ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE
*** ½ Out of 5
Release Date- September 20th, 1978
Running Time- 96-Minutes
Screenplay- Judith Parker (Novel by Richard Peck)
Director- Walter Grauman
Starring- Blythe Danner, Kathleen Beller, Tony Bill, Robin Mattson, Scott Colomby, Dennis Quaid
Are You in the House Alone is a TV movie that aired on CBS on September 20, 1978 and for the longest time was seldom seen with few if any airings and only a VHS release that was long OOP and the film was semi-forgotten. I came across this film on Netflix and more or less enjoyed it, but I figured once it was no longer on Netflix I’d never see it again, but to my surprise Shout Factory under their Scream Factory label released this on DVD in December of 2013 along with another TV movie the Initiation of Sarah and the double feature is called Scream Factory Presents TV Terrors. I was quite excited about the release (for both films) and couldn’t wait to actually own it. I’m kind of a sucker for TV movies of the 70s and 80s and some into the early 90s. Many of these films are more often than not slightly hindered by TV conventions and can be a little over dramatic even when dealing with serious subject matters. TV movies used to be a regular thing on network TV, but now it’s very rare networks air TV movies with most now airing on Lifetime Movie Network or Hallmark Movie Channel.
If you go into Are You in the House Alone expecting a horror film you might be a little disappointed as the film is a thriller/drama and if anything it’s a bit more of a drama. The first half more or less plays more up to the thriller aspects whereas the 2nd half begins to feel more like a drama and even though I did enjoy the film it can be a little disjointed in spots. Are You in the House Alone for those who see it will no doubt see some similarities with When a Stranger Calls, which came out the following year in 1979 and while the two films go about things differently there are certain aspects of the film, which makes me wonder if Fred Walton who directed When a Stranger Calls got some ideas from this film. About 30-minutes in there is a sequence that when I saw this I right away thought of When a Stranger Calls and again they do have similarities, but they’re also quite different.
The film opens with Gail Osborne (Beller) being taken out of a house on a stretcher and when she arrives at the hospital we find out she’s been attacked and raped and from there we see the story as it unfolded. Gail begins to get phone calls and notes left at her locker. When she goes off to babysit one night her stalker appears and rapes her.
The film was based off a novel by Richard Peck, which I have not read so I have no idea how true the film stays to the original material. The teleplay was adapted by Judith Parker and all of her credits are TV shows and movies and her most notable work would be writing 6 episodes of L.A. Law during its 3rd season. The script by Parker is fairly well written as it balances thriller aspects and drama and while both are well written at times the script can be a little over dramatic and does suffer the pitfalls of many TV films. Despite being fairly well written the script can be a little disjointed and the script is at its strongest when its written as a thriller. The first half is more along the lines of a thriller, but the 2nd half is when it becomes more of a drama where Gail has some problems with her mother and her parents are also going through some marital problems also throughout the script it also focuses on a boy Gail likes. This is where the script can get a little over dramatic and while still decently written it isn’t as strong as the first half however these scenes do help continue to develop the characters, which is fairly well done throughout the script. The biggest problem is again it just feels disjointed as it switches from thriller to drama and the thriller aspects play a much smaller part during the 2nd half. Still with that said the writing is strong enough to carry the film to some degree.
Are You in the House Alone was directed by Walter Grauman who has made some theatrical films, but the bulk of his 79 directing credits are TV episodes or TV movies. Grauman has directed an episode of Columbo and several episodes of Murder, She Wrote and his last directing credit was actually an episode of Murder, She Wrote titled Southern Double-Cross for the 12th and final season in 1996. Walter Grauman for the most part balances the thriller and drama aspects of the film, but the film is slightly hindered by TV conventions. The pacing is at its strongest in the first half with some solid suspense and while nothing spectacular it is effective and as I mentioned there is a scene that is quite a bit like When a Stranger Calls. The 2nd half as the film shifts focus the pace does slow down and while never boring it isn’t as exciting as the first half. Grauman does deliver some decent suspense in the 2nd when the film calls for it, but for the most the film plays out as a drama in the 2nd half and at only 96-minutes the production does feel a little overly long, but again despite the issues I had in the 2nd half it still remains interesting its just that the first half was quite effective and would have been better served playing more up to thriller conventions.
I think the film works well mainly due to Kathleen Beller as Gail; she has this naive innocence to her, which makes her both likable and sympathetic. As I stated there are some strong moments of suspense and while the director plays a part in that obviously I also think it had a lot to do with Kathleen Beller’s performance. Unlike films of today where teens are way too smart for their own good, Beller comes across as a real teen. Blythe Danner is solid if not a little over dramatic in spots and look for Dennis Quaid in one of his early roles. Tony Bill who played Gail’s father also had a role in the Initiation of Sarah also released in 1978.
Overall Are You in the House Alone is a solid TV thriller and sure why the 2nd half isn’t as effective its still an excellent made for TV film. If anything I actually think the film would have been better off starting as a drama than becoming a thriller since the other way around makes it a little disjointed. My review may not be glowing, but I would recommend this to fans of made for TV films. As I stated a couple of times there are moments where it reminded me of When a Stranger Calls so there’s enough here to offer making it a worthy viewing. 1978 was quite the year for made for TV movies. Besides this film there’s the as mentioned Initiation of Sarah, the silly, but fun Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell and perhaps my favorite TV movie John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me.