When we hear about TV-movies nowadays, we automatically think of whatever is airing on Lifetime or the Hallmark Channel. Once upon a time, however, the made-for-television movie was an event that families anticipated and watched together. It was a weekly ritual that has been lost to time.
The big networks — ABC, CBS, FOX, NBC — all jumped on the movie-making bandwagon starting in the 1970s. Amidst these offerings were an excess of horror movies that adults today all can remember as if they just aired. Journey with us as we revisit these 10 classic and oh so creepy TV-made horrors.
10. I Saw What You Did (1988)
From the maker of the 1979 thriller When A Stranger Calls comes another coming-of-age tale involving telephones and a maddened killer. This is a remake of the 1965 movie of the same name. Three young girls are home alone, dialing up random people in the phone book and spouting nonsense to the other party. Their fun comes to an end, though, when they call a man who just committed a murder. To make matters worse, one of the girls jokingly says, “I saw what you did, and I know who you are!” This spurs the killer into tracking the girls down before they tell someone his secret.
Fred Walton was no stranger to horror movies on the small screen; he also directed Dead Air, and, of course, his sequel to the movie that gave him his career in the genre, When a Stranger Calls Back. His update of I Saw What You Did takes some motivation to get going, but the conclusion is hair-raising.
9. Jennifer (1978)
The success of Brian de Palma’s Carrie probably influenced the creation of Jennifer. Instead of telekinesis, though, the title character has power over snakes. Jennifer, who is attending an elite private school all thanks to a scholarship, eventually uses her supernatural ability on her cruel classmates.
While the story of a bullied girl with preternatural gifts is not exactly original, the telefilm has solid directing. The surreal execution of the film’s climax makes it unique among its peers.
8. No Place to Hide (1981)
Perhaps Kathleen Beller is better known for Are You in the House Alone? but her 1981 followup thriller No Place to Hide is a bit more polished. In it, she plays an art student, Amy, living with her widowed stepmother. Amy is coming undone because of an unknown stalker; the police are doubtful and think she’s made all of this up.
No Place to Hide never becomes the slasher it appears to be. Rather, it shirks routine and goes for a more twisty and psychological approach.
7. Death Car on the Freeway (1979)
This 1979 movie is as elusive as its villain. The telepics airing around this period were chiefly aimed at women and urgently pressed for awareness of crimes against them. Death Car on the Freeway places a newswoman on the trail of a murderous driver in a black van.
Shelley Hack plays the hero and does a damn good job of it. Her coworkers have no faith in her, but she proves them wrong by taking stunt car lessons that prove to be useful when battling the road-raged killer. The car feats here are impressive, no less.
6. The Victim (1972)
Best known for playing Sam in the classic sitcom Bewitched, Elizabeth Montgomery plays a concerned socialite in The Victim (also known as Out of Contention in other regions). When Kate is worried about the welfare of her sister who lives out of state, she hops a plane and flies to her. She arrives to an empty, secluded house; her sister’s husband isn’t there, either. The longer she waits and the more a storm brews outside, the more terrified Kate becomes. She has good reason to be frightened because someone is lurking the grounds — and they may or may not know what’s happened to the protagonist’s missing sister.
The Victim does not have an innovative plot, nor does the killer’s identity come as a surprise. Be that as it may, it is a nail-biting watch as the tension is layered like bricks.
5. Trapped (1989)
In another TV-movie directed by Fred Walton, a businesswoman working in a skyscraper is left to fend for herself as she becomes stuck in the building overnight with a disgruntled family man who blames her company for a loved one’s death. There’s no escaping either as all the exits are sealed off.
Predating movies like P2, Trapped is a surprisingly white-knuckled thrill ride for fans of one-location movies.
4. Home for the Holidays (1972)
The late Aaron Spelling is known for producing primetime soaps, but he had a hand in classic TV horror, as well. This includes Home for the Holidays, a proto-slasher whose certain story elements antedate the original Halloween. The armed assailant wears a costume (a yellow raincoat) like any self-respecting slasher villain would.
In this Christmastime chiller, four adult women visit their ill father; he believes his new wife is trying to kill him. Soon enough, the disguised perp, who brandishes a pitchfork, systematically picks off the sisters until only one is left standing.
3. The Haunted (1991)
The late Ed and Lorraine Warren investigated plenty of hauntings over the years, but one that especially challenged them was the Smurls’ case. Based on a 1986 novel, the 1991 television adaptation sees a devout family victimized by a demonic presence in their new home. Their church won’t approve an exorcism, so the Smurls turn to the Warrens.
The Haunted is played straight, for the most part. The lack of intrusive music and honest performances make this movie’s events all the more creepy.
2. Don’t Go to Sleep (1982)
Valerie Harper and Dennis Weaver head up this astonishing ghost story co-produced by the one and only, Aaron Spelling. The trouble in Don’t Go to Sleep starts when Mary‘s family moves in with the grandmother. They’re all still mourning the death of Mary‘s sister when unexplained and dreadful events happen around the house.
Fans of this ghastly haunted house movie are clamoring for a proper re-release in some format. The praise is deserving as the film nails grief beautifully all the while serving up the most suspenseful scene ever involving a pizza cutter.
1. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
CBS scored big with Dark Night of the Scarecrow, a cherished movie of the week that was actually intended for the big screen. In spite of the change of venue, very little of the script was altered. The story has specific residents in a small town meeting a grisly end as a wrongfully killed man seeks vengeance from his grave.
Regardless of its medium, this tale of spooky, Southern Gothic terror is some of the best scarecrow horror to ever be made or seen.