Sunday, January 22, 2017

TV Spot Tuesday: Sharing Richard (1988)



Network: CBS
Airdate: April 26th, 1988


To promote the airing of Sharing Richard, the network released a brief statement declaring the film "explores a timely phenomenon: the shortage of single men for women over thirty." To present the issue, Sharing Richard was designed as a "contemporary comedy," in what may have been a sometimes misguided effort to dissect a topic that was on a lot of minds.

Then, shortly after Sharing Richard originally aired, an angry viewer wrote to the Los Angeles Times, complaining, "The concerns of singles dating are very real and complicated issues. The movie's plot utterly made fools of these four characters whose self-awareness, self esteem and mutual respect seemed to be in the dirt. Women were in their usual role of apologizing for messing things up and the man could somehow spread his "caring" among many women. The movie pretended to have a modern plot but frankly it was a long way from giving any kind of decent message about modern relationships."

This may be an issue...
The TVMs of the eighties often had a weird relationship with the women in them. Recently, I was just considering how the telefilm, as a medium, has proven to be a rather female-centric space, featuring so many actresses that are often aligned with the genre, such as Barbara Eden, Patty Duke and Donna Mills (in fact, you can here my co-hosts and myself discuss the topic on this blog's companion podcast). Yet, even with all of those strong women (and I'm talking outside of the Aqua Net and shoulder pads), there was a real tug of war between making female characters independent while having them chase down a hot guy with a good job. The sentimental, Harlequin-esque romance (which I am totally into) sometimes overwhelmed the idea of female independence. This, my friends, is a bit of an issue (although in the context of entertaining fluff like Sharing Richard, a sometimes fun and mostly inoffensive one). It created an uneasy mixture, and it was up to the Eighties Woman (well, really it's up to the actress playing her) to make the whole thing flow and not seem like it was a conundrum at all. Did all of this back and forth confuse my growing brain? Probably, but that's OK. As nostalgic and sappy as I can be, I don't discount that films are time capsules - especially TV movies - that tended to fall on the most prominent contemporary beats to quickly engage the audience - and are sometimes best served by viewing them with a grain of salt.

In short, unlike the lady who wrote to the LA Times, I make excuses for my romance. So sue me.

Men might be scarce, but there were plenty of 80s sweaters to go around!
Sharing Richard, which is ultimately delightful and flawed, walks this fine line in an attempt to bring all of those modern ideas about love and sex into a story about three best friends who exude independence, but are essentially really, really, really about finding Mr. Right. I won't call them desperate because despite their desire for love and marriage, they also come across as contented with their life as is. Of course, all that goes to hell when they realize they are all falling for the same guy!

The women:




The man: 


Admittedly, that guy is pretty much everything. And when I say everything you know I'm not overstating this because it's Ed Marinaro. Eighties Ed Marinaro, a few years after Police Woman Centerfold (lord help me, I love that movie), and Laverne and Shirley (btw, is it just me, or is it creepy that Ed played Laverne's cousin and then went on to play her boyfriend... yikes!) . Anyway, Richard is a handsome and charming plastic surgeon who just happens to be recently divorced. While somewhat bitter about his marriage breaking up he turns out to be a great date, fulfilling certain individual needs in each woman. So, why not just pass him around like a great sweater (an analogy a character uses)? And they do.




At first it's fairly innocent, but then this thing called love gets involved and the trio of lifelong BFFs find themselves sneaking around each others' backs and growing more and more jealous of whichever friend has Richard on any particular night. Despite the oogie factor that creeps in when two of the friends start having sex with Richard, the film does its best to keep the women likable, and even to a certain degree, Richard, who probably should have been more honest about his dating schedule, but who is also unaware that these women are friends.

Potential mic drop moment...
Of course, marriage and family were, and remain an important core goal for many, female and male. Still, the women in the TV movies of this era are often obsessed with finding the perfect husband, and having babies (see Babies for a more than obvious example). All of this would happen with characters who were also portrayed as independent and career driven. Certainly, you can have both (and hats off to those who do), but inevitably Sharing Richard is a reflection of the eighties (by way of the fifties) American Dream, which includes the white picket fence and 2.5 kids, but with a dose of second wave feminism that mirrored the career woman who "wanted it all." And, the result is that characters can come across as more pathetic than focused or ambitious.

