Made-for-TV March

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.

 

Wicked Wednesday: Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)

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It’s officially the first Wednesday in March which means only one thing: Made-for-TV Movie March!

Is this not a thing yet? Well, it is this year. After ending my Wicked Wisconsin Wednesday project, I discovered the joys of made-for-TV films. I want nothing more than to celebrate over-the-top lightning, dramatic pauses and gaps in logic.

Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is a 1973 made-for-TV movie that aired on ABC. Starring the adorable, constant-favourite Kim Darby as Sally and Jim Hutton as her husband, Alex, as a couple who move into a home at that Sally inherited from her grandmother.

The old Victorian house is filled with plenty of quirks. Mr Harris, who worked on the estate as a handyman for Sally’s grandparents, is hired on by the young couple to update the house.

Then Sally and Jim move in, they discover a room with a locked door. Sally eventually discovers the key to the door in an envelope on a desk. Inside is a room with all the windows boarded, and a fireplace bricked up. As soon as Sally mentions opening up the fireplace again, Mr Harris becomes upset. In the harbinger of doom way, he tells her that the room was once the office of her grandfather, and it was sealed up then – and reopening it would stir up a ghostly aura.

Confused by his reproach, Sally opens up the side-ash door instead. Voices are heard calling to her, but she closes it up.

The couple are getting ready for an upcoming party. Jim is up for promotion with the potential of becoming a partner in his law firm. But the determination has become all-consuming and has left Sally mostly neglected (she believes he’s only with her because she’s great at throwing parties – the 70s, eh?).

But Jim’s guilt is what helps him to explain away Sally’s growing discomfort with the house. One night, an ash tray shattered while she’s asleep. She tells her concerns to her friend, Joan, who is rather sympathetic. Both have husbands who become more work-oriented than home.

In the following days, Mr Harris tells off Sally for opening the ash door. He furthers her discomfort when he asks if anything has happened to her. Though he refuses to divulge why he’d ask such a question. While digging through her closet, Sally sees something move and hears the whispering of, “We want you.” Once the key to the office goes missing, Sally really becomes freaked.

Becoming angry with Mr Harris for his wife’s hysterics, Jim calls the caretaker and blames him for the missing key and the bolts that keep coming undone on the ash door.

Though things only get worse for poor Sally. The night of the party, she sees something moving in her flower arrangements. Then her napkin keeps getting pulled off her lap during the dinner. The meal hasn’t actually been served yet when she sees something under the table that makes her stand up and scream.

Jim is, well, rather pissed with his wife for her show at the party. He tells her that no one saw anything. That night, the little creatures are finally revealed. They pull out Jim’s razor while Sally’s in the shower. They seem to be plotting to get rid of Jim, but the mostly just argue over whether or not it’s the right day to finally kill Sally.

The goblins (nilbogs as I’d like to think of them) are sort of like walking raisins or dates but somehow manage to be sinister with their dark almost sorrowful eyes. But they’re awful little bastards, and they’re pretty damn good at freaking Sally out, especially for guys so tiny.

But after seeing the creatures running about with her own eyes, Sally finally says that she wants to move out of the house and sell it.

So things should be getting better, but they certainly don’t. Jim heads off on his important business trip to San Francisco and leaves Sally behind with Joan to babysit her. But before Joan can arrive, Sally is harassed by the creatures in from the fireplace. Though she does fare quite a bit better than her interior designer, who falls victim to the trap that was meant to kill Sally.

After the police leave, a doctor speaks to Joan and tells her he’s given Sally some sedatives to take. While Sally initially rejects them, the little creatures put it in her coffee and instantly make her a bit droopy. It’s the perfect time for the creatures to pull out the breakers. When the lights are out, Joan goes outside to investigate and is locked out of the house.

Meanwhile, after quickly returning from San Fran, Jim goes to speak to Mr Harris about what’s going on in the house. The caretaker tells Jim the story that when Sally’s grandparents moved in to the house, the fireplace was already bricked up. A maid who had been working at the house at the time told Mr Harrison that Sally’s grandpa had disappeared in that very room, and all that was left was a entirely wrecked room.

Upon hearing the story, Jim and Mr Harris head back to the house to rescue Sally – the certain next victim.

The sedated Sally is dragged into the study, bound up by the creatures. Despite their urgency, Alex, Joan and Mr Harris don’t reach her in time, and her body isn’t found. As the camera pans out from the home, Sally’s voice is heard comforting the creatures, tell them that they will have their freedom again.

