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!!! 

Sunday, October 16, 2016

Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium, 1964-1999... Edited by Yours Truly!

Anyone who visits Made for TV Mayhem certainly has a deep affection not just for retro television, but also for the classic Movie of the Week. In the 1970s, the ABC MOW was churning out film after film, and while that phenomenon only lasted for a few years, the idea of the TVM as an event, as something to stay home for, remained through the rest of the seventies, well into the nineties. Part of the love for the made for TV movie is, of course, nostalgia, but telefilms also tapped into current issues, and brought them into our living rooms night after night. Some movies were forgotten about, while others became fondly remembered classics. British publisher Headpress seeks to reconcile our memories of the obscure, as well as the bona fide hits in their new book Are You in the House Alone? Growing up with Gargoyles, Giant Turtles, Valerie Harper, the Cold War, Stephen King, and Co-ed Call Girls: A TV Movie Compendium, 1964-1999, which I edited.

Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium, 1964-1999 (its truncated title) is a book of reviews and essays about network made for television movies. Essays span several topics, ranging from reunion TVMs to the telefilm’s response to sexual assault. And, there are hundreds of reviews covering the most talked about TV movies to some of the most obscure titles. The contributing authors are passionate about the topic, and we did our best to uncover as many of the dusty corners of the small screen as we could.

The book’s official street date is April 6th, 2017, but there will be a special launch for Are You in the House Alone? in November at Monster Fest in Melbourne, Australia. The film festival will be held between November 24th-27th, and I will be there, along with some of the book’s contributors, including Kier-La Janisse, who is the director of MF, and a noted film programmer, writer, and Editor-in-Chief of Spectacular Optical, as well as authors John Harrison (Hip Pocket Sleaze: The Lurid World of Vintage Adult Paperbacks), and Lee Gambin (Massacred By Mother Nature: Exploring the Natural Horror Film). Also joining us will be John’s wife, stuntwoman and actress Marneen Fields, who has appeared in everything from The Spell to The Calendar Girl Murders! We’ll be discussing the enduring legacy of the made for television movie and capping off the evening with a screening of Bad Ronald! You can read more about Monster Fest here, and their press release for their events can be found here.

Here's a peek at the cover of Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium, 1964-1999:

After Monster Fest, a hardcover version of the book will be immediately available through Headpress’ website (link to come), but it will not be obtainable through general retailers until April 6th, 2017. This book has been a labor of love, not just for me, but for all of the writers as well as Headpress. I, of course, will keep everyone up to date on any events or signings, but please mark your calendars for April 6th, or if you are in Australia, come to Monster Fest, pick up the book and say hello! Would love to meet you!

Monday, October 10, 2016

Visions... (1972)

Network: CBS
Original Airdate: October 10, 1972

On the surface it would seem Professor Mark Lowell (Monte Markham) has an enviable life. He’s a well to do academic with a gorgeous and doting girlfriend named Susan (Barbara Anderson). Unfortunately, he’s also haunted by disturbing psychic visions that he cannot control. Things take a turn for the worse when he unwittingly taps into a mad bomber who is terrorizing Denver. Mark goes to the police with his visions and concerns, only to find he’s been named Suspect No. 1. The skeptical Lt. Phil Keegan (Telly Savalas) is certain Mark is toying with authorities while he lays giant bomb devices throughout the city. But, the story takes an interesting twist when Mark is cleared early on, and begins collaborating with Keegan in an effort to stop a reign of terror.

Shot on location in Denver, Colorado, and using many recognizable locales as potential bombing sites, Visions is a stylish and suspenseful television movie. Directed by Lee H. Katzin (The Voyage of the Yes, and the theatrical What Ever Happened to Aunt Alice), this TV movie is refreshing because it strategically sets up a fairly standard thriller, and then twists it around early on when Mark is cleared of the crimes. Aside from it decidedly trying to move away from what outwardly looks like a customary police procedural where the cops are looking in the wrong place, it also allows Savalas a chance to show a little range as a hard-boiled cop who becomes sympathetic to Mark’s plight.

Strangely, while I was watching Visions, the telefilm Beg, Borrow or Steal kept popping up in my head. But it was really not so strangely, it turns out, because both films were written by Paul Playdon, who has a real knack for ramping up these little films until they reach an almost nail biting apex.

