Wednesday, July 23, 2014

USA World Premiere Movie Project: Into the Badlands (1991)

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

As established in the previous entries of the USA World Premiere Movie Project, the cable network often looked back at the different small screen genre fare of the 1970s, and sometimes produced supernatural tales and thrillers that harkened back to the TV movie’s golden age. One sub-genre that never seemed to get proper attention was the Western, which littered the networks in the early days of the TVM. The rural purge of the early 70s basically eliminated cowboys and prairie tales although they’d raise their browbeaten heads every so often (I’m looking at you Gambler and The Last Days of Frank and Jesse James). It makes sense, in some sort of TV concept way, to consider mixing the high desert with the more popular horror subgenre. I mean, just for giggles.

The year before Badlands was released the home video market tested this hybrid with Grim Prairie Tales, which was an OK movie, but also one that I remember coming in and out of the video store I worked at. I’m sure that’s not the only fusion of the Western and Horror genres, but it was the one that instantly came to mind while watching the atmospheric, but somewhat empty Into the Badlands.

Bruce Dern is essentially Rod Serling, if Serling wore a cowboy hat and spoke with a slight Southern drawl. He is our narrator and also the protagonist of the final story in a trilogy of tales. Dern is T.L. Barston, a bounty hunter who is searching for Red Roundtree (Michael J. Metzger), a “half-breed” that has a $5,000 price on his head. A dream for any bounty hunter in the 1870s for sure, Barston sets off to find Roundtree and collect his fortune so he can leave the barren flatlands for greener pastures.

He first encounters a man named McComas (Dylan McDermott looking super foxy in his Western gear), a man with his own price on his head. He’s on the run and hoping to get to nice little town off of the frontier and near a beach when he meets Blossom the barmaid (Helen Hunt). She’s dying of consumption, but the two fall in love and decide to make a break for freedom together. Of course, you can’t fall in love in one of these kinds of anthologies and expect to get away with it. And I’ll leave it at that.

Barston then shows up at the Huesser’s place, and gives Alma (Muriel Hemingway looking very 1870s) the heebie-jeebies before he heads off into his own story. After he rides off into the sunset, Alma decides to visit an isolated neighbor named Sarah (Lisa Pelikan looking more hauntingly beautiful than ever), just as a storm arrives. Sarah is one of those hoity-toity East Coast people, who like to recite poetry and take themselves too seriously. But she’s also stricken with a fever, perhaps brought on by her lonliness and seething jealousy of Alma, whom she believes is having an affair with her husband. Sarah is sure there are wolves at the door, and it’s up to Alma to protect them both, but from what?

Finally, Barston meets up with Roundtree, and kills him. Arriving in town to have the body identified, he realizes that in exchange for the dead body, Barston may have to give up his own life.

Or something like that…

Into the Badlands makes absolutely no sense. Metaphors only go half way and stories end just when they should be beginning. But dammit, this film has atmosphere for days. Gorgeously shot by Johnny E. Jensen and directed with a strong sense of tension by Sam Pillsbury, I could not take my eyes off this little tele-film, which originally aired on July 24th, 1991. It is exquisitely surreal and manages to captivate despite the lack of a coherent story.

And maybe... just maybe... it’s not the story that’s important, because each tale is threaded together through the theme of isolation, and how it affects the characters. The protagonists are desperately trying to get away from the frontier (screw you, Manifest Destiny!), whether it be to a beach, the city or somewhere else, and these characters are driven mad by their solitude. The setting is authentically barren, both ugly and beautiful, and works as its own character. A dust devil waiting for your soul, if you will. So, despite the fact that I longed for more… more story, more explanation… I could not tear myself away from these Badlands. Recommended. And it's on DVD!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Small Screen Scream Queens of the 1970s: A Countdown (Part 3)

Welcome to part three of my love letter to the actresses who made small screen terrors so incredible. Click here for parts one and two of the countdown.

10. Barbara Eden (1934 - ) – A wickedly voluptuous actress, Barbara became famous as the jinn who would do any bidding her male master wanted her to. She was adorable as Jeannie but it was obvious there was more to her than just sex kitten appeal. In The Stranger Within Barbara puts in a strong, terrifying performance as a woman pregnant with… something. She also got to get dramatic again in the eerie Howling in the Woods (co-starring her Jeannie partner Larry Hagman) and she was good at it! A completely undervalued talent, Barbara’s television movie fare proved she was one blonde that you couldn’t make fun of.

