky English country house where she has been engaged by a Mrs. Alice Harding to work as an au pair.

Alice Harding’s three sons, who all still live with her, are grown-up and not likely to need tucking into bed with a bottle of warm milk and a re-telling of Peter Pan, so Simone can take it that she’s here to help with the housework and not with the rearing of the sons, Peter, Roger and Eric Harding.

That’s not to say that the sons are oblivious to her not inconsiderable Continental charms. Eric, in particular, the widowed Mrs. Harding’s adopted son, takes a shine to Simone and she to him. She leaps willingly into Eric’s bed, but it’s not long before Simone is asking herself some pretty serious questions.

Why does Eric never leave the house? (Eric: I never leave the house.) Why do his mother and brothers keep such a close eye on him? Why is one half of the mansion closed off? (Okay, that could genuinely be just a housekeeping issue, but still…?)

Why do the family still set a place at table for the deceased paterfamilias, and why, in general, do they act as if Geoffrey Harding, the dad who died, is still alive when he’s, erm, not? ‘Sometimes, the way they all carry on, you’d think he was still alive.

Why are his paintings so gruesome, depicting nightmarish scenes of torture and cruelty the way they do? Was Geoffrey Harding, Esquire, sick in the head or what? Does this upcoming snippet of conversation shed any light?

Alice: My husband was a painter…

She notices Simone’s face, as she stares at the collection of ghoulish paintings.

Alice: He never seemed interested in doing landscapes or bowls of fruit like most artists.

Simone stops by one wall, on which hang portraits of young men interspersed with several nightmarish faces.

Alice: He met Austin Spare once- the painter- who got him interested in atavism.

Simone: Atavism?

Alice: … It’s to do with discovering one’s previous existences. My husband actually wrote a book on it called: THE DEMON IN MAN- hardly a bestseller but if you’re interested I can lend you a copy- provided you’ve got a strong stomach and don’t frighten easily?

Simone: Thank you, but I think these paintings will give me enough nightmares already…

Demons, eh? The plot thickens. And the more Simone tries to find out things about the Hardings and her beloved Eric, the murkier things appear. Doors open and close in the house, but no-one’s there when Simone goes to investigate. Demonic-looking faces peer in at her from the windows.

Eric’s self-portraits (yes, he’s an artist like his adopted Pops, Geoffrey Harding) are almost more horrific than his father’s…

Simone: … Why are they all so cruel?

Eric: Then that’s me. It must be. Through painting each one, I discover more and more about myself.

Simone: They’re like his (Geoffrey’s) paintings … They’re just like his paintings.

Eric: He taught me …

A shiver just ran through me there when I re-read that bit. Shades of Dorian Gray, much? Shades of M.R. James too, later on, when the young rent boy encounters the dust-sheets in the deserted part of the house doing that thing that sheets in ghost stories do. Here’s another snatch of conversation between Simone and Eric:

Simone: Eric, tell me? What is it you dream about that’s so frightening?

Eric: Myself … my previous existences, the torment of my soul … my death

Okay, so, either he’s a giant narcissist, who could benefit from going out into the world a bit and seeing that there are other things out there to obsess on besides himself, or a raving lunatic. I’ll give you just one more clue to the mystery that’s unravelling chez Harding, and it’s Peter’s answer to Simone’s question, what is atavism?

Peter: It’s a way of tracing back all your previous existences … earlier existences … back to the point of pre-human consciousness … to the time of creatures that were half-human, half-beast … and then even earlier … to our very beginnings. And that’s when he (Geoffrey Harding) found the source within those dark secret regions of his sub-conscious.

Well, I’ve said too much. This is another terrific, atmospheric story from Michael Armstrong that would have made a great horror film. I know that Michael had his own ideas as to whom he would have cast in the roles of Eric and Simone, but I’ve had a couple of brainwaves too.

For Eric, Shane Briant, a posh blonde frilly fellow best known for his performances in four Hammer horror films, including one aptly called DEMONS OF THE MIND, in which his frilliness and incestuous brain-sickness know practically no bounds.

A Hammer actress for Simone, a beautiful Frenchwoman called Yvonne Monlaur, whose sexy accent would charm ze birds from ze trees, and no fooling. I wonder what Michael would make of my two choices?

I love his own choice of the legendary Diana Dors for the part of Mrs. Ellesmere, the astonishingly well-read cook and charwoman to the Hardings: I like a bit of Dostoyevsky now and again. Doesn’t take so long to read as Tolstoy…!

