Monday, 7 November 2011

Crowhaven Farm (1970) - TV Movie

Country: USA

Original Transmission Date: 24/11/1970

The relative emptiness of The Celluloid Highway’s Cult TV Archive has bothered me for some time, so I’ve decided to make a conscious effort to explore in more detail, the often fertile soil of the small screen. In the United States the made-for-television horror movie became something of a cult institution, and flourished from 1968 to 1989. I personally consider this to be the time period of greatest interest. This is a subjective choice on my part, so I hope nobody gets there knickers in a twist if they disagree. One of the benefits of being from the UK is that I never got to see many of these TV movies when I was growing up, and therefore I do not approach them now wearing the rose tinted spectacles of nostalgia. Just check out how many reviews for these TV movies give them undue credit simply because they generate a childhood nostalgia! Of course there were a handful of elite TV horror movies that broke the shackles and enjoyed wider distribution - Duel (1971), The Night Stalker (1972), Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark (1973), Killdozer (1974), and Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981) just to name a few. But for every Dark Night of the Scarecrow there is a Crowhaven Farm. The title might have a certain rustic pastoral charm, but the reality is that this particular effort from November 1970 is a dreary exercise in tele-visual tedium.

This was one of a number of TV horror movies executively produced by Aaron Spelling. Others include The House That Would Not Die (1970), A Taste of Evil (1971), and Satan’s School for Girls (1973). They are all marked by a certain blandness - perhaps bland is being a beat generous, they are as dull as ditchwater. The inspiration for Crowhaven Farm is clearly Rosemary’s Baby (1968), and Crowhaven is easily one of the most rigorous imitations of Polanski’s film I’ve yet to stumble across. Simply substitute a satanic cult for a coven of witches and you have your latest TV movie. The film opens with an incredibly rushed prologue that establishes the inheritance of a farm in Brampton, Massachusetts’s for the Porter’s; Maggie (Hope Lang) and Ben (Paul Burke). The state of their marriage is pure soap opera, and the tension derives from the fact that they are childless. Whereas the tense interplay between the couple in Rosemary’s Baby builds up a sense of alienated paranoia, here it is merely used for padding, and to give Paul Burke an opportunity to fly off the handle in a jealous rage every few minutes. He is supposed to be an artist, but instead of sensitive and creative Burke comes across as a…for want of a better word - berk! But this is preferable to the somnambulism of Hope Lang. She begins having weird visions of a puritanical past, her dreams become haunted, she feels an intense sense of déjà vu, and on one occasion is mocked by the laughter of disembodied voices - this is probably the only successful moment in the film. But Lang responds to these events with all the animation of an assassinated middle eastern dictator.

Things begin to improve slightly with the adoption of the creepy and precocious Jennifer (Cindy Eilbacher), a girl who seems to have a knowledge beyond her years, and an ulterior motive for insinuating herself into the Porter’s farmstead. Eilbacher lights up the screen with every appearance and contributes to a number of uncomfortable moments with Ben, who is unable or unwilling to see beyond her façade of angelic innocence. John Carradine adds a little colour as handyman Nate Cheever, but his role is little more than a glorified cameo. Carradine is badly underused, but his several brief appearances adds a little touch of class to the proceedings. Like most TV movies Crowhaven Farm is forced to build its atmosphere and scares in a more subtle manner. Unfortunately though on each occasion the film seems about to breakthrough into something more interesting the restrictions of the medium become all too apparent. The notion of a reincarnated witch being punished by the coven she betrayed centuries ago is intriguing, but the premise is constantly undermined by soap opera dialogue, ridiculously intrusive music from Robert Drasnin, and a series of uncommitted performances.

The method of execution for Maggie is to be crushed beneath a heavy wooden door laden with rocks, and she proves her duplicitous nature by agreeing to sacrifice Paul in order to save herself. This event proves beyond a doubt that Maggie did perform an injustice in a past life. However her sacrifice doesn’t seem particularly severe, in fact I’d say Maggie’s former coven did her quite a service by ridding of her such a pain in the ass. The rural smalltown conspiracy adds a nice layer though, and does lead to one questioning the actions and motives of all the individuals that come into the Porter's circle - perhaps most prominent of all the town Doctor. The film is unable to end on such a despairing and cynical note, and a final coda concludes by affirming the cycle of reincarnation and past lives that has preoccupied the film. Despite running for a mere 75 minutes the laboured pace of Crowhaven Farm is a major weakness, as is a plot that does not hold up to even the slightest scrutiny.

© Shaun Anderson 2011


  1. Fun read."... with all the animation of an assassinated middle eastern dictator. " Classic! And John Carradine: he just walks on to a set and is engaging. I haven't seen it, though, I must say, and based off of your review, believe I'll skip this one unless it jumps out of the bushes one night and rapes me, otherwise I don't believe I'll be seeking it out.

    Horror series are on the rise here; THE WALKING DEAD is/was a game changer on basic cable networks - I feel that it will have a profound lasting impact of the future of non-premium television for years to come. A new show called AMERICAN HORROR STORY (which I haven't watched) is all the rage among the cool kids, and is set to break out nation wide as positive word of mouth spreads.

