Saturday, September 23, 2017

Update!



Here I am, with yet another update, but I will posting a new review soon too! Hooray! I've really missed this place.


That's my name on there!!!
I think the biggest news that I haven't posted here is that I provided the commentary track to Shout! Factory's Blu Ray release of the 1977 telefilm The Spell! It's available! Please buy it! You don't have to listen to my commentary (but you know, if so inclined, go for it!), but we need to support the legitimate release of telefilms! This is just one of several TVMs coming out. Exciting times!!! Let's keep this rolling!

And, I'll be back in England at the end of October to present a short paper at the At Home with Horror conference at Kent University!



I've been running around the web-o-sphere like the devil! I've guested on a few more podcasts, was interviewed and contributed to an article (or two, I'm forgetting).

PODCASTS:

The Film and Water Podcast invited me on to talk about the small screen giallo Honeymoon with a Stranger
website | iTunes

Just One More Thing had me on in an attempt to figure out all that was wrong with the pilot TVM for Mrs. Columbo
website | iTunes

I also talked to the Aussie podcast The Sixth Dimension about the world of the telefilm
website | iTunes

The dog-eat-dog world of podcasting... or Hack-o-lantern?
And I got to hang out with more Australians over at the Dr. Snuggles show, where we talked about the direct-to-video erotica flick Emmanuelle Through Time: Sex and Chocolate
website | iTunes

I did a couple of guest spots on The Hysteria Continues, where we chatted about the classic telefilm Don't Go to Sleep, as well as one of my favorite late entry slashers, Hack-o-lantern!

Don't Go to Sleep: website | iTunes
Hack-o-lantern: website | iTunes
Patreon special episode Humanoids from the Deep: website

(*btw, Justin mentioned me on The Hysteria Continues commentary track for Madhouse! Thank you! That was neat!)

Because it's always 5pm somewhere...

INTERVIEWS:

I was interviewed by one of my all time favorite people, Jeremy Richey for his gorgeous print magazine Art Decades!

I was interviewed by Samm Deighan on Diabolique Magazine's website for the upcoming book Yuletide Terror! There's lots of talk of holiday horror for both the big and small screen.

The Austin Chronicle conducted a brief interview with me regarding a screening of Fantasies that I curated and hosted for the Austin Film Society! OMG. That was amazing. And a big shout out to all the people that showed up. We only had a few seats left when the movie started!

I was also interviewed by Vanessa Morgan on her site Celluloid Diaries. This one is about my book, Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium: 1964-1999 (which is available on Amazon!). I would like to mention that Vanessa published an essay I wrote on the early 70s telefilm Locusts in her excellent book When Animals Attack!


ARTICLES AND MISC:

I co-wrote an article with Lance Vaughan on a slasher I love, The Slayer for Kindertrauma!

I also did a Name that TV Guide Ad for Kindertrauma. See how many you can identify (answers in the comments section).

There's been a few absolutely lovely reviews for my book as well:

Starburst (OMG!)
Film Trap
CardrosManiac2




CAN I BREATHE NOW?


I've got one or two more things coming up, and will post accordingly! Keep an eye on this blog over the next week because...

As I mentioned, I've got a new review coming (yes, it's true), and...

The Made for TV Mayhem Show is going swimmingly (the RSS feed is located on the upper right sidebar). We're reconvening on September 28th to talk about the ABC Afterschool Special. The big news is that this space will be hosting an email Q&A I conducted with Lance Guest! He was very kind about taking time out to answer a few questions from a goofy fan. So excited!

I feel very fortunate to be here right now, and I've gotten so much love and support from a lot of people who were once strangers. Thank you again for your patience with my blog updates and for listening, reading and/or whatever! It means the world to me!


Finally, I just want to say that I'm absolutely heartbroken over losing Bernie Casey. A wonderful actor, and mascot to this site, and a stalwart small screen companion. Thank you, Bernie. You are loved and missed.

