The Babysitter (1980)

The ABC Friday Night Movie for November 28, 1980, The Babysitter was directed by Peter Medak, who was also in the chair for movies like The ChangelingCry for the StrangersZorro the Gay Blade, Romeo Is BleedingSpecies II and The Ruling Class. What an amazing lineup of films to have on your resume and such a disparate list of movies.

Dr. Jeff Benedict and his wife Liz (TV movie supercouple William Shatner and Patty Duke) have moved from Seattle to Chicago. Between their daughter Tara (Quinn Cummings, The Goodbye Girl) and the demands of housework, Liz isn’t doing so well. That means they bring in a live-in nanny named Joanna Redwine (Stephanie Zimbalist, before Remington Steele) and that’s when things go to seed.

Before you can say movie of the week, Joanna has Liz drinking again and convinced that Jeff has a mistress. While that game is afoot, she’s also trying to convince Jeff that loading his clown into her cannon while wifey is passed out is beyond a good idea

This is when you fire the babysitter. That said — if they did, we would not have the next hour and change of this movie.

Before it’s over, the bodies of the last family Joanna killed — wrapped in plastic a half decade before Laura Palmer — have showed up, she’s wearing Patty Duke’s lingerie and served up a dinner of raw beef tongue. The family is lucky that they know John Houseman, who saves them all.

I have a weakness for both made for TV movies and ones where babysitters slowly drive a family insane. This movie is at the center of this magnificent cycle and must be experienced. These TV movies are exploitation films, with small budgets and insane stories, that scream at you the entire time they are on the screen.

You can watch this on YouTube:

Earth II (1971)

You wanna see a movie directed by Uncle Rico’s dad, you know from Napoleon Dynamite . . . well, since we just finished off “James Bond Month,” Lazlo Hollyfeld from Real Genius?

Then this is your movie.

Earth II is directed by Jon Gries’s pop, Tom, whose bat-shite crazy TV series resume lead him to directing Jim Brown and Burt Reynolds in 100 Rifles, Charlton Heston in Will Penny, Charles Bronson in Breakout and Breakheart Pass, along with with the ultimate Charles Manson document, 1976 Helter Skelter. Tom Gries died on January 3, 1977, shortly after — and amazingly, somehow, making Muhammad Ali not look completely incompetent — completeing 1977’s The Greatest (but it’s still pretty bad, even with Ernest Borgnine of Marty in it).

But let’s get back to Earth II.

As we all know, 2001: A Space Odyssey was a game changer and everyone wanted back in the sci-fi game. So here we have Gary Lockwood — Frank Poole from Kubrick’s classic — as well as Mariette Hartley from Gene Roddenberry’s endless cycle of post-Star Trek endeavors, mainly Genesis II. Yep, that’ s Anthony Franciosa (Tenebre), Lew Ayres (Battle for the Planet of the Apes), and Hari Rhodes (Malcolm MacDonald from Conquest of the Planet of the Apes) along for the interstellar intrique.

As with most all U.S. TV movies, Earth II was an overseas theatrical feature, known as Killer Satellites, and it pushed its 2001, Apes, and Star Trek connections (Mariette Hartley was in one of that series’ popular episodes as Spock’s love interest) in its marketing materials. And it worked. But the foreign box office was better than the U.S. TV ratings; as result, Earth II wasn’t picked up for a weekly series as intended. But Gary Lockwood didn’t mind; he’s on record as saying he hated working on the production, eschewing it overly complex, sociopolitcal plotting.

Since this is very easily obtained as a still-in-print DVD and VOD stream, the reviews on this (rife with plot spoilers) are many. The basic gist of the story, if you haven’t guessed, is about a “second Earth,” that is, an orbital international space station. When things go amiss in Communist Red China and a nuclear missile comes to threaten the station’s 2000-strong pacifist inhabitants, they search for a way to solve the problem — without violence.

So, is Lockwood right?

Yeah. This is a bit slow to the point of boring. And it is complex, way too much for the young minds sci-fi-on-TV was geared for. And that complexity also resulted in the cancellation of the Planet of the Apes TV series and for Roddenberry’s Genesis II (and its reboots as Planet Earth and Strange New World) not going to series. Natch for Rodenberry’s The Questor Tapes.

