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! 


Wings1295 said...

An awesome bunch of horror goodness. Imagine watching all of these on Saturday? Quite a retro Halloween blast that would be! After listening to the podcast, I really want to see Stranger in Our House!

Shell said...

This is a good list. I remember watching the sleepy hollow TV movie as a kid.