Monday, October 26, 2015

Jeepers Creepers! TV Features! A Retrospective on Classic Made for Television Movies and the Halloween Season, Part III (1977-1980)

The witching hour is upon us! Here is part III of my retrospective on classic TVMs made for the creepiest of holiday seasons. (here's are links to part I and part II). This is definitely more treat than trick! Enjoy!

Murder in Peyton Place
Originally aired: October 3, 1977 on NBC
Starring: Dorothy Malone, Ed Nelson, Tim O’Connor

Featuring plenty of familiar faces from the original Peyton Place series, this potboiler focuses on the deaths of the characters Mia Farrow and Ryan O’Neal played in the original. For those who like their Halloween movies served with soap and cheese. (Note: I finally caught up Murder about two summers ago. It's z'oh-right, with some great fashions!)

Killer on Board
Originally aired: October 10, 1977 on NBC
Directed by: Philip Leacock
Starring: Claude Atkins, Patty Duke, George Hamilton

Another Love Boat Gone Bad TVM, except instead of a human face masking a killer, this one involves a deadly virus that is wiping out the roster of familiar actors. And yes, George Hamilton is still very tan.

The Night They Took Miss Beautiful
Originally aired: October 24, 1977 on NBC
Directed by: Robert Michael Lewis
Starring: Chuck Connors, Gary Collins, Sheree North, Victoria Principal

Some lucky criminals who hijack a plane carrying products for chemical warfare also end up abducting five hot beauty contestants! Wow, sometimes crime does pay! Beautiful women, a grand heist and polyester, Night is certainly silly but is so well-intentioned with genuine performances that it’s hard not to enjoy this honest little effort. (Note: I finally saw this one about 2 summers ago, and it's definitely worth catching. Check it out on Amazon Instant Video)

KISS Meets Phantom of the Park
Originally aired: October 28, 1978 on NBC
Directed by: Gordon Hessler
Starring: KISS, Anthony Zerbe

Simply the most over-the-top film on the list, KISS plays a band charmed with special powers. Exactly what these powers do is beyond me, but when Gene Simmons sneers the word "Starfire" as a star shoots out of his eyes and onto a lovely girl’s face, you know you’re in for some real good stuff! The story is basically about a mad scientist played by Anthony Zerbe, employed by Six Flags Magic Mountain, who creates some of the most realistic robots ever made. They’re so realistic in fact, you’d swear they were real. When Zerbe’s assistant catches wind of his sinister plan, he becomes a robot too. Enter the assistant’s girlfriend, Melissa (Deborah Ryan), who enlists the help of KISS, who just happen to be performing there, to help her solve the mystery.

Produced by Joseph Barbera of Hanna-Barbera fame, and featuring many of same sound effects they used in their cartoons, Phantom is a pretty great time capsule. Lots of awkward teens dress like their idols and prance around Six Flags with abandon. My favorite scene features the late Brion James as a biker harassing other Six Flag tourists. I also love the scene where KISS is performing “Beth” as someone tampers with their powers…

Devil Dog: The Hound 0f Hell
Originally aired: October 31, 1978 on CBS
Directed by: Curtis Harrington
Starring: Yvette Mimieux, Richard Crenna, Kim Richards, Ike Eisenmann

Crenna and Mimieux pick up a nasty little dog who is more interested in doing evil bidding for his ultimate master than playing catch. An odd choice for director Harrington (Who Slew Auntie Roo?), this ludicrous idea is livened by good acting and a sense of fun, making this movie just like Halloween candy, sweet and empty, but always a treat.

Stranger in Our House (aka Summer of Fear)
Originally aired: October 31, 1978 for NBC
Directed by: Wes Craven
Starring: Linda Blair, Jeff East, Lee Purcell

When you think of Wes Craven, you don’t necessarily think of TV Movies, but Craven gave the small screen three pretty good horror films, Invitation to Hell, the superb Chiller and this awesome little potboiler. A frizzy headed Blair plays the spunky heroine who fights for her family’s survival when her creepy cousin, Julia (Lee Purcell) moves in. Seems Blair is the only one who can see through Julia’s bewitching personality but it might be too late. Now, how did Blair see anything through all that hair?!? (click on title for review)

Originally aired: October 7, 1979 on ABC
Directed by: E.W. Swackhamer
Starring: Richard Lynch, Jason Miller, E.G. Marshall

A modern day vampire yarn featuring Richard Lynch as the seductive bloodsucker stalking innocent prey through the streets of San Francisco. Vampire is most notable for being co-written by prolific cop show creator Steven Bochco! It’s also a lush and gothic horror film that gives Richard Lynch a well-deserved chance at showing off his sexy side. Strangely enough, it works.

