Made-for-TV March

Wicked Wednesday: The House That Would Not Die (1970)

You know how that old saying goes: nothing brings lovers and family closer together better than an old-fashioned possession.

No? Not a saying? Well it should be.

The House That Would Not Die has all the hallmarks of horror TV movies from this era. The dramatic pauses, the use of storms for even more drama and kind-of-clunky writing. So basically everything I love. The fact that this story throws in ghosts, séances and possessions means that it was completely up my alley.

The excellent atmosphere reminded me on of my favourite made-for-TV movies: Home for the Holidays. Just with a touch less lightning. So it wasn’t totally surprising to learn that they were both directed by John Llewellyn Moxey (who also directed The City of the Dead).

At the heart of both of Moxey’s films are the women. Here glamorous Ruth and her niece Sara move into an old house after one of their elderly relatives die. They both immediately take to the home and all of its old-timey quirks. Sara instantly feels at home, knowing the house almost instantly.

The two women soon meet their dashing next-door neighbour, the professor Pat McDougal. At a party at his house, they meet his young student Stan. When the other guests meet the town’s new arrivals, they soon all agree to have a séance in the new home.

In the days before the party, Sara and Stan begin to spend more time together. They find an old painting of a man and bring it to the house. When they hang it up, Pat has a rather negative reaction, feeling suddenly ill.

Despite the growing instances of strange behaviour and dreams from nearly everyone, the group continue on with the seance. Only things don’t go very well. The painting falls from the wall and crashes into the fire.

Sara’s behaviour takes increasingly strange turns. She finds herself out of bed at night, crying for help. She begins to forget things when she behaves madly (including attacking our dear Ruth).

But it’s Stan who is the first to realise that Ruth is possessed. Not only is she possessed, so is Pat, who randomly becomes violent and aggressive. Stan drags in Ruth to help research the home, which is clearly linked to the possessions. The gang all band together to discover the truth.

They soon find out that the house was once home to a Revolutionary War General named Campbell. He supposedly went mad after his daughter left. The daughter, Amanda, is clearly the spirit inhabiting Sara.

With their little information, the group decide to have another séance. This time they’re given a clue when the cellar door is blown open by the winds. While Ruth and Stan do their digging in the cellar, they discover a walled-off room.

But before they can even get upstairs, creepy Pat stops them to tell them about the new information he and Sara learned: Amanda had eloped and run away from her father.

With this new information, all the pieces begin to fall into place. The four friends all must face the truth in the room on the other side of the wall.

*DRAMATIC PAUSE*

I loved this little horror-mystery. Certainly a positive note to end another Made-for-TV March on. Sure, it’s a little hokey. But it’s also sufficiently fun with a good story.

It doesn’t hold a candle to Home for the Holidays. It doesn’t have the same punch or thrill to really make it memorable in a year’s time. But with good performances and a fun plot, it’s difficult to argue against spending 70 minutes watching this.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Messages (1985)

Coming into the third week of made-for-TV March, things are beginning to feel a bit more…stressful than they were seven days ago. And certainly several degrees closer to a pandemic than we were in week one.

Hell, I’ll back on this in a year’s time and think, “Oh! The Corona months!”

Anyway. It’s been a tough/weird/strange/horrible time. With my trip home to America cancelled, I’m not house-bound like everyone else until this all blows over. Thankfully, it gives me plenty of nights in to watch more movies and maybe even create more content (never going to happen).

Sometimes sitting down to watch a movie for this blog can be a big of a drag. Sometimes I get stuck with a real dud. Usually this is when I force myself to watch anything for a very specific reason. Then I can’t stop, won’t stop watching it.

But since this was an especially stressful week, I decided to allow myself to sample many options until I wound something vaguely interesting. And I found a real winner this week with 1985’s Deadly Messages.

This supernatural-ish thriller aired on ABC, but honestly it’s pretty high quality. It could be that it was directed by the deft hands of Jack Bender, whose long filmography is impressive but most importantly Killing Mr Griffin.