The always-reliable Markham is very good, although he admitted to struggling a bit with the role, stating, “I’m trying to show someone actually undergoing a frightening psychic experience. I don’t want to overdo it but I want to communicate a measure of a man’s terror… One part of you is always waiting for the unknown terror… You have this powerful contrast of police frantically trying to avert a disaster on the basis of wispy clues from a guy they’re not sure is all there himself.”

While the reason for the Mark’s connection to the bomber is never made clear, there are similarities between the characters. Markham presents Mark as an even-keel but troubled character. His visions are mostly out of his control, and he hides his extrasensory perceptions from his girlfriend. But he’s also compassionate, and perhaps that’s why he’s able to tap into the madman’s, because he too is struggling with a pain he’s let fester inside of his gut.

Although Visions was shot before Savalas would make his debut as Kojak in 1973, the actor was quite busy shooting films in Europe, and landed in Denver, during a whirlwind era of work. He had just completed Reason to Live, Reason to Die and then headed back to Rome after shooting Visions to begin work on The Devil is Taking Away the Dead (which is presumably the working title for Lisa and the Devil). He doesn’t show one ounce of fatigue, giving audiences a good glimpse at what the charismatic actor was going to do with the soon-to-be-legendary Kojak. Markham would also take on a new series in 1973, when he was cast as the New Perry Mason. Unfortunately, it did not last long, and was cancelled in 1974 (Confession: I thought it was a good show, but I did miss Mr. Burr immensely).

Visions ran against another really good small screen thriller, Night of Terror, starring Donna Mills and Martin Balsam, as well as a run of a 1965 theatrical film with Sean Connery titled The Hill. What to choose, what to choose?

Visions was released on DVD as Visions of Death.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Book Review! The Case of the Alliterative Attorney: A Guide to the Perry Mason TV Series and TV Movies

I admit that I have a mostly casual relationship with the long running Perry Mason TV series. This association was so informal, in fact, that the only guest star I could rattle off the top of my head was Bert Convy, which is a surprise to no one, I’m sure. However, when MeTV began re-airing the Mason movies in 2013, I fell hard for the telefilms (and a handsome bearded Burr), even though I think they may be a bit like the 90s Columbo reboot in terms of being considered a step down in quality. But, there was drama, mystery and intrigue, William Katt and William Moses, and a whole lot of Raymond Burr commanding the screen. In short, I couldn’t get enough!

There’s been a few books on the Perry Mason television series, but to the best of my knowledge, there is little writing about the run of telefilms that graced our small screens from 1985-1995. C’mon, that’s ten years of courtroom shenanigans, and oodles of amazing guest stars. I’m still working through those TVMs, but was thrilled when I saw that someone had included them in their Mason book. And spoiler free, no less, so I could sit down and read about a TVM without worrying about it taking away from what I had not seen yet. This awesome tome is titled The Case of the Alliterative Attorney: A Guide to the Perry Mason TV Series and TV Movies. When I recently acquired my copy, I couldn’t wait to dive in. But then, like any good Perry Mason mystery, there was a twist – I could barely turn myself away from the section about the original series, even though it was originally of secondary interest to me.

OK, not the most suspenseful twist, but work with me. 

Perry Mason and Hamilton Burger working with me.
That’s just a long way of saying The Case of the Alliterative Attorney is an immensely enjoyable, page-turning read. The amount of research that co-authors Bill Sullivan and Ed Robertson put into this book is head spinning! There is not only lots and lots of fantastic trivia, but there’s quotes from those who were there to help make the series and films a success, including the incomparable Barbara Hale, and actress turned producer Gail Patrick (an intriguing woman who deserves her own book!), as well as a fairly in-depth look at how the show was put together, while also working as a tribute to the profound friendship Hale and Burr enjoyed until his passing in 1993.

These are my people.
And, for the record, this book is huge! At well over 600 pages, the authors incorporate as much as they can into each episode synopsis, spotlighting guest stars, important dialog quotes, and pieces of interviews with some of the people who worked on that episode. And, as mentioned earlier, all spoiler free.