The Death of Ocean View Park
Originally aired: October 19, 1979 for ABC
Directed by: E.W. Swackhamer
Starring: Diana Canova, Martin Landau, Mike Connors

Neato! A Swackhamer double header (see above)! He also directed this disaster-of-the-week melodrama with a twist; a real park was demolished for the fictional hurricane. All in the name of art, right? Lots of familiar faces run around in a total panic, which is always fun.

Disaster on the Coastliner
Originally aired: October 28, 1979 for ABC
Directed by: Richard C. Sarafian
Starring: Lloyd Bridges, Raymond Burr, William Shatner

A disgruntled railway employee arranges for two oncoming trains on the same path to collide, unless his unscrupulous employer admits that they were fully responsible for a similar collision which killed the vengeful man’s wife and child. The resentful widower is played by Paul Smith who was Bluto in Robert Altman’s Popeye! Maybe it’s not edge-of-your-seat, but Disaster remains a great and fabulous popcorn thriller.

Revenge of the Stepford Wives 
Originally aired: October 12, 1980 on NBC
Directed by: Robert Fuest
Starring: Sharon Gless, Julie Kavner, Don Johnson

Veering slightly from the original Stepford Wives and skipping out on most of the satire, Revenge does offer a nice, strong female spin. Entertaining, if not particularly scary, Sharon Gless plays a reporter doing a story on the town of Stepford, a place with little divorce and even less crime. She befriends Julie Kavner, the only other woman in town who possesses an interesting personality. Little by little, Gless begins to unravel the mysteries behind the idyllic Stepford but she may be in too deep to go back. Revenge does offer the women of Stepford a chance to dish out some well deserved comeuppance but is even more far-fetched than the original, and might even be a little crazier than The Stepford Children but not nearly as crazy as The Stepford Husbands. (Update: This series needs some serious reevaluation. Is Husbands really crazier than Children?!? I must find out!)

The Legend of Sleepy Hollow
Originally aired: October 31, 1980 on NBC
Directed by: Henning Schellerup
Starring: Jeff Goldblum, Paul Sand, Meg Foster

Basically a creepy horror movie made for kids, The Legend of Sleepy Hollow was a great way to end the 70s and bring fans of TVMs into the next decade. A pretty close adaptation of the Washington Irving classic, Goldblum is perfectly cast as Ichabod Crane and although it lacks in scares, there is still something so sinister about the Headless Horseman, and it naturally evokes terror in the audience, however slight.

Read Part I
Read Part II

Happy Halloween, ya'll! 

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Jeepers Creepers! TV Features! A Retrospective on Classic Made for Television Movies and the Halloween Season, Part II (1974-1976)

Here we are! It's time for Part II of my retrospective on classic TVMs made for the Halloween season (here's a link to part I in case'n ya missed it)! Enjoy!


Originally aired: October 8, 1974 on NBC
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring Peter Graves, Kathleen Quinlan, Verna Bloom

Moxey constructs yet another complex and ominous thriller. After a solar flare nearly exterminates the entire human race, the remaining few must fend off wild dogs, radiation and other survivors. Graves plays the scientist father who leads what’s left of his family from the mountains to the desolate beaches of California. An intelligent, surreal and dark sci-fi yarn that would have been a great idea for a series, although this seems to be a stand alone film. Highly recommended. (Click on title for a capsule review for Camp Blood)

The Stranger Within
Originally aired: October 1, 1974 on ABC
Directed by: Lee Philips
Starring: Barbara Eden, George Grizzard, Joyce Van Patten, David Doyle

Plenty of trouble finds arty housewife Eden when she becomes an expectant mother. First of all, her husband had a vasectomy. Secondly, every time she attempts to have an abortion, the fetus prevents her. And now she’s reading thick books in a matter of minutes, eating pounds of salt and acting just a wee bit strange. Looks like the person who said “You’re baby will be like no other on earth,” meant it!

