31 Days to Scare ~ Scream Pretty Peggy (1973)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A sculptor hires young college girls to take care of his elderly mother and his supposedly insane sister, both of whom live in the old family mansion with him.

Stars: Ted Bessell, Sian Barbara Allen, Bette Davis, Charles Drake, Allan Arbus,Tovah Feldshuh

Director: Gordon Hessler

Rated: NR

Running Length: 74 minutes

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: All I keep reading about in the many movie rabbit holes I often find myself in was how different TV movies were before the advent of cable television.  Back in the ‘70s and ‘80s these were stop-what-you’re-doing and watch events that commanded the attention of a public that saw famous faces from screens big and small.  While not the most current A-listers, these stars of yesteryear or rising hopefuls would appear weekly in dramas, comedies, and a rather large selection of mysteries/thrillers or horror films with commercials to break up the mounting tension.  These are the ones that are the most interesting to me (obviously for this series) because to hear people tell it, they still remember the scares these tales of terror gave them. 

One of the most famous stars to grace these pulpy movies was none other than Oscar winner Bette Davis (The Watcher in the Woods). While her time on the silver screen had mostly run its seasoned course by the time the TV Movie of the Week picked up steam, she found regular work as a “special guest star’ in numerous television projects that made good use of her poise and presence.  It could be said the first TV horror for this era was 1973’s Scream Pretty Peggy and while it doesn’t rank high on the list of the most memorable roles Davis created, it is notable for providing the actress some meaty moments to chew on while the rest of the cast is left with paltry scraps to pick over.

It’s almost unfair to promote Davis as being such a star of the movie because she’s really not in that much of the 74-minute film.  The cast is small enough as it is but the bulk of it plays out between young Sian Barbara Allen as college student Peggy Johns who seeks out a job as a housekeeper at the massive estate of famed sculptor Jeffrey Elliot (Ted Bessell).  Hired more to look out for his aging mother (Davis), Peggy’s eager to please Jeffrey because she has an ulterior motive for wanting the job in the first place.  An aspiring artist herself, she seeks his approval for her own piece and maybe something more than their employer/employee relationship but both Jeffrey and his mother keep themselves at a distance for reasons that slowly become clearer.

I’d say more but there’s not a lot of plot left to talk about above and beyond that.  I was surprised the script, co-written by longtime Hammer Studios screenwriter Jimmy Sangster (Horror of Dracula, The Brides of Dracula, among others) and Arthur Hoffe is so staid and without much action.  I’ve a feeling it was Hoffe’s premise that Sangster was brought it to flesh out and amp up.  Yet there’s only so much one can do to raise the stakes, especially in the early ‘70s on network TV, for this particular story with its similarities to another famous suspense director’s most known movie. I won’t say which, but the lead actress has a daughter that followed her into the movie business, same genre too. 

More energy in direction from Gordon Hessler would help, or at least from the cast. However, aside from Davis who is a massive trooper in getting her scenes imbued with some sense of urgency, the two main leads treat the proceedings like they’re acting out a family drama rather than a house of horrors mystery.  In fact, while I liked Allen’s free-spirited Peggy at first, once it becomes obvious how much of a follower she was and to such a wet blanket like Bessel’s cardboard bland Jeffrey I was almost rooting for the sinister figure we assume to be Jeffrey’s insane sister to catch and eliminate her like she had a young Tovah Feldshuh (Love Type D) in the pre-credit sequence.

How glad was I to see that boutique home media distributor Kino Studio Classics was releasing a number of these TV movies in a 2K remaster just in time for Halloween?  I’d started to watch Scream Pretty Peggy on YouTube before (tip, you can watch SO many of these old movies of the week via YouTube) and the quality was good but not great.  The folks over at Kino Studio Classics have obtained a sparkling remaster that looks just gorgeous.  It’s crisp and colorful, down to the gaudy eye make-up and lipstick Davis wears, a small callback to her look in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, maybe?   For that alone, the movie is worth a look, but it will likely be more of a view out of curiosity than anything else.  It’s not bad enough to be laughable, not scary enough to be scream-able, but Davis makes it interesting enough to be watchable.

If you’re looking for reviews of other TV movies of this era, check out my posts on Home for the Holidays (1972) with Sally Field and A Howling in the Woods (1971) with Barbara Eden.

