made-for-tv movie

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: 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: 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?