Sunday, January 26, 2020


Harrowing 1970's TV Woman-In- Prison 
with Deborah Raffin & Lynn Moody !!

                     "The Terror Begins When Two Girls Find Themselves Alone In A Women's Prison!"

"Where Innocence is a Punishable Crime!"

    During the 70's/80's heyday of made-for-TV-movies, the networks would often jump on whatever popular bandwagon there was available to jump on while also keeping one-eye trained toward the exploitation/drive-in market all the while seeing how far they push the envelope related to broadcast standards and practices.
    Directed by the great John Llewellyn Moxey (THE NIGHT STALKER and CITY OF THE DEAD) 1976's NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY (retitled NIGHTMARE for its theatrical version) remains one of prime time televisions sleazier entries in the small screen genre even giving the drive-ins a run for the money in the sordidness factor. Premiering Fri. Nov. 5, 1976, on ABC, it was shot on location in Greenwood, MS which lends itself to a humid sweaty atmosphere that's a rare departure from the usual dry arid So Cal settings of TV movies. Just like at the drive-ins, the woman-in-prison genre was a popular one on TV with the infamous BORN INNOCENT with Linda Blair in1974 and Susan Dey locked in a CAGE WITHOUT A KEY from 1975, both of which along with this film would make for one hell of a triple feature. CHARLIE'S ANGELS even get in on the action with the 1976 episode "Angels In Chains".
    Two UCLA students Cathy (Deborah Raffin GOLD TOLD ME TO) and Diane (Lynn Moody SCREAM BLACULA SCREAM) are on summer break and looking to "see America" on the way to Cathy's home in Philadelphia they take an iffy route through the deep south (Hey - what can go wrong here?!?). They end up on the road trip detoured through hell (ala' MACON COUNTY LINE) and after a flat tire on a rural country road, they run afoul of local psychotic Sheriff Danen (Chuck Connors THE MAD BOMBER) who promptly throws them in jail. Things escalate as we get a conspiracy theory seemingly involving everybody in town including car mechanics and that we learn later heads right up to the governor's office. Although it's never specifically stated where the story takes place (Badham is a fictional county), it's never in doubt that we're in the deep humid south.

    After a quick trial presided over by a crooked judge (Ralph Bellamy THE WOLFMAN) the pair are convicted of trespassing & prostitution sentenced to thirty days at a local work farm where Supt. Dancer (Robert Reed THE BRADY BUNCH) oversees things with help from prison guards Greer (an almost unrecognizable sans-makeup Tina Louise from GILLIGAN'S ISLAND) and Dulcie (Fionna Flanagan famous for her James Joyce stage adaptations). Among the other inmates are Sarah (Della Reese PSYCHIC KILLER) and Smitty (Lana Wood from DIAMONDS ARE FOREVER as Plenty O'Toole ). Reese's Sarah is the sympathetic friend to Diane as she fills the newcomer in on the bleak conditions inside the prison and the constant degradation that's forced upon the inmates. Cathy on the other hand has the sexual overtures of a guard forced upon her and the girls segregated by race which makes it impossible for them to communicate in addition to being totally cut off from the outside world.
     One of the more sordid & sleazier network offerings of the '70s with a really grungy & sweaty atmosphere (especially in regards to full hard version), it's also one of the better small screen films of the era with excellent work by the leads, a strong supporting cast, and the Mississippi locations help bring a bigger looking scale to it. It pushed the content to the limit of what was allowed for TV at the time and maybe because of that it's never got the critical accolades of something like a DUEL.

    ABC created an alternate version for theatrical showings with "R" rated content which inserted a prolonged whipping along with some full-frontal nudity and fairly extreme sexual content. This version was offered for distribution by Inter-Ocean Films which may have been a corporation set up by ABC to handle it. This "hard" version even gives the New World Filipino films such as THE BIG BIRD CAGE a run for the money and you almost expect Pam Grier & Vic Diaz to show up here. I'm not sure if the theatrical version had any play dates in the U.S. but there is overseas promo material floating around for it and the harder cut did surface on video and has recently been released on Blu from Kino on a disc that includes both cuts. Moxey's original TV version works best as it has a much tighter and leaner story without the obvious inserts.
     A very bleak viewing experience with a downer of an ending, the film shows literally the entire system corrupt (which maybe is a bit of a stretch plot-wise) as all the people we think would be on the side of "right" are in on the corruption with most of them being downright sadistic. The judge uses his powers to cover up for his nephew the sheriff who in turn passes the women on to the prison system run by Reed who's in turn protected by the government.

    The two leads are excellent as both Raffin & Moody bring a real sense of desperation to their roles and have great chemistry together as they actually seem like caring friends. Raffin also appeared in Larry Cohen's classic GOD TOLD ME TO as Tony Lo Bianco's girlfriend (and she would pop up in DEATH WISH 3) and after NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY became a surprise hit in China, she became an unofficial Hollywood/ China ambassador helping arrange meetings to secure distribution deals. Moody would later appear in ROOTS (which would premiere just two months after this) along with her NIGHTMARE co-stars Chuck Connors & Robert Reed (both of whom would once again portray despicably evil characters). Reed who at the time was in the midst of yet another Brady Bunch reunion special (which I'm sure he despised doing) probably jumped at the chance to portray a dark character.
    The film was written by Jo Harris who did some writing duties on the Clint Eastwood vehicles PLAY MISTY FOR ME, BREEZY, and DIRTY HARRY and in addition cinematographer Frank Stanley also shot BREEZY, MAGNUM FORCE, THUNDERBOLT AND LIGHTFOOT, and THE EIGER SANCTION.
    Kino Lorber recently released this on Blu-ray which along with the previously mentioned choice of both cuts also has an excellent commentary on the TV cut from Amanda Reyes and Justin Kreswell. BTW, anyone interested in world of made-for-TV movies should check out Amanda's really cool & amazing Made For TV Mayhem blog and the companion podcast.


