Looking for something decent to watch while you wait for those ‘I Survived 2016’ t-shirts to arrive? Something suitably entertaining and thrilling to see out a bad year on a high? Then try these….
The much maligned TV Movie turned out a number of classics during its 70s/80s prime. Now Headpress has recently given the phenomena the attention it so richly deserves in a cracking new book Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium 1964-1999 edited by Amanda Reyes.
Here, exclusively for Dangerous Minds, Reyes has selected six standout classic examples of the genre—and has provided a little introductory commentary too. The list include credits from the likes of none other than a young Steven Spielberg, Dennis Weaver, Valerie Harper and Charles Durning. And they’re all classics.
But best of all—you can view most of them right here right now. So without further ado, here’s Amanda to tell you about our first little feature…
1. Duel (1971)
Amanda Reyes: Duel is the ultimate Movie of the Week. It was an early directing job for Steven Spielberg and he shows off some amazing directing skills in this tale about a man being chased by a creepy semi across a desert highway.
Everything is simple, pure and absolutely petrifying. Dennis Weaver plays the man on the run, and turns in an excellent performance. The script was written by the great Richard Matheson, and there’s not much I can say about this one except it’s very near perfect on every level.
2. Night Terror (1977)
Amanda Reyes: In the wake of Duel, many films tried to ape the simplistic but effective structure of Duel, and a really great overlooked small screen gem is 1977’s Night Terror starring Valerie Harper as a housewife who accidentally witnesses a murder along the desert highway and finds herself on the run from a hitman. It’s not quite as confident as Duel but there’s something really, really effective about the film and it would make for a fantastic double feature! Sadly, while Duel has enjoyed a really nice DVD release, Night Terror wasn’t even released on VHS. More’s the pity too, because what a twofer!
3. Bad Ronald (1974)
Amanda Reyes: This oddball thriller, which is about a kid living in a walled up room in the center of a house and spying on the family that is residing there, has really stood the test of time.
Based on the even darker novel of the same name by Jack Vance (known best as John Holbrook Vance), Bad Ronald has some truly terrifying set-pieces and maintains an overall uneasy vibe throughout. It also manages to be grungy and sleazy without restoring to full on exploitation—and gives viewers a pretty good glimpse at how teleflms looked to their B movie counterparts, but produced completely unique content. It was officially released through Warner Archives a few years ago which made a lot of people very happy!
4. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
Amanda Reyes: Dark Night of the Scarecrow is absolutely, without a doubt, one of my all time favorite telefilms. It’s atmospheric, and really, really scary.
Charles Durning is excellent as the evil postman who leads a posse of small-minded men to kill the mentally retarded guy living in their town. This man comes back for vengeance, slowly picking off each of his vigilante killers one by one. It’s hard to talk about this one without gushing. It’s just really good, and it ages like a fine wine. A must for anyone with even a remote interest in horror movies. Dark Night got a gorgeous DVD release a few years ago.
5. Don’t Go to Sleep (1982)
Amanda Reyes: Don’t Go to Sleep was one of the last traditional horror TV films to come out after the heyday of the 1970s. Also starring Valerie Harper, and ironically enough, Dennis Weaver, this is a ghost story about a family ripped apart by the accidental death of one of the daughters. But she returns in a much more sinister form.
There’s a lot of rich layers to this one, including a fairly intense and realistic look at how a family deals with such a tragedy. Yet, at its core it’s an incredibly intense horror film and does not disappoint! Strangely and sadly, Don’t Go to Sleep may have had a VHS release, but I’ve never seen a copy of it out there, and it is still begging for a nice DVD upgrade.
6. The Burning Bed (1984)
Amanda Reyes: I would be remiss if I didn’t mention a non-horror title (although I think many would see The Burning Bed as horrific nonetheless). Based on a true story of an abused woman who has finally had enough of her husband, The Burning Bed is a great example of so many things we’ve been discussing. For one, it stars Farrah Fawcett, who used the movie to help her break away from her image as the giggly private eye in Charlie’s Angels. She’s excellent… haunting even.
The Burning Bed also showcases how the telefilm approached topical issues in ways that the theatrical film did not. It was a female-centric film but it wasn’t a “chick-flick” and it gave viewers a very intimate avenue into the subject of spousal abuse.
TV movies came right into our living rooms, and handled domestic issues with a real sensitivity, often opening up a door for discussions on issues that weren’t being talked about enough. Also, it’s just a damn fine film. The Burning Bed is available on DVD as well.
Thanks Thomas McGrath!