Directed by Robert Day / Walter Grauman
Distributed by Scream Factory
For the inaugural outing of their (hopefully long-running) TV Terrors line, Scream Factory has brought together two of the more difficult-to-acquire titles of 70s era genre television. The first, The Initiation of Sarah, is a college-set supernatural tale while the second, Are You in the House Alone, is more of a straight-forward whodunit-y thriller. However, while both titles are flawed and certainly fright-lite, this set should still appeal to genre fans with an affinity for vintage horror television.
The Initiation of Sarah introduces us to the Goodwin sisters – gorgeous and outgoing Patty (Brittany), and pretty but introverted Sarah (Lenz), Patty’s adopted sister. The two have just moved into their college and set about trying to fit into a sorority. Patty finds herself accepted into Alpha Nu Sigma, an elite house that harbors the college’s beautiful but snobby types, while Sarah finds herself welcomed into Phi Epsilon Delta (or “PED”), a sorority made up of misfits. The pressure of this sibling separation wears on Sarah, who displays an uncanny talent for causing mayhem and destruction with her mind (think Carrie Goes to College) – a talent which catches the eye of Mrs. Hunter (Winters), the head of PED who also happens to be a witch. Mrs. Hunter encourages Sarah to turn to the dark side and use her telekinesis to seek out revenge on her enemies, which leads to a finale that apes the climactic carnage from a then-recent theatrical hit (seriously…Carrie Goes to College, folks).
While the story is derivatively ho-hum and the acting is occasionally a bit dodgy from the supporting cast, Sarah does have an undeniable charm to it – a charm which almost certainly comes from its era and the performances from the film’s leads. Lenz is genuinely endearing as Sarah, Brittany is at times sympathetic and frustrating, and Winters makes for a fun villainess. Still, the movie lags in its second act and the finale pales in comparison to its inspiration.
Faring a bit more successfully is this double feature’s second offering, Are You in the House Alone?!. Don’t let the silly title fool you, House is a surprisingly well made little chiller, featuring several good performances – especially from lead Kathleen Beller, Blythe Danner, and an incredibly young Dennis Quaid. The film opens with teenager Gail Osborne (Beller), bloodied and brutalized, being taken to a hospital where we discover she’s been beaten and raped. House then flashes back to her life as a happy high school student – well, happy until an unknown stalker begins leaving threatening notes at her locker and calling her home at all hours to terrorize her. The film presents a number of red herrings as to who her eventual attacker actually is, with the reveal coming at just over an hour in. Unfortunately, once the story catches up with its opening, the movie grinds to a halt – failing to elicit any further tension or scares. As a result, the film’s finale feels like a missed opportunity.
Director Walter Grauman shoots the movie with a bit of style, the teleplay should be commended for creating believable characters (and then chided for not knowing what to do with them in the third act), and all of the actors do a fine job. If only the film hadn’t run out of steam during its final twenty minutes, Are You in the House Alone?! might possibly have been considered a minor classic of 70s genre television. As it stands, it’s still an interesting watch that’s worth checking out.
Scream Factory’s DVD is a bare bones release, featuring decent full-frame transfers for each film (some softness, grain, and print damage do little to distract one while viewing either movie). The audio, too, is generally clean and serviceable for each title. Overall, a simple but welcome release for a couple of nearly forgotten films.
While neither movie in this set is perfect (far from it), TV Terrors presents an opportunity to take a look back at what televised horror looked like over thirty-five years ago. Though I can’t say I loved either film, I’m happy to have taken the trip back to 1978’s small screen. If you decide to give this set a chance – here’s hoping that you will be too.
The Initiation of Sarah:
2 1/2 out of 5
Are You in the House Alone?!:
3 out of 5
0 out of 5