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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

70s Movies of the Week

Years ago, long before the proliferation of reality television and nite-time game shows (most of which are cheap productions by way of money and creativity), network producers knew they had to spend some change to entertain their nightly audiences. Whereas today's network producers compete to come up with even more outrageous (and again, cheap) reality TV fare, 70s network television fed its audiences a regular menu of movies of the week, some of which I remember as being entertaining, if somewhat hackneyed. Outside of the occasional CBS Hallmark production, most of which runs from sentimental to chokingly maudlin, network TV barely offers movies anymore.

I grew up in the 70s and remember looking forward to movies of the week, most of which tended to try to scare or at least unnerve their audiences. Some offered basic horror tropes while others tried for the occasional apocalyptic scare. Compared to today's movie productions, these mostly B and C movies were schlocky, melodramatic, even sometimes groan-inducing. No matter; I ate them up like sugary pablum and in my reminisce, I actually miss the attempt at creativity that is so woefully missing today.

Some of you might remember these titles: Where Have All the People Gone or The Day the Earth Moved. Neither of these were in danger of ever winning an Oscar; what they gained, however, were a cult following if for nothing more than their over-the-top drama, cheesy production values, and sometimes convoluted premises - all of which made for some good B-movie watching. It seemed that each week, a movie was telling us that the earth was due to betray us for our shortsightedness. Because of our maltreatment, we should expect some biological anomaly or some nuclear disaster that would pulverize us or cause major destruction.

And if we couldn't be shaken by an earthly catastrophe, there was always satan to unnerve us. Movies like Trilogy of Terror, Satan's Triangle, and Satan's School for Girls offered horror by way of unearthly possessions and satanic ritualisms that promised not only loss of life but soul as well. Many of these movies were obviously trying to ride the popularity of The Exorcist and The Omen, and they rode them bumpily but to good effect sometimes. If you have never seen a woman possessed by a voodoo doll, you need to rent Trilogy if only to see the underrated Karen Black with serrated teeth in a haunched pose, holding a hunting knife, waiting for dear ole miserable mom to come through the door.

Then there was the odd loner trope, the malevolent misfit who wasn't only misunderstood but murderous, as well. The primary rep of this trope was Bad Ronald, the adolescent loony hiding behind the wall peeking in on the new family taking up residence in his former home. Unfortunately, the family has three daughters who provide fodder for Ronald's delusional world. Ever wonder what that is going bump in the night? Just knock on the walls; if there's an answering knock and a light from a peephole, run as fast as possible.

There was no subject that wasn't used in one of these movies; alien impregnation (The Stranger Within); the Bermuda Triangle (entitled simply The Bermuda Triangle); mutated animals and insects (Night of the Lepus) - you can't imagine how carnivorous rabbits can get when they tower over you. Screw carrots and turnips.

If you didn't know, director Steven Spielberg got his start with television movies. Before road rage even had a name, Spielberg featured Dennis Weaver encountering a faceless truck driver seeking to run him down for the impertinence of passing him. Trying to outrun a looming truck can get kind of dicey and Spielberg knew how effective symbolism was even then. Whether a big wheeler or a shark fin, mix it with some effective music, and you have stomach-twisting tension and drama.

Other recommendations, many of which are on DVDs: Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, The House that Wouldn't Die, Haunts of the Very Rich, The Screaming Woman, Five Desperate Women, and Something Evil.

Yeah, some of these movies may seem cheesy compared to the high production values of today's movies. But they attempted to do what many of today's movies do not; find humor (and yes, there is humor in a movie about murderous rabbits) as well as horror thru honest emotions and not just with FX gimmicks and hi-tech stunts.

Watch trailer for Bad Ronald


Sharon Cullars Coffee Talk at 8/20/2008 05:24:00 PM Permanent Link     | | Home


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