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: THE SCREENPLAYS: ROBIN HOOD. (1977) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS.

michael armstrong book trio

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

ROBIN HOOD. (1977)

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

Did’st thou hear the one about the minstrel who bought his wife a musical chastity belt and then couldn’t find the right key?

Robin: So, thou would’st join me in Sherwood Forest?

Will Scarlett: Well, we can either go there or back to my place. I’m not fussy.

Robin: And can’st handle a weapon, good Will?

Will Scarlett: I’ve never had any complaints so far.

Robin: Then thou art most welcome to come live with me in merry Sherwood.

Will Scarlett: Well, there’s no need to get that involved, is there? I mean, a quick one in the bushes’ll do me fine.

Everyone loves a nice bit of Robin Hood. He cuts such a romantic figure, doesn’t he, in his green tights and tunic and the jaunty little hat with the feather in it, swashbuckling his way with sword and bow and arrow through Sherwood Forest, with of course his faithful Ye Olde Merrie Men at his side.

Errol Flynn is probably most people’s idea of a favourite screen Robin Hood (1938 with Olivia De Havilland, Claude Rains and the magnificent Basil Rathbone as Sir Guy of Gisborne), and I agree that he made a terrific Robin Hood, but me, I always fancied the arse off Michael Praed from the ’80s TV series ROBIN OF SHERWOOD, featuring the fabulous theme tune, Robin, The Hooded Man, by Irish band Clannad.

He had such beautiful long mullety hair, this Robin, and I always felt that I was much better suited to him than that ginger-haired long drink of water they cast opposite him as Maid Marian. Humph. I wanted so badly to do a Miss Piggy on her every week. Hi-yah…! Heh-heh-heh.

The latest script-book of screenwriter, actor and director Michael Armstrong’s to roll off the presses at his publishers,’ PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS, is a fantastically funny spoof of Robin Hood, surely as thoroughly English a subject as Chaucer’s CANTERBURY TALES or Shakespeare’s plays about the English Kings, two of which figure in Ye Olde Tale of Robin Hood. Here’s how Michael’s Narrator opens the story:

‘Tis merry England in ye twelfth century. Upon ye royal throne sitteth good King Richard ye Lionheart. It wath a time of much trouble and strife for ’twas a country torn betwixt two peoples: ye Saxons and ye Normans. But a far greater shadow was looming up o’er ye horizon- ye Saracens had gotten Jerusalem. And so it was that good King Richard called for a crusade; a call which stirred the very heart of his people; responding in that manner so typical of ye British man when facing a national crisis…’

So, the bumbling, somewhat thick-as-a-plank King Richard goes off to fight the Crusades- I’m never quite sure why it’s any of his business but never mind, lol- and rather unwisely leaves his treacherous brother John to keep his throne warm for him in his absence:

Richard: Brother John, into thy hands do I entrust this fair land of England. Rule wisely over her till I return.

John: Don’t you worry about a thing, Dickie. You just stay out there as long as you like and have yourself a good time. Get a nice suntan, fight a few battles, all that sort of thing. No need to rush back.

Then, a bit later during their goodbye scene:

Richard: Dear brother John- ever so honest and true. How it comforts me to know I’m leaving England in safe hands. Keep up her high moral standards, brother, and don’t drop ’em for anyone.

Well, of course it would suit the snake-in-the-grass John perfectly well if Richard never came back, as he quite fancies the throne for himself, the dastardly sneak. Backed up by the oily, unctuous Sheriff of Nottingham, his toady, he plans to cripple the peasants of England with more taxes and tariffs (Prince John: Right! Right! Screw ’em for every penny!- Dirty rotten peasants.) and to grab all the power of the throne and the crown for himself.

Egged on and even manipulated by the Sheriff, he also intends to marry the lovely Maid Marian to the truly odious man-beast, Sir Guy of Gisborne, one of their minions, so that they can claim her father’s wealthy estate. Marian, of course, is madly in love with Robert of Locksley, aka Robin Hood, who now robs from the rich to give to the poor, so she won’t be one bit happy about that. No-one likes a forced marriage.

Meanwhile, Robin Hood, already an outlaw with a price on his head, is gathering to himself a little band of followers who are prepared to back him up in his attempts to shaft the soldiers and tax collectors of Prince John’s and the Sheriff’s at every opportunity.

Still known as Robert of Locksley, he’s also trying to come up with a suitable name for himself and his men. Here’s a conversation he has with Allan A Dale, MC of a local nightclub and Bella Stark, the sexy hostess of same:

Allan: Er… Robert?… Robbie, love… let me get this straight. You say you’re going to rob the rich?

Robin: You got it!

