Friday, December 18, 2009

Remembering Made For TV Terror

Maybe it's just because I have a cold and couldn't sleep, but my headcold addled brain kicked in making me think of, dare I say it, the Golden Age of TV movies.

What's that I'm talking about? Way back when, I was a kid trying to watch anything that was remotely horror or terror, at times these TV network produced Movie of the Week flicks filled in the need for scares until the usual weekend monster flicks... in my case, in Chicago, that was Creature Features and Screaming Yellow Theatre (as well as the Saturday-Sunday channel 32 afternoon Sci-Fi slots, usually home to AIP flicks and their kin). This was in the days when everybody had less than 10 TV channels and the video tape recorder was something we couldn't even imagine.

It was, at least in the 70s, when network television realized they could churn out their own movies... which were definitely low budget and reminiscent of B movies in the 40s. The makers of these films seemed to do wonders with their meagre budgets, creating inventine and, at times, compelling and damned scary fare. The big thing, though, was due to the limited channels we had, just about everyone caught The Night Stalker, for example.

Now, I know I'm gonna miss some, probably some of your favorites, only because I'm talking about what I actually saw then, not later. Here are some of my faves in no particular order:

The Night Stalker (1972)
I was 11 or 12 when this hit our TV screens. You've all seen it , but maybe aren't aware what a groundbreaker this film was. I had seen vampire movies before, particularly the Universal stuff and some Hammer films, but this gritty vampire movie set in the underbelly of Las Vegas struck a cord. For years it was one of the highest rated TV movies ever... and it scared the heck out of me. In particular the ending wherein Kolchak (Darren McGavin, perfectly cast) goes into the vampire's house (alone! WTF!!!), bumping around, making noise... and then the blood sucker gets home. Is there anything more creepy than Barry Atwater's growling, inhuman vampire? Not on that night there wasn't.

Duel (1971)
Scary and still exciting after all these years. Back then, my youthful brain was trying to understand what bug was up the truck driver's ass. Dennis Weaver was great as a guy caught up in a deadly cat and mouse game with a monster truck (it was a monster, after all) and he was the mouse. Is it a happy ending when the film's lead goes coocoo, laughing in the desert dust?

Trilogy of Terror (1975)
I have very little memory at all of the first two stories in this film... but we all remember that crazy ass wooden doll (the Zuni Fetish) running around screaming his gobbledygook, chasing Karen Black with a steak knife. I had a hard time going to sleep after this one, my friends.

Moon of the Wolf (1972)
After a few of those TV movies that had a twist ending wherein the supernatural death dealer was actually just some crazy human killer, this flick had my young brain on edge. Squinty-eyed, seemingly digestive plagued, David Janssen, ends up being on the track of a real Lawrence Talbot-like werewolf. This film also deals out some anti-readneck angst, so popular in its era.

Gargoyles (1972)
Okay, maybe they spent some money on this one, with the budget going to make all those nifty gargoyle costumes. Cornel Wilde and his daughter are writing a book on the paranormal when he is drawn to a desert town (the desert is a strong factor in a lot of these movies) with some ding dang gargoyles hiding in the caves outside of town. Bernie Casey played the gargoyle leader, but Vic Perrin provided the dubbed in voice. Still a great, fun monster movie... though not as scary as it was when I was a kid. I dug this movie so much when I first saw it that I ripped off the gargoyle leader design and drew comics about him.

A Cold Night's Death (1972)
Nevermind the Beatles-inspired title... This flick is an almost forgotten gem that scared the shit out of me. Scientists Robert Culp and Eli Wallach are working on a project that involves using monkeys in a distant snow bound arctic base (and I lived in the midst of snow bound countryside outside of Chicago). Strange stuff starts happening and you begin to wonder if one of them has gone crazy killer nuts. The answer is provided in a single scary as shit final shot of a window on a door. Lemme tell you, kiddies, I had a very tough time going to sleep after this one. Damn, it still creeps me out!!! I only saw it one time, though. Anyone got this on video? [SPOILER ALERT: The video clip below does show the end of the film]

That's my off the top of my head, awake in the middle of the night list. Let me see yours.


  1. Gargoyles will always be my favorite of all made for TV movies. I remember seeing it on the Channel 7 3:30 movie. Trilogy of Terror on the other hand still creeps me out. I think I was in 2nd grade when I saw it. Why my parents thought this was good viewing, I'm not sure, but it's a good Monster Kid memory.

  2. I LOVED Nightstalker when I first saw it. That movie put Darren McGavin on my favorite actors list and he's stayed there ever since.

    And the doll in Trilogy of Terror scared the CRAP out of me. For years when I thought "scary movie" that was what popped into my head.

  3. I love this post--thanks for sharing your thoughts and video clips on these films, all of which scared me as a kid!

    All, that is, except "A Cold Night's Death." I never heard of that one, and now I MUST find a copy!

  4. Glad you all enjoyed this look back at TV movies. I have an idea for a follow-up (featuring more TV movies that scared me when I was a kid)... but should I wait until I get another bad cold to write it up?