Creepy and brimming with atmosphere and dread, The Stranger Within sustains the suspense as well as giving Eden a chance to show off her underrated acting chops. An offbeat and claustrophobic thriller written by the wonderful Richard Matheson, it’s a subtle and eerie Halloween treat. (Click on title for full review)

Originally aired: October 9, 1974 on ABC
Directed by: Richard T. Heffron
Starring: Ron Howard, Ben Johnson, Katherine Helmond

A dishonorably discharged military pilot goes into another battle when her returns home and find his family’s livelihood is being overrun by locusts. Ritchie Cunningham takes on thousands of creepy crawlies and all without the help of Fonzie! (Note: I just revisited this one for the first time since I was a kid... highly recommended. It's more drama than animals amok, but is harrowing and Ben Johnson is amazing!)

Bad Ronald
Originally aired: October 23, 1974 on ABC
Directed by: Buzz Kulik
Starring: Kim Hunter, Scott Jacoby, Dabney Coleman

Based on the novel by John Holbrook Vance, but toned down for television, Bad Ronald is one of the more infamous TVMs of the decade. Scott Jacoby plays Ronald Wilby, a shy teenager held closely under watch by his domineering mother. After he accidentally kills a taunting kid, Mom gets the brilliant idea to wall Ronald up in the center of the house and tell the police that he’s run away. This would be great if dear old mother hadn’t checked herself into the hospital and never checked out. Ronald spends the rest of his days living in a fantasy land he created called Atranta and drawing pictures of his fantasy girlfriend, Princess Vancetta. Soon a new family moves in, and guess who the youngest daughter looks like? This is when Ronald gets real bad

A classic of the genre and a personal favorite, Bad Ronald is creepy as hell. Directed by a master of the small screen, Kulik (Brian’s Song) keeps the setting tight and claustrophobic, never letting the viewer (or Ronald) venture too far out his deranged mind. A dark thriller reeking of Halloween scares. (Click on title for full review, click here for a review of the novel, and click here to read my tribute post I did for Ronald's 40th anniversary!)

Death Cruise
Originally aired: October 30, 1974 on ABC
Directed by: Ralph Senensky
Starring: Richard Long, Kate Jackson, Edward Albert

Love Boat goes straight to hell. Various familiar faces of the small screen are lured onto a luxury cruise liner under the guise that they’ve won a contest. However, someone has actually cooked up a delicious plan to off everyone! Two years before Aaron Spelling cast Jackson in Charlie’s Angels, he was apparently already spellbound with her (see also Satan's School for Girls). Death Cruise is just one of several TVMs she starred in for him and she’s never been more fabulous. A groovy little proto-slasher (lite).

The Deadly Tower
Originally aired: October 18, 1975 on NBC
Directed by: Jerry Jameson
 Starring: Kurt Russell, John Forsythe, Ned Beatty

Based on the true story of the water tower sniper who killed several people, it makes an interesting choice for Halloween watching based on the bleak subject matter. Russell puts in another strong performance as the morally destitute killer. For another take on this story, albeit mostly fictional, double feature Tower with Peter Bogdanovich’s Targets.

The Night That Panicked America
Originally aired on: October 31, 1975 on ABC
Directed by: Joseph Sargent
Starring: Vic Morrow, Michael Constantine, Meredith Baxter

1975 was the year for fact based Halloween movies. Panicked retells the true story of the night of Orson Welles’ radio broadcast of War of the Worlds, which sent people fleeing their homes in a panic because they believed the invasion was real. Since the radio play originally aired on Halloween, the original air date made for a fitting night to air this fun TVM and an apt tribute to… The Night That Panicked America. (Click on title for full review)

Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby
Originally aired: October 29, 1976 on ABC
Directed by: Sam O’Steen
Starring: Patty Duke, Stephen McHattie, Ruth Gordon

A lackluster sequel to Rosemary’s Baby and an even more mediocre offering as the only network horror movie for the month of Halloween in 1976, it does feature a bit of atmosphere and is well acted, but like the spawn of Satan himself, it’s pretty soulless.

Read Part I

Monday, October 5, 2015

Jeepers Creepers! TV Features! A Retrospective on Classic Made for Television Movies and the Halloween Season, Part I (1970-1973)

This article was originally written for Film Threat around 2005-2006. It is an article I am very proud of, because it served as one of the major kickstarters for starting my blog, and it fed my passion for research and preserving history and watching scary TV movies!

Flash forward ten years (egads!), and here I am, still indulging in the scariest time of the year. I thought this piece should be republished, and I hope you enjoy it.

That said, I did write this a decade ago, and I'm sure some of the writing is stilted (in fact, I know it is), and I've probably missed some faves, so feel free to leave a comment below. Also, the list was so long I've chopped it into three parts, 1970-1973, 1974-1976, and 1977-1980, which I'll be posting throughout the month.

