This second edition in Jade Blackmore’s Gimme Five series focusing on ABC Movies of the Week featuring Barbara Eden, Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves, Kim Hunter, Stockard Channing — and Karen Black, in one of the buzziest made-for-TV horror films of the 1970s.
That follows our initial look into the genre, with films starring Sally Field, Dennis Weaver, Darren McGavin, Billy Dee Williams and James Caan. The original anthology series aired weekly from 1969-76, with new TV films premiering on Sunday nights in prime time through 2005.
Weaver’s Duel, directed by a young Steven Spielberg in 1971, is perhaps the best known picture of them all, while the Caan-Williams vehicle Brian’s Song might be the most touching. There were a host of worthy entries, however, many of which are now available via VOD or Amazon.
A look back at five more classics from ABC Movie of the Week series …
THE GIRL MOST LIKELY TO, (NOVEMBER 6, 1973): A pre-Rizzo Stockard Channing stars as frumpy college student Miriam Knight. Smart but deemed heinously unattractive by her peers, she’s spurned by her classmates and constantly turned down for dates. She rooms with a ditzy blonde cheerleader who sabotages her acting debut, falls for the advances of a young doctor whose only goal was to humiliate her, and is the butt of countless jokes by dumb jocks. The villains are so cartoonishly awful, it’s hard not to sympathize with Miriam.
After a serious car accident, doctors stitch her back up and throw in some plastic surgery as a bonus. The now stunning Miriam sets out to exact revenge on all the people who treated her badly when she was homely, saving the most ingenious demise for her traitorous childhood crush. Joan Rivers co-wrote the script with Agnes Gallin.
THE STRANGER WITHIN, (OCTOBER 1, 1974): Barbara Eden stars in a tour de force performance as a painter impregnated by an alien life force. The first half of the film runs like a made-for-TV Rosemary’s Baby, as Eden’s character is seen eating coffee grounds, turning the thermostat down to Antarctic-like temperatures and disappearing from the house for hours at a time.
Her husband, who had vasectomy years before, thinks the pregnancy is the result of an affair. She grows sicker and sicker, and it becomes physically impossible to perform an abortion on her. It soon becomes obvious that she’s not carrying a normal child. If you think of Eden as just a sexy genie, you’ll be pleasantly impressed by her performance in this adaptation of Richard Matheson’s short story.
BAD RONALD, (OCTOBER 23, 1974): Awkward teenager Ronald Wilby (Scott Jacoby) accidentally kills a neighbor girl who bullies him. He buries her body and runs home to his deranged Mom (Kim Hunter), who hustles him into a hidden room in the house. She wards off visits from the cops and keeps watch over Ronald, bringing him meals and encouraging him to pursue his artwork. Unfortunately, she dies after going into the hospital for an operation, and the house is sold to a family with three young, attractive daughters.
Ronald spies on them through the peephole in his spare room and becomes obsessed with Babs (Cindy Fischer). He drifts deeper and deeper into a fantasy world, envisioning her as a princess. No longer able to keep his feelings to himself, he breaks free and his foray back into the real world doesn’t end well. You may have to suspend disbelief to enjoy this one: You mean no one, not even the realtor, noticed the extra room? But Bad Ronald has an “ew” factor that will keep you watching despite its flaws.
GET CHRISTIE LOVE, (JANUARY 22, 1974): Laugh-In’s Teresa Graves starred as Christie Love, a beautiful but badass cop who breaks up a drug ring. In this sanitized small-screen version of a Pam Grier movie, Graves utter Christie’s catchphrase, “You’re under arrest, sugah,” with appropriate panache, wears cool undercover hooker outfits and sweet talks her sweet-talking white boss. And there’s some politically incorrect dialogue you could never get away with today.
TRILOGY OF TERROR, (MARCH 4, 1975): Arguably the most talked-about made for TV horror movie of the decade, Trilogy of Terror starred Karen Black in three separate tales of suspense. The first one, “Julie” involves a teacher and a smitten student who blackmails her. Or so we think. The second tale, “Millicent and Therese,” is about two whacked-sisters who torture each other, emotionally and otherwise. It’s the last tale “Amelia” that has captured the imagination of horror fans everywhere since 1975.
Amelia buys a Zuni fetish doll as a gift for her boyfriend. But it comes with a warning: Don’t take off the chain around its waist, or its soul will escape. Guess what happens? One of the scariest sequences ever to grace the small screen, as Amelia and the spear-wielding Zuni warrior engage in some tactical slicing and dicing. The battle is more tense than bloody, underscoring the difference between today’s gorefests and the low-tech scares of 40 years ago. Based on yet another story by Richard Matheson.
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