The Woman Hunter
Starring Barbara Eden | Robert Vaughn | Stuart Whitman
Written by Brian Clemens | Directed by Bernard L. Kowalski
Made for Television | 1972 | 1 hour, 14 minutes
A luminous Barbara Eden, with the support of a handful of glamorous outfits, shines in this otherwise tepid made-for-television thriller.
Recovering in Mexico from the trauma of an auto accident, Dina Hunter (Barbara Eden) feels herself slowly becoming estranged from her cold, business-oriented husband, Paul (Robert Vaughn). Overcoming her early resistance, she falls for the masculine charms of her neighbor on the beach, Paul Carter (Stuart Whitman). Seemingly tracking Dina from afar, Carter could actually be an international jewel thief and murderer intent on stealing her valuable necklace.
Lumpy and hairy in a middle-aged, seventies leading man sort of way, Stuart Whitman provides easily the most terrifying moment in the film—the prospect of emerging from the surf without his swimming trunks.
Barbara Eden carries the low-grade, woman-in-peril story with her screen presence alone—including an unintentionally funny, weirdly jerky dance number that predates Elaine’s awkward dance on Seinfeld by about twenty years.
Unfolding without much suspense over most of its running time, The Woman Hunter crawls along at a slow pace until delivering a predictable, yet unlikely, twist ending. However, the modest locations and era fashions make for a pleasantly inessential, wallpaper viewing.
Starring Bo Svenson | Yvette Mimieux | Robert Logan | Clint Walker
Directed by Herb Wallerstein
NBC | April 28, 1977 | 1 hour, 26 minutes
We’re going to need a bigger snowmobile.
Essentially Jaws on the ski slopes, Snowbeast cribs all the elements of Spielberg’s summer blockbuster.
Washed-up former Olympic star Gar Sebert (Bo Svenson), prompted by his wife Ellen (Yvette Mimeux), seeks out a job as a ski instructor from his old friend, Tony Rill (Robert Logan), whose family owns a Colorado resort. Gar’s arrival coincides with a fatal attack on a pair of skiers, leaving one dead and the other shaken by a vision of the killer—a monstrous, hairy beast.
From here, plug in variations on the standard details from the when-animals-attack boilerplate, only this time addressing the “Bigfoot controversy” that was the rage of the day; an attack occurs before the lucrative Winter Carnival, a bear is shot and killed that purportedly is responsible for the deaths (with resultant calls to cut it open to see what is inside), and an intrepid party that sets out (in a camper) to track the monster.
Point-of-view monster shots and an appealing winter landscape (including skiers and their primary-colored suits) help elevate the derivative nature of this made-for-television movie, with shots of the monster held back just enough to build suspense (or prevent over exposure of an actor in a fur suit). Given the nature of the television pedigree, attacks prompt a reaction shot from their victims, but fade to a red screen before becoming graphic.
A scene depicting a direct monster attack on the Winter Carnival, with the Snow Queen’s crown getting crushed in the human stampede to escape, briefly flirts with camp—but Snowbeast (fortunately) fails to go full into Nights with Sasquatch territory and have the beast take the beauty as his bride.
Curse of the Black Widow
Starring Anthony Franciosa | Donna Mills | Patty Duke
Directed by Dan Curtis
ABC | September 16, 1977 | 1 hour, 40 minutes
Anthony Franciosa plays a private detective on the trail of a supernatural killer in a television movie that feels like a lost episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, with its outsider hero pursuing the clues and ultimately revealing the monster-of-the-week.
Following a murder outside a bar, Mark Higbie (Anthony Franciosa) glimpses an inexplicable dark shape fleeing up a cliff side. Although the victim was last seen accompanying a strange woman, the body exhibits an almost animal-like pair of puncture wounds in the chest cavity. The dead man’s fiancé, Leigh Lockwood (Donna Mills), whose first husband died in a mysterious boating accident, fears the scrutiny of the police, and employs Higbie to investigate.
Higbie uncovers a series of other murders, with victims exhibiting similar puncture wounds and complete loss of blood, along with a common link to Leigh and her twin sister Laura (Patty Duke). After the discovery of spider venom at the scene of a new killing, Higbie begins to accept a previously unthinkable theory based on native folklore—the killer is a woman who transforms by light of the full moon into a giant spider.
With compound-eye point-of-view shots depicting pincer attacks and squirting spider silk, little doubt exists from the opening scenes regarding the supernatural origins of the murders. A backstory involving a childhood plane crash in the wilderness, with one twin suffering a traumatic series of spider bites, serves to scatter suspicion of the mystery woman’s identity between Leigh and Laura. Could either one be Valerie Steffan, the mysterious femme fatale picking up and killing men?
Franciosa and Vic Morrow (as the gruff detective Gully Conti) play straight through what could be arguably high-camp material in the wrong hands, with only a few instances of fending off fake spiders and pushing through Silly String webbing. The POV perspective on the murders also allows for withholding the big spider reveal until the conclusion, reducing the need for too many mood-breaking rubber creature shots along the way. Some attempts at light comedic banter between Higbie and his assistant, (somehow disturbingly) referred to only as “Flaps” (Roz Kelly), fall a little flat.
Several familiar faces (June Allyson, June Lockhart) have small, slumming turns here, including Sid Caesar, who wanders onto the set as Laszlo Cozart, the investigative team’s heater-obsessed landlord. Popeye (H.B. Haggerty), a mustachioed Mr. Clean type questioned by Higbee as a potential witness, is somehow both a “wino” and a gymnastics coach. Finally, the unnamed morgue attendant (Robert Nadder) adds an unexpected undercurrent to his scene after emptying a vial of embalming fluid into a sink, and awkwardly declaring to Higbie, “Mark, you know how I feel about you.”
Ostensibly a monster movie, Curse of the Black Widow also throws in an undercooked schizophrenia plotline. A repressed female sexuality, all buttoned up and wearing glasses, triggers a secret murderous personality, decked out in a black wig and faltering German(ish?) accent, equal in murderous force to the spider’s supernatural curse.
It’s all hokum, of course, but unadulterated seventies TV-movie arachnid hokum – in heels.
Alien Lover | The Wide World of Mystery
Starring Kate Mulgrew | Pernell Roberts | Susan Brown
Directed by Lela Swift
Aired on ABC, November 25, 1975
Failing to live up to its salacious title, Alien Lover instead delivers a pedestrian take on inter-dimensional contact that today’s audiences would probably consider as Alien Skype.
Institutionalized since the accidental death of her parents, Susan (Kate Mulgrew, Orange is the New Black) is released from the asylum to the custody of her only living relatives, aunt Marian and uncle Mike (Susan Brown, Pernell Roberts). Soon after her arrival, she begins to hear voices calling her name, eventually leading her up to the disused attic storeroom. Sorting through the detritus left behind by her electronics whiz-kid cousin Jude (Steven Earl Tanner), Kate discovers an old television set that harbors an unusual secret.
The set flickers to life with an alien presence: Marc (John Ventantonio), a self-described visitor from another dimension (vaguely resembling Slim Goodbody in Star Trek garb) who can see and hear Susan through the television screen. Equating the existence in his reality to human death, Marc quickly establishes a bond with the lonely Susan. After a scant few sessions, they are professing their love for each other, a feeling tempered by Marc’s somewhat sinister invitation to Susan to touch him through the screen.
Quickly declared emotions are about the only aspect of this production that run hot, with Susan also declaring hatred towards her new guardians. Otherwise, most of the just-over-an-hour running time feels downright languorous. Pernell Roberts seems bored and passively angry (Trapper John, M.D. still being a few years off), and Steven Tanner’s Jude character reduces to a shrill nerd.
Although a few trivial hints point to an alternate explanation—a relapse of Susan’s mental illness, a prank by her cousin, or an attempt by her relatives to wrest control of her inheritance—there becomes little doubt that Marc actually exists. Marian hears Marc while eavesdropping at the attic door, and ultimately Jude confesses that he has been receiving visits from Marc since he was five years old. Without this dramatic tension, the only real question becomes Marc’s intent.
Susan is sympathetic in her isolation, but Alien Lover falls short in delivering the treatise on loneliness in the television age that it perhaps intended. Directed by Lela Swift, longtime Dark Shadows veteran, this made-for-television project exhibits all the static flair of a quickly shot, low-budget daytime serial. The only thing missing is a flubbed line or an overhead microphone dropping into the frame.
Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 6 | January 20, 1971
Segment One | They’re Tearing Down Tim Riley’s Bar
William Windom | Diane Baker | Bert Convey | Written by Rod Serling | Directed by Don Taylor
Down-at-heel sales director Randy Lane (William Windom) reflects back upon twenty-five lost years at a plastics company, as the world around him crumbles. His sympathetic secretary Lynn Alcott (Diane Baker) tries to save him from his failing work performance, reliance upon the bottle, and up-and-coming rival executive, Harvey Doane (Bert Convey). Lane’s most cherished memories, including those of his late wife, all seem to be inexorably tied to Tim Riley’s Bar, now closed and slated for destruction, yet another erased link to a past that can never be recovered.
Windom’s empathetic portrait of a man disconnected from the modern world drives a surprisingly sentimental episode, lacking the traditional “gotcha” punch at the end. In the face of everything Lane cares about being lost to time, comes the most frightening question of all, “Who will remember?”
Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 5 | January 13, 1971
Segment One | Pamela’s Voice
Jonathan (John Astin) discovers that hell is certain other people, when the spirit of his murdered wife, Pamela (Phyllis Diller), returns from the dead to torment him. Continuing to suffer from the specter’s ceaseless nagging at the funeral home, his only hope of relief seems to be in finally burying her corpse. Although playing into the stereotype of the carping wife, Diller’s shrewish cackle—and arched, painted eyebrows–almost conjures a sense of sympathy for Astin’s homicidal husband, who discovers an unexpected difficulty in finding a moment of peace and quiet.
Segment Two | Lone Survivor
Picking up what they believe to be a single woman alone in a lifeboat, a ship’s crew discovers a man in women’s clothing, and a boat mysteriously emblazoned with the logo of the RMS Titanic. An effective early twist regarding the perceived time of the rescue is ultimately squandered in service to a familiar story of cyclical retribution. John Colicos plays the role of the survivor with sweaty desperation–and a powdered-blue nightdress.
Segment Three | The Doll
A British Colonel (John Williams) returning from service in India is confronted with a creepily malevolent (or maybe just grubby) doll, received via post by his young niece. Recognizing the doll as an agent of evil directed at him, the Colonel tries to convince the young girl to relinquish it–arguably, she should also have been persuaded to relinquish that satin blue ribbon in her hair. Pandit Chola (Henry Silva), the Indian mystic who devised the curse in retaliation for his brother’s execution as a resistance fighter, ultimately learns a lesson about karma from the doddering old imperialist.
Aside from a few more-silly-than-scary grimaces, the doll’s supernatural movements are left mostly to the imagination, helping to maintain the episode’s overall mood, and also proving the age-old axiom, “Never go full Chucky.”
Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 4 | January 6, 1971
Segment One | Make Me Laugh
After sixteen years on the club circuit, down-at-heel comic Jackie Slater (Godfrey Cambridge) seems to have finally bombed out. He meets Chatterje (Jackie Vernon), a self-proclaimed “klutz” of a guru [or as Chatterje pronounces it, “guh-ROO”], in a bar after a failed show, and receives an unusual offer. Chatterje has the power to create a miracle, and only needs a willing subject. Unfazed by the guru’s many disclaimers regarding his own inadequacies, and by the potential for unforeseen consequences created by this miraculous act, Slater desperately wishes for the power to make people laugh.
A fairly straightforward “be careful about what you wish for” cautionary tale, Make Me Laugh features an appropriately pathos-rich performance by Cambridge. The backstory of his bullied childhood, and the emptiness ultimately found in realizing his wish, reveals the melancholy counterpart to his comedy, but the tonal effort is undercut by the fatuous treatment of the guru. Wrapped in a turban resembling a curiously knotted pillowcase, Vernon’s miracle worker plays more like a bumbling sidekick of dubious ethnicity.
Playing the material mostly by the numbers, this segment takes the familiar path to an expected final reversal. Aside from a few nicely composed shots, this early directorial effort by Steven Spielberg shows little prescience of his trademark visual style.