Finally, this list, which I am expanding to the 1980s will be a hot talking point on an upcoming podcast episode. So again, feel free to leave some feedback and join us in the discussion.

By the way, did you know my podcast is on iTunes?

Let's go!


Picture it – October, 1970. You’re a latch key kid not yet of age for the grindhouse circuit but old enough to appreciate the horrors of the night. The world still had eight years to go before John Carpenter would unleash his timeless classic, Halloween, which featured, by the way, two kids totally engrossed in watching scary movies while lovely babysitters were being slaughtered across the street. That scene featuring little Lindsey Wallace (Kyle Richards) totally terrified of - yet still absorbed in  - The Thing encompasses the same sort of passion I have with the genre. But like I said, it’s 1970 and there was no Halloween and horror hadn’t really gone mainstream yet. Still, the three networks understood the plus of exploiting exploitation. Sure they had to meet the confines of the censors, and had to deal with smaller budgets and shorter timelines, but, working under those conditions produced a creativity that has endured over the last three decades (note: now four!). Some of the best small screen genre films arrived during that tumultuous decade, so this list will run from 1970-1980.

READERS BEWARE: This article may cause massive fits of nostalgia.

The Old Man Who Cried Wolf 
Originally aired: October 13, 1970 on ABC
Directed by: Walter Grauman
Starring: Edward G. Robinson, Martin Balsam, Ed Asner, Diane Baker

After he and his friend are attacked, Robinson awakes to a conspiracy when he’s told his friend died from a heart attack. Determined to prove murder, Robinson must also tangle with well-meaning family members who think he’s senile. Although Robinson has seen the killer, unfortunately, the killer has also seen him…

Edward G. Robinson has never looked more distinguished and he gives the performance of a lifetime. More than a just a thriller, Old Man delicately handles the topic of senility and dignity but the engrossing murder mystery and disturbing ending keep it firmly in the genre.

The House that Would Not Die 
Originally aired: October 27, 1970 on ABC
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Kitty Wynn, Richard Egan

The great Stanwyck dipped her feet into the Halloween-time waters in this classically told ghost tale about a duplicitous General during the Revolutionary War who is accused by his daughter, Aimee, of helping the British. She leaves her father to elope and never returns. Two hundred years later, the ghost of the heartbroken general can still be heard calling “Aimee, come home,” through the dark woods at night. Stanwyck inherits the house and begins to hear the General’s impassioned cries for Aimee, but is there something more sinister to his haunted cries for a lost daughter?

Based on the popular Barbara Michaels book, Aimee Come Home, House is an Aaron Spelling Production. The name Spelling usually conjures up images from the era of Jiggle TV but before he turned ABC into the Aaron Broadcasting Channel, he made several fine genre TVMs, filled with stars and a distinct air of class.

Sweet, Sweet Rachel
Originally aired: October 2, 1971 on ABC
Directed by: Sutton Roley
Starring: Stephanie Powers, Bradford Dillman, Alex Drier

Stephanie arrives home just in time to see hubby taking a spill out the window of their cliffside estate. Shortly after he takes a header into the rocks, loopy Rachel seeks the help of a portly parapsychologist and his blind assistant, who seek answers to crimes perpetrated by the supernatural.

Rachel was a pilot for a series that sadly never got picked up (and was later re-tooled and turned into the Sixth Sense). As it stands, it’s a lush and weird horror movie with tons of potential. Although many of the possibilities are realized in some awesome set pieces, there is still some great, campy swinging 70s moments guaranteed to make you smile. And Ms. Powers has never been more beautiful.

A Taste of Evil 
Originally aired: October 12, 1971 on ABC
Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey
Starring: Barbara Stanwyck, Barbara Parkins, Roddy McDowell

Another Stanwyck exclusive, she returns to the small screen again as the mother of the mentally fragile Parkins, whose character suffered a traumatic rape as a child. After spending several years in an institution, Parkins returns home and begins hearing voices and seeing things no one else does. Is she still haunted by her early harrowing experience or is someone determined to force her back into an institution?

Like one of Moxey’s best movies, Home for the Holidays the director showcases his superior skills in building a mounting sense of suspense. And the opening is a chiller. Very dark for its time. (Click on title for a review, and click here to check out what I've dubbed the Moxey Twist!)

