Thursday, September 18, 2014

Legend of Lizzie Borden gets a new DVD release date!

When Lizzie was announced earlier this year and then pushed back to August of 2015, many of us wondered if this incredible telefilm was ever going to see the light of day. It's been in limbo hell for, like, ever, a damn shame for such a highly regarded made for television movie. It looks like things are moving though, and the release date has been pushed up to October 7th, 2014! You can put in a preorder at Amazon here. Also, Cinedigm has this page in place for the upcoming release.

OMG, I think we're here folks! Order it now!

And, maybe now we can move on and get Liz Montgomery a Lifetime Achievement Award! Geesh!

Image courtesy of Cinedigm

Wednesday, September 17, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Maternal Instincts (1996)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.  

Maternal Instincts is notable for a couple of reasons. For one, Delta Burke (who also served as Executive Producer) goes for the gold in a fun bad girl turn. But, even cooler, if we can go back to January 17th, 1996 for a minute (or forever… I remember liking it there), Maternal Instincts marks the second night in a row that a new Delta Burke TVM premiered. The first film, A Promise to Carolyn, was a somber CBS production based on a true crime case about two sisters seeking justice for their other sister’s death (at the hands of a wicked stepmother, no less!). For Maternal Instincts, Burke takes a 180 and can be seen moving from abused stepdaughter to a desperate wannabe babymaker whose infertility sparks an interesting but flawed stalking thriller.

Burke is Tracy Horton, a barely contented housewife who is married to a not horrible but somewhat controlling husband. She spends her days working as a volunteer in the maternity ward of the local hospital, and seeking medical aid in getting pregnant. Her doctor, the serious but caring Dr. Eva Warden (Beth Broderick from Are You Lonesome Tonight) performs a typical procedure to help Tracy, but along the way discovers the patient has ovarian cancer. Tracy’s husband, Stan (Tom Mason) gives Dr. Warden consent to perform a hysterectomy, hoping it will save Tracy’s life. Unfortunately, Tracy goes from hysterectomy to hysteria, and once she finds out she’s been denied a chance to have a baby, her family, friends and the good doctor become targets of vengeance.

After "accidentally" murdering Stan things go from bad to worse when Tracy finds out Eva is pregnant (Random TV trivia note: Mason was knocked off again just two months later by Jaclyn Smith in My Very Best Friend… this guy had no luck in 1996). The bulk of the film revolves around Tracy’s crazy antics as she anonymously terrorizes the doctor. From filling Eva’s syringes with cooking oil (!) to falsifying her patients’ records, Tracy is set on ruining Eva’s life. But the desired outcome is fuzzy: Does she want Eva to miscarry or does she want the baby for herself? I guess when you are this crazy you don’t really know what you want anyway (at least that’s my pat response to my own question!), but a little guidance on her ultimate motivation would have been nice.

Maternal Instincts was met with mixed reviews when it originally aired. Honestly, it is indeed an inconsistent telefilm that has been made a little better over time, thanks to numerous reruns on Lifetime that have allowed audiences a chance to review Burke’s spirited un-Suzanne-Sugarbaker-like performance (although, if Suzanne had been cheated out of beauty pageant title, it’s not so hard to imagine a similar response).

Burke knew she was stepping out of the audience’s comfort zone, and in an interview to promote Maternal Instincts she said, “[W]hen I had this chance to play this fascinating character, of course I had to say yes… We tend to think that a maternal instinct is impelled by love. But here we have a woman whose obsessive need for a child has somehow distorted those instincts and turned her into a hate-filled human being.”

The actress dives in headfirst and keeps the whole project afloat; and, lets face it, it looks like Burke is having the time of her life slinging wrenches, pushing shopping carts into pregnant women and running down good looking architects. However, while I do enjoy watching Burke go bonkers, there is still a much better film somewhere inside of this just waiting to be born (ha! I got a million of 'em).

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Sins of the Mind (1997)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.  

Strange But True: Mike Farrell, who stars in Sins of the Mind, co-wrote the muddled, but oh-so-70s jiggly-tastic TV movie Ebony, Ivory and Jade (starring Bert Convy, no less!).