Well, currently 1/3 of him is focused
Luckily, this telefilm goes for the light touch, and has genuinely funny moments, using humor to examine the issues. The trio of leading ladies are amazing, and I was especially pleased to see Hilary Smith, best known to me as Nora from One Life to Live, showing off her adept comic timing. Her character is a bit grating, but the one liners are choice, and her delivery perfect. Eileen Davidson is great as well, and looks amazing (and pretty much the same as she does now). I was not as familiar with Nancy Frangione, and while I feel her character is the weakest of the bunch, the actress does a good job of making her likable.

Buds before duds...
When these characters become hostile towards each other over a man, it is apparent that the message is mixed and muddled. But some of the humor is timeless, the actresses are warm and Ed... well, he's hot. Despite its flaws, Sharing Richard is worth a watch, mostly for the actors... and shoulder pads, but its also just so damn amiable and more charming than it has any right to be.

The TV spot for Sharing Richard:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

City Killer (1984)

 
Network: NBC
Original Airdate: October 28, 1984


As a genre that sort of falls somewhere in the middle of highbrow and lowbrow entertainment, the made for television movie was able to play around with expectations and the types of stories it could bring to viewers. But then somewhere in between the betweens of The Burning Bed and Diary of Teenage Hitchhiker lies another middle, where films that set out to entertain weren’t sure if they should aim for that high or low bar. One of those films, City Killer, which is somewhat befuddling and perhaps overly ambitious, is also, for the most part, high entertainment, thanks to an extremely engaging Terence Knox and some decent special effects.


And, then there’s that common trope of 1980s TV. We all loved Heather Locklear. Circa early – mid 1980s, Locklear was all over the, ahem, boob tube, appearing as a series regular on the popular T.J. Hooker, while also showing up periodically to stir the pot at the Carrington mansion in Dynasty. She also somehow managed to appear on things such as Love Boat and even Firestarter. So it’s no shock that the indefatigable charmer found the time to star in a Movie of the Week, although it is really what the MOW is about that makes City Killer so interesting (Sorry Heather, you’ve been upstaged by a mad bomber!).


Locklear is Andrea McKnight, a general workaholic who has a dog she never walks, and who also enjoys slightly warm relationships with her co-workers. But she tends to be a tad aloof, choosing to keep herself in a self-imposed state of solitude in her airy apartment (she could walk that dog once in a while though). Things take a weird turn when she comes home late one night to find an attractive, but creepy man waiting for her. He’s Leo (Terence Knox), an ex who would prefer to be a current. But considering how he picks locks and waits in the dark for pretty blondes, he's not made of great boyfriend material. Even worse, when Andrea flat out refuses his advances, he decides to blow up buildings to get her attention! Nicknamed The Love Bomber, Leo joyfully sets explosives throughout the city, eventually targeting Andrea’s job amongst other random buildings.


Enter Lieutenant “Eck” Eckford (Gerald McRaney), a handsome but humorless cop who is assigned to protect Andrea and bring Leo to justice. Mostly though, he seems almost as sinister as Leo, constantly telling Andrea that she’s a target because she’s “a very nice person,” who understands when a guy can't get an erection. Then he quietly ogles her. In short, I was sort of rooting for Leo.


City Killer is, pardon the expression, a blast. Locklear and McRaney seem to be phoning it in, but the supporting cast, especially Todd Susman, John Harkins (best know to me for playing Ham Lushbough on an episode of the Golden Girls), and Harkin’s little rodent co-star, not to mention the lovably weird Knox are up to the task of making the ridiculous material work. Knox in an absolute joy as crazy Leo and if anyone can make terrorism adorable, it’s this guy.


The screenplay was written by one of the stalwarts of the Movie of the Week, Michael Wood, who was responsible for the excellent telefilms Savages, Haunts of the Very Rich, Outrage and Death Car on the Freeway. By the 1980s, Wood was still penning some interesting fare, including The Execution and The Penthouse, but City Killer honestly seems a little below him. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fun film, but considering how small scale and intimate most of his TVMs are, it felt as though Wood was dipping into his Death Car repertoire and perhaps overshot expectations.