Much of Deadly Messages‘ fun is in reveals and secrets. Laura is a young working woman with a good boy friend and a seemingly normal life. Until one night she returns home from a date to see her roommate, Cindy, get strangled through a window.

Laura becomes instant that her roommate’s death has something to do with the Ouija board they’d found in the closet. She finds her roommate’s notes and learns that Cindy ‘spoke’ to a man named David who was killed in their very apartment in 1978.

But as Laura begins to investigate Cindy’s death, secrets about her own life begin to come to light. After using the Ouija board and fainting, her boyfried, Michael, takes her to see a neurologist. The doctor later confirms that Laura had electroshock therapy in the past. A treatment that was seemingly undoing itself.

Michael begins to look into Laura’s past and begins to learn himself that things don’t add up. Only, according to Laura, she couldn’t possibly be lying.

Deadly Messages was a very pleasant surprise. It’s twisty, turny and suitably dramatic. Half the journey is learning the (slightly) ridiculous reveals. But sometimes you just have to have a bit of cheese on your toast, right? This is a very well-acted film and despite the grainy YouTube quality, was pretty well shot.

There is a lot of exposition dialogue at the end, which makes things fizzle out instead of going out with a bang. Much of the real fun comes when Laura’s life begins to unravel. You know, as horrible as that sounds.

I’m hoping next week’s film is as much as a delight as this one. We all need a bit of cheer in these very cramped, isolated days.

Wicked Wednesday: The Haunted (1991)

We’ve been here before: family move into new house, all goes well minus a few ‘quirks’, something big happens and all the demons in the world are entering the world through a dimension door in suburban America.

The Haunted is one of the most run-of-the-mill haunted house fils I’ve ever seen. It’s based on the ‘true’ story of the Smurl family who lived in Pennsylvania in the 1980s.

Initially, I thought this was going to be great because of one key factor: Ed and Lorraine Warren were investigators in this case. The Warrens are a fascinating pair, being linked to some of the most key hauntings in the throughout their lives (proof: watch and of the Conjuring Universe films or some little film called Amityville Horror). But those cases have something that The Haunted doesn’t: distinction.

Janet and Jack are a sweet little couple sharing a house with Jack’s elderly parents. Their children are all girls, just an all-around fun bunch. And soon things begin to go awry. Electricity bills become expensive (WATCH OUT!), the older women of the house hear whispering, Janet begins to forget things.

But beyond that, there’s not really anything particularly interesting about the hauntings themselves. And to be fair, there really is only so much that a ghost (or demon) can do.

The family get their local priest involved, who is unable to do any exorcism for them. So they head to the Warrens, who apparently can’t do much either. The hauntings get worse and increasingly physical. Janet is eventually so distraught that she is driven to taking her story to the media.

It’s a shame that the Warrens and the media attention seem so much like an after thought in this film. Much of the TV movie spends time showing us the paranomal activity. And nearly thirty years on, it just doesn’t scare or even make you feel uneasy…minus that one scene where Jack is seemingly sexually assulted. Yikes.

I think it’s interesting to see the local reactions to the Smurl family. It certainly wasn’t very nice. And the family’s desperation is equally as watchable, but for some reason – it’s all overlooked.

Sally Kirkland is good in the role of Janet. This part got her nominated for a Golden Globe. But the material is so boring that her performance can hardly save it.

A good haunting film need one thing: suspense. And The Haunted really lacks any of it. Blame it on being made-for-TV, but watch any of the classic horror network movie and you’ll know it’s possible to thrill. It’s a shame that this wasn’t done better, but part of me things this: if the original material isn’t that differneciating to begin with, maybe it wasn’t worth the energy and budget to begin with.

Wicked Wednesday: Deadly Lessons (1983)

It’s the third month of the year, which means it’s finally Made-for-TV March again!

This is my third year doing this, and honestly – it’s something I really look forward to. TV Movies are excellent for many reasons. I particularly like the over-exaggerated drama that you don’t always get in regular cinema releases. And I don’t mean it necessarily in a “so-bad-it’s-good” way. Just sometimes things have to be bigger and louder.

