Thursday, August 29, 2013

Scream Factory Getting Into TV Terrors!

I was ridiculously excited when I saw the news yesterday that Scream Factory is releasing The Initiation of Sarah and Are You in the House Alone on a DVD two pack!

This is some kind of awesome double feature, and just in time for Christmas! I'll just re-post what they said on the facebook page, and I expect to see everyone with a copy by the end of the year!

From Scream Factory: Scream Factory "TV TERRORS" are coming to your tube soon! Two made-for-TV horror films (both from 1978) will be coming to DVD for the first time at a low-price on 12/10. 

THE INITIATION OF SARAH - Starring Key Lenz (House), Morgan Fairchild (The Seduction), Shelly Winters (The Poseidon Adventure), Morgan Brittany (Dallas), Robert Hays (Airplane!) and Tisa Farrow (Zombie). 

ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? - Starring Kathleen Beller (Dynasty), Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents), Ellen Travolta (Human Experiments) and Dennis Quaid (Jaws 3-D) 

As we mentioned earlier when we announced this release at Comic Con, made-for-TV films typically have had a history of not selling well (aside from some notable exceptions out there that have huge fan bases) so we are testing the waters here to see what happens. If this performs well, we would love to tap into some other great televised favorites and bring to you a "Volume 2" in the future. 

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Haunted by Her Past (aka Secret Passions, 1987)

Network: NBC
Original Air Date: October 5th, 1987

I’m not really sure what rock I was hiding under in 1987, but by all indications, I should have not only seen Haunted by Her Past but I also should have written about it eons ago, as it combines two of my favorite things – the TV movie and the soap actor. The film unites the incredible raven forces of Susan Lucci and Finola Hughes in a ghost story that is more melodramatic than scary but I can’t complain because I enjoyed the movie so much!

Lucci is prim and proper Karen Beckett. As a surprise, her gorgeous husband Eric (John James from Dynasty, and also my 1980s bedroom wall!) whisks her along with their two best friends Rita and Charles Kamen (Marcia Strassman and Robin Thomas) away to the quaint town of Unionville, a place that seems stuck in a time from long ago. They stumble upon a charming inn where people dress in period costumes (!), and Karen is drawn to the one room that has no electricity or any other modern means, which really sets the tone for the type of nerdy historic romance she is seeking. And boy, does it seem like she has romance on the brain, because this mousey young lady lets down her hair – and her inhibitions – at the inn of love. Unfortunately, the gothically designed mirror in their room is also the ghostly prison of a very angry young barmaid named Megan (Finola Hughes) who murdered her lover, only to be hung for her indiscretions, after she gives birth to the dead man's baby. All these years later, and she still hates men, and makes Eric her next target.

Haunted by Her Past generated a lot of buzz when it originally aired in 1987 (see ads below), mostly because of the hot soap opera cast.

In an interview to promote Haunted, Lucci indicated that the film was not simply a ghost story, and commented, “The movie’s been described as a ‘silky, sensuous, contemporary ghost story.’ I feel that’s an appropriate description. The story is really about a woman coming to terms with her own sexuality, and that ghost story is a metaphor. It’s about how it affects her life and her husband, whom she’s madly in love with.”

The supernatural triangle of man-hating ghost, mousey woman and hunky guy creates a lot of tension, and Megan is determined create a wedge between Karen and Eric. But to do this, she encourages Karen to confront her own unknown past, which Megan plays a big part in, and which maybe should have stayed a secret!

Originally, Lucci was supposed to play both Karen and Megan but she said the short shooting schedule didn’t permit her to take on more work. She felt it was for the best and said, “It was much better for me to be able to play against another actress.” I’m a big Finola Hughes fan anyway, but she is a delight in Haunted. Spunky and somewhat scary, she makes the most of her part as a jilted woman who sees her eternal role as a man-killer as wild and just. Lucci is great at working the sex factor but is also good playing up her nerdy side as well. The gorgeous and wonderful Marcia Strassman is wasted in a nothing role, but John James makes up for any of the film’s lack with pure bronze machismo! Yes, I have a crush on him. Oh yeah, and there's gratuitous Page Fletcher (The Hitchhiker) action as well!

