I don’t normally dig John Cusack too much, but he’s really good in this better-than-average Stephen King movie adaptation. Based on his short story, which you can find in the 2002 collection, EVERYTHING’S EVENTUAL, it has John Cusack as Mike Enslin, a writer who once wrote a very good book with feeling and humanity, but who now writes these sort of guide books to America’s haunted places.

He visits them, cynically and rudely dismisses their claims to be haunted, and then pens niche books about them. How does a sceptical non-believer in other worlds or the other side write books about haunted hotels, castles, churches and other places, when he doesn’t even believe in ghosts or life after death? I don’t know, but it’s what he does for a living.

I loved the book signing in the bookstore at the beginning of the film, when only four people come to hear Mike Enslin read from his new book. Writing is such a hard, thankless job. I know how he feels.

He even tells his four listeners that he’d be delighted to experience a ghostly sighting but that there’s no chance of that because there’s no such things as ghosts. Buzzkill… Like, does he even want to sell his bloody books or what? It almost seems like he’s sabotaging himself, carrying on like that.

His next assignment is to stay in the Dolphin Hotel, in the titular Room 1408, which is supposed to be so haunted that no-one stays in the room for longer than an hour. After some hoo-ha designed to prevent a deeply sarcastic Mike from renting the room, 1408 is opened up by the hotel manager, a slick and polished Samuel L. Jackson as Mr. Gerald Olin. There’s some good snappy dialogue between the two men when Olin is showing Enslin to his room of choice.

Enslin soon is left alone in the ‘evil’ room, in which fifty-six guests are reputed to have died since the hotel opened. He confides in his micro-walkie-talkie Dictaphone thing that he’s a little disappointed in the lack of any spectral action, but suddenly the sound of the Carpenters’ biggest hit, WE’VE ONLY JUST BEGUN, breaks out into an otherwise silent room and even the non-believing Mike Enslin has to admit that the haunted hotel room is finally starting to kick some ass…

The Carpenters’ music has been used more than once in horror movies, I do believe. There’s the shark attack movie, 48 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED, that I know of for definite. The Carpenters’ music can be rather eerily heard underwater in an area that a scientist is working on, not far from where a giant Great White Shark is prowling.

A shark that’s blind from decades of living underwater in the darkest, murkiest water, but who can still find you, and kill you… Hey, wait a minute, we’re not reviewing 48 METERS DOWN: UNCAGED here, lol, though it is a terrific shark attack flick, and much better than the first film in the series, 48 METERS DOWN.

I don’t know what it is about the Carpenters’ music that makes it so effective on a horror movie soundtrack, but I do know it can be spooky. Maybe it’s the tragic untimely death of the lead singer Karen Carpenter that allows the music to lend itself to feelings of unsettling eeriness.

BIRDS SUDDENLY APPEAR features in terrific chick flick GIRL, INTERRUPTED, in a genuinely unsettling scene in which one girl from the mental institution discovers the suicide of another. And then finally there’s Lisa Simpson from THE SIMPSONS in the Senor Ding-Dong episode, though this isn’t horror: ‘Mom, I have a test tomorrow in BIRDS SUDDENLY APPEAR…!’

John Cusack is so good in this, as the bored, jaded, disaffected writer who finally learns that things that go bump in the night actually do exist. I don’t like the bits with his whingy deceased daughter in them: ‘Daddy, Daddy, don’t you wuv me anymore?’ and so on, but, generally, all the things he sees in Room 1408 are pretty damn scary.

As someone who’s scared of heights, I was actually the most scared by the bit where Mike was out on the ledge of the Dolphin Hotel, dozens if not hundreds of feet above the unforgiving stone sidewalk, trying to make it to the next room along, but then the other rooms all disappear, leaving a petrified Mike with no choice but to return, inch by agonising inch… to Room 1408…

Of course, the movie will remind you of King’s classic ‘haunted hotel’ movie, THE SHINING, in which the entire hotel (The Overlook), not just one room, is haunted to buggery. The film also put me in mind of two Netflix shows featuring those fantastic massive old creepy apartment buildings and New York hotels with hundreds of rooms.

