Some movie links to Murder in Greenwich seem obvious, as when Martha's ghost calls the Skakel house "A blueblood version of Lord of the Flies." But you will see less in that movie than you will see in Masque of the Red Death ('64) with Vincent Price as Prospero.
H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allan Poe have two Hollywood masters of the occult in common, Charles Beaumont and Vincent Price. Beaumont used an idea from his “Dead Man’s Shoes” in his screenplay adaptation of Lovecraft’s 1924 novelette “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”. The title of his movie comes from Edgar Allen Poe’s poem The Haunted Palace. Beaumont’s screenplay uses the name that Lovecraft gave to his protagonist and a rough semblance of his plot with Price in the duel role of Charles Dexter Ward and his warlock ancestor Joseph Curwen.
As in Lovecraft’s novelette, Beaumont’s Curwen, who was burned alive for witchcraft, returns from the dead when Charles inherits his estate. In Lovecraft’s story, Charles is a young, single man eager to learn everything. Through a book he finds in the castle he brings Curwen back to life. The hideous resurrection process kills young Charles by ripping the flesh and blood from his body. Beaumont’s Charles Dexter Ward and Curwen are middle-aged men. Charles has a wife named Ann. Curwen steals his body by spiritual possession. Beaumont alludes to resurrection in “Dead Man’s Shoes” with a clever reference to Easter.
You can’t beat an established action hero or villain, an established “psycho” or a “master of horror” to establish those qualities in a character immediately. When you see Vincent Price, for example, as a villain in any horror movie you see him as a villain in all of them. He’s believable even if the story isn’t. That’s the power of type casting.
In Beaumont’s screenplay adaptation of Edgar Allan Poe’s short story Masque of the Red Death, Vincent Price is Prospero, a medieval Italian prince who worships Satan. He offers his castle to his blueblood “friends” as protection against a deadly plague. Hazel Court is his black arts apprentice Juliana. After Prospero makes her give up her bedroom, her bathtub – yes, bathtub – and finest clothes to a peasant girl, she brands herself with an inverted cross to become the Devil’s handmaiden. Why not, after a slam like that? Juliana believes that she will die in the next ceremony to become Satan’s wife and thereby gain immortality. By an apparent satanic miracle she survives. A falcon then flies into the room and leaves her dead and bloody in her beautiful red wedding dress.
From the 1950s through the 1970s Vincent Price starred in so many horror flicks that when you heard his name you automatically pictured him in a horror flick. In the 1960s he stared in five movies and four vignettes based on the works of Edgar Allen Poe. Masque of the Red Death is an Edgar Allen Poe short story. In the movie Prospero reveals himself as a Satanist to a beautiful kidnapped peasant girl named Francesca. He calls his “master” by four names, Satan, The Lord of Flies, The Fallen Angel and the Devil. You’ve probably heard Satan called Beelzebub, too. In ancient Greek and Latin Beelzebub means “Lord of the flies.”
Murder in Greenwich makes a direct reference to Beelzebub’s English name in the scene where Martha Moxley is sitting in her backyard drawing. You hear birds chirping and you see a small, rectangular garden pond in front of her. In the foreground of her artwork is a stone bridge with a Roman arch over a stream with a high, unfinished structure of some kind in the background. A golf ball flies over her head and lands in the pond. You don’t see the ball fly through the air or land in the water but you can see the pond in the upper right corner of the frame. When you hear the splash and see Martha looking back over her shoulder you know what happened.
Martha goes to investigate. On her way, she sees a golf ball on her lawn. Creeping further though the trees she sees the Skakel house with Michael and Tommy in front of the porch chipping golf balls. Tommy attacks his younger brother by slamming him in the back of the head with a golf ball. They fall to the ground in a vicious fight with Michael pounding his brother’s head into the ground as though he were trying to crack his skull. Their sister Julie drags her father out of the house to break it up.
Just before then Martha’s voiceover calls the Skakel house “a blueblood version of Lord of the Flies. They do what they want.” Just afterwards Martha’s sad face fades into a shot of the Belle Haven Club pool with a boy belly flopping into the water and the heads of other kids bobbing on the surface.
Lord of the Flies was a William Golding novel about shipwrecked adolescent boys on a desert island who revert to savagery without adult supervision. The boys who try to establish law and order are overwhelmed. Martha Moxley’s voiceover is most likely referring to the 1963 screenplay adaptation of Golding’s novel.
