REPOST: Madame Sin (1972)

AUTHOR’S NOTE: This James Bond-influenced made for TV movie/pilot features Bette Davis and is totally worth watching. We originally posted it on December 4, 2018 and have edited it in this post and added new links so that you can stream it for free.

Originally broadcast on January 15, 1972, this film emerged at the tail end of the superspy craze to present a truly insane idea for a weekly series that was never to be: Bette Davis as a villainous vixen who commands an army beneath the Scottish highlands to do her bidding. Imagine if Dr. Evil were the lead in his own show and you have a vague idea of how completely bonkers this movie is.

Arming her men with sonic weaponry and possessing the ability to implant memories that make people do whatever she wants, what the titular vaguely Asian spider lady wants is to get her very own nuclear submarine.

Helping and hindering her in this plan is Anthony Lawrence (Robert Wagner), whose father was a past lover/adversary of Madame Sin. She’s helped by Malcolm De Vere (Denholm Elliot) and a huge army of sycophants, including numerous women who dress like nuns.

If it seems like I am describing a dream I had that is my best film idea ever, this is close. Imagine if Bette Davis were a villainess on The Avengers, but one that — spoiler warning — wipes out every single person who faces her and even dares to imagine kicking the British Royal Family out of Buckingham Palace.

While intended to be an ABC in the U.S. and ITC in the U.K. co-production, this film sadly wasn’t picked up. It’d be hard to see this level of quality continued week in, week out, such as shooting everything at Pinewood Studios.

Madame Sin was directed by David Greene, who was also behind the film version of Godspell and big TV event movies like Roots and Rich Man, Poor Man. One of its writers, Barry Shear, was the director of Wild in the Streets.

Ah the 1970’s, when spy movies like this would just show up as Movies of the Week and then disappear into the ether, only to remain in our subconsciousness or perhaps a replay on the CBS Late Movie.

You can get this from Shout! Factory. Or watch it for free on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Our Man Flint: Dead On Target (1976)

Originally airing March 17, 1976 on ABC, this forgotten third Derek Flint movie sadly deserves to be that way. A pilot for a weekly series, luckily it wasn’t picked up, if the quality of this effort was to be any indication of how bad the show would be. Dead On Target indeed.

Ray Danton — who became a director for TV after this (he also helmed Deathmaster and Psychic Killer) — is Flint. He had a long career in Eurospy films like Secret Agent Super DragonCode Name: Jaguar and Lucky, the Inscrutable. This would be his last acting role.

What the film fundamentally gets wrong is the fact that Derek Flint is a man continually looking to better himself and seek a higher plane. Why would he decide to become a normal everyday private investigator? Maybe he was following in the footsteps of Matt Helm, whose Tony Franciosa-starring TV series had him become a gumshoe.

Well, he does exactly that, helping Benita (Gay Rowan, The Starlost, the Robert Fuest-directed Revenge of the Stepford Wives) learn to be a private dick and battle the terrorists known as B.E.S.L.A. (Bar El Sol Liberation Army). They’ve kidnapped an oil tycoon named Wendell Runsler, who must be rescued, which again seems like something Flint would probably have an issue with.

There’s a blink and you’ll miss it appearance by a nascent Kim Cattrall as a secretary. Otherwise, I can’t find much here to recommend to you. Truly, this is the lowest of the low where the Flint movies are the highest of the high.

One of Flint’s lines is “It’s like the blind man said when he passed the fish market. “Hello, ladies!”” That makes no sense. This movie being so horrifically bland doesn’t either.

In Advance of the Landing (1993)

Based on the book by Doug Curran, this movie is all about people who have seen UFOs or been abducted, like Betty Hill. It also shows off the Unarius Church, which we’ve happily featured on this site thanks to Children of the Stars

This is a really even-handed discussion of people that believe that they have a connection with aliens and other planets. None of it is played up as a joke or as too silly or even deadly serious for that matter. It’s just right and a great example of Curtis working as a documentary filmmaker. I would have liked to have seen him do more stuff like this.

Sadly, this is a really hard to find movie. I’ve done the research and found it on YouTube for you.

