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The Curious Case of TV Movies


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If ever there has been one type of programming that is a bit of an enigma, it is the world of TV movies. Firstly, are they TV, or are they films? They first came around in 1964 when Universal started making them, and by the 70s and 80s, every channel was airing at least one new one every week. Plus, beginning in the 80s, cable stations started getting into the mix with TNT and HBO making high-quality ones with big-name casts. And yet within the last few years, they have mostly vanished. There were only 16 in the whole 2019-2020 TV season. I guess this is a post to reminisce about ones of years ago, to point out fine performances or films left mostly untended. Maybe we can shine a light on some things that should not be neglected.

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I've seen a couple old school TV movies on Youtube. Most of them  I saw were 70s or 80s made. The vast majority were not good movies.  True definition of 'C Movies'

In 2020, TV movies are made by Lifetime and Hallmark. No one else.

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I thought the best TV movie made was BRIAN'S SONG back in 1970 (or '69).  Today they've been replaced with what they're calling "limited series". These four to eight episode features are basically long movies.  

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I always thought the  anthology form from the 1950s was the TV movie's ancestor, whether filmed or live. Some (Marty, 12 Angry Men) morphed into respected and honored films.

And as to the question as to whether they were TV or films, some were both, as several US TV movies were released theatrically elsewhere in the world (Spielberg's Duel, for example).

What about today's Netflix productions, where they are released theatrically in one or two theaters simply to get an Oscar nomination qualification, but most viewers will see them via a stream on their TV or other screen-based device?   Are those films, television, or something else?

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If they're recorded the same way theatrical releases are( be it film or digital methods) I'm of the opinion they are "films".   And while I agree with HOGANMAN  that BRIAN'S SONG is a good example of a good TV movie,  my favorites are still DUEL('71)  and SPECIAL BULLETIN ('83).  And while  '77's JESUS OF NAZARETH was an outstanding production, it was still featured in four installments as a "television mini-series".  So I'd have to say it was television.  TOP SHELF television, sure.  But television nonetheless.  And Netflix?   Well, I don't subscribe anymore( did for a while back when it was  only mail order DVD rental), but if those features are recorded the same way theatrical releases are, and presented without commercial interruption, then I'd go with them too being movies.  

Sepiatone

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There's also the case of the largely overlooked Testament, which was originally produced for the PBS series American Playhouse.  Paramount, after viewing it, were impressed enough to release it in theaters in the US, and then it aired on PBS.  So it started life as a TV movie, but was released theatrically first and then aired on American Playhouse.  Jane Alexander was Oscar nominated for her role in this film.

 

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If you want 70's TV movies (like Mr. Gorman does, bumping his old '14 thread)  just take a stroll through Amazon Prime--TV-movies tend to turn public-domain once their network abandons them (and their production companies have long since drifted away to renew copyrights), and if it's PD...

Me, I'm currently rewatching the "exile" years of Wes Craven's pre-Elm Street TV-movies, such as Summer of Fear, and the not-too-bad-IIRC Invitation to Hell.

Oh, and they say "Killdozer"'s coming to disk, but I'll wait and see.

20 hours ago, CinemaInternational said:

Firstly, are they TV, or are they films?

They're TV, and back in the 70's-80's, that actually MEANT something.  Movies were in the theater--or on Sunday nights--TV-movies were things the network showed on Tuesday nights, especially during sweeps-week.

Back then, TV didn't try to be the Movies, and Movies didn't try to be annual TV-series episodes.

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4 hours ago, txfilmfan said:

There's also the case of the largely overlooked Testament, which was originally produced for the PBS series American Playhouse.  Paramount, after viewing it, were impressed enough to release it in theaters in the US, and then it aired on PBS.  So it started life as a TV movie, but was released theatrically first and then aired on American Playhouse.  Jane Alexander was Oscar nominated for her role in this film.

 

And as it stands it was one of the best films of its year. Broke my heart when I saw it last summer.