Monday, August 7, 2017

An Element of Truth (1995)


Network: CBS
Original Airdate: September 26th, 1995


After taking a couple of years off from her bad girl role as Abby Cunningham Ewing on Knots Landing, Donna Mills revisited her femme fatale roots in the 1995 true crime drama An Element of Truth. Based on the story of con artist Glenda Elizabeth Bell, Mills is a somewhat fictionalized version named Vanessa Graves. From the start of the film she plays up a sympathy act, claiming on a job interview that her husband and daughter were killed in a car accident and she’s desperate to start over. Later, at an office party the story starts changing. Yes, her husband and daughter were killed in an accident, but this time it’s a plane crash. Sometimes it’s a boating accident. It’s whatever she needs to say to suit the situation. Vanessa visits a video dating service and eyes the kindhearted Sidney Wiltz (Peter Reigert, and I’m wondering if “Wiltz” is a play on his wilting nature?), who, of course, is instantly drawn to the gorgeous but grieving “widow,” taking her in almost immediately.

Don't fall for it, Sidney!
Vanessa tells Sidney she works as a secretary at an investment firm, but only holds the lowly position as a way to cover up her real reason for being there: She is, according to her own story, allowed to secretly invest in ventures as long as she does it in cash. So, Sidney starts forking over the big bucks, and Vanessa prints out legitimate looking Word docs indicating great financial growth. Fancy cars, pretty things, big houses, and life in a moderately fast lane seem pretty good and one might even think she actually likes Sidney, but then his garish but handsome (and down on his luck) buddy, Peter (Robin Thomas) shows up and begins an affair with Vanessa. However, it appears the con artist has met her match as he bilks her of all the money she’s collected from Sidney. This means Vanessa has to up her game, and no one is safe from the blonde flimflam as she shakes and shimmies her cold-heart through the rest of the telefilm. And honestly? It’s kind of glorious!

Glorious!
The 1990s was an oddball time in the world of the television film. Don’t get me wrong, I love it, and appreciate it more as time passes, but the true crime telefilm of that era seems infinite, and it’s easy to see why An Element of Truth has flown under my radar for the last two decades. There’s not necessarily a lot going for it that helps to distinguish it from similar fare, and there are admittedly more entertaining small screen examples, such as Death of a Cheerleader (Tori Spelling 4lyfe!), and Deadly Vows (John Ritter 4lyfe!), but that’s not to say it’s not a fun little potboiler, with some great photography and a really entertaining performance by Mills, who knows how sink her teeth into hustler roles. She’s captivating, looks ridiculously gorgeous, and despite playing a detestable character remains charming and watchable.

OK Sidney, you can fall for her.
In fact, the entire cast is quite good with a lovely Perry Reeves putting in an incredibly sympathetic turn as Maizie, Vanessa’s awkward coworker who develops a crush on Sidney. The film has a couple of really sweet moments as we see their relationship develop. Galdarnit! He deserves a good woman!

Love and money do not go hand in hand with these con artists!
Bell, the real con artist, not only managed to snake over a million dollars from her unsuspecting hubby before running off and remarrying, but she also faked a cancer diagnosis as part of her trickery! But the seedier true life elements of Bell's treachery were removed because the powers that be felt that audiences wouldn’t believe those things really happened! Stranger than fiction, folks!

Vanessa works the puppy dog eyes.
Produced by Miss Mills herself, this was just one of several TV movies the beauty took on after Knots Landing as way to help audiences separate her from her infamous Abby Ewing character. Donna Mills Productions, which was founded in the late 1980s, did quite well for itself, and Mills had 10 projects in development with ABC by 1993 (although not all of them came to fruition). While An Element of Truth puts her closer to Abby than any of the other roles I’ve seen, there’s something more sinister about Vanessa, although she is just as gleefully man-eating! It’s an interesting turn for Mills who manages to make Vanessa unique and even disarming at times. And, it's a decent time waster to boot.

Friday, April 28, 2017

Talking TV at the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies: The Films


For those of you interested in what I discussed whilst I was in London last week attempting to sound scholarly (see how I used "whilst"... I've become so British!), or if you came and were interested in checking out some of the titles I mentioned, here is a list of what I discussed, or screened, along with the topic I placed them under (some titles linked to my reviews or episodes of podcasts where we featured that title):

Topic: TV Movies as an Event

Opening Bumper Reel:
Deliver Us From Evil
KISS Meets the Phantom of the Park
Trackdown: Finding the Goodbar Killer
Midnight Hour


Topic: An Overview of the History of the TV Movie
Maybe I’ll Come Home in the Spring
Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver
See How they Run
Seven in Darkness