Like all the best made-for-TV movies, Dead Lessons knows how to amp up the drama. There is forbidden love, kidnappings, mistaken identities. All the ingredients for a fun 90 minutes. Plus this is one of the more star-studded casts I’ve seen in a TV movie.

Young Stephanie (Diane Franklin) is a new student at a posh boarding school for girls. She’s the odd one out, being poor and from a farm. But she’s bright, other than the fact that she needs to brush up on her French.

She quickly learns that the other girls at her new school are less-than-friendly. They play pranks on her, act snobbishly and Despite this, she still manages to bond with two girls Marita (Ally Sheedy), Calli (Renée Jones) and her Saudi princess roommate, Shama.

On one of the first nights of the summer term, a girl is found drowned in the nearby lake. And thus begins a quick procession of deaths. Detective Kemper is brought in to investigate, but at the insistence of headmistress Miss Wade (Donna Reed) the deaths are kept out of the media.

The students are unhappy with the results of Kemper’s investigation and begin to take things into their own hands, inspired by Steph’s Clue-inspired board game.

Steph’s love interest, Eddie (Bill Paxton), soon becomes a suspect. Many of the murders and investigation centre around the barn and stables where he works. But others, such as the teacher Ferrar also make Kemper’s suspect list. Though the girls are less convinced.

One night, Marita is kidnapped by the school janitor. Then man believes that Martia is his granddaughter. This isn’t true, but he looks mighty guilty from his actions. Martia manages to save herself by creating a signal. The janitor is arrested and seemingly all is well.

Only Steph soon discovers that the danger isn’t over. She comes face-to-face with Detective Kemper, the killer himself. He reveals that he wanted to exact revenge on his mother: Miss Wade. He tells Steph that he was abandoned by his mother soon after his father killed himself. His master plan was to destroy his mother and her school. But the idiot gives his speech out loud and is overheard by police and is arrested.

For me, while enjoyable, Deadly Lessons could have amped everything up another level. The girls were not actually that horrible to Stephanie to make her feel like a believable outsider. The pranks were too few. The girl’s misdeeds are rarely seen on screen. There needed to be less scenes of police discussing things and more of the girls’ lives.

Not enough lightning and thunder, for one. What’s a good TV movie without a scene set during a storm?

I would say this edges much more on the side of drama than a slasher or horror. Though I think those two genres blend more than we ever really acknowledge. It’s definitely a fun movie. Plenty of familiar faces to keep you entertained…even if it took me 50 minutes to realise that Eddie was in fact played by Bill Paxton.

Wicked Wednesday: Vampire (1979)

Holy wow it’s already the last Wednesday in March! Each year I think I’ve reached the end of enjoyable movies to watch for Made-for-TV March, but thankfully I’m proven wrong each time.

Vampire is one of the more classy made-for-TV films I’ve watched. It certainly has one heck of a cast with E.G. Marshall, Richard Lynch, Jason Miller, Jessica Walter and Kathryn Harrold rounding out the main roles.

Young couple Leslie (Harrold) and John (Miller) are a fashionable couple. They love art, parties and history. But one night, after the dedication of a new church, something – or rather someone – awakens from the earth.

During a party at their house, Leslie and John meet the mysterious Anton (Lynch) who is their friend Nicole’s (Water) new beau. She shows him off at the party, but Anton only seems to have eyes for Leslie and the art work in her home.

After their meeting, Anton tries his best to get the couple working for him. Nicole tries to lure them in on Anton’s behalf. She tells them his family history, that his family had bought an old home that was later demolished when they couldn’t go to America after the war. Under the demolished home is a series of tunnels supposedly filled with priceless artwork.

Leslie and John agree to help with Anton’s dig, especially after they see how much money they will earn. They begin the work and being to unearth the paintings. But John soon realises that the works are too priceless. He contacts the police after he and Leslie discover that most of the art work has been stolen in the past.

Anton is arrested, but quickly released. He goes to see Leslie and begins to seduce her…kind of. When John finds her body, it’s more mutilated than anything.

