Airing on NBC only one month after Halloween debuted in theaters, this "lost" John Carpenter movie written and directed by the horror master stars Lauren Hutton as a strong and capable live TV director who is being stalked by an unknown gentleman via phone calls, strange gifts and visits to her apartment. This is essentially Carpenter's take on Rear Window, and also includes a great role for his future ex-wife Adrienne Barbeau as a lesbian in a platonic friendship with Hutton's character.
This interesting oddity about a an anthropologist (Cornel Wilde) and his daughter (Jennifer Salt) who stumble upon a colony of real, living gargoyles is perhaps best known for being an early triumph for the late, great make-up effects genius Stan Winston, who won an Emmy for his efforts. It also features an early appearance from actor Scott Glenn, as well as Dark Shadows star Grayson Hall.
The British also dabbled in the occult for their TV movies during this era, with writer Nigel Kneale (the Quatermass films, Halloween III: Season of the Witch) being the greatest purveyor of such chills. His groundbreaking work on BBC Two's The Stone Tape brought the worlds of science and superstition together, and introduced audiences to the idea of a residual haunting, or a ghost as essentially a recording of an incident from the past. Michael Bryant and Jane Asher star in this story of a big team of scientist who invade a Victorian mansion to investigate the supposed haunting, and wind up unleashing a terrible evil.
While not an exceptional TV movie by any stretch of the imagination (it's not even featured in Amanda Reyes' book!), The Victim is a perfect synthesis of what makes TV horror great. It has a washed up star past their prime (Bewitch's Elizabeth Montgomery), a spooky setting (a secluded house in the mountains during a thunderstorm) and a dead body with maybe two or three potential suspects as to who killed her. A perfect late afternoon movie to put on and enjoy.
One of the earliest TV horror films aired on ABC and starred Hope Lange as a woman who inherits a New England country property that a group of Colonial-era witches call home. While there are plenty of spooky goings on, including a creepy child that comes into her life, the film is really about the fractured marriage between her and her volatile, jealous painter husband played by Paul Burke. The film also features a fun caretaker role for the legendary John Carradine.
This NBC thriller plays almost like a female version of The Hitcher, with Valerie Harper as a high-strung mother trying to drive through the night to see her hospitalized son. She inadvertently witnesses a murder on the side of the highway, and is summarily chased down by the sleazy killer (a very effective Richard Romanus). Harper is outstanding in this surprisingly feminist spin on the damsel-in-distress movie, with lots of high-tension moments from start to finish.
Producer Dan Curtis was the undisputed king of TV horror (The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror, Dark Shadows, etc), but this little two-hander he directed for ABC hasn't gotten its due respect. It features Peter Graves as a now-timid former hunter brought on by the police to investigate a series of grizzly murders that appear to bear the hallmarks of a werewolf. He must team up with friend and all-around weirdo big game hunter Byron (Clint Walker) in order to catch the beast, with an unexpected twist ending! The tension between Walker and Graves is terrific as they try to out-bro each other, and there are some very cool first-person POV kills.
Broadcast on CBS, this is TV horror movie nirvana. First off, you've got a cast to die for: Chuck Connors, Buddy Ebsen, Roy Thinnes, Paul Winfield, Russell Johnson and, of course WILLIAM FREAKIN' SHATNER (playing an alcoholic priest who's lost his faith)! The plot is also delightfully ridiculous, wherein Thinnes has chartered a special 747 flight from London to New York with the remains of an abbey haunted by a Druid ghost in the cargo hold. The climactic scene where Shatner does battle with the ghost has to be seen to be believed!
When a happy suburban family's beloved dog is killed, they wind up adopting a new pooch who is... "just not right." Turns out a Satanic cult has embued him with the destructive powers of the dark lord, eventually bringing the whole family under his sway except for the dad, played with frantic desperation by Richard Crenna. This CBS TV flick came about during the prime Satanic Panic period, and also features the original Witch Mountain duo of Kim Richards and Ike Eisenmann, once again playing supernatural siblings.
This ABC thriller is one of the most subtle and expertly executed of the era, with Elizabeth Ashley playing a woman who begins receiving disturbing phone calls from her nephew Michael. The calls are extra scary given that Michael has been dead for 15 years. Featuring superb performances from Ben Gazzara and an early one from Michael Douglas, When Michael Calls is top drawer suspense entertainment.
Beefy man's man Clint Walker stars in this ABC all-timer, which later became a staple of the Sci-Fi channel in the 90's. Based on a story by famed sci-fi author Theodore Sturgeon (who also co-penned the teleplay), it's a terrifically silly story of a shapeless alien being hiding in a meteor that crash lands on an island under construction and winds up inhabiting a bulldozer. The small crew of blue collar Joes have to deal with the homicidal dozer as they're picked off one by one... very, very slowly. If you want to know what 70's TV movies are all about, this is a great place to start!
It wouldn't be surprising to learn that John Carpenter was a fan of this Aaron Spelling ABC movie, since its spare arctic science station sets and atmosphere of paranoia bear a strong resemblance to his remake of The Thing. The story involves Robert Culp and Eli Wallach investigating the death of their colleague, who is conducting experiments with monkeys. When a snowstorm traps them there, will they succumb to the same paranoia their friend did?
Darren McGavin created one of the most indelible TV characters of all-time in INS reporter Carl Kolchak, who in ABC's The Night Stalker stumbled upon a vampire prowling the streets of modern-day Las Vegas. After that first movie became ABC's most watched film ever, a sequel The Night Strangler was quickly turned around, featuring Kolchak and his long-suffering boss Vincenzo (Simon Oakland) hunting a supernatural serial killer in the subterranean lairs below Seattle. While Dan Curtis produced both films (and directed the second), disagreements with McGavin led to him not working on the famed TV series Kolchak: The Night Stalker, which lasted 20 episodes and has a strong cult following, considered a predecessor to The X-Files.
The recently-departed Tobe Hooper of Texas Chainsaw Massacre fame had his first mainstream success with this three-hour CBS TV movie that originally aired in two-parts. David Soul stars as a writer/stand-in for author Stephen King named Ben Mears, who is ostensibly coming to the town of Salem's Lot to work on a book, but is actually there to kill himself one mother of a vampire. James Mason is having a helluva lot of fun playing the dapper, Renfield-esque gentleman Richard Staker, who does the bidding of bloodsucker Kurt Barlow. What makes this a compulsively re-watchable film is all the quant small town detail and character work Hooper builds into what is essentially a modern re-telling of "Dracula." Stephen King's writing has rarely been served better on film.
The great grandaddy of them all, this was director Steven Spielberg's first great shot across the bow of Hollywood, and people sure took notice. The simple story of a man on a long drive through the desert who becomes the target of an unseen, homicidal truck driver is shot and cut with such confidence and finesse that anyone watching would have to know they were in the hands of a master filmmaker. Richard Matheson's tight-and-tense script (based on his own short story) also deserves a fair share of the credit. Duel was so wildly popular upon its airing on ABC that it was eventually given a theatrical release, nearly unheard of for a TV movie.