Embarking on uncharted territory, Scream Factory has jumped into your living room with a double dose of television frights from the 1970s. Two flicks, both from 1978, center on a college freshmen with psychic powers while the other focuses on a high schooler who becomes the target of a stalker, make up this collection from a time when Dallas and Taxi ruled the airwaves. In today’s reality TV obsessed culture, how do these bygone made-for-television efforts holds up? Grab your microwavable dinner, turn out the lights and let’s find out…
The Initiation of Sarah stars Kay Lenz (House) as Sarah Goodwin, a shy college freshman who joins a sorority as a way to fit in. Unfortunately, the sorority’s housemother played by Shelley Winters, is a witch who knows Sarah has the gift of psychic abilities. The twisted old woman encourages Sarah to use her powers for revenge. The supporting cast includes Morgan Brittany (Dallas) and an exceptionally bitchy Morgan Fairchild (The Seduction). Next up, Are You in the House Alone?! finds a beautiful high school student (Kathleen Beller of The Sword and the Sorcerer) the target of a sadistic stalker who has been leaving obscene messages in her locker and watching her every move. The stalker is only getting closer and time is running out! An all-star cast comprised of a young Dennis Quaid (The Rookie), Blythe Danner (Meet the Parents), Tony Bill (Shampoo) and Scott Colomby (Porky’s) all make appearances.
There’s no denying that The Initiation of Sarah borrows a lot of themes from Stephen King’s Carrie, which was made into a box-office hit two years prior. Kay Lenz stars as Sarah, the shy, repressed adoptive daughter of a woman who still worships her sorority sister days and cares little for Sarah. While, Lenz plays the role of the reserved fish out of water, her sister Patty (Morgan Brittany) is much kinder to her and the two have a close relationship. Upon arriving on campus, the sisters plan to join their mother’s sorority, which is led by Jennifer Lawerence (Morgan Fairchild). Fairchild plays the role of head bitch in a way that will make you question if she’s related to Nancy Allen’s character from Carrie. Early on, Sarah realizes she has the ability to move things with force if she’s pushed to a certain emotional limit. Fairchild fawns over Sarah’s sister while leaving Sarah out in the dust. Sarah is forced to take up shop with the rival sorority house consisting of fellow booknerds and anti socialists. The sorority’s housemother, played by Shelley Winters (The Night of the Hunter) takes an immediate liking to Sarah as she recognizes her power. Winters turns out to be a practicing witch who stops at nothing to force Sarah into using her abilities for evil.
In theory, The Initiation of Sarah should work. After all, it’s using a formula that was tried and achieved with Carrie but the issue is that the film suffers from being far too boring. The viewer is hip to Sarah’s powers from the opening scene but the road to seeing them in action is a long one. Granted, this was a made for television production that was assumingly working on a budget, but there is just not enough drama to send the characters on an interesting journey. As the film progresses, more Carrie salutes are used when Fairchild and her cronies con Sarah into thinking she has a hot date but instead is pelted with mud once she leaves her house. If this was to be akin to the pig’s blood scene, Sarah really doesn’t go as nuts as she should. As the finale rolls around, Shelley Winters convinces the sorority house to take place in a Hell Week type of ceremony. Adorned in black robes and candles lit, Winters attempts to manipulate Sarah into sacrificing one of her sisters. A struggle ensues with an inferno starting and before you know it, Sarah has sacrificed herself to save her sisters. The film means well but never entertains the way you would hope a Carrie rip-off would. The cast give it their all with Fairchild at the peak of her beauty and putting on a deliciously vile performance as a stuck up sorority sister. Lenz does decently as a troubled girl with an ability she never asked for and Morgan Brittany compliments as her loving sister. The Initiation of Sarah is not a bad film just a disappointing one as I was hoping for so much more. Clearly, someone felt the story was worth recycling since it was remade as another TV effort in 2006 with Fairchild making another appearance. To see Morgan Fairchild at arguably her most beautiful, this flick is worth checking out but as a cherished TV gem, not quite as much unfortunately.