Director Robert Michael Lewis (Pray for the Wildcats, y'all!) moved predominately to TV movies by the 1980s, and this was just one of eight films he directed between 1983-1985! It appears some of the explosions were done with miniatures with the rest comprised of footage of actual demolitions, all to decent effect. Things go boom quite nicely, and you quickly understand that Leo isn't joking around! He pulverizes the city, and kills several people along the way… all in the name of amore. Awwww, ain’t love grand?


As entertaining as City Killer is, it may be worth noting that it can be an uncomfortable viewing in our post 9-11 world. It’s mostly a flight of fancy and is so gloriously over the top that it’s 99% inoffensive, but (and maybe this is just me) it can be difficult to watch buildings pancake, even all these years later. At the same time, it also sadly recalls a bygone era of innocence adding a nostalgic flavor to the proceedings… but Heather’s intense feather cut basically does the same thing without making you feel bad. City Killer is worth a watch. You’ll fall in love with Leo and root for the bad guy. It’s a good time.

US VHS release

Promotional still

Who cares?!? I love it!

Incredible foreign VHS art (image from Rare Cult Cinema)


Thursday, December 22, 2016

End of Year Stuff... and 2017 Goals!

Sometimes you can't go Home for the Holidays again!
So, for the last 100 years or so I've been writing at least one annual holiday post for my blog. I do it because it gets me in the spirit and because it gives me an excuse to watch Petticoat Junction and Vega$. But, life as a social media mogul sometimes has to take a backseat when reality gets in the way... and like sands through the hourglass, so our the days of our lives.

In short, time got the best of me.

One day I'll stop posting pics of this... but it's so cool!
As you may have seen in one of my recent posts, my forthcoming book, Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium: 1964-1999 had its launch at Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia. So, off I went to worlds down under to participate in a very fun panel about made for television movies. I made a ton of great friends, put some faces to a lot of people I've been talking to in the online world, and in general, I had a blast.

(Btw, Birth.Movies.Death gave the book an excellent review. I have no words, just a lot of gratitude and thanks.)

Here's a peek at what the giant theater screen behind the panelists look like!
My first thought when I returned was, "Hey, I am going to get some down time and can go back to blogging and maybe even sleeping!" But I forgot that the fine folks at the Hysteria Continues asked me to join them for their Christmas horror episode, so we could dish on the holiday slasher To All a Goodnight. Good times were had by all.

And, then I got a request to do an interview for my publisher, Headpress' website. That was a lot of fun as well and when I finished I thought, "OK, I have some time to decompress and maybe watch a TV movie and write about it!"


Around this time, I also got the news that my essay on the made for television movie Locusts has been published in the amazing nature-gone-crazy tome When Animals Attack! So, I spent some time perusing the material and it's absolutely fantastic! Editor Vanessa Morgan did an incredible job. Grab a copy! When I finished looking at the book, I let out a satisfied sigh of relief and declared: "Here's my chance... watch something, Amanda!"

Then, I found out that Kier-La Janisse, she of Monster Fest, was hoping to put together something about TV movies to help promote the book (and TV movies in general, cuz she's cool that way) at her Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies in London, which I sort of volunteered for and which she was kind enough to accept! That event, titled Tele-terrors: The Real and Imagined Horrors Inside the Made for Television Movie will be held April 20th, 2017. If you are in the area, please mark your calendars and stop by for all kinds of small screen goodness!

This is essentially me pouting when I realized I was running out of  blogging time... if I were glamorous
And, before I knew it, it was late December and I hadn't had time to watch a single thing. I did, however, record a holiday-themed podcast with the usual crew, and returning guest, the wonderful Joanna Wilson of Christmas TV History. Finally, I decided to just make a list of links to all of my previous Christmas TVM/specials reviews and holiday-themed podcasts. If you haven't had a chance to check any of these out, and think they may get you in the holiday spirit, please clickity click click and/or download and enjoy!

Free stuff is fun.

Read my Very Merry MeTV Blogathon posts:

Kojak: How Cruel the Frost, How Bright the Stars
Father Dowling Mysteries: A Christmas Mystery

And check out my holday reviews:

A Mouse, a Mystery and Me
An American Christmas Carol
A Very Brady Christmas
Bernard and the Genie
Ebbie
Petticoat Junction: A Cannonball Christmas
Terror on the 40th Floor


Here's a guest review from Joanna Wilson of Christmas TV History:

The Gathering


I returned the favor with  a guest review for Joanna:

Nestor, The Long Eared Christmas Donkey
I also joined her for the 2014 Christmas TV Party!