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2 minutes ago, CinemaInternational said:

And as it stands it was one of the best films of its year. Broke my heart when I saw it last summer.

I saw it on its original PBS airing, and even though I've only seen it that one time, and it was 35 or 36 years ago, it still stays with me.  I'd  probably wait for better times before watching again...

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@EricJ:  KILLDOZER has been available courtesy of the UNIVERSAL VAULT Series on one of those MOD discs for years.  I bought a disc of "Killdozer" several years ago and the copyright date on the back is '2012 Universal Studios'.  So if you dig KILLDOZER you can go and pick the disc up right away. 

 

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2 minutes ago, Mr. Gorman said:

@EricJ:  KILLDOZER has been available courtesy of the UNIVERSAL VAULT Series on one of those MOD discs for years.  I bought a disc of "Killdozer" several years ago and the copyright date on the back is '2012 Universal Studios'.  So if you dig KILLDOZER you can go and pick the disc up right away. 

 

It was also recently announced that there would be a 2K restoration Blu-ray of Killdozer released later this year. Talk about overkill...

https://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=26705

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Speaking of PARAMOUNT and their theatrical release of "Testament" they also released it on VHS.  I admit I don't know what company, if any, has put it out on disc. 

Here's a tele-film Paramount released on tape in the 1980s:  RED ALERT (1977-Tvm).  William Devane, Michael Brandon.  I'll do my best 'Dubya' impression of the plot:  It's a nucular accident!  :)

EDIT:  That's just plain goofy about KILLDOZER.  A '2K Restoration' of a '70s television movie . . . maybe KINO-LORBER could do a '2K Restoration' on DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK, too.  I noted the DVD release of that '73 tele-film was already 'Remastered', but ya know like . . . so what? 

Meanwhile, I prefer the mid-1980s 'U.S.A. Home Video' release in the GIANT box with the clamshell case holding the tape inside.  Fancy! 

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one bad tv-movie and I mean bad is cruise into terror to cash in on the Damien omen antichrist wave. I've never expected too much from tv-movies but this one is truly poor. Ray Milland is on board and has reasoned that some Egyptian antichrist baby sank in the gulf of mexixo on board an Egyptian galley that made it's way to that part of the world 2,000 years ago. the irritating assorted passengers shoulda maybe tried for Catalina. you got Christopher George and his unhappy wife Lynda day along, also two babes traveling together for some reason.;) somebody's wife is it's bodyguard and she is kinda hot. milland manages to intrigue the others to go diving for it. the underwater sequences are boring and only drag the film even more. the Egyptian antichrist baby is revealed as a golden sarcophagus with nice colored paint and it pulsates indicating that it enjoys a unholy breathing life after 2,000 years submerged. 

this turkey starts out with Hugh O'Brian receiving his sailing orders in a warehouse from a white-haired Marshall Thompson who must've really needed a paycheck maybe to finance White Dog?

:lol:

right after O'Brian departs some wooden crates fall on Thompson to crush him into silence.

Why?

who was he gonna tell? the crates?

oh yeah, the woman bodyguard is married to John Forsythe who plays a clergyman.

 
 
 
The Love Boat Goes to Hell In 'Cruise Into Terror'
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5 hours ago, Sepiatone said:

And Netflix?   Well, I don't subscribe anymore( did for a while back when it was  only mail order DVD rental), but if those features are recorded the same way theatrical releases are, and presented without commercial interruption, then I'd go with them too being movies.  

By the same token, are Disney's Artemis Fowl and Warner's Scoob! still "movies", if they were intended for the theaters, but spring/summer lockdown means they get bumped down to their respective streaming services?
(Oh, wait, I'm sorry:  "Exclusive digital premieres"...  😆 )

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NipkowDisc:  Did you smoke some special kind of HOT SPELL-brand toilet paper before typing out the above?  :P

Or are you doing an impression of 'spence' trying to type stuff out using the worst grammar and sentence structure possible?  And where's the capital letters at the beginning of the sentences? 