REGIONS OF DARKNESS is available to buy now at these links:

http://www.michaelarmstrong.co.uk

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

‘Let us speak of unwholesome things. Let us speak of our inner desires and private fantasies; our secret impulses. For a vision of hell, look into the deepest regions of your own being.’

AUTHOR BIOGRAPHY OF SANDRA HARRIS.

Sandra Harris is a Dublin-based novelist, poet, short story writer and film and book blogger. She has studied Creative Writing and Film-Making. She has published a number of e-books on the following topics: horror film reviews, multi-genre film reviews, women’s fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page: http://www.amazon.com/-/e/B015GDE5RO

A FLORAL TALE BY MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: ANOTHER BRILLIANT SCREENPLAY BOOK REVIEWED BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

A FLORAL TALE. (1971)

PUBLISHED IN 2020 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

‘Its (the play’s) jokey attacks on literary pretentiousness gave me the idea of turning it into a send-up of sixties European cinema and the current pretentious critical acclaim in which it wallowed.’

Hippolytus: Help!Rape!

Fairy Mustard-Blossom: Ooooh, ‘eckythump! She’s gone and suffocated in there! (and, later…) I think there must be something up with this wand… probably needs servicing.

Adonis to Persephone: Go back to your husband, Persephone. I’m sure he’d be pleased to see you once in a while.

Aphrodite to Persephone: What a total lack of pleasure to see you here, dear Persephone.

Hippa, on being a nymph: Unfortunately, quite a few of us do tend to get raped by the gods from time to time…. (and) Sometimes they turn themselves into animals to do it.

Hera to Echo the nymph: According to Artemis, you’ve been molested by a fairy?

Artemis the Hunter to Actaeon, a mortal and a playwright: You know, Actaeon, if you ever gave up all this silly writing nonsense and devoted yourself to my Hunt instead, I’d make you my favourite huntsman of all time. No-one can handle a shaft the way you do.’ (Writer’s note: What’s that, Artemis? Should he ‘re-train’ as a huntsman because his job in the Arts is gone forever due to COVID-19…?)

A FLORAL TALE is an absolute whopper of a screenplay from the Michael Armstrong collection of published works. Unfortunately, it was never made into a film (read THE HISTORY OF THE SCREENPLAY), but it makes for fantastic reading in the comfort of your own home. And he wrote it when he was only a young fella, as well, which is astonishing, given how complex and learned is the subject matter (Greek mythology).

It’s 390 pages of terrifically good value, containing not only the very funny screenplay (another of Michael’s unbeatable parodies; his specialised subject is definitely ‘The Send-up’), but also about a hundred pages of the most fantastic artwork for free as well; drawings and sketches of costumes and characters drawn by Michael himself with a view to attracting investors to the screenplay back in the day.

Set in Greece in mythological times, but with a definite flavour of present-day materialism, greed and immorality thrown in for good measure, it’s the story of Fairy Mustard-Blossom, a fairytale fairy based on a real person. (‘She was inspired by an extraordinary girl I knew who was the perfect actress to play her: a wonderful Lancashire comedienne I’d recently met called Veronica Doran.’)

Fairy Mustard-Blossom has been deprived of her wings because she keeps ballsing up the wishes she grants to people. They will be returned, the Fairy Queen graciously informs her, once you have granted a wish that will lead to a Happy Ever After ending.

Easier said and done for the less-than-sylph-like lass with the strong Northern England accent and a distinct penchant for screwing up everything she puts her hand to. Kind of a reverse Midas touch, which is quite apt as Midas, the mythical hoarder of gold, turns up in the story too.

Fairy Mustard-Blossom, as you might imagine from my description of her clumsy though well-meaning ineptness, creates havoc amongst the cast of thousands in this epic Greek mythology-traditional fairytale crossover.

As I’d studied the gods and goddesses of Ancient Greece and Rome in Classical Studies in school (my favourite subject, due to the presence of a gorgeous telly hunk called Michael Wood in the various documentaries the teacher screened for us; phwoar…!), I felt quite smug as I recognised their names in the screenplay: Zeus, the boss of all the gods; Hera, his suspicious Missus; Aphrodite, the goddess of love and bonking; Dionysus, the god of having yourself a good old knees-up; Hermes, the gofer of the gods, and so on and so forth.

