Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Danger in Disguise

I'm sure you've all heard the term "Tom Foolery", but did you know that Tom Fool was a real person? Thomas Skelton (known as Tom Fool) was not only a court jester in the late 1500s, but also a murderer. He used to sit and relax by a tree and wait for passersby to ask him for directions. If he didn't like someone, he'd give them directions to the nearby quicksand.

Thomas Skelton was also Sir William Pennington's personal hit man. When Sir William was angered by his daughter's choice in men, he hired Tom Fool to kill her boyfriend. Despite decapitating the young man with an axe, Tom managed to keep his wicked sense of humor and entertain Sir William. This portion of Castle Ghosts of England will give you more of the gory details. Just skip to the 5:50 mark on the video to see Tom Fool. If you'd like to learn about Muncaster Castle (where this all took place) start from the beginning:

The story continues in this video...

I've really been enjoying the Castle Ghosts shows on YouTube! In addition to Castle Ghosts of England, I've watched Castle Ghosts of Scotland, Castle Ghosts of  Wales, and Castle Ghosts of Ireland. If you know of any Castle Ghosts I've missed, please let me know! The stories are narrated really well, and the shows teach history in the process of telling ghosts stories.

Sir William could always rely on Tom Fool to do his bidding. I think Tom was completely detached from other people and their emotions. Directing strangers to the quicksand was probably just another game for him. This must be my week to think about sociopaths! Not long after learning of Tom Fool, I watched a movie about a sociopath. The movie was Bad Influence, starring Rob Lowe and James Spader.

Before watching the movie, I read a little about the plot online. According to IMDb, the plot involved a "wimpy young executive" and "a dangerous sociopath". I automatically assumed that Rob Lowe would play the role of the executive, and James Spader would play the role of the sociopath. After all, I've watched James Spader play a convincing sociopath many times in the past. His role as Stewart Swinton in Wolf and his role as Robert California in The Office come to mind. If you don't believe me...

It's called personal space, Stewart!

James Spader can have a cold, almost reptilian look to his eyes, and I feel truly shaken while watching him. He's usually portraying a highly manipulative, intelligent character who puts himself first. He even fit that description somewhat in Boston Legal! What I am not used to seeing is the timid James Spader I watched in Bad Influence. That's right, James Spader plays the nice, ordinary man caught in Rob Lowe's sociopathic web. As surprised as I was, I ended up finding them both convincing in their roles. This movie is truly frightening, because it's so real. I did not question the reality of the movie's plot at any point.

The trouble starts with the simple question:

"What do you want, and what do you fear?"

Rob Lowe's character, Alex could help you get what you want and get rid of what you fear, but it would all happen in a Monkey's Paw sort of way. Bad Influence is a true portrait of a sociopath. Rob Lowe did his homework and watched hours of Ted Bundy footage. At times he actually looks Bundy-like! The scary reality is that I couldn't believe someone who looked like Rob Lowe could be a bad guy. Ted Bundy also didn't look like a bad guy, and I've read that he was charming. That's where sociopaths have an advantage, they can sneak up on you.

At first James Spader's character, Michael, is so timid and taken for granted that it's refreshing to see him under Alex's influence. Suddenly Michael is standing up for himself and displaying a little confidence. Gradually Michael turns from being a sweet, fearful man into something almost like Alex. Sometimes learning to defend yourself can turn you into the kind of person you always hated. Although, as Alex says:

"I didn't make you do anything that wasn't in you already."

Alex seems to feel that we all have evil inside us, and that we'll let it out if the right opportunity arises. Like any good sociopath, Alex is not following the normal rules of society. The Michael character is sort of like Sir William Pennington. He has the potential to be a good man, but having his own version of Tom Fool around, gives him the opportunity to be a very bad man. Alex and Tom Fool are far scarier than any movie monster I can imagine!

Here's the trailer, if you'd like to get a sense of the characters in Bad Influence:


This movie still has me thinking, days after seeing it. It made me consider how much one person can influence another person's life. It made me wonder how far is too far in defending yourself. I also gave a lot of thought to how a person could ever get rid of someone like Alex. Bad Influence would make a great topic for discussion!


  1. "Bad Influence" is one of my favorite noir movies. This was one film I always wanted to have been made twice just to see how the films dynamics might have changed if they had typecast it; how different would the characters be if James Spader played Alex and Rob Lowe had been cast as Michael Boll?

