Thursday, December 14, 2017

People Across the Lake, The (1988) (TV)

... aka: Al di là del lago (Beyond the Lake)
... aka: People from Across the Lake, The

Directed by:
Arthur Allan Seidelman

Neurotic real estate agent Rachel Yoman (Valerie Harper) returns home at dark after a long day at work. She puts in her security code both before and after entering the door, because when you live in a big city you have to have a security system. She then is pretty much ignored by the rest of her family. Her corporate husband Chuck (Gerald McRaney) is always on the phone or has his head buried in the paper and any romantic spark that once was in their relationship has vanished. Her young son Stevie (Gregory Togel) is always in his room listening to rock music. And her teenage daughter Lisa (Tammy Lauren) has the usual teenage daughter bad attitude and refers to her mother as “pathetic” while recommending she see a shrink because she thinks her boyfriend drives too fast. All Rachel wants is to unwind in a nice, hot bath... except the bathtub is filthy because no one's bothered cleaning it. To top off her glorious day, she catches someone peeping in her bathroom window and hits the security alarm. In minutes, their home is swarming with police and pointing neighbors. The problem? Well, the peeper was just an elderly neighbor who claims to have accidentally locked himself out of his house.

Having grown up in a small lake town in the Midwest, big city life in L.A. isn't treating Rachel too well. She's sick of traffic jams, smog, the noise, the thieves, the murderers... And Chuck, who is from the city and should be used to it, is starting to feel the same way and in need of a big change. Against their daughter's objections, the two purchase a waterfront fixer-upper in the small rural town of Lake Tomahawk situated around a large, picturesque lake. Chuck plans on starting a “windsurfing board” business there to cash in on the vacationing tourist crowd who frequent the area. Not long after moving into their new place, the couple start thinking they've made a big mistake moving... especially after Chuck goes for a swim and ends up with a severed arm dangling over his shoulder. Yet when he goes to retrieve the Sheriff (Thomas Peacocke) and returns to the scene where he left the arm, it's suddenly gone.

Denizens of Lake Tomahawk are a mixture of friendly yokels and menacing, weird rednecks who seem to be hiding some kind of secret. They're first warmly welcomed by Malcolm Bryce (Barry Corbin), who shows up to cook them fish and is perhaps a bit too friendly. Rachel is befriended by gossipy ice cream parlor owner Ruth Mortimer (Dorothy Lyman), who clues her in about all the shady types in the area. She makes special mention of Henry Link (Daryl Anderson), a crazed war vet and hermit who doesn't hesitate to pull his gun and threaten to shoot whoever wanders onto his property, as Rachel and Chuck eventually find out. But Ruth's husband Duane (Gary Bisig) and his buddy Eli (Frank C. Turner) really aren't any better and keep trying to bully the family out of town with thinly veiled threats.

Though most of the local law enforcement aren't helpful, Malcolm's nephew, Deputy John (Jeff Kizer), reluctantly tells them that people have been regularly disappearing there for the past fifteen years. Sometimes a body or body part turns up in the lake. Sometimes nothing does. There's some talk about locals being hush hush about everything because they're scared of driving away tourists but one thing's for certain: A killer's been on the loose there for quite some time and no one's really done anything about it. But the Yoman family don't let that little detail keep them from enjoying life! The daughter and son both frequently go out into the woods at night to go camping. The mom takes the son canoeing. And when mom and dad go for a jog and he pulls her aside for a little outdoor nookie, the two are hilariously interrupted by the presence of a rotten corpse.

Writer Dalene Young tries to use a flimsy financial excuse to explain why Chuck and Rachel don't immediately leave town but that's pretty much bullshit. Any decent parent would get their kids out of there ASAP or send them off to live with a friend or relative or something. Ya know, cause there's a killer around and the kids, ya know, could be killed, especially if you're anything like these parents and have no issue with your children wandering around in the woods at all hours of the day or night. Instead, mom decides to play detective and even goes over her possible suspect list with her own children... while they're hanging Christmas decorations! The family begin to sense that someone's been sneaking into their house while they're gone, too, but that doesn't stop them from a smiley, happy family photo sessions montage a scene later. It takes a bloody corpse turning up next to the Pop Tarts in their pantry for them to finally start packing boxes.

What makes a lot of the nonsense above more palatable is that there's a slightly tongue-in-cheek tone to this whole thing and a few lines poking direct fun at how implausible some of the character actions are and thus the writer appears as clued in to the absurdities of much as most viewers will be. So while this is silly and sometimes flat out dumb, there's still enough entertaining stuff going on here (including an over-the-top finale) to make it at least mildly enjoyable. The acting is fine (I found Harper's constant shrieking - she really seems into this - pretty hilarious) and it's also slightly more bloody, violent and twisted than I was expecting for a made-for-TV movie from this time.

Even though he's won a number of major awards over the course of his career (including several Emmy's), and likely much to his own displeasure, director Seidelman is probably best known for Hercules in New York (1970), the notoriously awful film debut of Arnold Schwarzenegger. He also made the genre films Echoes (1982) and The Caller (1987). After debuting on NBC in 1988, this was never released on home video here in the U.S., though it was elsewhere. There were VHS releases in the UK, Germany, Japan and the Netherlands, all on the RCA/Columbia label. The copy I watched had Dutch subtitles.

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