Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Are You in the House Alone? (1978)

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m really enjoying the made for TV movies these days. – particularly made for TV horror films. For those keeping track of such things, Are You in the House Alone? (1978) is the second feature on the Shout Factory TV Terrors DVD that I purchased a while back. Normally I might wait longer before diving in and watching the second film in a set like this, but I enjoyed The Initiation of Sarah (1978) so much that I just couldn’t resist.

Book cover of re You in the House Alone? by Richard PeckI had heard of Are You in the House Alone?, but much like The Initiation of Sarah I had never seen it before. I knew that it was based on a book by Richard Peck, as I used to come it across it fairly regularly at thrift stores and The Children’s Hospital Book Market. I never read the book and didn’t know a whole lot about it. I always imagined that it was about a teenage girl at home alone getting menaced by some kind of psychopath. Perhaps a toned down slasher film (in book form) with no body count, in which we skip right to the final girl getting stalked and chased and finally doing battle with (and defeating) the killer. And, of course, all of it would be suitable for young readers in some PG sort of way.

It turns out that I had no idea what I was getting into when I watched Are You in the House Alone? last week. I am not a fan of SPOILERS, but I think I can reveal the big plot point that shocked me without ruining anything. The film revealed it in the first five minutes, so I think it’s fair to say that it’s not a spoiler at all. Are You in the House Alone? is about rape.

It is revealed to us in the opening scene that our main character – Gail, played by Kathleen Beller – is raped by her attacker. They ask her who he is, but she says “I can’t tell you… No one would believe me…” And then we flash back to how it all began.

It struck me as a strange way to begin a movie like this. But as the story progressed, I started to appreciate the brilliance of it. Now that we know what is going to happen to Gail, it becomes an unusual kind of suspense story – and a mystery. We know that her attacker is going to be someone that no one would ever suspect, so we find ourselves (at least I did) carefully scrutinizing each male character that Gail interacts with  – could he be the one? What about that guy? The suspense builds as we try to figure out who it is, partly due to that strangely human belief that if we can figure it out before it happens, we might be able to stop it. Anyone who has ever re-watched a movie and caught themselves hoping that a character (perhaps even shouting warnings at them) isn’t going to go into that scary looking house this time and get herself killed can back me up on this. We know what’s going to happen, but we’re still on the edge of our seat hoping that it won’t.

Surprisingly, we learn the truth about an hour into the movie, and then it becomes something else…

TV listings ad for Are You in the House Alone? (1978)

At the time that this movie first aired, I was a big fan of the TV show Quincy M.E. (1976-83). It was about a medical examiner who, each and every week, would uncover cases of injustice often due to a broken or flawed system. Laws that were unjust, rules that made no sense – or even a lack of laws and rules where there should have been some – would inspire Quincy to go above and beyond his job and crusade for changes in the system. Most of the episodes were left open ended because the show was shining a light on an actual problem in the real world and hoping that by doing so, someone might be moved to change it.

In it’s final act, Are You in the House Alone? becomes a little bit like an episode of Quincy, as it exposes the injustices of a system that fails the victims of rape. Gail feels that she can’t tell the truth – and that even if she does, her attacker will never be punished. She and her parents (played by Blythe Danner and Tony Bill) come up against attitudes, beliefs, and laws that seem to protect the rapist more than his victims. It feels ahead of its time (and still all too relevant today) but truthfully it’s the kind of story that Quincy might have taken on (and perhaps even did). In any case, it’s compelling viewing, and works on many different levels.

Shout Factory included Are You in the House Alone? in its TV Terrors set, which strongly implied that it was a horror film. In some ways it is – what happens to Gail is certainly horrific and nightmarish, and it contains some suspenseful sequences – but you would not be wrong to also label the movie as a drama, It’s a much more serious minded film than I expected – but I think that’s basically a good thing. If it was just another watered down, family friendly version of a slasher film, how interesting would it be?

Are You in the House Alone? (1978) is another fine example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema made for TV in the 1970s. As I’ve said before, if you didn’t grow up watching these kinds of movies at your home drive-in, you might not appreciate it quite as much as I do. This one, however, will be of interest to fans of issue-oriented movies of the week, and people who are curious to see an early exposé of rape culture, gender discrimination and the unjust patriarchal system. And if that doesn’t sound like a fun and fascinating #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn, then you clearly didn’t grow up in the 1970s…

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)

When I was a kid, there were a lot of cool looking scary movies in the theatres. I used to scan the listings in our local newspaper, see the ads, and wish that I could go. Unfortunately, I was too young to get in to most of them. I also didn’t have any money, so I had to rely on my parents taking me – and they weren’t generally choosing horror movies. One of the first films I went to see on my own (with friends) was Poltergeist (1982) – but that was years after I’d started reading the listings. VCRs were still just a futuristic dream for me at that point. So what was a horror loving kid to do in the 1970s and early ’80s?