Not That Strange but Still True: Farrell served as an executive producer on this USA Original film.

And Totally Strange and Probably Not True: If you go by the logic of Sins of the Mind, hot girls who get hit on the head become sex addicts.

OK, I am pretty sure that last statement is patently false, but it made for a good hook, and leads me to my review of the wild, weird, and intriguing Sins of the Mind; a movie that was not even registered on my small screen lovin’ radar until recently, when Kent from the Movies About Girls podcast mentioned it on one of the shows (he told me it was must see TV). When I saw it was a USA Original I thought, “Hey, I can exploit this tidbit for my own purposes.” And here we are. So let’s get started:

There once was a good little girl named Michelle (Missy Crider). She was wholesome, a wonderful daughter and an up and coming (and employed!) artist. That all changed when she was in a car accident that nearly killed her and left her with brain damage. No worries, though. As far as the doctors can forsee, there will be a need for therapy but Michelle should make a full recovery. Which she does. Unfortunately, the doctors did not detect that the injury has made her a slave to her own impulses. At first Michelle just seems less censored and spunkier (keyword: spunk) and perhaps she is now a girl with a good appetite. But that appetite hungers for more than food and before you can say, “What’s the number to Nymphos Anonymous?” Michelle is having sex with almost any man who doesn’t seem to mind taking advantage of a girl with brain damage. And that, my friends, turns out to be a lot of guys!

But that’s (almost) not what Sins is about. Sure, there’s plenty of the tawdry to be found – Michelle becomes a prostitute for a spell and also has to attend a group therapy session full of rapists and other seamy types. The other “sin” Sins is commenting on is that of the illusory suburban family ideal. On the surface it would seem the household is merely blind to Michelle’s erratic nature, but as the film progresses, it becomes more and more obvious that they simply do not want to deal with the issues Michelle’s problems bring into the family. From raging sibling jealousy to a “live by my rules or get out of the house” discipline style, Michelle is lost in a family that desperately aches to exist inside a Norman Rockwell painting.

In fact, Rockwell is name dropped during an intense dinner scene. While Michelle and her “Uncle” Frank (Robert Pine, giving off a sleaze vibe early on) squirm in their seats after being discovered in the act by Michelle’s sister Allegra (Cyia Batten, of the Pussycat Dolls!), the parents continue to eat, drink and be merry until Allegra finally stomps off in disgust - a moment which cannot be ignored.

This would seem to be the makings of solid soap storytelling if it were not for the fact that Sins is touted as a true story. And that’s where it all goes hinky, folks. The performances are top notch, with Mike Farrell (who signed on first as a producer and had not intended to appear in the film) and Jill Clayburgh bringing home the bacon, adding depth to a fairly ludicrous situation (I was squealing “Oh my god!” at various moments - in a good way). Unfortunately, there is a lingering air of - for lack of better words - women hate. It’s not misogynistic; Sins does its best to make us feel for Michelle and even though she longs to be an object of desire, she is never treated by the film as an object of ridicule. But she is only redeemed through the love of her father, the help of a male psychiatrist (which might not seem unusual, except the female psychiatrist proves to be utterly worthless), and the understanding of other males who just happen to be sex offenders! The mother and sister are portrayed as virtuous but petty and, if you are Jill Clayburgh, sometimes drunk. Yes, we get it, in Middle America alcoholics are more acceptable than sexaholics. It is unfortunate that Michelle finally learns to circumvent the longing for male desire, but constantly turns to men for other forms of support.

That said, Sins is one damn good watch. As I said earlier, the acting is fantastic, and Crider is phenomenal in the lead role. She is childish, vampy and confused all at once. The bigger her hair gets, the worse off she is (thank you, nineties TV). Aside from a few questionable moments (hey, is that a nymphomaniac sitting on her daddy’s lap?), she remains a captivating and sympathetic character.