    THE WALKING DEAD both thrilled me, horrified me, and had me crying all in one episode last weekend. And it's not just the shows, but how they are releasing it that will have a lasting impact. A six or seven episode season means less wait time between seasons - less than a year after the last season end. This means high production value, less cost, with much less narrative fat. It also means shows can explore narrative arc that take place over a shorter period of time, like a season might take place over one week, as apposed to a year or several months like before.

    Anyway, I'll stop for now. Again, fun review.

  2. Hello there Greg :-)

    Have you ever seen the film THE PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND? It's a John Ford effort from the late 1930's, but it contains a wonderful turn from John Carradine as a sadistic prison guard. Yeah this is one to miss, unless you're embarking on research into American TV horror movies like me. In which case you have to sift through the garbage to find the gold.

    I have to confess I'm not much of an enthusiast for television shows with an ongoing narrative. I've always gravitated towards anthology type programmes such as THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS, TALES OF THE UNEXPECTED etc. I did however see the feature length curtain raiser to the first series of THE WALKING DEAD and was suitably impressed. I then totally forgot about it! This happens quite a lot to me, there is just too much interesting stuff to watch, and not enough hours in the day to watch it. Though I did find time for CROWHAVEN FARM, so I should really be able to find time for THE WALKING DEAD.

    I haven't heard of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, but it's bound to make the trip over the Atlantic sometime and end up on British shores. I'll keep an eye out for it. I agree about reducing season lengths to six or seven episodes. If more programmes were like that, I might show more of an interest. But I'm damned if I'm going to stick with something for 20+ weeks. I just don't have the patience or inclination.

  3. I haven't seen PRISONER OF SHARK ISLAND but will do so, as I am a John Ford man. And as for seeking out gems in a pile of crap, well, guys like me benefit from your search, so search away.

    I am just like you: I'd rather watch five movies other than some crap series of twenty-plus episodes of shit that takes place over a long, undefined period of time. I have not the time nor patience for this kind of story telling. THE WALKING DEAD is in fact the only series (to date) that I have ever watched in its entirety, and that's not saying a lot, since they've only made ten or so.

    For me, it's the looseness with time that does it. I want my stories tight. And I don't like not knowing week after week what the hell is going to happen. I just can't take the open endedness of it. Guess I'm a story man over character. I can't tell you how many sequels to films I thought were pretty good I opted out of seeing.

    That said, THE WALKING DEAD gets under my skin. This is a show I can get behind. In the last episode the characters try to haul a water logged zombie out of ground well, only to have it split in half when it gets hung up on the lip of the well. They're just like: aw, shit, that was a waste of an afternoon!

    Anyway, I can't vouch for AMERICAN HORROR STORY yet. Let you know what it's like if I decide to invest the time, which I probably won't. I've got DVDs from the video store to watch!

  4. Yeah I'm a Ford man too, and I always like exploring the lesser known titles in the filmography of a director I like. I have followed long serials in the past - I think I watched pretty much every episode of THE X FILES, and I of course love the old episodes of DOCTOR WHO. But generally I stick to anthology type programmes, of which America produced some fine examples; THE TWILIGHT ZONE, THE OUTER LIMITS, ALFRED HITCHCOCK PRESENTS, THRILLER, JOURNEY TO THE UNKNOWN, NIGHT GALLERY, RAY BRADBURY THEATRE, NIGHT VISIONS and TALES FROM THE CRYPT to name just a few I really like. There is nothing on television like any of these programmes now - the most recent attempt MASTERS OF HORROR was largely a love in for washed up has-beens whose best work had been done 20 or 30 years prior.

  5. I'd not heard of this one, Shaun, till you mentioned it a few weeks ago. Have you seen the TV movie sequel to ROSEMARY'S BABY? I posted the TV Guide ad for that one, but haven't seen the actual movie. There's another rather popular TV movie/mini series that was big here that dealt with the supernatural entitled THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME that I vaguely remember as a kid. I posted the ad for that one, too. It ran for two nights back in 1978. I wish I still had the ad for this CARRIE style, witchcraft enhanced TV horror flick called THE INITIATION OF SARAH that I fondly remember from childhood.

  6. No, I haven't seen LOOK WHAT'S HAPPENED TO ROSEMARY'S BABY Brian, but I will in the next few weeks, and I'll post a review to let you know what I think. I've heard of THE DARK SECRET OF HARVEST HOME, as you note, it was slightly unusual in that was shown in two parts, and ran for 2 hours. It features a typical scene stealing turn from Bette Davis. THE INITIATION OF SARAH I haven't heard of, so I'll look into that one. CARRIE rip off's were quite common in TV movie horror land, THE SPELL is another one.

  7. HARVEST HOME ran for five hours if I'm remembering the times in the old TV guide right. One night was two hours and the other was three. That would put it at around 3 1/2 hours long without commercials. I remember very little about it aside from it having a WICKER MAN ambiance. It's quite well thought of over here. SARAH was a lot of fun. Morgan Fairchild was a real bitch in that one. Yes, I know a stretch for her, right? :D

  8. I think I saw this on British television when I was quite young, the scene you mentioned that featured the laughter of disembodied voices, did that take place when the couple were in bed and the laughter seemed to be coming through the pillows?

  9. It may well have done Alan, all I can recall (and lets be honest its not a memorable film at all) is that Hope Lang's character follows them outside into the wind and rain. It's the only scene in the film that works.


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