Are You in the House Alone?! is a very different beast compared to the former and is best described as When a Stranger Calls meets The Accused. Kathleen Beller stars as Gail Osbourne, a beautiful high school student who is plagued by a stalker who has been leaving vicious notes in her locker and making obscene phone calls. Tensions mount, as Gail has no idea who would be torturing her like this. Are You in the House Alone?! opens up with a bang as we see our leading lady beaten to a pulp and transported to a hospital where she admits she was raped. From then on, the film works backwards as the viewer sees all the events that lead up to this tragic evening. The film works so well due to its naturalistic take on young love and especially the performances of the cast who appear genuine in their roles. Are You in the House Alone?! invokes the spirit of slasher movies with Gail’s stalker seen through POV shots and incorporating a despicable cackle when he makes his obscene calls to her. Who could be putting Gail through all this abuse? Her ex-boyfriend, her slightly odd photography teacher who makes really inappropriate comments about how sexy she is? I’ll admit that Are You in the House Alone?! threw me for a complete loop as I truly did not expect the stalker’s identity when revealed. The film does take a more somber tone in the final act as Gale confesses to who raped her but her legal team can’t make a case stick. The film closes with the uneasy feeling that the real world legal system is far from a perfect one. Are You in the House Alone?! is a risqué film for its time period and especially for a made-for-television effort. The film packs noble performances from young up and comers like Dennis Quaid and Scott Colomby who looks like a cross between Ralph Macchio and Johnny Depp. In addition, seasoned vets like Blythe Danner and Ellen Travolta all make appearances. Are You in the House Alone?! is hands down the superior title in this release and a TV movie I am thrilled to have in my Scream Factory collection.
Both The Initiation of Sarah and Are You in the House Alone?! are presented Full Frame (1.33:1) as to be expected of TV fare like this. Each film has their fair share of flakes and speckles in their transfers but again, these were low-budgeted TV productions so they look no better or worse than most sitcoms of the era. Colors look nice especially in exterior shots of both films where the greenery shines. Skin tones appear natural while Are You in the House Alone?! has slight issues of skin tones falling out of synch towards the finale but nothing horrible. Black levels are a little fuzzy at times most noticeably during the sacrifice sequence in The Initiation of Sarah. Overall, both films look notches above their original TV premieres while still retaining that nostalgic 70s appearance. Scream Factory’s release will allow you to rid yourself of any ratty looking bootlegs you may have ever owned.
Both films share Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono mixes and each are sufficient enough. Dialogue comes across well but it won’t hurt to turn the volume up just to ensure you’re picking everything up. Slight cases of hiss can be heard but hardly noticeable and certainly nothing that will deter from your listening enjoyment. Again, as a product of their time period and budget, these films sound as good as they probably ever will.
Scream Factory’s “TV Terrors” release is a bold and exciting move for the popular label that will hopefully warrant many more volumes in the future. The Initiation of Sarah did little to excite or entertain me besides Morgan Fairchild’s mean-spirited performance but others may take more from it. Are You in the House Alone?! was the true winner of this collection as it walked a fine line between a teenage stalker flick mixed with a Law & Order episode of sorts. The honest performances of the youthful cast gave the film the boost it needed to feel as realistic and haunting as possible. It might not be what some are expecting but it’s definitely worth your time if you haven’t seen it. Scream Factory’s “TV Terrors” is a unique pairing of late 70s fright flicks that serve as a wonderful time capsule before American Horror Story or The Walking Dead hit the scene. It’s rare that any distribution label, major or independent, takes chances on TV movies due to their lack of demand. Fans of these films can attest that they’re plenty of choice gems that still deserve a proper release and this is your first chance to prove there is a market for films like this. For any Scream Factory devotee, this is an easy release to recommend so don’t miss out!