Throughout Murder in Greenwich you get figurative snapshots of the Skakel household descending into chaos when Tommy, Michael and Julie’s mother Anne dies at home of cancer. The golf ball plopping into the pond is probably supposed to symbolize the Lord of the Flies shipwreck. The boy belly flopping into the pool and the heads of the kids in deep water are probably supposed to represent the kids in the water after the ship goes down. The fight scene with Julie helpless to break it up and her father handing her his glass of liquor before he steps in, makes Martha’s Lord of the Flies analogy explicit. It also makes the Murder in Greenwich analogy to Lord of the Flies explicit.
However, several details in that scene and the first few frames of the Belle Haven pool scene it fades into come from Masque of the Red Death. They probably weren’t intended but there are too many of them in all the right places to have come from anywhere else. They give you chirping birds, a place where “royalty” lives, stone Roman arches, a wide-eyed girl, flying balls, a Catholic girl, “bells,” a haven and “Lord of Flies.” Masque of the Red Death gives you all of those things, too.
Like Sister Anne in The Rosary Murders and Julie Skakel in Murder in Greenwich, Francesca in Masque of the Red Death is Catholic. You know that because she wears a crucifix around her neck and the only Christian church in medieval Europe was the Catholic Church. Prince Prospero brings Francesca to his castle. Chambermaids strip off her dirty rags and toss her into Juliana’s bathtub – which is quite a trick since bathtubs hadn’t been invented yet. Anyhow, she lands with a splash. Prospero makes her hand over the crucifix to him. He puts it on a table by the bed, which was Juliana’s and is now Francesca’s.
A source movie for Fuhrman’s “creative” efforts might have links to them scattered from one end to the other in any order. You can’t even be sure that Fuhrman saw an entire movie. He might have seen only a trailer in one instance and stepped away from the tube or the movie screen to do something else in another instance. Nevertheless, the more matching patterns you see or the more explicit they are the less likely they came about coincidentally.
You see this frequently with names in Fuhrman’s history hitched to actor or character names in screenplays. In his Murder in Brentwood book he mentions a character played by actor Dennis Franz and a friend named Kevin who helped him and his family hide from reporters after his perjury conviction. But in his telling of the story he superimposes so many elements from The Bodyguard with Kevin Cosner and Whitney Huston that they couldn’t have come from anywhere else. Dennis Franz and Whitney Huston are probably his conscious reasons for changing the real name of the Skakel’s gardener from Franz Wittine to Alex Grafton. If you saw the last two minutes of The Bodyguard and the last two minutes of Murder in Greenwich you wouldn’t have to ask why.
The Masque of the Read Death element linking Francesca in Juliana’s bathtub to Prospero telling her about his master “Satan” is her crucifix. She hands it to him while she is in the tub and you don’t see it again for 12 minutes. In that time Prospero tells his noble guests about “the anatomy of terror” that his friend the Duke promised to explain to another guest. He talks about waking up and hearing footsteps from “someone who has just moment before been in your room.”
Later you see Francesca asleep on her back in bed. The camera zooms in on the table beside the bed where you see her cross just as Prospero left it. You hear footsteps, a door creaking and light from outside the room casting shadows inside. Francesca awakens to see her cross. She hears Prospero’s voice chanting in Latin outside her room. She gets out of bed walks a short distance with a lit candle. Light from the open door casts a shadow from her candle onto her nightgown. When she looks back at her crucifix it is inexplicably covered in blood. She gasps and drops her candle but recovers her composer and follows Prospero’s chants to a little room downstairs with burning candles and satanic icons. Juliana sits in the room as though in a trance. Prospero reclines as though dead. Francesca touches his cheek. He opens his eyes, sending her screaming and running though the castle.
You will see the crucifix, the candle, the blue nightgown, the shadow, and Catholic icons with the dying Anne Skakel in Murder in Greenwich.
Here, let me remind you that Charles Dexter Ward’s wife in The Haunted Palace is Ann. Joseph Curwen the warlock was lashed to a tree with straw covering his feet and set ablaze. Ann Ward thought that the Burning Man Tavern was a quaint name until she heard the story. When Charles and Ann came to the town somewhere in New England to claim Charles’ inheritance, they expected to find a house, not a castle.
If you haven’t noticed, the names Francesca and Juliana in Masque of the Red Death have “an” inside of them – ideal for the composite character Anne Skakel in Murder in Greenwich. Julie, Anne Skakel’s daughter, inherited her mother’s golf clubs. The head of one club from that set was found next to a tree. In the movie (not in fact), the other clubs were found in a bag inside the house. That sequence includes trick-or-treaters dressed as the Wicked Witch of the West from The Wizard of OZ and an orange and yellow blur that looks like a tree or pole on fire. The Wicked Witch of the West perished in her castle when she torched the scarecrow.
According to Fuhrman, the Greenwich police avoided the Skakel house “like it was haunted.” He tells his wife in a long distance phone chat that the people of Greenwich treat him as though he has “the plague.” He then tells her that Dr. Baden is coming to town and cuts the call short when he looks out of his window and sees “the man from Maryland.” In The Haunted Palace, Charles and his wife Ann sit at opposite ends of a long table with a doctor between them as their guest. Charles asks the doctor why the townspeople treat him as thought he has “the plague.”
The two constants in all these stories are, of course, Edgar Allan Poe, the man from Baltimore, and Vincent Price. In Masque of the Red Death you see Price as Prospero. In a scene beginning outdoors where two tree limbs, the castle’s battlements, roof and towers delineate the skyline, you hear birds chirping and you see a Roman arch around the gate. Prospero, standing with Francesca on the upper level of his castle, tells her to watch as he sends a falcon with three little balls around each of its legs flying through the air to kill a dove.
The falcon kills the dove. The metal spheres attached to its legs sound like bells as it takes flight and signal where to find it after the kill. The Murder in Greenwich scene that ends where the Lord of the Flies scene begins shows Martha on a Belle Haven beach with three spheres tied to her braids spying on Thomas French kissing a girl. In the Masque of the Red Death falcon scene Prospero tells Francesca that the falcon is trained by sewing “her” eyes shut. He uses his demonstration as a metaphor for blind Christian obedience to “a deity long dead.” This is the first time he refers to the Devil as “The Lord of Flies.”
A nobleman with a mustache and beard arrives at the base of Prospero’s castle in a top-of-the-line carriage. He thinks that he and his wife have been invited to a party. Prospero tells the blueblood that he is not welcome because he has exposed himself to the red death. The nobleman pleads for “haven.” Prospero gives him a crossbow arrow through his throat, instead, and tosses down a knife for his wife to kill herself.
Martha Moxley got a piece of a golf club shaft through her throat in Murder in Greenwich. In the previous scene where Fuhrman is talking on the phone to his wife in his upstairs motel room you see a cutout of a blue arrow (blue blood) on his wall next to Martha’s picture. He tells his wife that he is being treated like he has “the plague,” and looks down from his window to see the man from Maryland in his top-of-the-line carriage – a Mercedes Benz. The man from Maryland is a “blueblood” with a mustaches and beard.
In Rosemary’s Baby Guy is from Maryland and a recorder is a musical instrument used in satanic rites. The Devil’s son has a Greek worshiper. Beelzebub in Greek and Latin means Lord of Flies. Rosemary’s Baby gives you the Greek. Murder in Greenwich gives you the Latin in the scene where Martha’s voiceover calls the Skakel house “a blueblood version of Lord of the Flies.” It begins outdoors with chirping birds, a Roman (Latin) arch in her drawing and balls flying though the air. You see two tree limbs, rooftops and gables on the Skakel house delineating the skyline. Martha’s ghost expands on her Lord of the Flies analogy by saying, “They weren’t like other families in Belle Haven. They weren’t like other families, period.”
In The House on Carroll Street you will recall that the boy who looks like Michael Skakel recites a passage of the Edgar Allen Poe poem “Bells” and tells her that he thinks the words make a beautiful sound. No need to get into “birdies” and “eagles.” Those terms are implicit in the game of golf and the connection to the Masque of the Red Death dove and falcon require no elaboration. I should, however, add that Castle Keep begins Major Falconer and his men in a jeep and Sgt. Rossi saying, “Did you hear a scream…like a wild bird, maybe an eagle?”
In any event, you can see that Murder in Greenwich is a collage of “cutouts” from other movies superimposed on Fuhrman’s version of his investigation into the 22-year-old murder of Martha Moxley. The only movies where you will see so many signatures of other movies are in spoofs like The Naked Gun series or Mel Brooks’ Fatal Instinct. There, the object is to cram as many of them as possible into the movie. Murder in Greenwich outdoes them all in a big way. Where you can count dozens of links to other movies in the satires intended to evoke them, you can count hundreds in Murder in Greenwich. The entire movie is saturated with them – just as Fuhrman’s version of the Bundy murders is saturated with them. Many of them are from the same movies.