Finally, The Made for TV Mayhem Show has recorded a total of three holiday podcasts. You can check them out on here:

Home for the Holidays and A Very Brady Christmas: website | iTunes
Bernard and the Genie: website | iTunes
The Christmas TV Movie Game Show: website | iTunes

Happy New Year?
So, what does all of this mean for 2017? Well, there should be a lot of good stuff happening outside of my blog during the first half of the year (or at least the first third), and I'm so excited about it. I can't even tell you how whirlwind and exciting the last few months have been. But, in the end I just really want those who are interested in TV movies to enjoy the book. The promotional end of things is definitely fun because I have been meeting a lot of telefilm fans, and just some genuinely awesome people. But I miss my blog.

I miss it so much.

Before I can jump back in though, I need a small break. I mean a real one. And I'm hoping the time between... uh... today and the beginning of 2017 will give me a chance to become one with the couch. If I don't gain 5 pounds, I've failed. As the cobwebs disintegrate I plan to get back on that horse and do a bit of blogging.

Not sure why it's so important to me, but it is and if I'm gonna make a resolution, it might as well be to do something I love anyway!

In short, everyone have an amazing holiday and see you in 2017!

Friday, November 18, 2016

Monster Fest is right around the corner!


So, like, as you probably already know (cuz I've said it a thousand times and I apologize for that), I have a book coming out titled Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium: 1964-1999! And to celebrate, Monster Fest is hosting an amazing book launch next week to help spread the TV movie love through the streets of Melbourne Australia!

Damn nice of those folks, ain't it? It is and I'm beyond excited.


On Saturday, November 26th at 7 pm, I will be part of a panel discussing all things TV movie related, but especially telefilms dealing with monsters, the occult, bad kids, and actual issues, such as domestic violence, abuse and other cultural moments that became water cooler talk thanks to television's wide reach. You can get a sneak peak of our discussion on my blog's facebook page.

Joining me on the panel is festival director (and all around cine-fabulous) Keir-La Janisse, freelance writers Lee Gambin and John Harrison, as well as stuntwoman/actress Marneen Lynne Fields. She was in The Spell, and tons of other stuff.


Afterwards, Monster Fest is screening Bad Ronald! ZOMG! You read that R.I.G.H.T.

The book will be on sale at the festival and should be available through the publisher's website shortly thereafter. Then it will be widely available in April 2017. I really hope if you are in the area, you can make it. Would love to meet you and discuss all things small screen. Until then, G'day.

Sunday, October 30, 2016

TV Terror Blogathon: The House that Wouldn't Die (1970)



Just in time for Halloween, this post was part of the Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. There are tons of creepy reads ahead, so check out what's scary to others in the association by clicking here. Oh, and enjoy! Let's roll...




Network: ABC
Original Airdate: October 27th, 1970


Although it has been many years since I read Barbara Michael’s excellent Ammie, Come Home, which The House that Would Not Die (aka The House that Wouldn't Die) is based on, I remember it as a chilling and fascinating novel. Michaels, whose real name was Barbara Mertz, earned a PhD in Egyptology from the University of Chicago before becoming a best selling author, writing under the names of Michaels, and Elizabeth Peters. As Michaels, she often dove into Gothic ghost stories, brilliantly weaving her knowledge of the research process she had developed while acquiring her doctorate, incorporating the fascinating “brick and mortar” historical interrogation methods into the mystery solving her characters engaged in. The ABC Movie of the Week adaptation, written by Henry Farrell (a fellow novelist who also penned the screenplay for the excellent TVM The Eyes of Charles Sand) somehow manages to maintain some of the authenticity of that process while also indulging in the many supernatural thrills that made the novel so compelling.

A look at a similar(ish) color scheme used in the TVM's foreign artwork and a later release of the novel:




















Barbara Stanwyck makes her telefilm debut as Ruth Bennett, an elegant and independent woman who inherits a beautiful but remote house from a distant relative. Taking her lovely niece, Sara (Kitty Winn) along for the ride, the duo decides to set up house for a bit, but soon find out something is already living there. 