Monte Markham > Not a terribly great idea for a series
Also, working like a good commercial break, there are sections titled Exhibits located throughout the book, highlighting interesting aspects or themes from the show. For instance, there is a list of episodes featuring jury trials, as well as a compilation of episodes where the court meets in a non-traditional location. In short, you are bound to be a Mason expert by the time you finish the book. Despite the fact that it’s throwing loads of info in the reader’s direction, Sullivan and Robertson's style is casual, energetic and breezy. The authors really go the extra mile too, and Mason gets his full small screen due, so expect a section on The New Perry Mason Mysteries too! Go Monte!

Hal Holbrook, the badass.
As a newbie to the main content of the book, I can say that it has a little something for everyone, and may well bring in new fans (i.e. me). My one minor nitpick is that the four Perry Mason Mysteries, filmed after Burr’s passing in 1993, deserve more attention. They can be looked at as a simple novelty to keep a brand going, but they are also entertaining in their own right and wonderfully preserve Mason and Burr while attempting to develop their own cozy mystery niche. Also, seeing a pushing-70 Hal Holbrook riding a Harley is just the best. True story.

The verdict is in: The Case of the Alliterative Attorney wins!
But as I said, that’s just a TV movie freak being a bit fussy, and perhaps that just comes from wanting the book (and the Mason telefilms) to go on forever. I highly recommend The Case of the Alliterative Attorney to anyone with even a passing interest in the show who is also drawn to getting a deeper behind the scenes perspective on a golden age of television.

Available through Amazon.

PS: Raymond Burr is everything.

Sunday, September 11, 2016

About the podcast...

Just a quick update to let you know that we're gearing up to record our next episode this Thursday (September 15th), and we'll be discussing our favorite made for TV movie actresses. You have time to let us know who your faves are, by commenting here, on our facebook page, or our twitter feed, or by emailing us at!

Our last episode was a bit of a test run for what types of TVM games we can play. The whole thing turned out to be a grand success and we've even gotten some of the most amazing artwork inspired by some of the answers. You can check out our show here to listen to what the following images correlate to, but really, just enjoy these mockup ads brought to the Made for TV Mayhem Show via our listener and great friend Shannon, who did an incredible job of translating our off the cuff made up telefilm synopses! And we'll be playing again soon (we might do a truncated version on the next episode).

Also, I've got a book review and a couple of blog posts coming shortly. I thought I'd get a break when I graduated, but life just seems to keep rolling along. So lame. Thank you all for sticking it out with me!

And yeah, I'll say it again... Stay Tuned!

Friday, September 2, 2016

Family Sins (1987)

Network: CBS
Original Airdate: October 25, 1987

Admit it, whenever someone throws the word "sin" into their TV movie title, you're expecting a sexy TV-PG drama with a soapy edge and a tinge of glamour. I mean, just look at Sins with Joan Collins as an example of how to take one word and make it the best thing ever. So, whenever one of those delightful titles drops into my lap, the excitement and joy overwhelms me. Maybe I even faint, who knows? But I do know that I probably should have looked up Family Sins before I gave it a spin, because it couldn't be farther from melodramatic debauchery, and dammit, there wasn't a shoulder pad in sight. That's not to say that Family Sins isn't fantastic, because it is, but it's also one of the darkest and saddest telefilms I've seen in a while.

Bryan (Thomas Wilson Brown) and Keith (Andrew Bednarski) are two young brothers living under the subtlety strong arm of their father (James Farentino in the most controlled performance of his I have seen so far). Keith is the twinkle in dear old Dad's eyes. He'll do anything to win his pop's approval, excelling at sports, and sometimes rubbing his elevated status in his older brother's face. Bryan is withdrawn and complicated. He hates sports, but his father doesn't care and often ostracizes him for daring to be a computer nerd instead of a jock. The mediator in this family is their somewhat sheepish mother (Jill Eikenberry), who thinks Bryan should do what he wants instead of what his father demands.

Signs of trouble start early. Bryan is a bruiser, dark and a loner. It's not that he doesn't have friends or do well in school, but while other kids are camping and playing catch, Bryan often sits in his room staring at the walls. He has a teacher (Brent Spiner) who sees the potential in Bryan, and to cheer him up, he gives him the class rabbit to take home as a pet. Knowing he can't have a pet, Bryan sneaks him into the house but his new BFF is soon uncovered. Dad tells him to get rid of the rabbit and Brian... kills it!