Topic: Popularity of the TV Movie (Nielsens)
Dr. Cook's Garden
Crowhaven Farm
The Girl Most Likely To...
Cry in the Wilderness

Topic: Important Filmmakers:
Dan Curtis
Richard Matheson
John Llewellyn Moxey
Aaron Spelling

Movies discussed (very briefly):
Duel
Satan’s School for Girls
Trilogy of Terror
The Night Stalker



Topic: Marketing the Horror Telefilm
Savages
Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

Promo clip reel:
Born Innocent
Deadly Lessons
The Intruder Within
Someone’s Watching Me!
Invitation to Hell
Bad Seed
Look What Happened to Rosemary’s Baby

TV Guide Section:
The Babysitter
Fantasies
Dying Room Only
This House Possessed
Bridge Across Time (aka Terror at London Bridge)
Midnight Hour
No Place to Hide
Are You in the House Alone?

Topic: So Many Subgenres!
Invitation to Hell (Satanic Panic)
Legend of Lizzie Borden (True Crime)
The Stranger Within (Sci-Fi)
Five Desperate Women (proto-slasher)
Ants! (Nature Runs Amok)
Bad Ronald (Evil Kids)
Mazes and Monsters (Propaganda)
Killjoy (Thriller)


Topic: Popular Subgenre - Supernatural
Subtopic: The Haunted House/Ghost Story Telefilm, and the Intimacy of Grief:
Fear No Evil
Daughter of the Mind
The House that Would Not Die
Don’t Go to Sleep
This House Possessed
She Waits
(*all of the above had companion clips, with the exception of The House that Wouldn't Die)

 
Subtopic: The Paranormal TVM and Second Wave Feminism
The Spell
Midnight Offerings (included clip)
Initiation of Sarah
Night Cries

Subtopic: Tiny Monsters and the Domestic Space

Tiny Monster reel:
Dead of Night segment: Bobby
Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark
Devil Dog: The Hound of Hell
The Intruder Within
Trilogy of Terror

A clip reel I didn't get to show: Big Monsters!



Conclusion: The TV Horror Film from 1985 to Present:
Kicks (revamp of ABC Movie of the Week)
Bad Seed (revamp of ABC Movie of the Week)
The Haunting of Sarah Hardy (USA Original)
Murder by Night (USA Original)
Tainted Blood (USA Original)
The Haunted (included clip)
Grave Secrets: The Legacy of Hilltop Drive
Mark of the Devil (re-purposed Hammer House of Mystery and Suspense)
Spring Break Shark Attack (revival of the horror movie of the week)
Locusts (revivial of the horror movie of the week)
Rosemary's Baby miniseries remake (the telefilm as an "event" continues)

The End!

I'd like to thank Kier-La Janisse and Jennifer Wallis, as well as my publisher, David Kerekes of Headpress, and the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies for hosting such an incredible event (the folks at the Horse Hospital were pretty great too). We almost sold out of the book I edited, Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium: 1964-1999 (which is now available through Amazon), and I've had some wonderful feedback. Also, two new real life friends, Tom Elliot from The Strange and Deadly Show and Chris Brown from The Last Horror Podcast (along with his gorgeous wife) made the trek from Liverpool to ensure the whole thing was even more memorable. I am so grateful for the last few months, and I hope you continue to join me on this little small screen adventure!

Friday, April 7, 2017

Oh my gosh! Will I ever have time to blog again... is the name of this blog post


Here I am, again, writing a post about why I can't write a post. It's a little annoying on this end. But only a little. I have a lot of really great stuff happening, and just wanted to update anyone who doesn't travel along my social medias, in case you are so inclined.


As many of you know, I have edited and contributed to a book coming out May 1st through Headpress titled Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium: 1964-1999. This has given me a little bit of street cred and I find I've been very busy on the promotion trail. Here's what's up:

I will be discussing TV horror movies at the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies in London on April 20th at the Horse Hospital. My talk is titled Tele-terrors: The Real and Imagined Horrors Inside the Made for Television Movie, and it's inexpensive and should be fun! I'll be speaking with Kier-La Janisse and Jennifer Wallis, who are two amazing people. So do it for them, if not for me.