In addition to gods and goddesses, the cast is peopled with nymphs (affiliated, I presume, with Gambollers Anonymous), satyrs (Michael writes some very biting satyr, as you know), mortals, titans, classical Heroes like Heracles, who famously goes into ‘labour’ twelve times, of which the shit-shovelling in the Augean stables is the only one I ever remember without prompting, and then, of course, there’s good old Fairy Mustard-Blossom herself, who always likes to lend her services, usually with disastrous consequences, wherever a soul in need presents itself.

Everyone in the cast is either having sex with someone, or trying to. Many characters are pining away for love of other characters, who barely know that they exist, and the pain of their unrequited love can lead them to do some crazy things.

Theseus, for example, loves his new wife Phaedra, but she only has eyes for the gigantic bulge in the crotch area of Theseus’s son, Hippolytus, who himself suffers agonies of love for Hyacinthus, a gorgeous young man friend who spurns him as a lover.

Hyacinthus digs Apollo and Apollo digs him, but Hyacinthus also attracts the terrible and most definitely unwanted attentions of Zephyrus, which storyline culminates in a most harrowing fate for the poor lad down the line.

Echo the nymph loves Narcissus, but Narcissus is initially frightened to death at the thought of being intimate with someone else, before deciding ultimately that the person he really loves is… himself. Pyramus loves Thisbe and Thisbe loves Pyramus, but pesky politics gets in the way of their dream, and, in any case, there’s a spy in the house of love…

Orpheus and Linus are rock stars, and millions of teenage fans want to have sex with them. Orpheus loves Eurydice, however, although their relationship is about to hit a sticky patch.

Clytie loves Apollo but he’s otherwise engaged, and Zeus loves anything he can get his god-like mitts on, basically. Witness this exchange between him and the rolling pin-wielding Missus, aka Hera, queen of the gods:

Zeus: I keep telling you, my dear! I’ve not been trying to seduce anyone- let alone a virginal nymph!

Hera: You really expect me to believe that? After the rape of Europa?

Zeus: I told you that wasn’t me, either! It was a white bull!

Hera: Everybody knows it was you! You even admitted it after she bore you three sons- and if that wasn’t bad enough, you then had another go at the poor girl in the shape of an eagle!! So don’t expect me to believe you’ve never tried it on as a pantomine fairy! (She slaps his face and storms off…)

Poor Zeus. He just can’t catch a break. Highlights of the screenplay include Eurydice’s ‘celebrity funeral,’ at which virgins are sacrificed as if they’re taking part in a television reality show. Here, the commentator is talking to a young virgin:

Commentator: Tell me, are your parents here today?

1st Virgin Youth: They’re in the audience over there, somewhere.

Commentator: I’m sure they’ll be feeling very proud when they see you up there being sacrificed.

I also love the storyline involving Prometheus, the Titan who stole fire from the gods and gave it to humans, and who’s now advocating a kind of free, independent thinking that’s got Zeus & Co. all hot under the collar.

The gods don’t want people thinking for themselves; they just want mindless obedience from the masses and the unquestioning adoration they think is due to them. You know what gods are like.

Anyway, I love the way that Prometheus is at one point made to appear as a Hitler-type character (the torchlight processions and adulation from the crowd) and, at another, as Jesus himself (the loaves and fishes thingymabob).

Prometheus’s storyline culminates in one of the funniest lines in a book which is already chock-a-block with killer one-liners and intellectual in-jokes, such as a bunch of cheerleaders for Heracles claiming that they’d ‘go into labour for Heracles any day…!’ Here’s the Prometheus one:

You don’t expect all this violence at a flogging…!

I also love this one:

Home owner: I did try to get my hands on a cloak of invisibility, but they’re quite hard to find…!

You’ll also learn the (floral) myths that lie behind the naming of various flowers such as Hyacinth and Narcissus, but don’t worry, Michael’s aim is to entertain, not beat you over the head with facts, lol. He’ll be so gentle with you that you’ll barely noticing you’re being educated too…!

A FLORAL TALE is available to buy now at these links:

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

Eeee…! I never had this trouble with Puss in Boots…!

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

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

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS. E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL. (1972) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

michael armstrong younger

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

‘E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL.’ (1972)

PUBLISHED IN 2019 BY PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS.

REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

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

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

You may have heard me mention this up-and-coming young fella before, this Michael Armstrong fella whose career as a film director and screenwriter is currently being immortalised in the form of some of the most beautiful books I’ve ever owned, books of all the screenplays he’s ever written, and he’s written a lot of screenplays. His productivity over the years puts most other writers to shame, and writers hate being put to shame, you can take that from me…! It makes us edgy, and we’re on edge enough of the time as it is.

