Sunday, March 30, 2014

Small Screen Goodness!

Although I've been watching a heap of TV movies, I haven't had the chance to sit down and write about any of them... Job hunting is a bitch! However, I have been keeping my TV radar (or perhaps it's antenna) on the scene and have a couple of neat things to share:

As many of you know, I do a live-tweet every Friday night with Me-TV's Made for TV Movie programming. Their schedule has been pretty boss, but it's going to get insanely cool this weekend when they air the pilot to the short-lived 1971 TV series Longstreet! If you are on East Coast time and have access to Me-TV, please join me on Twitter this April 4th, at 8 PM EST and let's spread the blind-insurance-investigator love! #Longstreet 4ever!

Oh yeah, and cuz I'm silly about TV movies, I am always looking for ways to make art out of small screen awesome. Here is something I did with a Longstreet still:

 I also did this to a Paper Dolls TV Guide ad:

And I made this out of a still from Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate:

And sometimes you just have to be The Best Little Girl in the World:

Also, again you may or may not know that I am a current member of the Movies About Girls podcast. One of the things I do for the podcast ... aside from not saying much but laughing a whole lot... is recording a segment called The Made for TV Mayhem Minute. It's 3 or 4 minutes of as much TV history or news I can squeeze into whatever topic I choose. I try to theme the segments with the movie we are watching, but in general it's a whole lot of random. I have done a lot of these segments and I'm in the process of uploading the transcripts onto the MAGpedia page. I've posted five so far and you can find them here. Also, in the next few weeks, I'll be updating the links on my sidebar so you can check out the entire show. It's lots and lots and lots of fun!

Podcasting Old School
The internet is both eternal and transitory, and I'm sad to say that many of the sites I used to write for have gone into the ether bye-bye. I have written a lot about TV movies as well as many other genres of film and instead of just letting my reviews/articles/interviews go, I will be repurposing my material both here and on a new blog, which I'm currently creating. I have to admit, my writing was (and sometimes still is) a bit clunky, but it's good to see where you were and where you are. I'm all self-reflective that way.

And finally, I'm working a great TV movie project that I'll be sharing info on shortly. Super excited about it!

Friday, March 21, 2014

Big Stars on the Small Screen Blogathon: Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (1971)

This review was written in conjunction with How Sweet It Was' tribute to the Big Stars on the Small Screen!  Let's roll... 

Network: ABC
Original Air Date: November 9th, 1971

Last year, when I wrote about The Screaming Woman,  I mentioned Walter Pidgeon’s observations on the older actor in Hollywood during the golden age of the TV movie (that’s the 1970s for you whippersnappers). According to Pidgeon, actors of a certain age found great difficulties finding good parts in the movies. Television beckoned these theatrical stalwarts and many found a new home on the small screen. Unfortunately, some of these actors were unhappy with the content they were saddled with. Granted, The Screaming Woman isn’t the greatest film ever made, but it’s good and the classic stars are wonderful in their parts, de Havilland in particular. For actors then (and now) it boils down to finding those special moments with which to shine. The actresses in Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate practically fell into a goldmine because the smart script affords them so many wonderful opportunities to strut their stuff.

Based on the novel by Doris Miles Disney, Spindle is the tale of four older women who spend their days drinking, gossiping and sometimes, just to keep things exciting, they pull an outlandish prank or two. This time, the ladies are creating the perfect young woman (a tall, willowy blonde they've named Rebecca Mead), and turning in her questionnaire to a local computer dating company. The hope is that they will receive a few amusing letters from potential suitors, which they do. Unfortunately, they also lure a psychopath who accidentally mistakes another woman for the fictional one and kills her in a fit of sexually frustrated rage.


Shot in 12 days (!), this brisk ABC Movie of the Week is absolutely charming, thanks to the four female leads: Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick, Myrna Loy and Sylvia Sidney. All four women were best known as theatrical actresses before they embraced the small screen, finding a new audience in kids like me who loved seeing them in episodic fare and made for TV movies. The women gel together beautifully in a TVM I always considered a precursor to The Golden Girls. Well, if they had less sex and drank a whole lot more (Blanche the lush would have been tremendous fun)!