Allan: So far I like it. Great idea!… It’s the next bit I didn’t quite follow?

Robin: I rob from the rich and give it to the poor.

Allan: Give it to the poor… yes. That’s the bit I don’t quite-

Robin: Look, it’s very simple. The money I steal from-

Allan: Yes, yes, the stealing bit I understand. It’s the giving away part that I don’t get.

Bella: Is it some kind of tax dodge?

Robin: No, no. Listen- I live in Sherwood Forest and get myself a band of men together-

Allan: You’re gonna form a band? Robbie, you’ll need proper representation.

Robin: Not that kind of band. I’ve told you what we’re gonna do. Robert Fitzooth and his Merry Men! Sounds good- huh?

Allan: Fitzooth, Fitzschmutter! What’s the difference? It’s a lousy name. What kind of bookings are you going to get with a name like that? It’s gotta be something that’ll grab the attention. Something that’ll really stand out on a ”Wanted” poster. Something like Clint Travolta or Dustin de Niro.

Bella: Dustin de Niro and his Merry Men?- For a hood who’s robbing people?

Allan: Hood! That’s it! Dustin de Hood!

Shirley: Sounds like he’s running a car cleaning agency.

Robin: What’s wrong with my own name?

Allan: Robert?- Too old-fashioned. The kids’ll never go for it.

Bella: Well, if he’s gonna be robbing people and he’s a hood- why not call him Robbing Hood?

Allan: Robbin’ Hood! That’s it! Robin Hood!

They got there in the end…! This book, even more so than the others, is jam-packed with hilarious puns and one-liners and witticisms, many of them pertaining to the culture of the day (the late 1970s) because, as every good writer knows, spoofs set in Ye Olden Times are funnier when you bring in characters and situations and slang from Ye Moderne Times. (Think Blazing Saddles!) The scenes where Prince John is watching DALLAS and KOJAK on the ‘television’ are especially funny.

And the characters in ROBIN HOOD are frequently breaking the fourth wall and saying things like: ‘How come Errol Flynn (or Basil Rathbone) never had these problems?’ (That was Robin.) With so many plays-on-words and general merriment on nearly every page, the book zips along at a rip-roaring pace. Here’s a touching meeting between the two romantic leads:

Marian, on her balcony: Oh, Robin, Robin, wherefore art thou, Robin?

Robin: I’m down here behind the bushes.

Oh, the beautiful, painfully doomed romance of it all! And later, in the same scene:

Robin: And now, sweet Marian, ’tis time I headed back to leafy Sherwood. Methinks the cock hath already risen.

Marian: I’m bloody sure it did, you randy sod!

Snigger. Such delicious naughtiness. I love it. Anyway, Robin gathers to himself his crew, as I said, in the form of Much Jr., the disturbingly flatulent Stutely, the outrageously camp Will Scarlett, Little John (a super-cool black guy formerly known as Akunt-Akunta; this wicked pun has its ‘roots’ in a popular television series of the day), Friar Tuck the Flasher (‘During Communion, it wasn’t just the wafer he’d stick in your mouth.’) and Allan A Dale, his PR guy:

Allan: Ah, Robin, love- the very man I wanted to see. I need to get your okay on these. (He hands Robin a green tunic, on the front of which is printed his picture. Robin looks at it, bewildered.)

Robin: Er- great. What is it?

Allan: Official Robin Hood T-shirts. We’re planning to put them on the market by the end of the week along with horse and cart stickers and these ‘I’m merry and proud of it’ badges.

Then:

Allan: I’m telling you, Robbie, you’ve become the hottest thing since King Arthur and Camelot. I’ve even had NBC on, wanting exclusive video rights to your next robbery.

Robin Hood is now the biggest thing since the Beatles. The cult of Robin Hood makes  Beatlemania look like a fassing pad. I mean a passing fad. Excuse my Spoonerism. The teeny-boppers love Robin. In between signing autographs and working on firming up the Robin Hood brand, how will he ever find the time to enter the evil Sheriff of Nottingham’s archery contest, specially rigged to catch Robin the outlaw? Here’s what the contest’s News commentator has to say about it:

NEWS COMMENTATOR: And now we’re taking you over to Centre Court for live coverage of ye olde archery contest and this- the first match of the day- is between the number one seed, John Muckyrow of ye yet to be discovered United States-

(And a John McEnroe lookalike stands there, unloading a veritable arsenal of longbows from neat little zipper-bags.)

NEWS COMMENTATOR: -and Bjorn Bouf of Sherwood Forest, seeded 1,642.

