6 January 2018



'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...'

My own first introduction to screenwriter Michael Armstrong, from whose own website the above words are taken, was when I watched one of his most famous and memorable films, HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS.

Now Michael is publishing all his wonderful screenplays with Paper Dragon Productions (their website address is at the end of this piece). When I was sent a selection of these gorgeous script-books to read and review, I went straight for the book of HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS, which features an adorable haunted house on the cover.

It's a terrific horror comedy that had the distinction of being the first and only film ever to feature the following horror actors all under the same cinematic roof, as it were: Christopher Lee, Vincent Price, Peter Cushing and John Carradine. Well...! If you know of a more distinguished cast ever to grace a movie's credits, I'd surely like to hear about it.

Michael based his marvellous screenplay on the 1913 novel, SEVEN KEYS TO BALDPATE by the curiously named Earl Derr Biggers. 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. I've always wanted to speed-write something but I have two kids and five hamsters. Snails' is the only possible pace...

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 a James Bond convention on a day when everyone's been asked to come dressed as Ursula Andress Emerging From The Waves, even the blokes. Especially the blokes, lol. Yeah, you know that's gonna be a big day!

Anyway, our bemused novelist will have a hell of a job getting any writing at all done with all the famous faces popping up continuously to distract him from his goal. There was a great supporting cast starring alongside the four main lads as well, people like Desi Arnaz Jr., Sheila Keith, a smashing horror icon in her own right, and Julie Peasgood, you know, 'er offa BROOKSIDE, the best Scouser soap opera ever made. (The ONLY Scouser soap opera ever made?)

HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS will still be in most horror fans' Top Ten Favourite Horror Film lists to this day. It was a big hit on its release and now it serves as a crucial part of cinematic history as well, thanks to the distinguished cast list.

Sir Christopher Lee was the last of the four main lads to shuffle off his mortal coil in 2015 at the staggering age of ninety-three. I still miss him like crazy, but Michael's HOUSE OF THE LONG SHADOWS is the first film/book I turn to when I want to be reminded of how handsome, talented and smoulderingly sexy he was. Yeah, I still gotta massive crush, you
wanna make something of it? Didn't think so, lol.

Today I want to talk to you guys about the two latest script-books from Michael's fabulous collection, namely, GHOST TOWN and A STAR IS DEAD. Of the two, GHOST TOWN is my personal favourite. It's an unmade spoof Western that actually has enough scares in it to justify the tag of horror movie as well.

Let me talk you through the plot, which was so easy and clear to read that it was every bit as handy as watching the actual film. When you're 'reading' a film as opposed to watching it, you don't miss any of the dialogue, plus you've got all the stage directions in front of you as well so there's no way you'll be left scratching your head mumbling 'what just happened there? Who's that guy? Is he the guy from the beginning who died, or is he a new guy? He looks a lot like the guy from the beginning who died, are you sure that's not him?' Yep, that's me watching any film ever...!

A bunch of reckless, good-looking young outlaws, comprising two groups of brothers, the Carlins and the Thomases, hole up in a deserted town after robbing a bank. There's a posse hot on their heels, as per all the best Westerns (remember George Kennedy tracking down James Stewart and Dean Martin in BANDOLERO!? That was a good 'un.) and they really need to lie low for a bit till the heat's off.

The town they've chosen for this purpose, however, isn't just regular-deserted, it's flippin' MARIE CELESTE-level deserted. The folks who used to inhabit the place sure left it in a hurry, even to the point of leaving their half-finished meals on the kitchen table. Here's how Michael describes the town on page 41:

The moon is full.

The derelict buildings stand

Like towering black tombstones coldly bathed in the moonlight.

The only sounds to break the silence come from the Saloon,

From which lights are now flickering.

Mmmm. This is clearly a town which would be best left to itself. Whatever walked there, walked alone, as Shirley Jackson writes in THE HAUNTING OF HILL HOUSE, which was made into THE HAUNTING, one of the most genuinely frightening movies of all time.

If it were me, I'd light on outta there and never come back, but the lads need a place to hide and this little ghost town somewhere in the Wild West is perfect for that purpose. Even when an Old Man appears and tells 'em about a guy named Ryker who once died in the town, they don't really have any choice but to stay put. Here's what the Old Man has to say about Ryker:

Claimed he were a preacher... but he sure preached the strangest damn things you ever heard... about the Devil and such and how, if you done certain things, you'd have all this power and money and such. Everyone in town were scared of him. Then, one night, they found him standin' over this dead child, naked as the day he were born, and he had this knife in his hand...

Right, well, I'd be packing my bags by this stage but the lads have nowhere else to go. Uneasily, they shrug off the rumours that the town is as haunted as the goddamn Amityville House and settle down to wait. But for what? Because, if it's for the full horror of their little ghost town to reveal itself, they won't have long to wait...

Michael's a gifted writer. Some of his stage directions read almost like haiku. Check this out:

The moon is full.

The streets are empty.

Only the sound of the wind.

Basho could've written that, it's so sparse and beautiful. There's great humour in the book too. Check out this exchange between Kid Billy and a woman called Kitty on pages 91-92:

Kid Billy- It's 'cos I've killed a lot of people.'

Kitty- So does smallpox. That what you wanna be when you grow up, a germ?

Miaow...! And well played, Kitty-Kat.

A STAR IS DEAD, though it was never made into a film, tells the fictional story of how the management team of notorious punk band The Sex Pistols tried to clean up their grubby image by getting them to star in a family film, a musical version of Alexandre Dumas' book THE THREE MUSKETEERS. I think that that has to be the most bizarre sentence I've ever penned. That being the case, can you imagine the screenplay?

I'm much more of a peace-and-love-style hippy than a fan of the punk genre. I've never liked punks, with their safety pins through their noses and their unsanitary gobbing on people at concerts. Tsk, tsk. Filthy punks. Some of the passages in the script-book describe the frightening atmosphere at a genuine bonafide 'Seventies punk concert in a way that makes me glad that that era was before my time:

A thick blue haze of cigarette smoke hovers menacingly

Over a club packed shoulder to shoulder with PUNKS.

A terrifying feeling of violence in the air.

This is not the conscious anger of the picket line;

This is the potentially explosive atmosphere of uncontrollable mob violence.

The chaos is scary beyond belief. Read another part that comes a bit later:

This is too much for him.

He struggles out from under the stage...

Only to accidentally immerse himself in a huge Nazi flag,

Which had been part of the dressing

And now flutters down to envelop him completely.

The chaos culminates in an hilarious and unauthorised Jeeves-and-Woosterish substitution of The Sex Pistols for the genteel lady musicians at a posh gathering of the County Set:

Three old ladies, locked in the lavatory,

Bang frantically on the door to be rescued.

They are in their sixties, long evening dresses.

Two of them clutch violins.

A cello stands on the lavatory seat...

Says it all, doesn't it...?

Michael's books can be purchased through his website and from Paper Dragon Productions, Michael's publishers, and they'd make the perfect present for film buffs and students of cinema everywhere. Here are the links. I'll keep you guys posted!


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:


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