“Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby” (1976)

There’s an admirable sort of arrogance in a filmmaker’s insistence on making a sequel to a movie that clearly doesn’t warrant one. Surely audiences must want to know what happened to Edgar Frog, the seventh most interesting character in The Lost Boys, or Donnie Darko’s other sister,  or Camp North Star, where Meatballs took place. It doesn’t matter if the original story had a satisfying ending, or even if virtually no one from it wants to be involved in a follow up, the public demands more stories set at the country club in Caddyshack.

Rosemary’s Baby, despite its somewhat ambiguous ending, neither required a sequel, nor needed to have everything carefully explained to the viewer. A masterwork in the art of subtlety, it deceives you into thinking nothing is happening, until you realize, really, something terrible is happening, and the titular heroine not only is powerless to stop it, she ultimately gives in to it, letting her mothering instinct take over and agreeing to care for the infant son born of an unholy union between her and Satan himself. To not know what happens to Rosemary, let alone her baby, is ultimately a more chilling experience.

Oh wait, did I say we never find out what happens to Rosemary and her baby? Turns out I was mistaken–there exists a made for TV movie, 1976’s Look What’s Happened to Rosemary’s Baby, that explains everything. In no way based on anything written by Ira Levin (who would write his own equally unnecessary sequel years later), absolutely no one from the original movie is present here, except for Ruth Gordon, who, sadly, was in whatever the opposite of a career renaissance is by then, appearing in nonsense like this and soon to be playing Clint Eastwood’s horny old aunt in Every Which Way But Loose.

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“Don’t Go to Sleep” (1982)

When watching a TV show like The Walking Dead, I’m endlessly amazed at how much blood and gore they’re allowed to get away with. People have been beheaded, disemboweled, torn in half, brutally beaten to death, and, of course, eaten by zombies, all on screen, sparing the audience nothing. The fifth season ended with a guy trapped in a revolving door as his face gets ripped off. It all gets a little mind-numbing after a while, especially in comparison with TV horror of the 70s and 80s, which was a little more…restrained, let’s say.

Now I’m not saying that was better, just different. Take Salem’s Lot as an example–though there are a couple genuinely scary moments, particularly little Ralphie Glick as a hideously grinning vampire, and the recently deceased Mike Ryerson demanding that Matt Burke “look at meeeeeeee”, overall it really pulls its punches. No one is ever actually shown being bitten by a vampire on screen, it’s merely implied. In one scene, the town realtor (played by Fred Willard, of all people), having just been scared off by his lover’s angry husband, runs into something even scarier. Or so we assume, as the scene just freezes on Willard’s surprised face as a shadow falls over him, and then cuts to commercial. We don’t see what surprises him, or find out what happens to him, because he’s never seen again. Willard’s character is actually a composite of two characters in the book,  and the one who meets this particular fate does show up again later, to considerably more terrifying effect. With the limitations network television once put on portraying violence, or even anything particularly scary, the scene in the movie comes off as kind of goofy more than anything else. For all the audience knows, he could have run into a Jehovah’s Witness, or a particularly pushy Girl Scout.

Don’t Go to Sleep, airing in 1982 and produced by Aaron Spelling, is an interesting entry in the genre, pairing a brutal premise (psychotic kid slaughters almost her entire family) with the softball sensibilities of TV horror. Somehow I missed this when it originally aired, which is a shame, because it probably would have made much more of the intended impact on me at age ten. To watch it for the first time as a jaded, middle-aged crank is to focus on the hokier aspects of it, like the “spooky” music box theme music, or an iguana giving an old lady a heart attack.

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“Invitation to Hell” (1984)

Like last week’s Deadly Lessons, the setting of 1984’s Invitation to Hell is so dated as to be almost quaint. It’s an exclusive country club, and while in the superficial, wealth driven 80s membership in such an establishment was one of the most highly prized, ostentatious indicators that one had “made it,” in the more politically correct 21st century it’s seen as rather tacky and passé. We’re much more understated with our microaggressions these days, darling.

Nevertheless, indulge yourself in the comforting warm cheese that is Invitation to Hell, directed by Wes Craven and airing six months before the release of A Nightmare on Elm Street. It wastes no time in getting down to business, opening with Susan Lucci, after being accidentally run over by a limousine, making a finger gun gesture at the driver and roasting him alive.

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“Deadly Lessons” (1983)

Some horror movies settings are eternal: a hospital, an old hotel, a cabin in the woods. Then there are some you just don’t see anymore–say, a boarding school, for instance. Once it became frowned upon to publicly admit that you had neither the time nor inclination to raise your children yourself, boarding schools fell out of favor, and to see them as a modern setting in any movie now, let alone horror, is almost quaint. Back in the early 80s, though, when filmmakers were trying for the next Suspiria, it was still a hot property, and it’s where 1983’s Deadly Lessons, a TV movie so lacking in any real thrills or chills that it could have been cut down to 45 minutes and shown as an Afterschool Special, takes place.

The boarding school here is called Starkwater Hall, an all-girls academy located somewhere in California. Scholarship student Stephanie (Diane Franklin) arrives for her first day, and we know immediately that she’s the heroine, because she’s dressed, despite the California summer heat, in a prairie dress with a turtleneck collar. Things are off to a sour start literally within a minute after she steps out of a cab, when a snobby classmate, improbably named Tember (Krista Errickson), asks “Are you here to deliver something?” while her toady (Deena Freeman) hisses “I’d stay out of Tember’s way if I were you, she doesn’t mix with grody people.”

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