But in terms of science accuracy, Earth II is stunning and the special effects are effective — just remember: in 1970 years. One can’t help but wonder if the creators behind TV’s Babylon 5 and the later SyFy Channel Battlestar Galactica reboot pinched from this classic TV movie (and we all know the debates regarding Babylon 5 vs. Star Trek: Deep Space 9). If you enjoy your sci-fi with intelligence, without the Lucasian Flash Gordon trimmings, then this “Before Star Wars”* romp is for you.

This one is widely availabe on DVD and all the usual VOD platforms, but we found a free version — a really clean rip — over on You Tube.

Earth II was one of the many films we didn’t get around to reviewing during our month-long Star Wars ripoffs and galactic droppings month. You can catch up on those films with our Before and After Star Wars explorations. And since there’s a little bit o’ post-apoc in Earth II, be sure to check out our two-part post-apoc blowout with our Atomic Dustbins, Part 1 and Part 2. And since were on the subject of both Star Wars and 2001: A Space Odyssey, be sure to check out our “Exploring (Before “Star Wars”): The Russian Antecedents of 2001: A Space Odyssey” featurette.

There are more TV movies to be had with our “Week of Made for TV Movies,” “Lost TV Week,” “Son of Made for TV Movie Week” and “Grandson of Made for TV Movie Week” tribute spotlights to those films that, in many cases, are even better than the movies that played in theatres.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Contagious (1997)

Could a major infectious disease cripple America? This TV movie presents this far-fetched…wait, I’ve been inside my house for two months because of one? Never mind. This movie is quaint by comparison to the life we’ve been living.

Dr. Hannah Cole (former bionic Lindsay Wagner) finds herself investigating an epidemic while her Tom Wopat-plated husband takes the kids camping and gets sick.

How did the disease start? A lab? A bat? Nope. Bad shrimp on an airplane, the kind of thing that would give Kareem Abdul-Jabbar the sweats. Here it gets into a coke mule’s stomach. He gets cut open for the drugs, everyone dies and the world pays the price for that sweet, sweet white powder trade.

If you love Elizabeth Pena and enjoy movies where people just rant exposition at you, have I got some great news for you! You can watch this on YouTube:

The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)

Someday, scholars will speak in awe of the post-Star Trek Satanic twosome of Shatner films, which would be this movie and The Devil’s Rain! Until then, maniacs like me will yell into the uncaring silence and tell you that for a shining moment — or literally two — the once and future Kirk would die twice (spoilers be damned, again literally) while facing off with the Lord of the Flies.

Originally airing on CBS on February 13, 1973, I first learned of this movie in a TV Guide Book of Lists that featured Anton LaVey discussing the most Satanic TV moments of the last decade. This movie has it all: Mario Bava lighting, a cursed altar, Shatner drunk and railing againt humanity, and finally, a bunch of Old Hollywood actors daring to sacrifice a young child to the Left Hand Path.

Sure, the flight from London to New York is supposed to be mainly cargo — that druid altar I hinted at before — but the plane still has plenty of talent on board. There’s Captain Ernie Slade (Chuck Connors), as well as an architect (Roy Thinnes, who would enter this territory again in The Norliss Tapes) and his wife (Jane Merrow, Hands of the Ripper) who have placed said altar on board. There’s also Paul Kovalik (Shatner), a priest who has lost his way, and super rich Glenn Farlee (Buddy Ebsen, who makes it awesome as it’s basically Jed Clampett and Barnaby Jones against Satan). You also get Tammy Grimes — whose daughter Amanda Plummer looks just like her — as well as Lynn Loring (also in the occultist Black Noon), Paul Winfield, France Nuyen (Code Name: Diamond Head), Will Hutchins, Darleen Carr (she’s in the TV remake of Piranha), Russell Johnson (The Professor!) and H. M. Wynant (Hangar 18).

Shot on the sound stages at CBS Studio Center, some people have the wrong idea that this is Shatner’s worst movie. They’re wrong. This movie is everything. My wife looked at me near the end and said, “This is pretty intense for TV.” I told her that life was cheap in 1973.

Director David Lowell Rich would also make Satan’s School for GirlsSST Death Flight and The Concorde … Airport ’79, all movies that some people would make fun of. Not me — this is my bread and butter. It tastes delicious.

You can watch this on YouTube:

SST Death Flight (1977)

David Lowell Rich directed Eye of the Cat and Satan’s School for Girls before this made-for-TV movie, which originally aired February 25, 1977 on ABC. He also directed The Horror at 37,000 Feet, which probably is why he was selected to make the final movie in the Airport series, the absolutely insane The Concorde … Airport ’79.