What about Francesca’s crucifix in Masque of the Red Death, Julian’s bedroom, the shadow and the little room downstairs with the candles and the religious icons? What about the recorder in Rosemary’s Baby? How does it link Masque of the Red Death to Murder in Greenwich?
Let’s start with Hazel Court as Juliana in Satan’s chapel – the little room downstairs from her former bedroom – performing the ritual that will make her the Devil’s handmaiden. She kneels before an altar with two statuettes of Satan, a golden goblet, a folded cloth and burning coals in a tray. A dagger with a crucifix attached to the tip like a branding iron rests on the altar with the crucifix heating up in the tray. Juliana recites her handmaiden pledge as she lifts the inverted crucifix on the dagger to her bosom. You see the crucifix and its shadow before she strikes. And as she lifts it from her seared flesh you get multiple images of the inverted cross in the shape of the dagger in the crucifix, its shadow and in the brand it leaves on Juliana’s skin.
Murder in Greenwich gives you this ritual in two parts. Holding to the six-minute rule in Murder in Greenwich, you get the hot coals and the seared flesh (the burnt hotdog on the barbeque pit) a tennis court and a reference to Anne Skakel on her deathbed in one sequence. In the other six-minute sequence you get Julie Skakel, a woman dipping the tip of a knife into butter and a man with the tip of a knife on a plate. Other key elements are reversed. Juliana is female. Weeks is male. Juliana brands herself with a hot metal cross on her breast, leaving a record of her ceremony on her skin. Weeks has a cold metal tape recorder taped to his back. When Juliana brands herself she spasms in pain. When Fuhrman rips the tape from Weeks’ back holding the recorder he spasms in pain.
The “pain” scene fades into Michel outside his dead mother’s door. He opens it and flashes back to her lying in bed on her back clutching a rosary in one hand and a large crucifix in the other. On each side of the dying woman, Juliana’s Satan statuettes are replaced with a Jesus statuette and a Mary statuette. As it was with Juliana in Satan’s chapel, you get burning candles, an “altar” and multiple images of the cross. The table at the foot of Anne’s bed sits like an altar with two candles, two crosses, a metal tray, a folded cloth and other items. There are five crosses in all, one of which you never see but you know is there, just as you know Anne Skakel is a composite of Juliana and Francesca by her blue nightgown and the cross on her nightstand.
The cross is on the statuette of Mary, Mother of God – a Catholic icon that first appeared in medieval Europe. You see one just like it in The Rosary Murders. You don’t see the fifth cross even in the close-up of Anne Skakel lying in her blue nightgown (like Francesca’s) because it is hidden by the shadow of ether a cross or a candle. You know it’s there because the other crosses in the room and the one in her left hand tell you that she is holding rosary beads in her right hand. You can’t tell how the cross is oriented but from Anne’s perspective the one in her left hand is inverted. From the perspective of anyone wearing a crucifix it is always inverted.
When you see things like this in other movies you know that the connections did not come out of your head. Often they are imbedded deliberately as inside jokes or tributes to someone directly or indirectly involved in the project. Sometimes they appear as acknowledgments that something in the movie was inspired by another movie. Sometimes the moviemakers simply insert them because they seem as though they belong without realizing where they came from. Accidental associations like these have caused many writers, composers and producers to be sued for plagiarism. Intentional associations like these can mean a lot of things, some of which are personal and intended to send a message to a small audience within the larger audience.
Mark Fuhrman does it all in Murder in Greenwich, taking a page out of Cassandra Peterson’s “book” in Elvira, Mistress of the Dark. This is where all of the Vincent Price links come together. You don’t have to read Fuhrman’s Murder in Greenwich book to see where Elvis fits into the movie. All you need to know it that it had to do with one of Fuhrman’s jokes. In the movie, he turns it into his “haunted house” remark in his conversation with Weeks about American royalty and his new book, and with the image of dogs in the woods.
It’s no accident that Cassandra Peterson as Elvira, in her movie Elvira, Mistress of the Dark (’88) has an uncle named Vincent. She admired Vincent Price and she knew him well. That’s where the name Vincent in her movie comes from. “Uncle Vinny” is a tribute to Vincent Price.