Back to 6th Grade English for you! 

In regards to CRUISE INTO TERROR, I find it a lot of lunatic fun!  I know 'Leonard Maltin & Co.' gave it a 'Below Average' before he pruned all the TVM's from his Guide and you don't find it amusing, either.  But I rather liked it.  Sure there were some silly TVM's made in '70s.  That doesn't mean they can't be entertaining!  Like THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET.  That was fun, too.  And given a 'Below Average'. 

To date, of all the TV movies I've watched the worst is NOWHERE TO HIDE (1977).  A good cast is unfortunately let down.  That said, I'll probably fish out my tape of it and watch it again just for the hell of it!   

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35 minutes ago, Mr. Gorman said:

NipkowDisc:  Did you smoke some special kind of HOT SPELL-brand toilet paper before typing out the above?  :P

Or are you doing an impression of 'spence' trying to type stuff out using the worst grammar and sentence structure possible?  And where's the capital letters at the beginning of the sentences? 

Back to 6th Grade English for you! 

In regards to CRUISE INTO TERROR, I find it a lot of lunatic fun!  I know 'Leonard Maltin & Co.' gave it a 'Below Average' before he pruned all the TVM's from his Guide and you don't find it amusing, either.  But I rather liked it.  Sure there were some silly TVM's made in '70s.  That doesn't mean they can't be entertaining!  Like THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET.  That was fun, too.  And given a 'Below Average'. 

To date, of all the TV movies I've watched the worst is NOWHERE TO HIDE (1977).  A good cast is unfortunately let down.  That said, I'll probably fish out my tape of it and watch it again just for the hell of it!   

That's Nippy's usual style. He "doan" care.

I enjoyed the incredibly goofy Cruise Into Terror, as well. It was a lot crazier than most of the made-for-TV movies of the time. I had to check, but I haven't seen Nowhere to Hide

I have a book entitled Television Fright Films of the 1970's. Last year or the year before, I tried to see every one listed that I hadn't seen. I ended up catching about 75% of them. Most were available on YouTube, and many of them had good quality prints, too.

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NOWHERE TO HIDE stars Lee Van Cleef and Tony Musante.  Van Cleef is supposed to guard obnoxious mob witness Musante.  Musante was once a hit man and now he's marked for death.  There's a picture of the U.S.A. Home Video on the IMDb if you wanna have a look, LawrenceA.  It's watchable, but it's just not very good even by the standards of made-for-television movies.

I was fortunate enough to find a PRISM Entertainment clamshell of CRUISE INTO TERROR years ago.  I actually found 2 of them, but I had to 'merge' them.  One had a cut box and a nice tape . . . the other had a nice box with nice insert artwork but a tape that turned out to be screwed up.  The clear leader had gotten loose from the spool and I don't know how to fix those kind of problems.  However, because the box art was in such good condition with no fading or edgewear I reckon it turned out all right. 

I liked those PRISM clamshell releases of TVM's.  And there were plenty of 'em!  :)

EDIT:  What Tv fright films have you seen from the book? 

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11 minutes ago, Mr. Gorman said:

EDIT:  What Tv fright films have you seen from the book? 

Yikes, that's a long list. I'll break them up by year.

Have seen -1970:

  • The Brotherhood of the Bell
  • Crowhaven Farm
  • The House That Would Not Die
  • How Awful About Allan
  • Ritual of Evil
  • Sole Survivor

Have not seen:

  • Night Slaves

 

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1971

Have seen:

  • Black Noon
  • Dr. Cook's Garden
  • Duel
  • Five Desperate Women
  • Murder Once Removed
  • Paper Man
  • Revenge!
  • Sweet, Sweet Rachel

Have not seen:

  • Deadly Dream
  • The Devil and Miss Sarah
  • A Howling in the Woods
  • Terror in the Sky
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1972

