The ABC Movie of the Week and why it’s worth your looking for these films.
by Martin Hafer
At 52, I am officially old…my two grown daughters have reminded me of this many times. But one of the few good things about being old is recalling stuff that you whippersnappers would never have heard of and missed out on them growing up…such as the old ABC Movie of the Week. Back from 1969 to 1976, ABC produced a bunch of made for TV movies and, depending on the season, they aired once or even several times each week. Now I am not saying they were all brilliant films…in fact, they were all cheaply and quickly made B-level movies. But, and here’s the important part, they were often lots of fun because the network apparently would let them do pretty much any plot they could imagine! So, if some bizarro script was found about a dangerous psychotic man who lived in the crawlspace under some folks home, they gave the project a green light…and made “Crawlspace”. But that is downright tame compared to many of the plots. Here is just a sampling:
The Stranger Within–Barbara Eden plays a childless wife who suddenly gets pregnant…even though it’s medically impossible. Also impossible are her behaviors, as the more the baby very quickly grows the more emotionally disturbed she behaves. Why? Well, see the film and find out about this very special baby! This is, incidentally, my favorite of the films I have seen.
Crowhaven Farm–This film gave me nightmares as a child! Hope Lange and her husband move into a colonial New England farmhouse. Over time, it becomes apparent that she’s the reincarnation of a woman who betrayed a coven of witches…and there is going to be hell to pay!
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark–A couple moves into a house where they keep hearing strange sounds. Unknown to them, there are bizarre and malevolent little critters living in their chimney…and they’re coming for one of them!
Killdozer–A meteorite crashes to earth and when it comes into contact with a bulldozer, the machine becomes possessed and is a killing machine! Can anyone stop this unholy contraption?! I’d consider this the stupidest of the films…but it’s so stupid that it’s great for a few laughs!
Night Slaves–A couple visit a small town. At night, the townspeople and the man’s wife become zombies and board trucks for God knows where. In the morning, none of these people have any recollection of the evening before. Where are they going and who is controlling them?!
The Night Stalker and The Night Strangler–These two films led to the Kolchak: The Night Stalker TV series. Darren McGavin starred in these films and the short-lived series that I loved as a kid. He’s a crusading reporter who always seems to discover monsters, aliens and other creepy things and is nearly killed each and every time!
When Michael Calls--A guy, long dead, begins calling and scaring the crap out of his dead sister. To make it worse, after the calls someone she knows ends up dead!! What is going on here?! Could Michael have returned or is there some other sinister goings on instead?
Trilogy of Terror–Three scary tales but one of which is insanely enjoyable. Skip the other two if you like but you must see the one starring Karen Black as the lady who buys a scary African doll…only to have it come to life and terrorize her. The ending is simply brilliant! Possibly the best half hour of television from the era…it’s that good!
The list could go on and on and on….and many of these films were every bit as bizarre as the ones I listed above…and many were a bit more mundane. But I love the movies because they took risks no one else was doing at the time and the films are still fun after all these years. Sure, they’re not necessarily the most intellectual of films and often went for the supernatural…but one thing you can say about them is that they were seldom dull!
So how can you go about seeing these pictures…apart from building a time machine? Well, first I recommend you buy a copy of The ABC Movie of the Week Companion: a loving tribute to the classic series by Michael Karol. It’s inexpensive and you can get it from Amazon. He not only talks about the series but gives summaries of all of the films–so you’ll have an idea what to look for when you try to find them. Now as to where to find the movies, you have two choices. First, for a beautiful and pristine DVD, the Warner Brothers Archive Collection has many of the films for purchase. Sadly, few, if any, of these are on Netflix but you can buy them www.wbshop.com. Second, although the quality of the prints is sometimes rather poor, many of them are posted on YouTube and can be watched for free…yes, free! Many watch YouTube on their computers but you can also use the service using most BluRay players and newer videogame systems. I watch the channel on my PS3 as well as my Samsung BluRay player and have been having the time of my life reliving my love for the films. Do yourself a favor…try some of them and see what you think. I can pretty much guarantee you won’t find them boring! Also, if you come upon one you really love, let me know…I still have yet to see most of them.