In Broad Daylight
Originally aired: October 16, 1971 on ABC
Directed by Robert Day
Starring: Suzanne Pleshette, Stella Stevens, Richard Boone

Boone plays a recently blinded actor who finds out his wife (Pleshette) is having her way with another man. He uses his newfound disability to plot the perfect murder. Another fun Aaron Spelling potboiler, he uses his top-notch cast to carry the over-the-top premise home. Good suspense and an ultra-hot Stella Stevens, who could ask for anything more? (Update: I finally saw this one around 2013, and quite liked it. A definite recommend from me!)

Death Takes a Holiday 
Originally aired: October 23, 1971 on ABC
Directed by: Robert Butler
Starring: Monte Markham, Yvette Mimieux, Bert Convy

A remake of the 1930’s classic, Death is a lush, romantic film with a dark edge. Markham plays the Grim Reaper, and falls in love with the lovely Mimieux. He longs to know what humans feel and decides to spend the weekend with her at a family reunion. This throws the earth’s natural balance completely out of whack, especially Mimieux’s family. A grim yet beautiful and compelling drama deliberately paced and wonderfully shot. Markham proves that he could have been a great leading man, if only Hollywood had recognized his talents. Modern-gothic romance at it’s absolute best.

A Little Game 
Originally aired: October 30, 1971 on ABC
Directed by: Paul Wendkos
Starring: Diane Baker, Howard Duff, Ed Nelson

The small screen’s contribution to the kids from hell genre, Christopher Shea plays the boy who decides if he can’t keep his mom single, he'll make her a widow. This Halloween movie was written by Carol Sobieski who also penned the excellent TV remake of Diabolique, titled Reflections of Murder. Sadly, A Little Game remains a rarity in the wonderful world of TV Horror.

Originally aired October 10, 1972 on CBS
Directed by: Lee Katzin Starring:
Monte Markham, Telly Savalas, Barbara Anderson

Who loves ya baby? Monte Markham plays a quiet professor who finds he has the power to see the future when he touches someone. He envisions a terrorist bombing but can’t see the bomber’s face. With the help of Kojak, they set about catching a cunning would-be killer while Markham learns to deal with his new power.

Short Walk to Daylight 
Originally aired: October 24, 1972 on ABC
Directed by: Barry Shear
Starring: James Brolin, Don Mitchell, James McEachin

What’s a holiday without a disaster flick? After a devastating earthquake in New York City, Brolin must lead a pack of strangers through the cavernous subway tunnels to higher ground. Of course they run into the usual challenges before they reach the outside world. This compact movie, running a mere 74 minutes was lengthened for syndication; the longer version explains away the earthquake as a terrorist attack!!! This is must for anyone who wondered what Tom Willis (Franklin Cover) from The Jeffersons actually did before that show.

Isn’t It Shocking?
Originally aired: October 2, 1973 on ABC
Directed by John Badham
Starring: Alan Alda, Louise Lasser, Ruth Gordon

Quirky small town horror with a sense of humor blacker than tar, Shocking is an engaging oddity about the murders of several elderly folks in the town Alan Alda is the sheriff of. The killer’s weapon of choice – a machine that generates heart attacks from its victims. Alda is superb and Louise Lasser is his perfect match. Bonus points for making the adorable Ruth Gordon not only truly loopy but the oldest Final Girl in the history of horror! A must see.  (Click on title for review)

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Originally aired: October 10, 1973 on ABC
Directed by: John Newland
Starring: Kim Darby, Jim Hutton, William Demarest

For many of us who grew up watching horror on the boob tube, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark remains a cherished memory. Kim Darby plays the frumpy, serious and presumably repressed housewife who inherits a house. While remodeling, longtime handyman Demarest begs Darby not to open a bricked-over fireplace. Of course that fuels Darby’s frigid fire and she opens a doorway to hell. Some will say Afraid hasn’t aged well, but I think the simplistic story line, downbeat ending and weird demons make it a classic. It might not resonate so well with newbies but certainly brings back great memories for those of us lucky enough to catch it during its original run. (Click on title to see the posts I did for a Dont Be Afraid of the Dark Week a few years ago)

Originally aired: October 30, 1973 on ABC
Directed by: Lee H. Katzin
Starring: Arthur Hill, Diana Muldaur, James Stacy

A remake of Roy Ward Baker’s 3-D thriller Inferno, in this update Muldaur plays the unhappy cheatin’ wife, who along with her home wrecking (but certainly sexy) boyfriend, leaves her hubby (Hill) to rot in the desert. Hill, on the other hand has some survival tactics up his sleeve as he fights the elements to exact revenge.