Made-for-TV March

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.

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Wicked Wednesday: The Norliss Tapes (1973)

Tension, supernatural beings, and dramatic sound effects. These are the things that make for an excellent made-for-TV movie. Thankfully, The Norliss Tape has plenty of all three.

The Norliss Tapes was directed by Dan Curtis, known for Burnt Offerings, made-for-TV movies like Trilogy of Terror and creating the soap opera Dark Shadows. And while I love Trilogy of Terror, this earlier work has much more of a Barnabas Collins vibe.

David Norliss is a semi-successful writer, supposedly working on his newest book for the last year. He sold to his publishers a book debunking the superstitions and gimmicks of the occult. But when he calls his publisher nearly a year into his work, he admits that he has barely written a word.

His publisher, Sanford Evans, agrees to meet with Norliss, but the writer never shows. Eventually, it becomes apparent that David has vanished. Evans goes to David’s home to investigate. He doesn’t find David, but he does find a selection of tapes in which he decides to listen to the first one.

In chapter one, David begins investigating a supernatural occurrence. He meets with two sisters, one of whom which is newly widowed. Ellen Cort explains that she was awoken one night by her dog’s barking. The dog led her to her deceased husband’s sculpting studio. She eventually comes face-to-face with a man who kills her dog. She shoots him but he doesn’t seem truly harmed.

She then admits that the man who attacked her was none other than James, her dead husband. She also tells David that James was buried wearing a scarab ring that he acquired from a Mademoiselle Jeckiel.

That night, a girl is attacked by a man who was hiding in her car. When her body is found, she’s grey and shriveled. The coroner tells the police that the girl was completely drained of blood.

After the attack, Ellen takes David to the mausoleum where they look at James’s body, which is still in the coffin. Ellen takes that as a sign that she might be going crazy. Though they also see that he’s still wearing the ring that he was buried with.

David then moves on his investigation to an art dealer named Langdon, who had a particular interesting in buying the scarab ring after James’s death. At the gallery, the gentleman explains that he sold most of James’s work. When David asks Langdon about the ring, he becomes indifferent, explaining that his interest in buying the ring was only because it was unique. David lets slip to Langdon that James was buried with the ring.

Langdon then goes to the mausoleum to grab the ring. But James wakes up to claim his next victim.

David eventually goes straight to the mystical source, Mademoiselle Jeckiel. She’s even more evasive than Langdon was. She refuses to answer most of David’s questions. But she does warn him to stay away from Ellen’s house.

When David and Ellen return to James’s studio, the find a new sculpture. David notices that the clay is still wet, as though it had been worked on recently. But how James’s body was able to travel from the crypt to the studio was still a mystery. But David gets his answer when he studies the blueprints of the house and discovers a network of tunnels underneath. He also learns, after studying the new sculpture’s clay, that the clay is made up of blood.

Mademoiselle Jeckiel seeks out Ellen later and warns her about James. She tells Ellen that before his death, he made a pact with a deity to create a sculpture in exchange for immortality. James is only a few more victims away from competing his work.

Jeckiel and Ellen go to James’s grave together to remove the scarab ring – the only way to end him. But James wakes up and kills Jeckiel. Norliss finds Ellen in the tunnels, and the two escape to the studio as the sculpture comes to life. But Norliss sets the studio on fire, sending both the deity and James back to where they came from.

As the tape ends, Norliss’s fate is still unknown. But Evans ejects the tape and prepares to listen to chapter two.

This movie was originally intended to be TV pilot, but the show was never picked up. In some ways, it’s pretty interesting that way. It leaves the ending fairly open ended. I like when a mystery lingers, but still manages to give some answers.

The Norliss Tapes is very atmospheric, if a bit slow at times. It’s certainly no Trilogy of Terror. But it’s worth seeing just for the aesthetic alone.

There were a few things that were slightly confusing about the movie. Like, if David Norliss was such a known skeptic of the occult (an “investigator”), then why go to him first when you have a supernatural experience? I’d skip the skeptic and go straight to the priests and mediums.