In an interview to promote the movie, Loy spoke about how much fun the actresses had making Spindle. She said, “There was a lot of laughter on set. Helen Hayes, Mildred Natwick and Sylvia Sidney joined me in having a ball...” In a different interview, Hayes said she was dying to work with Natwick. “I’m Milly’s most ardent admirer," Hayes proclaimed. "That woman made me laugh more than anyone in the theater, anyone since Bea Lillie. Did you see Barefoot in the Park? Did you ever see anyone so funny?” The actresses affection for each other is apparent, and it’s a joy to watch.

While Hayes’ Sophie T. is the star of the show, each lovely lady in this quartet is handed a bevvy of fabulous material. The one-liners are fast and furious, and surprisingly (and in a good way), somewhat restrained. What could easily have seemed like raunchy ladies drowning in blue material is balanced by recognizing that their generation did not have the same open dialogue. There is still talk about what Rebecca Mead is willing to do on a first date, but all of the TVM's jokes are handed down with an air of dignity. Well as dignified as you can be sipping one too many Old-Fashioneds!

I haven’t read the source material by Miles Disney, but John D.F. Black’s adaption is clever, and, at times, laugh-out-loud funny. Some of the best bits of comedy come courtesy of the beleaguered Detective Hallum, played by John Beradino (aka Dr. Steve Hardy on General Hospital!). He has absolutely no idea what to do with these ladies, and they often leave him dumbfounded. Vince Edwards is downright menacing in his portrayal of the psychotically lovelorn Malcolm Watson. Most of what we know about him is delivered through an inner monologue that follows him along his travels. His “little voice” gets crazier as the film progresses, but as off the charts as he gets, he is still not prepared for these four ladies!

Economically directed by the fabulous (and apparently ornery) Ted Post, Spindle landed in the top 20 for the week. Hayes was nominated for an Emmy for her rambunctious portrayal of Sophie T. (Glenda Jackson won that year for her role in the PBS production of the mini-series Elizabeth R.). And, the film is sometimes credited for inspiring the short-lived series The Snoop Sisters, which reunited Hayes and Natwick as eccentric mystery-writing-sisters who find themselves solving real crimes (Hayes said that although The Snoop Sisters was produced after Spindle, they received scripts for that series first). It’s like Murder, She Wrote x 2 and with fur coats. Win.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The USA World Premiere Movie Project: Our Mother's Murder (1997)

This review was written in conjunction with The Daily Grindhouse's year-long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie.

It wasn’t planned, I swear. When I was choosing what USA movies I’d like to review this month, Murder on Shadow Mountain and Our Mother’s Murder simply looked like good choices (I must be drawn to the word "murder" and I’m not quite sure what that says about me!). If you read my review of Shadow you know it ended up being a bit of a disappointment. Luckily, I was already familiar with Our Mother’s Murder, which is one of the few TV movies I loved so much that I stood next to the VCR while copying it, so I could cut out the commercials. Dedication, people. Dedication. It’s not an easy movie to watch, because of the harrowing content and because it’s so damn heart wrenching. And, frankly, it’s perfect.

Like Shadow, Our Mother’s Murder (aka Daughters) is also based on a true story. Unlike Shadow, it’s utterly fantastic (OK, I’ll stop beating up Shadow now). This TVM tells the tragic tale of of Anne Scripps, a beautiful heiress who was brutally murdered by the hands of her abusive husband. The story is told through her daughter Alex (Holly Marie Combs in an excellent performance), who is desperate but powerless to keep her mother safe.

