B-Movie Review – The Black Sleep – 1956

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I am embarking on a writing project (a screenplay) that is going to require a lot of research. Luckily for me that research mostly involves watching a whole bunch of old movies. And I’m talking b-movie schlock horror. Mad scientists, monsters, screaming girls, crumbling castles, fog, lightning, all that good stuff. As I’m watching them I figured I might as well share some of the great old movies with you, starting with The Black Sleep from 1956.

It was released in America as a double feature alongside The Creeping Unknown which, if you live in the UK, you might not have heard of. Over here it was called The Quatermass Xperiment.

The Black Sleep was so scary to audiences back in 1956 that the parents of Stewart Cohen tried to sue United Artists and the Lake Theatre for negligence after their nine year-old son died of fright. He was so afraid that he ruptured an artery.

Written by John C. Higgins, (who also wrote a film called Robinson Crusoe on Mars starring Adam West, which I’ve only discovered in writing this introduction and is going straight to the top of my to-watch list), The Black Sleep is about a mad scientist who is trying to cure his wife’s brain tumour by experimenting with people’s brains.

It stars Basil Rathbone as Dr Joel Cadman, the mad scientist of the movie. The quality of the movie is heightened by two supporting cast members, legends of Universal Monster movies; Lon Chaney Jr. and Bela Lugosi.

Dr Gordon Ramsey, played by Herbert Rudley, is in prison the night before he is due to be hung for murder when he gets a visit from his old mentor, Dr Cadman. Cadman tells Ramsey that he believes he is innocent but is unable to help. He offers Ramsey a sedative to make the hanging easier. This is a lie. The powder he pours into Ramsey’s drink is an East Indian drug known as The Black Sleep which induces a deathlike state of anaesthesia.

Ramsey is pronounced dead in his cell and so avoids the noose. The body is turned over to Cadman. When safely inside Cadman’s abbey home, Ramsey is revived. Cadman explains that he needs Ramsey’s talents to help him revive his wife, who is in a coma due to a deep-seated brain tumour.

They get to work on examining the brain of a corpse.  Ramsey learns that the “corpse” they had experimented on was alive and was now being kept in a basement dungeon where more living victims of Dr Cadman’s experiments were being kept, including Curry; the very man Ramsey had been accused of murdering.

Curry is played by Tor Johnson who you might recognise as the big guy from the infamous Ed Wood movie, Plan 9 from Outer Space.

Lon Chaney Jr. plays Mungo, who walks with a dragging leg and torments Laurie Monroe (played by Patricia Blair). It turns out that Mungo is her father, Dr Monroe. He was a lecturer at the medical college who suffered a brain disease that Cadman said he could cure. Instead, his experiments turn him into a mindless leg-dragging monster.

The Black sleep was Bela Lugosi’s last movie (unless you count Plan 9 from Outer Space, which he was in but died before the film went into production. They used test footage of Lugosi in the finished film).

Lugosi plays Casimir, a mute servant. I loved him in this film. He has so much presence in every film he’s in and I’m always pleased when he pops up.

During production Lugosi was unhappy that his character didn’t have any lines so, to pacify him, the director, Reginald Le Borg, filmed some dialogue scenes with the actor and then just didn’t put them in the movie.

The film is great. They really put the effort in to make it creepy and atmospheric. They even got a real neurosurgeon in for the close-ups of the brain surgery to make it more believable.

I’m working on a screenplay that will be a homage to the old b-movies of the 40s and 50s. I love these old films and I think more people should go out there and rediscover them. The Black Sleep is available to watch on Amazon Prime and so are many other classics (including The Quatermass Xperiment, which is also great).

Becoming Superman Book Review

Has anybody read Becoming Superman by J. Michael Straczynski? Or even heard of Straczynski for that matter. I hadn’t until I came across a book on Screenwriting he wrote in a charity shop a few months ago. It was old and battered, published in the late 90s.

I started reading the screenwriting book but had to stop. There was something different about this book. Something that made it stand out tonally from other books I had read on screenwriting. So I googled him and lo and behold his autobiography (Becoming Superman) was released at the beginning of September last month. I immediately downloaded the audiobook.It is one of the best books I have read in years. And I want to recommend it to you. It is a masterclass in autobiographical writing and the best book about how a writer became a writer I’ve ever read. I was blown away by it.

If you haven’t heard of him you might have heard of some of the things he’s written. Here’s a list of some of the highlights.

Cartoons:
He-Man
She-Ra
The Real Ghostbusters

Television:
The Twilight Zone
Babylon 5 (he singlehandedly wrote 92 of the 110 episodes)
Murder She Wrote
Sense 8 (new to Netflix)

Comics:
The Amazing Spider-Man
Thor
Superman
Fantastic Four
Wonderwoman
And many others

Novels:
Three novels including Demon Night

Films:
Changeling
World War Z
Thor
Godzilla vs King Kong (coming next year)
And so much more.

The point is, this guy knows his shit. But the reason I want everyone to read it is his personal story. The way he tells his own life story is a masterclass in suspense and intrigue and great prose all by itself. His life growing up was horrendous.

I won’t spoil things here because every revelation and dark turn is worth discovering for yourself. But I think it’s safe to say if he hadn’t become a writer he would have become a serial killer. His history is full of murdered pets, a family of criminals and psychopaths, nazis and a terrible family secret, incest, violence, and madness.