Sins is directed with sensitivity (and an ability to create a salacious TV-PG scenario) by the great James Frawley, that man behind The Muppet Movie, and many episodes of The Monkees. He, and screenwriter Sharon Elizabeth Doyle do a commendable job of creating a metaphor out of Michelle’s sex addiction, making it feel less sleazy than it probably should have.

And one last random fact: Sins, which aired on June 11th, 1997, ran against a rerun of Bionic Ever After?

Life is strange sometimes. Make it stranger and watch Sins.

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Return to Cabin by the Lake (2001)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.  

I’m a huge fan of sequels, especially #2’s! I have been known to adore Friday the 13th Part 2, Jaws 2, Halloween 2, and even Expendables 2 at least as much as the originals (and sometimes even more), so after revisiting Cabin by the Lake earlier this month, I was excited to check out its follow-up, Return to Cabin by the Lake, which originally aired about one year after Cabin on August 14th, 2001. I was also surprised that I had a copy taped from the original airing (mostly because I have no memory of doing this), and I instantly wanted to turn in my TV Movie Lover badge™ when I realized that the tape has sat unwatched. For thirteen years! I’m sure that’s not a record, but it is definitely poor form for someone like me. So, the best way to rectify the situation was to gear up the trusty ol’ VCR and take Return to Cabin by the Lake for a spin.

In the sequel Judd Nelson reprises his role as the murderous Stanley Caldwell, and his life story is on its way to becoming Hollywood’s next blockbuster. This new film (titled Cabin by the Lake, of course) is following the screenplay he wrote in the original while also exploring the murderous writer’s potential real/reel life motivations. In short, was he abused as a child or is he just, as one character suggests, “A psycho who got off on chicks' clothes and horticulture?”

Presumed dead, Stanley worms his way onto the set and by assuming different identities he basically kills his way to the top, eventually becoming the director (how’s that for a metaphor). Stanley is drawn to Alison (Dahlia Salem), the screenwriter who’s been brought in to rework his script, and he guides her writing, driving her to really explore Stanley’s darker traits (some of which he doesn’t even understand), as he systematically picks off crew members.

Written by Jeffrey Reddick (Final Destination 1 – 5), Return has all the traits of those early days of meta-horror. It is self-aware, it sarcastically comments on the very industry that created it, and it has a few other nice post-modern touches (for example, the obnoxious 2nd Unit director also has the last name Reddick), but despite a few flashes of inspiration, it lacks the awesome aesthetics and tension of the first film.

The first Cabin was compelling because Stanley’s “final girl,” Mallory (Hedy Burress) is fascinating and strong. She challenges Stanley and questions his motives (which are never truly revealed); she got as much into his head as he got into hers and it created a marvelous tension throughout the second half of the film. Unfortunately, although Alison is not a bad character (and honestly, she is one of the only tolerable people in the entire film), she doesn’t work as well against Stanley (even though they end up more simpatico by the end), leaving the film feeling kind of flat. Plus, Nelson does not look like he’s having nearly as much fun as he did in the original. As far as I’m concerned, when Nelson is having fun, I’m having fun. It’s a rule.

The written word is still an important element in the sequel. Pages from his reworked script, which he tacks onto the wall, replace the graffiti the victims left behind in Stanley’s prison in the original. Alison asks of Stanley “Who are you… What are you?” and he responds with pages from his own edits of her screenplay. She then reveals, “It says here they are really dead… What does that mean?” Stanley blandly replies, “It means they’re really dead.” This scene represents the biggest issue I have with Return - There are no subtleties in the story. It is what it is, but what it is is not much at all.

There’s nothing really wrong with Return. In fact, it’s a decent little time waster, but I think I may have had higher expectations because of my recent viewing of the excellent original film. Could this be the first sequel I won’t watch more than the first? Perhaps.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Ed Nelson: One Cool Cat

This has been a bad week for film and television lovers. We’ve lost a few of the greats, including Robin Williams and Lauren Bacall. Williams threw us all for a horrible loop, and in some ways, softened the blow of the loss of Bacall, who lived to the age of 89 and, by all accounts, had a full and wonderful life. Character actor Ed Nelson also passed away this week at the age of 85, and like both Williams and Bacall, he enjoyed a long and fruitful career. He’s probably most known for playing Dr. Michael Rossi on the night time soap Peyton Place, but to me he'll always be that guy. You know the one, that actor who shows up in everything. That actor who makes whatever show or TV movie he is appearing in that much better because he’s in it. For most of my life, Nelson was just that guy. And I loved him for it.