Yes Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark is pretty dated. The effects of the creatures is clever, but looks a bit tacky now. But the film still has plenty of atmosphere. Darby’s performance alone makes this worth watching.  In 2010 the film was remade and produced by Guillermo del Toro, and it’s… meh. Personally, I much prefer the subtle eeriness that this little film managed.

It’s simple, yes, and a bit obvious at times, but it’s a classic story that just unfolds really well.

Wicked Wednesday: The Haunting of Seacliff Inn (1994)

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What better way to start off October’s Wicked Wednesdays than with a made-for-TV movie? And it starts Ally Sheedy, no less.

While I’m not certain, The Haunting of Seacliff Inn aired in 1994 (most likely on SciFi, as per the old logo stamped on the version I watched). It’s actually a pretty good quality for a made-for-TV movie, with stunning locations and pretty good sets.

Susan (Sheedy) and her husband Mark (William R. Moses) are a pair of yuppies who move to Northern California from San Francisco to open a bed and breakfast. While taking a tour of the area, Susan spots a house on the cliff – surprise – that immediately catches her eye.

She tells the estate agent that she wants to “sleep on it” before she and Mark agree to the purchasing of the little home. But she immediately marches off to the other home on the seacliff to find out more about it.

Inside is Lorraine (Maxine Stuart, who incidentally is in one of my most favourite Twilight Zone episodes of all time, “Eye of the Beholder”), an elderly woman who has lived in the sprawling Victorian home for nearly 50 years – and the house definitely isn’t for sale.

But unfortunately for poor Lorraine, the spirits in the house have other ideas.

After Mark and Susan leave for the night, Lorraine is busying herself when the radio comes on. She turns it off only to hear the radio on in another room. Being this is somewhat a horror film, Lorraine is silly enough to go looking after the noise. Susan finds Lorraine’s body in the next morning, with a bloody wound to her head.

Good-ish news for Susan when she and Mark are put in touch with one of Lorraine’s daughters, who offers up the seacliff home to the couple. Within two months, the house is theirs and they begin the work on their new place.

It’s only a couple weeks into the renovations that strange things begin to happen. Susan sees a rather ominous black dog on the beach. A worker is electrocuted despite being certain that he turned off the breaker. And when the full moon passes through a window in the attic, Susan really begins to feel strange going ons.

Susan eventually meets her neighbour Dorothy, who tells her that the two of them are “sensitives,” meaning having an affiliation with the spirits (not that she’s being a bit touchy, which she really isn’t). Dorothy also tells Susan that the house was completely normal before she and Mark arrived.

But Dorothy further explains that the stuff inside the house could be stirred up by any emotions. Susan admits that she and Mark moved to Northern California after Mark had an affair. So everything in the theory seems to check out, and Susan immediately buys into Dorothy’s explanation, and admits to having seen a ghost when she was young girl, an experience that still has it’s mark on her.

Susan’s ghost story is a bit crap according to Mark, though, and the spirits are a source of irritation in the marriage. One day on the beach, Mark meets Sarah Warner, a pretty woman who is dressed in all white. All signs point to “she’s a ghost” here but Mark’s an idiot so he doesn’t notice anything unusual.

Intrigued by the house, Susan begins to do some research on the home, and learns that it is referred to as the Hastings House, Hastings being the family that owned the home for generations before Lorraine’s family bought it.  Jeremiah Hastings built the house and was one of the leading citizens in the town.

Then on returning home one day, Susan meets Sarah, the inn’s first guest despite the inn not yet being open. She claims to be a writer and totally not fussed about the situation. It immediately becomes clear that Sarah is a total seductress bitch, but that doesn’t stop Mark from being silly about it all. He still marches around with her, enjoying her flirting. That is until he photographs her and she comes on to him.

But really, when your with is Ally Sheedy, there isn’t much of a competition (sorry, Sarah).

After Mark rebuffs Sarah’s advances, she seemingly disappears (she actually jumps into the waves because ghost, duh). But her departure only signals worse things to come for the couple. The tub is left on and floods the home. Even the poor dog gets killed off.

Just when things come to a head for the couple, it’s revealed that Jeremiah Hastings is doing all the real hauntings. He murdered his own wife after cheating on her. It seems to be his plan to get Sarah to seduce Mark so Hastings can have his way with Susan. This is a rather jumbled, quick explanation. And most of the story is given in quick bits of dialogue.

But spoiler alert, Mark saves Susan before… she’s killed (?) by Jeremiah or whatever the ghost was trying to do with her. But the house burns down and the end. It’s one heck of a cliched ending for a story that could have been a bit more clever.

Though this IS made-for-TV land so I’m not really sure what I’m complaining about.