made-for-tv movie

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.

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.


Wicked Wednesday: Don’t Go to Sleep (1982)

Damn horror movies always telling me what I can and cannot do. Don’t go in the house, they say. Don’t be afraid of the dark. Don’t open the door! Don’t go in the woods (alone). And now I can’t go to sleep?

This is such a common format for horror movie titles, I can’t actually keep up with what I’m allowed to do anymore.

Lame jokes aside, Don’t Go to Sleep is a schlock fun-fest that has everything you could want. Plus Rhoda Morgenstern. And Valerie Harper knows how to always brings a light to absolutely everything.

Laura (Harper) and her husband, Phillip (Dennis Weaver), move to a new house in the countryside after the death of their eldest daughter. With them are their two younger children, Kevin and Mary, and Laura’s elderly mother, Bernice (Ruth Gordon). The street address for the new house is, I shit you not, 13666.

And with an address like that, things are only guaranteed to go wrong. On the first night at the house, Mary’s bed starts on fire after she hears someone calling her name. Phillip discovers that the cord to one of the lamps was frayed an in need of replacing – so the family writes the incident off.

But the following night, while staying in Kevin’s room, Mary begins to shout in her sleep. By the time the boy fetches his parents, Mary has calmed down – making Kevin look a fool. But the boy isn’t going to be kept down as he vows, “No more Mister Nice Guy.” Fun fact, Kevin originated this popular idiom.*

Kevin plays a prank on his sister, scaring the crap out of her. So on the next night, when she hears someone calling to her, she climbs under her bed and asks whoever is there to go ahead kill her. But to her shock and surprise, it’s her dead sister, Jennifer, under her bed. Sitting and grinning like a Cheshire Cat.

Obviously Mary seeing and talking to her dead sister perplexes her parents a bit. They begin to argue whether or not she should see a shrink. Meanwhile, Mary falls asleep outside and speaks to her sister. Jennifer tells her younger sister that it’s their family’s fault that she’s dead and that she wants Mary to avenge her death.

The entire family is obsessed with their guilt over Jennifer’s death. Grandma Bernice creates a sort of shrine in her bedroom of pictures of the girl. Phillip can’t stop drinking. But in the roulette wheel of death, Bernice is first.

In the middle of the night, Kevin’s iguana finds its way into Bernice’s bed. Seeing the reptile gives her a shock so bad it gives her a heart attack and dies.

After another traumatic death, Mary’s parents finally agree to send the girl to a psychiatrist. Her increasingly strange behaviour doesn’t go unnoticed to her family. But with the help of Jennifer, Mary plays down her crazy behaviour in her sessions.

And then it’s little Kevin with the target on his back next.  After he continues to argue with Mary (as siblings do), Jennifer focuses her eye on him. He falls off the roof to his death after trying to retrieve the Frisbee that Mary threw there. But at least Mary looks a little bit guilty during her brother’s funeral.

The deaths of two children and Laura’s mom really puts a strain on Laura and Phillip’s relationship. But they try together to pick up the pieces. Though Phillip is also killed after being electrocuted in the bathtub.

It’s this death that makes Laura realise that perhaps her daughter is a bit, well, crazy. While trying to emergency services, Mary cuts the phone line – WITH A PIZZA CUTTER – then proceeds to chase her mom around the house with said kitchen utensil.

Laura gets away from her daughter and is taken to the hospital where she’s told that Mary has been taken to a psychiatric ward.  Though Laura is eventually taken home by Mary’s old shrink, she’s told that her daughter will eventually be released – much to the horror of her mother.

We’re then treated to the backstory of the day that Jennifer died. Bernice and Phillip are both a bit wasted, but Phillip drives home the children anyway. During an argument with Laura, Phillip nearly crashes the car, but drives into a field instead.

