• Televised Terror Volume 1 (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: May 29th, 2021.
    Director: Walter Gurman/William A. Graham/Mike Robe
    Cast: Kathleen Beller, Blythe Danner, Tricia O’Neil, Dennis Quaid, Tom Skerritt, Sharon Stone, Robert Beltran, Pat Corley, Alan Thicke, Jobeth Williams, Elijah Wood, Season Hubley, Darren McGavin
    Year: 1978/1984/1990
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    Televised Terror Volume 1 – Movie Review:

    Vinegar Syndrome offers up a trio of made for TV horror movies, rescued from obscurity from the MGM vaults and offered up here in high definition for the first time ever in the history of the universe!

    Are You Alone In The House?:

    The first film, directed by Walter Gurman in 1978, follows a seventeen-year-old high school student named Gail Osborne (Kathleen Beller) who lives at home with her parents, Neil (Tony Bill) and Anne (Blythe Tanner). Gail’s best friend, Alison Bremer (Robin Mattson), sets her up on a blind date with Steve Pastorinis (Scott Colomby). He’s a straight A student and has already been accepted to Dartmouth! That night, the two girls get together with Alison’s boyfriend, Phil Lawver (Dennis Quaid), and head out to check out a Robert Redford film.

    Gail and Steve hit it off right from the start and before you know it, they’re an item, much to the dismay of Gail’s ex, E.K. Miller (Randy Stumpf). Shortly after their courtship begins, Gail starts getting creepy phone calls and threatening notes left in her locker and if, not too long afterwards, raped while babysitting one night. This isn’t a spoiler as the movie opens with Alison being dragged out on a stretcher and refusing to tell her parents or authorities who the culprit was. The movie sets up a few suspects, including the aforementioned characters but also including a creepy photography teacher named Chris Elden (Alan Fudge). The movie reveals who was behind the rape, and then shows us the Hell that Gail has to deal with in order to try and get her life back to some semblance of normalcy.

    Less a horror movie than a thriller with heavy doses of teen drama interjected throughout, Are You In The House Alone? is very much a product of its time (at one point Gail’s mother is concerned that they won’t be able to prosecute the rapist because Gail wasn’t a virgin when it happened!) but it’s a pretty interesting one. The direction and cinematography are pretty strong here, there’s nice camerawork on display throughout and the pacing is solid, even if there’s a more melodrama in here than some may want.

    The movie also has a strong cast. Beller overdoes it a bit here and there but is, overall, likeable and believable enough to work here. Colomby plays the possessive boyfriend pretty well and Stumpf is well-cast as the sleazy ex. Tanner and Bill do decent work as the parents and it’s interesting to see a young Dennis Quaid here in a supporting role.

    Calendar Girl Murders:

    William Graham’s 1984 picture Calendar Girl Murders begins when a wealthy playboy named Richard Trainor (Robert Culp) celebrates the success of his latest nudie girl calendar. To crown the event, he hosts a massive part during which the models who posed for the January page his calendar falls from the balcony of a high-rise apartment, sent to her death by a mysterious black gloved killer!

    Lieutenant Dan Stoner (Tom Skerritt) is the hard ass cop called to the scene to sort out the grisly details. As he begins to set out and piece together the puzzle, he moves into Trainor’s world of fashion, glitz, glamor, high society parties and, of course, gorgeous women. It’s here that he meets Cassie Bascomb (Sharon Stone), and finds himself quickly falling in love with the shapely blonde bombshell.

    That said, the killer isn’t done, not by a long shot. Soon enough, the model who posed for the February page has been murdered as well, and Stoner realizes that the killer is operating in the order which the girls’ pictures were published in Trainor’s publication. Stoner is then in the inevitable race against time to stop the killer before another body is added to the pile, all while wanting to protect Cassie from any harm.

    This one is a lot of fun. Graham throws a few fun twists as us as the storyline plays out, and it’s easy to make comparisons to a few well-known giallo pictures made in the years prior to this movie (though of course, being made for network TV, it isn’t nearly as exploitative). It has a very ‘eighties TV’ feel to it in terms of the overall look of the production but don’t hold that against it, it’s pretty entertaining stuff despite the garish attire and bad hair.

    Culp plays the playboy role pretty well and Skerritt, being Skerritt and all, is great as the cop (because Tom Skerritt is always great as the cop). He is definitely in his comfort zone here as an actor but he does what he does well. It’s cool to see a young and very healthy looking Sharon Stone here a few years before movies like Basic Instinct would move her to the Hollywood A-list, she’s very good in her role. Also be on the lookout for supporting roles from none other than Robert Morse, Claudia Christian and Dr. Jason Seaver himself, Alan Thicke!

    Child In The Night:

    Last but not least is Mike Robe’s 1990 picture, Child In The night, which opens with a pretty startling scene where a young boy named Luke (played by a very young Elijah Wood) witnesses the brutal murder of his father one night at the man’s office on the docks. The killer’s face was obscured but he wore a heavy rain slicker and wielded a massive hook!

    Luke is, of course, completely traumatized by what he sees and so his mother Valeria (Season Hubley) brings him to Dr. Hollis (JoBeth Williams), a child psychologist. The hope is that Hollis will be able to help Luke dig deeper into his memories of the night in question and come up with anything that might help the cops, led by Detective Bass (Tom Skerritt again!), figure out who the killer really is. As Hollis and Bass work the case and, of course, start falling in love, they learn the hard way that anyone who gets too close to figuring out the killer’s identity winds up dead!

