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Sweet, Sweet Rachel (1971)
Another Key ABC 'Movie of the Week' Pilot!
This was the pilot for the short-lived ABC series called 'The Sixth Sense'. By the time the series got under way, actor Gary Collins took over the part of Dr. Darrow. This character was primetime's first paranormal psychic investigator - way before another ABC favorite, 'The Night Stalker'. At any rate, the history of 'The Sixth Sense' is a very unhappy one. It's hard to get the original episodes of the series, if not impossible. It was chopped up and reedited into Rod Serling's 'Night Gallery', according to the accounts of many fans and people who know much more about the show's history.
The series was basically about Dr. Darrow getting to the origins of certain paranormal disturbances and hauntings in various places. It was a great show, from what I remember of it. Too bad the original episodes can't ever be seen again. All we are left with are the re-edited versions that were incorporated into 'The Night Gallery' series. Sometimes you have to wonder where Hollywood's mind is. They deliberately ruin good shows for reasons beyond our comprehension!
Satan's School for Girls (1973)
A Little Disappointed With Ending
Another of those flicks inspired by the success of 'Rosemary's Baby'. When that movie came out, the nation developed an obsession or preoccupation with the devil or the whole concept of evil in general. I even remember seeing a '60 Minutes' segment at that tender age which reported that while many people were less religious or didn't believe in God, many others believed in the Devil. At least, that was the synopsis given by Mike Wallace's opening segment voice-over.
'Satan's School For Girls' is one of those ABC titles that can be easily found today compared to, say, 'The Screaming Woman'. Sometimes you pick up a bit of trivia by watching these old television movies. When I watched it a few years ago, I didn't realize that Kate Jackson and Cheryl Ladd, who was using her old surname of Stoppelmoor, had acted together before 'Charlie's Angels'.
Kate Jackson is superb in her role as the level-headed, innocent Roberta, who appears to be the only person Elizabeth can trust. I have a problem with the ending, though, which gives the viewer the impression that Roy Thinnes, as the cult leader, not only has special powers but isn't of this world at all. But hey, it's a movie about the devil, black magic, satanism and the disturbing reality that good doesn't always win - at least, not totally. That was another thing which became common in entertainment: allowing evil to win. I guess this was a product of the nation's loss of innocence and disillusionment with events like the Kennedy and King assassinations, Vietnam, and the Watergate scandal. We all sort of 'grew up fast' after those events.
The Screaming Woman (1972)
A Shocker At The Time!
Yes, this was one of ABC's more graphic 'Movie of the Week' thrillers. What shocked me was seeing a woman buried alive still being able to communicate as dirt is falling down on her face. A few years ago, I had acquired this longing for finding most, if not all, of the ABC movie titles I had grown up watching, and this movie was hard to find! I managed to get a grainy but still watchable copy through Ebay after bidding and losing on it a few times.
This is another one of those flicks which hasn't been rebroadcast in over thirty years. The great thing about this movie was that the son seemed more sympathetic to his mother's story. It's almost as if he never wanted to believe that she was crazy to begin with. The daughter-in-law, on the other hand, comes across as a greedy you-know-what who is anxious to have Laura committed for the sole purpose of getting control of the estate through her more reluctant husband. One gets the feeling that she hates her mother-in-law and only married the son because he comes from money.
The scene where Laura bribes a kid to dig up the area where the voices are coming from is unforgettable. She gives the kid two dollars, I think, to do it, but he is scared off by the shock of such a gruesome discovery. Great movie!
It is too bad that the Hollywood industry doesn't see fit to preserve television movies or give them the same consideration. Back in the 70's, the television movie was still a relatively new art form that left a great deal of room for experimentation. Perhaps that's why many of these features still strike a chord with many folks today.
The Green Man (1990)
*A Great From the 90's!
I've never read the novel this movie is based on either, but the movie made its impression on me from its debut. A BBC production that was released on the A&E channel, 'The Green Man' takes the old haunted house story and throws in a main character fighting his own personal demons, a little pseudo-lesbianism, plus an interesting mix of minor characters. Great scene where the other-wordly being pays a visit to Maurice to give him advice on dealing with Dr. Thomas Underhill! I can't decide whether the being was an angel, fallen or otherwise, or simply a messenger. We're all kept guessing as to that one! If anybody knows ghosts, it's the British. Not that we don't have our share, but there is something special about the United Kingdom. It remains a place of enchantment: the history of the Celts, Druids, and the Arthurian legends.
Incidentally, even though I wasn't the one to donate it, Riverhead Free Library has this excellent video in its catalog!
Ghost Story (1981)
* Despite Incosistencies.....
* (Riverhead Free Library) ...'Ghost Story' is still a good flick if you're in the proper mood. The only thing that ruins the potential is seeing the rotted corpse of Alma Mobley too often. That device should have been used sparingly just to build suspense - allowing the viewer's imagination to do more of the work. Seeing her corpse frequently lessens the impact throughout the movie. I've never read the novel to this day, but the movie does win points on creepiness, foreboding, and semi-Gothic overtones. The vagrants living in her old house are a nice touch in the film. It's the old theory that the mentally ill are sometimes blessed (or cursed?) with being in tune with the other realm - something that goes with the territory of their mental defficiencies. Something they really have no control over, I suppose. Conversations between the local cop and another character about the vagrant reveals that the guy had gotten mixed up in some occult group - which was probably why he went mad. In any case, it is creepy when he says that he and the boy are on good terms with the owner! For a dead woman, Alma Mobley sure gets around, even doing mortal things like taking a job! A great contradiction there when you think of ghostly presences, but somehow it still works. If one believes that Alma Mobley is capable of pulling others into her own reality, not just making her presence known and felt. John Houseman is great as the Chowder Society member who, in adulthood, is still calling the shots and pushing others around just as he did in his early youth when the tragic crime happened. Somehow, one is not sorry to see him become a victim.