Scream-O-Meter: 7

See Barbara Scream in:
A Howling in the Woods (1971) 
The Woman Hunter (1972) 
The Stranger Within (1974) 
Stonestreet: Who Killed the Centerfold Model (1977)  

9. Stefanie Powers (1942 - ) – Bright and determined, Powers found fame well after the TV horror movie craze as Robert Wagner’s charming companion on Hart to Hart, although she had already began a love affair with the small screen a decade earlier. Starring in everything from the atmospheric chiller Sweet, Sweet Rachel to the timely thriller/drama A Death in Canaan, it was either her effortless charisma or her consistent portrayal of independent women that made Powers such an essential part of the TVM. One thing is for sure, she left behind an envious resume filled with all things scary. One of the most recognizable faces in the sub-genre, Powers never completely turned her back on us and can be see frequently in modern small screen thrillers (i.e. Lifetime, baby!).

Scream-o-Meter: 8

See Stefanie Scream in:
Five Desperate Women (1971) 
Sweet, Sweet Rachel (1971) 
Paper Man (1971) 
Skyway to Death (1974) 
Night Games (1974) 
Sky Heist (1975) 
Never Con a Killer (1977) 

8. Joan Hackett (1934 – 1983) – Quirky and winsome, Hackett’s loopy charms have never been duplicated. Normally the weakling who wallowed in unrequited love, she didn’t always come out on top but she did her best to overcome the odds, usually meeting tragedy instead. Yet, the lanky actress held her audience in rapture with her peculiar line delivery. In Five Desperate Women she finds a dead pooch and declares “He was a good little doggy and he liked me,” only to be strangled to death shortly after. You kinda feel bad for the kooky kid who just wanted to be loved. Hackett became a staple in the world of TV horrors and since her untimely death in 1983 we have not been the same.

Scream-O-Meter: 8

See Joan Scream in:
How Awful About Allan (1970) 
Five Desperate Women (1971) 
Lights Out (1972) 
Reflections of Murder (1974) 
The Possessed (1977) 
Dead of Night (1977) 
Stonestreet: Who Killed the Centerfold Model (1977)

7. Elizabeth Montgomery (1933 – 1995) – This fair-haired lady made America fall in love with her as Samantha the good witch on Bewitched. But little did they know that underneath all that girl-next-door beauty was an actress waiting to display her chops on darker fare. Instead of fighting the evil, she was the evil (or was she?) in one of the most unforgettable TV Movies of the decade, The Legend of Lizzie Borden. Everyone remembers the poem “Lizzie Borden took an axe/ and gave her mother forty whacks/ when she thought that she was done/ she gave her father forty one.” And who could forget the image of Elizabeth’s naked silhouette doing some serious damage to her dysfunctional family. The case was never solved, but Montgomery proved herself an actress worthy of meatier material. And in a nice twist, instead of screaming, she was forcing us to scream!

Scream-O-Meter: 8 

See Elizabeth Scream in:
The Victim (1972) 
A Case of Rape (1974) 
The Legend of Lizzie Borden (1975) 
A Killing Affair (1977) 
Act of Violence (1979) 

6. Cloris Leachman (1926 - ) – From Phyllis to Scream Queen, Leachman always seemed to take the road less traveled. Unusually attractive with a sense of style so grand you practically salivated over her wardrobe (the credits to Phyllis were simply to die for!). Leachman was more than a Diane Von Furstenberg ad, she continually played smart characters that developed strength through adversity. She showed the world her stuff in Dying Room Only and the small screen could barely contain her. She was the first to discover the dark secret of the Haunts of the Very Rich and she fought for the truth in Mrs. R’s Daughter, but it wasn’t until her strangely surreal performance in The Telly Savalas Variety Special that we realized this woman could conquer everything – including a really bad music number in the unaired special.

Scream-O-Meter: 8

See Cloris Scream in:
Haunts of the Very Rich (1972)
Crime Club (1973)
Dying Room Only (1973)
Death Sentence (1974)
Hitchhike! (1974)
Death Scream (1975)
Mrs. R's Daughter (1979)

5. Carol Lynley (1972 - ) - Few women have ever come close to matching Carol’s other worldly beauty and even fewer actresses can boast such an impressive resume. Appearing in everything from Bunny Lake is Missing to The Poseidon Adventure, Carol’s talent was one you could count on. She possessed a childlike quality that kept her ethereal beauty earthbound, making her characters that much more vulnerable. She was a good match for the masculine charms of Darrin McGavin in the popular Night Stalker TVM and she kept the screams rolling in several dependable made for television thrillers.