    This third picture is also pretty entertaining. Again, the fact that it was made for network television means the filmmakers have to play it safe with the sex and violence but the opening murder sequence is pretty effective and does a good job of setting the tone for what’s to come. Robe paces the movie pretty effectively and the Seattle locations used for the shoot give it a different backdrop than a lot of other made for TV pictures.

    Again, the film makes good use of a strong cast. We’ve already mentioned that Tom Skerritt does a great job of playing cops and he’s very good in this one as well. He has an interesting chemistry with Williams and the story does a nice job of letting us get to know them as their relationship evolves. Season Hubley, probably best known around these parts as the female lead from Vice Squad, is solid in her performance and Elijah Wood, who would have been eight or nine when this movie was made, is pretty good as the perpetually terrified kid.

    Televised Terror Volume 1 – Blu-ray Review:

    All three films are presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition and framed at 1.33.1 widescreen, each on its own 25GB Blu-ray disc encoded for Region A playback. Are You Alone In The House? Is presented “newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm interpositive” and takes up 23.2GBs of space. Calendar Girl Murders is “newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm original camera negative” and takes up 24.1GBs. Last but not least, Child In The Night is “newly scanned & restored in 2k from its 35mm original camera negative” and uses up 24.2Gbs of space. All three of these movies look great on Blu-ray, showing really strong detail, great color reproduction and a nice amount of depth. Natural film grain is here but there isn’t really any noticeable print damage here at all, the elements would appear to have been pristine. Black levels are good, skin tones too. No issues with compression or noise reduction. Very impressive!

    All three films get English language 24-bit DTS-HD 2.0 tracks with optional English SDH subtitles. Audio quality is fine, if a bit limited in range. Dialogue is always easy to follow and understand, the levels are balanced and the tracks are clean, clear and problem free.

    As far as the extras go, they are spread out across the three discs in the set as follows:

    Are You Alone In The House?:

    First up is Creating Musical Themes, an interview with composer Charles Bernstein that runs twenty-minutes. He talks about how, in 1978, he's been scoring TV and movies for over a decade and was reasonably experienced if not quite a veteran. He also notes that he did eight projects in total the year that this movie was made, how everything was done in a 'hands on' style since he didn't have access to the type of technology composers can use today, how he personally needs to score based on what the movie says to him rather than script details, having to come up with some menacing sounds based on feedback he received, the approach he took to scoring the movie, the importance of melody and lots more. He even shows off the hand scored pages he created when scoring the film!

    The disc also includes an audio essay by film historian Amanda Reyes that runs twelve-minutes. She gives a quick rundown of how made for TV movies became popular with the networks, how made for TV movies tended to be smaller and more personal, how critics took a while to warm to many of these films and how they're still marginalized in a lot of circles, how made for TV movies came to be studied in a more serious light over time and the oddly feminist bent of many made for TV horror and thriller movies. She then gives a history of Are You In The House Alone?, talking about the novel that inspired the film, how it handles the subject of rape, notes on the cast and crew, the film’s depictions of sex and love and the differences between the two and more.

    Calendar Girl Murders:

    This disc includes an extended audio essay with Reyes and Sam Pancake that runs eighty-three minutes. After explaining their credentials, they note how this is more of a roundtable discussion between two people who watch a lot of made for TV movies than a traditional commentary. As their discussion progresses, they talk about the film's slasher elements as well as its satirical elements, how and why the film goes dark when it does, the film's rushed turnaround time, some of the picture's more elaborate set pieces, some of the standards that the female characters are help up to, the different relationships that exist between the characters, some of the more amusing aspects of the movie stemming from the era in which it was made, the depiction of gay characters in the film, the movie being rerun under the alternate title of 'Someone’s Killing The World's Greatest Models,' the film's ratings, what the film ran against on network TV and lots more. These two are having a good time dissecting this movie and it's a pretty interesting conversation with a lot of good information in it.

    Child In The Night:

    The third film also features an audio essay by Reyes, this one clocking in at fifteen-minutes. She speaks here about how the 1990's was the silver age of made for TV movies (the 1970's being the golden age) with quite a few interesting genre films hitting the small screen during this period. She notes the similarities and differences between made for TV movies from the different decades, how the films wanted to depict the domestic state of its audience, some of the themes and ideas that the film explores, details on the cast and crew featured in the picture, the way in which specific characters in the film are depicted and how they challenge certain stereotypes and tropes and more. Again, it's a smart and interesting look at the film with some important context and welcome information about its history.

    It’s also worth mentioning how nice the packaging is for this set. The three Blu-ray cases fit very nicely inside a thick, embossed cardboard box that opens from the side. It slides open to reveal some artwork from the movies underneath, and when assembled it features the original poster art for the first film and a variation on the art for the two sequels on the reverse. It’s a very classy way to present some very sleazy movies!

    Televised Terror Volume 1 - The Final Word:

    Televised Terror Volume 1 may not be as loaded with extras as some of Vinegar Syndrome’s other boxed sets but the input from Reyes and Pancake offers a lot of welcome information and context and the presentations of the three features are excellent. The movies themselves are pretty entertaining and offer up some early glimpses into the careers of some pretty big names. Those who need their horror to be harder edged might not be so into these but each one of the films in this set is quite well made and plenty entertaining.

    Click on the images below for full sized Televised Terror Volume 1 Blu-ray screen caps!