To promote this talk, I recently did a couple of podcast interviews and appearances:

You can listen to me on the Last Horror Podcast
website | iTunes

The Kolchak Tapes Episode 2 (interview with me about TV movies)
website | iTunes

The Kolchak Tapes Episode 3 (I discuss The Norliss Tapes)
website | iTunes

Supporting Characters (an interview with me about my writing career and my life in general!)
website | iTunes

CompaƱeros (discussion of 1990s horror film The Borrower)
website | iTunes

Just One More Thing (talking about the later entry Columbo episode No Time To Die)
website | iTunes


I'm very honored to be featured on all of these shows, as I adore each of them endlessly. Everyone has been so great about supporting my TV movie love! I want to hug the world! Big shout out to Bill Ackerman from Supporting Characters who informed me that I was quoted on Shout Factory's DVD double feature TV movie release of Are You in the House Alone and The Initiation of Sarah! I've owned this double disc since it was released... How did I not know this?


I also had a short academic piece featured on Georgia State University's In Media Res page. I spoke a bit about female agency in The Initiation of Sarah's 2006 remake.


I will also be in the upcoming book from Spectacular Optical titled Yuletide Terror: Christmas Horror on Film and Television (check out Dread Central's article about it here). There's a lot of amazing people featured in the book and I'm beside myself with excitement! Check out Spectacular Optical's dedicated page on their website for more info!

And my good friend Lee Gambin recently announced that he's putting together a new film journal. TV movies will be included and I'll be in the first issue. Will give more deets as this project moves forward. He's also working on a book that I'm contributing too. Again, more info as I get it.


So, it's been quite busy. I suspect when I return from London it will quiet down a bit and I can get back to podcasting/blogging and the like. I've been watching tons of fun telefilms to prep for my talk, so I'm ready! But until then, come find me on facebook or twitter, or check out the blog's companion podcast if you haven't. Our latest double feature is a Tori Spelling Twofer featuring Death of Cheerleader (1994) and Co-ed Call Girl. It's currently on the website and iTunes! Hooray! 

Sunday, February 19, 2017

The Classic Film and TV Cafe Present a TV Movie Blogathon: Strange Homecoming (1974)


Welcome to a fantastic TV Movie Blogathon, hosted by the fine folks at The Classic Film and TV Cafe! You can check out all of the entries here. And, keep the TV movie love alive, y'all (and enjoy!)!


Network: NBC
Original airdate: October 29th, 1974


A mainstay of the 1970s TV movie, Robert Culp was like a really aggressive and somewhat intimidating version of the Everyman. He had a quality that made him feel forceful, while also giving off a vibe that you could get a beer with him after work. It was this contradiction, perhaps, that made him such an intriguing figure during the heyday of the Movie of the Week. He was already a well known face on the small screen having appeared in Trackdown (1957-1959), and the enduring I, Spy from 1965-1968. Spy was a somewhat gritty series (gritty by the standards of the many James Bond riffs that appeared on TV during this era) and it was also unbelievably charming, and it shot handsome Culp to stardom. Afterwards, he was fixture on the telefilm circuit, and turned in some notable cult favorites, including what is arguably his most fondly remembered telefilm, A Cold Night’s Death (aka The Chill Factor, 1973), as well as the outrageously fantastic Outrage (also 1973), and the groovy Spectre (1977). He was also in a few questionable, but arguably entertaining TVMs, including Houston, We’ve Got a Problem (1974), and Flood 1977). And, somewhere in the middle of that spectrum were some really good films that fell by the wayside, including the Levinson and Link drama Cry for Help (1975), and the odd and suspenseful Strange Homecoming, which gave Culp a chance to really tap into his darker side, while still maintaining that air of likability that made us love him.


Culp is Jack, a globetrotting jewelry thief who finds himself on the run after a botched robbery ends in the death of a wealthy socialite. Jack heads back to his small hometown, where’s he’s seen as a successful and sophisticated businessman. He ends up staying with his brother, Bill who is now the local sheriff, and married to Elaine (the incredibly underrated Barbara Anderson), and their two kids (one of whom is a very young Leif Garrett!). He tries to live his life as the much adored brother/uncle who never visits enough, but cracks in the exterior give way almost immediately, yet seem so insignificant that his family just looks the other way. But Jack can’t seem to stay away from committing more illegal, or at least questionable, acts, and it doesn’t take too long for Bill to put the pieces together.


