MICHAEL ARMSTRONG’S ‘THE DARK.’ (1960) 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…’
Some of my regular readers might have heard me mention a certain Michael Armstrong, a screenwriter and film director whose luxurious script-books I’ve had the pleasure of reviewing over the past eighteen months or so, according as they roll off the presses at Michael’s publishers, PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS. If you want to know where or how you might have heard of Michael before, I can tell you that he wrote the screenplays for the following films:
THE DARK- 1960.
THE IMAGE- 1964. Starring David Bowie in his first screen appearance.
THE HUNT- 1965.
MARK OF THE DEVIL- 1970.
THE SEX THIEF- 1973.
ESKIMO NELL- 1974. A riotous sex comedy starring beloved English actor Roy Kinnear and a young and handsome Michael Armstrong himself.
IT COULD HAPPEN TO YOU- 1975.
THREE FOR ALL- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A TAXI DRIVER #2- 1975.
ADVENTURES OF A PRIVATE EYE- 1976.
THE BLACK PANTHER- 1976. The story of Donald Neilson, the British armed robber, kidnapper and murderer who abducted wealthy British teenager Lesley Whittle in 1975.
HOME BEFORE MIDNIGHT- 1979.
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.
PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS are not only publishing the screenplays of Michael’s that got made into films, but also the ones that didn’t, for one reason or another. He’s written a load of horror movie scripts, some of which were extremely progressive and before their time, for example, BEELZEBUB, the story of a haunted computer which could have- should have- been made into a fantastic horror film, and OUIJA-BOARD. Of course, nowadays every second horror film-maker does a ouija-board film, so I’ll just point out that Michael wrote his script in 1989, people. 1989, while the hot-shot directors of today were still in nappies…! Check out some of my favourites quotes from THE DARK:
‘The moon’s full. Let’s hunt for ghosts.’
MADGE: ‘How the hell did I ever get talked into coming here?’
CHRIS: ‘Because you’re like the rest of us, dear. Bored with life.’
‘Maybe the house’ll catch fire again… I like fire.’
Something curved flashes: The sharp blade of a kukri.
‘We get rid of the body. Act as though we didn’t even know that he’d been- that this had happened.’
‘He was there!- He came out of that room!- He saw me and he beckoned!- He was covered in blood!’
‘Madmen are affected by the moon, aren’t they? The moon to me isn’t anything horrid, though… It’s beautiful… You know?… Maybe because I’ve always been afraid of the dark… and the moon gives me light when it’s dark.’
THE DARK (1960) is a script along the same lines as BEELZEBUB and OUIJA-BOARD. It’s the script of a slasher film penned long before slasher films were even popular, and it was deservedly made into a film by Tigon British Film Productions and American International Pictures in 1968/9, although the production was definitely what you might call ‘troubled.’
You can read all the gory, behind-the-scenes details in Michael’s book, you scurvy gossip-mongers, you! Michael directed this one himself, by the way. He was super-young when he did it and I’m guessing that he knew even long before this point just exactly what he wanted to do with his life. It’s good to have that clear sense of direction early on, ba-dum-tish…
The film was re-titled prior to release as THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR in the UK and HORROR HOUSE (USA). To be brutally honest, although both of these new titles are perfectly fine, Michael’s own title suits the script better because he was calling it ‘THE DARK’ for a very particular reason, which you’ll see for yourselves when you read the book.
THE DARK is the story of a bunch of no-good young ‘uns in Swinging Sixties’ London, some of them creative types like artists, singers and songwriters. They’re young, bright, rich (well, some of ’em are), beautiful (again, some of ’em are!), bored and looking for what used to be called kicks. Thrills. Spills. You know the type of thing. Fun.
They have sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll, but all that’s not enough for them, the greedy young ‘uns. They want more. More what, I hear you ask? Well, more excitement, I suppose, as if the sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll weren’t enough for most people. The beautiful people are like that, of course. Always looking for more. And they usually get it too. ‘Cause they’re beautiful, d’uh…!
They’re like the Bright Young Things in Hammer’s DRACULA AD 1972, Caroline Munro and Johnny Alucard and the rest, who hold a Satanic ceremony in a deserted ruined church in London and end up bringing Count Dracula back from the dead. Which was exactly Johnny Alucard’s intention, but of course his dopey chums don’t know that and they get a helluva fright, especially Caroline Munro who’s stuck right there in the firing line.
But it proves the point that kids who already have sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll do sometimes turn to black magic, the occult and the dark arts for that little something extra when they’ve grown tired of everything else in their lives. It’s the next step up on the ‘kicks’ ladder, as it were. The kids in THE DARK are no exception. One of them, Chris, says about another one of their member, Sheila:
‘I think she’s seen every horror film that’s ever been made.’
To which Sheila promptly replies:
‘Well, they’re such fun. I like monsters… They amuse me. I think being frightened is fun.’