But, he was more than simply a handsome, silver haired character actor, and I wanted to commemorate his life by throwing out some interesting facts about a man who deserves to be celebrated.

Nelson mulls over the issues in the 1974 TVM Houston, We've Got a Problem
Here’s a few things you may not know about Ed Nelson:

While filming Peyton Place in 1966, Nelson felt he might be suffering from fatigue and had himself checked out by a doctor. They found a small tumor on his lung – one that had been overlooked by another physician three years prior. It was recommended that Nelson have surgery immediately, but he put off the procedure for three weeks so the Peyton Place filmmakers could figure out how to work around his absence! What a trooper. The I’m-not-a-doctor-but-I-play-one-on-TV actor missed five weeks of work.
Christopher and Ed Nelson pose with Dorothy Malone in this newspaper promo for Murder in Peyton Place
Ed has six children, and his son Christopher appeared with his father in the 1979 TV reunion movie Murder in Peyton Place. The younger Nelson said, "This was just like a homecoming to me, even though I wasn't involved in the series. I knew everyone well, and they treated me well."

Ed was married to his wife Patsy for 63 years! He knew that marriage required a lot of hard work and in a 1964 interview the actor said, “My wife and I talked a bit about the future after I made the Peyton Place pilot, and the things that could happen to me if the show is a success. But we refuse to believe that success could destroy our happiness. Carelessness or indifference destroys happiness, and neither of us plans to be careless or indifferent.”

Nelson had his own talk show in 1969! Simply titled The Ed Nelson Show, one of his most (in)famous guests was Nathan Leopold, who along with his confidante Richard Loeb, killed a young man in an attempt to commit the perfect crime. Their story inspired the Hitchcock thriller Rope, and on Nelson's show Leopold spoke candidly about his time in prison.

Ed appeared alongside Suzanne Pleshette in three different projects: The TV Movies Along Came a Spider (1970) and Help Wanted: Male (1982), as well as an episode of the series Channing titled The Potato Bash World (1963).

According to Wikipedia, in 1999 Nelson returned to Tulane University to finish his undergrad degree, and graduated at the age of 71. (This is my favorite piece of trivia!)

Nelson goes medical again in the 1979 TVM Doctors' Private Lives
In 1972, Nelson ran for city councilman in Los Angeles, but hit a strange snag when another candidate demanded to be offered the same amount of airtime. This meant that when the actor appeared in a TV movie for 12 minutes, one of his opponents requested that he be given an equal 12 minutes of airtime to discuss his political viewpoints! This, of course, did not sit well with Nelson, who said his time on the small screen shouldn’t count because he’s not portraying himself. He said, “It’s unfair that they can give political views when I didn’t in my Night Gallery appearance.”  (By the way, I have no idea how this story played out, does anyone know?)

Nelson was a Roger Corman regular in the 1950s and was the monster in Corman’s Attack of the Crab Monsters!  

William Conrad has some questions for Ed Nelson in the 1980 TVM The Return of Frank Cannon
Read more about Ed Nelson at It's About TV and The New York Times.

Rest in peace, Mr. Nelson. You are loved and already missed.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

My Very Best Friend (1996)

Network: CBS
Original Air Date: March 27th, 1996

If you had asked me two years ago who my favorite Angel was I would have said (without one iota of hesitation), “Sabrina.” I was hot and heavy for Kate Jackson’s snappy dialog delivery and awesome turtlenecks. She’s a legend. But now that I’ve been revisiting one of my favorite beautiful-women-fight-crime shows, I’ve found myself drawn to the more quietly charming Kelly. Jaclyn Smith brought a lot of strength and character, and I don’t know why I didn’t originally recognize it, but this girl is fearless! From the pilot movie where she has an incredible mano-a-mano dialogue showdown with Bo Hopkins, to getting shot up with smack by Cameron Mitchell, this is one lady that does not stay down for the count. Plus, her hair is fab!