There’s also a European version of this called Death Flight that has nudity in it, if you want some more death in the sky with breasts action. You’ll get that but no realism, as the plane model used for the film is actually American SST as the first of its kind. The aviation sequences utilized a Concorde with Boeing 747 turbofan engines attached in some scenes and a Lockheed L-2000 in others. Neither of these planes ever flew at these speeds.

On the maiden flight of Maiden 1, Captain Jim Walsh (Robert Reed, The Brady Bunch), Flight Engineer Roy Nakamura (Robert Ito, Quincy M.D.), stewardess Mae (Tina Louise, Gilligan’s Island) and steward David (Billy Crystal, City Slickers) are preparing for the first supersonic flight from New York City to Paris. Joining them are plenty of guest stars, like the designer of the ship (Burgess Meredith, Rocky), the head of PR (Bert Convy!) and the supermodel who he’s sleeping with (Misty Rowe, Hee-HawMeatballs Part 2) and a former pilot (Doug McClure, Firebird 2015 A.D.).

There are so many people in this and you know that I love movies like that. Peter Graves, John de Lancie (the Q!), Season Hubly (Hardcore), Susan Strasberg, Regis Philbin, George Maharis, Martin Millner, Brock Peters…1977 was such a great time for TV movies like this.

There’s also a virus unleashed on the plane beyond all the mechanical failures that you’d expect. Man, disaster films — on a budget! — are where it’s at.

Somehow, despite both being on Route 66, Milner and Maharis don’t appear in a single scene together.

This was one of the first movies that Mystery Science Theater 3000 riffed back when they were KTMA. Here it is on YouTube so you can watch the unadulterated movie all on its own:

ABC Afterschool Special: The Amazing Cosmic Awareness of Duffy Moon (1976)

If you read our reviews for the ABC Afterschool Special: Hewitt’s Just Different, along with CBS Schoolbreak Special: Portrait of a Teenage Shoplifter, and NBC Special Treat: New York City Too Far from Tampa Blues, then you’re up to speed on the backstory of the “Big Three” network’s competition for a slice of the young adult audience during the late afternoon school days during the ’70s and ’80s. So let’s jump right into the review!

This movie that aired on February 4, 1976, is simply too special to casually mention in passing amid some of the other notable young adult flicks aired during the ABC anthology series, which we pointed out in our review of Hewitt’s Just Different.

Why?

Because during that spring, and into the summer of 1976, anytime we faced a challenge, e.g., scaling a particularly tall tree, a knee-scraping bike stunt, or a dive off the pool house, someone would inevitably say, “You can do it, Duffy Moon!”

Yeah, to hell with J.J, Rerun, The Fonz, and Gary Goldman (please tell me you know your ’70s television characters) and their tired catch phrases. We had Ike Eisenmann fueling our kiddie vernacular.

And besides: How can you pass up a young adult flick starring Jim “Thurston Howell III” Backus and Jerry Van Dyke (Luther Van Dam from ABC-TV’s long-running Coach), and Lance Kerwin? (Yes, the epic Lance Kerwin* from TV’s James at 15, the Robbie Benson-starring TV movie The Death of Richie, the Michael Landon’s biographical The Loneliest Runner, Salem’s Lot with David Soul, and Wolfgang Petersen’s Enemy Mine.)

You don’t.

Ike Eisenmann (Star Trek II: The Wrath of Kahn, Escape to Witch Mountain) is the undersized sixth-grader Duffy, and he’s sick and tired of being called “shrimp” by the other boys in his class. Then, one day, he buys a mysterious, magical book, “Cosmic Awareness,” which enables him to “Think Big,” not just figuratively—but literally. And with the puff of his cheeks, he chants the self-motivational mantra “You Can Do it, Duffy Moon!” in his head and develops powers that enable him to beat life’s challenges.

As with the previously reviewed New York City Too Far from Tampa Blues, everbody check-out this book by Jean Robinson from the school library. Yeah, those were the days. Today, young adults are shilled Twilight and The Hunger Games. And we in the pre-Internet epoch got this. And we became better adults because of it. And that was the whole point of young adult fiction in the ’70s.

They just don’t write ’em like this anymore. To say this carries the B&S About Movies “Seal of Nostalgic Approval” is an understatement. Watch it!

