Are these my all time favorites? Not necessarily, but most of the titles I chose would end up in my top 30 for sure… There’s another list I’ll have to make! This list is just a starter guide or better yet, a catalog of films worth mentioning. And not just here. Most of these films should be in any film lover’s vocabulary. Guaranteed to elicit some doy-inducing reactions from the made for TV set, I still thought it was a list worth putting together, because you never know when someone needs guidance and is afraid to ask. Plus it gives me an excuse to revisit some great films. And what do I always say about excuses? When they come to watching great films, excuses are pretty dang awesome.
Duel (1971) – Richard Matheson is a freaking genius. Steven Spielberg is a mastermind as well. Combine their talents and you’ve got two great tastes that taste great together! The ultra-cool Dennis Weaver plays David Mann (a nice bit of obvious symbolism) who goes up against a malevolent truck in one of the most beloved films of the 70s. Oh wait, even better, Duel is the most beloved made for television horror movie of all time. Isn't that stretching things a bit? Not really. A young Spielberg cut his chops on a simple premise and exposed audiences to his immense talent. In my opinion, I only place Jaws above this title in the director’s filmmography. As for Matheson, I’m not sure I could choose. His assured hand at suspense on the small screen is absolutely unheralded even today. Screw you HBO!
Gargoyles (1972) Anyone who caught this movie in the 70s was in for a real treat and it’s likely you remember Bernie Casey as the leader of the Gargoyles. That was one bad ass dude, er, gargoyle. The Plusses: A young Stan Winston did the extraordinary make up effects, the actors invited the absurdity of the situation with such glee (including Jennifer Salt as the eye candy who forgot to pack anything but bikini tops and Grayson Hall who gets weird sexual pleasure talking about car crashes!) and some of the set-pieces were wonders of the “less is more” school of thinking. That recipe equaled success and left us with one of the best examples of excellent made for television filmmaking. Click on title for a full review.
Home for the Holidays (1972) – What good is a list without a slasher movie on it? I’m including shopping lists too (please insert your own Chopping Mall joke here). Yup, they even made slashers for the small screen and when done right, they ruled the known (and possibly unknown) universe. This warped tale of a family so dysfunctional the Ewings would be jealous, presents a lot of twist and turns and some grand, suspenseful kills. The cast is top notch too, featuring Julie Harris, Sally Field and Jessica Walter among others. My favorite director in the whole wide world (or known and unknown universe if pushed), John Llewellyn Moxey slowly builds suspense and keeps you guessing. More importantly, it will keep you on the edge of your seat! And that ending! Wow.
The Night Stalker (1972) – Darren McGavin is Carl Kolchak, a beleaguered reporter set on proving the supernatural does indeed exist. He is also one of the most beloved characters in horror films. This movie was so popular is spawned a sequel and a short lived series with the same title. It also inspired Chris Carter to create a show with a similar riff. You may have heard of it, it’s called The X Files. McGavin even played a recurring character on that show and it was the sincerest form of flattery. In Stalker McGavin is younger, strangely sexy and just fantastic as Kolchak, who is hot on the heels of a scary vampire – in Las Vegas no less (where it’s always day if you lived downtown, so that must have been tough). Yet another treasure from Richard Matheson and John Llewellyn Moxey.
Bad Ronald (1974) - Ronald is so bad, yet he’s so good at it. That’s why we love him. This claustrophobic thriller builds tension with an intense performance from Scott Jacoby as Ronald, the deranged teen who just wants to be loved. Ah, ain’t he sweet? Click on title for a full review.
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) – I inadvertently crossed paths with this little devil when I was a wee pup. It’s one of those flicks that would pop up on the Weekend Afternoon Movie and if you were young enough, BAM! It got you! Kim Darby plays the pragmatic housewife terrorized by little satanic creatures whose heads look like tiny latex hardhats (in retrospect, it’s cute, but back then… brrrr!). These guys aren’t happy just scaring her, they like making her look like she’s one log short of full fledge fire, which isn’t all that difficult. A creepy house, an overwhelming sense of paranoia, groovy special effects, William Demerest as the “You’re all doomed,” character and one of the darkest endings ever, make Don’t a TV movie classic.
Trilogy of Terror (1975) – No doubt this movie more than likely left an indelible mark on the brains of all young children of the 70s, scarring them for life. And most people don’t even remember the first two stories in Trilogy! For the record, they are titled Julie and Millicent and Therese and both were written by legendary scribe William F. Nolan (Burnt Offerings). Even he’s admitted these were fairly forgettable tales, although they are fun if only to enjoy a reliable Karen Black going over the top in three different roles. It’s the final segment, simply titled Amelia that had television audiences in rapture. Based on Richard Matheson’s short story Prey, this episode featured Black going toe to toe with a Zuni Fetish doll that has come to life and is sharpening up on his hunting skills. It’s 20 minutes of utter chaos ending on such a downbeat gut punching note, it just may be the greatest achievement in 70s television horror. It certainly had an effect on me and just might be the culprit for single handedly making our generation the horror lovers we are. That doll is a doll.
The Bermuda Depths (1978) – One of the few live action Rankin and Bass films (they did several stop motion holiday specials such as Rudolph, The Red Nosed Reindeer, The Little Drummer Boy and my favorite, Nestor the Long Eared Donkey), Bermuda is an absolute feast for the eyes. The whimsical story is about a giant sea turtle and a young woman who has been cursed to steal away the lives of random sailors, along with the man who has come back home after his father’s death looking for answers. She turns out to be the childhood love he let go. The movie unfolds almost like images rising from a book of fairy tales. The visuals are stunning, accompanied by a beautiful score and only the minimal of dialog. With the help of some charming miniature effects (and Carl Weathers in some awesome half shirts and hot pants!), Bermuda is a film that is as beautiful as it is unsettling.
Someone’s Watching Me! (1978) – A young John Carpenter honed his suspense skills on this tele-film which was shot shortly after he made Halloween. Here he’s got Lauren Hutton as the strong-willed television producer who is randomly picked by a cunning and terrifying stalker. Somehow he knows exactly what is going on in her ultra modern apartment even when the curtains are drawn. Hutton is in top form and Carpenter’s then-soon-to-be-wife Adrienne Barbeau is great as her #1 compadre. Someone has some truly hair-raising moments, great dialog and a nice build up of suspense so it doesn’t really matter that the ending feels a little forced and abrupt. A rose by any other name would be just a creepy.
Salem’s Lot (1979) – Tobe Hooper’s oeuvre (that’s my big word for the day) has been sketchy at best, but Salem’s Lot is definitely one of his crowing achievements. An eerie movie full of traditional gothic houses, creepy legends and lingering suspense, Salem’s Lot also interweaves startling imagery and one of the freakiest looking vampires this side of Nosferatu! What was even more disturbing is that Hooper got a great performance out of David Soul. I kid because I love.