One is CRIME SCENE: THE VANISHING AT THE CECIL HOTEL, which deals with the true life disappearance of young female guest, Elisa Lam. The other is ARCHIVE 81, a fictional show that chronicles the crimes and cultish goings-on in an apartment building called the Visser.

That kind of hotel room/apartment building vibe can also, of course, bring ROSEMARY’S BABY to mind, a wonderful horror movie in which the building itself is part of the evil, almost a character in itself. The friends from FRIENDS all live in a similar apartment building, but the scariest thing that ever happened there was the dessert Rachel once cooked that had minced beef in it…

By the way, Mike’s publisher here is played by the guy who used to be MONK. Remember MONK? Also, Samuel L. Jackson is in this but he doesn’t say ‘muthafucka,’ only one rather mild ‘fuck,’ or shoot anybody or say, ‘I am so sick of these muthafuckin’ snakes on this muthafuckin’ plane!,’ so please be aware of this while watching the movie, as you may be triggered by his atypical, non-threatening behaviour…

Anyway, will Room 1408 defeat Mike, or will Mike conquer Room 1408 and leave the Dolphin Hotel a wiser, humbler man, with more respect for all things occult? You’ll have to watch the film to find out, but it’ll be well worth your while, even if it is about fifteen minutes too long. I do love it when Stephen King writes about writing and writers, though. Talk about write what you know…


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


Her new book, THIRTEEN STOPS EARLIER, is out now from Poolbeg Books:

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

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:




I loved this schmaltzy Christmas romantic comedy, even if there’s enough cheese and corn in it to feed a family of five for a year. I love Cary Elwes- who the hell doesn’t?- and I have no objections to Brooke Shields, whom I’d only ever seen in THE BLUE LAGOON, her 1980 film. (No, I’ve never seen Pretty Baby, her controversial 1978 film, though I’d like to, it’s meant to be good! Oooops, just heard it’s been ‘cancelled,’ I’m obviously too late!) Both stars are now well into their fifties and still looking absolutely fantastic, and that’s no word of a lie.

I love Brooke as Sophie Brown, a bestselling American author and newly-divorced mother of a daughter in college, Lexi. Sophie flees alone from the US to the wilds of Scotland at the start of the film, in order to escape the furore that occurs when she kills off the heroine’s boyfriend in her latest in a series of romance books.

It’s a bit like in Stephen King’s terrifying book MISERY, when Jaames Caan- yes, I intentionally put two ‘a’s in his forename as well as his surname, lol, it’s got more balance that way!- kills off the character of Misery Chastaine in his series of MISERY books. Now, if he’d had the sense to high-tail it to Bonnie Scotland straight after he’d done this terrible ‘murder’ of a beloved fictional character, he might be walking straight on his two hind legs today, so think on’t…!

Anyway, Sophie doesn’t just select a destination randomly by sticking a pin in a map. She chooses Scotland because her late father’s ancestral village is there. Apparently, he used to work as groundskeeper (Willie?!) for one of the Dukes in the castle of Dun Dunbar, an estate near the village. She flies there hoping to recapture some of that old childhood magic.

What happens is that she immediately falls in love with the village, the non-stop-knitting and surprisingly ‘woke’ villagers, the fabulous castle of Dun Dunbar and, also, its grumpy fecker of a laird in the form of one Myles Dunbar, played by the still blonde and still trim Cary Elwes.

They have one of those relationships where they get off to a terrible start and hate each other’s guts, but then they fall in love and they fall really, really hard for each other. Sophie thinks Myles is arrogant and rude and up himself- he is!- and Myles sees Sophie as some rich Yank who swans in with all her ideas and her money and her American-ness and starts taking over everything. You can’t really blame him for this.

As he says himself, Sophie really is everywhere, all of a sudden. She’s buying the castle from him because she loves it, and he hasn’t much choice in the matter as he’s stony-broke and he just can’t afford the upkeep any longer. She’s a firm favourite with the villagers, who all read her books and are thrilled to have her here in their twee little village. They teach her to knit and everything, for goodness’ sake.