Scream-O-Meter: 8 

See Carol Scream in:
Weekend of Terror (1970) 
The Night Stalker (1972) 
The Elevator (1974) 
Death Stalk (1975) 
Thriller: If it’s a Man, Hang Up (1976) 
Cops and Robin (1978) 
The Beasts are on the Street (1978) 

4. Anjanette Comer (1939 - ) – This regal lady made some interesting films, television and otherwise. She might best be known to horror fans as the social worker with her own agenda in the jaw dropping Ted Post classic The Baby. But she was in many television genre films including Five Desperate Women and Terror on the 40th Floor. Her waify, ultra-feminine exterior belied the storming strength inside, making her perfect as a put upon heroine.

Scream-O-Meter: 8

See Anjanette Scream in:
Five Desperate Women (1971) 
The Deadly Hunt (1971) 
Wide World Mystery: Shadow of Fear (1973)
Night Games (1974) 
Terror on the 40th Floor (1974) 
Death Stalk (1975) 
Dead of Night (1977) 

3. Lynda Day George (1944 - ) – Gorgeous and voluptuous Lynda Day George was already a solid mainstay on television in the 60s as a character actress. She hit it big in the 70s playing Linda Casey on Mission Impossible and was nominated for an Emmy for her performance. But it was her work not only in television horror movies but also in big screen terror fare that marked her as one of the most beloved horror queens of the era. She was also married to the fantastically handsome Christopher George until his death in 1983, and starred in many so-bad-they’re-good flicks beside him (Pieces anyone?). In the mid to late 80s she sporadically showed up on TV here and there before she retired but, her work in horror had already solidified her as a genuine Scream Queen.

Scream-O-Meter: 9

See Linda Scream in:
House on Greenapple Road (1970) 
She Cried Murder (1973) 
Thriller: Come Out, Come Out, Wherever You Are (1974) 
Panic on the 5:22 (1974) 
Death Among Friends (1977) 
Mayday at 40,000 Feet! (1976) 
Murder at the World Series (1977) 
Ants! (1977) 
Cruise into Terror (1978) 

2. Kate Jackson (1948 - ) – While most fans will remember Jackson best for her portrayal as Sabrina the “smart angel” on Charlie’s Angels, fans of TVMs will think of her as more of a renaissance woman. Starring in everything from Satan’s School for Girls to Death at Love House, she may well be the quintessential Small Screen Scream Queen. In fact, her film choices during the decade have since gone on to become a blueprint for actresses everywhere. Strong willed and smart as a whip, Jackson proved you could be as pretty as you were confident. Oh yeah, and she rocked the turtleneck!

Scream-O-Meter: 9 

See Kate Scream in:
Satan’s School for Girls (1973) 
Killer Bees (1974) 
Death Cruise (1974) 
Death Scream (1975) 
Death at Love House (1976)

1. Donna Mills (1940 - ) – Mills became an icon to fans of prime-time soaps with her bitchy portrayal of Abby Cunningham Ewing on Knots Landing but she was already an actress with a list of credits as long as your arm. A prolific genre performer who even appeared in a couple of episodes of the criminally underrated British series, Thriller, she played everything from a newlywed in purgatory to a giant black widow and she did it with strength and charm. These days Mills appears mostly in the ‘women in peril’ subgenre and still brings that air of sophistication and phenomenal beauty that made us so fond of her in the first place.

Scream-O-Meter: 10

See Donna Scream in:
Haunts of the Very Rich (1972) 
Night of Terror (1972) 
The Bait (1973) 
Thriller: Someone at the Top of the Stairs (1973) 
Live Again, Die Again (1974) 
Thriller: One Deadly Owner (1974) 
Thriller: The Killer with Two Faces (1975) 
Who Is the Black Dahlia? (1975) 
Beyond the Bermuda Triangle (1975) 
Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby (1976) 
Smash Up on Interstate 5 (1976) 
Curse of the Black Widow (1977) 
The Hunted Lady (1977) 
Superdome (1978) 
Hanging by a Thread (1979) 

Thanks for checking out my list! I wrote this around 2007 or 2008 and have added a few more names to this list of lovely ladies. Stay tuned for an update!

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

Small Screen Scream Queens of the 1970: A Countdown (Part 2)

Welcome to part two of my love letter to the actresses who made small screen terrors so incredible. Click here for part one of the countdown.

Let's continue, shall we?