The film, which originally aired on July 16th, 1997, charts the whirlwind romance of Anne (Roxanne Hart, also excellent in the role) and her much younger lover, Scott Douglas (James Wilder, again, amazing performance). The couple was married ten months after they met, and afterwards, Scott begins to reveal a far darker side. It quickly escalates to physical abuse and even attempted murder, but is, as so often is the case, only looked at as a domestic disturbance. Anne, who was brought up in a very conservative lifestyle and is already embarrassed by her first divorce, and has a child with Scott (and because she's terrified), finds herself very reluctant to divorce him. At one point, she even agrees to a temporary reconciliation in the hopes that he won’t run off with their little girl. Scott goes from remorseful to violent in much the same way car chases in action films go from zero to sixty. His moods are sometimes unexpected and always terrifying. Anne’s grown up daughters, Alex and her sister Annie (Sarah Chalke… again… fantastic) watch helplessly as the danger escalates. The film’s title gives the ending away, so for much of the film it is simply an excruciating waiting game as we watch this disgusting man build up to murder.

Told without a hint of sensationalism, Our Mother’s Murder is almost too good. The film elegantly captures the idyllic life of two beautiful young teenagers with privileged backgrounds. Their innocent romances with boys and their strong bond with their mother belies the horrors that are about to happen. Our Mother’s Murder is about how abuse affects everyone, and each girl responds differently. Alex becomes a protective adult figure for her own naïve mother, and Annie finds herself drinking too much and getting involved with her own set of abusive boyfriends. They are relatable and their plight is moving.

Wilder’s performance is grotesque, horrifying and pathetic. In short, perfectly played. Scott is hateful but complex, and he’s not just a cardboard cutout bad guy. Wilder takes Scott to several different levels, and yet, we’ll never understand why he is the way he is. Anne is unfortunately the perfect victim because she is too ashamed to walk away. In one telling scene, Scott practically drags Anne out of a party and to their car. And while one couple follows them, they do nothing to stop what is an obviously dangerous situation. Anne's friend says, “She waved me off. She is probably embarrassed.” Just a few moments later, Scott tries to push her out of a moving car.

Truth be told, I can barely watch the entire film, I find it so real and heartbreaking. At the same time this is a film I feel everyone should see. It's not just a TV movie I love, it's an important story that is beautifully played and all to relevant. And unfortunately, the story doesn't end here. If you want to know more about Anne and what  happened to her children, start with the wikipedia page. Utterly tragic.

Now that I'm depressed, let's change gears. I can hardly believe that Bill L. Norton, who also helmed Gargoyles, directed Our Mothers Murder. Not because I don’t totally adore both films, because I do, but wow. That’s versatility! And trust me, after this tragic film, Gargoyles makes a nice pick-me-up companion. Hey, it's how I roll...

Monday, March 17, 2014

Happy Horror at 37,000 Feet Day! Here are Ten of my Favorite OMG TV Movie Moments! (MAJOR SPOILERS)

Yes, the day has finally arrived! You can pick up your copy of Horror at 37,000 Feet on DVD here! And, since I dubbed the whole event an official Made for TV Mayhem Holiday, I thought I’d celebrate with some of my favorite OMG TV Movie Moments!

Horror is one of the first scary movies I was able to watch, and through the years, after a lot of these wonderful TV movies stopped re-airing, I never forgot Horror's freaky deaky ending. It wasn’t just jaw dropping in its unexpectedness, it…. Well, I don’t want to ruin the end, but it made me think about the impact, if you will, of that landing!

TV movies are cool that way.

They might not be able to get all gory and sexy, but they often pushed the envelope while playing within the rules. As a kid who didn’t have access to the big screen scares, I found my love of genre films in my very own living room, and Horror was one of the first to indoctrinate me into the wonderful world of the unknown. I salute you, Mr. 37,000 Feet!

Here's  my list (Reader Beware: there are definitely a few spoilers):

 How Awful about Allan (ABC, 9/22/1970) - Blind Guy Drives a Car:

Why is a blind guy driving? I dunno, but he sucks at it.