(Which proves to be none other than ROBIN; no longer dressed in a Harlequin costume but now sporting a perky little Wimbledon tennis outfit in Lincoln Green. Their respective names appear on the scoreboard while the archery version of ball-boys crouch down in readiness.)

So now, the game is on. Will Robin come up to the mark? Will he get the girl, having first to rescue her from the clutches of the ape-like Sir Guy of Gisborne? Will King Richard come back and foil Baldrick’s- I mean, the Sheriff’s- cunning plans for world domination?

There’s loads more to come before the finale, including an hilarious torture scene, an even more hilarious scene in which Prince John’s castle is attacked by a very, very small army, a scene straight out of MACBETH and an unintentionally funny and prophetic reference to… ahem… Jimmy Saville. Ahem. I’ll get the eye-wash so you can pretend you didn’t read that bit, lol. Share it around now. The eye-wash, I mean.

Anyway, even JAWS himself makes an appearance in this, the funniest and wittiest of all Michael Armstrong’s script-books to date. It’s like MONTY PYTHON meets BLACKADDER meets MAID MARIAN AND HER MERRY MEN (Baldrick’s absolutely marvellous TV series on this exact subject!). Would I advise that you buy it? Verily, forsooth and, erm, loads more Ye Olden Times talk. Run and get it now. You’ll bloody well love it.

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

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS: THE MAZE. (1968) REVIEW BY SANDRA HARRIS. ©

michael armstrong book trio

MICHAEL ARMSTRONG: THE SCREENPLAYS.

THE MAZE. (1968)

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

Screen-writer, actor and director Michael Armstrong has written some absolutely cracking horror screenplays. Some were made into films, such as THE DARK (1960), MARK OF THE DEVIL (1970) and HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS (1982).

This last film, as well as being a rollicking great horror romp, has the distinction of being the only film in the history of cinema to star horror legends Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Vincent Price and John Carradine all together.

Some of his other screenplays, for one reason and another (showbusiness is a fickle and fluctuating mistress!), never made it onto the big screen, unfortunately for the public. These include the fantastic GHOST TOWN (1969), a comedy Western; BEELZEBUB (1984), the story of a haunted computer that would have made a terrific ‘Eighties horror movie; DEATH MASQUE (1988) and OUIJA-BOARD (1989).

Directors have been making films about ouija-boards for the last couple of decades now, but Michael Armstrong was one of the first, if not the first, to realise the potential of the humble ouija-board to be the subject of a major horror film.

Now, on to- or should I say into- THE MAZE (1968), a screenplay cut in the same mould as the excellent BEELZEBUB, GHOST TOWN and the aforementioned OUIJA-BOARD. I enjoyed it every bit as much as the screenplays of Michael’s (I can call him that; we’re great pals…!) that came before and after. I bet you guys can’t guess what it’s about, lol…

I’ll be kind and give you tons of clues. First off, we have a handsome young celebrity footballer fella called Bob Harding. Bob’s agent tells him one day that he’s positively got to go to this classy shindig on some dude’s private island, because the press will be there and a ton of other celebrities as well (‘-movie stars, pop, fashion- it’s a media coup!’), and this will be the perfect opportunity for Bob to grab some quick easy publicity.

What can Bob do but say yes? When he’s picked up at a Maltese airport by a handsome young Greek chappie called Alexis, who works for the island-owning millionaire, the pair have the following rather disturbing exchange:

Bob: This island we’re going to- I tried finding it on the map but it didn’t seem to exist. Does it have a name?

Alexis: No name. It isn’t on the map.

Bob: So, how far is it off the mainland?

Alexis: Far enough. Dr. Seresion likes privacy.

Okay. A mysterious island that’s not on any map, miles from anywhere, owned by some creepy-sounding doctor dude? (Remember THE ISLAND OF DR. HIBBERT from THE SIMPSONS?) I’d have turned the boat round and headed for home at this point, but dopey Bob has seemingly never watched that episode of THE SIMPSONS, lol.

Once on the island, he’s chauffeured by Alexis and Maurits, another hot Greek dude, to the magnificent palace of Dr. Seresion. The palace stands in beautiful, idyllic grounds with the following amenities: flower, rock and water gardens; tennis courts; croquet lawns; swimming pools and other sporting facilities; two theatres- one open-air, a butterfly house, a maze and a pagoda. See how the maze just sneaked in there, all innocent-like? Heh-heh-heh.

The rather sinister Dr. Seresion greets Bob and his other celebrity guests with the following speech. I’ve put in capital letters the sentence I feel to be the most portentous. The guests don’t seem to notice the undercurrents of menace running through the welcome speech, but then maybe I’ve seen more horror films than these guys have:

‘So, it is as fellow members of Mankind that I shall welcome you to my island. MAY YOUR YOUTH AND YOUR ENERGIES FILL IT WITH THE LIFE IT HAS SORELY CRAVED OVER THE YEARS. For that I welcome you- and wish you an enjoyable and fulfilling stay here.’