One answer was TV movies. There were also regular movies on TV, of course. That’s how I saw Frankenstein (1931), Dracula (1931), etc. But TV movies were a really big thing in those days. It seemed like whatever types of horror movies were selling tickets at the theatres, there would soon be suspiciously similar looking movies popping up on my TV.

Newspaper ad for The Lynda Carter made for TV movie Hotline (1982) - a different kind of horror than The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)When slasher films were all the rage on the big screen – often two or three opening in the same week – I recall getting to watch made for TV “slasher” movies like Hotline (1982), starring Lynda Carter. It wasn’t exactly a hard core slasher film, but get a load of the description on the IMDb: “A beautiful telephone operator is stalked by a murderous madman.” it says. “Hang Up! Before HE comes to cut you off…DEAD!” Now I really want to see that movie again – but it will have to wait for another Friday night…

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) was made for TV before my time. I did not see it rerun as a late movie. I didn’t even know it existed until sometime last year. Apparently it was the pilot for a proposed TV series called The Haunted, which never got made. The producers added some more footage and released it as a standalone movie.

Martin Landau stars as an architect who moonlights as a paranormal investigator. It’s not clear to me if he was supposed to be a recurring character on The Haunted, but it wouldn’t have been a bad idea for a show.

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre is stunningly shot in black and white, and has loads of creepy atmosphere. The story is also interesting, and perhaps a bit more complicated than the average old fashioned ghost story. It starts with an idea that could have been (and probably was) ripped right from the pages of Edgar Allan Poe. “Terrified of being buried alive by mistake, a woman puts a phone in her crypt to be able to call home if she needs help.” says the IMDb. When I read this description, I couldn’t help but think of Poe’s The Premature Burial. However, this is all back story for The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre. The film actually begins with the dead woman’s son receiving mysterious phone calls that he believes are from her – and our story goes from there (this made me think of Psycho II (1983), but that film didn’t exist yet).

Diane Baker and Martin Landau explore the crypt in The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964)

The cast is excellent, and also includes Judith Anderson, who was in such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Rebecca (1940), Agatha Christie’s proto-slasher And Then There Were None (1945), and film noir masterpiece Laura (1944). The film also stars Diane Baker – who was in such classics as Alfred Hitchcock’s Marnie (1964), William Castle’s Strait-Jacket (1964), and a movie that I first watched and enjoyed a few years ago, Stigma (1972).

When I was young, I thought that made for TV horror was somehow inferior to regular theatrical horror films. I suppose it was because of the limitations of television in those days (no gore, no nudity, little violence, etc.). Now, I have the almost polar opposite opinion. I’ve seen more than my share of mind-numbingly awful recent horror films that contain all the nudity, gore and violence that anyone could hope for, and yet are boring, have no compelling story, or are just plain stupid. Made for TV movies – especially the ones made back in the 1960s, ’70s and early ’80s – could not rely on things like gore to entertain the audience, so they had no choice but to tell a compelling story. Made for TV horror films like The Night Stalker (1972)Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Salem’s Lot (1978), Trilogy of Terror (1975) and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) are now considered classics of the genre.

My friend Brian and I have an all day horror movie marathon once a year, and recently we’ve taken to watching nothing but old made for TV horror films. Having already seen most of the classic gore and extreme horror films of the past, TV movies were kind of the last frontier of undiscovered material for us – and we have unearthed a few gems in our modest quest so far. Some examples are When Michael Calls (1972), Home For the Holidays (1972), Scream Pretty Peggy (1973), The Victim (1972) and  A Cold Night’s Death (1973). Had we watched The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre, it would have been very high up on our list of favourites. 

The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) is #NotQuiteClassicCinema that could have been a bonafide classic if it had ever been given a chance. I had never heard of it, and I have been exploring the fringes of horror and made for TV movies for quite some time. I have often talked about home video (VHS and Beta – rentals in particular) being the equivalent of the “home drive-in” of the 1980s and ’90s. I’ve come to realize that movies shown on late night TV, and made for TV horror films, were the pre-VHS and Beta “home drive-in” for people like me. It’s always a thrill to discover an old made for TV movie that would have thrilled me, or scared the crap out of me, when I was too young to see it in the theatre – and I will undoubtedly be revisiting The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre on a future #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.