A Taste of Evil (ABC, 10/12/1971)
Home for the Holidays (ABC, 11/28/1972)
No Place to Hide (CBS, 3/4/1981)
The Ending(s):

Three different films with one director and one distinct ending. If you’ve seen any of these, you know how the others play out. But don’t be fooled, despite the signature #MoxeyTwist, all three films are excellent and stand on their own two creepy feet! Of the three, I have probably watched No Place to Hide the most, but that might come from my girl crush for the adorable Kathleen Beller. Two of the films (Taste and Hide) were written by the great Jimmy Sangster, while Joseph Stefano (yes, the screenwriter of Psycho) lends his impressive skills to Holidays. If you want to see how director John Llewellyn Moxey uses other similar elements in Taste and the ultra-awesome The Strange and Deadly Occurrence, you can read my comparison/contrast review here.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (ABC, 10/10/73) - The Ending: 
There are plenty of hair raising moments in Dark, but it’s the gut-punch of a downbeat ending that made this movie one of the most traumatic of my childhood. Poor Sally. (Check out my week long tribute to Dark here)

Legend of Lizzie Borden - The Murders (ABC, 2/10/1975):

Lizzie Borden took an axe 
And gave her mother forty whacks.
When she saw what she had done,
She gave her father forty-one. 

Need I say more?

Trilogy of Terror (ABC, 3/4/1975) - The Ending:

I think I’ve mentioned this before, but I remember one bright and lovely Saturday afternoon when I came in the house for lunch. My parents’ eyes were transfixed on the television screen. From the doorway, I could only see their expressions and had no idea what they were watching. I slowly walked over to our living room table and turned towards the television. What I saw was beyond words. All I knew was that some tiny little creature was chasing a woman around her apartment. Instant fear! I was not prepared for the ending, which featured a very primitive looking Karen Black exposing a grotesque maw full of sharp, rotting teeth. Egads. The stuff of nightmares.

 Night Terror (NBC, 2/7/1977) - Cop Shot By Creepy Man in Front of Helpless Housewife:

Taking a long road trip, Valerie Harper runs into all kinds of freaky trouble when she accidentally witnesses Richard Romanus killing a police officer. This triggers (no pun intended) a taut chase across the desolate desert. A bone chilling start to a great TVM!

A Vacation in Hell (ABC, 5/21/1979) - Love Interest Goes Down The Tubes, err, A Waterfall:  

A Vacation in Hell is one whacky movie. I love it for so many reasons, one being that it throws you for a loop every so often. If it isn’t Maureen McCormick dancing provocatively for a Vaseline smeared camera lens, then it’s a twist or turn you weren’t expecting. Losing hopeless but adorable Michael Brandon part way through the film was a shocker! And I love the film for going there (and there and there too. Seriously, this film is insane).

The Possessed (NBC, 5/1/1977) - Diana Scarwid is Flammable:

Underneath the ivy and school girl uniforms, The Possessed is really all about sexual repression. So, it doesn’t seem all that strange that a young student finds herself engulfed in the fires of suppressed passion (literally). It’s all the more sexual and telling that only a young Harrison Ford can extinguish her flames!

Amityville: The Evil Escapes (NBC, 5/12/1989) - Garbage-Disposal-Fu:

OK, OK, OK. Amityville: The Evil Escapes isn’t exactly the scariest movie ever made. In fact, most of the time it is pretty darn silly. But if you will allow me to go back to 1989, when I was a teenager and this was a new horror movie. I’m sure you can image that my excitement clouded any and all problems with the film. And if nothing else, Amityville keeps with the theme of 80s excessiveness in its gleeful over the top moments. Case in point, when the high school jock comes to help the family with their garbage disposal problem, he learns the hard way that good guys don't win. I did not see Amityville again until 2013, and was not surprised that I remembered every single moment of this scene. It still makes me shriek! I hope this kid has another career goal, because I think the football team is just about to drop him!

High Desert Kill (USA, 5/1/1989) - This: 

My list went well over ten, and I'm sure I'd be happy to swap some titles with others on any given day. Honorable mentions go to:
The Norliss Tapes (NBC, 2/21/1973): Frankenstein/Hulk creature rips off a car door!
Scream, Pretty Peggy (ABC, 11/24/1973): The killer's reveal!
Satan's Triangle (ABC, 1/14/1975): The ending! 
Dead of Night (NBC, 3/29/1977): Bobby!
This House Possessed (ABC, 2/6/1981): Blood shower, anyone?
Don't Go to Sleep (ABC,12/10/1982): The ending!
Nightmare at Bitter Creek (CBS, 5/24/1988): Joanna Cassidy gets her vengeful groove-on! 
... and so many more!

