Following up the release of the After School Specials 1974 – 1976 collection, BCI has slapped four more seventies pre-teen melodramas onto DVD for the first time all available in one handy and easy to use package. What do we get? Four more forty-five minute vignettes of life situations that face every day kids like you and me handled with sap, sadness, and valuable morals. Let's take another walk down memory lane and have a look at the goods…
Francesca, Baby: Francesca (Carol Jones) and Kate (Tara Talboy) are two regular girls with a sadly all too regular problem – their mother is a raging drunk. If the two girls had the support of their father it might be manageable, but sadly rather than deal with the problems at home, daddy dearest chooses to ignore the issue and spend as little time in his abode as possible, instead choosing to travel often for business instead. With this in mind, it's easy to see why the two girls would be a little stressed out by their home life. Bix (Dennis Bowen of Welcome Back Kotter), Francesca's loving boyfriend, encourages her to attend a support group program called Ala-Teen, which specializes in helping kids with alcoholic parents. Francesca isn't too cool with this idea though, as she doesn't want to have to feel embarrassed about her social situation. This all changes though when one night her mom passes out from drinking with a still burning cigarette in her hand. A fire starts, the family is almost burnt to a crisp, and Francesca decides to attend the Ala-Teen meetings after all in hopes of saving her family from the problems they're having once and for all.
Beat The Turtle Drum: Melissa Sue Anderson (instantly recognizable from her role on Little House On The Prairie plays a girl named Kate. She's a happy girl with a good life until one day her younger sister Joss (Katy Kurtzman) falls out of a tree and dies. Kate can't help but feel partially responsible for what happened to her younger sister and not only has to come to terms with this, but also with the fact that her parents always tended to favor Joss just a little bit more then herself. Kate goes on to try and figure out her situation as best she can, talking to friends and cohorts and generally trying to wrap her head around what happened to her and her sister that fateful summer afternoon in the tree. She soon learns that it's not up to her to take responsibility for what she could not have controlled, and the world ends up a better and happier place. Thankfully, Sparky Marcus of The Bad News Bears is on hand to help her out.
The Pinballs: Carlie (Kristy McNichol), Thomas (Sparky Marcus again!) and Harvey (Johnny Doran) are three kids holed up in a foster home. They strike up a good friendship together in spite of their problems - Carlie is a compulsive liar, Thomas' guardian parents have fallen very ill, and Harvey's legs were broken when his dad got drunk and ran him over with the family car. The see themselves as pinballs, in the sense that a pinball in an arcade machine is constantly being bumped and shot from one place to another, much like they've been. Initially they sit around and whine about how their lives are crappy but soon, once they realize that they have each other and that this counts for a whole lot, they turn their lives around and learn to accentuate the positive. I have to admit, as cheesy and corny as this one was, the performances were better than those in the rest of the set and it made me a little misty eyed towards the end. Those gosh darn kids can't get a break in life no matter how hard they try, but they're so loveable that we only want them to find each other and make a go of their miserable lives. Thankfully that's just what they do.
Trouble River: This last movie is a period film, set back in the days of the pioneers. Michael LeClaire plays Dewey. When Dewey's parents decide to relocate the a brand new settlement so that his mother can safely deliver her soon to be born child, Dewey gets stuck staying with his grandmother (played by Nora Denney). Unfortunately for Dewey and his grandmother, there is a gang of rebels descending upon the area and messing things up for the local populace. Dewey decides the best plan of action would be to build himself a raft so that he and granny can truck on down the river and meet up with ma and pa. Granny gives this plan a thumbs up so Dewey builds his raft and off they go down the river. Unfortunately for Dewey, his grandmother is a stubborn old coot without many kind words for the boy despite his hard work and perseverance. Will Dewey make it down the river without killing his grandmother? Will he learn to appreciate his grandmother for her good qualities and for her worldly wisdom or will his intolerance of her old school ways be his downfall?
Seeing as these were shot for television broadcast, it shouldn't surprise anyone to see them presented here as they were originally shown in glorious fullframe. While these transfer aren't going to win any awards, they are watchable. There is some edge enhancement and some print damage and at times the colors look a bit faded and the image looks rather soft, but given that these are thirty year old low budget made for TV movies, they look like decent VHS transfers.
The English Dolby Digital Mono soundtracks are nothing to write home about, but neither are the terrible. There's some mild hiss in one or two scenes and the odd snap, crackle and pop evident on the soundtrack but all of the dialogue is clean and clear and easy to follow and understand. There are no alternate language tracks, subtitles, or closed captioning options available on any of the four films in this set.
There are no extra features on either of the two DVDs in this set (except for a really tiny uninspired stills gallery) but the packaging for this release is so cool that it warrants a mention. The pair of discs are housed inside a keen looking seventies style trapper keeper that faithfully maintains the look and feel of the era that the movies were made in, right down to the fonts used in the type.
While the episode selection on this second set isn't as prime as the first release, there's still plenty of nostalgic fun and bad seventies kids fashions that make these worth checking out for those who appreciate such things. The low MSRP and decent audio and video quality makes up for the lack of extra features and After School Specials – 1976 – 1977 comes recommended.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.