Archive for Movie of the Week

Initiation of Sarah (1978) Review

Posted in Initiation of Sarah with tags , , , , on September 3, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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INITIATION OF SARAH

*** ½ Out of 5

Release Date- February 6th, 1978

Running Time- 96-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Don Ingalls, Carol Saraceno & Kenette Gfeller

Director- Robert Day

Starring- Kay Lenz, Morgan Brittany, Tisa Farrow, Morgan Fairchild, Tony Bill and Shelley Winters as Erica Hunter

1978 sure was a great year for the horror genre theatrically and TV movies with such TV movies as John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me, Are You in the House Alone and Devil Dog: Hound of Hell. TV films of the 70s and 80s (even the early 90s) are sort of a guilty pleasure of mine and while there are some classics such as Someone’s Watching Me and Dark Night of the Scarecrow, the good portion of TV films are fun, perhaps more than they should be and the Initiation of Sarah may not reach the height of the two films I mentioned, but its still a solid TV film that like many others is sort of bogged down to a certain degree by TV restrictions.

Sarah (Lenz) & Patty (Brittany) are sisters (Sarah is adopted) heading off to college. Patty is outgoing, while Sarah shy and more reserved. When they apply for a sorority, Patty gets into the popular one while Sarah gets into the least popular one that’s been dubbed PED (pigs, elephants and dogs). Sarah than becomes a target of Jennifer (Fairchild) who leads the popular sorority, but after a prank on Sarah she unleashes her vengeance through her telekinetic powers.

The screenplay by Don Ingalls, Carol Saraceno & Kenette Gfeller is fairy well written, but basically its a TV version of Carrie set at a college rather than high school and deals with sororities. Sarah while shy can be a little more outspoken when the time comes, but that hardly differs her from Carrie and Jennifer is nearly identical to Nancy Allen in Carrie on with TV limitations.

There really is some decent character development and even if the characters are copies from Carrie they are however strong enough to carry the film to some degree. The writers never really stray from knocking off Carrie and when they do make the changes they make fit well even if some of the differences are quite minor such as Patty being sort of the Sue Snell character and the only difference being she’s Sarah’s sister and never takes part in the bullying at all. Still with that said the script works well despite it nothing more than a TV rewrite of Carrie, but it also has enough to offer than simply being a rewrite.

Director Robert Day delivers a well-made film that gets off to an excellent start, but does get sluggishly paced in the middle sections as the characters while interesting can’t fully carry the picture. Initiation of Sarah, while not very scary does have some decent suspense and Day handles the film well even though he channels his inner Brian De Palma throughout the production. One scene in particular owes a great deal to Carrie, rather pigs blood, Sarah has mud and tomatoes and other things thrown on her and there is a shot of Sarah clearly taken from Carrie. This film was made at a time when TV films were competent and while this isn’t a great film its enjoyable enough and deserving of its cult status. The only real problem is the middle can get a bit sluggish, however Robert Day still manages to keep the film fairly interesting.

The performances were strong for the most part with Kay Lenz solid in the lead and she does just enough to separate herself from Sissy Spacek. Morgan Brittany gives a fun and energetic performance as Sarah’s sister who’s torn between her sister and sorority. Morgan Fairchild is a lot of fun as Jennifer and only hindered by being an exact replica of Nancy Allen in Carrie (again only with TV limitations of course). Tisa Farrow is a bit of the standout as Mouse and while she never reached the heights of her more famous sister, Tisa has proven to be a solid actress in her own right.

Overall Initiation of Sarah is a TV version of Carrie and nowhere near the brilliance and while my review may not sound overly glowing I enjoyed the film quite a bit and for fans of this kind of movie its worth seeking out and is probably the best of the Carrie knockoffs. The middle sections can be a little slow and the final act can only go so far since its made for TV, but with all that said I quite enjoyed this film. Its well made with solid performances and while it might borrow a little too much from Carrie at times its worth a viewing.

Tom Holland has a story credit and he would go onto write Psycho II as well as direct Fright Night and Child’s Play.

Long OOP with only a VHS release and rarely being aired anymore I saw this on Netflix and figured I wouldn’t see it again, but thankfully Shout Factory under their Scream Factory label released this in a double feature with Are You in the House Alone on a double feature titled Scream Factory Presents TV Terrors.

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Are You in the House Alone (1978) Review

Posted in Are You in the House Alone with tags , , , , on September 2, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE

*** ½ Out of 5

Release Date- September 20th, 1978

Running Time- 96-Minutes

Rating- NR

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.

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