Having been picked on by her sister all night, little Mary ties her sleeping sister’s shoelaces together as a prank. And after the crash, refuses to help Jennifer out of the car. Then the car blows up. Mary was the least-favourite child, and Jennifer had been the most loved.

Mary, in all her issues, is also Jennifer (I think). Is it a Norman Bates-style possession or are we really supposed to believe that Jennifer is fighting for Mary’s body? IS MARY DEAD? Basically, it’s the most shambolic ending, especially since Jennifer is seen attacking her mother in her bed… Which means she’s not possessing Mary’s body… right?

Despite the ending, I think Don’t Go to Sleep is a fantastic little film if you want an extra helping of cheese on your plate. Yes it’s quite silly, but that’s what makes these things all the more enjoyable. Plus the cast really deliver some great moments, a bit more quality than the typical made-for-TV fest.

*This is not a true fun fact.

Wicked Wednesday: Satan’s School for Girls (1973)

I have to say, Satan’s School for Girls is one of those films where the superb title exceeds the content of the film itself. That, I think, is mostly the fault of being a made-for-TV movie. Can’t get too crazy when it’s on ABC.

Though it’s only expected that you’ll be disappointed when you go into something like this with expectations. I had imagined, in my mind, that this might be Carrie meets Russ Meyer meets, I dunno, Slaughter High. That’s definitely not this movie – though I’ll write it since it sounds badass anyway.

The heroine of the film is Elizabeth: a girl in her early twenties living in one of the most obscenely well-decorated houses for an orphan. Her sister, Martha, had been meaning to visit after leaving her school, Salem Academy.

Though Martha seems to be running away from something a lot more than she’s running to. When Martha arrives at Elizabeth’s house, she’s told that her sister went away. Clearly being followed by someone, she begins to panic, but is let into her sister’s rooms. Despite locking the doors from the inside, who ever was following her has got in.

When Elizabeth returns to her house, she finds the police waiting. They arrived because of a call about a woman screaming. When Elizabeth gets into her rooms (thanks to the police expertly shooting the door chain), they discover Martha has hung herself…


Though Elizabeth is a smart little girl and knows that her sister wouldn’t commit suicide (something about how someone wouldn’t travel to the other side of the country just to die). She decides to investigate and goes to interview her sister’s old roommate, Lucy.

Lucy seems nice, if nervous, but completely derails when Elizabeth says she’s going to the academy. Lucy warns Elizabeth not to mention her name and to act like they’ve never met.

Somehow not disturbed by her meeting with Lucy, Elizabeth goes to the academy anyway under the surname Morgan (no idea how you can get into a college with a false name mid-way through term and with… no transcripts?).

Elizabeth is immediately greeted by a chipper group of girls, who make her welcome. They take her to meet “the Dragon Lady,” who is the school’s headmistress. During her meeting, Mrs Williams gives Elizabeth an old-fashioned kerosene lamp because of all the power outages the school experiences.

Somehow, Elizabeth only seems to attend two classes: an art class and a psychology course. In her art class, she sees an image of her sister painted by a a fellow student named Debbie. Though Debbie is just about as weird as Lucy. When the girls leave their psych class (in which they are studying rats in a maze), Debbie begins to have an outburst, though promptly forgets what happens.

Elizabeth resumes her investigation after the students learn that Lucy has committed suicide as well.


She begins to pester Debbie about the painting she made of Martha. There’s a room in the background of the painting that appears to be in a cellar. Debbie claims not to know where it is, but Elizabeth conveniently finds the door under the school. Though she gets scared off by the psych teacher, Professor Delacroix.

When Elizabeth tells Debbie she found the room in the painting, Debbie is definitely NOT happy. When Elizabeth brings up the room to the other girls in the school, they tell her the story about a group of witches who were killed in a cellar during the Salem Witch Trials – and several people believe it was in the cellar under the school.

After hearing the story, Elizabeth brings Roberta with her back to the door she found. But while the girls explore, they discover Debbie’s corpse, which appears as though she has killed herself…

OR HAS SHE? (Okay. Enough.)