“You can do it, Duffy Moon!”

Well, that concludes our fourth and final review of the afternoon anthology movie programming offered by the “Big Three” networks during the ‘70s and ‘80s. You can relive those days with this pretty cool catch-all playlist we found on You Tube that features a mix of the ABC Afterschool Break, CBS Schoolbreak Special, and NBC Special Treat young adult films. Enjoy!

* Lance did five ABC Afterschool Specials in all. He also starred in 1974’s Pssst! Hammerman’s After You! and The Bridge of Adam Rush, and 1976’s P.J. and the President’s Son and Me and Dad’s New Wife. Looks like you’re surfin’ You Tube!

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

NBC Special Treat: New York City Too Far from Tampa Blues (1979)

After ABC-TV found late-afternoon, weekday rating success with their Afterschool Special, NBC quickly followed with their weekday Special Treat anthology series that debuted in October 1975 and ran for eleven seasons until its 1986 cancellation.

While not as popular ABC’s trailblazer or CBS-TV’s Schoolbreak Special knockoff, Special Treat had its share of standout episodes.

Sunshine’s on the Way (November 1980; You Tube) starred Amy Wright (The Amityville Horror ’79) as a musician and nursing home volunteer who tries to boost the spirits of a legendary jazz musician portrayed by Scatman Crothers (The Shining).

Another was December 1975’s The Day After Tomorrow, aka Into Infinity, which concerned the interstellar mission of the Altares. Produced by Gerry Anderson between the first and second seasons of Space: 1999, it starred Brian Blessed (Flash Gordon) and Nick Tate from that show, along with Ed Bishop from Anderson’s UFO. (Trailers on You Tube/You Tube.)

But it’s this musical entry from November 1979 during the fifth season, based on the book by award-winning young adult author T. Ernesto Bethancourt, that’s best remembered by the wee-rockers.

Alex Paez (as an adult, he returned to acting to star on ABC-TV’s NYPD Blue and CBS-TV’s CSI: Miami) stars as Tom, a 14-year-old Puerto Rican kid who moves from Florida to Brooklyn with his family. He finds solace—to the dismay of his hardworking father—in an acoustic guitar he was taught to play by his Uncle Jack. Along with a 12-year-old bongo-playing Italian kid, Aurelio, they become the “Irish” Griffith Brothers. With costumes made by Tom’s mother based on Greg Guiffria’s Angel, they win the local church talent show with their original composition “New York City Too Far from Tampa Blues.”

Everybody checked-out the book from the school library (Kirkus Reviews)—and everybody watched the movie. Then we all went out and bought our first Angel albums. And we were drawing griffins in pastels-on-velvet in art class alongside our portraits of Eddie, Iron Maiden’s mascot. Pair that with our Black Sabbath and Nazareth tee-shirts and long hair . . . to say “Mr. Hand” was a bit concerned is an understatement.

Of course, the full movie is on You Tube.

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

Black Noon (1971)

Bernard L. Kowalski has a decent horror pedigree, directing Night of the Blood BeastAttack of the Giant Leeches; Krakoa, East of JavaTerror in the Sky and Sssssss. Here, he puts the occult terror on a slow boil and puts Reverend John Keyes (Roy Thinnes, always battling the occult) and his wife Lorna (Lynn Loring, The Horror at 37,000 Feet) against an unseen force bedeviling a small Western town named San Melas.

There’s voodoo, devil worship and a mute young girl and a gunslinger possessed by the Left Hand Path. Ray Milland shows up, proving that Old Hollywood is never to be trusted. Plus there’s Gloria Grahame (Blood and Lace), Henry Silva (Almost HumanMegaforce), stuntman Stan Barrett, Joshua Bryant (Salem’s Lot), a young Leif Garrett and Jodie Foster’s brother Buddy.

70’s made for TV horror neglects the Old West, so this is a strange film to start with. Then again, it also plays the Troll 2 trick of a town with a backward name and a connection to witches, but it doesn’t telegraph that.

The ending — which moves to 1971 — more than makes up for the slow moving last 68 minutes. Actually, I love dreamy TV movies that seem to take forever to get anywhere. If this played on the CBS Late Movie, it would have probably taken two hours and forty minutes with all the commericals.

Actually, it did, on August 29, 1972 and March 6, 1975.

