Friday, October 9, 2020

Halloween Comfort TV: Crowhaven Farm

 

The calendar says its October and usually that means I’d start delving into my go-to Halloween-themed classic TV episodes…but I’m just not feeling it this year. Maybe 2020 has been scary enough already.

 

But for those still eager to embrace the holiday, I have one recommendation you might enjoy. I missed it the first time when I was a cowardly kid in the 1970s, but redsicovered it recently as part of a piece I started for this blog and later abandoned, though I’ll probably strip it for parts over the next few months.

 

Crowhaven Farm was a movie-of-the-week that aired on ABC in 1970. It was one of several memorable TV horror movies from that era, including The Night Stalker (1972), Satan’s School for Girls (1973), Trilogy of Terror (1975) and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981). 

 

 

What is interesting to me about all of these films is how they had to comply with broadcast standards that placed strict limits on violence, yet they continue to linger in the nightmares of ‘70s kids nearly 50 years later. They are triumphs of artistry over gore, and subtlety over shock value.


As Crowhaven Farm opens, Maggie Porter (Hope Lange) is at the reading of a relative’s will, where she discovers that the title property would be bequeathed to her only if a different beneficiary does not move there. Said beneficiary heads out to the farm the next night, only to die after driving his car off a bridge. 

 

That is sign number one that this may not be a great place to relocate.

 


Undaunted, Maggie and her husband Ben (Paul Burke) drive out soon after to take possession. There, Maggie meets a creepy handyman played by John Carradine.

 


That is sign number two that this may not be a great place to relocate.

 

As she walks through the old, rambling farmhouse, she feels unsettled, and later reaches instinctively for a lever that opens a secret room, despite the fact that she’s never been there before.

 

Sign number three.

 

So Maggie is ready to head back to New York – but Ben has gone all Oliver Wendell Douglas, and is convinced that farm living is the life for him. Against her better instincts, she agrees to stay.

 

A few weeks later, at a party held so the Porters can meet their rural neighbors, a local historian tells Maggie that Crowhaven was once the site where a coven of witches performed satanic rituals.

 


This is where the rest of us would have finally got the message and left before the party was over. But the Porters stay, and they suffer the consequences.

 

I’m reluctant to reveal any further plot details, because the story’s surprises should be discovered without spoilers. 

 


 

Viewers were familiar with seeing Hope Lange in supernatural situations after her three seasons on The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. She won two Emmys for that role, over such formidable competition as Elizabeth Montgomery (Bewitched), Barbara Feldon (Get Smart) and Marlo Thomas (That Girl). But there’s no romance with a ghostly sea captain this time around. There’s not even much romance with her husband, or with an on-the-make neighbor played by the always skeezy Lloyd Bochner.

 

Instead she’s a woman mostly alone in a place she does not want to be. There’s a scene early on when Maggie is awakened by voices in the middle of the night. She wanders outside through a forested area, still in her nightgown, wind rustling through the trees, trying to find out where those voices are coming from and what they are saying. The scene reminded me of one in the film Cat People, where a woman feels as if she’s being stalked while swimming in an indoor pool. The atmosphere and the amplified sounds and the way the sequences are shot create an eerie sense of foreboding, though little of consequence actually happens.

 

But if you prefer your scares more visceral, the last fifteen minutes of Crowhaven Farm do not disappoint.

 

As good as Lange is, the performance that lingers longest in the memory belongs to young Cindy Eilbacher, whom you should know if you aced our Know Your Eilbachers quiz. She plays an angelic young waif who the Porters adopt on impulse, proving once again that no good deed goes unpunished. It’s definitely one of the great creepy kid performances of all time.

 


So if this year hasn’t satiated your desire for horror stories, take a drive out to Crowhaven Farm. Preferably on John Carradine’s day off. 

 

 

2 comments:

  1. As soon as I saw the title of this post in my blog-feed I jumped about 2 feet; David, what a great review without giving too much away. "Crowhaven Farm" has been a long standing... thing in my family. In the summer of 1970, my parents announced they had sold our house in town, as my dad had found an old house “in the country” with 7 acres of land. It was named “Gordon’s Farm” as it was part of a much larger property owned by a scary 900 year old farmer Ewing Gordon. I was 9 years old & not thrilled. Leaving all my friends in town, to this giant creaky house with woods behind us and scary decrepit sheds about. Of course I grew to love it, but the first 6 months were uneasy ones—also, 2 months after moving to said abode, “Crowhaven Farm” was the Movie of the Week and it hit too close to home, I can STILL remember having a dream involving being in bed while rocks were piled on me. Sorry for sharing all of that, but some months back I found the movie on Youtube and have been meaning to watch it again for the firs time in 50 years—now I MUST.

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    1. What a great story! And I'm glad yours ended better than Hope Lange's!

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