When Jeremy Richey, the man behind the beyond awesome blog Moon in the Gutter asked me to participate in his special MIA on Region One DVD Tribute Month, well you can imagine my response! In case you couldn’t – it was a resounding yes! Jeremy has been hard at work compiling a list of movies that should be available but for whatever reason, the Gods just aren’t listening! On my end, the biggest problem was narrowing down a title. So many great television movies are still unavailable on DVD and even worse, most of them were never even available on vhs. How sad that makes me. But recently, I’ve seen movies such as Dead of Night,The Girl Most Likely to... and The Norliss Tapes find a home in the new-ish DVD medium. And even more spectacular, Dark Night of the Scarecrow is coming out later this year! So, I will keep the dream alive while I continue to search out my little made for TV movies in any form I can get my grimy little paws on!
I spent a lot of time thinking about what film or films I thought topped my ‘essentials’ list, I nixed movies like Bad Ronald and Home for the Holidays, although I find them to be spectacular examples of this sub-genre much needing of a DVD release of their own, because I thought a really cool, lesser-known gem might be more interesting and a bit unexpected, and I’m all about being unexpected! You could say I’m a rebel…
When I went through my list, I had eleven titles I felt were not only deserving a Region One DVD release, but were also movies that needed to be mentioned if only because so often many of these amazing made for television movies tend to fall by the wayside, which only goes to prove the importance of what Jeremy is doing: Bringing a spotlight to the little folks. And I’m so honored he approached me to give my two cents. Hell, I’ll give you three cents!
The movie I decided to feature is one that I keep meaning to review anyway. It’s one of those films that should be in the vocabulary of all genre lovers. It’s a small screen thriller that kicks the ass of its big screen equivalents and it’s got Alan Alda, who is just one smoking hot dude. So, let’s get to it, shall we?
Isn’t it Shocking (1973)
Original Air Date: October 2nd, 1973
Directed by John Badham, Isn’t it Shocking? revolves around beleaguered small town Sheriff Dan Barnes (the amazing Alan Alda) who separates time between his girlfriend and her obnoxious kids and his job in a town that is essentially a retirement community. He’s struggling with the idea of leaving this peaceful settlement for something just a touch bigger – you know, where some action might actually take place, but then a murderous stranger begins picking off the old folks. His method of murder –a machine which effectively gives the victim a heart attack! Also, this guy loves to eat chocolate when he kills. He’s creepy, he’s dangerous and he seems almost unstoppable, but Dan, along with his kooky secretary Blanche (Louise Lasser) and the world’s oldest final girl Marge (Ruth Gordon) - who holds the key to the mystery but is so dang senile that no one can quite figure out what she knows – put the pieces together to solve the crime.
Black comedy at its best, Isn’t it Shocking? takes a topic seldom looked at in any genre – senicide. What could be creepier than killing an elderly person? It’s a subject that has been rarely explored, I assume because it’s just too disturbing and doesn’t leave a lot of room for entertainment. Somehow, this film walks that line and never crosses it. It’s quite upsetting - the opening death is a doozy - but Badham manages to expose the raw terror and sadness of taking a vulnerable life while crafting a dark comedy about the trials of small town life.
Largely unavailable to the public, Isn’t It Shocking? managed to air on television from time to time, but has now slipped into near obscurity, minus the memories of a few of us latch key kids! I tend to go on about how made for television movies sometimes eclipse their theatrical counterparts, and this film is a fine example of big screen entertainment made for our living rooms.
Ten More Notable Movies that Deserve a Region One DVD Release:
The House on Greenapple Road (January 11th, 1970 on ABC): Christopher George is great at Lt. Dan August whose most difficult task to solving the crime is proving there was any crime at all. An all star cast supports George (including his wife Linda Day) in an amazing police procedural. Click on title for full review.
Dr. Cook’s Garden (January 19th, 1971 on ABC): In Bing Crosby’s last acting role, he plays a doctor who euthanizes anyone who he feels isn’t living up to his moral standards. Chilling and odd (mostly due to the casting of Crosby), this is a superb little thriller with a thought provoking storyline and a neat twist ending.
Do Not Fold, Spindle or Mutilate (November 9th, 1971 on ABC): Like Isn’t it Shocking? this film is a dark comedy about the elderly. In this case though, these ladies kick some boo-tae! Mildred Natwick, Sylvia Sidney, Helen Hayes and Myrna Loy create a fictional woman for a computer dating service. A vicious stalker (Vince Edwards) appears, desperate to meet this made up woman and you know trouble will be brewing. Fun thriller with great pacing, acting and dialog, it’s like The Golden Girls meets The Fan. Seriously. Read my review at Camp Blood.
The Stranger Within (October 1st, 1974 on ABC): Barbara Eden gives one of her strongest performances as the beautiful housewife who is pregnant with something not quite human. Richard Matheson wrote the excellent, claustrophobic screenplay that plays off the common fears accompanied with pregnancy. Click on title for full review.
Griffin & Phoenix: A Love Story (February 27th, 1976 on ABC): Probably the single most moving film I have ever seen. I still don’t have the words to describe the sheer beauty of this film. One watch and you will know that world missed out by not giving Peter Falk more roles as the romantic lead. He’s incredible in a sorrowful but joyful film about love and the deepest loss of all – death.
The Bermuda Depths (January 27th, 1978 on ABC): One of the few Rankin Bass live action productions, The Bermuda Depths is like a piece of visual poetry. Soft, eerie and childlike (check out those miniatures!), this film envelops the fairytale story in sadness. A wonderfully melancholic romance that deserves a DVD with the works.
A Vacation in Hell (May 21st, 1979 on ABC): The Swinging 70s come to an end in style with this absurd and fascinating thriller about four women and a hapless male who find themselves stranded on the wrong side of the island they were vacationing on. When one of them accidentally kills a “native” man, they find themselves on the run from an angry family member. Lush, sexy, odd, sometimes really campy and always entertaining, A Vacation in Hell has just as many twists as it does awesome one liners. It also has a young Maureen McCormick hanging up her Marsha Brady image during an overtly sexual dance. It’s a must see. Read my full review at Camp Blood.
This House Possessed (February 6th, 1981 on ABC): I must have seen this movie 300 times since it first aired. It’s my cure-all for when I have the blues. Traditional ghost story updated with (then) modernized technology, the way the story is played out is far more important than the story itself. Stylish, creepy and a ton of fun, I don’t just love this movie because it stars my biggest crush, Parker Stevenson (although that would be reason enough!), I love it because it’s fantastic, and while thoroughly dated, it’s also timeless. Read my reviews at CC2K and Camp Blood.
Don’t Go To Sleep (December 10th, 1982 on ABC): Absolutely frightening flick about a child who is killed in a accident only to return as a ghost bent on torturing her family. Geesh! It’s an accident! Talk about bitter! This movie has creepy written all over it, with the fears being heightened by the excellent cast led by Valerie Harper and the great Dennis Weaver. Talk about gut-punch endings. Wow. This movie will make you jump!
The Woman in Black (December 24th, 1989 on BBC): If you like your ghost stories agonizingly eerie like Let’s Scare Jessica to Death, The Woman in Black is the film for you! Slow, deliberate pacing only heightens the story about a young solicitor who is followed by a mysterious woman in black. This BBC chiller was actually made into a play, which I haven’t seen but I hear is absolutely fantastic. Update: I looked this up and see that at one point it was indeed available on Region One DVD. But now it’s OOP so I decided to keep it on the list. So what of it?!?
Note: Except for the The Woman in Black which is a British production, every single one of these films originally aired on ABC! Way to go ABC!!!