All above screen grabs are from the Kino Blu-ray 

Friday, January 17, 2020


     Another one rescued from the VHS only domain this low-key thriller mixing witchcraft, spiritualism, and New England folk-horror was for me the highlight of Arrow's American Horror Project Vol. 2. Written (along with J.J. Berry) and directed by Martin Goldman (who had been an NYC ad-man), it's a wonderfully creepy little film that relays on mood and suggestion rather than shocks to carry itself along and is one of those films that can stick in one's craw long after your viewing. 
    After a combination of a messy break-up with his wife and a heavy bout of mid-life crisis New Yorker Sal Devito (J.J. Berry from HARPER VALLEY P.T.A. and a semi-regular on TV's BARNEY MILLER) heads off for the comfy confines of rural Stow, VT to begin a relationship with local art gallery owner Jackie (his real-life wife Carolyn Barry) and to pursue an artistic career in painting (along with it would seem a dream of wearing denim from head to toe). Living with Carolyn, he begins building a studio in the backyard and has in a buddy another refuge from the big city, Theo (Frank Bongiorno THE FIRST DEADLY SIN) an ex-lawyer and now similar denim-clad potter.
    Sal seems like he doesn't quite fit in with the small-town vibe and already carrying around a load of guilt from abandoning his wife and kids his life gets further complicated when he mistakenly runs over & kills the young granddaughter of a local hermit/quasi-warlock (William Robertson CHRISTMAS EVIL). We only see the accident through Sal's flashbacks which he remembers as clearly being not his fault (with the police coming to the same conclusion we learn), however, the girl's grandfather sees things differently. The grandfather invokes a black magic curse upon Sal which leads him to see an ominous hooded figure lurking in the woods along with accidents befalling himself and those around him including a bloody accident with a handsaw at his studio construction site.

    Looking for answers Sal consents to a Tarot card reading done by Theo's wife Lesley (Kate McKeown SWEET KILL) who foretells looming danger in his future and in turn she refers him to local white witch/spiritualist Adrianna Putman (Academy Award winner Kim Hunter) who advises Sal in breaking the curse that requires him to take such drastic steps as burning down his studio.
    At its core, a New England-based version of M.R. James' classic English ghost story Casting The Runes and its later Jacques Tourneur directed NIGHT OF THE DEMON film adaption, DARK AUGUST is reliant on mood and creeping dread. Although a PG rating, it is, however, a 70's PG rating, which means a few splashes of blood and some fleeting nudity. The climax of the film gets a bit heavy-handed (especially if you're an animal lover) and is kind of head-scratching seeming to be more gimmick driven then the proceeding atmosphere of the film.
   Although he was in his 40's at the time of filming Berry's Sal is stated in the course of the film to being 38 which fits in more with his fear of encroaching middle-age. While he also feels at guilt in regards to the accident he also argues with his wife back in NYC (showing he really hasn't left that life behind) and gets into a heated phone call with a client from his "previous life" in regards to some commercial art jobs he still has from his days in the 9 to 5 world. all of which weigh heavily on him which leads to bad decisions such as confronting the dead child's grandfather and practically begging for forgiveness.

    There's also a get-back-nature trend of the period although here it's all involving older middle-aged men which while Sal's friend Theo seems comfortable with his new life, Sal himself seems like a fish out of water in the small Vermont town. Although he comes across as a likable guy he shows a darker side at some points, as he takes to poping tranquilizers and wandering around the house with a shotgun. The real-life marriage between him and Carolyn Barry helps as there seems to be a real spark between them and their lovemaking scene isn't filmed for erotic content, but just as a normal middle-aged couple in bed.
     Kim Hunter has a small but important role in the film and as an Oscar winner from A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE it was probably quite a coup for a small production to land her.  She's quite good in her small but meaningful role and her presence adds quite a bit of gravitas here. Best known at the time for her role as Zira in PLANET OF THE APES from 1968 she had a lifelong interest in spiritualism which is most likely what drew her to the part and according to the director commentary on the Arrow release she took an active part in the film's promotion doing press appearances in Vermont.
     A regional horror film through and through the film makes great use of its Vermont locations using all piratical sets from actual houses and commercial buildings in Stowe. The cinematography by Richard E. Brooks (BLOOD RAGE and THE CONCERT FOR BANGLADESH) has a beautiful late-summer green & sunny New England feel to with shots of the forbidding looking distant mountains bringing a Lovecraft atmosphere. There is many shots of people gazing through windows which brings to mind Robert Altman's work (particularly IMAGES from 1972). Except for the horror elements, the film is a commercial for rural Vermont and although I've never been there, it's nice to think that maybe Stowe is still the folksy little artist village as shown here.
   As included in the American Horror Project Vol. 2 box, the Arrow Blu in addition to a commentary by director/co-writer Martin Goldman also has a wonderful documentary by comic artist Stephen R. Bissette titled The Hills Are Alive: Dark August and Vermont Horror which covers the entire spectrum of Vermont genre film making & folklore.