What do the parents do about Brian's evil deed? Absolutely nothing. Mother wants Dad to lay off, and Dad wants to sweep it under the rug anyway. So, the family goes on a summer outing, renting a cabin by the lake (if you've seen Cabin by the Lake, you can guess this can in no way end well). After a strange game of control, Bryan accidentally lets Keith drown. And that's just the beginning of the end of this family.

Met with mixed reviews, I'll admit that Family Sins is looking to pound its audience over the head with emotion. The real issues is that viewers may wonder to what end? There are no answers or happy endings to be had. Not that it needs anything like that, but Family Sins is a bit of endurance test in terms of depressing content, with little in the way of relief. But it's also so damn engrossing and well made, I found that I truly cared about Bryan, despite his obvious troubles, and I wanted to see something good come out of all of the darkness.

One critic likened Family Sins to Ordinary People, and they were quite right, even all the way up to the boating accident. And while I'm not sure this is Oscar level filmmaking (but it's quite confident), James Farentino has never been better or more effective. Gone are his signature wide eyed OTT deliveries (not that I don't adore that), and this is by far Farentino at his most human and relatable. He's not necessarily likable, but it's easy to see how he honestly felt he was doing right by his family. It's a complicated performance, and expertly handled.

Now that I'm traveling into the more dramatic 80s and 90s domestic-centered TVM output, Jill Eikenberry has been popping up on my radar. She is an excellent actress, always drawing me in immediately by exuding a likable presence. She's fantastic in this film, and is really the everyman, speaking for the audience, demanding answers where there are none. The child actors are also great in their roles, and Spiner shows off some early adorable in a part that I wish was more integral to the film. I recommend Family Sins to those who enjoy these kinds of family dramas. It's quiet and methodical, but it's also a downer so bring your kleenex, and maybe a nice glass of wine. Worth seeing just for Farantino.

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

What I've been up to...

Celebrate good times... c'mon!
aka Just another update post making excuses for why I'm not blogging as much as I'd like... 

I just finished my Masters program! Getting an advanced degree ended up being a longer road than I had anticipated, but here I am, ready to archive your old documents or create a fancy bibliographic record. I am also currently ending an internship that lasted almost a year longer than originally scheduled (I love it there and am sad to see it end), and gearing up for a new job starting on the 1st of September. Please keep your fingers crossed!

The geek I want to be!
In the middle of all this, I also attended my first professional conference and have been spreading myself thin working on a couple of volunteer projects. Blogging just kind of fell by the wayside. So did podcasting. So did sleeping. So did inner peace. But when that light at the end of the tunnel appeared, all I could think about was writing and talking about films and watching things.

Keeping the dream alive!
Somehow, during these last few stressful months, I did actually do some non-TVM writing, so I thought I'd post the links:

If you love Dallas, and you know you do, check out the surreal, oddball and beautiful documentary Hotel Dallas, which is about Romania's love affair with J.R. Ewing. I wrote a review of this film for Spectacular Optical.

I also wrote a review of the great late entry slasher Hack-o-lantern for the awesome Hysteria Continues.  

Finally, there are a few projects I've been working on that are very close to coming to fruition. I will keep you in the know as things are finished and (finally) tangible!

And one more finally: There's a new Made for TV Mayhem Show online right now. We're also on iTunes! Check it out. It's a TV movie game show themed minisode that will take an hour of your life, and hopefully return the gesture with a few laughs.

And, for whatever reason, I haven't really promoted another podcast I do called Podcastmania. It's a horror roundtable type event, with lots of people talking passionately (sometimes over each other, so be patient... we're just excited), and also features my MFTVMS partner Dan Budnik! And  yeah, we're on iTunes!

And, I've been guesting on Dan's other podcast, Eventually Supertrain, which is dedicated to the world of the short lived TV series. I partner up with Dan to swoon over the romantic love tale of Joanie Loves Chachi. Oh yeah, he's on iTunes.

Looking at all of this, it seems like I have been doing a lot, but it took me months to get some of these things done. Now the focus is finally back on blogging and telling the world how awesome Valerie Harper is. Although we all knew that already, didn't we?