That’s the basic premise of this simple but suspenseful ghost tale that also interweaves some charming romance elements (along with a few rapey ones, but we’ll get to that) for Ruth, and a professor named Pat (Richard Egan, also making his TV movie debut), as well as for Sara with a cutie pie named Stan (Michael Anderson Jr., and his moustache). Following the original storyline beats of Ammie, House kicks of quickly with a nifty séance, before embarking on a slow burn film about possession, lost love, and grief, leading to a surprisingly moving ending.


The hauntings, which are classic even by the standards of 1970, begin early on, as a male voice cries “Ammie, come home,” in the wee hours of the night. Soon after, Sara takes a peculiar turn, becoming terrified of Pat, who is also acting curiously, and sometimes violently when inside the house. Based on my memory, the novel and film depart mostly in terms of the location. Ammie takes place in the busy and stately D.C. neighborhood of Georgetown, where the neighbors are literally yards away from the chaos. House is out in the middle of no man’s land, where help isn’t simply a scream away, feeding into a real sense of seclusion. While the more urban setting of Ammie works wonderfully in the novel, I really like the isolated locale in House.

 
Like most telefilms, House is not overtly violent, but manages to bring on the creep factor in several scenes. One of the most jaw dropping ones occurs relatively early when Pat forces himself on Ruth. It is an uncomfortable moment meant to express that Pat is no longer himself, but it does tap into some very real fears of that pushy date you dread but have probably encountered. Ruth somehow manages to forgive Pat, and that he is being taken over by a spirit helps the audience also come back to loving him, but that scene still stands out as a realistically terrifying moment.


And, House has atmosphere to spare. Going back to the location, the howling winds that rattle around the house give the film a sense of unease. The séance is, like all séances are in my opinion, awesome, and Winn is excellent as the possessed victim. There are a few supporting characters, but House relies heavily on the four leads to carry the film. Stanwyck and Egan are the standouts as the couple fighting off ghosts while sometimes fighting off their feelings for each other, but with pros like that, can anyone else expect to upstage those two? Well, Stanwyck’s gorgeous oh-so-seventies wardrobe almost does. It’s the height of middle aged glamour and she looks beautiful showing off one majestic frock after another.

Majestic frocks: 



Spelling and Stawyck actually had a long and fruitful history together, beginning in 1968 with the Zane Grey Theater episode Trail to Nowhere, which Stanwyck appeared in and which Spelling produced. Afterwards, the two worked on The Dick Powell Theatre episode Special Assignment (1962), before Stanwyck made her telefilm debut in House. Afterwards she got a bit more sinister in the 1971 TVM A Taste of Evil, and then in 1973 starred in The Letters. She also played Toni in the gender bending Charlie’s Angels episode Toni’s Boys and then took a gig as Constance Colby on both Dynasty and in The Colbys. Stanwyck had already put in years of spellbinding professional work, but her more fanciful gigs with Spelling are memorable and wonderful. TV looked so good on her, and Spelling loved working with classic Hollywood, and did right by them (if I do say so myself).


But let's not forget the other man behind the camera, John Llewellyn Moxey, who also directed Stanwyck in A Taste of Evil. The journeyman director knew how to make more out of less, and he maintains an economical but genuinely claustrophobic ambiance, especially in the possession scenes. There is something so charming about House, but in all honestly, it isn't just nostalgia that makes this film a true ABC Movie of the Week classic, it's just really simple and solid, almost perfecting that dark and stormy night watching that made so many of the MOWs so damn entertaining. In short, the goods are for real.


I was surprised to read that Ammie is actually a part of a trilogy of novels Michaels wrote, which is known as the Georgetown trilogy. According to this great article by Natalie Luhrs on Pretty Terrible, in the follow up, titled Shattered Silk, Michaels brings back Pat and Ruth, although the novel now follows another one of Ruth’s nieces named Karen who finds herself solving an old murder mystery. The third novel, Stitches in Time doesn’t keep it in the family, instead making the protagonist a friend of Karen's named Rachel, and involves a cursed quilt. Honestly, you can't go wrong with the novel or its small screen adaptation. It's creepy good times for the Halloween season! 