This also weirdly reminded me a lot of Scream, Pretty Peggy, which I had first watched last year. What’s with the year 1973 and demonic sculptures?

But this was certainly another solid entry in the realm of made-for-TV movies.

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: The Night Stalker (1972)

If there is a MVP of made-for-TV horror movies, it’s probably The Night Stalker. It spawned a sequel, a TV series, and even a remake of said TV series several decades later.

And it’s shockingly basic for something so beloved. Carl Kolchak is a sensationalist, nearly ethic-less journalist in Las Vegas. His desire to get the story has led him to being fired from multiple papers throughout the country.

A series of murders perks Kolchak’s interest because of one thing: each corpse is found nearly devoid of all blood. Kolchak seeks the help of one of his “spies”, a young doctor working at the hospital. He calls Kolchak one night, telling him that their blood bank was robbed of its blood supply.

At a meeting at the court house, the coroner tells the table of important men that each of the young female victims were found with human saliva mixed in with the blood at the throat wounds. Kolchak shares his theory that perhaps the killer thinks he’s a vampire. While the sheriff and every suited man in the room becomes upset, the coroner says it isn’t too far-fetched that a man would have the psychosis to believe that.

Kolchak is told not to run any stories on the killings, but he does anyway. When he writes something about the fourth victim, his editor refuses to publish it. He tells Kolchak that publishing something about a wannabe-vampire will only bring the people of Las Vegas to hysterics.

But his girlfriend (and potential woman-of-the-night), Gail, encourages him to continue digging. She lets him look at one of her books on vampires.

Later, a man is caught stealing blood from the hospital again. He has the strength to throw the nurses and doctors off him to try to stop him. He’s chased out of the hospital by the police, but they are unable to catch him. Even when they shoot at him at close range.

The police, though, are able to identify the man. At a press conference, the man is identified as Janos Skorzeny, a Romanian immigrant who has been linked to multiple murders in different countries, making him an international fugitive.

And the manhunt begins. Skorzeny is cornered one night, but easily fends off the police. Despite being nearly 70, he’s a man of great strength. Even when the police see him get shot, he still gets up and runs away unharmed.

Kolchak becomes increasingly insistent that Skorzeny is a literal vampire. But he becomes aware the no one will wants to listen to him, seemingly for the protection of the people of the city.

He tells the mayor and the authorities that the police officers should carry crosses with them and a stake and hammer, just in case they get into trouble while pursuing Kolchak. They reluctantly agree, but only if Kolchak lets Skorzeny live to see trial.

But he completely breaks his promise once one of his sources gives him Skorzeny’s address. He breaks into the house and finds a woman strapped to a bed. Just as he tries to free her, the vampire returns home. He goes to hide, but Skorzeny finds him. But he holds off the vampire by holding out a cross and revealing the sunlight.

He manages to weaken Skorzeny, and pounds a stake into his heart. Just as the vampire dies, the police arrive to witness Kolchak murdering their suspect.

Kolchak, being the fool he is, gleefully writes up his story to have it published. His editor claims it will be published in full. But Kolchak is told he has been arrested for the murder of Skorzeny. They threaten to use the warrant if Kolchak doesn’t leave town and pretend nothing has happened.

Kolchak, later through his tape recordings, says that Kolchak and all of his victims were cremated. Which is strange. And that when a vampire takes the blood of another person, they too will become a vampire.

It’s easy to see why The Night Stalker is so well-liked. Darren McGavin plays the irritating, smarmy journalist well. Somehow cocky but charismatic.

Even though The Night Stalker came before the TV show, it felt like I was watching the sequel to something. This was a pretty standard vampire story without much in the way character development. Maybe that’s asking too much of a made-for-TV movie. But I’d at least be tempted to watch the TV show (which apparently was a big inspiration to X-Files Creator Chris Carter).

This one was probably lost on me, but considering how well-loved it is, I suggest anyone interested give The Night Stalker a try.

Wicked Wednesday: Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973)

One of the things about horror films that is simultaneously amazing and painful to watch is golden-era Hollywood icons “lowering” themselves to the genre.