Originally titled Everybody Loves Uncle Jack, Strange Homecoming in an absorbing thriller, but more so, it’s a dark character study of a man who may not be the clinical definition of a sociopath, but whose lack of remorse and sense of responsibility really play on the fears that we all have a dark side. Jack is layered and can be seen as both good and bad, and that’s what makes him scary. You want to love him the way his family does, but as we see from the viewer’s perspective, murder is just another bump in the road for good ol’ Jack, and he has no intentions of ever stopping his burglary operation.


While Glen Campbell was a fixture on the small screen during this era (and beyond), this was his one and only television film. Campbell is obviously better known as a musician, but he puts in an extremely measured and under the radar performance as Bill, the guy who loves his brother, but has to come to terms with the crimes he’s committed. It’s a pity that his filmography as an actor wasn’t longer. What could have easily been a buffoon-ish small town sheriff stereotype is nuanced to great effect by Campbell, and the wonderfully astute writing from the team comprised of Eric Bercovici and Jerrold L. Ludwig, who worked together on everything from Hawaii 5-O to Three the Hard Way! The duo wrote several television films, including The Deadly Hunt (1971) and Log of the Black Pearl (1975), and show an incredible knack for generating suspense in both the quiet and more action packed moments.


But let’s face it, sure, everyone is fantastic, but this is Culp’s baby. He is at once both terrifying and attractive, and like all good Culp performances (which is to say, everything he’s ever done), when the ball is in his corner, expect the unexpected. And, honestly, that’s what’s so great about this little thriller. It is quietly disarming, and unsettling.


Kevin Thomas of the LA Times called Strange Homecoming, “a first rate suspense thriller in the Alfred Hitchcock tradition.” NBC was certainly banking on its success, as they put it into their new telefilm program slot that was called the NBC World Premiere Movie. Linda Blair and the notorious Born Innocent had been the first telefilm to play under this umbrella, airing approximately one month earlier, and the network continued to put out some interesting, somewhat high concept heavy hitters for this new season, including Strange and Deadly Occurrence, Where Have all the People Gone, and The Dream Makers.


Strange Homecoming ran against the ABC’s Movie of the Week’s remake of The Mark of Zorro, starring Ricardo Montalban and Frank Langella. What a night for TV! The NBC World Premiere Movie slightly outranked the popular but waning ABC Tuesday Movie of the Week (both aired on the same night), coming in at number 30 by mid-season, whereas the ABC MOW had dropped to 32, and was on its way to cancellation at the end of the 1974-75 season (sad face). Still, while landing in the 30s for the year may seem mid-range, telefilms continued to air several nights a week, and there was still oodles of original and intriguing content under production. Perhaps it’s this middling, near the end-of-an-era stage that the TVM found itself in 1974 that Strange Homecoming has fallen a bit by the wayside, but it’s due for rediscovery. It’s an absolutely magnificent example of the type of undervalued character driven suspense that was landing in our living rooms almost every night. And viva la Culp, y'all!

Promotional still of Culp and Campbell in Strange Homecoming

Sunday, January 22, 2017

TV Spot Tuesday: Sharing Richard (1988)



Network: CBS
Airdate: April 26th, 1988


To promote the airing of Sharing Richard, the network released a brief statement declaring the film "explores a timely phenomenon: the shortage of single men for women over thirty." To present the issue, Sharing Richard was designed as a "contemporary comedy," in what may have been a sometimes misguided effort to dissect a topic that was on a lot of minds.

Then, shortly after Sharing Richard originally aired, an angry viewer wrote to the Los Angeles Times, complaining, "The concerns of singles dating are very real and complicated issues. The movie's plot utterly made fools of these four characters whose self-awareness, self esteem and mutual respect seemed to be in the dirt. Women were in their usual role of apologizing for messing things up and the man could somehow spread his "caring" among many women. The movie pretended to have a modern plot but frankly it was a long way from giving any kind of decent message about modern relationships."

