Ratings Key

= Excellent. The best the genre has to offer.
1/2 = Very Good. Perhaps not "perfect," but undoubtedly a must-see.
★★★ = Good. Accomplishes what it sets out to do and does it well.
★★1/2 = Fair. Clearly flawed and nothing spectacular, but competently made. OK entertainment.
★★ = Mediocre. Either highly uneven or by-the-numbers and uninspired.
1/2 = Bad. Very little to recommend.
= Very Bad. An absolute chore to sit through.
NO STARS! = Abysmal. Unwatchable dreck that isn't even bad-movie amusing.
SBIG = So Bad It's Good. Technically awful movies with massive entertainment value.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Last Bride of Salem (1974) (TV)

... aka: ABC Afternoon Playbreak: 'Last Bride of Salem," The

Directed by:
Tom Donovan

The night before her family's big move, little Kelly (Joni Bick) has a really bad nightmare about a black-robed cult chanting over a potential human sacrifice. A bad omen? Offff course. Dad Matt Clifton (Bradford Dillman), a painter, and mom Jennifer (Lois Nettleton) have decided to move from Boston to tiny Salem Village in New England so that Matt can have some peace and quiet to concentrate on his artwork. And with a name like Salem Village, you may already know what to expect (if some Lovecraftian character names don't also clue you in). They've been set up in a home owned by another artist - the famous Sebastian Mayhew (Paul Harding) - and been allowed to rent it dirt cheap. When they show up, they discover just why it's so affordable. The place is dusty, dirty, dark and well over 200 years old and looks like it hasn't been inhabited in about so long. Well, all except for one upstairs room, which has a fresh coat of white paint, a skylight and modern furniture. The strange out-of-place room appears to have been added on just recently. Across the street is a gloomy old mansion, and it's the same one Kelly had seen in her premonition. Their first night in the home, the lights flicker on and off and Jennifer is startled when the home's stern caretaker Seth Whately (Ed McNamara) and his strange mute son Thomas (Robert Hawkins) wander into her kitchen unannounced.

The next day they're off to church, where they meet some of the locals, including Dr. Hiram Fletcher (Murray Westgate) and his wife Grace (Susan Rubes), and the village's only doctor, Dave Glover (James Douglas), and his wife Rebecca (Patricia Hamilton). Everyone seems nice and friendly, so Jennifer invites them all to dinner. Dave takes it upon himself to then tell all about their home and what had supposedly gone down there. According to local legend, back in 1691, accusations of witchcraft spread like wildfire around the village, but the real witches and warlocks actually ran the entire town and the innocents they branded witches and later executed were actually being killed as sacrifices to Satan. A man named Prosper Morgan, who lived in the same farmhouse the Clifton family now occupy, supposedly burned down the witch's house, killing all of the evildoers... except for one. The sole survivor then made a pact with Satan to continue on living until he could destroy Morgan and all of the family bloodline. Being wily, the man decided to let one descendant keep living each generation just so he himself can remain alive.

Kelly's doll turns up missing, Seth peaks in windows, draws an upside down cross on their door and cuts off a lock of Matt's hair while he's sleeping and Thomas keeps trying to unsuccessfully warn the family. Not long after, Jennifer notices changes for the worse in both her husband and daughter. Both have become antisocial, short-tempered, secretive and moody. Kelly's premonitions continue and she stops wanting to do things with her (they think) imaginary friend named "Abehu;" who she claims lives in the woods. Matt becomes immersed in his work, barely leaves his studio and keeps painting the house across the street over and over again. As it turns out, the mansion across the street is occupied by a witch named Elsbeth March (Moya Fenwick), a coven of followers and a young man known only as "The Master" (Rex Hagon); all of whom have dark designs on both Matt and Kelly. Jennifer, with help from the local reverend, must try to get to the bottom of things before it's too late.

This ABC Afternoon Playbreak presentation (which runs just 73 minutes minus commercial breaks) is well acted by the leads and is competently made and plotted within its low-budget limitations. The most fascinating thing about it though is that somehow this meager, completely unknown videotaped TV presentation seems to have influenced Stephen King in his writing of "The Shining." The similarities are actually quite striking. Parents with one small child go to a secluded area so that the father can have peace to concentrate on his work. Matt and Jack Torrance are actually quite alike. Both work in an artistic profession; one's an artist, one's a writer. Both become completely and unhealthily immersed in their work. While Matt paints the same thing over and over again, Jack writes the same sentence over and over again. Both snap at their wives for disrupting their creative flow and both seem to be going crazy, possibly because of some supernatural force. Comparisons can also be drawn between the child characters as both have premonitions and both have imaginary friends; as well as the Jennifer character, who's at first almost annoyingly overly cheerful, just like Wendy Torrance, until she's forced to try to get to the bottom of things. There's certainly enough here to raise eyebrows.

Hey look... it's John Candy!

Never released on VHS of DVD, Last Bride (which was a 20th Century Fox production) hasn't even been shown on TV for many, many, many years, and is extremely difficult to find these days. Dillman won a Daytime Emmy Award for Best Actor in a Daytime Drama Special for his work here (the film itself and Nettleton were also nominated). A very young John Candy can be spotted several times as a cult member.



CavedogRob said...

This is interesting. There were a lot of made for TV movies (especially ABC's "Movie of the Week") that were horror or horror related and they have completely vanished.

The Bloody Pit of Horror said...

Tons, yes. I am discovering new ones all the time. Kind of a shame we don't get many made-for-TV horror films any longer, except for all that crap SyFy Channel regularly cranks out.

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