After Leslie’s death, John becomes a mess. He stalks Anton and begins to suspect the wealthy man of being a vampire. He’s eventually put into a mental hospital where Anton arrives to kill him. But the vampire is stopped by Harry Kilcoyne (Marshall), a former cop with a bone to pick with Anton.

Anton flees to safety, and Harry begins to work with John to avenge Leslie’s death. The two men begin to track down all of Anton’s coffins and destroy each one-by-one. They face their biggest fears all in order to kill a vampire.

Vampire certainly won’t be to everyone’s tastes. It is slow, almost meandering at points. And for a vampire movie, it’s pretty light on the vampire. But it is very stylish and there’s some fantastic acting here. I’ve seen a lot of people proclaim this as their favourite made-for-TV movie.

Personally, I felt more drawn in by the first act and became bored by the time we had out vampire-hunting duo out. That being said, I could listen to Jason Miller’s monologues all day. What a voice! And he really has the ability to add dread and supernatural feeling to every scene.

It’s a little, sleepy number. And great if you love Richard Lynch.

Wicked Wednesday: Body Bags (1993)

Body Bags is a bit of a powerhouse movie. And for a made-for-TV movie, I feel like that’s saying something.

First aired on Showtime in 1993, this is (I think) the first cable made-for-TV movie I’ve watched for Made-for-TV March. It certainly has a noticeably bigger budget than most major network offerings. And you can really tell where that budget went. For one, the cast is incredible and the cameos are really fun (you can spot the likes of Sam Raimi and Wes Craven). But most importantly, it’s directed by the beloved John Carpenter and Tobe Hooper.

Bookending each of the stories is Carpenter doing his best Cryptkeeper with story introductions. And man, he’s clearly enjoying himself.

His first story is “The Gas Station” (directed by Carpenter) and follows a young woman working alone at a gas station one night. On the radio, she hears that a man is murdering people around the town of Haddonfield. Like most young women, Ann feels creeped out by many of her patrons at the station. One in particular is a seemingly homeless man, who uses the men’s toilets and seemingly never leaves.

She’s soon finds herself face-to-face with the killer in town. But it isn’t who she initially suspects.

In the second tale, “Hair” (also directed by Carpenter), a vain man tries his best to get his hair back and stop his balding. He goes to any length, despite the pleas from his girlfriend to stop.

He eventually resorts to going to a specialist, who claims he can grow back Richard’s thinning hair. Richard chooses what style he desires, a Fabio-eque mane of wavy hair. He finds that his girlfriend is now especially attracted to him. He revels in his new confidence, but quickly learns that there’s a price to be paid for his new ‘do.

In Tobe Hooper’s “Eye” a young baseball player on the very of being called to the pros is injured in a car accident. A shard of glass takes out his eye. But a doctor approaches him, suggesting that he tries out a new surgery. The surgery will allow him to use the eye of a recently deceased man.

And all seems well. He can see again, but he begins to start to feel a little…less like himself.

The three stories are all pretty fun. Hooper’s and Carpenter’s style really compliment themselves well. The anthology is certainly more on the silly side. Even “The Gas Station” plays more on the slapstick than a straight-forward Halloween slasher (though it does have plenty of references for fans to watch for). Think more along the lines of Texas Chainsaw Massacre 2 instead of the original.

It’s fun and incredibly easy to watch. Certainly worth seeking out.

Anyway, I’m having a bit of a mental breakdown this week. Apparently I can’t write anything anymore. Well. At least the movie was good.

Wicked Wednesday: The Midnight Hour (1985)

I have been waiting to watch The Midnight Hour since I first read about it in April of 2018. I have been patient. I have been waiting. But finally we are here, which means only one thing: it’s Made-for-TV March, kids!

Made-for-TV March is one of my favourite times of the year. These made-for-TV gems are always unusual and many of them stick with me in ways that many theatrically-released films do not.

The Midnight Hour is no exception. This campy, 80’s movie is pretty by-the-books, but it has such a fun, wacky atmosphere that it more than makes up for it.

In the town of Kingston Falls/Hill Valley, a group of teenagers get prepared to celebrate Halloween. Their town has a history of witches and witch hunters alike, many of their descendants still living in the town.