This TVM could easily have been adapted from a Harlequin novel. It’s bodice ripping – TV movie style – and the utilization of some of the most popular actors from the 80s soap genre gave Haunted enough of a push to land it at #20 in the Nielsen’s for the week. I seriously wish I was one of the lucky 14.8 million who got to see this when it originally aired in 1987.

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Crowhaven Farm (1970)

 Network: ABC
Original Air Date: November 24th, 1970

The 1970s were all about duking it out with the devil.

We saw it on the big screen with films like The Exorcist and The Omen, making it inevitable that this battle would find its way onto the small screen. The big films often offered extremely nuanced responses to a cultural anxiety towards the unknown as wars raged and divorce rates rose. However, even if the the small screen offerings had any political undertones, they tended to seem more interested in grabbing viewers with salacious titles, familiar actors and a less visceral visual reaction to their theatrical counterparts. Movies like The Devil’s Daughter, Satan’s School for Girls and The Possessed wanted to give us the ultimate battle of good vs. evil, and sometimes the bad guy even won. Crowhaven Farm substitutes the devil for a coven of witches, but it was probably one of the first to arrive during this bustle of supernatural small screen treats, and, while not my favorite flick, it’s still a lot of fun.

Maggie and Ben Porter (Hope Lange and Paul Burke) inherit Crowhaven Farm, which is an idyllic estate located in Massachusetts. Although Maggie has never seen the farm she is haunted by visions of a past with the house. Still, despite the weird feelings the place gives her, Crowhaven seems like the perfect place for the Porters to work out their marital issues which concern problems with conceiving a child. A young orphan named Jennifer (Cindy Eilbacher) appears soon after and it would seem the Porters are on their way to becoming parents... Only Jennifer really just wants to be Daddy’s little girl – if you know what I mean (yikes). Maggie is finally able to become pregnant but by the time she figures out what is happening, it may be too late to save herself, her husband or her baby.

Confession: I am always mixing up Crowhaven Farm with Dark Secret of Harvest Home, because it's been years since I'd seen either film and, don't quote me, but I remember that they had similar stories (and please, really don't quote me because the more I read about Harvest the more it looks like it's not all that similar to Crowhaven! I'm disappointed in myself for not remembering either movie better). So, I decided it was time to sit down and give them both a spin. Despite that being the best plan ever, I've only gotten to Crowhaven Farm. Well, not that unfortunate, because it's quite enjoyable.

Crowhaven Farm is a small screen classic, fondly remembered by pretty much anyone who caught it during its original run. All these years later, and the film still holds water, even to relative newbies like myself, thanks to the outstanding cast (I think we all know I loves me a little Lloyd Bochner now and again). And props to the young, wide-eyed Cindy Eilbacher for putting in a particularly disturbed performance as the creepy little girl. While Ben might be oblivious to Jennifer's lusty stares, the audience is given a front row seat to every unpleasant and sinister glance she throws at him. **shivers**

The film unfolds nicely, if also predictably, because some of the foreshadowing hits you over the head with a frickin' mallet. An aside: It’s so funny how TV movies can be such an intimate experience (coming straight into your living room), but the films often take the more obvious approach to storytelling. I have no complaints though because the warm tones, eerie atmosphere, and unnerving Jennifer make Crowhaven Farm both comforting in its familiarity and also deliciously haunting despite dropping some large hints to the audience.

Crowhaven Farm is on DVD! Got get it! Now! 

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Those Secrets (1992)

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: March 16th, 1992

OK, maybe I’ve been taking too many critical theory classes, but I think the bizarre and fascinating TVM Those Secrets may be the first post-structuralist small screen film I’ve seen. Or, maybe I was just more attune to it since I’m knee deep in cultural theory as I write my final senior paper. Or, maybe I don't understand it at all but think I do (school does that sometimes too!). At any rate, damn. Those Secrets does a fantastic job of decentering the audience with narrative slippage. The result was that the film is, at points, both an alluring failure and a disturbed success.