Anyway, in short... please keep tuning in.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

TV Spot Tuesday: Invasion of Privacy (1983)

Network: CBS
Original Airdate: January 12, 1983

Valerie Harper had worked consistently since the cancellation of Rhoda in 1978, but 1982 would prove to be a banner year for the amazing actress. Harper had three TV movies in production, each one airing on one of the Big Three networks in the 1982/83 season. Most TV movie fans probably remember the undeniably scary and ageless classic Don’t Go To Sleep (12/10/1982, ABC), but her other two TVMs, the pilot movie Farrell for the People (10/18/1982, NBC) and the telefilm An Invasion of Privacy are also both solid films. What stands out about Ferrell and Invasion is that in one film (Ferrell), Harper plays a compassionate district attorney tangling with a complex rape case, and in an ironic turn of TV movie events, Harper then plays a rape victim working through the same unsympathetic system in Invasion. The films aired approximately 3 months apart.

In Invasion, Harper is Kate Bianchi, a recently divorced mother who is attempting to reconnect with her freelance artist roots. She has relocated to a small town in Maine during the dead of winter to work on a textbook project. The locals run both hot and cold with Kate, but one man named Wilbur (J.C. Quinn) crosses the creepy vibe line a few times. On the hot side is Police Chief Carl Slater (Cliff DeYoung sporting an impressive moustache), a friendly but sometimes aggressive suitor who moves into Kate’s good graces quickly, sleeping with her on their first date. Kate is still struggling with the breakup of her marriage and puts her love affair on hold, but less than 24 hours after her first post-divorce romantic rendezvous, Wilbur rapes Kate in her own home (with her small daughter in the same house!). Kate seeks justice but is met with some apprehension as many of the townsfolk rally against Kate in support of lifelong resident Wilbur. Her previous tryst with Carl becomes a heated point of debate and Kate has to let go of personal discretion in order to find some form of punishment for Wilbur.

Invasion is undeniably good, anchored by a solid performance by Harper, and some beautiful photography by John Lindley (Demon Murder Case and Killer Party!). The first half of the film is played like a thriller with a strange sense of doom lurking around every frame. After the attack (which is mostly, and thankfully, left to the imagination of the audience), the film becomes a more straightforward procedural and falters a bit. However, it remains a compelling watch because of the way it examines how society puts the weight of the blame on the victim, and because Harper is just too damn good. Has she ever not been amazing in something?

Based on a novel titled Asking for It by noted classic cinema actress turned screenwriter and novelist, Joan Taylor, there were many changes made to the adaptation, which was penned by Elaine Muller (her only IMDb credit), including dropping a subplot involving Kate’s politician father who uses the assault as a way to garner votes in an upcoming election, while also playing down the town’s resentment towards Kate. This was probably a bit of misstep, since the antipathy is made mostly in reference, while the “educated” transplants get most of the screen time, playing down Kate’s immense struggles to bring a local to justice in a town that seeks to protect its own. In this way, the xenophobia feels almost reversed, which hampers some of the film’s impact.

And yes, while Harper is terrific as Kate, the other hiccup in Invasion is how the character reacts in the aftermath. Certainly written this way, it is a bit too detached. Indeed that plays a bit off the clinical nature of what happens to most rape victims who report their crime and then have to face exams and questioning, but there’s no journey towards Kate’s ability to pull it together. At the same time, her impassive delivery is almost inspiring. She confronts the attack with no sense of guilt or blame, and remains focused on justice.

Invasion features lots of great small screen faces, including Richard Masur as a popular transplant desperate for acceptance, Carol Kane as his wife, Jeff Daniels in a very early role as a district attorney, and a very, very young Sarah Michelle Gellar as Harper’s daughter. She’s so cute, it’s almost ridiculous. Oh, let’s face it, she's still adorable! Both Jerry Orbach and Tammy Grimes (Tammy Grimes, y'all!), took a hiatus from a Broadway production of 42nd Street to put in cameos. Everyone is great in their roles, and do their best to help pad out some of the sections of the book that were excised in this adaptation.

Shot on Shelter Island in New York, director Mel Damski creates a quiet, sensitive and intriguing drama-bordering-on-thriller that was met with mostly positive reviews when it was originally released. The sad part is that the act of victim blaming is still all too relevant, even now, thirty years after the release of this worthwhile TV movie.

(Note: apologies for the blurry stills, it was the best I could get!)

Here is the TV promo spot for Invasion of Privacy: