You can’t beat late night television to catch some of the oddities of the film world. Series’ like Moviedrome and Mondo Macabro presented some weird and wonderful films, but sheer scheduling alone would bring the occasional strange delight our way. The only bonus of insomnia was that I’d never miss these films when they were on and it’s how I got into loving film, the veritable B-movie banquet that was the early hours So, here are my choices of five late night TV gems:
Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark (1973) Now you see them, now you don’t…now you die
Be afraid, be very afraid in this very effective made-for-TV movie which has already made an entry in fistinface’s ‘Five: TV Movies Not About Eating Disorders’. I love cheesy TV movies but this is the rare thing of a darker, more original film and for years I never knew what it was, just that Feral and I had both seen the film independently and were both independently a bit freaked out by it. The film concerns Sally and Alex (Kim Darby and Jim Hutton), a young married couple who move into a large house Sally inherits from her Grandmother. There is mystery surrounding her Grandfather’s demise and the chimney is boarded up, much to sally’s dismay as she is intent on opening it up and making good use of the room. When she takes it upon herself to do just that, the trouble starts to happen. Sally starts to see tiny demons around the house and Alex needs her to be hold it together for a business dinner party they are to host. That’s what’s so great about this film, that, though the creatures themselves are real and very scary, the fear is old-fashioned paranoia and fear of losing your mind as represented within the confines of a traditional marriage. Though there has been talk of a remake, it wouldn’t have the same resonance today as you couldn’t recreate the marriage interplay of the era and that’s what builds the tension in this surprisingly scary film.
The Baby (1973) Pray you don’t learn the secret of…The Baby
If ever there was a great late night cult movie it’s The Baby, this bizarre tale is one of the most pleasingly strange films I’ve ever had the satisfaction of catching. Ann Gentry (Anjanette Comer) is a social worker investigating the Wandsworth family; Mrs. Wandswoth (Ruth Roman), her two daughters Germaine and Alba (Marianna Hill and Suzanne Zenor) and son Baby (David Mooney). Recently widowed Ann is rightly concerned about the situation at the Wandsworths being as Baby is in fact a 21 year-old grown man dressed, treated and kept as a baby. Well-meaning Ann finds intervention difficult to say the least with the hostile matriarch and her wilful daughters and turns to her mother-in-law for support in the case. The strong female-led cast really makes this film as the women are not just strong, but beautiful, strange, cunning and manipulative, with funky fashions to boot. Unnerving in many ways, this film works very nicely on the fear of other peoples domesticity, weaved around a truly unique take on maternal horrors. With an amazing twist ending, there’s really not much more you could ask for in a late night TV treat.
High Desert Kill (1989) In the badlands of New Mexico it waits for them…
The second TV movie on the list, like Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, High Desert Kill is unexpectedly unique for TV fare. The film focuses on a hunting trip that goes awry when strange things start to happen. Jim (Anthony Geary), Brad, (Marc Singer) and Ray (Micah Grant) make the usual annual trek to New Mexico, though this time without Ray’s Uncle Paul (Vaughn Armstrong), who died in an accident. Though the absence overshadows the trip, the men are enjoying the great outdoors until things and people disappear and the men, confused, turn on each other. When deceased Uncle Paul starts making an appearance there is definitely something weird afoot and the film manages to convey this well with a distinctly eerie tone. This is an instance where the low budget works in the film’s favour as the minimal effects add to the slightly creepy atmosphere. Not what you’d call a great film, but an interesting little flick nonetheless and worth seeing for Chuck Connors as the old-timer and Ray’s impromptu and highly 80’s dance beside the camp fire. Probably not high on the list for a DVD release but if, like me, you search hard you too could be the proud owner of one High Desert Kill big-box VHS, just the way it should be.
The Cars That Ate Paris (1974) The traffic in the township of Paris was murder
A great retro intro begins this Australian ‘strange town’ movie with added social commentary from director Peter Weir (Picnic at Hanging Rock). In Paris, New South Wales, the locals boost their economy by causing road accidents and salvaging the wreckage. This is an unfortunate fact for brothers Arthur and George Waldo (Terry Camilleri and Rick Scully), who happen to be passing the town and for whom normal town practice ensues. To the surprise of the Parisians, Arthur survives the crash and is taken in by the Mayor (John Meillon), even being given employment as a hospital orderly. However, while embedded in the community and unable to leave, Arthur discovers the truth, but will he be as much of a threat to their existence as the town’s own disaffected youth? Though dark and offbeat, this is less horror than you’d think and more of an endearing small town drama. It’s no Picnic, but The Cars That Ate Paris is one of my fondest memories of random films to catch as it seemed to be quite a regular on the late night TV circuit.
Psychomania (1971) Ride with the Living Dead!
With 70’s fashions and decor, a ridiculous plot, amazing soundtrack and one of the greatest intro’s I’ve ever seen in a film, Psychomania is fantastically kitschy nonsense for a late night viewing. Tom (Nicky Henson) is the leader of a rebellious biker gang called The Living Dead, whose ambition is to come back from the dead as indestructible hell raisers. Tom thinks he’s cracked it, with believing the secret, and multiple suicides ensue followed by much biker mayhem like trashing a supermarket. Meanwhile, Tom’s mother, Mrs. Latham (Beryl Reid), is frog-worshipping in her funky pad aided by butler Shadwell (George Sanders), but what is the secret of the locked room, and what happened to Tom’s father? All won’t be revealed by director Don Sharp and that’s part of the charm of this film, that it doesn’t make any sense and never explains itself. It’s a lot of fun and if you can’t appreciate it for what it is surely seeing Beryl Reid out of character is attraction enough.
Buy Them at amazon.com: Don’t Be Afraid Of The Dark | The Baby | High Desert Kill | The Cars That Ate Paris | Psychomania
... more Late – Fives