Alluring failure or disturbed success? I'm not sure yet
I decided to stream Those Secrets on a whim, and because a good friend of mine thought I’d enjoy it. The Netflix synopsis is so misleading:

Neille Banesh (Blair Brown) put her call-girl days behind her to become a wife and mom, but boredom with her humdrum life -- coupled with the revelation that her husband, Simon (Arliss Howard), is cheating on her -- sends the incensed homemaker back on the path of prostitution. In this story of self-discovery, the escort reconnects with Leonard (Paul Guilfoyle) and other clients in between sessions with her therapist (Mary Anne McGarry).

OK, OK, the first half of that summary is accurate, but the second half simply does not account for all the weirdness that unfolds as Neille is hurled through a whirlwind of despair. Granted, it’s a slow moving whirlwind, but you get my point.

Call girl digs
There are so many weird gaps in the story. For instance, Simon is not the father of Neille’s two daughters (one of whom is humorously named Molly recalling Brown's then-recently cancelled series The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd), and it’s never made clear who their father is or where he is. When Neille receives a visit from a prostitute friend, the timeline of her call-girling days becomes fuzzy, and may even suggest she was giving trips around the world after the birth of her children. And do prostitutes really sell their little black book? I dunno.

Kind of digging this look. I mean, aside from the strange guy's hand around her neck
There are dramatic pauses delivered between lines, and overall Those Secrets has a very dream-like vibe. In one surreal scene Molly (Ellen Blain) confesses to Neille that she’s sad she’s no longer a little girl because she does not feel safe anymore. In that instance, it would seem Neille is having a conversation with her younger self. By the way, this is also the moment I decided to throw out the idea that I'd get anywhere working with a traditional narrative, so I began to follow the film as if it were a series of wildly strange vignettes about a women who lost control of her life by trying to control men with sex. Once I did that, Those Secrets became a beguiling little drama. Too bad only half of the film was left!

Retirement home gone wild!
But letting go of things like, oh, the story helped immensely because when they get to the scene where Neille may or may not have sex with an elderly couple who are interested in S&M, I needed to be just as disconnected as she was! While this tryst ends before it becomes too disturbing, what we do see of Neille’s sexual encounters is cool, detached, and lonely. As a protagonist, it’s really hard to feel for her because she’s as closed off as a character as she is as a paid sex partner. Her friend Faye (Mare Winningham) is then saddled as the hooker with a heart of gold, and she’s fantastic. I sort of wished this film had been about her.

Those Secrets aired the same night as the wonderful Doing Time on Maple Drive, and many newspaper critics reviewed the films together. As you may have guessed, they loved Maple Drive and hated Secrets. However, People Magazine wrote this:

It's an unsettling film, daring in its kinkiness and in its scattered but sophisticated visual and narrative style. Brown and Howard distinguish themselves and are buoyed by a cast that includes Paul Guilfoyle, Louis Gimbalvo and Mare Winningham.

I'm guessing she has a secret
People was right. Those Secrets is an oddball but fascinating flick. Cinematographer Paul Murphy creates a gorgeously aloof universe where, as Molly might say, no one is safe. First time director David Manson was already a successful producer and his TVM Night Cries was a lot more linear, but it also dabbled in dreamlike scenarios as well. As I wrote earlier, Those Secrets doesn’t really kick in until the halfway point, and boy, does it have a frustrating ending, but overall it is an interesting example on how to throw off the viewer by dissolving the traditional way of storytelling into a visual and emotional sense of isolation. It's not quite Lynch on Lifetime, but if you like your pre-Lifetime Lifetime movies a little more twisted than usual, this might fit the bill.

Fairly accurate representation of how I felt after watching Those Secrets

Monday, August 19, 2013

Live Tweet TV Movie Party?

Me-TV listed the first made for TV movie they'll be airing on their Made for TV Movie Friday! Looks like Perry Mason goes to bat for my favorite channel on September 6th at 8 PM with the 1989 flick The Case of the All Star Assassin.

Here's the plot, according Movies Made for Television:

"Perry takes on the defense of an injured pro-hockey star (Jason Beghe) who is accused of murdering an arrogant sports mogul."

It's got a wonderful and oh-so-80s cast, including Alexandra Paul, William R. Moses, Diedre Hall, Pernell Roberts and Shari Belafonte among others. And, Barbara Hale reprises her role as Della Street.