Night Gallery (1969)
* Another Great Movie & Series
*(Riverhead Free Library) This is another series that didn't lose the spirit of Rod Serling, although Rod was eventually separated from any creative control, sad to say. However, this is another donation I made to the library, but I had to go through different channels, so to speak, to get the pilot movie with the three stories. When I ordered the series from Columbia House, they didn't have the pilot where a very young Spielberg directed Joan Crawford in the story of a rich, cruel woman who wanted to see again at any cost. Great stuff! This is where a lot of you can be instrumental in supporting your library. Track down those hard-to-find classic TV gems and donate them so future generations can see what good television was all about! Incidentally, the library also has 'Twilight Zone' episodes on hand.
The Night Strangler (1973)
*For a Sequel, This Kicks Butt.....!!!
*(Riverhead Free Library)
Kolchak is back and better than ever! After being forced to leave Las Vegas under the threat of a murder charge for killing the vampire, Carl finds himself in Seattle, Washington. And wouldn't you know it, he runs into Vinchenzo, who, for some unknown reason, gives Carl a second chance by helping him land a job at his paper.(For more details on this second pilot, see my comments for 'The Night Stalker'.)
One of the great things about the series is the enduring, albeit, troubled relationship between Carl and Vinchenzo. The two are friends - perhaps not in that smarmy, fuzzy way, but the two men seem to be kindred spirits of a sort. Usually, sequels are a major disappointment, but this second pilot for the series breaks that stereotype. I'm sure the ABC network realized that it had a hit and a potential gold mine on its hands back then.
****************************************************************** However, I'd like to digress to say a few words about another matter. I just received the video for the second pilot in the mail today from one of the Ebay stores. Those of you who read my commentary know that I'm a big supporter of Riverhead Free Library. I'm happy to say that the 'Night Stalker' series, pilot movies and episodes are complete once again. The two pilots had been missing for a considerably long time. I had originally donated the entire series to the library about two or three years ago. Somebody took them out and never returned them.
Please support your library by not only returning materials on time, but making donations of videos, books or money. Remember, it's your tax dollars. When somebody steals from the library, they steal from all of us.
In this day of disappearing job security, and people who can't even afford cable, more reliance is falling upon libraries for everything from special classes to entertainment. I'm a classic television and film nut, and donating movies and series to my library is my way of sharing that joy. In fact, quite a few of the supernatural flicks I comment on can be found at Riverhead Free Library. I'll begin to leave a symbol marking the films that can be found at Riverhead if you're ever in the neighborhood and want to see them.
The Changeling (1980)
*Okay, How Do I Write This Review....?
*(Riverhead Free Library)
And the reason I titled my comments this way is because I strongly feel that describing a movie this great - even a little - might ruin the fun for everyone. This movie blends the traditional ghost story with some detective/mystery techniques. George C. Scott is great as the most unlikely recipient of supernatural happenings - due to his past portrayal of figures such as 'Patton'. A Christopher Walken could have possibly played this role, but Chris would have looked 'too much at home' in the setting. Scott is a very practical-minded character who is unwillingly drawn into finding the truth behind the disturbances. His character has a noticeably gruff exterior which would mislead the viewer if not for the opening of the movie. It's clear that John Russell, played by Scott, is ripe for such an experience perhaps because of the recent tragedy in his life. The pain of losing not just a wife but a child makes him the prime candidate that the restless spirit of Joseph will reach out to. And that's all I'm going to say. It's a very stylized, well-done movie, and wouldn't you know it, just the sort of class act that isn't run too often on television stations around the country!
The Christmas List (1997)
This One Quickly Became A Favorite With Me from Day One!
...as well as a holiday tradition! Kudos to Merv Griffin Enterprises...
Who can not love Melody Parris, the main character? Yet, the main point of the story is how everything came together for her when she decided not to 'wait' for anything anymore. It was only when Melody stopped wishing and actually did something that all the pieces fell into place: like going to that swanky restaurant even though she had no escort, and joining in the fun with the other diners.
Favorite moment: Melody's honest, heartfelt plea to the cops who were about to tow her car away - 'if you take away that car, you will ruin whatever luck I have', or words to that effect. And you know...it worked! Second most favorite moment: Melody dumping dinner in George's lap.
I'll never get tired of watching this one. And, for the record, I still watch 'It's A Wonderful Life', though many have gotten sick of it, sad to say.
Don't Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Second Most Memorable ABC Flick
One reason ABC plays such a key part in my childhood memories is because we were a captive audience, in a sense. My family and I moved to Sag Harbor in 1971 - a then unknown town on eastern Long Island. Cable was in its infancy back then, and if you didn't have it, well there was ABC, the only network that came in clear as a bell. CBS and NBC were always snowy or fuzzy. So, I remember a lot of ABC programming, whether it was 'Movie of the Week', 'The After School Special', and the many prime time dramas and sitcoms that aired on the network - even those which were short-lived. And even before we moved from the city, I had memories of racing home from parochial school to catch 'Dark Shadows'.
The house in Sag Harbor had a real fireplace, not one of those gas jobs like the house we had in our old neighborhood of Springfield Gardens. Well, the allure of a real log fire wore off quickly when I saw 'Don't Be Afraid of the Dark' at the age of 12. I didn't go near our fireplace for about a week afterwards! It creeped me out that much. In spite of the movies disappointing ending, it's still good for what it is: one of ABC's best forays into the supernatural.