Frankenstein (1973)

Written by Sam Hall and producer Dan Curtis, this made-for-TV Frankenstein adaption was directed by Glenn Jordan, who would also be in charge of Curtis’ The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Originally airing on January 16, 1973 on ABC, this show was forgotten due to another more expensive TV film, Frankenstein: The True Story.

Robert Foxworth, who was Questor in The Questor Tapes, stars here as Dr. Frankenstein, determined to give life to dead tissue. He’s also in the TV movie The Devil’s Daughter with Johnathan Frid and Shelley Winters.

Bo Svensen makes for a great monster that you both feel for and are afraid of at the apporpriate times in the script. He’s joined by Susan Strasberg (Sweet Sixteen), Robert Gentry (Dear Dead Delilah) and Curtis favorite John Karlen (who is in just about every TV movie that Curtis woud produce).

You may or may not like the shot on video look of so many of Curtis’ productions. I personally love them and make me wistful for an era of TV that is long gone.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Scream of the Wolf (1974)

In a sleepy town along the coast of California, an unknown animal begins killing people, beginning with a ‘70s version of Dana Carvey. The local sheriff (All My Children’s Philip Carey) recruits local writer John Wetherby (Peter Graves) who used to earn his living as a big game hunter to help track the animal.  Baffled by the presence of both four and two-legged tracks, he approaches his shifty ex-hunting buddy Byron (Clint Walker) for assistance who refuses to cooperate. As more people die, the townsfolk begin to believe there’s a werewolf in their midst. 

 A few weak red herring characters peppered throughout the story aside, Byron is the prime suspect. Not only was he bitten by a wolf, he has a strange obsession with the exchange of power between predator and prey. He hates John’s new “emasculating” life of leisure and possesses a rather creepy yet swaggering demeanor. 

Based on the story The Hunter by David Case, Richard Matheson’s teleplay is better than the average TV movie script. On the surface it appears to be a standard whodunnit supernatural mystery. It was only upon further scrutiny I noticed the anti-hunting message and sexual subtext. Both of the protagonists are professional hunters. One becomes civilized and changes careers. The other sticks with it and grows into a psychopath who masks his feelings for another man through hyper-masculinity and violence.  

The sexual tension between John and Byron isn’t just palpable. It’s downright steamy. The long knowing gazes, Byron’s unexplained hatred for John’s girlfriend Sandy (Jo Ann Pflug), the passive aggressive references to their time together alone in the Canadian wilderness and the arm-wrestling match where Byron challenges John, to “last seven minutes” are all very obvious references that Byron just can’t quit John. I kept waiting for them to embrace in a passionate kiss and walk off into the sunset together, carrying their very long rifles at waist height. 

 Alas, this is a ‘70s TV movie, so their past is never fully revealed. Instead, we get a nice double twist where first Byron fakes his death and pins the werewolf murders. After returning to confront him, Byron reveals himself to John, who assumes he was the werewolf all along. Not even close.  In fact, it isn’t a werewolf at all that’s been mutilating people. It’s a German Shepherd, tortured and trained to hunt humans by Byron. Why? To awaken John’s “urge to action” and get him to go off to South America with him on another “hunting trip.” It doesn’t work. After a chase reminiscent of The Most Dangerous Game (1932), heterosexuality wins out. John outsmarts Byron and shoots him with a hidden handgun after a nice bit of dialogue where Byron tells his prey, “You wanted me to stalk you.” and John replies, “Let’s just say I didn’t want you to leave.”  

By the time Scream of the Wolf aired, director Dan Curtis was already well-known for working in the horror genre, having made Dark Shadows and The Norliss Tapes. Whether he was aware of the subtext in the teleplay is unclear, but he directs the stalk-attack sequences with his usual skill, and is very unsettling even for a TV movie. As journeymen actors, Graves, Walker, Pflug and Carey are all very good in their respective roles. The musical score is another highlight, with a groovy yet suspenseful theme that’s a combination of Enter the Dragon and Friday the 13th

While not as well-known as Trilogy of Terror, which arrived the following year, Scream of the Wolf is an overlooked gem that made the rounds on cable about 15 years ago. It’s never been given a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release, but it definitely deserves one. It’s got a good script, plenty of dead bodies, good acting and subtext so subtle it probably flew right over the average ‘70s ABC viewer’s head. Fans of Dan Curtis, or older men arm-wrestling will enjoy it. Did I mention Peter Graves drive a sweet Corvette? The cherry on top. 