    If you watched Boston Legal you might have thought Michael's brother Pismo looked familiar: he was played by Christian Clemenson who was Jerry Espenson on the show. One other piece of trivia is that Clemenson and Spader were high school best friends and remain so to this day.

    Another piece of "Bad Influence" trivia is that prior to starting this film the Rob Lowe sex-videotape scandal broke. Those handling James Spader wanted him to drop the film, but he refused. Another piece of trivia is that this is one of Rob Lowe's five favorite films he appeared in.

  2. I certainly can't blame Laura for running away after her meeting with Stewart! Yikes he was creepy after he started turning into a werewolf! Terrific scene: my personal favorite in the film.

  3. I had never heard of Thomas Skelton, but I'm guessing he was driven to kill because of that hideous outfit he had to wear. :)

  4. Will have to check out the Ghost series on YouTube! Sounds interesting.....

  5. Castle Ghosts was my favourite show when I was a little girl :)
    I really want to do a haunted castles tour and blog about it :)

  6. Timetraveler ~ Thank you for your thoughtful comments! If James Spader and Rob Lowe had reversed roles in Bad Influence, I think the movie would have felt more predictable. I kept being startled by that behavior coming from Rob Lowe! Especially in that scene where he's recorded himself laughing maniacally.

    I did recognize Michael's brother! I yelled out loud "Jerry!" when he appeared. :) I always loved Jerry on Boston Legal. He was so sweet, except when he got a hold of that wooden cigarette. ;) I love that he and James Spader are longtime friends in real life! I had no idea.

    That real sex tape timing is ironic, given the role of a sex tape in this movie. How interesting. I don't think anyone would have judged James Spader for starring in a movie alongside a man who made a sex tape.

    I can see why this would be one of Rob Lowe's favorite movie roles. Even though I realize he's had serious roles, I'm not used to watching him play characters with multiple dimensions. There was a lot going on in the Alex character's head!

    Haha! I thought exactly the same thing about Laura running. Watching that scene, I thought how I would probably handle the situation in the exact same way. Just act nice, don't cause any waves with the psycho, and then get the Hell out of there! :) Those contacts could make anyone look scary. He would have been scary without them, but they add that extra creep factor. That scene is one of my favorite moments too. I could watch it one million times and still get freaked out!

    Raymond ~ Haha! Good one. :) That outfit could be enough to drive a person insane. I was considering if maybe being laughed at all the time made Tom Skelton search for control. Or maybe he was just sadistic, and I shouldn't over-analyze this one!

    Jeanne ~ I highly recommend this series! I've watched a lot of history/ghost shows, and this is one of the best. I haven't been bored once while watching these. The Castle Ghosts of Wales show was my favorite! I wish more of these would be made. I'm up for some Castle Ghosts of Germany or France!

    Alexandriaweb ~ I can see why! I found it completely entertaining. If you ever take a ghost tour and blog about it, please let me know! I'd love to read a post like that. I think I remember you being in England. I envy people in Europe who have easier access to castles! When you think of the many centuries these structures have been standing, it makes sense that there should be a few ghosts. :)

  7. I too loved Jerry on Boston Legal. Back in December of '09 I was at the opening performance of David Mamet's RACE on Broadway. After the performance I was standing by the barricades to see the performers (one of whom was James Spader) and guest celebrities leave to go to the After Party. As I was waiting I saw a few folks whom I knew were there because their friend Spader was in the play...Andrew McCarthy came by as did Jerry Seinfeld. These two fellows I expected to be there because they live in the NYC area. The person that caught me off guard was Christian Clemenson! He was doing a show in LA at the time, but flew to NYC for the event. I got his autograph and was able to speak to him for a few moments....what a super nice man h is.

  8. Timetraveler ~ What a cool experience! The fact that Christian Clemenson would fly across the country to see James Spader in a play, shows what close friends they are. I'm not at all surprised that he's a nice man. If he wasn't a nice man, he would have been doing some incredible acting on Boston Legal! Not that he wasn't anyway. :) I actually saw Christian Clemenson on a recent episode of CSI Miami. He was playing a medical examiner on the show. Do you remember any of your conversation with him?

    P.S. ~ If you have a blog or twitter account, let me know and I'll follow you.

  9. I remember the episode that talked about "Tom Fool"- an excellent episode. The scary thing about Skelton was the fact that the way he treated people really wasn't all THAT abnormal for that period of time.

