Friday, October 8, 2021

Classic Halloween TV Movies: Creepy Kids Edition

 

The pandemic made last year scary enough without all the standard ghosts and witches of Halloween, so we pretty much skipped the holiday here. But this year I feel more celebratory, especially as this is a perfect opportunity to delve into the treasure trove of vintage made-for-TV movies accessible via YouTube.

 

What makes these movies interesting is how they manage to frighten an audience without the graphic blood and guts mayhem employed by most contemporary horror movies. As I wrote in my review of “Crowhaven Farm,’ they had to comply with broadcast standards that placed strict limits on violence, yet they continue to linger in the nightmares of viewers 50 years later. They are triumphs of artistry over gore, and subtlety and suspense over shock value.’

 

To get you started, here are three films with a common theme: creepy kids. 

 


 

Daughter of the Mind (1969)

 

“Daughter of the Mind” stars Ray Milland as distinguished professor Samuel Constable, whose daughter Mary (Pamelyn Ferdin) was killed in an auto accident months earlier. One evening, as he is driving back from visiting her grave, he hears her voice calling to him, and then he sees her standing in the middle of the road. “Oh daddy, I hate being dead,” she says before vanishing. 

 

 

He reports the unsettling experience to Dr. Alex Lauder (Don Murray), a professor of parapsychology, who moves into the family residence. Before long Mary appears again, and this time they both see her. They also notice that objects in her bedroom are being moved around. Lauder becomes suspicious, however, after Mary warns her father about the “war work” he’s doing for the government, and claims she won’t be able to come back unless he quits.

 

Are those dastardly Commies behind this? But if they are, how can Lauder explain the perfect wax replica of Mary’s hand – including matching fingerprints - that appears in her bedroom? And before you suggest grave-robbing- the family had Mary cremated, so there was no way to obtain those prints post-mortem.

 

The cast really helps make this one work – Oscar-winner Milland, ‘70s icon Ferdin, Gene Tierney as Mary’s mother, Ed Asner as an intelligence agent surveilling Constable, and John Carradine, who seems to pop up in 7 out every 10 scary TV movies. 

 

 

The People (1972)

 

Melodye (Kim Darby) wants to be a schoolteacher, but she tends to run away from stressful situations involving family and boyfriends. So she accepts a job teaching farm kids in a remote rural area that can’t seem to keep teachers very long. 

 


 

When she arrives for her first day of school, she is met with stern-faced children who rarely speak, never get sick, are not allowed to play music, and who walk by sliding their feet instead of lifting them.

 

“Don’t you find these people a little…unnerving?” Melodye asks the local doctor (William Shatner). He agrees, but doesn’t believe they pose any danger. 

 

 

“The People” was adapted from a series of popular books by Zenna Henderson that explores what it’s like to be different. Maybe that’s why Melodye, something of an outsider herself, doesn’t run away after seeing things that would make other teachers board the nearest bus out of town. Will that prove to be the right decision?

And will Shatner finally return Kim Darby’s affections now that she’s grown up, six years after the Star Trek episode “Miri”? Sorry, no spoilers here.

 

There has been a trend toward nihilism in modern-day horror – evil wins! No one can help you! Everybody dies! I think that’s why I appreciated how the story in “The People” develops, and how it ends. Hopeful last acts are hard to come by these days.

 

When Michael Calls (1972)

 

Helen (Elizabeth Ashley) starts receiving phone calls from her nephew Michael, pleading for her to come get him. But Michael died 15 years ago. 

 


So who is making the calls? It is her estranged husband (Ben Gazzara), one of the patients at a nearby home for disturbed children where her brother Craig (Michael Douglas) works? Or could it really be Michael, who survived after running away and getting lost in a blizzard? After all, he uses a nickname for Helen that only a family member would know.


This is the scariest of the three films reviewed here, especially after Michael warns about people close to Helen dying. Not everyone in the cast survives to the end credits, and one of the murders at a Halloween festival is particularly shocking.

 

“When Michael Calls" predates both When a Stranger Calls and Scream, so it might be the first movie to make viewers jump every time a phone rings. Elizabeth Ashley is best remembered for more flamboyant performances but she’s surprisingly (and refreshingly) low-key here, and Michael Douglas is excellent in a movie that debuted  the same year he began his run on The Streets of San Francisco.  

 

 

As with most TV movies, these three all get their stories told in less than 90 minutes, so they won’t waste your time. And there are plenty more on YouTube where these came from.

2 comments:

  1. Out of these, I've only seen "When Michael Calls", which I liked a lot. Will click 'watch later' on the other two, they seem quite fun.

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  2. I've seen "When Michael Calls." I had "Daughter of the Mind" on my DVR for a time in 2010, but I didn't watch it all the way through in the proper manner. In the end, concerns about DVR storage led me to delete it. A key female character in "Daughter of the Mind" wore a one-piece bathing suit. Consider the fact that the movie originally aired in 1969, I wonder if it had a modesty panel. *sigh*

    I can't say that I've seen "The People," but it was definitely made during the "lost years" phase of William Shatner's career.

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