Case and point: Bette Davis. While originally known for her great dramatic roles, her later career was marked with much more horror/thrillers such as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? But the last decades of her life had her in over a dozen TV movies.

One of them is the 1973 thriller Scream, Pretty Peggy, which originally aired on ABC.

Scream, Pretty Peggy follows young art student, Peggy (go figure). Desperate for a job, she takes work as a house keeper for the wealthy Elliott family. When she arrives at the house, she’s turned away by the elderly Mrs Elliott (Davis), but her son Jeffrey stops her and invites the student in.

Bright, perky Peggy gets herself the job, and even manages to earn herself more money in the negotiations. Charmed by the weird girl, Jeffrey allows her to even bother him while he work on his sculptures. But she has one rule: stay away from the rooms above the garage.

During her first day, Peggy sees a photograph of a young woman, who Mrs Elliott explains is her daughter Jennifer. She claims that Jennifer is in Europe.

Each night she heads back home from work, Peggy notices that she’s being followed by a car. She eventually confronts the man, who says he is Thornton, father of the last girl who worked for the Elliotts. He explains that he hasn’t heard from his daughter, but Peggy is unable to help him. When he arrives at the Elliotts’ house, they claim to know nothing either.

Peggy eventually moves in with the Elliotts with Mrs Elliott injures her leg. Her first night in the house she awakes to the sound of a banging door and spots that the garage door is open. When she goes to investigate, she sees a figure in a white gown go up to the rooms above the garage.

When she confronts Jeffrey about it, he admits that Jennifer is not in Europe, but living above the garage. She’s insane, but the family couldn’t bare to lock her up. Peggy then becomes determined to make friends with Jennifer, despite being warned away by both Jeffrey and Mrs Elliott. Mrs Elliott continuously warns Peggy away, but the girl (increasingly enamored with Jeffrey) refuses.

Peggy finds an item with Thornton’s name on it, and decides to try and contact him. The place where he’s staying inform her that he hasn’t been seen in a couple days. And upon investigating, Peggy sees the man’s car locked away in the garage.

Knowing that something is not right, Peggy tries to hunt down Jeffrey. While in Jeffrey’s studio, she’s attacked by the figure in the white dress. Peggy manages to escape and finds Mrs Elliott in her room. She tells the woman what has happened, saying that it was Jennifer. But Mrs Elliott only tells Peggy, “It’s all your fault.”

Jeffrey is finally found, and Peggy tells him about Jennifer’s attack. He goes up to Jennifer’s rooms above the garage to confront his sister. Peggy and Mrs Elliott watch from outside.

Jeffrey emerges and informs them that he has killed Jennifer. She tried to attack him, and she fell on her own knife. When Peggy tries to call the police, she’s ordered not to.

Frustrated and confused, Peggy goes to Jeffrey’s studio and tries to talk to him. Only Jeffrey isn’t there – it’s Jennifer. Or rather, ‘Jennifer’ in Jeffrey’s mind (basically Jeff wearing some shit make-up). ‘Jennifer’ tries to attack Peggy, but is shot by Mrs Elliott.

Mrs Elliott neatly wraps up the story, telling Peggy that Jeffrey killed Jennifer when she tried to leave for Europe to get married. He hid her body in one of his sculptures, and ‘Jennifer’ began to take over his mind. Each time he was with a woman, the Jennifer part of his brain became jealous and violent.

So basically, don’t killer your sister.

While the ending is an exposition dump, it doesn’t detract too much from the movie overall. Scream, Pretty Peggy is a great film, TV movie or no. Honestly, Davis is such a scene-stealer. Completely magnetic with even the most mundane lines thrown at her.

While the twist is by no means original, it’s still fun. And Scream, Pretty Peggy have some great, subtle spooky moments that I loved. Peggy is quite an unusual character for a horror film. She’s resilient and bouncy, and a touch obnoxious (but I liked her anyway). I say give this piece a go. If anything, it’s just a joy to see Davis on screen.