The Ghost of Sierra de Cobre (1964) by #JosephStefano
— Angus Kohm (@AngusKohm) April 10, 2021
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.
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).
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.