Movie Review ~ The Rescue (2021)

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The Facts
:

Synopsis: A chronicle of the enthralling, against-all-odds story that transfixed the world in 2018: the daring rescue of twelve boys and their coach from deep inside a flooded cave in Northern Thailand.

Director: Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin

Rated: PG

Running Length: 107 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  It already plays like a movie.  An otherwise ordinary day in the summer of 2018 goes sideways quickly when a Northern Thailand youth soccer team made up of 12 boys and their coach venture into a cave and become trapped when it floods without much warning.  With little hope of exiting on their own, the government first calls in their own reserve of divers to bring them out but sans the experience for such a lengthy and perilous dive it proves to be futile.  Then an international team of skilled cave divers are flown in, working with local authorities to regroup and plan a way to locate the team and bring them out safely.  All before the oncoming monsoon season submerges the caves fully, drowning them. 

These events played out over 18 days as the world watched on the edge of their seats, unable to do anything but wait for news to come out of Thailand that the mission had failed, or the team had emerged from the caves with the assistance of the professionals.  It’s no spoiler to report they survived, but at the expense of the life of one Thai Navy SEAL at the time and another who died from an infection contracted at the scene.  So, approaching the new National Geogrpahic documentary The Rescue (in theaters now before debuting on Disney+ in December) one must ask what they hope to gain insight on if they already know of the events that transpired and its resolution.

There’s the challenge for recent Oscar-winning documentarians Elizabeth Chai Vasarhelyi & Jimmy Chin who scaled to the highest heights with the incredible accomplishment of Free Solo.  They are working with a different sort of beast here, stepping in to direct The Rescue after its original director Kevin Macdonald had to bow out to focus his time on 2021’s The Mauritanian.  Maybe that’s why it doesn’t feel as completely innovative a creation as Free Solo or perhaps it is stymied by some legalese around the rights to the story of the Tham Luang cave rescue.  It’s crazy, but Netflix owns the “life rights” to the boys/coach while NatGeo owns the rights to the story of the men who ran the rescue operation.  Which is why you’ll see competing projects on the same topic arriving over the next few years. 

The good news is that I think the directors were the right choice to jump this hurdle because they’re used to speaking to those that favor somewhat niche extreme sports.  In much the same way they were able to bring out the different colors of free climber Alex Honnold, Vasarhelyi & Chin work similar magic in their interviews with a range of cave divers that admit to being outcasts in high school and last picked on the playground.  Taking them back through those harrowing days in the caves when they didn’t know what they would initially find takes its toll and it doesn’t appear that the men have recounted it so much yet that it’s a rote memory.  There are still residual effects of the experience they can’t hide and it’s all there for us to see.

Without having access to more info on the team trapped inside the cave, there’s often a little one-sidedness to the film which makes the first half a bit slow moving.  It’s necessary to gives us an idea of the scope of just how far in they were so we know the distance the divers swam but it’s, how shall I say it?, uneventful. Only when we get to the actual rescue operation does the film find some footing but even that relies on recreated footage (that’s pawned off as real, more on that later) to bolster the immediacy of it.  Regarding those recreations, it wouldn’t feel so strange if it wasn’t edited alongside actual footage from inside the cave.  Without a disclaimer at the beginning that there was this mix, it feels like the viewer is being led slightly astray. Even the notice at the end is cleverly worded to further distance itself from actually saying much of it was staged.

The emotional beats of the film are there, though.  You can’t help but get emotional when the various international representatives speak of the cultures and countries working together to save these lives, especially viewing it at a time when we all seem so divided.  I wish a little more focus had been on the Thai man that died, but his widow speaks so eloquently about what it meant to him to be of service and how important it is to her to have been his wife that the full emotional weight of the loss hits home quite powerfully.  I also appreciated there were additional insights offered into the lives of the divers, one who experienced a devastating loss in conjunction with a pivotal moment of celebration.

A narrative feature on the rescue at Tham Luang is being made (with Ron Howard supposedly directing…interesting) so this documentary isn’t the last word on the subject, but I suspect The Rescue will be the most in-depth piece on the people that risked their lives to save others.  For a follow-up to their Academy Award winning film, Vasarhelyi & Chin show they will continue to be strong players in this category, and I won’t be surprised if we see them at the ceremony again because of this film.  It’s a worthwhile watch and while it takes a bit to get moving, when it does begin to execute its mission it’s a breathless endeavor.