Saturday, March 9, 2019

Hooray! Rondo Nominations and other MFTVM News!

If you follow my social media, you may have seen that I was nominated for three Rondo Awards this year! But in case you haven't, I just wanted to spread the word on ye old blog, with a little info on how to vote.

Let me begin with the nominations themselves. I have to admit, it was really great to wake up last Friday morning and see my name all over the ballot. It means a lot and I feel so honored to be listed in the following categories, because the competition is wonderful!
You can look at the ballot for the Rondo Awards, and send your votes to

OK, I haven't won anything, but seriously, thanks to the folks who nominated me!
I won't go into too much about why each nomination is really important to me, but let's just say talking to people (whether in person or even on a podcast) has always been a nerve wracking experience, so to see the support from the horror community that I'm doing OK at some of these things just really means a whole heck of a lot.

So, big thanks to any and everyone who listens to, or attends anything where you have to hear me jabber for a couple of hours. It's been great and I truly appreciate each and every one of you, even if you don't vote for me (but you know, vote for me). There are so many great podcasts, commentaries and events to choose from, so go look and vote with your heart!

Also, if you haven't seen, I was recently interviewed by the Los Angeles Times in a piece all about TV movies! You should check it out!

(The LA Times brought a photographer to my lecture, but the photos didn't make the article. Here's some outtakes my friend took! The second snap is me with the powerhouse we call Kier-La Janisse!)

One more piece of Made for TV Mayhem news. I've opened up an Instagram account (@madefortvmayhem) which will hopefully allow me to add a more visual aesthetic to what I'm already doing on facebook and twitter. Come and follow me, please! I'm just getting started, but I have tons of TV Guide ads, as well as some promo pics and screen grabs that I'm dying to share on a more regular basis. Plus, it will serve as another place to update everyone on podcast episodes or new blog posts or any other kind of related news.

Coming soon!
And finally: I think I'm actually almost done with my intro episode to The Trap-Cast, which is just going to be a monthly series of minisodes dedicated to the show Trapper John MD! It's time, guys.

Thanks to everyone again! I've actually half-written two reviews for this blog, so I hope I can find a little time to finish them. Til then, I have more exciting news coming soon... So please keep tuning in! Thank you!

Monday, February 18, 2019

Miskatonic Talk (No. 3): A list

I just gave my third Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies talk on February 7th. Again, it was all about TV genre movies, but since it was longer than my talk in London, a few things have changed. Also, please note that I DID NOT update this list with my lecture in New York City, so this will be slightly different from that talk, but closer to it than the one in London (following this, cuz I am not sure I am!). Anyway, here's what was discussed and seen. And again, big thanks to Kier-La Janisse and the fine folks at the Philosophical Research Society for hosting such a great event. And I'm also throwing a lot of gratitude and love towards the audience who have been incredible at all of my talks. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!!

Topic: TV Movies as an Event

Opening Bumper Reel:
Deliver Us From Evil
KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park
Trackdown: Finding the Goodbar Killer
Midnight Hour

Topic: An Overview of the History of the TV Movie
Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring
Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver

Subtopic: The Intimacy Aspect
The Astronaut / Capricorn 1
The Spell / Carrie

Subtopic: The First Made for TV Movies:
See How they Run
Seven in Darkness

Topic: Popularity of the TV Movie (Nielsens)
Dr. Cook's Garden
Crowhaven Farm
The Girl Most Likely To...
Cry in the Wilderness

Topic: So Many Subgenres!
Invitation to Hell (Satanic Panic)
Legend of Lizzie Borden (True Crime)
The Stranger Within (Sci-Fi)
Five Desperate Women (proto-slasher)
Ants! (Nature Runs Amok)
Bad Ronald (Evil Kids)
Mazes and Monsters (Propaganda)
Killjoy (Thriller)

Subtopic: That's a Pilot TV Movie?!
Madame Sin
Cover Girls
Ebony, Ivory and Jade
Men of the Dragon

Topic: Important Filmmakers:
John Llewellyn Moxey
Aaron Spelling
Steven Spielberg: Duel
John Badham: It's it Shocking?
John Carpenter: Someone's Watching Me!
David Levinson / William Wiard
Richard Levinson / William Link
Dan Curtis
Richard Matheson