You, however, can just watch it on YouTube:

The Cat Creature (1973)

Originally airing December 11, 1973 on ABC, this Curtis Harrington-directed, Robert Bloch-written take on Cat People was originally planned as a starring vehicle for Diahann Carroll. However, her ABC contract ended and the film needed to be rewritten.

It’s such a tribute to Cat People that Kent Smith, who starred in that film and its sequel, The Curse of the Cat People, appears.

Smith plays an appraiser who finds a sarcophagus in a house that he is surveying. Inside is a mummy wearing a solid gold cat’s head amulet that has a curse attached to it. Just then, he’s killed by a cat creature and a thief played by Keye Luke steals the amulet.

David Hedison — who played Felix Leiter to two different James Bonds — is a cop on his trail. Showing up for support are Meredith Baxter as a salesgirl,  John Carradine as a hotel clerk and Stuart Whitman as a police lieutenant.

Gale Sondergaard, who played Universal’s Spider Woman in two films, is also here as an occult bookstore owner named Hester Black. It was one of the first movies that she had made since 1949, thanks to the blacklist and her support of husband Herbert Biberman.

The day after shooting wrapped, she was called back for some closeups. It was all a ruse When she arrived on the set in makeup and costume, Charlton Heston presented her with an Academy gold statuette to replace one that she had won for 1936’s Anthony Adverse.

Want to check this out for yourself? Here it is on YouTube:

NBC Monday Night Movie: Angel Dusted (1981)

As with our yesterday’s review of CBS-TV’s The Killing of Randy Webster, this NBC original movie held a young adult appeal, yet was far too dark for their weekday, Special Treat young programming block that also dealt with the issues of drug abuse — but not like this.

Dick Lowry, best known for his Kenny Rogers song-to-TV movie adaptation and NBC-TV’s In The Line of Duty film series, directs a script by actress Darlene Craviotto (feature film debut in Zoltan: Hound of Dracula, aka Dracula’s Dog) based on the biographical book Angel Dusted: A Family’s Nightmare by Ursula Etons.

Jean Stapleton and Arthur Hill stars as Betty and Michael Etons, while Stapleton’s real life son John Putch stars as the drug addicted Owen. Helen Hunt (Trancers, Twister, As Good As It Gets) appears as his sister, Lizzy. Percy Rodrigues (Primus Isaac Kimbridge from Genesis II, the “voice” of the Loknar in Heavy Metal!) stars as one of the doctors treating Owen.

Okay . . . this is where, as with the mix up of actors in The Killing of Randy Webster, we need to clear up the Helen Hunt confusion with Angel Dusted.

After making this cautionary juvenile delinquency tale in a support role, Helen Hunt headlined — alongside Diana Scarwid (Mommy Dearest) and the who’s who cast of Tom Atkins, (pick a John Carpenter movie), Sam Bottoms (Open House), Art Hindle (Clint’s Dirty Harry movies), and Diane Ladd (Something Wicked This Way Comes) — the other “Angel Dust” cautionary tale, Desperate Lives, for NBC in 1983 . . . and Desperate Lives is the movie where a drug-crazed Helen Hunt “touches the grass” and jumps out of a high school’s third floor window.

There. Glad that’s settled.

Now back to the other PCP movie with Helen Hunt.

In this tale, John Putch (Sean Brody in Jaws 3-D; now a director banging out American Housewife episodes for ABC; Scrubs for NBC) is a doted-upon son who finds solace from the pressures of excellence from his affluent parents by developing a drug addiction. And he falls into a drug-induced psychosis after smoking pot laced with PCP.

While Putch is stellar in his acting debut, this is clearly mom’s show. For anyone who’s never experienced Jean Stapleton outside of her Edith Bunker character on CBS-TV’s long running All in the Family, they’ll be amazed at this master thespian’s range.

While the doctors just go through the motions — plying Owen with even more drugs-as-antidotes, such as the schizophrenics Haldol and Thorazine — Betty Etons struggles to hold her marriage and family together as she tries to nurse Owen back to a life of normalcy.

You can watch a pretty clean TV-taped VHS rip of Angel Dusted on You Tube. And since it’s owned by Warner Brothers (they provide the above trailer) this one is readily available to purchase for your collection of Jaws ephemera. Warner Bros. also owns Desperate Lives and since released it on VHS and DVD; that is if you’d like a copy for your ’70s juvenile delinquency film collection.

Sorry, I can’t not spin the pentagram. Hail Cronos!

About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.