1972. TV movies. Celebrities. The occult. Oh man, when I add up all the elements of the stew that makes up Haunts of the Very Rich and the broth tastes succulent!
Director by Paul Wendkos, who also was behind the supernaturally tinged The Brotherhood of the Bell, Good Against Evil and The Mephisto Waltz, not to mention the 1985 remake of The Bad Seed, the legendary 1975 TV movie The Legend of Lizzie Borden and the Gidget film series (whew!), this is a tasty slab of cathode ray goodness.
Predating Lost by 32 years, the film begins on an airplane where we learn that our cast of characters has all been lured to the Portals of Eden tropical resort for many different reasons. When they arrive, their host Seacrist (Moses Gunn, Detective Turner in Amityville II: The Possession) helps them enjoy paradise. A snake might show up, of course, but no one should be all that worried.
However, a storm breaks out that night and the staff goes away, the food goes bad and the mood goes sour. David and Ellen (Llyod Bridges and Cloris Leachman) think everyone is already dead and in hell. Al (Ed Asner) refuses to believe in anything. Annette (Anne Francis) goes from manic state to manic state before trying to kill herself. Lyle and Laurie (Tony Bill and Donna Mills) just stay in the background. And the priest (Robert Reed)? He abandons everyone for a peyote ceremony with a tribe of natives that bury birth defected children alive.
Originally airing on September 20, 1972, this film is very much of its time. It was shot on the grounds of the Vizcaya Museum and Gardens, which was the winter home of International Harvester vice president James Deering. You can also see this house in the films Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Airport ’77 and Iron Man 3.
If you enjoyed Fantasy Island but always wondered, “What if this show fucked with people instead of rewarded them?” then this is the movie for you. The double rug pull at the end surprised even me. And the acting is great. You know how you always heard how trapped Robert Reed felt on The Brady Bunch and how he yearned to be a real actor? Watch his final speech in this film and you’ll realize that he was probably right.
This has never been released on DVD, but aired a lot in the 1970’s and was released on VHS. That said, YouTube — and the TV TERRORLAND channel — are your friend. Check it out and let me know what you think.