  10. Michael ~ Yeah! Isn't that show great? Whoever makes the "Castle Ghosts" shows really knows how to set a mood. I know! There was a lot of brutality during this time! In fact, the Sir William I mentioned was later murdered as well. He had an allegiance to Anne Boleyn, so when she was killed, he went with her!

  11. Our conversation was centered on Boston Legal. Chris commented that the show was a once in a lifetime role, and what a joy it was to have the opportunity to deliver David Kelley's dialogue. Another person congratulated him for having a role on CSI Miami, but we got the impression this was just a job and not something he truly loved doing. As soon as Legal was brought back into the conversation he brightened up again...he really loved doing the show.

    Another person I bumped into in an airport (we were on the same flight and he sat down across from me in the waiting area) was David Dean Botrell (Lincoln Meyer in a third season arc). He too was just the nicest person, and he spoke about what a joy it was doing that show. We talked for 20-25 minutes...super, super nice!

    I do have a Twitter account @bgf42. I must say I'm very boring there and mostly just keep track of James Spader comments. As you probably guessed I'm a big fan of his and of Boston Legal. I've met and spoken to James Spader as well; he was very nice, but it took several times saying a few words to him before I felt comfortable saying anything. He can be a tad intimidating at first...but, eventually we were able to have a nice casual conversation for a few minutes. He really was a sweetheart.

    Another unbelievably nice person is Richard (John Boy) Thomas...I don't think celebrities can get any nicer than Richard. Sorry for my rambling...I am now way off point. Thanks for being so kind to write back...I added your blog site to my favorites.

  12. Tom Fool was quite an ugly looking fellow wasn't he! No wonder he was driven to murder! This outfit makes him look more like a court jester!

    This 'Castle Ghosts' series sounds really good - I love paranormal programs that not only delve into the ghost stories but also has a good bit about the historical side of things! I'm definitely going to have to check this out!

    Are there any other paranormal programs you can recommend to me? We have a very limited amount of them here in the UK! xxx

  13. Oh wow, I did not know about this castle ghosts series and am excited to watch them all. THANKS for posting that!
    Also, never heard of Bad Influence either. Def want to watch that too. After watching Rob Lowe on Parks and Rec I've become a fan. :)

  14. Hey Justine,
    Wonderful and interesting post as usual. I have begun to hunt down the Haunted Castle series you mention and I was quite intrigued by the history behind "Tom Foolery"
    Love your work girl!

  15. Timetraveler ~ It totally makes sense for an actor to treasure their time on Boston Legal! That show was so smart and fun. I liked Chris on CSI Miami, probably just because I like him. :) He was one of the more interesting characters there. I like to watch CSI Miami from time to time. It's fun to laugh at the way Horatio delivers his lines, but I'm nowhere near as entertained as I was watching Boston Legal.

    Lincoln Meyer! Yikes! Some of those incidents between him and Shirley... Haha! I'm glad he's nice in person, but he sure creeped me out in his role on Boston Legal!

    I bet James Spader is a tad intimidating at first. I can actually see him and Christian as friends. It seems that people who are a little intimidating often get along well with very friendly people. Although, who doesn't get along well with really friendly people? ;)

    I just followed you on Twitter. I'm sure I'll find your James Spader tweets interesting! I'm a fan of his, even if he does scare me a bit. :) By the way, did you run across my blog post by searching for articles about James Spader?

    Thanks for writing to me too! I look forward to your thoughts on my future blog posts. :)

    VainGlorySinner ~ A comment was left above about how Tom Fool's outfit might have driven him to murder. I agree that his entire appearance package wasn't helping much! :)

    The Castle Ghosts series actually appeared to be made in the UK. It would be ironic if the show wasn't even available around where you live! Hmm... I have enjoyed the "Most Haunted" TV series. That one has a group of very nice, respectful psychics and researchers staying in haunted places. Here's a link to some videos of "Most Haunted"
    Most Haunted on YouTube

    I've meant to watch more of those episodes. So far I've only watched their investigation of the Queen Mary.

    Lady Bethezda ~ You're welcome! :) I'm happy to pass that show along. I'm sure you'll all enjoy it. Well, you'll see a very different side of Rob Lowe in Bad Influence than you're used to seeing in Parks and Rec! Watching him in Bad Influence will be like watching an entirely different person. Let me know what you think after you get a chance to see the movie!

