Archive for TV Movie

Someone’s Watching Me (1978) Review

Posted in Someone's Watching Me with tags , , on September 4, 2014 by Last Road Reviews

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SOMEONE’S WATCHING ME

**** Out of 5

Release Date- November 29th, 1978

Running Time- 97-Minutes

Rating- NR

Writer/Director- John Carpenter

Starring- Lauren Hutton, David Birney, Adrienne Barbeau, Charles Cyphers

Someone’s Watching Me is a TV movie written and directed by John Carpenter, which originally aired in November of 1978, which was about a month after Halloween the film that started his career. However this TV movie was actually filmed prior to Halloween and originally Carpenter wrote it as a theatrical film, but Warner Brothers decided that it would be better served as TV movie and I happen to agree with that. While this is a solid film I don’t think it would work as well as a theatrical film and plays out better a TV movie. I enjoy a lot of TV movies from the 70s and 80s and even some in the early 90s and even when they turn out well they are often bogged down by TV conventions and can sometimes be overly sappy and dramatic even when dealing with serious issues, but Someone’s Watching Me is able to avoid those pitfalls for the most part and this to me is one of the best TV films and the film makes for a nice homage to the films of Alfred Hitchcock in particular Rear Window.

For the longest time this was sort of the lost John Carpenter film as it was never released on VHS and didn’t get a DVD release until 2006 and as far as I know there haven’t been many airings of it either. This was long sought out and when finally released on DVD a good portion of the reviews were positive, but I think some people may have expected a little too much. Again remember despite being Carpenter’s 4th film it was shot prior to Halloween and since it was never released on home video we the fans have seen the films he’s made since and it’s again easy to forget this was just his 3rd film and let’s not forget he’s also working on a TV schedule. Someone’s Watching Me perhaps isn’t top 5 John Carpenter, but for me easily top 10 and a lot of what made John Carpenter such an iconic filmmaker is on display and he showed some great potential, which in my opinion he more than lived up to.

Leigh Michaels (Hutton) moves into a new apartment and not long after moving in she begins to get strange phones calls and gifts. However since the caller isn’t threatening her the cops are unable to do anything about it so Leigh tries to find out who the stalker is and put a stop to him.

The screenplay John Carpenter is excellent as its well plotted and filled with solid characters. John Carpenter has stated many times his love of Alfred Hitchcock and he pays homage to the master of suspense as the the script is clearly inspired by Rear Window however its not in anyway a rehash as Carpenter’s script has a style and plot all of its own. John Carpenter is a terrific writer and sometimes I feel he doesn’t get enough credit and with Someone’s Watching Me, he writes an excellent screenplay and while it isn’t perfect its still very good.

Due to the fact Someone’s Watching Me was OOP for so long it was almost a lost and forgotten film. Even though as I stated this came out after Halloween it was shot first so this would be Carpenter’s 3rd and he shows flashes of the brilliance he would later live up to. Carpenter delivers some great tense and suspenseful moments that rise above the good portion of TV films and even many theatrical films. The pacing is quite strong and Carpenter does an excellent job in creating an eerie feel. One of my favorite things about the movie is the phone calls. While they can be a bit creepy at times they start off as more annoying than anything. The caller isn’t really saying anything that could get him in much trouble and he’s actually sending gifts, which prompts Lauren Hutton’s character to say something along the lines of what do I tell the police he’s sending me gifts? What makes the film so creepy is the total lack of privacy as the stalker knows Leigh’s every move. The 1st half of the film is strong, but its the 2nd half when Carpenter raises the stakes and while this may not be his best picture it does feature some of his very best scenes of suspense with the highlight being when Lauren Hutton’s character is in the callers’ house and Adrienne Barbeau is in Hutton’s house. I don’t wanna spoil the scene, but it was a classic John Carpenter moment and was a great homage to Rear Window.

