I have wonderful memories of the 70’s and 80’s Made-for-TV movies. They are another relic of the past, since they don’t seem to exist anymore in the 21st century world of television. Bygone are the days of the movie of the week, they produced many well-made genre offerings. Of course, my favorites were always the scary ones that aired from time to time. Many of the genre’s greatest writers, directors, and actors would showcase their work in this medium, including Stan Winston, Richard Matheson, Dan Curtis, just to name a few. Most of the time the telefilm had much smaller budgets and more limited resources than their feature film counterparts did, so the makers of these films had to be much more creative with what they put on screen, often times resulting in some real gems of the genre. I would like to examine my top 10 favorite Made-for-TV movies. What did you think of my top 10? Did I leave anything out? Chime in and let me know.
10. Snowbeast (1977)
Aired: April 28, 1977
Cast: Bo Svenson, Yvette Mimieux, Robert Logan, and Clint Walker.
A Colorado ski resort is terrorized by a mysterious creature that’s neither human nor animal.
This was a really well-made telefilm, full of suspense and scares. It was written by Joseph Stefano who wrote many episodes of The Outer Limits. It used a lot of the creature POV which I thought really added to the fright in combination with good, scary music. The filmmakers wisely decided not to show the creature very often, adding to the fright and I’m sure due to budgetary limitations. This is a good creature feature, when I watched and it scared the crap out of me when I was a kid.
9. Vampire (1979)
Aired: October 7, 1979
Cast: Richard Lynch, E.G. Marshall, Jason Miller, Kathryn Harrold, and Joe Spinell.
The 40 year slumber of Anton Voytek (Richard Lynch-Rob Zombie’s Halloween) has been interrupted by a church groundbreaking on the site of his grave. The site was blessed as they broke ground and a vampire cannot be on hallowed ground. The vampire Voytek seeks revenge against architects that caused him to lose his valuable art treasures he has acquired over the ages. A retired detective, Harry Kilcoyne (E.G. Marshall-Creepshow) knows the truth about Voytek and vows to destroy him before the vampire can kill everyone he loves.
This was originally the pilot for a hopeful television series that never got off the ground. Lynch plays a suave, sophisticated, yet evil vampire in this film. Lynch was forever typecast as the heavy in his roles due to his gravelly voice and sinister look. Vampire was gothic and atmospheric with its share of chills and thrills.
8. Death Moon (1978)
Aired: May 31, 1978
Cast: Robert Foxworth, Joe Penny, Barbara Trentham, Dolph Sweet, and Charles Haid
A manager is sent to vacation by his doctor due to symptoms of stress. He chooses Hawaii, because that’s where his grandfather worked as a missionary. He doesn’t know that his grandpa and all male successors are cursed by the Voodoo clan. Every night he transforms into a werewolf and horribly slays young women.
The plot for Death Moon is barely there, and there are many inconsistencies. Also the werewolf makeup is very basic even for television standards, but there is something about this movie that has always stuck with me and I love it, cheese and all. Death Moon may not be one of the best horror telefilms ever made, but it’s one of my top movies mainly because I’m a sucker for werewolf films and always have been.
7. The Norliss Tapes (1973)
Aired: February 21, 1973
Cast: Roy Thinnes, Don Porter, Angie Dickinson, Claude Akins, and Michele Carey
A newspaper publisher listens to the personal tapes of investigative reporter David Norliss, who has disappeared during an investigation. The tapes tell the story of that investigation, involving a recent widow whose late husband has been seen working in his private studio. As Norliss and the widow investigate, they unravel a plot involving Voodoo and the undead.
This fine telefilm was directed by Dan Curtis, the man behind the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows and many great telefilms. The film was a pilot for a proposed series, but NBC never picked it up. Curtis directs in the style similar to his superior film the previous year, The Night Stalker. The narrative approach is sufficiently scary and unnerving and the film offers quite a few suspenseful moments. While some viewers may find The Norliss Tapes a retread of The Night Stalker as a opportunity to cash in on the former’s success, but the film stands on its own merits and a worthy addition to this list.
6. Moon of the Wolf (1972)
Aired: September 26, 1972
Cast: David Jansen, Barbara Rush, Bradford Dillman, Geoffrey Lewis.
A small town sheriff (David Jansen-The Fugitive) in Louisiana investigates a series of murders that point to a supernatural mystery. A prominent family in town is hiding a horrific secret, a family curse that leads to a terrifying revelation; a blood-thirsty werewolf is on the loose!
It’s an effective chiller that was pretty well-made for the day. Due to the usual limited TV budgets, the werewolf make-up is very minimal, almost laughable by today’s standards, but in 1972, it was pretty good. David Jansen was effective playing the small town sheriff trying to track down the killer. It had a fair amount of chilling sequences involving the werewolf. It was another TV chiller that frightened me as a kid.
5. Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973)
Aired: October 10, 1973
Cast: Kim Darby, Jim Hutton, Barbara Anderson, and William Demarest
The film focuses on a housewife who unleashes a band of goblin creatures from within a sealed fireplace in the Victorian mansion that she and her husband are restoring. The situation turns deadly when the evil creatures kill someone, then they come after the housewife, wanting to keep her for their own.
This is a really scary little movie, filled with creepy scenes and wonderful atmosphere. Kim Darby does a wonderful job of playing a neurotic woman, besieged by these creatures. It has a great premise and the director pulls no punches when it comes to executing some serious hair-raising scares that will make you want to sleep with your light on.
4. Gargoyles (1972)
Aired: November 21, 1972
Cast: Cornel Wilde, Jennifer Salt, Grayson Hall, Bernie Casey, Scott Glenn, and William Stevens
An anthropologist traveling with his daughter through the American Southwest is brought to the site of the skeleton of a creature that no one has seen before. The scientist and his daughter are attacked by winged creatures and they’re horrified to discover the creatures are living gargoyles. It turns out the legendary gargoyles have just awakened from a 500 year hibernation in order to hatch their eggs and to fulfill an ancient prophecy of the gargoyles taking over mankind. The scientist and his daughter must enlist the help of some locals to defeat the gargoyles before they can regain control over the human race.
Some notable facts about this production include a bit part by a young Scott Glen (The Right Stuff) and the scene stealing gargoyle creatures design by Stan Winston (Terminator, Jurassic Park, Aliens). The gargoyles were shown in slow-motion to give them a more menacing appearance and really added to the creep factor of this film. This was one of the finest horror telefilms of the 1970’s.
3. Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)
Aired: October 24, 1981
Cast: Charles Durning, Robert F. Lyons, Lane Smith, and Larry Drake.
In a small town, a wrongfully killed man exacts revenge on those who murdered him beyond the grave. Director Frank De Felitta has crafted a yearn that evokes a good many chills in his highly effective supernatural thriller.
Performances are uniform throughout with the best performances coming from Durning and Drake. Dark Night of the Scarecrow comes in as one of the creepiest made-for-TV films of the 80’s and is worth searching out as an almost forgotten gem.
2. Duel (1971)
Aired: November 13, 1971
Cast: Dennis Weaver, Jacqueline Scott, Eddie Firestone, Lou Frizzell, Gene Dynarski
A business commuter is pursued and terrorized by a malevolent driver of a massive tractor-trailer.
Duel is directed by Steven Spielberg based on a short story from Richard Matheson. It was only Spielberg’s second feature length film which allowed him to go on to become one of the greatest directors of all time. The film is a masterpiece of modern filmmaking in that a simple story idea is utilized to make a film chock full of suspense, tension, and legitimate scares. At the hands of a lesser director, Duel could have come out a totally different way and not have been the classic it is today. Duel is widely considered one of the best TV movies ever filmed.
1. The Night Stalker (1972)
Aired: January 11, 1972
Cast: Darren McGavin, Carol Lynley, Simon Oakland, Claude Akins, and Barry Atwater.
Karl Kolchak (Darren McGavin-A Christmas Story) is a big-time, big-city newspaper reporter who has been fired from all of his big city newspaper jobs due to his abrasive personality and uncanny ability to get to the truth, no matter what the cost. He’s landed a job in Las Vegs from his editor friend Vincenzo (Simon Oakland-The Night Strangler) when the story of his life just landed on his lap, but will anyone let him print the truth? It seems as if young women are being murdered and drained of all their blood with bite marks on their necks. Is there a real, live vampire on the loose in Las Vegas? Kolchak is the only one willing to get to the real truth about the murders, but will it get him killed in the process?
Produced by Dan Curtis, the man behind Dark Shadows, Trilogy of Terror, Burn Offerings, Bram Stokers Dracula, and many more, and written by Richard Matheson, who wrote the legendary novel I am Legend among countless other works in the horror/sci-fi genre. Karl Kolchak’s character was so popular, it spawned a sequel, The Night Strangler (1973) and a television series all his own, Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). On a side note, Kolchak: The Night Stalker was the inspiration for Chris Carter and his X-Files hit television show. The Night Stalker is an extremely well-made and creepy telefilm, and another perfect example of what happens when everything comes together to form a masterpiece of modern horror.
Alright folks, that’s my Top 10 Made-for-TV Horror Movies, I want to hear your thoughts, let me know if you remember any of these films or if you thought there were better ones that I left off.
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