Myles’ best friend, Thomas, who also helps him keep the castle afloat by running tours and operating the gift shop, thinks that Myles has been alone too long and that Sophie would be great for him. Even Hamish, Myles’s adorable woof-woof, is dizzy with love for Sophie. This could be the romance of the century, but naturally there’ll be a few flies in the ointment to sort out first. The course of true love and all that…

If you like men in kilts and loads of unoffensive Scottish slang, you’ll love this film. No-one says ‘och aye’ in it, though, strangely enough, and that’s the most Scottish phrase I know. If you love beautiful woods and snow-capped trees and fabulous Christmas decorations and lights, you’ll go crazy for this film, because it’s genuinely gorgeous and festive to look at.

I love that the couple, no longer in the first flush of youth, are so awkward and nervous about dating again after being out of the game for so long; it’s really sweet. I love that Sophie bravely decides to change direction with her books and write the one that means the most to her at this point in time. Drew Barrymore as ‘Herself’ is a little scary-looking. Has she had some work done? And is it okay to still ask that? I don’t want to be ‘cancelled’ too, lol.

I didn’t like the suggestion that the laird of the manor, the something-th Earl of Dunbar, is somehow better than the villagers because he lives on a big estate in a big fancy house and they rent their much smaller homes from him.

He’s only the Earl by an accident of birth. He is not better than the villagers because he lives in a bigger house, keeps himself aloof from them and has a Great Hall in which to hold parties. Am I allowed to say that, even? God Almighty, it’s tough being a writer in these ultra-politically correct times.

Myles seems to have kept himself remote from the villagers for this last while, and he’s mortified to suddenly become the centre of attention because of Sophie and their great romance, which has all the villagers tickled pink. The film is heart-warming and ‘feel-good’ to the nth degree, though it might be too soppy for some folks’ taste.

There are some massive plot-holes, of course, and there’s some really strange editing involved. This isn’t CITIZEN KANE. And I’m really disturbed as to the fate of one couple, the Donatellis, who appear in the film briefly, asking for a room at the village inn. Their scene seems as if it might be portentous, important, significant, meaningful even, but then, after this one scene, they literally never appear again.

Did something ominous happen to them, inside the world of the film? Were they kidnapped for ransom? Have they been abducted by aliens? Are they still alive, even? If you have any information at all as to the fate of this poor, poor couple, who, after all, only wanted a bed for the night at Christmas-time, then please, for the love of puppies, contact your nearest police station. There might still be time to save them.

Wait a minute. A poor couple, who only wanted a bed for the night at Christmas-time? Where have I heard of that situation before? A thought is coming to me, it’s not here yet, not here yet. Oh yes. It’s here. Here it is. Oh yeah. I forgot to buy sprouts. Happy Christmas…


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


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

The sequel, ‘THIRTEEN STOPS LATER,’ is out now from Poolbeg Books:


david copperfield



‘Like many fond parents, I have in my heart a favourite child. And his name is David Copperfield.’ Charles Dickens.

‘Barkis is willin.”

‘Janet, donkeys! Donkeys!’

David Copperfield the book is a mammoth achievement on the part of its writer Charles Dickens. Nearly a thousand pages long, it details the life of the titular David Copperfield from his baby days to much, much later on in his life, and in such detail it would truly take your breath away. I’ve been reading the book myself this year and was delighted to find this film version of it, which was first broadcast on the BBC in 1999, on Christmas Day and Boxing Day.

Everyone loves a bit of Dickens at Christmas, whether it’s his perennial festive favourite A Christmas Carol, or Great Expectations, Bleak House, Nicholas Nickleby or any of his other works.

His books are immensely popular when it comes to screen adaptations, the way Shakespeare’s works lend themselves so readily to staging in the theatre. It’s fantastic the way we’re still familiar with Dickens and his oeuvres nearly a century and a half after his death.

In this version, a pre-Harry Potter Daniel Radcliffe in his first screen role plays David as a child. His childhood at the Blunderstone Rookery in Suffolk is idyllic, spent with his adoring mother Clara Copperfield and even more adoring nurse Clara Peggotty, played by Birds Of A Feather star Pauline Quirke, who’s perfect in the role.

David’s childhood is all tender cuddles and endearments and picture books and gentle tuckings-in at bedtime. His father has pre-deceased him, so David’s childhood is a thoroughly feminine affair.