Have seen:

  • The Eyes of Charles Sand
  • Gargoyles
  • Haunts of the Very Rich
  • Home for the Holidays
  • Moon of the Wolf
  • The Night Stalker
  • Pursuit
  • Short Walk to Daylight
  • Something Evil
  • The Strangers in 7A
  • Taste of Evil
  • The Victim
  • When Michael Calls
  • The Woman Hunter

Have not seen:

  • Family Flight
  • The Screaming Woman
  • She Waits
  • Women in Chains
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1973

Have seen: 

  • A Cold Night's Death
  • The Devil's Daughter
  • Don't Be Afraid of the Dark
  • Frankenstein
  • Frankenstein: The True Story
  • Horror at 37,000 Feet
  • Isn't It Shocking?
  • The Night Strangler
  • The Norliss Tapes
  • Ordeal
  • The President's Plane Is Missing
  • Runaway!
  • Satan's School for Girls
  • The Stranger
  • Terror on the Beach
  • You'll Never See Me Again

Have not seen:

  • The Cat Creature
  • Dying Room Only
  • Maneater
  • The Picture of Dorian Gray
  • Scream Pretty Peggy
  • She Cried Murder
  • Snatched
  • Trapped

I'll return with the mid-to-late 70's later.

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Interesting group of titles, Lawrence.  :)  Thanks for listing them. 

Speaking of 1973 TVM's -- I'm guessing this one is not in the book, but is decent:  LINDA with Stella Stevens and Ed Nelson. 

I noted the 1970 TVM "Ritual of Evil" was on your list.  I've not seen that one.  I have seen the 1969 movie FEAR NO EVIL with Louis Jourdan.  Have you viewed that one before? 

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36 minutes ago, Mr. Gorman said:

I noted the 1970 TVM "Ritual of Evil" was on your list.  I've not seen that one.  I have seen the 1969 movie FEAR NO EVIL with Louis Jourdan.  Have you viewed that one before? 

Unfortunately, no, I haven't been able to track down a copy to watch yet.

Edit: In an odd coincidence, I just read that a Blu-ray release of Fear No Evil was announced this evening:

https://www.blu-ray.com/news/?id=26742

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5 hours ago, Mr. Gorman said:

NipkowDisc:  Did you smoke some special kind of HOT SPELL-brand toilet paper before typing out the above?  :P

Or are you doing an impression of 'spence' trying to type stuff out using the worst grammar and sentence structure possible?  And where's the capital letters at the beginning of the sentences? 

Back to 6th Grade English for you! 

In regards to CRUISE INTO TERROR, I find it a lot of lunatic fun!  I know 'Leonard Maltin & Co.' gave it a 'Below Average' before he pruned all the TVM's from his Guide and you don't find it amusing, either.  But I rather liked it.  Sure there were some silly TVM's made in '70s.  That doesn't mean they can't be entertaining!  Like THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET.  That was fun, too.  And given a 'Below Average'. 

To date, of all the TV movies I've watched the worst is NOWHERE TO HIDE (1977).  A good cast is unfortunately let down.  That said, I'll probably fish out my tape of it and watch it again just for the hell of it!   

I thought I might like cruise into terror enough to burn it on a CD but I found it way below average and you gotta ask yourself why marshall thompson agreed to appear in it.

about the most deadly thing the sarcophagus does is slam into someone after the ship lists...or is it roll? it is certainly the best 2,000 year old Egyptian demon baby movie ever filmed.

:)

"why am I in this?"

Scream Queen of the Week and Cruise into Terror! | Big Gay Horror Fan

the star

Index of /wp-content/uploads/2019/03/

 

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14 hours ago, LawrenceA said:

Ordeal

If memory serves, this one is a remake of the Robert Ryan/Rhonda Fleming movie Inferno, and was in the FXM rotation several years ago (so long ago that it might still have been the Fox Movie Channel).  I never actually got around to watching Ordeal, however.

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