Monday, September 24, 2012

A Howling in the Woods

Tonight was a good night to revisit one of my favorite Made for TV Thrillers from the 70s, A Howling in the Woods (1971) starring Barbara Eden, Larry Hagman and John Rubinstein. Barbara Eden plays Liza Crocker, a woman who plans on leaving her husband, played by Larry Hagman, and returns to her hometown to get a divorce.

Upon arriving in Stainesville, NV on the shores of Lake Tahoe, she encounters the townspeople who she grew up with are cold and hostile toward her.  She makes it to her family's lodge, Staines Lodge, on the lake.  Her father is unexpectedly out of country but her step mother and step brother are there to greet her.

Liza soon learns that a child was found killed in the lake nearby and there is the eerie sound of a howling dog in the woods that everyone in town can hear.  Liza starts putting together the pieces of the mystery of her father who she can't reach, the murdered girl, the hostile townspeople and who attacked her in the woods on a stormy night while she took the shortcut from town. Liza's husband comes to the lodge to try to make things right and soon finds himself in the middle of the mystery.

I love this thriller from the 70s.  It's got the eerie music and the spectacular scenery of Lake Tahoe which contrasts with the general feeling of unease in the town and at the lodge.  It's full of mystery and atmosphere and some great acting, including a very young Tyne Daly.  I highly recommend this movie if you can find a copy or catch it on TV. 

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Scream, Pretty Peggy

Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973) starring Ted Bessell, Bette Davis and Sian Barbara Allen is a made for TV thriller originally aired as part of ABC's Movie of the Week. A college student, Peggy (Allen), answers an ad for a job at an old mansion for light housekeeping.  A mother (Davis) and son (Bessell) live in the mansion and she is hired to help take care of the place.  She is warned not to go into the room above the garage.

After the mother has a fall and hurts her leg, Peggy convinces the son to let her move in and help take care of the mother.  The mother warns her she must leave now.  The mansion's architecture is heavy with iron gates and grills over the windows and doors which adds to a feeling of confinement in the large house.  There are several scenes on windy nights where someone or other is wandering around the estate investigating noises or spooky figures in the shadows.  All which adds to the creepy atmosphere of this film.

Bette Davis does an understated job acting as the mother - usually seen sipping her "coffee" from an ever present coffee cup in her hands.  Sian Allen plays Peggy as rather needy, looking for the approval of her role model, the son, who is a rather famous artist.

This is one of those made for TV movies that I grew up watching.  I remember watching these types of movies after the original airings usually on Saturday afternoons.  It always made for an enjoyable couple hours and so did this movie. 

Monday, September 10, 2012

Sleepy Hollow

Sleepy Hollow (1999) starring Johnny Depp, Christina Ricci and Miranda Richardson is director Tim Burton's retelling of the old American folk tale of the Legend of Sleepy Hollow.  Constable Ichabod Crane is sent from New York to the tiny country village of Sleepy Hollow in the 1790s to investigate the decapitation of several townspeople.

Crane comes from the city with new investigative techniques and slowly learns that not every crime can be solved with science.  This movie is full of spooky atmosphere:  horse drawn carriage rides through the dark and eerie woods with pumpkin headed scarecrows observing; ever present fog and mist; deep dark woods full of gnarled trees, an almost Gothic looking little village and glowing jack-o-lanterns.  The headless horseman is extremely scary galloping out of the woods on his horse toward the growing list of victims that he decapitates.  This movie does have some blood and shows the decapitations but it's done in a way that is not too gory - it's just an integral part of the story. 

Johnny Depp does an excellent job playing the fussy Ichabod Crane and the movie definitely has an undercurrent of tongue in cheek humor amongst the horror story.   What an excellent movie that I know I will watch over many times.  I don't know what took me so long to find this gem!