His blissful existence changes when David returns from a visit to Yarmouth, where he has been staying at the shore with Peggotty’s kindly seafaring brother Daniel (Alun Armstrong: This Is Personal: The Hunt For The Yorkshire Ripper), Daniel’s nephew Ham, Daniel’s niece Little Em’ly (who is not Ham’s sister) and a weeping widow by the name of Mrs. Gummidge, played by Patsy Byrne, the actress who portrayed Miranda Richardson’s dotty old Nursie in comedy series Blackadder.

David returns to Blunderstone Rookery, from the happiest holiday of his whole life, to find that his lovely sweet mother has married her horrible suitor, the grim, black-clothed, stern-faced and joyless Mr. Murdstone, played by an unrecognisable Trevor Eve (Shoestring, the Frank Langella Dracula.)

Mr. Murdstone brings his equally horrible sister Jane, played by Zoe Wanamaker, to live with them, and between them they pretty well terrorise both mother and son. Their only ally is now the wonderful Clara Peggotty, who would die for either of her precious charges in a heartbeat.

After an altercation in which David is savagely whipped by Mr. Murdstone, his nasty step-father sends him away to boarding school against his mother’s wishes. But it was very much what happened to the sons of well-to-do men in the Victorian era. The boys and their mothers had little or no choice in the matter.

At school, the boys were whipped by their teachers and by older boys (for whom they were forced to ‘fag’ or skivvy), made to learn a load of dry, dusty old Latin, algebra, theorems and trigonometry while deprived of most material comforts, and then they left school damaged, broken, determined to take their revenge on the world and with the most intense sexual hang-ups about being flogged that would never leave them. Okay, so I’m making a generalisation here but you get the idea.

David’s head-teacher, the sadistic old Creakle, played by Ian McKellen, is practically addicted to whipping the boys in his rather dubious ‘care.’ David’s only friend and protector is, rather luckily, the arrogant young toff Steerforth, without whose patronage David would undoubtedly have suffered much more in his schooldays.

When David’s bullied and broken young mother dies, not long after giving birth to Mr. Murdstone’s child, Murdstone removes a heartbroken David from school (heartbroken about his mum, not about leaving school!), begrudging the money that would be required to pay for the boy’s education.

He then forces him to work in a London blacking factory of which he is part-owner. It’s no more than slave labour and David is bullied there by the older boys. I’m not sure what a blacking factory is but it seems to involve a great many icky barrels of boiling hot tar. Not exactly the place for a vulnerable child.

David is happy to lodge with Mr. Wilkins Micawber (genially played by Bob Hoskins), however, one of Dickens’s most enduring characters. Married (his wife is played by Imelda Staunton) with several children, Mr. Micawber is constantly in debt, constantly hiding from his many creditors, constantly having to pawn everything in the house in order to have money for food and constantly living in the optimistic expectation that something positive will ‘turn up’ to save his family from starvation and his family name from a perpetual blackening.

The main thing you need to remember about Mr. Micawber is that you should, under no circumstances whatsoever, ever lend him money. It will undoubtedly be the last you see of it. He’s free with his IOUs all right, but unfortunately you can’t eat those. 

While lodging with Mr. Micawber, David has the experience of visiting his friend in Debtor’s Prison and of becoming intimately acquainted with the local pawnbroker, played by comedian Paul Whitehouse. When the Micawbers move away, on the promise of something’s unexpectedly having ‘turned up,’ David decides he’s had enough of the factory.

He runs away to Dover, to the one relative he has left in the world, his wildly eccentric Aunt Betsey Trotwood, played by Maggie Smith. David is as happy as Larry living with his Aunt Betsey and her no less eccentric but kindly and well-meaning lodger, Mr. Dick, played by Ian McNeice.

Aunt Betsey goes to bat for him against the odious Murdstones and, even when she does send him to school, it’s to a nice decent school in Canterbury. While there, he lodges with Aunt Betsey’s cordial lawyer Mr. Wickfield and his beautiful daughter Agnes, who treats David like a brother and becomes a lifelong friend. David has fallen on his feet here, lol.

