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.


Hal said...

Great to see you're republishing this, especially since Film Threat is no more. :-(

Wings1295 said...

Great piece! I want to see them all. Can we have the Made for TV Mayhem Network soon, please?

A side note: I wasn't seeing your new posts in my Feedly reader, even though I knew you were posting, since I saw your twitter updates. I re-added your blog back in and hope that solves the issue.

Rick29 said...

ISN'T IT SHOCKING? is a nifty little mystery that deserves more recognition! Very fun list.

crag said...

"A Little Game" was one that left a lasting impression on me. I could remember it 40 years later. Christoper Shea was not the dangerous boy. The suspected killer in the movie was Mark Gruner. Christopher Shea was his bullied friend. Shea was the first voice of Linus in the Charlie Brown specials. Sadly he died in 2010.

Daniel S. Duvall said...

I first watched Isn't It Shocking in 2012 and found it totally engrossing thanks largely to the sharp dialogue and singular characters.

I'd never heard of Sweet, Sweet Rachel, but it sounds like a fine little project to enjoy as October 31 approaches.

Here's a link to my review of Isn't It Shocking (with mild spoilers).