20. Diane Baker (1938 - ) - Diane’s unassuming beauty and outward confidence made her a favorite among fans of TV movies. And she left us a lot of films for us to drool over. This brunette starlet always added a little extra class to whatever production she was appearing in. And she was more than just easy on the eyes - It was during the 70s that she was also allowed to spread her wings a little in the world of filmmaking and she produced a couple of noteworthy films, including an ABC Weekend Special titled Portrait of Grandpa Doc! Wow, remember those? Diane is still working today and was most recently seen as Dr. House’s mom on, you guessed it, House!

Scream-O-Meter: 6 

See Diane Scream in:
Do You Take This Stranger (1971) 
A Little Game (1971) 
Killer by Night (1972) 
The Police Story (1973) 
The Last Survivors (1975)  

19. Belinda Montgomery (1950 - ) – Pretty Belinda Montgomery might be the most underrated actress on this list. Not a household name – not even close, Belinda was subtlety fabulous in most of her performances. She shined when she played mousey lost girls, but she could also kick ass as good as anyone else – when she had to. Case in point, Belinda took on Shelly Winters in the TVM classic The Devil’s Daughter. She might not have come out the winner, but she kept swinging until she was down for the count. That’s why we love her.

Scream-O-Meter: 6 

See Belinda Scream in:
Ritual of Evil (1970)
The Devil’s Daughter (1973)
Crime Club (1973)
Murder in Music City (1979)

18. Anne Francis (1930 - 2011) – Beautiful Anne got her start in film in 1947 as the un-credited “bobby soxer” in This Time For Keeps but it wouldn’t take long for this voluptuous blonde to make name for herself. She burned up the small screen in 1965 when she was cast as Honey West in the short lived series. She bounced back and forth between television and theatricals and appeared in several fine small screen films through the 70s, including the excellent mob film Mongo’s Back in Town and Cry Panic with William Forsythe. It looks like television agreed with her and she mostly worked in that medium until her last appearance on Without a Trace in 2004.

Scream-O-Meter: 6

See Anne Scream in:
Haunts of the Very Rich (1972)
Wide World of Mystery: Night Life (1973)
Cry Panic (1974)
The Last Survivors (1975)

17. Andrea Marcovicci (1948 - ) – Multi-talented Marcovicci started her TV Movie life tackling the subject of assault in Cry Rape. She also starred in the pilot for Harry O as well as appearing in several other films and series. But it was her performance as Barbara in the over the top thriller A Vacation in Hell where she played a card carrying man-hater that sealed her fate as a Small Screen Scream Queen. Her chiseled beauty gave Barbara a vulnerability and sadness to the part. Now a singer, Andrea might have left the world of television but we have not forgotten her.

Scream-O-Meter: 6

See Andrea Scream in:
Cry Rape (1973) 
Smile Jenny, You’re Dead (1974) 
Thriller: The Devil’s Web (1975) 
A Vacation in Hell (1979)

16. Vera Miles (1929 - ) – Those cheekbones! One of most subtlety commanding actresses on the list, she’s a bit like her onscreen sister in Psycho, Janet Leigh. Vera was consistently good in any role she took – big or small. Speaking of small, she gave many memorable performances on television, including the bitch from hell in the Columbo episode Lovely but Lethal. Ah, that kind of sums it up, Lovely but Lethal!

Scream-O-Meter: 7 

See Vera Scream in:
A Howling in the Woods (1971) 
Baffled! (1973) 
Runaway! (1973) 
Live Again, Die Again (1974) 
The Underground Man (1974) 
The Strange and Deadly Occurrence (1974) 
Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976) 
Fire! (1977) 

15. Sheree North (1932 – 2005) - Unbelievably sexy and strong, Sheree is easily one of my favorite actresses on this list. She was originally intended to be a replacement (or at least some stiff competition) for Marilyn Monroe when she first broke into pictures. Her career never took her to that level of stardom, but she settled nicely into the role of character actress. And that’s what set her apart - her character. She came across as brazen and confident and most importantly, she was memorable. From Lou Grant’s night club singing girlfriend to Blanche’s troubled sibling on the Golden Girls, Sheree was always the one you gravitated towards. She appeared in several made for television movies, making the small screen just that much more glamorous.