One of those descendants is Phil (Lee Montgomery), a “nerd” who is clearly only ‘not-hot’ because they put him in glasses. He pines after girls who ignore him. And his friends make fun of him behind his back. So when they suggest stealing clothes from the local history museum, Phil reluctantly goes along.

After raiding the museum, the kids head to the cemetery to look at the loot that they stole from the museum’s archives. They find a scroll inside a stolen chest. It has a wax seal, but they kids quickly open it up anyway. When Phil’s friend Melissa reads it aloud, they think it’s all fun. But unbeknownst to them, Melissa manages to raise the dead in the town.

The group all gather at Melissa’s house for a Halloween costume party. But there are a number of extra guests attending including many zombies and Melissa’s ancestor, Lucinda.

Lucinda was the original Bad Witch of the town. She cursed the town years ago, only to have her plans foiled by Phil’s ancestor, a witch hunter. But this Halloween, Lucinda isn’t up for playing any games. But she DOES have the time for a good dance number with Melissa.

Phil ends up leaving the party when it becomes a bit of a drag. He begins to head home, but catches the eye of a young woman in a 50s cheerleading outfit. The two quickly strike up a friendship. They even get attacked by a werewolf during a make-out session! But Sandy isn’t all she appears to be.

Meanwhile, at the party, Lucinda turns Melissa into a vampire. Melissa then proceeds to turn the entire party into ghouls.

Sandy, when she realises what Phil and his idiot friends have done, tells Phil that they need to break the curse before midnight. If they fail, Lucinda’s curse will become permanent – including the “changes” made to Phil’s friends. They work together to get the pieces together before midnight, but can they really save the town from its Halloween nightmare?

I mean, of course they do! There’s really no doubt about it.

The Midnight Hour has many of the hallmarks of an 80s movie: the intense 50s/60s inspiration, the pointless (but enjoyable) musical number, the unrealistic car choices for teens. It evokes many similar feelings to movies like The Monster Squad. You really know what you’re getting into with this one, but just because there are no surprises doesn’t mean that it isn’t fun. Because it is.

Also, it’s got a pretty solid cast. Hello, LeVar Burton!

This is definitely a good one to add to your annual Halloween viewings. It might be March, but it’s never too early to plan, right?

Wicked Wednesday: Gargoyles (1972)

In the final week of Made-for-TV March, I wanted to watch something a little different. When I saw Gargoyles was a thing, I thought to myself, “Well. I’ve never watched a gargoyle movie for my blog.”

And there was probably a reason for that.

Gargoyles follows a father and daughter pair on their (supposed) trip to Mexico. I say supposed because there is nothing to lead to believe this is set in Mexico other than a brief exchange of dialogue in the first three minutes.

Doctor Mercer Boley is an archaeologist, primarily interested in demons and the like. His daughter, Diana, travels with him to a Desert Museum where they meet the quirky Uncle Willie. He claims to have artifacts and transcripts of exorcism rites that interest the doctor. Only when Uncle Willie takes the two out to his barn, that’s not what he shows them.

Instead they find a skeleton that looks like it’s been pieced together with various animals, plus the skull that looks like a very thick longhorn. The doctor begins to leave, thinking it a joke, but Uncle Willie convinces him to stay for an interview. Uncle Willie locks the barn door and he begins to tell the Boleys about how he found the skeleton.

Before long, though, they hear something on the roof of the barn. It begins to shake, and a fire starts. Uncle Willie dies in the event, but the Boleys escape with the unusual skull.

On their drive, they are attacked by a gargoyle. The beast nearly wrecks their car. The Boleys manage to get to a gas station for help, but the car is thorough damaged. They decide to stay at the nearby hotel for the night, where and eccentric manager keeps watch.

They return to the wreck the next day with the police. But when they arrive, they find that people are already there. Several men on dirt bikes quickly flee, some of them chased by a cop. After the men are all wrangled up, they admit that they were stealing from the ashes, but that they had nothing to do with what happened at the shed the night before.