The book is hilarious in parts and incredibly dark in others.

I read this as an audiobook and as audiobooks go it is perfect. The narration is outstanding. At the beginning of the book there is a short and funny conversation between Straczynski and the narrator explaining why Straczynski isn’t allowed to narrate his own book. You know from the moment you press play that you are in for a treat.

I will be ordering a hardback so I can read it again just as soon as I get paid.

There is a worry that I’ve hyped this book up far too much and it couldn’t possibly live up to expectation. But it can, and then some.

I very rarely feel the urge to read a book twice but I’m eager to start again from page one already.

The Rats by James Herbert – REVIEW

This book surprised me. I was expecting some schlock. Some B-movie pulp horror. A first attempt at fiction by an author who would become one of England’s best selling horror novelists. But actually, it was brilliant.

It has a few intentional false starts so you’re not sure for a while if the person you’re following on that page is going to die in the next. Or if he, or she, will go on to be the main protagonist of the story. At first the book is a series of vignettes of rat killings. But you don’t just get a violent attack. You really get to know every character before they are ripped to shreds.

It starts with a story involving a gay salesman struggling with his love for another man. You think he’s going to be the main character and then he wakes up to find he’s being eaten alive by a swarm of rats the size of a small dogs.

The depth James Herbert gets from his characters is impressive for such a small book. He wants you to feel something for them before their eyes are graphically chewed out.

There are lots of things about this book I want to spoil for you, but I won’t. The ending was absurd and brilliant. I absolutely recommend it.

I Think Super Mario is a Leprechaun

I’ve just seen the trailer for the new Mario game that’s coming out on the Switch. I thought Mario was a human!? Mario Odyssey is based in the real world, instead of the Mushroom Kingdom, and so there are normal people milling around the city (New Donk City…) and Mario, by comparison, is clearly not human. I think Mario might be a leprechaun.

mario-midget

Everything I thought I new about Mario is a lie. Plumber my arse. That explains why he never a tool kit. He’s just a leprechaun with a fetish for boiler suits. Pervert.

Still, this is the first time I’ve been excited about a console coming out since 1996 when the N64 came out (mine’s been plugged in since 1997). The game looks damn good. I think I can get by Mario’s newly revealed perversion. That little deviant. The first thing I’m going to do when I get the game is jump on that woman’s head. I think she might be a Goomba in disguise.

Check out the trailer –

Tom Waits – Small Change

2137239Tom Waits was a man with a voice like burnt gravel and the mannerisms of Heath Ledger’s Joker. He sounded like Louis Armstrong when he sang. You don’t expect that voice to come out of him when you first glimpse this thin, junky like, haggard man on the album cover of Small Change. That voice comes out like a parody of Armstrong. So strange to hear it from this thin white tramp, stinking of booze and cigarettes.

In interviews his wit was so quick you wondered if it was planned ahead of time. The man was just sharp. One interviewer said to him, after Tom pulled a bottle of wine from nowhere and started drinking, “It’s kinda strange to have a guy sitting here with a bottle in front of him.” And without pause Tom said, “I’d rather have a bottle in front of me than a frontal lobotomy.” This man was quick. That same wit, that odd poetic sense of humour, finds its way into his lyrics.

Small Change came out in 1976. You can put that record on and immediately find yourself transported to a world that maybe never even existed outside of fiction. A world of Beat Poets. Smokey bars. Dimly lit stages. You’re at a small table near the front of the stage. You can see your own distorted reflection in the side of the grand piano. Hunched over the keys, with smoke drifting up from his cigarette, is Tom Waits. His slow ragged voice singing, “The piano has been drinking…”

TomWaits1Normally artists easily find themselves categorised away in your mind with similar artists. But Tom Waits doesn’t fall in with Bob Dylan, or Leonard Cohen, as you might expect. He’s on the pile with Charles Bukowski, Jack Kerouac, and William S. Burroughs. All writers. And his influences are as deeply bound with comedians like Lenny Bruce and Lord Buckley as they are with the jazz that feeds his music. Tom Waits was a wit-inflicted Beat Poet with a piano.

Small Change was his fourth album. The opening track, Tom Traubert’s Blues, is a twisted version of Waltzing Matilda. Although Written in London while on tour there the song is about an earlier time. The songs subtitle, Three Sheets to the Wind in Copenhagen, sums up the nature of the narrative.

But track two, Step Right Up, is where the album kicks off. Tom takes old clichéd advertising slogans and stitches them together in this humorous musical rant. “Step right up. You got it buddy: the large print giveth, and the small print taketh away.”

Every track has something worth hearing, a great lyric or grim scene (like, “Crawling on her belly, and shaking like jelly, and I’m getting harder than Chinese algebra.” From the dirty but brilliant song, Pasties and a G-String), but the stand-out track is My Piano Has Been Drinking (not me). A nonsense song about a singer in a bar. A drunkard passing blame to his instrument and voicing distain at everything around him. The piano is played with disregard. It’s like an act. Tom Wait’s playing the drunk. While drunk. As for the words, there will be no lyrical spoilers here, it’s worth waiting for.

I won’t go into the rest of the album, some things are worth discovering for yourself.