Segment Two | Clean Kills and Other Trophies
Big-game hunter Colonel Archie Dittman (Raymond Massey) tries to impart his ”whole world is a bloody hunting jungle” philosophy upon his pacifist son, Archie (Barrie Brown), by adding an unusual codicil to his trust fund. Unless Archie stalks and kills an animal, his potential two million dollar inheritance will be revoked. Unable to stand up to his sadistic father, who dismisses him as a coddled milksop, Archie agrees to the hunt.
When will Archie put down his whiskey glass and push back against his loutish, blowhard father? Never, because the Colonel’s comeuppance actually arrives by way of his servant Tom (Herbert Jefferson, Jr.), whose African heritage provides a convenient resource for a mystical revenge, the nature of which belies Tom’s own belief system.
The musings on the inherent violence in the world are just a set up for the anticipated final reveal, the most dangerous trophy of all.
Night Gallery | Season One | Episode 3 | December 30, 1970
Segment One | The House
Elaine Latimer (Joanna Pettet) suffers from a recurring dream in which she drives to a familiar, but unidentified, house, unsuccessfully attempting to enter before she wakes. Recounting the details to her psychiatrist (Steve Franken), he assures her that the dream is harmless, before releasing her from the sanitarium where she had been receiving treatment for an unspecified illness.
Driving away to freedom, Elaine discovers that the house from her dreams actually exists—and is for sale. Undeterred by a creepy real estate agent (Paul Richards) who informs her that the house is reputedly haunted, she immediately purchases it and moves in the same day. However, owning the house does not change her condition, as her dream cycle continues.
The dreams are not traditional nightmares, but although completely lacking in scares, the repeated slow motion loops with Elaine exiting her car and walking to the house do cast an eerie spell. The agent provides an opportunity for some misdirection, as his introduction from the shadows outside the house suggests some suspicious nature, but the episode ultimately turns entirely around Elaine, coming back to her with a twist ending that provides more head-scratching than shock. However, Joanna Pettet imbues her character–and her flowing, gauzy fashions–with more than enough appeal to pull viewers through her ephemeral dreams.
Segment Two | Certain Shadows on the Wall
Dr. Stephen Brigham (Louis Hayward) attends to his bedridden sister Emma (Agnes Moorehead), reading her passages from Dickens while their other siblings, Ann (Grayson Hall) and Rebecca (Rachel Roberts), wait for her to die.
The wait is a short one, but as Stephen makes plans to sell his sister’s estate and all its contents, the surviving family members make a strange discovery. Although now recently departed, Emma’s shadow remains behind on the wall of the house, and no amount of cleaning or repainting will make it disappear.
The shadow casts a creepy pall over the ensuing drama, looming in the background as Stephen squabbles with his sisters over the matter of inheritance—suggesting that what is carried on to those left behind after death is something less than a human spirit, but more akin to a persistent stain.
1974 | 74 minutes
Starring Scott Jacoby, Pippa Scott, John Larch, Dabney Coleman, Kim Hunter
Directed by Buzz Kulik
Returning home from being rejected at a schoolmate’s pool party, social pariah Ronald (Scott Jacoby) vents his frustration on a taunting young girl, accidentally killing her. Rather than having her son turn himself into the police, Ronald’s controlling mother (Kim Hunter) quickly devises an ingenious solution: Why not wall up the downstairs bathroom and have Ronald continue to live secretly at home, safely hidden in his cubby?
All goes well—with Ronald studying and exercising in his tiny new home, sharing meals with his mother through the crawlspace entry in the pantry–until she checks into the hospital for a routine operation. Ronald discovers the news of her death when he overhears a realtor discussing the potential sale of the house. When a new couple (Dabney Coleman, Kim Hunter) and their daughters move in, Ronald slips more and more into a self-created fantasy realm, while continuing to live in his secret hideaway and watching the new family’s activities through various peepholes drilled in the walls.
Although more sympathetic than the moniker would suggest, Bad Ronald delivers a grubby sort of creepiness, more unsettling than terrifying. A picked-on outcast guilty of manslaughter rather than a cold-blooded murderer, Ronald mostly plays a passive role, particularly in the subsequent death of his nosy neighbor. He only takes action against those he spies upon when his isolation-driven fantasy world bleeds into his reality. Until then, Ronald exists as a corporeal phantom, tapping into the queasiness of breached privacy and violated personal space.