I'll be honest, I don't think I've ever seen a Perry Mason movie, so I'm really looking forward to catching this film, which seems to have decent reviews.

OK, so here's what's going on: I'm on the East Coast feed and I'd like to do a live tweet screening. I'm not expecting a gazillion people to show up, but if one or two of you are even remotely interested, I think this would be a fantastically interactive way to share our love of the small screen. I've posted a poll on the right sidebar, please let me know if you'd like to join in the fun on September 6th at 8 PM EST. We can make up hashtags and stuff!

Oh yeah, and you can find me on twitter at @madefortvmayhem. Add me and I'll follow you back. Hope to see you hanging out in the twitterverse for the Friday Night Made for TV Movie! 

Friday, August 16, 2013

Hitchhike! (1974)

Network: ABC 
Original Air Date: February 23rd, 1974 

Despite Cloris Leachman’s impressive career before she joined the Mary Tyler Moore Show in 1970, I knew the actress best as Phyllis Lindstrom. Phyllis was superficial and frustrating but, let’s face it, she was also utterly fabulous. Cloris was so good in the part that I still expect to see a snarky half smile plastered across her face. In that respect, her TV movies are very important to me because the characters she plays are always the complete opposite of what I am expecting from her. That doesn’t mean I’ve never asked myself what Phyllis would have done in Dying Room Only (I’m sure she would have annoyed Ned Beatty to death), but Cloris always manages to show me some new and interesting side (although her hair remains across the board fab).

Cloris is Claire, an unfulfilled mistress who decides to drive from Los Angeles to San Francisco to visit her sister’s family. She picks up a young and gorgeous hitchhiker named Keith (Michael Brandon) on her way out of town. Unbeknownst to Claire, Keith is desperate to get out of LA because he’s just murdered his beautiful but creepy step-mother. Both Claire and Keith are looking for something, but neither one really knows what that something is, so they are drawn to each other, entertaining a brief affair before Keith’s sinister side begins to take over.

In a 1974 interview Cloris said, “The question in the script is why would a woman pick up a hitchhiker. Their reason: she is a lonely, frustrated woman. Well I played that part in The Last Picture Show so I came up with my reason. This is not spelled out in the script, but it’s what I worked from. The woman has had a long affair with her boss. She lives in a constricted world. He’s married and she is always on call. Now she is driving to visit her sister and she wants to break patterns. So she picks up a hitchhiker and does things she has never done before. I feel I would be visiting myself if I played another frustrated woman and my responsibility to the audience is to keep them guessing about the roles I play.”

Cloris’ interpretation of her character translates really well into the film. And director Gordon Hessler (Scream, Pretty Peggy) does a good job of offering up both Claire and Keith’s points of view. As remote as he originally appears, we begin to understand Keith. He’s hard to sympathize with, but there’s something underneath that comes across as sad and lost, and that makes Claire’s leaps of faith believable (for the most part, anyway). Hessler also makes good use of the foggy roads that lead from LA to Frisco. Soaked in gray clouds, the film often takes on a dream like quality, perhaps serving as a metaphor for the hazy mindset of the characters.

Hitchhike is a great little slow burn of film. Maybe it’s because I was reared on small screen flicks, but I tend to love movies that have really small casts and take their time unfolding. Hitchhike has very little action, but it’s weird and suspenseful. Even if I don’t agree with either characters’ actions they still seem feasible, and I was pulled into their bizarre little universe.

However, if Hitchhike is a cautionary tale, it would seem Cloris was not paying much attention. Read this awesome story about how she picked up a hitchhiker in the 80s.

And did you know Michael Brandon really respects the TV movie genre? Read my post on Michael here

Newspaper promo for Hitchhike

Friday, August 9, 2013

Whoopee for Me! Me-TV that is!

Last night Me-TV announced their new fall schedule and they weren't joking when they said they had some big announcements.

First of all, they are going to be showing Love Boat on Sundays at 2 pm! I'm seriously excited about that little bit of news. In fact, their entire Sunday lineup is drool-worthy, because we can also look forward to the return of The Streets of San Francisco, Cannon, The Rockford Files, Kojak and Remington Steele, all of which will all air before their regular Sunday night Columbo! I think you know where you'll find me every Sunday...