The guests include Bob, an obnoxiously brash and pushy journalist called Rowena and her photographer Mike, a young pop star called Brian who’s sweet on Rowena (unfortunately for him; she’s a total bitch!), a young heart-throb actor by the name of Simon and a ravishing young actress, Jenny Raine, who confounds expectations by not leaping into bed with every male starlet who looks at her twice. A woman of principles, eh? Curiouser and curiouser…

The press, as personified by Rowena, don’t come off very well in the screenplay at all. Here’s what Jenny thinks of Rowena and her ilk:

‘That’s what Ro and the rest of her species offer us: instant celebrity- ‘Be nice to me, do what I want, say what I want you to say and, if I feel like it, I’ll make you into a sexual icon to be worshipped and adored by millions.’

Jenny, a thoughtful and insightful woman, has this to say on the subject of her and Bob’s so-called ‘celebrity’:

‘And there we all are- society’s golden calves with more money than sense- hiding behind giant egos frightened someone’ll suddenly find out we’re not really divine at all… just pathetically mundane like everyone else.’

She’s rather an extraordinary woman, is this Jenny. I certainly hope she makes it to the end of the story. Some people don’t, you know, because there’s a serial killer loose on the Island of Dr. Hibbert (sorry!) who seems to be hell-bent on bumping off the famous guests.

But why? And who is it? And is it anything to do with the sound of underground drumming that’s been bothering some of the guests? Are The Rolling Stones secreted somewhere on the island, giving impromptu concerts to the moles and the fishes?

There’s also the titular maze, of course, ‘enormously tall, perfectly trimmed hedges eerily floodlit in the darkness.’ Nothing bad could ever happen in a maze, I hear you say. Don’t you believe it. There was a maze in THE SHINING, wasn’t there? The maze on the island seems to have almost a sentience about it, like it’s a living, breathing thing. Let’s hope that it never gets… gulp… hungry… and… eeek… needs f-f-f-feeding! Yikes, Scoob, let’s get outta here…!

Guests are disappearing and no-one is exactly sure where or why. An enormous shrine to the mother of Dr. Seresion, the mother he never knew, is discovered in a fabulous pagoda on the island. Dr. Seresion maintains ‘the island has no secrets’ but, the deeper you get into both the book and the island, the more you are disinclined to believe him.

Alex and Maurits, ‘Dr. Seresion’s creatures,’ who ‘grovel to do his bidding’ but don’t have humps and a snaggle-tooth apiece, haha, are at pains to reassure the guests that everything on the island is all nice and normal, but surely even the more cerebrally challenged among their number can read the writing on the wall…?

Now, I don’t want to give you any spoilers, but I’ve decided to share one maze-related passage with you which I found particularly frightening and atmospheric:

His head is surrounded by leaves on four sides

As he endeavours to breathe through the encompassing foliage-

One arm becomes twisted behind his back,

As the leaves press around his body

Like the tightening coils of a large snake-

Pathetically he struggles to free his legs-

Arms…

And still they continue to press in on him…

Slowly squeezing…

And crushing his body…

Compressing it…

And smothering his face…

Blocking his ability to breathe in or out…

The leaves are inside his mouth-

Twigs slowly skewering into his eyeballs-

Piercing into his ears-

Trickles of blood…

Seep through the tightly packed leaves…

I won’t go any further with this passage, but it’s the stuff of nightmares. The maze stands silently in the moonlight. All is quiet. Yeah well, all is quiet now, sure, but there are times when it’s all go in there, trust me.

The ending is truly terrifying. Stephen King himself couldn’t have done a better job. It’s put me right off going into mazes, anyway. Not that I’ve been in many. In point of fact, I’ve been in none, and I’m not too sure if we have any here in Dublin, but even if we did, I wouldn’t be tempted anywhere near them. Too leafy for me…

So here you are giving shelter to the local looney. All terribly Hitchcock and noire. So, now what? Do you both get handcuffed together and run around the windswept countryside trying to learn the secret of the thirty-nine hedges?

Come to bleed me some more, daddy dearest?

The maze!- I know what’s at the centre!

I have to be kept alive… for the maze.

It’s coming for us! It’s coming!-

THE MAZE, E.VERY N.IGHT S.OMETHING A.WFUL and ROBIN HOOD (see illustration) by Michael Armstrong are available to buy now from:

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

http://www.paperdragonproductions.com

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