The star of the whole show is Nicholas Only Fools And Horses Lyndhurst as the startlingly red-haired and sinister clerk of Mr. Wickfield’s, Uriah Heep. Being ‘umble’ is Uriah’s thing. Falsely ‘umble, that is, pretending he’s content to stay a lowly clerk when his ambition secretly knows no bounds. He’s the kind of poisonous wretch, however, who prefers to get ahead by bringing others down and trampling on their broken bodies on his way up the ladder to take their place.

He has his evil eye on Mr. Wickfield’s business and, even more disturbingly, on Mr. Wickfield’s lovely daughter Agnes, and he loathes David from the start, seeing him as a competitor for both ‘commodities.’ He tries to hide his hatred for David under a simmering veil of ‘umbleness,’ but I think both men know the real score. Can David prevent Uriah from doing the ultimate damage to his dearest friends…?

There’s so much more to the story. He meets the love of his life, Dora, and he entertains ambitions himself of becoming a writer, even though his grounding is in the law. My favourite storyline in the whole book/film is what happens to Little Em’ly and the poor devastated Peggotty family when David unwittingly releases a viper into their collective bosom.

And, as the cast list reads like a Harry Potter ‘pre-union,’ may I suggest that, as brilliant as Trevor Eve is in the role of Mr. Murdstone, a black-haired and hatchet-faced Alan Severus Snape Rickman might have been even better?

Michael Boone Elphick plays Peggoty’s suitor Barkis, and Cherie Lunghi is cast in the role of Steerforth’s autocratic mother. Thelma Barlow, who for years played the fluttery Mavis Wilton, Rita Fairclough’s sidekick, in Coronation Street, here portrays Uriah Heep’s mother (‘Be ‘umble, Uriah, be ‘umble!’). Comedienne Dawn French is the tipsy Mrs. Crupp, David’s landlady when he first lives independently. As adaptations go, this is an excellent one, and with an all-star cast to boot. It’s well worth three hours of your time. I say go for it…!


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:


You can contact Sandra at:








angela the 3 franks




‘A man who would drink the money for the new baby was beyond the beyonds.’

Fancying a good miserable time for myself on Easter Sunday night, after the chickens had been cooked and eaten and the crème eggs devoured, I put on ANGELA’S ASHES. This is one of the few Irish films I can stomach, as some of the rest of them are just too annoying or, quite frankly, not as good as their English or American counterparts. As I’m Irish myself, I’m allowed to say that, lol.

ANGELA’S ASHES is quite simply one of the best films ever made about the Miserable Irish Catholic Childhood, and fair play to author and school-teacher Frank McCourt (1930-2009) for turning his grim beginnings into a multi-million selling book and movie. Talk about making lemonade when life hands you lemons. That’s how you do it, Frankie lad, and more power to your elbow.

Anyway, if Frank McCourt is the hero of his own story, then the heroine must surely be his mother Angela, who put up with so much misery and poverty in her lifetime. Married to a feckless drinking man from the North of Ireland called Malachy McCourt (played by Robert Carlyle), her lot is to have and lose baby after baby (because of the high infant mortality rate for the poor of Limerick’s slums in the 1930s and 1940s) and to be barely able to feed the living ones because they have no money.

We first meet the family in America. They’ve emigrated there presumably to make a better life for themselves, but have to return to Angela’s family in Limerick when the Big Apple turns rotten and worm-infested for them. ‘We must have been the only family in living memory to be sailing AWAY from the Statue of Liberty,’ observes Frank the narrator ironically.

Limerick’s slums are already chock-full of desperately poor families. Frank and his brothers get mocked and taunted in school for wearing broken boots patched with the rubber from a bicycle tire. The family’s furniture comes from the St. Vincent De Paul Society, on the condition, seemingly, that they consent to being insulted and publicly demeaned by the members of the committee while queuing up to beg for it.

Dad is permanently out of work and, on the rare occasions when he’s in work, he drinks the wages and then loses the job for turning up late or not at all. Angela refers to him repeatedly as a ‘useless feck,’ and she’s not wrong there. Robert Carlyle’s character makes me so angry.

His sole contribution to the family seems to be getting Angela pregnant repeatedly, filling his sons’ heads with fairy stories he remembers from his childhood and drinking away every penny he ever gets his hands on, coming home pissed and incontinent offering his children ‘a penny to die for Ireland.’ When he conks out one night with his stupid selfish head practically in the piss-bucket on the landing, you can’t help feeling that he’s found his natural milieu.

