I love TV movies for many reasons: the dramatic music, the dramatic thunder and lightning, the weirdly PG violence. But often what they are most known for is their content on “lessons” and handling of controversial or taboo topics like sexual assault, eating disorders and runaways.
Many of these more controversial movies were often the most popular. Born Innocent starring Linda Blair was the highest-rated television movie of that year. I still hear women in my life reference For the Love of Nancy (for better or for worse).
One of these tough-topic films is Are You in the House Alone?, a film about a girl who is stalked before being assaulted in her own home.
Gail is a young and talented student. She’s at the cusp of womanhood and is curious about love and desire. Having moved from her home in San Francisco to a new town, Gail has adjusted well. She’s dating boys and making friends.
But after she begins to start dating Steve, she begins to find threatening letters in her locker (with some not-so-great grammar should I add – “I’m watching, you —“). No one seems to take these threats very seriously. This makes it a pretty tough film to watch. She keeps reaching out for help, but there seemingly isn’t any available. Not from family, friends or people in power like her teachers.
She also gets phone calls from a rather creepy voice. Her stalker is clearly a man. It’s her principal who suggests that Gail is looking for someone she knows.
Eventually, the inevitable assault occurs. Despite the synopsis I read, promising a movie about a girl seeking revenge, most of the story is the lead up to the assault. You learn from the opening scene what will happen to Gail. It is an issue that we know what is going to happen so early, but the event doesn’t come until the third act. There isn’t much suspense in that regard.
That being said, I’m not entirely sure if this movie wanted to be a thriller. It feels very much like an after school special in that respect. The last act of the film follows Gail and Steve as they work together to catch the person responsible for her assault. It’s not entirely a happy ending, but it is realistic. Not all victims will see justice in the ways they hope.
You can absolutely tell that this was written by a woman (Judith Parker is credited with the teleplay). It’s handled fairly well for a movie that came out in the late 70s. There’s plenty of misogyny that I personally didn’t like, but I think by the end of the film it’s addressed well.
But Gail’s character is very fleshed out and complex. She has hobbies, friends, flaws, everything that makes her an endearing main character. She’s so easy to root for, that it makes every threat, harm and success have all that much more weight to it. Kathleen Beller is truly great in this.
Some of this might seem heavy-handed. Even Gail’s photography teacher is a creep. And yet, all of this is very relatable on so many levels. Forty years on, and we’re still tackling things like predatory behaviour and white male privilege. As far as TV movies go, Are You in the House Alone? remains one that has aged the best.
***Major spoilers for Scream (2022)***
I can completely see why Jack Quaid was cast as Ghostface. He’s so evil. His dad is equally horrible in this! An uncanny family resemblance!