This may be an issue...
The TVMs of the eighties often had a weird relationship with the women in them. Recently, I was just considering how the telefilm, as a medium, has proven to be a rather female-centric space, featuring so many actresses that are often aligned with the genre, such as Barbara Eden, Patty Duke and Donna Mills (in fact, you can hear my co-hosts and myself discuss the topic on this blog's companion podcast). Yet, even with all of those strong women (and I'm talking outside of the Aqua Net and shoulder pads), there was a real tug of war between making female characters independent while having them chase down a hot guy with a good job. The sentimental, Harlequin-esque romance (which I am totally into) sometimes overwhelmed the idea of female independence. This, my friends, is a bit of an issue (although in the context of entertaining fluff like Sharing Richard, a sometimes fun and mostly inoffensive one). It created an uneasy mixture, and it was up to the Eighties Woman (well, really it's up to the actress playing her) to make the whole thing flow and not seem like it was a conundrum at all. Did all of this back and forth confuse my growing brain? Probably, but that's OK. As nostalgic and sappy as I can be, I don't discount that films are time capsules - especially TV movies - that tended to fall on the most prominent contemporary beats to quickly engage the audience - and are sometimes best served by viewing them with a grain of salt.

In short, unlike the lady who wrote to the LA Times, I make excuses for my romance. So sue me.

Men might be scarce, but there were plenty of 80s sweaters to go around!
Sharing Richard, which is ultimately delightful and flawed, walks this fine line in an attempt to bring all of those modern ideas about love and sex into a story about three best friends who exude independence, but are essentially really, really, really about finding Mr. Right. I won't call them desperate because despite their desire for love and marriage, they also come across as contented with their life as is. Of course, all that goes to hell when they realize they are all falling for the same guy!

The women:




The man: 


Admittedly, that guy is pretty much everything. And when I say everything you know I'm not overstating this because it's Ed Marinaro. Eighties Ed Marinaro, a few years after Police Woman Centerfold (lord help me, I love that movie), and Laverne and Shirley (btw, is it just me, or is it creepy that Ed played Laverne's cousin and then went on to play her boyfriend... yikes!) . Anyway, Richard is a handsome and charming plastic surgeon who just happens to be recently divorced. While somewhat bitter about his marriage breaking up he turns out to be a great date, fulfilling certain individual needs in each woman. So, why not just pass him around like a great sweater (an analogy a character uses)? And they do.




At first it's fairly innocent, but then this thing called love gets involved and the trio of lifelong BFFs find themselves sneaking around each others' backs and growing more and more jealous of whichever friend has Richard on any particular night. Despite the oogie factor that creeps in when two of the friends start having sex with Richard, the film does its best to keep the women likable, and even to a certain degree, Richard, who probably should have been more honest about his dating schedule, but who is also unaware that these women are friends.

Potential mic drop moment...
Of course, marriage and family were, and remain an important core goal for many, female and male. Still, the women in the TV movies of this era are often obsessed with finding the perfect husband, and having babies (see Babies for a more than obvious example). All of this would happen with characters who were also portrayed as independent and career driven. Certainly, you can have both (and hats off to those who do), but inevitably Sharing Richard is a reflection of the eighties (by way of the fifties) American Dream, which includes the white picket fence and 2.5 kids, but with a dose of second wave feminism that mirrored the career woman who "wanted it all." And, the result is that characters can come across as more pathetic than focused or ambitious.

Well, currently 1/3 of him is focused
Luckily, this telefilm goes for the light touch, and has genuinely funny moments, using humor to examine the issues. The trio of leading ladies are amazing, and I was especially pleased to see Hilary Smith, best known to me as Nora from One Life to Live, showing off her adept comic timing. Her character is a bit grating, but the one liners are choice, and her delivery perfect. Eileen Davidson is great as well, and looks amazing (and pretty much the same as she does now). I was not as familiar with Nancy Frangione, and while I feel her character is the weakest of the bunch, the actress does a good job of making her likable.

Buds before duds...
When these characters become hostile towards each other over a man, it is apparent that the message is mixed and muddled. But some of the humor is timeless, the actresses are warm and Ed... well, he's hot. Despite its flaws, Sharing Richard is worth a watch, mostly for the actors... and shoulder pads, but its also just so damn amiable and more charming than it has any right to be.

