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.
© Shaun Anderson 2011