I also enjoy a Jaclyn telefilm every now and again, although I’m probably not as passionate about her TVMs as I am about Kate’s 70s output. But close. There’s some real winners in there, like Family Album and Before He Wakes. What can I say? I live for this stuff. But I would also have to admit that Jaclyn’s performances can be hit or miss, such as her not-great-turn as the amnesiac wife in Married to a Stranger (although I will watch it whenever it’s on TV), and I always go into a Jackie Smith movie with a grain of salt. That said, I was happily thrilled not just with her performance in My Very Best Friend, but also with the TVM itself which is gorgeously melodramatic and an awful lot of fun.

Smith is Dana, a woman who should have it all. From the outside, it certainly looks that way. She’s gorgeous, has a glamorous modeling career, and to top it off, she also has a dedicated best bud that she can always turn to. That friend is Barbara (Jill Eikenberry), an attractive, but far more down to earth woman in a rocky marriage. Ever since college, Dana and Barbara have shared everything – and I do mean everything, including men, but don’t tell Barbara that! Barbara is actually very unaware of Dana’s many dark secrets, including an undying obsession with Alex (Tom Irwin), who just happens to be Barbara’s husband! When Dana loses her own spouse (of about one day!) in an “accident,” her fixation on Alex goes into histrionic overload and Barbara’s rocky marriage looks like it’s about to get a lot worse.

Directed by Joyce Chopra (Smooth Talk), My Very Best Friend has all the ingredients that I want in a mid-90s telefilm: predatory beautiful people, yachts, lies and deception, and snow. I’m telling you, it has everything! And, like icing on cake, Smith is absolutely glorious as the gorgeous bad girl who will stop at nothing to get Alex into her clutches.

Lindsay Harrison and John Robert Bensink’s amusingly twisted teleplay (based on a story by Michael I. Miller, Patty Obrow White and Robert Glass) sets up the friendship well, but never takes itself too seriously, taking every opportunity to let Smith flaunt her unabashed villain skills. She’s absolutely terrific – and seems to be having terrific fun – as the back-stabbing-man-stealing-murderer. Not only is she stealing men, she’s stealing scenes! Eikenberry has the unenviable task of playing the straight guy but she’s manages to not look like an idiot when the stuff starts to hit the fan. No easy feat in a film like this, and her performance helps make the somewhat far-fetched premise seem a bit more palpable.

The only real problem I have with My Very Best Friend is the awkward conclusion, that upon further inspection makes little sense. But it's a minor quibble indeed, because this is the kind of 90s thriller that sets out to make the viewer squeal, “Oh no you didn’t,” and to that degree it’s a grand success.

Thursday, August 7, 2014

My Vacation in Hell

Hello everyone!

Things here have been crazy busy in that insane way that makes you laugh and cry at the same time. I've had to neglect my favorite spot on the web (i.e. here) so I could actually participate in the real world, which honestly, is never my first choice.

First of all, I'm preparing for grad school, which starts next month (fingers crossed) and secondly, I just moved to another state (again) and am still knee deep in boxes labelled VHS. It's just that kind of summer. It makes me so sad that I haven't had a chance to write about all the great TV movies I've been watching, but things have settled a bit, so I am hoping to get in a post or two in the next few days. Fingers crossed.

A look at one of the movies I'll be reviewing soon
In the meantime, I have had a couple of other things show up on other must-stop-web-spots:

Check out my Christmas in July post that I did for Christmas TV History. In fact, check out all the posts. It was great fun to be a part of the whole thing (and now that I live in Texas, I'm already missing the upcoming snowy winter I would have had in Pittsburgh).

Also, the wonderful guys at Kindertrauma posted an article I wrote on my favorite Shark Attack movies. Stop by and take a bite! Ha! I got a million of 'em (well, really, just that one. It just seemed like the thing to say).

