For whatever reason, made for TV movies were cooler in the seventies. Sure, a lot of times you wound up with a stinker but that didn't stop thousands of viewers from tuning into the networks to check out the new offerings, and seemingly more so in the seventies than later decades, horror movies were popular items. We wound up with some legitimate classics, Don't Be Afraid Of The Dark being a perfect example, and some of those have gone on to be recognized as such but there are a lot more obscure entries out there waiting for rediscovery. Enter Shout! Factory's horror sub-label, Scream Factory, and the first in what will hopefully be an ongoing series of double feature releases under the TV Terrors banner. Here's what we get for their inaugural offering…
The Initiation Of Sarah
Not to be confused with the 2006 remake of the same name, The Initiation Of Sarah is a 1978 movie directed by Robert Day which follows the story of Sarah Goodwin (Kay Lenz). When we meet her, she and sister Patty Goodwin (Morgan Brittany) are saying goodbye to Sarah's adopted mother (Kathryn Grant) and heading off to college just in time for pledge week. Pretty Patty gets accepted into the fancy ‘hot chicks' house lorded over by bitchy Jennifer Lawrence (Morgan Fairchild) thanks to mom's connections but no such luck for Sarah. She gets accepted into one house and one house only, and the woman in charge there is a creepy older lady named Erica Hunter (Shelly Winters).
As the two sisters go about their business, Sarah befriends a girl named Alberta (Tisa Farrow), nicknamed Mouse because she's a bit on the shy side. When Sarah runs into Patty one afternoon, Jennifer tells her that as part of the pledge she's not allowed to talk to anyone from Sarah's sorority, and while she obviously feels bad about it, she goes along with it. Something is off with Sarah, however. It almost seems as if she can move things with her mind and it was likely no accident that Jennifer fell into the water fountain on campus after getting in a tizzy. Soon enough, Sarah hits it off with a TA named Paul Yates (Tony Bill) and it looks like things are going to improve for her but Jennifer sets up a nasty prank at Sarah's expense and before you know it, Jennifer learns that Sarah is far more dangerous than her quiet demeanor would suggest.
Does this movie sound an awful lot like Carrie set on a college campus? That because it is an awful lot like Carrie set on a college campus. There's no denying the similarities here, the movie borrows pretty heavily from De Palma's Stephen King adaptation right down to a scene in which the central female lead is humiliated and degraded in front of all of her classmates, the impetus for the revenge that happens in both films. As derivative as this is, however, it's still a pretty entertaining movie in its own right.
The cast, really, is what makes this one worth checking out. Kay Lenz is quite good in the lead role, she makes for a sympathetic central character and she handles the part well. We believe that she cares about her sister and when they're split up and kept apart by Jennifer, her sadness is realistic enough to set up the conflict that quickly arises. Morgan Fairchild as Jennifer is also good. She's made a pretty good career out of playing sexy, privileged, bitchy women and even here, in a fairly early role, we see she has a knack for it. Tony Bill is also good as the love interest, he seems like a pretty solid guy and we like him enough that we want he and Sarah to hook up. Throw in the always loony Shelly Winters and Zombie's Tisa Farrow and you can see how, derivative or not, this would turn out to be a fun little throwback. It's reasonably well paced and it builds to a satisfying, if fairly predictable, conclusion.
Are You In The House Alone?
Also debuting in 1978 and this time directed by Walter Grauman, Are You In The House Alone? is more of a dramatic thriller than an out and out horror movie but it's weird enough to work and once again it offers up some interesting casting choices. The story begins when a young woman named Gail Osbourne (Kathleen Beller) is being consoled, she tells someone that she was raped but bursts into tears during this confession, noting that nobody will believe her when she tells them who did it.
From here, we skip back in time a couple of weeks. Gail's best friend, Allison Bremer (Robin Mattson) is insisting that she accompany her and her boyfriend Phil (Dennis Quaid) on a double date. They'll be setting her up with Steve Pastorinis (Scott Colomby) and Allison is sure they'll hit it off. So after talking it over with her mom (Blythe Danner) and dad (Tony Bill once again!) she heads out for the night and sure enough, Allison is right, they hit if off perfectly. From here, things start to get a little weird for poor Gail. Her ex-boyfriend, the guy who got angry with her when she wouldn't put out? He starts making nasty comments. The phone is ringing at odd times in the night and there's either nobody there or there's a heavy breathing weirdo making comments. Her photography teacher insists that she take some sexy self-portraits and then later insists on driving her home after a babysitting job. On top of that, someone has been leaving some nasty notes in Gail's locker, even going so far as to deface one of her pictures with red lipstick. When Gail does wind up being raped in the home of someone she's sitting for, she soon realizes who really cares about her and who can't handle the truth!
This one is very much a product of its time. When Gail complains to the school principal (Ellen Travolta!) about the harassing notes, she's told not to worry about it and that she'll ‘go through the list of trouble boys' and see what she can do. From there, after she is eventually raped, she's told that it's partially her own fault because not only was she not a virgin but damn it, she opened the door and let the guy in! We won't spoil the identity here, but let it suffice to say that the logic behind those statements is pretty baffling, though the movie does redeem itself towards the end by noting that the system is broken, hence condemning that train of thought and reassuring us that, no, Gail didn't really deserve it and, yes, rape is bad. It's hard to imagine a made for TV movie even going there in this day and age…
Once again we get some good acting. There's a strong subplot between Tony Bill and Blythe Danner in which he loses his job and therefore his status as the provider which leads to some interesting stress in the Osbourne family. This grounds it a bit and makes it seem more realistic in a sense. Kathleen Beller is good in the lead and handles the dramatic aspects of her part very well, she's also pretty convincing in the scenes in which she needs to act scared. It's interesting to see a young Dennis Quaid pop up here, he's fine, while Scott Colomby is also pretty solid, making his character just quirky enough to be suspicious.
The movie is a bit on the slow side, and again there's a lot more emphasis on drama and set up than on any sort of scary pay off, but it's fairly well done and, if not as good as the first feature, worth seeing for anyone with a soft spot for the oddball made for TV movies of the decade that spawned it.
As these were made for TV movies released in the seventies, it makes sense that both movies show up on DVD in 1.33.1 fullframe. Video quality for both features is quite good, these appear to be film sourced transfers and so they show pretty strong detail and decent color reproduction. There isn't much in the way of print damage to note at all nor are there any issues with noise reduction. You might spot some minor compression artifacts in a few of the darker scenes but outside of that, for a pair of older, low budget films that never looked like zillion dollar productions in the first place, the picture quality here is just fine. Both movies were previously released on VHS, these transfers would appear to be fresh and not recycled from the tape masters used for those releases.
Both films are presented in English language Dolby Digital Mono with no alternate language options or subtitles provided. Audio for the first movie is fine, it's nicely balanced and quite clear, you should have trouble understanding the dialogue. The audio Are You In The House Alone? doesn't fare quite as well, there is some audible hiss and the levels are a bit low. It's serviceable but keep your expectations in check.
There are no extras on the disc, just menus offering movie and chapter selection. It might have been cool to see some cast interviews here but given the niche nature of this release, it's understandable that this didn't happen.
Shout! Factory's DVD release of TV Terrors: The Initiation Of Sarah / Are You In The House Alone? may not be particularly fancy but it does offer up the chance to check out two solid slices of seventies made for TV thrillers that haven't exactly been easy to come by previously. Both movies are pretty entertaining and offers up some interesting cast members in obscure roles, and while neither film is likely to send you screaming in terror out of your TV room, but are pretty enjoyable. 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.