Though Mercer knows that they didn’t have anything to do with it, he knows that it’s unlikely that the police will believe in tales of gargoyles. So he allows the men to be arrested for theft (and whatever it is that happened at the shed).

That night, Mercer wakes up in his hotel room to find it now contains several live gargoyles. They attack him, but they eventually flee. He does find the corpse of one, though, and decides it’s a good idea to take one to study!

Diana, having seen the gargoyles again, tries to convince the police to release the men. But neither the policeman or the men wrongly locked up believe her story. So she leaves them.

The following night, Mercer and Diana are attacked again when they return for the body. The two manage to escape and try to leave via their busted car, but it doesn’t start. The gargoyles flip the car, and take Diana away with them to their mountain refuge.

When Mercer awakes, he goes to the police station where the hotel manager is begging for help. The police and the locked up men all agree to call for back up while locating where the gargoyles took Diana.

While the men and the weird lady divvy up the work, poor Diana is stuck in a cave. The Head Gargoyle (dunno if he has a name) seems to have a bit of a crush on Diana. But he mostly speaks in long-winded prose about taking over the world from men. Not really Diana’s type, I assume. He claims he means her no harm, but she then sees the hatching of gargoyle’s eggs. You know, the ones that will grow up to destroy all of humanity.

During the search, the men find an empty truck of one of the bikers and the body of the hotel manager strung up a post – dead. They’re then attacked by the gargoyles leaving the cave. When Doc comes face-to-face with one of the gargoyles, the gargoyle says that the hacked gargoyles will need time to develop before they can wipe out men. Doc then says he isn’t sure humanity is ready to be wiped out, which is fair enough.

Mercer eventually is led to Diana, who is being seduced (or something) by Head Gargoyle. Diana is dragged away before Mercer can get her. But the remainder of the search party go in to the cave fighting. One of the bikers even manages to set fire to the eggs before he is pulled down by some of the gargoyles.

With much of the future of the gargoyles destroyed, Head Gargoyle swears to start over again. He takes one of his lady gargoyles and sets off into the night, leaving Mercer and Diana to watch.

And if that doesn’t tell you this movie is weird, it is. This is a very strange movie. The first half is actually pretty good, but as soon as the gargoyles take Diana away, things quickly go down hill. But the cast is pretty great. I would have loved more of Grayson Hall (of Dark Shadows fame), who plays the crazy hotel woman.

Much of Gargoyles is strangely shot. For one, all the gargoyles seem to move like they’re in fast forward. Also, they read really fast (apparently). The monsters in general were pretty poorly developed. Or maybe I just couldn’t understand any of the Holy Wars mumbo-jumbo.

Ultimately, though, I just don’t think gargoyles are my thing.

Director Bill Norton went on to direct several episodes for popular television shows like Buffy, Angel and Roswell. As well as a whole slew of TV-movies. Gargoyles was one of his first pieces of work, and I’d be willing to check more of his stuff out. This, for one, was certainly interesting if anything.

Wicked Wednesday: Invitation to Hell (1984)

“What I want, Matt, is some power.”

Welcome to year two of Made-for-TV March where the movies are cheap and contain lots of lightning!

I love made-for-TV movies. The more I watch, the more I grow fond of this sort-of sub-genre. Watching Invitation to Hell only solidified all my opinions.

Directed by Wes Craven, Invitation to Hell is a horror sci-fi thriller that first aired in 1984 on ABC. By this point, Craven was well into solidifying his name as an icon of the genre with his early classics. A Nightmare on Elm Street was released just a few months later in November of that year. It was well clear that this project was in the hands of a man who really knew what he was doing.

The Winslow family move to a new town for father Matt (Robert Urich) to begin his new job. The family have led a mostly lower-middle class life, waiting for Matt’s work as an inventor to blossom. His new job is seemingly a step in the right direction.

The family learn that “anyone who is anyone” belongs to the local country club. Like all good 80’s suburbanites, their neighbours all comply with the expectations. But for the mostly-poor Winslows, they stand out with their shabby furniture and car.