Whether they were made into films or not, the screenplays are all being transformed into gorgeous books by Michael’s publishers, Paper Dragon Productions, and they really are the perfect present for film buffs of all ages. Well, not exactly all ages, lol. Some of ’em are a little blue…! Here are the films for which he’s penned the screenplays:

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.

Impressed much…? Thought so, heh-heh-heh. Now to E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL, the title of which you’ll see contains the acronym ENSA. What was ENSA? There’s a definition in the book’s Glossary Of References which will do perfectly nicely for our purposes, and here it is:

ENTERTAINMENTS NATIONAL SERVICE ASSOCIATION: Popularly known as ENSA; it was an organisation set up in 1939 by Basil Dean and Leslie Henson to provide entertainment for British Armed Forces personnel during World War Two. Infamously, quality of the shows varied considerably due to an insufficient number of good professional artistes to accommodate the number of shows required by the troops spread out fighting across Europe. As a consequence, ENSA became inundated by substandard acts and eager untalented amateur performers to such an extent that the troops created the acronym E.N.S.A. as ”Every Night Something Awful…!”

In other words, you’d be praying for a Bob Hope, a Marlene Dietrich, a Vera Lynn or a Glenn Miller, but you’d end up with some bozo playing the spoons. Still, I’m sure every act, no matter how amateur, gave it their very best shot and I’d personally maintain that any entertainment, however dodgy, is better than none at all. There was a bloody war on, after all. What right did anyone have to be picky…?

‘E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL’ (1972) is the hilarious story of one such company of wartime entertainers. Headed by flaming queen Ivor Short, they’re putting on a variety show for the lads called ‘Red, White And Blue,’ whether the troops want them to or not, and it’s bound to be Fab. U. Lous, darling. (Channelled my best Craig Revel Horwood from Strictly there…!) Or is it…? I think you already know the answer to that, readers.

There’s a really funny bit in the beginning where someone’s travelling to a top secret army camp in the New Forest and needs to ask directions from a local farmer and the farmer says: ‘But if it be the secret army camp you’re after?- That’s along there- about half a mile. You can’t miss it. You’ll see their sentries hiding behind the trees.’ So much for army confidentiality, anyway.

French heart-throb and international singing star Pierre Lamorisse, the main attraction of Red, White And Blue, is aghast to find that the English soldiers in this ‘top secret’ army camp don’t even have real weapons. I just have to include here the genuinely funny exchange between Pierre and one of the soldiers:

Soldier: Sorry, sir, I didn’t recognise you. I wouldn’t wander too far away, if I was you- just in case one of us mistakes you for an invasion force in the darkness.

Pierre: Oh yes… thank you. I wouldn’t want to get shot.

Soldier: Oh, no fear of that, sir. We ‘aven’t got real rifles- and even if we had, we ‘aven’t any bullets for ’em. No, all the real stuff’s over with our boys abroad. (He holds up his ‘rifle’ to show Pierre.) Not bad, is it? Looks like the real thing from a distance. Yeah, they’re makin’ ’em at Pinewood Studios; churnin’ ’em out, they are- tanks an’ all.

(Pierre stares at him in complete amazement.)

Pierre: Tanks?

Soldier: Only the outsides, mind you. Yeah. Make ’em out of hardboard, they do… spot of paint- looks all right from a long way off. Get a few ‘undred of ’em wheelin’ about on the cliffs makes old Jerry think twice about invadin’.

Pierre: But if they do invade, what will you fight them with?

Soldier: Well… we could always bash ’em over the ‘ead with one of these. They’re good and solid. You feel that. (He hands Pierre the ‘rifle’ to feel the weight.)

Pierre: It’s just wood.

Soldier: Yeah, but feel the quality. That’s good quality wood, that is. Jerry gets one of them round his mush, he’ll soon give up, I can tell you. Anyway, best be gettin’ back to my rounds. Can’t be too careful, you know. There’s spies everywhere, so we’re told. Been a right pleasure talking to you, sir. Have a nice night.

(And moves off as Pierre quickly calls after him:)

Pierre: Excuse me-?

(The soldier returns, so that Pierre can hand him back his ‘rifle.’ The soldier gives a rueful grin.)

Soldier: I’m always forgetting where I put it.

Talk about a Carry On…! However did England win this war anyway…?