Scream-O-Meter: 7

See Sheree Scream in:
Vanished (1971) 
Snatched (1973) 
Maneater (1973) 
Winter Kill (1974) 
Most Wanted (1976) 
The Night They Took Miss Beautiful (1977) 
Portrait of a Stripper (1979) 

14. Shelly Winters (1920 -2006) – What list is complete without mentioning the amazing Shelly Winters? By the 70s she had swallowed so much scenery you could see the woodchips hanging out of her mouth! She was great fun to watch and could make or a break a film with just her mere presence. An A list actress that brought so much energy to just about everything she did that is made it impossible not get giddy just watching her have fun. Case in point, check out Shelly as the revenge bent housemother in The Initiation of Sarah. Going from dowdy to insane monster, she was like a Porsche revving from zero to sixty. But aside from her boisterous performances, Shelly could also draw the audience in with an unspoken compassion, which she did in the underrated and obscure thriller Revenge. Yeah, she was going to hack Bradford Dillman into tiny bits, but he had it coming, I tell ya! The world will not ever know another creature as divine as Ms. Winters.

Scream-O-Meter: 7

See Shelly Scream in:
Revenge (1971) 
The Devil’s Daughter (1973) 
The Initiation of Sarah (1978) 

13. Patty Duke (1946 - ) – She may have come across all sweet and adorable as identical cousins on The Patty Duke Show, but this actress was up for far more serious fare. Just check her out as Neely O’Hara in Valley of the Dolls if you don’t believe me! Patty got to spread her wings a little bit more on the small screen. Her adorable girl-next-door looks often betrayed the storm that was brewing underneath. She got a chance to flex those dark powers in the muddled thriller She Waits, but with little effect. Luckily, it looked like she was just biding her time and finally got a bona fide chance to scare us with several television movies in the late 70s. She starred in the ponderous Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby as Rosemary. Not a bad part, only in this story, the son of Satan had gone on to become a, gulp, rock musician! I’m shaking now! Her film choices might not have been stellar, but Patty’s persistence at putting in a good performance enchanted horror fans forever!

Scream-O-Meter: 7

See Patty Scream in:
She Waits (1972) 
Nightmare (1974) 
Curse of the Black Widow (1977) 
Killer on Board (1977) 
The Swarm (1978) 
Hanging by a Thread (1979) 

12. Karen Black (1939 - 2013) – Karen only made a couple of TV horror movies, but she broke the mold as Amelia, the bookish mommy’s girl who accidentally unleashes a deadly spirit lurking inside of a doll - a Zuni Fetish doll. Yeah, that’s right. You remember. You remember Trilogy of Terror well. One of the most famous segments in television history and one of my favorite childhood memories was seeing that little doll stab Karen’s toes! Karen might have gone on to play Mama Firefly in House of 1,000 Corpses but she had already sealed her Scream Queen status back in 1975!

Scream-O-Meter: 7

See Karen Scream in:
Trilogy of Terror (1975) 
The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver (1977) 

11. Eve Plumb (1958 - ) – Eve is best know as the whiny middle daughter to Mr. and Mrs. Brady on The Brady Bunch. However, as much as she longed to be “Marsha, Marsha, Marsha,” Eve got to take on some fairly interesting roles in her childhood and teens, which separated her from the rest of her TV clan. She started off awfully young in The House on Greenapple Road and then kept it up all the way to the infamous cult television movie Dawn: Portrait of a Runaway.

Scream-O-Meter: 7

See Eve Scream in:
House on Greenapple Road (1970) 
Dawn: Portrait of a Teenage Runaway (1976) 
Force of Evil (1976) 
Alexander: The Other Side of Dawn (1977) 
Telethon (1977) 
Secrets of Three Hungry Wives (1978) 

Don't forget to stop by on July 18th for the the Top Ten Small Screen Scream Queens post! 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Small Screen Scream Queens of the 1970s: The Countdown (Part One)

Note: this article first appeared on Pretty Scary's website, which is sadly no more. Because of its length, I am splitting it up into three parts, and making it a countdown, although my rankings are somewhat arbitrary. There will also be a new follow up piece featuring a few more actresses I feel deserve a little bit of love. Enjoy! 

It would be difficult to pin a label on the women mentioned in this article. All are gorgeous, strong, and smart and each imbues something unique that made them so original in the first place. But one fact ties these vixens, girls-next-door, spinsters and housewives together - All are Small Screen Scream Queens. From 1970-1979 this fine assortment of talented ladies took over the boob-tube (pun intended!) and created memories long held dear by latch key kids everywhere.

Moreover, they became icons of an era sadly long since passed. The Made for TV movies of the 70s provided a unique contribution to the genre and have actually created a sub-genre all their own.

Just what makes a Small Screen Scream Queen, you ask? Since not much attention has been given to this sect of pop-culture, I though I’d explore the qualifications here.

First, she should be in more than one TV Thriller/Horror movie and should hold some sort of iconic stature within the genre. This of course is flexible since so many recollections of these long-forgotten (by some, at least) films are based mostly on childhood memories.