But Matt is reluctant to join, and instead focuses on developing his technology for an astronaut’s suit. The suit allows the wearer to enter extreme temperatures, and the helmet is able to detect is something is human or non-human.

One day, the family are nearly in an accident when their car is cut off by another. When Matt goes to confront the driver, out pops Jessica Jones (Susan Lucci), the director of the club. She immediately takes a shine to Matt, and encourages him and his family to join their club.

Matt’s disinterest in the club continues, while it only increases for his wife Pat (Joanna Cassidy) and their kids (Bastian and Punky Brewster). At work, Matt begins to notice something strange going on. His secretary, Grace, keeps trying to slip him information that he walks away ignorant from. His friend and co-worker Tom gets promoted to a cushy job after joining the club, despite not mentioning any hint of a promotion before.

Jessica invites the Matt and Pat to have a tour of the club, and Matt agrees. During the tour, Matt wanders alone when he hears crying coming from the other side of a large, ominous door. Weirded out, Matt declines yet again to join the club.

But Jessica usurps Matt, and invites just Pat and the kids to join, which the gladly agree to. And after their ‘initiation’, things begin to get worse for Matt.

Soon Grace is replaced, and disappears. He receives a call from Grace’s husband, a vet, and is informed that Pat tried to have the family’s beloved dog put down, seemingly without good reason. When Matt confronts Pat, she snaps at him. And Matt later learns of his ex-secretary’s death.

Though not an idiot, Matt begins to put all the pieces of the puzzle together. Pat’s personality changes from warm mother to yuppie bitch, and his kids become increasingly violent. And during a bit of research, Matt learns that all of the promotions in the last number of years have happened only to members of the country club.

With everything in place, Matt sneaks into the country club to do a but of sleuthing. He learns that beyond the ominous doors, the temperatures are well over 300 degrees Fahrenheit. He breaks into his lab and steals his astronaut’s suit to wear as a costume to the club’s Halloween party.

The suit allows Matt to go beyond the doors, where the temperatures reach well about 2000 degrees – a literal hell. But as he searches for his real family, he’s pursued by Jessica in her devil’s costume. Despite her begging, Matt jumps off a cliff inside the room when he hears his children begging for his help.

When he lands, Matt awakes to find himself in a sort of alternate-dimension of his world. When he enters his house, he sees Pat at her piano, seemingly unable to stop playing piano. Jessica catches him up, and insists that he has no way of defeating her or saving his family.

But Matt realises that Jessica is just a straight-up liar. A devil without any real powers. And upon understanding this, Matt reaches for his family and is able to save them all from hell.

As the family wake up back in their real home, they learn that the country club has been on fire for almost the entire night – seemingly destroyed.

Invitation to Hell is on many levels, a bit standard. But the writing, direction and acting really elevate it to something special. One thing the 80’s always got right was creating believable families. Each member of the Winslow family was so likable, it made it all the more enjoyable to see their spiral into possession.

There were several plot gaps, but for something that had to be under 2 hours (with commercials), it does a good job of creating a great supernatural feel. Like Invasion of the Body Snatchersthe movie makes you feel uncomfortable with suburban conformity and that sensation that you can never be too sure who to trust. Incidentally, Kevin McCarthy has a role as Matt’s boss, and he’s fantastic.

Craven went on to direct several made-for-TV movies (Invitation to Hell was his second following the also excellent Summer of Fear). I won’t spoil myself by watching all of them this month, though. But watching this just made me miss the man more than I already do. Invitation to Hell is a movie that a full-heartedly recommend, and I personally can’t wait to watch it again.

Wicked Wednesday: Killer Bees (1974)

Man, for a movie called Killer Bees, this sure was boring. As my last made-for-TV movie for March, I thought I’d pick something that sounded fun. Honestly, I did it myself by expecting a movie more along the lines of Them! or something similar. But this movie forgot to make itself fun (or even vaguely interesting). If you’re going to make a movie and call it Killer Bees – you better have a sense of humour.

But alas, Killer Bees is a mind-numbing made-for-TV film from 1974 starring Gloria Swanson, Kate Jackson (because all of the angels lived in TV movies before Charlie found them) and Edward Albert.