The Presence

The Presence (2010) is a new ghost story starring Mira Sorvino, Shane West and Justin Kirk.  It takes place on a secluded island in Oregon.  The woman played by Mira Sorvino, returns to her family's rustic cabin to get away and work on some writing.  Little does she know that she isn't the only one there.  The ghost is always there, observing her.  He doesn't look like the usual transparent ghost, he looks flesh and blood but she can't see him.

This is a really unusual film as for the first third of the movie there is no dialog - just atmosphere, music and silence.  The cabin is so rustic there is no electricity so the lighting is from candle and lantern light.  The setting is spectacular in atmosphere:  dark secluded woods, foggy mountains and lake.  It's not until her boyfriend shows up that there is any dialog.

Well into the film a second ghost suddenly shows itself and this one whispers things into the woman's and man's ears trying to cause deep seated problems to come to the surface and cause their relationship harm.  The intro of the 2nd ghost was a bit strange at first but in the end fit well with the story.

The Presence is a really unique ghost story.  Filled with atmosphere and psychological thrills, it's a quiet ghost story that I haven't seen the likes of before.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012


Darkness (2002) starring Anna Paquin, Lena Olin and Iain Glen is a haunted house movie from Spain.  A teenaged girl, Regina (a young Paquin) moves with her family (mother, father & younger brother) to an old house in Spain after the father had a breakdown in the U.S.

It doesn't take long after moving in that the brother begins encountering an eerie darkness under his bed and we see glimpses on the periphery of children running around the shadows of the house.  Regina also starts to see the father become more on edge and she tries to convince the mother who is in denial that he's headed for another breakdown.

There's a back story of 7 children being kidnapped 40 years before and taken to this house never to be found again.  Since no one will believe Regina, she seeks the help of her friend and they investigate the history of the house and soon find the real reason they are in this home on the eve of the next total eclipse of the sun.

This movie has a very eerie atmosphere throughout.  As its name implies there are a lot of scenes in the darkness and creepy ghosts and other creatures abound in this big old house.  The acting is not the best but that doesn't detract from a pretty good haunted house story with lots of scares and no gore.  Being able to see Anna Paquin (Sookie from True Blood) in one of her early roles is also a treat.

Monday, September 3, 2012

The Illustrated Man

The Illustrated Man (1969) starring Rod Steiger, Claire Bloom and Robert Drivas is based on the Ray Bradbury book.  While not technically a horror movie, it is filled with tension and is about a man (Steiger) who is haunted by the past when he let a former lover (Bloom) tattoo his entire body from his neck to his toes.

Steiger's character runs across a drifter (Drivas) off a back road near a lake where they camp out.  The Illustrated Man warns the drifter not to look too long at his skin illustrations ("don't call them tattoos!") because they come alive and tell you stories and you may see your future - even your death!  He also tells the drifter how he met the woman and how he let her do this to him.  He's now trying to find her so he can kill her but he says she may have gone back to the future.  Of course, in addition to listening to his story, the drifter does look at the illustrations and he & we see different stories all starring the same actors.

We see 3 different stories (all taking place in the future):  "The Veldt" takes place in a futuristic home where the children's nursery is like a Star Trek holodeck and much to the dismay of the parents (and mental health adviser) the children's inner thoughts are causing a menacing atmosphere including hungry lions and buzzards.  "The Long Rains" is about a rocket ship that crashes on a planet where there is constantly a downpour of rain.  The surviving astronauts have to survive long enough so they can make it to one of the "sun domes" scattered across the planet.  The pounding rain drives the astronauts to the edge of insanity and beyond.  "The Last Night of the World" takes place on a future Earth where only a handful of survivors live rather idyllic lives but suddenly all at once all have the same vision that the world will end on a certain day.  The world's male population meets and decides that the vision is true and in order to spare the children having to face the horrible end, they will put them to sleep.  When the man comes home and tells the wife this, she of course refuses to do it.  You'll have to see the movie (or read the book) to see what happens.

Ray Bradbury stories are always thoughtful and often blend creepiness and science fiction into an always interesting story.  This movie based on his work is no exception and Steiger brings an extra level of tension and menace to the story his illustrated body tells.