Second, the characters should be strong. They can also be kooky, flighty, funny, serious, sexy, irritating, etc, but they must overcome the odds (or at least try pretty damn hard) to complete the task at hand and rid the world of ‘The Evil.’

And finally, these women should be hot, hot, HAWT!

Although my foray into the world of 70s TVM horror is constantly expanding (the more you know the less you know, right?), I give to you a list of women who represent the finest the small screen had to offer. Perfect diction, impeccably dressed, an ability maintain an extravagant lifestyle with no means of income (i.e. what exactly was their job?) and strong as hell, these women ain’t gonna take it any more!

A total of 34 actresses made my list, 3 of which were honorable Mentions simply because they had not made enough genre TVMs to qualify, but I loved their work in what they did, and heck, this is my list. So, going backwards, to #1 (based on a Scream-O-Meter I devised, mostly for laughs), here we go:

Honorable Mentions

Valerie Harper (1940 - ) – Harper charmed the world as the optimistically single Rhoda Morgenstern on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. That got her a show titled after her character but her genre TV Movie credits proved she was an actress capable of something other than comedy. Night Terror still remains one of the creepiest films ever to grace the small screen. Hapless (and fairly helpless) housewife Carol Turner crosses the desert plains en route to her hubby only to be stopped by a crazed gun dealer with a voice box (I ain’t making this up kids!). When she witnesses a murder, it begins a chase across the great divide. And we were glued to our seats!

See Valerie Scream in:
Night Terror (1977)

Olivia DeHavilland (1916 - ) – A living legend., Olivia’s grace and beauty insured her A list status when she wowed audiences in Gone with the Wind. Although she maintained an eventful career, she seemed to work only when it suited her, before retiring in 1988. The small screen embraced her during her twilight years and she appeared in such noteworthy works as Roots and North and South. But it was her performance as Laura in The Screaming Woman that gets her name on this list. An eerie and simple film, Olivia brought a sense of old school talent and like all great actresses practically carried the movie on her back. Her elegance helped push an undemanding film up from the depths of made for TV hell.

See Olivia Scream in:
The Screaming Woman (1972) 

Denise Nicholas (1944 - ) – Denise only made on TV thriller, but in it she gets to play a Final Girl who is a call girl! Hats off to Denise for always bringing depth to her parts!

See Denise Scream in:
Five Desperate Women (1971) 

The List

31. Sian Barbara Allen (1946) – Oddly pretty Sian is probably best known as Jenny Pendleton, John Boy’s first love on The Waltons. She spent the better part of the decade working on television, spinning her deceptively alluring charms, before she disappeared into relative obscurity. We miss you!

Scream-O-Meter: 5

See Sian Scream in:
The Scarecrow (1972) 
Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973) 
Smash-Up on Interstate 5 (1976) 

30. Pamela Franklin (1950 - ) – Petite and pretty Pamela dreamed of becoming a dancer but fell into acting. She was no stranger to horror either – her film debut came in 1961 in a version of Henry James classic novel Turn of the Screw called The Innocents. She worked on through the 70s before retiring in 1981. Happily married and enjoying life out of the spotlight, Pamela left just enough good horror on her resume to leave fans wanting more.

Scream-O-Meter: 5

See Pamela Scream in:
Satan’s School for Girls (1973) 
Thriller: Write Home Mom, I’m Dead (1975)
Thriller: Screamer (1974) 

29. Connie Selleca (1955 - ) – This gorgeous brunette is probably best known as playing Mr. Hanley’s prettiest pal on The Greatest American Hero in 1981, but by that time, Connie had already racked up an impressive list of credits. She didn’t get started until 1978, but made up for lost time with her debut as the beautiful and cursed water nymph in the mystical TVM The Bermuda Depths. Less a horror film than a dark fairy tale, Depths is one of the most haunting television movies of its time.

Scream-O-Meter: 5 

See Connie Scream in:
The Bermuda Depths (1978)
She’s Dressed to Kill (1979)

28. Barbara Stanwyck (1907 – 1990) – Barbara effortlessly moved her Oscar nominated career into television, even starring in her own anthology show (The Barbara Stanwyck Show, 1960). In the 70s, she only starred in two made for television thrillers, but like many of the golden greats listed above, she brought richness to roles that might otherwise be considered secondary in a lesser actor’s hands. After these movies she took her popular character Conny Colby Patterson to from Dynasty to The Colbys.

