There are an abundance of us who tend to skip made-for-television pics because we’re leery of watered down chills, but history has gifted us a few amazing small screen creep-outs, and it’s time we acknowledged them. If you’re reading this you’ve probably seen more bad than good, so we’re not going to dole out praise to any old film out there – this piece is reserved the masterful efforts that may have gone overlooked or flat out forgotten. You want to remember these movies, and if you’re able to, you want to track them down!
My favorite Stephen King book got the small screen treatment back in 1979, and while it isn’t without its faults, it is one hell of a flick. Tobe Hooper directs this stellar pic about a writer who heads back to his native stomping grounds to draw inspiration from a local haunted house. But Ben Mears, the author being referenced, quickly learns that it isn’t old ghosts he’s got to worry about, it’s the active suckhead taking up residence in the very house that pulled him back to Salem’s Lot to begin with. The trimmed version of the film moves at a perfect pace, but if you’re in love with the trimmed rendition of the film, hunt down the extended version; it doesn’t move as swiftly, as it features about an hour of additional footage, but you’re more likely to become completely invested in the characters. Regardless of the cut, you can’t lose with SALEM’S LOT.
IT hasn’t exactly aged well, but it’s still an extremely enjoyable picture. There’s an endearing chemistry within both focal groups – The Losers Club as children, and later as adults – and Tim Curry does something genuinely remarkable with Pennywise, the killer clown with a taste for children. The eerie moments of the flick manage to pass the test of time, even if the overall film feels a bit dated. And, let’s not forget that we’ve got an amazing cast to study. The late Jonathan Brandis and John Ritter both shine, while Harry Anderson, Annette O’Toole, a young Emily Perkins and Richard Thomas also step up to hit home-runs. IT delivers the chills, boasts a strong ensemble and ultimately afforded us a look at what has become one of history’s greatest villains. You’re not going to lose with this one.
DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW
Still something of an under-appreciated beauty, Frank De Felitta’s DARK NIGHT OF THE SCARECROW, a tale of vengeance, is one of those rare flicks that seems entirely unaffected by Father Time. The story sees a mentally disabled man killed after he’s mistaken as a young girl’s attacker. But this poor fellow (played by the awesome Larry Drake, God bless the man) never hurt anyone, until after he’s been hunted down and strung up like a scarecrow. That’s when things take an intense turn for the macabre. There aren’t any mystifying special effects or obviously intricate plot twists. It’s just a no frills revenge piece, and it’s disturbingly successful in making the viewer squirm. This is, hands down, one of the best horror pieces to ever arrive on the small screen.
Although it’s more thriller than horror, it isn’t too tough to see how this one is often viewed as an entry in our beloved genre. It fits well, and the feature as a whole really captures the terrors of the road with perfection. The late Dennis Weaver carries this story of road rage gone too far, and although he doesn’t have much in the way of support, and his dialogue is minimal, he’s really so wildly convincing that he’s able to lure viewers into a surprisingly tense narrative. DUEL is one Steven Spielberg’s earliest productions, and it’s impressive enough to help turn industry heads and lead to some absolutely remarkable work. So, if you want to see what a raw Spielberg can do with a brilliant performer, a concept far ahead of its time and a wide open expanse of highway, look into DUEL.
TRILOGY OF TERROR
Karen Black steps up to front not one segment in TRILOGY OF TERROR, but all three – one of which she kind of portrays two individuals, as her core character has a split personality that gives way to an introduction of a second character with the same face. While that may sound like a somewhat risky maneuver from those involved in the production, it ended up being an awesome decision, as Black becomes an effective chameleon throughout the pic. The big standout is AMELIA which puts the focus on a murderous Zuni doll. But you’re not going to lose with any of these shorts. They’re all impressive. Each piece crawls from the mind of the late, great Richard Matheson, so anticipate high caliber tales with some creativity intact.
You knew this would be included, didn’t you? Of course! Unlike the bulk of other pics on this list, SHARKNADO is an openly bad film, and it used that realization to ignite interest in the production. Fans find the film exciting, and the absurdly over the top chaos does indeed prove highly rewarding. The CGI is laughably bad, and that too tugs at the fibers of fanatics. Every hokey film that can be made is featured in the production, and rather than drawing ire from fans, this movie managed to milk the so-bad-it’s-good angle to tremendous success. Today, the franchise still marches forward, and there are still very few films of this abysmal caliber that do genuinely thrill viewers while essentially serving as a subliminally charged anti-monster movie.
ALIEN ABDUCTION: INCIDENT IN LAKE COUNTY
Back before found footage films had made a full scale cinematic takeover, there was a quiet little production that crept onto screens and chilled to the bone, ALIEN ABDUCTION: INCIDENT IN LAKE COUNTY. It’s a found footage installment about an invasion from some other worldly monstrosities, and if you had the pleasure of seeing this back in 1998 (before even THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT had arrived) then you probably had the same horrified thoughts the rest of us had. It was frightening, to say the least, and as a naïve kid I was convinced the picture was a genuine depiction of an invasion. While that’s obviously not the case and the film doesn’t pass the same test today that it did 18 years ago, it still holds up as an eerie affair. If you can find it – which isn’t easy – I’d strongly suggest you pick it up.
DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK
John Newland’s 1973 offering, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, proved two different things. First, classic films aren’t necessarily the victims of the blatantly cruel aging process. And second, sometimes these vintage films – while maybe a little cheesy here and there – still do an amazing job of outshining their eventual glossy remakes. Because (let’s all be honest here) the DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK remake was a serious disappointment, while the original pictures oozes charm and still commands respect and undivided viewer attention. This is one of those pieces that could have easily been lost to foggy memories over time, but there are some amazing sequences that are going to leave first time viewers amazed.
DEAD OF NIGHT
DEAD OF NIGHT often feels very reminiscent of a Rod Serling production. One of the featured tales is a reflective time-traveling piece (Serling, all the way) that sets out to hypnotize viewers rather than scare them. The other segments in this forgotten anthology are much darker in tone. But they all work very well together, and there are a good handful of extremely creepy moments. Anticipate some impressive production values, some great performances from a series of great actors, a very stand-out effort in the segment BOBBY, and above all, a new entry on your favorite anthology list. The film deserves to be remembered!
STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE
STRANGER IN OUR HOUSE feels a bit more dated than the other vintage films on this list, but that’s not an indicator how enjoyable the picture proves to be. Sure, it gets off to a slow start, but the momentum builds. A young Wes Craven is the man who stepped behind the camera for this one, and as is the case with a good 90-percent of his films, he delivers masterful mood and a very dark tone. This isn’t one of Craven’s finest, but it’s a strong picture that’s going to put a smile on your face. I mean really, how can we go wrong with Craven and Blair joining forces?
Honorable Mentions: BODY BAGS, THE STAND, THE WOMAN IN BLACK, THE NORLISS TAPES, BURIED ALIVE