Oh yes, he’s big on songs about the bould brave Fenian men and he boasts about having fought for Ireland during the War of Independence but, wouldn’t you know it, there’s no record of his ever having done military service so he’s not entitled to any pension.

He just makes me so mad. He has ‘loser’ and ‘sponger’ written all over him. He castigates Angela for going begging to the St. Vincent De Paul people or picking up coal off the street where it’s dropped off the coal-man’s cart (‘Have you no pride, Angela?’), but I don’t see him bringing in a wage for food and clothes for the kids he’s actively helped to create.

It’s almost a relief when he buggers off for good, off down the wet, waterlogged lanes where the McCourts have their tenement-style dwelling, to take the boat to England and never be heard from again, as far as I know. Frankie, played by three different actors in the three stages of his development, is the man of the house now.

We see Frankie in school, on the one hand being subjected to savage physical discipline and, on the other, being introduced to the joys of reading, a love he never loses. We see him going to the Lyric cinema- when he has the price of admission, and sometimes when he hasn’t!- to watch Westerns and old UNIVERSAL horror movies such as THE MUMMY, starring Boris Karloff. ‘He’s sticking his knife into that nice lady’s belly…!’

Frankie makes his First Holy Communion, for which he has to have his badly-behaved, sticky-up Protestant hair flattened down by his Granny’s spit, and his Confirmation. He develops typhoid and spends two months in hospital. He gets his first ever job as a coal-man’s apprentice, but has to jack it in because his eyes become super-irritated by the coal dust.

He works for the Post Office as a telegram boy and enjoys as a result his first ever sexual experience with a girl. He’s long since learned the forbidden art of ‘self-abuse,’ even though he knows full well that it makes the Virgin Mary cry.

He works for the local moneylender as a writer of threatening letters- one of the highlights being when he throws her ledger in the ocean- and every penny he makes, he puts into a Post Office Savings Account, otherwise known as his Going To America fund. Yes, that’s right. All wee Frankie McCourt wants to do is get back to the land of promise and plenty some day, where everyone has perfect teeth and a lavatory of their own. Oh joy unconfined, lol.

How can he bear to part with the rain, the misery, the hunger, the grinding poverty and the awful knowledge that his mother has to sexually satisfy her horrible cousin Laman Griffin if she wants to keep a roof over her childrens’ heads? Ah well. It’s a free country. Or maybe not…

There’s a brilliant jaunty soundtrack of ‘Thirties and ‘Forties music, lots of stunning rural scenes to ogle, and the cast is dotted with familiar faces from other Irish films and Irish soap operas, namely the now defunct rural soap GLENROE and on-going urban soap FAIR CITY. 

It’s like playing ‘Spot the minor Irish celeb…!’ Oh look, it’s your man from… And wasn’t your one in…? And there’s what’s-her-name from that thing, oh, you know the thing I mean, it was on last August Bank Holiday…!

The main person you’ll recognise should be Pauline McGlynn, aka Mrs. Doyle from clerical sitcom FATHER TED, as Frankie’s Aunty Aggie, Angela’s childless older sister. You can tell she has a heart of gold underneath the cranky, crabby exterior. Although she doesn’t once try to give anyone tea…


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:


You can contact Sandra at:








house shadows papa and victoria


‘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…’



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

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

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

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

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

THE DARK- 1960.

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

THE HUNT- 1965.



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





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.



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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The enormous room is brilliantly illuminated by candles.

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

The aftermath of an imagined massacre.

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

Piles of small animal bones neatly arranged into heaps,

Skeletons of dead rats and mice…

Hundreds of tiny white bones glinting in the candlelight:

Tiny white bones picked clean.

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

Down which enormous scratch marks can be seen…

Indicating the powerful fury of strong fingernails having clawed deeply

Into the dark oak wood.

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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




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


You can contact Sandra at:








ray milland & jane wyman - the lost weekend 1945



That a film of this calibre was made as early in cinematic history as 1945 is a fact that constantly staggers me. This is a powerhouse of a screenplay, but don’t just take my word for it. Ask the Academy, the Academy that bestowed upon it the Award for Best Screenplay in the year of its release.