Elvira inherits from her Great Aunt Morgana a book, a house and a dog. The book is full of magical spells. The house is haunted and the dog is a shape-shifting familiar. Elvira sleeps in an Elvis Presley T-shirt. You won’t know what that implies unless you know that Cassandra Peterson met Elvis when she was the youngest Los Vegas showgirl in history at the age of 17 and he encouraged her in her dancing career. Elvira’s greatest ambition is to headline as a dancer in her own Los Vegas show. Cassandra Peterson’s favorite dancer was Ann Margaret who starred in her own Los Vegas show. Ann Margaret starred with Elvis in Viva Los Vegas. Peterson sneaks Wizard of OZ references into Elvira as an allusion to her roots. She was born and raised in Kansas.
In the first Smoking Gun, I zeroed in on Elvira for several reasons having to do with Fuhrman’s investigation of the Bundy murders, my Iago hypotheses and his credit card alibi.
Elvira wore a black dress (Nicole’s black dress). She had large breasts (Nicole’s breasts enlargement). She carried a dagger (Nicole was killed with a knife that left double edged puncture marks). She made two thinly veiled references to performing fellatio (Nicole’s “Brentwood hello”). Cassandra Peterson is a natural redhead. Kassandra in Warlock is a redhead. Warlock had many links to the Bundy murders. It had a priceless book (Fuhrman’s primary motive for murder according to the Iago hypothesis) and a crucifix (Nicole wore one in a photo taken with O.J.). It had nails driven though a plank of wood (Fuhrman’s analysis of the nail holes in the wood on the parkway next to O.J.’s Bronco).
As Elvira, Cassandra Peterson wears a black wig. According to my Iago hypothesis, Mark Fuhrman wore a red wig when he shot an armed robber five times and planted a knife next to him. If my hypothesis was correct, his partner in the Bundy murders also wore a wig and probably false whiskers as well. O.J. kept false whiskers as a disguise and Nicole’s sister Denise needed only a blonde wig to pass for Nicole at a distance or with people who didn’t know Nicole well. If my Iago hypothesis was correct, a wig was very important to Fuhrman. I also looked for a wig that came off as a metaphor for the hair that came off in and on the knit cap on Bundy. A TV anchorwoman’s wig comes off in Elvira.
The clincher for me in Elvira was the gas-station-in-the-desert scene. Combined with a Kassandra gas-station-in-the-desert scene in Warlock, it completes Fuhrman’s credit card alibi – violent death, a “football player” killer and a “soft drink” included. The warlock kills an innocent child on purpose. Elvira kills a “psycho” hitchhiker on purpose and a gas station attendant by accident. I looked for gas pumps in Murder in Greenwich and found them in the background of the brief scene with Fuhrman and Weeks leaving the police station. In the book, this is where Fuhrman makes his Elvis joke. More about this in chapter 26: The Value of X – as in words and names containing the letter x, designs, signatures, railroad crossing signs, missing parts of a puzzle and the Roman numeral 10….
No matter what you see in this book, keep in mind that you don’t see many movie links because I couldn’t fit them in where they belonged. “The little room downstairs” in Masque of the Red Death, for example, are lyrics from an Elton John tune sung as background music in the Murder in Greenwich scene following the Anne Skakel deathbed scene. In my first three drafts of this chapter I omitted them altogether to save room for something else. To include them I made other significant cuts.
The movie links to Murder in Greenwich can be tough to follow because they do not connect to the same movies in consecutive order and they do not always connect in ways you expect. To use ideas in your movie from other movies that you don’t want traced to their source you have to disguise them. You turn them into symbols and metaphors, flip them on their heads, rename them, make two or three characters out of one, reverse sexes, names and roles, etc. If an idea comes from multiple sources you put them together in the order that fits your story and the characters, settings and props you have to work with.
The trouble is, you have to do the same things when you want your audience or a select group within that audience to see the connections and you cannot be conscious of every source you draw from. The process of finding the source material is therefore the same.
The makers of Murder in Greenwich probably weren’t conscious of all the places their “Lord of the Flies,” analogy took them. But you know where some of them lead when you see Masque of the Red Death with Prospero thrusting five daggers (crosses) into a table top as a prelude to entertainment he says was inspired by “My master, The Lord of Flies.” You see burning candles. You see Juliana sitting on Prospero’s right with her inverted cross brand on her breast and Francesca sitting on his left, knowing that death is near.
From there, it’s automatic to recall the shadow on Francesca’s gown and the multiple crosses in Joanna’s handmaiden rite. It takes little to then see Anne Skakel on her deathbed surrounded by candles and five crosses with her son looking on helplessly knowing that death is near. You have found a Murder in Greenwich source. You will find others
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison
Copyright © 2004 Smartfellows Press