The TV spot for Sharing Richard:

Saturday, January 14, 2017

City Killer (1984)

 
Network: NBC
Original Airdate: October 28, 1984


As a genre that sort of falls somewhere in the middle of highbrow and lowbrow entertainment, the made for television movie was able to play around with expectations and the types of stories it could bring to viewers. But then somewhere in between the betweens of The Burning Bed and Diary of Teenage Hitchhiker lies another middle, where films that set out to entertain weren’t sure if they should aim for that high or low bar. One of those films, City Killer, which is somewhat befuddling and perhaps overly ambitious, is also, for the most part, high entertainment, thanks to an extremely engaging Terence Knox and some decent special effects.


And, then there’s that common trope of 1980s TV. We all loved Heather Locklear. Circa early – mid 1980s, Locklear was all over the, ahem, boob tube, appearing as a series regular on the popular T.J. Hooker, while also showing up periodically to stir the pot at the Carrington mansion in Dynasty. She also somehow managed to appear on things such as Love Boat and even Firestarter. So it’s no shock that the indefatigable charmer found the time to star in a Movie of the Week, although it is really what the MOW is about that makes City Killer so interesting (Sorry Heather, you’ve been upstaged by a mad bomber!).


Locklear is Andrea McKnight, a general workaholic who has a dog she never walks, and who also enjoys slightly warm relationships with her co-workers. But she tends to be a tad aloof, choosing to keep herself in a self-imposed state of solitude in her airy apartment (she could walk that dog once in a while though). Things take a weird turn when she comes home late one night to find an attractive, but creepy man waiting for her. He’s Leo (Terence Knox), an ex who would prefer to be a current. But considering how he picks locks and waits in the dark for pretty blondes, he's not made of great boyfriend material. Even worse, when Andrea flat out refuses his advances, he decides to blow up buildings to get her attention! Nicknamed The Love Bomber, Leo joyfully sets explosives throughout the city, eventually targeting Andrea’s job amongst other random buildings.


Enter Lieutenant “Eck” Eckford (Gerald McRaney), a handsome but humorless cop who is assigned to protect Andrea and bring Leo to justice. Mostly though, he seems almost as sinister as Leo, constantly telling Andrea that she’s a target because she’s “a very nice person,” who understands when a guy can't get an erection. Then he quietly ogles her. In short, I was sort of rooting for Leo.


City Killer is, pardon the expression, a blast. Locklear and McRaney seem to be phoning it in, but the supporting cast, especially Todd Susman, John Harkins (best know to me for playing Ham Lushbough on an episode of the Golden Girls), and Harkin’s little rodent co-star, not to mention the lovably weird Knox are up to the task of making the ridiculous material work. Knox in an absolute joy as crazy Leo and if anyone can make terrorism adorable, it’s this guy.


The screenplay was written by one of the stalwarts of the Movie of the Week, Michael Wood, who was responsible for the excellent telefilms Savages, Haunts of the Very Rich, Outrage and Death Car on the Freeway. By the 1980s, Wood was still penning some interesting fare, including The Execution and The Penthouse, but City Killer honestly seems a little below him. Don’t get me wrong, it is a fun film, but considering how small scale and intimate most of his TVMs are, it felt as though Wood was dipping into his Death Car repertoire and perhaps overshot expectations.


Director Robert Michael Lewis (Pray for the Wildcats, y'all!) moved predominately to TV movies by the 1980s, and this was just one of eight films he directed between 1983-1985! It appears some of the explosions were done with miniatures with the rest comprised of footage of actual demolitions, all to decent effect. Things go boom quite nicely, and you quickly understand that Leo isn't joking around! He pulverizes the city, and kills several people along the way… all in the name of amore. Awwww, ain’t love grand?


As entertaining as City Killer is, it may be worth noting that it can be an uncomfortable viewing in our post 9-11 world. It’s mostly a flight of fancy and is so gloriously over the top that it’s 99% inoffensive, but (and maybe this is just me) it can be difficult to watch buildings pancake, even all these years later. At the same time, it also sadly recalls a bygone era of innocence adding a nostalgic flavor to the proceedings… but Heather’s intense feather cut basically does the same thing without making you feel bad. City Killer is worth a watch. You’ll fall in love with Leo and root for the bad guy. It’s a good time.

US VHS release

Promotional still

Who cares?!? I love it!

Incredible foreign VHS art (image from Rare Cult Cinema)