Anyway, the company of entertainers includes the above-mentioned Pierre; Ginger, an attractive singer and femme fatale with a string of broken relationships behind her who just might be the perfect woman for Pierre, if they both but knew it; Bertie Rich, a jaded comedian who feels more dead than alive; Marilyn, a faded blonde bombshell whom Michael Armstrong envisoned being played by Diana Dors if the script had been made into a film (excellent choice, by the way); Constance, an older married lady with a theatrical repertoire, who never realises when she’s boring people (she also never uses the Horne when she’s performing); and Madam Merlin, aka Priscilla Clipthorpe, a lady magician (or should that be magicienne?) who never travels without her two bunny wabbits. It’s a motley crew but a good one.

Here’s what happens when French Pierre questions why he has to wear an Arabian Nights costume:

Pierre: Ivor, this is stupid. Why do I have to wear this?

Ivor: It’s part of a themed medley, sweetie: an exotic Arabian Nights fantasy… Ginger’s Scheherazade, I’m the cruel Sultan, the girls are my wives, Jack’s the Golden Slave and you’re a singing eunuch.

Pierre: Eunuch? What is that? I don’t get it.

Ivor: Neither did they, petal.

Bah-dum-tish, lol. This company of elite entertainers must travel abroad to a top secret destination (so secret not even the ship’s crew know where they’re going!) to dazzle their fighting boys abroad with their expertise and chutzpah. I love when Ivor says to Sally: Take it from the top again- and Sally dear, do try to make her sound more like an innocent young virgin and less like Gracie Fields? Heh-heh-heh. Lovely woman, Gracie Fields. Immensely talented.

Here’s what Bertie tells Madam Merlin to describe his feelings of jadedness and ennui:

Forgive me, dear girl, but after you’ve died in front of as many audiences as I have, you eventually cease to regard yourself as a living being anymore. Then: Actually, it was on the eve of my fiftieth birthday that I realised I was dead. Had been for some time, in fact. Just never really noticed it before.

Poor Bertie. And they say that showbusiness is glamorous… The main thing is that the show must go on, as the old showbiz motto goes. But can the show really go on when the troupe is in Rome but their band and props have somehow ended up in Norway? And why does everyone burst out laughing when Constance bursts forth with the song, O, for the wings of a dove?

What prompts Ivor the director to say: I know, to most people, I’m just a funny old queen but even funny old queens have feelings? There are some really touching moments amongst the comedy and quickfire one-liners which Michael Armstrong fires off with the ease of someone doing something they find really easy, lol. Good metaphors are not always readily available, even to a quicksilver brain like mine own. Michael Armstrong would probably have found a good one.

The troupe at least have each other, but what about the troops? Note the rather clever play on words there. Here’s the exchange between a sergeant and a young lieutenant when the ENSA party bus hoves into view of a little European village, where a garrison of soldiers is stationed like a sitting duck:

Sergeant: Think it could be some kind of enemy trick, sir?

Young Lieutenant: Worse, Sergeant. I think it’s ENSA…!

Sergeant: Oh, my God! Better warn the men, sir.

Young Lieutenant: Quite. Carry on, Sergeant.

Carry On, indeed…! All joking aside, folks, on page 192, you’ll find a scene that’ll show you the true worth of ENSA (popular as it may be to poke fun at them) to exhausted, demoralised soldiers far from home who just want to see their families again. I cried buckets at this scene, and you will too.

Can Pierre get to the root of Ginger’s commitment phobia and seeming inability to be faithful to one man? On page 236, he finally nails it. Will Marilyn get her man, or will she retreat gracefully from the arena so that the dreamily swoonsome Fabio can be with the woman he really loves? No woman’s that generous and big-hearted, surely? By the way, do you guys know what the words MINAS TERRESTRAS mean, because ENSA sure don’t…! And finally:

‘And here we have it!… A spectacular musical revue called Red, White & Blue… Ivor Short and Company: Jack Adair, Ginger Lawrence, Sally Meadows, Bertie Rich, Marilyn Turner, Constance Blythe with Speciality Madam Merlin and special guest star, Pierre Lamorisse. Acting understudy and ASM, Edith Nightingale. Band: Billy Rainbow & His Big Band. Touring Company- Category B.’

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

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

By the way, Sherlock Holmes had his Irene Adler and Mr. Spode from Bertie Wooster his ‘Eulalie.’ If you ever want to see a grown man cry like a little girl, you have but to whisper one word into Michael Armstrong’s shell-like… Ryman…

See you guys next time!

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

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