Scream-O-Meter: 5

See Barbara Scream in:
The House that Would Not Die (1970)
Taste of Evil (1971)

27. Barbara Rush (1927 - ) – This A List actress starred along side such tasty leading men as Marlon Brando, Paul Newman and Richard Burton in the 50s, but settled for the small screen in the 70s. She still got to support the talents of scrumptious men like Paul Burke, Bradford Dillman, and George Hamilton and her charm brought that sense of strength films with titles like Death Car on the Freeway so richly needed.

Scream-O-Meter: 5

See Barbara Scream in:
The Eyes of Charles Sand (1972) 
Moon of the Wolf (1972) 
Crime Club (1973) 
Death Car on the Freeway (1979) 

26. Linda Blair (1959 - ) – Bubbly little Linda Blair has never been a stranger to the darker side of cinema. When she was just knee high to Satan, she was spitting up pea soup and it made her a household name. Linda also starred in some great television movies, and always played the spunky teen (except when she was raped with a broom handle in Born Innocent! That kind of took the spunk right out of her!). Her adorable curly locks and sweet as pie smile made her America’s Sweetheart of the Macabre, a title she richly deserves.

Scream-O-Meter: 6

See Linda Scream in:
Born Innocent (1974) 
Sarah T.: Portrait of a Teenage Alcoholic (1975) 
Sweet Hostage (1975) 
Stranger in our House (aka Summer of Fear, 1978) 

25. Kim Darby (1947 - ) – Untypical of the normal Hollywood starlet, Darby set about finding fame by playing unique characters that served a purpose other than eye candy. She found fame as the tomboy cowgirl in True Grit, winning accolades. She only appeared in two genre TV Movies, the first being the ineffectual Francis Ford Coppola supernatural tale The People. But her second attempt at a paranormal thriller marked her iconic stature. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remains one of the most sought after TV Movies of that era. Darby plays a dowdy housewife who runs afoul of some devilish little creatures in her new abode. Darby’s performance of a woman quietly being driven mad is only heightened by the movie’s gut-punch ending. It only took this one movie for Darby to steal the bloodied hearts of TVM nuts everywhere.

Scream-O- Meter: 6 

See Kim Scream in:
The People (1972) 
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973) 

24. Julie Harris (1925 - 2013) – Wonderfully awkward Harris was perfect at playing spinsters. Her plain yet compelling looks personified loneliness. And she was a highly praised actress by the time she moved over to the small screen. Having already won the hearts of horror hounds with her elegantly painful performance in The Haunting, she seemed a perfect choice for put-upon, lonesome characters fighting against the grain. You instantly wanted to take her home, give her a cup of tea and let her know it was going to be alright. But Harris was alright; in fact she was better than alright. Though she only appeared in a few TVM thrillers, she chose them wisely and has endeared herself to fans world over.

Julie’s Scream-O-Meter: 6

See Julie Scream in:
The House on Greenapple Road (1970) 
How Awful About Allan (1970) 
Home for the Holidays (1972) 

23. Jessica Walter (1941 - ) – Jessica played the psycho-bitch from hell in Clint Eastwood’s mini-masterpiece Play Misty for Me and it made her a star. Her depth of effortless maliciousness also spread over to the small screen where she contributed to some bona fide scares. Julie’s incredible performance as drunken Freddie in Home for the Holidays insured her place in television movie infamy. She even took on the Women in Prison subgenre in the tele-film Women in Chains, which starred Ida Lupino as an evil warden and another Small Screen Scream Queen, Belinda Montgomery! And that was just the beginning. Ms. Walter stayed away from television exploitation for awhile but came back with a bang in the ultra-glamorous small screen slasher She’s Dressed to Kill. She then went on to play Robert Mandan’s bitchy ex in the Three’s Company spin-off Three’s a Crowd! Now that’s scary!

Scream-O-Meter: 6

See Jessica Scream in:
Home for the Holidays (1972) 
Women in Chains (1971) 
She’s Dressed to Kill (1979) 

22. Janet Leigh (1927 – 2004) – Ms. Leigh was already an established Scream Queen when her time in television movies rolled around, with the most famous shower scene in history. On the small screen, she didn’t shriek quite as loudly, but still brought that sense of dignity to every production she appeared in.