And, you can always stop by MFTVM's facebook page, which I update often with lots of neat TV Guide images and trivia. Or, you can hang out on my twitter, which I don't update often, but do use to have a chat or two about soaps (and host a live tweet every now and again), if you are up for it! Thank you all for sticking with me, and I promise, lots of fun TV stuff is coming your way soon!

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Cabin by the Lake (2000)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.  

Having just read Switch by William Bayer (the novel was turned into the 1985 CBS miniseries Doubletake), along with a completely unrelated but recent viewing of the USA Original Cabin By the Lake, I’m somewhat fascinated by the horror-filmmaker-turned-serial-killer angle that is so prominent in both works. In some ways it’s a little offensive, insisting that people who make horror films create similar terror in real life. But, let’s face it, it makes for good reading and cinema! While Switch was a bit of a letdown (the main murder mystery is downplayed in favor of the protagonist’s love story and his desire to take down a corrupted boy in blue), Cabin by the Lake revels in Stanley’s (the terrific Judd Nelson) research for an upcoming genre film, and wonders why it has to be so damn gruesome!

Stanley Caldwell is one odd duck. He sends a blank manuscript to his pleasantly maddening agent, Regan (Susan Gibney), and is, in general, a straight-faced sort, who “jokes” about drowning a girl for material, and then really drowns a girl. With a weight on her foot, she plunges to the bottom of the lake, and joins an almost beautiful array of dead bodies, clothed in (literally) flowing frocks with hair swaying along with the current. It evokes the same kind of horrifyingly poignant imagery as Dario Argento’s underwater city/tomb in Inferno, and it sets the tone for this gorgeous and oddball thriller.

This watery graveyard serves as Stanley’s muse for his newest script, Garden of Flesh. (Every writer should research their material, right?) Well, he’s coming to the end of the story and needs to find a victim who is unlike the earlier, easier targets. That’s when he meets Mallory (Hedy Burress). She’s cute but different, and quietly strong. In short, she'd be perfect Final Girl material... if Stanley had wanted any of the victims to live! In the sort of small talk you sometimes make with a stranger, Mallory mentions to Stanley that she doesn’t like the water, making her an interesting subject for studying! Whoops. 

Later in a car “accident,” Stanley abducts Mallory and throws her in the back of a van that has the words, “I’m the Guy Your Mother Warned You About” written on police tape. But Mallory is defiant, all the way up to the trip that was supposed to lead to her underwater death. Luckily, and quite by coincidence, she is saved by cutie pie cop Boone (Michael Weatherly), proving she is more of a foe than Stanley had counted on (well, and luckier, definitely luckier). And now the hunted becomes the hunter as she helps the cops close in on the murderous screenwriter.

Cabin by the Lake is self-aware horror (this film has its tongue planted firmly in its cheek thanks to David Stephens witty and intriguing script) combined with old-school Italian giallo aesthetics. The end result is gorgeous and gripping. Composer Frankie Blue, whose tunes remind me just a bit of Portishead, stands in for Goblin, and adds to the already moody proceedings.

Ever since Judd Nelson went killer in the 1989 film Relentless, I’ve always been a little afraid of him. He does bad just too good. He’s equally menacing here, but more sedate, and perhaps even scarier because Stanley thinks very little of what he actually does, and his only emotions seem to arise from his fascination with Mallory. In the empty room Stanley holds Mallory hostage in, she writes on the wall, “You don't scare me,” and when he’s able to kidnap her again she adds the addendum, “Do I scare you?” Stanley only understands the written word, and it terrifies him that she can plainly state her defiance as well as he can compose a screenplay about murder. She is at his core but he can’t seem to get to hers.

Their relationship provides an interesting match of wills, and helps Cabin by the Lake maintain an edge. This is my first viewing of the telefilm since it originally aired on February 1st, 2000 and I have to say, it has stood the test of time. It’s still morbid but funny, engaging and suspenseful. And to get back to the original conundrum about filmmakers as the epoch of evil, there are other film industry types shown throughout Cabin by the Lake and they run the gamut of greedy, artistic and just plain fun. Stanley somehow missed the part that horror films are about making fiction seem real instead of just making fiction real. Good going, Stanley!

