Script consultant UK looks back on Seconds (1966)

As the leading UK script consultant , I like all kinds of genres, and have worked in everything from soaps and serial dramas to comedy and outright hardcore horror. This week, for the first time I caught up with John Frankenhiemer’s Seconds from 1966 – a mind bending horror which was well ahead of its time.

This film has a big reputation; it was a failure on first release but is now widely considered as one of the great ‘cult’ films. It’s widely available now on Blu-Ray and many people are finally seeing the film for the first time in all its glory.

Visually the film has an experimental style and it still looks fairly new, and very brave. Frankenhiemer’s use of handheld cameras and fish eye lenses sets audiences on the edge from the off. Visually it’s impressive, odd angles, expressionistic lighting, and the editing, sound design and set design all add to the feeling of being trapped in a living nightmare. But it’s the story and the performances that make the film.

The basic premise is that a secret organisation exists, that will give you a chance of a second life, if you can afford it.  If you agree, your death is faked, and you’re given plastic surgery, and set up with a fresh start over, a new life, the one you always wanted….  Or did you?

There are two great performances in the film; John Randolph and Rock Hudson – both playing the same man, who finds himself trapped in a nightmare world of his own making.  Hudson especially is great, he’s exposed and weak, a drunk, a fantasist and behind the plot in a way the audience isn’t. He’s a weak, scared man, a failure in both lives.

This and ‘The Manchurian Candidate’ also directed by Frankenhiemer are great scary nightmare films. At the time both films were made (in the 60s) they may have been seen as a bit like feature length episodes of  say ‘The Outer Limits’ or ‘The Twilight Zone’  both popular on TV at the time.   But, these films live and last longer, and seem relevant and scary today too.

Frankenhiemer was a good director, but some films on his CV are far better than others, almost as if he was two people, and the film’s quality depended on which Frankenhiemer turned up to direct. That’s worth thinking about…

Matthew Cooper has been a script writer for hire, UK Script editor  and script doctor for over 20 years. He’s written for most of the UK soaps, including writing award winning episodes of Emmerdale, EastEnders, Hollyoaks and Family Affairs and has been BAFTA shortlisted and Royal Television Society nominated as a script writer. He’s also a leading UK script consultant and freelance script writer for hire and online screenwriting expert. You can find some of his broadcast credits on the IMDb. You can get in touch with Matthew on or hire him on Peopleperhour

His directorial debut, the rubber reality horror thriller Markham will be released in 2020.