What are some of your favorite small screen OMG moments?

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Ironside: Raise the Devil (1974)

Network: NBC
Original Air Dates: September 12th and 19th, 1974

Following on the coattails of the occult and possession films of the early 1970s, the popular series Ironside mixed their somewhat formulaic procedural drama with pagan witches, exorcisms (well, kinda) and of course, murder. Raise the Devil is a two part episode that features a top notch cast in an eerie and fairly effective wanna-be supernatural story that might have made for a better fit with the scary small screen offerings of the October/Halloween season.

After Lydia Todd (Ruby from General Hospital!) is brutally murdered in her cellar, her gentle young daughter Susan (Sian Barbara Allen) starts giving off some seriously suspicious vibes, refusing to even look at the police, much less Ironside and his band of trusty co-workers. But it’s not like there’s a shortage of suspects. An unseen but recently fired gardener, Susan’s boyfriend Jeff (Michael Anderson Jr.), Lydia’s drunkard husband (Dane Clark) and an overly serious psychiatrist, Dr. Gallin (Bill Bixby looking pretty hot in glasses) fill the roster of maybe-murderers. All of this mystery proves to be too much for Susan and she quickly winds up on the ledge of her mother’s palatial estate, threatening suicide. Ironside doesn’t believe she’s the killer and, while searching for answers he seeks help from a parapsychologist named Justine Cross (Carolyn Jones looking rather fetching with her intense bangs and to-die-for cheekbones). Justine throws another monkey wrench into the fire by suggesting that the spirit of Susan's dead brother may have possessed his sibling. Yikes!

Raise the Devil is half amazing, and half missed potential. Ironside, which was in its eighth and final season, is crisp and gorgeous. The plush modern 70s interiors are simply exquisite. If this episode had just been shots of the set decorations, I still would have been pleased. And, like earlier episodes, the lead cast is thoroughly engaging, even if we only get work-speak and crime busting.

Unfortunately, the story of a maybe-possessed young woman is mostly unfulfilled, bowing down to a safe formula and a few head shaking moments. This is par for the course for 70s TV, so it’s only a mild complaint. I remember the Charlie’s Angels episode The Séance was marginally similar, if a lot more jiggly, and the Kojak episode I Want to Report a Dream also features a psychic connection to a murderer. Personally, I love small screen supernatural mumbo jumbo, but for whatever reason, this one didn’t completely satisfy. It does have Ironside leading a pseudo-exorcism (!), so, it’s not like all is lost (OK, it was more like deprogramming, but work with me). Also, Ironside courts the lovely Justine, and I’ll be honest, I was digging it!

Sian Barbara Allen stepped away from acting in 1990, and has recently surfaced as an author. Sian was always a lovely presence on film, and I found myself hoping that she’d get together with Ed Brown (the gorgeous Don Galloway), but perhaps that was just too much of a fan-fiction-fantasy moment.

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Encounter with Danger (2009)

Network: Lifetime Movie Network
Original Air Date: February 28th, 2009

I have to lay all my cards on the table – I’m a major Shannen Doherty fan. I have loved her for as long as I can remember: through the tumultuous 90210 Brenda years to her Spelling redemption on Charmed through all of her television movies to her appearance on Dancing with the Stars (she was jipped hardcore, btw). In fact, I’ve been enjoying some major Shannen Doherty face time at la casa Amanda By Night, with a rewatch of View of Terror and a screening of her thriller Encounter with Danger. Essentially a riff on Polanski’s Frantic mixed with a large scale retelling of Dying Room Only and just a touch of The Net, Encounter manages to stay pretty fluffy, but watchable.

Shannen is Lori Parker. She’s head over heels in love with her hunky fiancé Jack (played by resident Lifetime stud Mark Humphrey) and he whisks her away to a business meeting in the Pacific Northwest. He’s a complete workaholic, but promises to spend most of the weekend with her, so when he disappears shortly after his first meeting, Lori is filled with panic. It doesn't help that that no one has a record of Jack… not even his job! Of course she takes matters into her own hands and uncovers tons of covert activities at Jack’s place of business, which puts her own life is in mortal danger. It’s up to Lori’s spunky secret agent skills to save Jack, and maybe even herself.