But that's actually not the best news.

I could not believe my eyes when I saw that Me-TV is going to be showing Made for TV Movies!!! Yes, you read that right, the TV movie is making a well-deserved and long anticipated comeback on Friday nights at 8 pm. The movies will be associated with iconic television shows, and they've got some great ones in their lineup, like a 2 hour Vegas TVM and much, much more. Check out their fall schedule here.

Now excuse me for a moment while I faint. 

Not sure if Me-TV is showing this or the pilot movie, but a girl likes to dream! 

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

News, Links and Summer Fun!

It's been a long and strange summer (if I'm going to be honest about it) but as the season draws to a close and school looms just around the corner (egads!), a couple of cool things appeared along my horizon.

First up, I recently interviewed Cady McClain about her short film Flip Fantasia for the website Planet Etheria. Cady plays Dixie on All My Children (which, as you may know if you stop by here often enough, is available on Hulu, Hulu Plus, iTunes and now OWN). And as you also may know, I'm a bit of a soap nerd, so I was tickled pink that Cady took some out to answer a few of my questions. There is a link to the trailer at the end of the article. I suggest you all take a look, because it's quite good. Can't wait to see the final product!

Also, a couple of weeks ago I was mentioned on Day of the Woman as one of the Female Horror Journalists You Should be Reading (That Aren't Plagiarists)! BJ-C, who is the young lady behind Woman was not super familiar with me (not surprising since I sadly don't write all that much about horror these days), but a few people threw my name into the ring as someone worth checking out. This pleased me beyond words. I am honored to be thought about and I'm glad people enjoy what I do. Thank you BJ-C for the mention and a big shout out to all the people who suggested me for the list. You guys rock!

I also just did a podcast with the Movies About Girls crew for the TV movie Zuma Beach. I loved it (of course), but how did it fare with everyone else? Tune in, drop out and give us a listen! I was also of part of many of MAG's summer-themed podcasts, and you can listen to Hard Tick to Hawaii, Back to the Beach, Little Darlings and Gidget.

And last, but definitely not least, I am going to be doing a MAG spin-off podcast (think Joanie Loves Chachi) called MAG Monthly... for girls! It will feature Stacey Dawn, Cherry Bombed and myself discussing things like boys and making out with pillows and stuff like that... MAG Monthly has a new and gorgeous tumblr page, so please stop by for updates. Also, we'll all be writing recommendations for movies, fashion and whatnot so it should be your one stop shop for all things pink and frilly! Hope you enjoy! We're recording the pilot episode soon, and I'll post the link as soon as the podcast is made available.

Tuesday, August 6, 2013

TV Spot Tuesday: All That Glitters (1977)

Perhaps it was somewhat meant to be when I ran across the above scan I took for the short-lived series All That Glitters. I remember scanning it because I thought it was for a mini-series. Seriously, does that not sound like a great title for a shoulder padded drama? Indeed. However, I saw that it was a comedy produced by Normal Lear that featured the incomparable Eileen Brennan, among many other great talents. Sadly, Miss Brennan passed away last week at the age of 80. How I adored her smoky voice and red locks. She was stunningly unique, and a great talent. So, although I've never seen All That Glitters, I thought it might be nice to spotlight it on TV Spot Tuesday.

Newspaper promo for All That Glitters
As previously mentioned, the series was created by Norman Lear and it aired in syndication. In some ways it was much like Lear's other satire, Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman in respects to the approach to humor and because it ran nightly. It garnered a lot of controversy when it was released because the premise regarded women in positions of power in the corporate world while men were the subservient party, working as secretaries, etc. The company was called Globotron Corporation and was run by L.W. Carruthers (Barbara Baxley), and apparently she was a bit of a man eater (if you know what I mean).

The ridiculously awesome Lois Nettleton!
Linda Gray took on the controversial role as a transsexual. In an interview she noted that playing that character was instrumental in securing her role as Sue Ellen on Dallas! Gary Sandy played the secretary with "the cutest little buns in the corporation" (thank you for that tidbit, Total Television)! All I could find about Brennan is that she played an important recurring character who was named Ma Packer.