Edward Van Bohlen (Albert) and his girlfriend Victoria (Jackson) are returning to Edward’s hometown, where he hasn’t been in several years, so Victoria can meet the Van Bohlen family.

The Van Bohlens are a big deal. The town they live in is named after them. When the couple arrive in a local cafe, Edward is instantly remembered. But before they are recognised, they overhear a few men talking about the accident that occurred in the nearby used car lot. The man drove off in a hurry when he was attacked by a group of angry bees.

When Ed and Tori direct their conversation back to themselves, Edward reminds Victoria that his family aren’t all American but “European,” which means they like to keep to themselves (I guess).

When the young couple arrive at the Van Bohlen vineyard, they are coldly received. Edward left the family years ago and refused Madame is Ed’s grandmother. She’s the matriarch of the family and a total queen bitch. And the rest of the family aren’t much better. Despite telling Edward to leave, the couple stay.

At dinner, Edward’s brother arrives. He tells the family about the death in town, but Edward’s father already seems to know about it, despite not being in town that day. To make things even more awkward, when the family toast, Edward thinks it’s a great time to tell his estranged family that he and Victoria are engaged. They toast with the family’s wine, which Victoria notes tastes sweet, almost like… HONEY.

The following days are filled with “weird” incidents. The police go to the house to interview Madame about her bees. When Victoria sees the scene, Madame is covered in bees, seemingly unharmed by the little ones. She faults how well-behaved her bees are, waving her arms about unstung, but the police don’t totally buy Madame’s story and still seem to think her bees are the cause of the man’s death who crashed his car.

And the family is really a bunch of jerks. Despite having grand plans for their life back in San Francisco, Edward’s family want him to stay on their vineyard and make weird bee wine with them. Though Ed’s not thrilled about the idea considering the bees killed one of his friends when he was a young boy.

While out for a walk (and talking about their *surprise* pregnancy) in the vineyard, Ed and Tori see a telephone man fall from the pole he’s climbed. They spot that the transformer box is full of – shock – bees! Victoria runs into town to call for help, but is stopped by Edward’s brother, who tells the emergency services on the phone that everything was just a “misunderstanding.”

The telephone man dies, and it upsets Victoria.

At tea one day, she goes to confront the Madame, whom she believes is behind all the bee attacks. She also slips in that she’s preggo. Upset and angry, Madame stands up to leave, but trips over the table with one of the little bee houses. Then proceeds to die covered in her little friends.

After learning the news, the family gather together in the main room. Victoria tells them that she’s convinced that the bees killed Madame and the men find this HILARIOUS. They literally laugh Victoria out of the house. She runs away to one of the barns where she spots Sergeant Jeffreys. He tells her that he’s been long suspicious of the family and their African bees, and he enlists Victoria as an ally.

Despite wanting to leave, Madame’s death changes that and Tori and Ed decide to stay another night. During Madame’s funeral, Victoria stays home to pack. The bees begin to swarm during the service, and eventually make their way home to harass Victoria. She eventually faints from the panic when she reaches the attic. The bees cover her, and like the Madame, don’t harm her. When she awakes, she’s in a different frame of mind.

The men arrive back from the funeral and Victoria is sporting a new, severe look instead of her 70’s freewheeling style from before. And Edward is immediately suspicious. Victoria sends the sergeant away after reassuring him that everything is fine. As he reluctantly leaves, the remaining men of the family (minus Edward) toast to the Victoria, or rather the Madame.

Shocking twist ending? Well, I guess. But we could cut a good half hour out of this baby and call it a solid half-hour of television. The performances aren’t bad by any means but certainly pretty forgettable. But Killer Bee‘s biggest sin by far isn’t so much that it’s boring (and it totally is), but it doesn’t make the bees scary… or all that killer. There are two deaths and the bees are really only accountable for one.

You know, make them bigger next time. Like mega killer bees. Or, I dunno, make the Madame wield the bees and make them take revenge – not just get rid of mildly irritating neighbours.