They tell Mrs Williams, but when she “calls the police” her hand is seen resting on the hook. Though Elizabeth and Roberta can’t see this, they begin to get suspicious about the school. They realise that none of the girls who have died have families. Then they discover that the files on the girls are missing.

Roberta and Elizabeth find the files in Professor Delacroix’s room, and he becomes suspect number one. But when Delacroix finds them, he runs away instead of attacking them. The silly man runs off campus and falls into a river, where he is then drown by his students (who just poke him with these long sticks over and over again).

The girls all appear to be working with Mr Clampett, the arts teacher. He’s the real mastermind behind the business going on at the school, but this teacher didn’t have a moustache! Ha ha. Fooled you! 

Clampett sends Roberta and Elizabeth to stay in his classroom while he tries to further manipulate Mrs Williams, and Elizabeth decides to reveal her real identity to Roberta.

The girls are too busy chatting to realise that Clampett has convinced Williams to send the other students away from the school. When Elizabeth finally realises, she only sees the taillights of the last van-full of students fade away.

When Elizabeth tries to get answers from the headmistress, she discovers that Mrs Williams has gone insane with guilt and only rants about “Miss Abigail.” Taking matters into their own hands, Elizabeth and Roberta go into the cellar to grab a revolver for protection.

But just when Elizabeth thinks she’s safe, she discovers Clampett with a group of girls. They are all a part of a cult to worship Clampett, whom they believe is Satan. Calmpett wants to sacrifice eight girls to restore the eight he lost (referencing the witches from the witch trials story). The seven students are obsessed with their professor, completely believing he is Satan.

Shockingly, Elizabeth doesn’t go along with the game. Instead, she decides to set the cellar on fire. She runs to rescue the still-babbling Mrs Williams before setting the rest of the school on fire with the old-fashioned lamps.

The rest of the eight remain as scarifies. And Clampett? Well, he enters the fire himself, but is later seen watching the school burn from the outside. He then fades away – almost certainly confirming that he’s supernatural.

Satan’s School for Girls is a little like a beginner level version of Suspiria. Both are built around a similar sort of “conspiracy in the school” premise, but Suspiria is allowed to get away with a lot more – the perks of not being shown on television.

The mystery is pretty good, but the bait and switch of the villain is easy to call from a mile away. Really, this is all you can want from a made-for-television film: it’s silly, it’s not exactly “air tight” on the plot, but it’s strangely watchable nevertheless.

Wicked Wednesday: Night Slaves (1970)

I miss good anthology series in which the stories last a mere 30 minutes. Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone managed to always give a great story in the limit it was given: whether that be the traditional 25 minute episode or season four’s extended episodes. When I saw that television writer Ted Post had directed Night Slaves, I was really looking forward to watching this.

Post directed four episodes for Twilight Zone between 1960 and ’64, including “A World of Difference.” If there was anything apparent while watching Night Slaves it’s that Post was incredibly influenced by the work he did on the show. The script was based on a novel by Jerry Sohl, an uncredited writer for two of my favourite TZ episodes – “Living Doll” and “Queen of the Nile.”

But boy oh boy was Night Slaves a bit of a bore. In many ways, this made-for-TV movie was stuck between two things at once while not being either. It’s an overly-long episode of the Twilight Zone that forgot it was meant to be a movie.

Clay Howard is in a car crash that takes the lives of two people and ends him up in surgery to get a metal plate in his head. His wife, Marjorie, was meaning to tell her husband that she was leaving him for her man-on-the-side, but the accident made her a weak, which is why the estranged couple decide to take a vacation together.

The little town that the couple stop at is a little like a Western town; it even has it’s own lurking hillbilly about the gas station. When the couple go to find lodging, the woman says she was awoken from a nap, and that she doesn’t typically get tourists at that time of year.