Thank you, Sheila! You’ve hit the nail on the head there. We all think being frightened is fun. Why else would we read books like this or watch films like THE HAUNTED HOUSE OF HORROR? Because we want a good old fright, that’s why. I personally think it’s because it takes our minds temporarily off our own crappy little lives, haha. Later on, Chris says of Sheila:
‘The way you relish blood, Sheila, anybody’d think you were a vampire.’
To which she (jokingly?) replies:
‘Yes, well, you’d better watch out next time I give you a love-bite, then.’
The kids jump at the chance to drive out into the countryside in the middle of the night, in the middle of a party, just because one of them says he knows of an old deserted house that might be haunted.
In my day- harrumph!- the party was the party, and was plenty good enough for us. Just like in my day, we didn’t get expensive goody-bags to take home after a party because we’d just been to a fucking party. That WAS the party. Harrumph again!
The cars draw up outside the house;
An old dilapidated building; huge and sinister.
They enter the room…
Where there are still pieces of old furniture,
Even torn curtains hanging.
Most of the glass in the windows is broken
And there has been a vague attempt at boarding them up.
A great deal of damage obviously the result of hooliganism.
If this house isn’t haunted to buggery, I’ll eat my… well, I’m not a hat person but I’ll eat something, anyway. A large slice of chocolate cake, maybe. There’s some in the cupboard. Anyway, Richard, the guy whose idea it was to come to this house in the first place, tells us a bit about the house’s history:
‘Apparently, the family who owned this house were all bumped off one dark night. One of them went mad, for some reason, and killed all the rest.’
Then, a little later:
‘The story goes that one dark night, one of the sons- for no apparent reason- went raving berserk and hacked his entire family to death.’
Oooooooooh. Shades of THE AMITYVILLE HORROR here and the Ronald DeFeo murders, a full decade and a bit before they happened too so we know that Michael came up with the idea himself and wasn’t inspired by the Amityville phenomenon. Another girl, Sylvia, states clearly her opinion of the house:
‘I can feel an evil presence here. There’s an aura about the place.’ Also: ‘That house is evil. I could feel it. It’s evil.’
And Richard adds, after informing us that the abandoned old mansion is now supposedly the property of an aged cousin of the deceased owners who now lives in a mental home (that’s nice and cheerful, innit?), that the place is ‘the house of the dead.’ So now we know…
It’s not altogether surprising when one of the young ‘uns is brutally murdered while the kids are holding their makeshift séance in the obviously haunted house. But when Chris makes the stunning discovery that ‘the (front) door’s still bolted,’ it clearly means that the calls are coming from inside the house…!
Lol, it doesn’t mean that, but it does mean that whoever killed the murder victim is still in the house. It could even be one of them and, as they can’t find another perpetrator when they search the house, it means that it probably is one of them.
So how do they cope with this staggering knowledge? Well, I can totally assure you that they do all the wrong things and get themselves into such a tangled muddle that it’s hard to see how they can ever get out of it, which is exactly what you want from a horror movie.
There’s a wonderful scene set in the British Museum, a place which I’ve always wanted to visit. It sounds so atmospheric and spooky, with the weight of thousands of years of history inside its walls. I want to visit it even more now that I know that they have stamp rooms and literary rooms as well as the Egyptian rooms. They’d better still have those, lol. They’d jolly well better not have changed anything in the last sixty years or else. Or else what? Well, I’ll just be very pissed off, that’s all.
All kinds of sexual tensions and forbidden attractions are simmering away below the surface as well, as couples come together and break apart with all the frequency you might except from a large mixed group of horny young ‘uns in their twenties. There’s some gorgeous writing in there too which is brilliantly evocative of the atmosphere Michael tries successfully to create:
The shadows loom like gigantic veils… Draped over the walls.
The sky is slashed with clouds.
The house stands alone; Bathed in the moonlight.
You can really see the house standing there, can’t you, all dark and brooding and evil, like in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, where whatever walked there, walked alone…? You see the house in your mind’s eye and then you immediately know that some really bad shit is going to go down in there. How could it not, in a house that’s obviously so chock-full of bad mojo and as malignant as a particularly persistent cancerous tumour?
There are some fantastic full colour and black-and-white movie poster photos towards the back of the script-book which will be invaluable to the collector of movie memorabilia, and the book itself- or indeed, any or all of the books- would make a wonderful gift for any film buff or movie lover. As usual, all the books are available to buy from Michael’s own website and his publishers, PAPER DRAGON PRODUCTIONS. So, until next time, for God’s sake don’t go in the house…!
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, womens’ fiction, erotic fiction, erotic horror fiction and erotic poetry. Several new books are currently in the pipeline. You can browse or buy any of Sandra’s books by following the link below straight to her Amazon Author Page:
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