I Think I’m Having a Baby (1981)

While not produced or directed by Dan Curtis, this made for TV movie was produced by his company. It was produced by former actor Joseph Stern, Eda Godel Hallinan and Keetje Van Benschoten.

Directed by Arthur Allan Seidelman — yes, the same man who made Hercules In New York — and written by teen fiction writer Blossom Elfman, this is a movie filled with nascent Hollywood talent.

Jennifer Jason Leigh, Helen Hunt, Tracey Gold and Ally Sheedy are all on hand for about 28-minutes in the hopes that you’ll learn to talk out sex before you have it. As Becca told me that she learned, stop fooling around with boys and just get a bunny instead.

You can watch this on Amazon Prime or the YouTube link below.

The Picture of Dorian Gray (1973)

Originally airing on April 22, 1973 on ABC, this Dan Curtis-produced adaption of the Oscar Wilde book was like going back to the Dark Shadows well. After all, Quentin Collins also had a portrait that had kept him immortal. He was born Grant Douglas in 1870 and if you reverse those initials, you get the same ones as Dorian Gray.

It was written by John Tomerlin who was the scribe for the Twilight Zone episode “Number 12 Looks Just Like You” as well as episodes of Thriller. Glenn Jordan directed and you may remember him from the Kim Milford-starring TV movie Song of the Succubus.

Shane Briant (Demons of the MindCaptain Kronos: Vampire HunterFrankenstein and the Monster from HellHawk the Slayer) is the perfect Dorian Gray, at once sure of his actions and the other yearning to escape from his life of sin.

Charles Aidman, who worked for Curtis in The Invasion of Carol Enders and as the narrator of When Every Day Was the Fourth of July, appears, as does William Beckley (Gerard the butler from Dynasty), Nigel Davenport (No Blade of Grass), Vanessa Howard (Some Girls Do), Linda Kelsey (TV’s Lou Grant), a very young Kim Richards (when she wasn’t escaping Witch Mountain or getting shot outside Precinct 13 as a child, she was falling in love with Mr. Gray) and Curtis favorite John Karlen, who played Willie Loomis on Dark Shadows.

This is a mannered take on the story, so don’t expect much excitement. But there are a few really great scenes between Davenport and Briant. It’s worth a watch.

You can see it on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

Dracula (1973)

Written by Richard Matheson and directed by Dan Curtis, this would be the second collaboration between Curtis and Jack Palance after 1968’s The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.

This movie has a big impact on Dracula lore: Francis Ford Coppola’s version seems to take two cues from this film, which had never appeared in any other version of Stoker’s story: Dracula is Vlad the Impaler and that he is convinced that Mina is the reincarnation of his dead wife.

Also — Gene Colan based his Dracula in the comic book Tomb of Dracula on Palance years before this movie was made.

Palance is an incredibly convincing Dracula. He battles a Van Helsing played by Nigel Davenport, who is also in the oddball 70’s insect film Phase IV.

Playing Lucy — and Dracula’s dead wife Maria — is Fiona Lewis, whose genre credits are plentiful, from The Fearless Vampire KillersDr. Phibes Rises Again and Tintorera to The FuryStrange Behavior/Dead KidsStrange Invaders and Innerspace.

Mina is played by Penelope Horner and one of the vampire brides is played by Sarah Douglas, Ursa from the Superman movies, Queen Taramis in Conan the Destroyer, Lyranna in the second Beastmaster movie and Elsa Toulon in the third Puppet Master movie. Man — this is full of people with full-on horror pedigrees!

Don’t believe me? Dracula’s other brides are played by Hammer actress Virginia Wetherell (Dr. Jekyll and Sister Hyde, Demons of the Mind) and Barbara Lindley, who appeared in Benny Hill and Monty Python sketches.

As for inventing that Dracula looking for his reincarnated wife plot, Curtis merely laughed and said that he was stealing from himself. Indeed, Dark Shadows and its vampire folklore informs this movie quite a bit.

