I’ve always been nostalgic for the often times overlooked horror sub-genre, the made-for-TV “chiller”. They were big in the Seventies and Eighties, and some great directors like John Carpenter and Wes Craven cut their cinematic teeth on them. But since the birth of the direct-to-video market, the telefilm has gone the way of the dodo. There were some sorely underrated gems from that era, such as the classic “lost” telefilm, DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK. For some reason it’s still unavailable on DVD, so you’ve got to make due with the third generation dupes you’ll find at just about every horror convention. There is something unique about those old telefilms that immediately make me uneasy and at the same time delight me! Maybe it’s the film stock or lighting or the obscenely dated wardrobe and production design? Whatever it is, I know I like it. These movies were usually made on the quick and cheap and also fulfilled certain actor’s contractual obligations with the network producing them, whose TV shows they sometimes appeared in. Even so, for what they were these telefilms just worked, like an episode of The Twilight Zone or The Outer Limits. They were odd and creepy and if you didn’t catch it on its original airing (or later re-ran as the Late Late Movie) you were crap outta luck.

But thanks to the good people at Wild Eye Releasing, we have the opportunity to revisit two of these lost telefilms in all their wonderfully dated and untouched glory as part of their TV MOVIE TERROR COLLECTION.

CRAWLSPACE is the story of an elderly couple who recently move from the city into a nice quiet house in a small, cozy town. They meet a strange young man who is there fixing the water heater. He seems a bit nervous and shy and the old lady asks him to stay for supper. One thing leads to another and the next thing you know, this odd and obviously troubled young man is living in the crawlspace in the basement under the kitchen. The thing is, the old couple doesn’t mind it much. They feel like they are looking out for the young man, like the son they never had. They invite him to stay in the spare room but he refuses, and says he feels safer in the crawlspace. Slowly, they try to coax the young man out and open up to them a bit. It’s obvious the guy is slightly off, maybe mentally or emotionally troubled, and the only thing they really know about him is his name. Overlooking all that, they accept the boy into their home and things are pretty good for a while… until they send him into town on an errand. I don’t want to spoil any more, so let’s just say the moral of the story is to never let strangers live in your crawlspace. This is just such an odd little flick (which predates a similar telefilm, BAD RONALD, by two years) and I really can’t say it was cheesy or stupid. It was just weird. I was never aware that this movie even existed, and while it’s definitely not a straight-up “horror” story, I found it very creepy and a bit unsettling. And frankly as much as I’m against the general idea of unnecessary remakes, I bet a talented film maker could do something really great with the premise updated.
THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER stars, among others, Shelly Winters and Abe Vigoda. Awesome. The other thing this movie has going for it before I even pop it in the DVD played is the fact that it’s some kind of movie involving Satan or satanic activities made in the seventies. To me, without a doubt, the creepiest and campiest Satan (or satanic) movies were made in the seventies. I don’t know why but any other Devil movie made after ’79 just does not have the same disturbingly groovy vibe. I guess something about the Seventies really got people interested in the Devil. Anyway, THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER is totally fucking hilariously awesome and entertaining, while still retaining a weird, off-kilter feel. How many movies can you say that about? Anyway, it turns out this young mother, for some reason, promised her baby to Satan in a 21 year pact and then had a change of heart. When Old Scratch comes to collect (along with his henchmen, who like, stole every scene they were in) the Mom tries to shoot the Devil, which doesn’t work out to well. After her Mother’s death, the now of age daughter Diane is invited to stay with an “old friend” of her Mom’s, who’s pretty well off. Jonathan Frid of DARK SHADOWS fame plays a mute chauffer of absolutely no consequence. I still don’t know why he was even in this movie.

Anyways, one thing leads to another and Abe Vigoda shows up to tell Diane that her Pop is the Devil and she is THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER and all her Mom’s old friends were part of her satanic coven! Diane even finds a picture to prove it which had me hitting the rewind button while trying to catch my breath from laughing. Understandably, Diane is spooked by all this, moves in with a friend who dies mysteriously while on a date with the new upstairs neighbor, and then goes out on a date with the same neighbor like the same day! They fall in love and get married, crazy twist ending you could see from a mile away ensues and it still does nothing to make the film any less entertaining. It may borrow a bit from ROSEMARY’S BABY (even some of the cinematography was lifted right out of it) but Shelly Winters as the kooky headmistress of a satanic coven is worth the price of the DVD alone. I can’t wait to watch this again, ideally with a group of friends and some type of intoxicating and/or mind-altering substance. Totally weird, awesome, fun!

Of the two, I wholeheartedly recommend an immediate purchase of THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER over CRAWLSPACE, but only if you are a fan of those so-bad-they-rule movies nobody’s ever heard of.

Now I know these smaller indie releasing companies specializing in rare niche films are criticized for not really putting the care and effort into a good transfer, special features and packaging. Sometimes though, I feel it’s not such a bad thing to have a lost old movie without all the bells and whistles. I’m sure cinephiles would disagree, but I’m the kind of guy who likes to dig into my old collection of vhs tapes and watch some taped-off-TV oddity in all its poor quality glory. I can understand a bad transfer of a theatrical film being unacceptable, but a bad transfer of a made for TV movie is pretty much how it aired in the first place and I can appreciate that kind of nostalgia in this era of HD and Blu-Ray. I hope Wild Eye continues to find this wonderful crap for us to enjoy. It would be great to have more telefilms like these as double-feature DVD’s or better yet, some kind of boxed set.

Check out THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER and CRAWLSPACE at www.wildeyereleasing.com

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