The writing translates itself easily into a fantastically tight film about the grim subject of alcoholism that I’ve watched several times now without once getting bored. Let’s take a look at the film and see if I can’t infect you guys with a little of the enthusiasm I feel for it myself. Don’t worry, it’s a nice infection, not the kind that leaves you with rheumy eyes and a shiny red hooter to rival Rudolph’s…!

Ray Milland, an actor who’s also co-starred with the divine Grace Kelly in Alfred Hitchcock’s DIAL M FOR MURDER and the screen adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s THE PREMATURE BURIAL, is utterly superb as the alcoholic would-be writer, Don Birnam.

I say ‘would-be writer’ instead of actual ‘writer’ because he hasn’t written a word since University, when his Hemingway-esque short stories were the pride of the college rag.

Now, some twenty-odd years later, he’s a full-blown alkie, unemployed (and unemployable?), living on his brother Wick’s charity and wallowing in self-pity, self-loathing and self-disgust every day until the pubs open. Then you’ve lost him. Till he’s chucked out at closing-time, that is…

Even his barman and confidante Nat, of Nat’s Bar, knows that Don Birnam’s an alkie. Nat’s not without human feelings, though, and he can’t help his revulsion when Don bails out of a cleansing weekend away in the country with his brother Wick on account of the booze. As in, Don is hoping to get in some serious boozing while the cat’s away.

Desperate for a drink, Don’ll do anything to get one. He’ll beg, borrow, steal, wheedle and cajole until he’s got one. But you can’t stop at just one, of course. Or ‘natch,’ as Gloria would say. You’ve got to have another one, and another one, and so on until you eventually wake up on your own couch without any memory of how you got there. Given all the things that could have happened to Don, he’s lucky it was only the couch…!

Don isn’t so lucky the time over this particular ‘lost weekend’ that he wakes up in the alkie ward of a hospital. You’ll be back, matey, the rather smug orderly tells him. It’s got you in its grip and it won’t quit. I’m paraphrasing here but you get the gist.

Don breaks out of this terrible place, convinced he’ll never get the DTs as the orderly Bim has foretold for him. Another guy in the drunk-tank of the hospital had those. Surely nothing like that can ever happen to him, he’s not a lowlife scumbag loser like those lads at the hospital. But the dreaded DTs follow Don home. After meeting them in person, Don begins to feel like there’s only one way out for a washed-up failure like him…

A word about the ladies in the film. Helen St. James, Don’s girlfriend, is passionately played by Jane Wyman, who later went on to portray the fearsome, ball-breaking business tycoon Angela Channing in glamorous television soap opera FALCON CREST.

Helen adores Don, despite his affliction or maybe even because of it. Maybe she’s the kind of dame who finds herself a mess of a guy and tries fervently to fix him. She devotes herself to Don, probably to the detriment of her own work at TIME magazine. She worries about him incessantly and vows to stay with him regardless of his alcoholism, but she’s deluded. Don is the only one who can fix Don, but Don isn’t ready to man up yet and just quit.

What Don does to Gloria, the feisty but lonely prostitute who frequents and meets clients at Nat’s Bar, Don’s favourite spot, is not nice. Even Nat thinks it’s despicable for Don to make the needy girl think he’s going to take her out on a date when all he’ll ever want from her is a few bucks to buy his next fix of booze. Taking Gloria for a fool is not Don Birnam’s finest hour.

I sympathise with Don up to a point. Not the alcoholic bit, I hasten to add! But I was the bright shining star of the school and college magazines also, who then got all caught up in the business of ruining relationships and having kids and who subsequently never wrote another word for nearly twenty years. I allowed myself to be distracted by the nuts-and-bolts of life instead of just sitting down and damn well writing about it.

Every time I had a spare minute, which luckily wasn’t very often, I hated myself with a passion for not writing. Now I write every day, thank God. But this is why I totally feel Don’s pain. No-one self-loathes like a writer who’s not writing. Trust me, I know. Do make sure you watch this magnificent tour de force of a movie. Your life will be the richer for it.

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


You can contact Sandra at:






ray milland & jane wyman - the lost weekend 1945