You can watch this on Tubi.

Dead of Night: A Darkness at Blaisedon (1969)

Between producer Dan Curtis, director Lela Swift, writer Sam Hall, Robert Cobert’s music and Thayer David and Louis Edmonds in lead roles, this pilot for a TV series seems like you’re watching an episode of Dark Shadows. Trust me, that’s not a bad thing.

Angela Martin (Marj Dusay, who was on All My Children and Guiding Light) is a young woman with a haunted house named Blaisedon on her hands. Luckily, two ghost hunters named Jonathan Fletcher (Kerwin Mathews, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad) and Sajid Rowe (Cal Bellini, born in Singapore as Khalid Ibrahim, who enjoyed a quarter century of playing any minority that Hollywood needed; he was that ethnically ambiguous) are on the case.

It has many of the hallmarks of Dark Shadows — long forgotten relatives, ghosts, possession and the idea that nearly every housekeeper has some dark, sinister secret. The fashions are also pretty great

While the series wasn’t bought by ABC, they did air it on August 26, 1969. You can catch it as an extra on the Dead of Night DVD or watch it on Amazon Prime and Tubi.

The Night Strangler (1973)

Originally airing on ABC on January 16, 1973, this sequel to The Night Stalker was just as popular as the original film. Richard Matheson would come back to write, Dan Curtis would produce and direct, and Darren McGavin would be Carl Kolchak again.

While the TV version is only 74 minutes, there was an international version that played theaters at 90 minutes with extra footage added.

This time, Kolchak has been run out of Las Vegas and found his way to Seattle, where fate has put his former editor Vincenzo (Simon Oakland, PsychoChanto’s Land) has also ended up. He’s arrived just in time, as a series of exotic dancers have all been strangled and drained of blood. And oh yeah — there are traces of rotting flesh on their necks.

A researcher (Wally Cox, the voice of Underdog) discovers that this isn’t the first time the Emerald City has dealt with murders just like this. It happened in 1952. And in 1931. And every 21 years since 1889, with a series of murders occurring over an 18-day span.

Our hero figures out the truth, but the story gets suppressed again. He deals with it about as well as you’d imagine. He teams up with an exotic dancer (Jo Ann Pflug, one-time wife of Chuck Woolery who also is in Scream of the Wolf) and tracks down the night stalker (Richard Anderson, The Six Million Dollar Man) to his lair, where the truth is revealed: he’s actually a man named Dr. Richard Malcolm who has discovered the elixir of life, but must kill six people to make it. To make things even creepier, his family died long ago and are mummified nearby.

Carl smashes the mixture and is attacked, but soon, the night stalker ages into dust before he kills himself. Out of a job, Carl and Vincenzo are forced to drive to New York City together.

A third film, written by Mattheson and William F. Nolan (Burnt Offerings) called The Night Killers was to be set in Hawaii, with Kolchak again walking into a cover-up, as UFO’s, nuclear power and androids replacing humans would have all figured into the plot. There was also the rumor of another script where Kolchak was going to discover that Janos Skorzeny was alive and making others not so well in New York City.

ABC passed on the third movie and gave Kolchak a series without Matheson or Curtis involved.

But that’s a story for another day.

The Night Stalker is everything great about made-for-TV movies, with plenty of quality actors showing up, like The Wizard of Oz star Margaret Hamilton, John Carradine (like you can keep him away from a horror movie made in 1973), “Grandpa” Al Lewis in a funny role where you assume that he’s a bloodsucker but just ends up being a homeless person, Nina Wayne as a dancer named Charisma Beauty, Kate Murtagh (The Car), Ivor Francis (the mortician from House of the Dead) and Anne Randall (Playboy Playmate of the Month May 1967, who also appears in the Al Adamson movie  Hell’s Bloody Devils).

If you love The Six Million Dollar Man, you have to appreciate the irony that both McGavin — as Oliver Spencer — and Anderson — as Oscar Goldman — would play the handler of Steve Austin.

You can watch this for yourself on New Castle After Dark. Or grab the blu ray from Kino Lorber.