The biggest problem with Encounter is that it’s obvious there wasn’t enough script to fill the entire running time. There are a lot of shots of Shannen driving… and driving… and driving. The premise is decent but, like so many movies that came before it (Flight Plan and The Forgotten instantly came to mind), the way it plays out is a bit of a disappointment.

But let’s go back to Dying Room Only. One of that film’s major strong suits is that it allows the distraught female (Cloris Leachman) to truly go crazy over her frustration. I wanted to see Shannen let loose on the bad guys! Encounter keeps Lori too cool, too restrained and it’s hard to find sympathy for her since we’re just watching her go from point A to point B. Like I’m telling you something you don’t know. In the end Encounter is strictly by the book and doesn’t veer into anything unconventional for this type of thriller. However, it's still a decent timewaster, with good acting on all fronts, beautiful locations and a hunky Mark Humphrey. It’s definitely a rainy day kind of movie, which is exactly what Lifetime was designed for.

Encounter With Danger Trailer:

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

USA World Premiere Movie Project: A Murder on Shadow Mountain (1999)

This review has been written in conjunction with the Daily Grindhoue's year long tribute to the USA World Premiere Movie. 

Based on the true crime novel of the same name (also known as Mountain Madness: A Deadly Night, A Bloody Secret, A True Story), A Murder on Shadow Mountain recounts the extraordinary story of a woman who is intent on proving her husband did not commit murder, even though the evidence she digs up continually indicates otherwise.

Denny and Barbara Traynor (Peter Coyote and Michelle Lee) have an idyllic blue-collar life, filled with happy children and secure jobs. All of that gets turned around after Denny is arrested and extradited to Oregon to stand trial for a murder he allegedly committed over two decades earlier! During his time in the holding cell, Barbara begins to uncover a lot of secrets about her husband, but stands by him, even when the “truth” dictates otherwise. Her love and devotion become an inspiration and even the man who had Denny arrested begins question the case, as Barbara seeks answers to the night of the murder.

The story is interesting, perhaps even more so because it’s based on a real life event, but this adaptation is just not captivating. The leads are... and I really hate to say this... lackluster, and it appears as though Michelle Lee's heart was just not in this film (Of course, I won't speak for her, because I'm sure she can kick my ass, but if you've seen the film you get my point). Coyote fares a bit better, but his weird mid-west accent comes in and out just like his bright moments.

Yet, Shadow Mountain has a surprisingly moving ending. Despite the drama that never really goes anywhere, Jayme Knox’s honest portrayal of Sheryl, a victim who continues to blame herself for the events as they unfolded, digs itself into a very real place. She is the lynchpin-twist of the TVM, but it may have served the filmmakers better if they made the movie about her side of the events.

Shadow Mountain, which originally aired on May 25th, 1999, should have been a great movie. Dan Levine’s tepid screenplay attempts to create a mystery that provides twists and turns at every commercial break, while playing on a postmodern slant of memory as inherently fragmentary and slanted, skewed to the point of making fantasies into “facts.” The nerdy side of me was totally in this film’s court, hoping we’d see some kind of examination on how the reinterpretation of memory works as a survival instinct, but maybe that’s just too big for the little-TVM-that-almost-could. And again, I may have been #TeamShadowMountain if the performances were just a little stronger. I have only recently discovered Knot’s Landing, and Lee’s portrayal of Karen Fairgate is in so many ways, larger than life. Intense, but loving. Loud but thoughtful. Even when Karen gets on a high horse, I’m always willing to hear her out. Just that one part makes Michelle the perfect choice to play a character like Barbara. Not so much here. Barbara is simply not interesting, nor is Michelle’s lifeless portrayal, and neither character nor leading lady can carry the film.

USA World Premiere Movie – you’ve disappointed me, but I refuse to break up with you. I know you have more gifts to offer (and I love gifts)!

Note: I really hated writing this review, but I guess they can’t all be winners, right?