Tonight's review, another made-for-tv horror movie as directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, made its small screen debut seven days after my second birthday way back in 1971. Though I've managed to catch it a couple of times over the years, it's pretty safe to say that I probably missed it that first time around, on playpen lockdown or something. Standard genre fare boosted by the presence of the late Barbara Stanwyck, who I became familiar with during my teenage years while timer recording kung fu movies one late night, and accidentally ending up with Double Indemnity (1944) at the end of a video tape, and coming away pleasantly surprised. Also aboard here are Barbara Parkins, of Peyton Place (1964) fame, who was in the middle of a nice run of genre roles at the time, with Mephisto Waltz (1971), tonight's production, and an episode of the short-lived Circle of Fear series, and let's not forget seventies horror staple, Roddy McDowall.
"Three Oscar nominations?? Sorry, wrong number.", snaps Miriam (Barbara Stanwyck).
Susan (Barbara Parkins) returns home as an adult to her sizable estate in the country, after being raped in her playhouse in the woods as a child by a shadowy stranger had left her on a seven year mental institution bed. Though her mother, Miriam (Barbara Stanwyck), still dotes over her adoringly, and the old caretaker, John (Arthur O'Connell), seems nice enough, if not a little simple-minded, Susan is convinced that somebody is watching her from the property, and to make matters worse, she keeps seeing Miriam's booze-adled beau, Harold (William Windom), dead everywhere...in the limousine, drowned in the bathtub. A local doctor named Lomas (Roddy McDowall) examines the distraught woman, and suggests that perhaps her visions are all a product of her subconscious, brought on by her return to the scene of the earlier unsolved sex crime.
"Smoke a couple of hog's legs, listen to your Sugarloaf eight track, and call me in the morning..."
After being ankle-grabbed by Harold's waterlogged corpse in the woods, Susan retreats to her playhouse, where John has precariously left his shotgun while hunting a pesky fox. Huddled in the shadows with the loaded gun, she blasts the menacing silhouette in the doorway, only to find that she has accidentally killed Harold, and has just bought herself a one way ticket back to the squirrel farm, permanent-ish. Back at the estate, Miriam, decked out in her best jewelry, haughtily celebrates with John, as he prepares to dispose of the Harold mannequin they've used to keep Susan teetering on the brink of sanity. Miriam reveals that John was the rapist all those years ago, and she was glad he had done it(!) and has always hated her. Except that Harold has started phoning her from beyond the grave...
"Oh, but love grows where my rosemary goes, and nobody knows like me.", remarks John (Arthur O'Connell).
Jimmy Sangster, who directed The Horror of Frankenstein (1970) and Lust For a Vampire (1971) for Hammer Studios, wrote the screenplay for tonight's movie, a near carbon copy of his earlier script for Scream of Fear (1961), save for the characters and locations, which he simply Americanized for the Aaron Spelling production. The first half plods along rather slowly, despite a brisk running time of just over an hour, but then Stanwyck takes over and carries the film on her shoulders towards a satisfying climax, though the plot twists may have aged less gracefully and lack the punch they might have packed back in 1971. Still, pretty enjoyable stuff, especially if made-for-tv horror is your bag. Two solid wops on the scale. Score yourself a copy.
"Susan, would you like a quaalude? Uncle Roman brought you one..."