The series, which lasted for 65 episodes between April and July of 1977, is probably best remembered for spawning the song You Don't Bring Me Flowers, which was originally intended to be the theme song for the series. The tune was written by Neil Diamond with Alan and Marilyn Bergman. When Lear decided the song wasn't right for the show, Diamond expanded it and you can listen to him sing it with Barbara Streisand below.

Holy cow, so much interesting history in a series that seems to have all but disappeared! I'm curious if any of you remember this groundbreaking comedy? And what can you tell my about Brennan and Gray's roles?

Here is a promo for All That Glitters

Here is a clip of Neil Diamond and Babs belting out You Don't Bring Me Flowers 

Monday, August 5, 2013

Children of the Lotus Eaters (aka God Bless the Children, 1970)

Network: NBC
Original Air Date: December 14th, 1970

As a genre, the made for television movie often gets pushed to the back of the line with regards to its importance. The “message film,” which was a prevalent element of many TVMs, is often remembered as contrived, heavy handed drama that had to play it straight, settle for conformity and breach its message with a conservative wisdom that too often only skated over whatever issue was at hand. Although many films fell into this category, there are other titles that transcended the FCC/Network boundaries to speak to real issues in ways that other films simply did not. I was astounded by the heartbreaking honesty of the perils of drug abuse in Children of the Lotus Eaters (originally titled God Bless the Children).

Children was the pilot for a short lived series called The Psychiatrist. Richard Levinson and William Link had read an article in the March 21st, 1969 issue of Life Magazine titled A Town in Trouble by Jordan Bonfante, and loosely based their story on it. Jerrold Freeman adapted their idea into a teleplay. The article describes a town where over two-thirds of the teenagers were rampant drug users, and the parents were merely helpless bystanders. Indeed, Children is practically a parent free film, where the authority figures are the well-meaning but impotent police chief, a psychiatrist and his ex-junkie cohort. Otherwise, these teens live in a world all their own, and despite the quiet beaches and small town setting, it is a dark and dangerous universe made up of burnt out teens who still manage to exude a disturbing sense of innocence.

The series starred Roy Thinnes as Dr. James Whitman, the above referenced psychiatrist. He plays it calm and cool, but despite his aloofness, he exudes a sense of rebellion with a willingness to buck the system in an attempt to find resolutions. Dr. Whitman brings in ex-heroin addict Casey Poe (the electrifying Pete Duel who committed suicide about a year after Children aired) in the hopes that he can break through to the teens and help them understand where they are heading in life. Teddy (John Rubenstein) is the group’s leader, and he’s every bit as smart as he is addicted to drugs. Casey quickly realizes that there is no hope to redeem them all so he targets Kendall (Joy Bang) because her wide-eyed trust leads him to believe she can be saved. The problem is that Casey's own issues are so deeply rooted that he no longer needs drugs to destroy his sense of self. Every step he takes only forces him to take two steps back before he realizes that he’s the one who needs to find redemption.

In an interview about the series, Thinnes stated, “For one thing, we have no endings, no solutions to our stories – because we deal with questions that have no answers.” And Children offers hardly any answers at all (the people in the Life Magazine article seemed to fare a bit better). The film, which initially focuses on the teenager’s rampant drug use pulls back in the most painfully elegant ways and becomes about Casey working through his own self-destructive attitude. The message is as long as you can save one person from destroying their life, you’ve done something great.

The Psychiatrist was part of NBC's Four in One Wednesday night programming, and it was rotated with McCloud, San Francisco International Airport and Night Gallery. Aside from the pilot movie, six episodes aired between March - September, 1971. I’m not sure how the rest of the series fared, but the pilot is captivating, and it employs many of the same qualities you might find in an exploitation movie screening on 42nd Street in an effort to extol a message you probably would never see in the theater. Seriously, there are kids tying off before they shoot up and Poe tries to get high in a church bathroom! However, despite some of the more visceral qualities, Children is a graceful high-wire act, brutal and honest, and probably the best made for TV movie I’ve seen in a long time. Leave it up to Levinson and Link to bring in the goods yet again.