    D*Cyber Punk ~ Thanks so much! :) I'm sure you'll love touring the haunted castles on this show as much as I have. It really is a fascinating show. I felt like I got to know the characters in each story. There's pretty much a soap opera behind every haunting!

  16. Yes, I did find you initially through my standing Google Search for Spader. I'm looking forward to reading your blog on a regular basis now. :) I really enjoyed learning about Tom Fool and why his name is now part of our lexicon.

    Hahaha...David Botrell is absolutely nothing like Lincoln or any of the other slightly creepy characters he tends to play; just a very delightful human being. Also, don't be afraid of James he is a neat guy. His girlfriend/fiancee/wife is an absolute sweetheart...just love her!

  17. Timetraveler ~ Cool! Well, I look forward to hearing more from you. There are a wide range of topics in my blog, but pretty much everything falls under the umbrella of spooky. I enjoyed the process of learning about Tom Fool too! We'd probably be surprised at the sources of a lot of words/terms.

    I've never watched David Botrell in any of his other roles, but now I want to look him up. Maybe I can find more of him on YouTube. Haha! OK, if I ever come face to face with James, I'll try to keep my cool. :)

  18. I always loved James Spader and those 80s movie actors. They just have this cool charisma. I remember this one with James Spader and Rob Lowe called "Bad Influence" I really liked it.

  19. Matt ~ I agree, both of these guys definitely have charisma! I'm not even sure which of them has more of it. Rob Lowe is so charming, but James Spader has this almost hypnotic quality about him. Yeah, this was a great movie. It was kind of a nail biting thriller in parts!

  20. As you already know (thank you for recommending it), I've watched the 'Castle Ghosts of Wales' and really enjoyed it, so I'll have to catch up on the other ones in the series. :)

    I haven't seen 'Bad Influence' so I'll have to watch out for that one. I know what you mean about James Spader though. The nasty characters he plays are always memorable, even in lighter movies, like 'Pretty in Pink'. I loved him in 'Boston Legal', but he was definitely portraying a man who was damaged in many ways.

  21. Little Gothic Horrors ~ Castle Ghosts of Wales was my absolute favorite, but every one of these is worth watching! They're good for when you want to watch something mildly spooky at night while eating popcorn. :) At least that's what I did! There's also a ghost show about California that seemed to be put together by the same people. That one was great too!

    I can see what you're saying. The Alan Shore character was a little detached in some of his relationships, although he was a devoted friend to Denny. I always liked Alan, in part because I'm on the same page as him politically. :) He was so intelligent and dedicated to what he felt was right. I wouldn't want to date him, though!

    Now I'm wanting to watch some Boston Legal reruns...

  22. He used his own mallet and chisel to remove his head.... Cool

  23. Tom Fool was nothing if not scheming and brutal! He made for an entertaining history lesson and a great ghost story, but I'm glad not to have him in my life! Pretty scary stuff.

  24. I've never seen "Bad Influence" and I'm goint to have to add it to my list. It sounds very interesting.

  25. Jessica ~ "Bad Influence" is interesting and thought provoking. After seeing it, you'll be wondering what you'd do in some of these situations. I mean, if you had to deal with a complete sociopath. The Michael character is left with a real challenge! I look forward to hearing your thoughts on the movie.

  26. I have not seen Bad Influence but you can bet I will see it now!

    I am trying to catch up on my Blog visits today. It seems like lately have not had enough time to visit everyone!!

    So glad you popped by for a visit!!!

    Halloween is not far away!! YIPPEEE!!


  27. LuLu ~ Hey there! Well, I know you've been pretty busy. I haven't seen a lot of people in Blogland lately. Summer keeps us all distracted with other things. Once it's Autumn, I expect to see tons of people back! Yeah, Halloween is creeping up on us. :)

    I really recommend Bad Influence. There might have been some dirty/violent parts that I didn't see. I think I saw a heavily censored TV version of the movie. So don't blame me if you see anything like that. :) I'm sure we'll have lots to discuss after you watch this!

  28. Sorry to follow up here but I figured you'd get it sooner than replying to your post.
    I think White Chapel is discontinued so you're probably good with Broken Glass. I don't have that particular color so you'll have to let me know what you think. :)

  29. Lady Bethezda ~ Not a problem! You're right, I am more likely to see your reply here. Yeah, I'll let you know once I've tried all the shadows they send me. I got the primer too. From what I can see online, that really makes the colors pop. I'm really looking forward to receiving my order!