Clip reel (Curtis/Matheson):
Night Stalker
Trilogy of Terror
Dead of Night: Bobby

Topic: Climbing out of the Pigeonhole:
Robert Reed
Elizabeth Montgomery
Barbara Eden
Andy Griffith

Clip reel: 
Barbara Eden: The Woman Hunter
Robert Reed: Haunts of the Very Rich

Topic: Marketing the Horror Telefilm
Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

Promo clip reel:
Born Innocent
Deadly Lessons
The Intruder Within
Someone’s Watching Me!
Invitation to Hell
Bad Seed
Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

TV Guide Section:
The Babysitter
Dying Room Only
This House Possessed
Bridge Across Time (aka Terror at London Bridge)
Midnight Hour
No Place to Hide
Are You in the House Alone?

Topic: Popular Subgenre - Supernatural
Subtopic: The Haunted House/Ghost Story Telefilm, and the Intimacy of Grief:
Fear No Evil
Daughter of the Mind
The House that Would Not Die
Don’t Go to Sleep
This House Possessed
She Waits
(*all of the above had companion clips, with the exception of The House that Wouldn't Die)

Subtopic: The Paranormal TVM and Second Wave Feminism
The Spell
Midnight Offerings (included clip)
Initiation of Sarah
Wes Craven's Summer of Fear

TOPIC: Female Ensembles
Five Desperate Women
She's Dressed to Kill
Friendships, Secrets and Lies

Clip reel:
Home for the Holidays
Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate
She's Dressed to Kill

Topic: A Small Screen Nasty Moment
Born Innocent

Topic: Into the Eighties
Dark Night of the Scarecrow
I, Desire
Dark Mansions
A Stranger Waits

TOPIC: THE 90s and Beyond!
The Haunted

Subtopic: The USA Original Movie
The China Lake Murders
Dirty Little Secret

Subtopic: Mother, May I Sleep with Demographics?
Death of a Cheerleader

Promo reel:
Friends til the End
Death of a Cheerleader
A Killer in the Family
Awake to Danger
The Man Who Wouldn't Die
Frankenstein: The College Years
Dark Shadows
Stepford Husbands

Topic: You Can't Keep a Good Concept Down:
The Perfect Neighbor
Spring Break Shark Attack
Rosemary's Baby

Topic: Monsters!
Promo reel:
The Intruder Within
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
Devil Dog: Hound of Hell
The World Beyond

The End!

Tuesday, January 1, 2019

Hollywood Television Theater: The Scarecrow (1972)

Network: PBS
Original Airdate: January 10th, 1972

When Percy MacKaye wrote his play The Scarecrow in 1908, he only meant for his audience to make the loosest connections to its obvious inspiration, Nathaniel Hawthorne’s short story Feathertop. Admittedly, even MacKaye would have a hard time denying the liberal doses he borrowed from Hawthorne’s story about a witch who creates a man out of a scarecrow, sending him off to woo a wealthy, impressionable young woman. But, it is in the metaphor itself that MacKaye drew on something distinct, softening Hawthorne’s condemnation of the class system and of humanity in general.

 Hawthorne’s work was often heavily tinged in the surreal, and Feathertop is no exception, mixing supernatural mischief and morality in a way that made the story unique and still oh-so-Hawthorne in the commentary. Feathertop sought to expose people for what they were, and to recognize the irony with which they live their own life, as well as how they choose to judge others (Hawthorne uses the word “trash” to compare the makeup of the scarecrow and that of the human race). Ending the tale with Feathertop returning to its original scarecrow form, Hawthorne surmised that an inanimate object was better off in effigy than had it continued to live as a man. However, MacKaye went down a far more sentimental route, making our scarecrow (named Lord Ravensbane in human form) a sympathetic and sad character whose happiness is only derived when he dies a mortal man. The 1972 Hollywood Television Theater production of The Scarecrow upholds the poignancy of MacKaye’s tale. Although, it also highlights some of the whimsical satire Hawthorne embraced and which MacKaye slyly inserted. It is most noted in a party scene where the upper echelon are eager to welcome Lord Ravensbane’s eccentric character into their wealthy fold, but then are just as quick to disown him, even when the truth of his original form leaves him heartbroken and humiliated.

