Saturday, October 24, 2009

ABC Horror Movie of the Week

From the late 60's through most of the 70's, the ABC Network's Movie of the Week dominated Monday nights. These usually inexpensive made-for-TV movies were sometimes quite good, though more often really dreadful. And let's not forget that they provided the jumping ground for the most successful film director of all time.

The first ABC Movie of the Week aired in September of 1969 and was called Seven in Darkness. It involved a group of blind passengers on a plane that crash lands in a remote wilderness. I really don't know if I saw this movie or not. The first Movie of the Week I can remember seeing was Dr. Cook's Garden, starring that lovable child-abuser Bing Crosby as a kindly small-town doctor who kills people he thinks are immoral., though I don't remember much about it. The one's I really remember are the Horror Movies of the Week. The first that really grabbed my attention was Steven Speilberg's directorial debut, Duel; starring Dennis Weaver as man caught in a deadly game of Cat-and-Mouse with a never-seen trucker. Written by Richard Matheson (Psycho), it was a huge hit for ABC:

The following year, ABC gave us The Night Stalker, about a schleppy reporter working for a Los Vegas tabloid who stumbles across a series of murders which appear to be the work of a real vampire. Starring Darren McGavin (A Christmas Story) as the reporter, Karl Kolchak (a role he'd repeat in both a sequel and a short-lived series); Carol Lynley (The Poseidon Adventure) and Simon Oakland as the crotchety editor, The Night Stalker garnered the highest ratings ever for a made-for-TV movie:

January of 1973 saw two Horror movies, two nights in a row. First, a ridiculous thriller starring Shelley Winters; Belinda J. Montgomery, Robert Foxworth and Barnabas Collins himself, Jonathan Frid. The Devil's Daughter was lurid and weird and actually not very good.

The very next night, we were treated to The Night Strangler, the lesser sequel to The Night Stalker. Kolchak and company have now moved to Seattle where Kolchak finds another apparently immortal killer, this time an endocrinologist who lives in the old, underground Seattle and uses human glands to prolong his life. Match-Game regular JoAnn Pflug starred as 'belly-dancer.' It also featured a cameo by Horror's B-List Top-Dog, John Carradine:

In October of 1973, two days after my sister's birthday, ABC aired one of their most infamously disturbing Movies of the Week, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark. Kim Darby (Better Off Dead) and the late Jim Hutton ("Ellery Queen") starred as a young couple who move into the house Darby has inherited. The only problem -- tiny demons who live in the bricked-up fireplace in the basement:

Don't Be Afraid of the Dark is scheduled for a theatrical remake in 2011, according to IMDb.

And now is as a good a time as ever for this story... Don't Be Afraid of the Dark really freaked out my sister. As with any good older brother with a mind toward torturing his younger sister (whom he adored and would have killed anyone else for doing the same things to her), I locked the information away for later use. A long time later (perhaps as much as two years), I took advantage of said info. She was in the bathroom and I took my trusty cassette recorder, pre-wound a tape by a good ten minutes, and then recorded myself whispering "Barbara... we want you... we want you, Barbara... We want you! We want you! We want you!" about a dozen times. I rewound the tape, hid the player under her bed and pressed 'Play.' She came out of the bathroom and went into her bedroom, closing the door. Ten minutes later, I was rewarded with her bursting from her room screaming in terror as I laughed my ass off. And I must take this opportunity to officially apologize to her. I know she forgave me a long time ago, but still...

Anyway, there were two other great Horror Movies of the Week.

1974's Bad Ronald starring Scott Jacoby as a delusional boy living the walls of a house:

And perhaps most infamous of all, 1975's Trilogy of Terror, starring Karen Black as three different characters in three short horror stories from Matheson. And the one everyone remembers (another MOTW that scared the hell out of my sister) concerns a certain 'Zuni Fetish Warrior Doll' that comes to life and terrorizes Black in her apartment. Oh, so creepy:

I never understood why she just didn't get out of that apartment, instead of opening the stupid oven door.

I have vague memories about a few others that were at least a little scary. How about you? Do you have a favorite ABC Movie of the Week Horror movie?

Samhaim draws nigh... More terrors, anon.


Anonymous said...

I loved Night Stalker and never missed a show.

My mom was also freaked by "Don't be afraid of the dark" we loved the movie. To this day she still doesn't like the fact that in our house (bought after the movie) there are mysterious initials carved into our basement wall, ET and KT and even 35 years later will sometimes not do laundry for a few days because of the movie.

I wish I had been cleaver enough to do to my sister what you did...I'm still laughing.

Prospero said...

I terrorized my sister for the better part of our youth, though she got me back.

It's too bad that the Made-for-TV Horror movies are SyFy Originals, which uniformly suck wet donkey dong.