This great little telefilm was followed by a sequel in 2001, which I have not seen but am hoping to review for my next USA World Premiere Movie post!

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

USA World Premiere Movie Project: Into the Badlands (1991)

This review has been posted in conjunction with the Daily Grindhouse's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.  

As established in the previous entries of the USA World Premiere Movie Project, the cable network often looked back at the different small screen genre fare of the 1970s, and sometimes produced supernatural tales and thrillers that harkened back to the TV movie’s golden age. One sub-genre that never seemed to get proper attention was the Western, which littered the networks in the early days of the TVM. The rural purge of the early 70s basically eliminated cowboys and prairie tales although they’d raise their browbeaten heads every so often (I’m looking at you Gambler and The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James). It makes sense, in some sort of TV concept way, to consider mixing the high desert with the more popular horror subgenre. I mean, just for giggles.

The year before Badlands was released the home video market tested this hybrid with Grim Prairie Tales, which was an OK movie, but also one that I remember coming in and out of the video store I worked at. I’m sure that’s not the only fusion of the Western and Horror genres, but it was the one that instantly came to mind while watching the atmospheric, but somewhat empty Into the Badlands.

Bruce Dern is essentially Rod Serling, if Serling wore a cowboy hat and spoke with a slight Southern drawl. He is our narrator and also the protagonist of the final story in a trilogy of tales. Dern is T.L. Barston, a bounty hunter who is searching for Red Roundtree (Michael J. Metzger), a “half-breed” that has a $5,000 price on his head. A dream for any bounty hunter in the 1870s for sure, Barston sets off to find Roundtree and collect his fortune so he can leave the barren flatlands for greener pastures.

He first encounters a man named McComas (Dylan McDermott looking super foxy in his Western gear), a man with his own price on his head. He’s on the run and hoping to get to nice little town off of the frontier and near a beach when he meets Blossom the barmaid (Helen Hunt). She’s dying of consumption, but the two fall in love and decide to make a break for freedom together. Of course, you can’t fall in love in one of these kinds of anthologies and expect to get away with it. And I’ll leave it at that.

Barston then shows up at the Huesser’s place, and gives Alma (Muriel Hemingway looking very 1870s) the heebie-jeebies before he heads off into his own story. After he rides off into the sunset, Alma decides to visit an isolated neighbor named Sarah (Lisa Pelikan looking more hauntingly beautiful than ever), just as a storm arrives. Sarah is one of those hoity-toity East Coast people, who like to recite poetry and take themselves too seriously. But she’s also stricken with a fever, perhaps brought on by her lonliness and seething jealousy of Alma, whom she believes is having an affair with her husband. Sarah is sure there are wolves at the door, and it’s up to Alma to protect them both, but from what?

Finally, Barston meets up with Roundtree, and kills him. Arriving in town to have the body identified, he realizes that in exchange for the dead body, Barston may have to give up his own life.

Or something like that…

Into the Badlands makes absolutely no sense. Metaphors only go half way and stories end just when they should be beginning. But dammit, this film has atmosphere for days. Gorgeously shot by Johnny E. Jensen and directed with a strong sense of tension by Sam Pillsbury, I could not take my eyes off this little tele-film, which originally aired on July 24th, 1991. It is exquisitely surreal and manages to captivate despite the lack of a coherent story.

And maybe... just maybe... it’s not the story that’s important, because each tale is threaded together through the theme of isolation, and how it affects the characters. The protagonists are desperately trying to get away from the frontier (screw you, Manifest Destiny!), whether it be to a beach, the city or somewhere else, and these characters are driven mad by their solitude. The setting is authentically barren, both ugly and beautiful, and works as its own character. A dust devil waiting for your soul, if you will. So, despite the fact that I longed for more… more story, more explanation… I could not tear myself away from these Badlands. Recommended. And it's on DVD!