Hollywood Television Theater was a series that aired on local PBS affiliates throughout the United States from 1970-1978. It was conceived by KCET in Los Angeles and that channel capitalized on its location and accessibility to recognizable faces, casting several high profile actors to appear in their productions. Their debut adaptation of The Anderson Trial starred William Shatner, and Martin Sheen (and was directed by George C. Scott!). Other productions featured Earl Holliman (Montserrat, 1972), Joseph Bottoms (Winesburg, Ohio, 1973) and David Hedison (For the Use of the Hall, 1975). According to Adapting Nathaniel Hawthorne to the Screen: Forging New Worlds, this series sought to give audiences an alternative to the cookie cutter world of television of this era. They brought all kinds of heavy hitting playwrights to the show, including Anton Chekhov (Two By Chekov, 1972) and Arthur Miller (Incident at Vichy, 1973). The directors were often well known journeymen such as Boris Sagal, who directed this entry, but actors, like the aforementioned Scott came into the role too, and prominent performers such as Lee Grant (For the Use of the Hall), and Rip Torn (Two By Chekov) took on the heady productions.

Sagal was a Russian born filmmaker who moved from theatricals to telefilms to episodics on a regular basis. With this production, he keeps things simple, while adding shades of flair along the way. Since it wasn’t shot in front of a live audience, the director threw in a few simple effects that, along with its muted shot-on-video pallor, give the play a substantial measure of filmic surrealism that keeps the viewer a little off-kilter as the play progresses.

At this stage in the history of PBS, the network found itself under fire by certain politicians who thought too much government money went into producing television (sound familiar?). So, PBS sought out a mawkish and mainstream title, and The Scarecrow is now considered one of the lesser adaptations to come out of the series. However, it was also a sorely needed entry, balancing out the edgier fare to appease the mostly upper middle class audience’s more conservative ideologies. It’s a bit ironic that this play sometimes lampoons the types of people most associated the PBS viewership, and also most known for condemning it.

The critics at the time were mixed on their thoughts. Henry Mitchell of the Washington Post wrote, “Nothing in the play is very far developed or very carefully worked out, and the sad result was a shiny-wrapped but none too meaty TV dinner, half-baked.” Conversely, Cecil Smith of the Los Angeles Times quite enjoyed it, calling The Scarecrow a “stunning production” that stepped out of “academic mustiness.” However, Smith also criticized the plush production as maybe a little too expensive for what is intended to be a modest television series, thereby giving greedy politicians a decent arguing point.

Certainly some good money went into the absolutely magnificent cast, which features Blythe Danner, Will Geer, Norman Lloyd, Nina Foch, Elisha Cook, Sian Barbara Allen and an electrifying Gene Wilder as Lord Ravensbane. Wilder’s physical take on manifesting from his original scarecrow state to that of a man, and learning to grow emotionally in that capacity is spellbinding. The scene where he attempts to call out to his mother is both disturbing and sympathetic. And although Ravensbane is definitely the oddest ball in the house, it’s easy to see how the vulnerable and sensitive Rachel (Danner) could fall for his quirky charms.

Pete Duel plays Ravensbane’s nemesis Richard Talbot, the man who has already claimed beautiful Rachel’s hand. Duel is the most under-the-radar actor in the cast, and his delivery feels more tailored for television, as compared to the bigger performances. But it is exhilarating in its own way, anchoring some of the play’s more outlandish moments. There’s also a touch of relatable humanity there. Talbot is jealous but logical and thoughtful, and by the conclusion, empathetic towards his enemy, and ultimately there for him at the end. It’s an interesting yin-yang relationship that could have been explored on a deeper level.

Nevertheless, the end product is both intriguing and delightful. At times a little posh and chaotic perhaps, but also earnestly produced, and extremely well acted. It might lack the morality lesson of a Hawthorne classic, but in an era of unrest and during the Vietnam War, The Scarecrow offers audiences a chance to realize that humanity is a virtue and yes, the scarecrow doesn’t just have a brain, he also has a heart.

This blog post was inspired by an upcoming Australian film journal from Lee Gambin and his film collective CineManiacs. The first issue is dedicated to scarecrows and I wrote about Dark Night of the Scarecrow, and interviewed Jeff Burr about his direct-to-video slasher Night of the Scarecrow. Keep an eye on my social media channels for updates on the release of the journal!