Actually, everyone in the town is rather sleepy. They sleep in the diner. The sleep in the police station until they’re woken up by a man named Fletcher. He says his wife and his daughter Annie had gone missing.

On Clay’s first night in the town, he quickly discovers why everyone is so tired all the time. In the middle of the night, he awakes from a nightmare to find that Marjorie is missing. He looks outside and sees townspeople being loaded into the back of pick-up trucks. When he turns around, he finds a strange girl sitting in the corner of his room (played by Tisha Sterling, Rod’s daughter).

He tries to call to Marjorie, she sees in a trance and doesn’t acknowledge him. He’s then knocked down while she’s driven away. Clay goes to the police station and finds it entirely empty, including the cells.

When he wakes up, he’s back in his room and so is Marjorie (though no strange lady in sight). Despite the fact that he wakes up thinking it’s all been a dream, he quickly swings the other way and begins accusing everyone of being in on the Master Plan. He shouts at the lady who runs the B&B and then runs to the sheriff and recites back all the details about the jail when no one believes him.

While this is all going on, Clay and Marjorie are being watched by the gas station man (it’s only just occurred to me I don’t know what he does, but this job was meant for him). The two are blissfully unaware of this fact, but Marjorie is mostly just concerned watching her husband slowly losing it. She calls her boyfriend and tells him she’s worried – especially when Clay demands they stay in the town another night.

The second night is mostly the same as the first, despite Clay trying to stop it. After watching Marjorie being taken away, he sees the girl again, who says her name is Naillil. She tells Clay that she is a technician and works for an elder named Noel. It’s forbidden that Naillil helps Clay, but she shows him the force field that stops him from leaving with the others. Though she does promise that the people will be okay, and that they will always come back safely.

When Clay tells his wife about the two people in control of the people, Marjorie realises that the names are just the names of the people who were killed in the car accident, spelled backwards. She writes Clay off again as someone who is just suffering from the stress of the accident.

Meanwhile, the body of Mrs Fletcher is discovered in a field, only adding the mystery of where the daughter Annie has gone.

On the third night, Clay finally gets the bright idea to hop into a truck himself and see where they go. He sees that all the hypnotised towns people are helping to build something. When he’s spotted by Naillil, she admits that she’s missed the man, and they kiss (because they’re in love already – duh).

It’s revealed that Noel is in the body of the gas station creep. Naillil is in the body of the missing Annie Fletcher. He explains to Clay that the people are only there to help them repair their space ship so they can leave Earth. Clay wasn’t under their control because of the metal plate in his head.

Clay takes the whole alien thing pretty well, actually, and is invited by Naillil to join them. But Noel refuses to let the human come with.

The next morning, Clay is arrested for being linked to the disappearance of Annie, who he admitted to have seen. He strangely admits to their deaths (though it is later revealed that Mrs Fletcher died from cardiac arrest).

Clay is finally released from prison after retracting his statements, but as soon as he gets the chance, he makes sure he drives like a bat out of hell to the place where the spaceship was being repaired.

The police chase after Clay, but when they arrive at the field, they only find Clay’s motionless body and a confused Annie Fletcher. Then there’s a super-excellent shot of Clay and Naillil running through the field together as spirit-type things. Marjorie only looks briefly remorseful before reading off with her boyfriend.

So at least it’s an ending where everyone gets what they want, right? And they didn’t even have to deal with pesky divorce papers.

In many ways, I think Night Slaves taps into classic sci-fi horror films like Invasion of the Body Snatchers. It just needed to get somewhere a bit faster. Or maybe do something else other than watch people piling into the back of trucks over and over again (literally, it’s the same shots used each time).

Would I ever recommend Night Slaves? Maybe, if you’re really into seeing more work like Twilight Zone and The Outer Limits. But there’s so much lacking here that I usually enjoy in made-for-TV movies. Maybe because it’s a bit classier than the rest. Maybe… but probably I just have bad taste.

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


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.