Newspaper promo for The House that Wouldn't Die

Sunday, October 23, 2016

Must See Streaming Movie of the Week: Mind Over Murder (1979)


Network: CBS
Original Airdate: October 23rd, 1979 

In 1979, the Golden Age of made for television horror movies was arguably in the rearview mirror, but that’s not to say that good genre TVMs weren’t on the horizon. We still had a few years to go until one of the ultimate small screen chillers, Don’t Go to Sleep (1982) traumatized anyone with a pizza cutter. And somewhere in between the classic ABC Movie of the Week and the  unexpected post-seventies classics like Sleep were some solid genre entries, many of which seemed to have fallen off the radar. Of course, incredible telefilms such as Salem’s Lot (1979), and 1981’s Dark Night of the Scarecrow are bona fide classics, but there’s plenty of little films that aired during this declining era that seem all but forgotten. Good but not great films like Night Cries (1978) and The Babysitter (1980) were finding their way to the networks, and Mind Over Murder actually falls somewhere closer to the greats, despite its relatively obscure status.


Deborah Raffin is Suzy, a model, dancer and a somewhat popular commercial actress known for her dancing hamburger spots! She’s also a touch psychic and things go all weird when she meets a friend for a drink and finds the world going hazy, eventually coming to a complete stop… except for one menacing figure who eyes her creepily from a bar stool. Mostly shrugging off the weirdness, Suzy has another “vision,” later that same night, this time while watching an egg slowly roll out of the fridge, smashing on the kitchen floor. The voices and rumbling sounds accompanying the cracking egg eventually leads her to believe she predicted the terrible plane crash that becomes front page news on the next day’s morning paper.


Her arguably adorable boyfriend (and live in mate) Jason (Bruce Davison) becomes far less loveable when he refuses to put any weight into Suzy’s creepy phantasms, even after she’s able to prove that the voices she heard during the infamous egg incident belong to the doomed crew in the cockpit. Luckily, she’s met Ben (David Ackroyd), a handsome flight investigator who sends her to Dr. Povey (Christopher Cary). His psychic research suggests that Suzy is somehow going to make a physical connection with whoever sabotaged the plane… and maybe he’s creepy and bald, just like the guy Suzy saw at the bar. What she doesn’t know is that the killer is as in tune to her as she is to him, and he’s getting closer to her each day.


Shot under the title Are You Alone Tonight, Mind Over Murder is weird. The psychic visions are off-putting and eerie, and Andrew Prine as the above referenced crazy guy is freaking terrifying. When a very sweaty and crazy-eyed Prine, listed in the credits as the “Bald Man” kidnaps Suzy and attempts to entice her by flexing his wiry and lean muscles (no joke), it’s strangely effective in its gross factor (and I never thought I find Mr. Prine icky). In fact, the kidnap scenes make up most of the last quarter of the film, and there are near rapes, punchings and other uncomfortable moments that could have very well derailed an effective thriller but work because the talented actors put you in a terrifying world without resorting to exploitation tactics.


Yes, as this is a TV movie, it is (thankfully) quite restrained, although it remains gripping throughout. The overall film is suspenseful and unsettling and written in a way that makes Suzy incredibly likeable and reasonable despite her outrageous situation. The late Raffin was always a strong leading lady, and she brings just as much sympathy to her character here as she did in Nightmare in Badham County, both of which feature the actress in really dark and seemingly impossible situations.


Ackroyd is fantastic as well, and makes a great love interest for Raffin. Their blossoming romance doesn’t deter from the psychic focus of the film, but it provides a nice break between all the bleak and peculiar. Also, Robert Englund shows up as Ackroyd’s workmate, making me wonder if The Bald Man vs. Freddy Kruger could ever be a thing. Ah, to dream!


Director Ivan Nagy also made the excellent but also difficult to watch A Gun in the House (1981), and the decent thriller Jane Doe (1983) before he moved into adult films with titles such as Trailer Trash Teri and Izzy Sleeze’s Casting Couch Cuties. Oh my! He was also associated with Heidi Fleiss and served time for bookmaking. His infamy might outlive his small screen merits, but he did turn in some solid little TVMs in his day. Mind Over Murder is one such film.

Mind Over Murder is currently streaming on Amazon Instant Video. Watch it!!!