Scream-O-Meter: 6 

See Janet Scream in:
House on Greenapple Road (1970) 
Deadly Dream (1971) 
Murder at the World Series (1977) 
Telethon (1977) 

21. Gretchen Corbett (1947 - ) - The name might not ring a bell, but Gretchen was all over the airwaves in the 70s. Her odd beauty and whip smart sensibilities made her a favorite recurring character on The Rockford Files (she played his lawyer Beth Davenport). She also graced other remarkable TV series from that decade such as Columbo, McMillan and Wife, and Banacek (all of those shows that aired under the moniker The NBC Mystery Wheel). She was no stranger to horror either. She started off early with an appearance in John Hancock’s masterpiece Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, but it was the small screen that kept beckoning. She was featured in both The Savage Bees and the glamorous television thriller She’s Dressed to Kill. For whatever reason, Gretchen never became the huge star we know she should have been, but the filmmography she left behind would make even the most seasoned actors jealous.

Scream-O-Meter: 6

See Gretchen Scream in:
The Cay (1974) 
Knuckle (1975) 
The Savage Bees (1976) 
Mandrake (1979) 
She’s Dressed to Kill (1979) 

Stay tuned for part 2, which will be posted on July 16th! 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The USA World Premeire Movie Project: The Psychic (1992)

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

People Magazine compared The Psychic to Zapped, if that telekinetic comedy was mashed up with, ummm, a serial killer flick. Well, The Pyschic isn’t really like that, but points for referencing one of my favorite Scott Baio flicks (not to mention Robert Mandan)! They also did not care for the ending of the film, and that is what I remembered most about this USA Network thriller, which I watched when it originally aired on May 20th, 1992. Well, I also remember not really enjoying much about the film, which is why I chose it as one of the USA originals I’d like to write about. And wouldn’t you know it, time has been very kind to The Psychic.

Zack Galligan is Patrick, a handsome college student who is cursed with a third eye. For the most part, he uses his psychic abilities to know what to say to women, or to help his friend Nick (Albert Schultz) know what to say to women. Unfortunately, he has also tuned into a sadistic killer who is murdering some of the female students. Even worse, he can identify the killer, but no one believes him, and worse yet, the police suspect him. And even worse than that, the killer is dating a girl he’s really into. Wow, college just got tough and stuff.

In some ways, The Psychic reminds me just a touch of another USA movie titled Murder by Night. Both films have small casts, and both are fairly easy to figure out. The Psychic is particularly straightforward, but knowing who did it is not he point, because it’s less a mystery than a thriller, where the protagonist must learn to trust himself and his second sight if he’s going to help the police solve the crime. Also, both The Psychic and Murder were directed by Canadian filmmakers known for their horror output. Murder was directed by Paul Lynch (Prom Night) and The Psychic was helmed by George Mihalka, the man behind the great My Bloody Valentine. Mihalka also directed another interesting genre film titled The Blue Man (aka Eternal Evil, 1985), which shares a similar slick look and supernatural plot (and is currently streaming on Amazon Instant Video). Mihalka approaches the paranormal in very everyman ways, using normal people to guide the audience into far weirder territory. OK, OK, The Blue Man is a bit more opaque (and wonderfully 80s) but The Psychic doesn’t futz around with too much in the way of weird, which is an interesting approach and, thanks to Miguel Tejada-Flores and Paul Koval’s square-shooting script (based on a story by Mark McQuade Crawford and William Crawford), and Zach Galligan’s likable performance, This USA original is a thoroughly engaging ride.

Galligan is aided by a couple of great performance by Catherine Mary Stewart (her character is obsessed with this huge and cozy looking sweater, and I want it!), and Michael Nouri who is his usual creepy but sexy self as the maybe-killer. Also, veteran actor/director/producer Clark Johnson is in fine form as the good cop. The gorgeous winter setting is supposed to take place in Boston, but only if Bean Town was located in Quebec or Ontario, Canada! The chilly weather certainly gave Catherine some heavy duty time with her sweater:

Comfy sweater madness! 

A bit more about the ending: I couldn't exactly recall what it was about the finale that irritated me, but upon this last rewatch I was transported back to 1992, throwing my hands up in the air and screaming, "That's it?" In short, the climax isn't much of anything. It just sort of happens, and rather quickly at that. It's unfortunate that this fairly well constructed thriller jumps past the final conflict the same way I jump past ABC since they cancelled One Life to Live. And that final feeling of frustration is what I carried with me when I thought about The Psychic (which was, admittedly, not often). I'm glad I gave it a second go, because I shouldn't hold the first 85 minutes to the last 5.

The Psychic has a bit of a muddled history. I am unsure if it was originally made for USA or if the network picked it as an independent production, but I can tell you my copy has a bit of nudity, which, as you can guess, surprised me when I rewatched it! The Psychic is available on VHS and is also streaming on Amazon (but not for free with Prime). It’s worth a glance.