Like I said even the best of TV movies are often bogged down by TV conventions, but Someone’s Watching Me for the most part is able to avoid these pitfalls. Again I’m not sure if the film would have turned out as well if it were a theatrical film, but regardless Someone’s Watching Me is an excellent film in John Carpenter’s career. Even though it finally got a DVD release, but the fact it was never released on home video before that and with TV airings quite seldom Someone’s Watching Me is still sort of forgotten, which is quite a shame since a its a great film. This may not be top 5 Carpenter, but again its easily top 10 and fans while the film isn’t perfect as again its a very early film in John Carpenter’s career, but when all is said and done with strong writing, a great cast and some truly suspenseful moments Someone’s Watching Me turns out to be an excellent film.

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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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Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell (1978) Review

Posted in Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell with tags , , , on June 7, 2013 by Last Road Reviews

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DEVIL DOG: HOUND OF HELL

*** Out of 5

Release Date- October 31st, 1978

Running Time- 95-Minutes

Rating- NR

Screenplay- Stephen Karpf & Elinor Karpf

Director- Curtis Harrington

Starring- Richard Crenna, Yvette Mimieux, Ike Eisenman, Kim Richards, Victor Jory and R.G. Armstrong

Devil Dog is a really fun and silly made for TV movie that originally aired on Halloween night in 1978. I’ll admit to being a big fan of TV movies of the 70s and 80s and to a lesser degree the early to mid 90s. That goes for all genres and not just horror and while Devil Dog wouldn’t rate as one of the best the film does have this campy tone throughout despite being played straight. Surprisingly enough Devil Dog has a solid cast led by Richard Crenna and a bit part from Ken Kercheval best known as Cliff Barnes on Dallas (both original and continuation). If anything the only problem I have with TV films are they are often bogged down by TV conventions and production values and even some of the better ones can often have these very problems. Devil Dog again while not one of the best TV movies does have more of a theatrical look than TV and some of the flaws of the film have nothing to do with being a TV movie.

The whole concept to Devil Dog is quite absurd and the plot of the film is beyond silly; Satanists posses the body of a dog with satan and then breed the dog, which has satanic off springs. After the death of their dog, the Barry family adapts one of the puppies and soon the satanic dog begins to gain control over the family.

The screenplay by Stephen Karpf & Elinor Karpf is fairly entertaining as they take a silly concept, but yet never really play up to camp value. Characters are fairly decent actually and while the plot absurd it oddly enough works. I however learned a few things from this film; a devil dog will turn the children into sociopaths and the mother into the town slut. As entertaining as the script is the story wasn’t strong enough to fully carry the film and by the final act things get really sloppy and messy.

Director Curtis Harrington opts to play the film straight rather than go for camp value and with the absurd plot it does make for a really fun film. Pacing as fairly strong through most of the film and while Harrington attempts suspense and tension the devil dog is just too cute to ever take as a serious threat. German Shepard are big dogs and can do damage if they attack, but the dog was calm and non-aggressive and seeing how beautiful the dog is, Harrington really can’t entice much suspense. The highlight is when the dog is chasing after Betty (Mimieux) when she realizes something isn’t quite right with the dog, but the dog casually follows her non-aggressively and while this isn’t the fault of the director, but it does make for an unintentional funny scene, which this film is filled with. Also while the dog is following her it looks up and off screen probably to the trainer (what a bad actor that dog is lol). However as I mentioned about the script getting a but sloppy in the final act, the direction does as well. The final 30-minutes just seem to drag on and on; the fun factor found in the first half is gone and the film is very sluggish with some long scenes that bring about boredom. While tolerable it does hinder the film, but the first half Harrington delivers a fun paced and silly film and while some of the comedy may be unintentional I found the first half a total blast.

Overall The Devil Dog: Hound of Hell is a really fun film that’s highly entertaining, but does unravel in the final act. Despite that it can’t fully bring the film down and this again was just a lot of fun with an excellent cast. While not the best TV horror movie it is however one of my favorites.

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