Old Movie Review: Are You In The House Alone?

I pulled this one out of the ether because of its provocative title, mirroring the “house” movies of the day, which somehow managed to capitalize on the slasher genre while being rated three stars and staying within the very, very narrow confines of what constituted “acceptable” in ‘70s TV terms. (Which, I assure you, were regarded as pretty appalling at the time and yet come nowhere near what’s acceptable during “the family hour”.)

It’s about half tormented babysitter and then turns into half rape-prosecution advocacy story. I’m not really spoiling anything by telling you that: The movie opens with Kathleen Beller (playing “Gail”) being wheeled out of the house claiming she’s been raped and that no one will believe her.

That’s what you call “a hook”.

We then see the events leading up to the opening event, which are photographer Gail and her new sensitive boyfriend “Steve” (Scott Colomby, who would go on to limited fame in the Porky’s series) working out their teen-age angst about sex and relationships. Gail has just broken up with jerky “E.K.” (Randy Stumpf) because she wouldn’t go all the way with him. (“Sleep with” being the operative, acceptable phrase of the day.)

Since the mystery is “who’s going to rape Gail?”, we are treated to E.K.’s jerkiness, inappropriate comments from her photography teacher, leering from her best friend’s boyfriend, the incredibly rich and good looking Lance–Harvey–Phil! (Whatever, it’s Dennis Quaid). If they’d made it five years later it would’ve included inappropriate touching from her father.

Meanwhile, someone with access to her locker and full knowledge of her schedule has been leaving her threatening notes and making creepy phone calls saying, that’s right, “Are you in the house alone?” Keeping things from getting too tense are a lot of discussions about sex. And ultra-casual atmosphere about threats fostered by school counselor Ellen Travolta. (John’s eldest sister, yes. It’s the ’70s. Get used to it.)

Ultra-casual? Well, where now we have zero tolerance, back then it was 100% tolerance.

Gail’s mom, Anne, is played by 35-year-old Blythe Danner. Because 30-something actresses used to play moms to girls in their late teens back in the ’70s, and we’ll just ignore that Kathllen Beller–and Quaid, and Colomby–was, like, 22 and only about 13 years younger at the time. Beller does a good job acting young, though.

The acting is good all around, actually, snark aside. Anne is going through her own difficulties with husband Neil (Oscar-winner Tony Bill, who was a producer on The Sting and still acts, directs and produces.) The direction deftly defuses most of the tension, however.

There are some interesting (for the time) directorial techniques, like a little less reliance on establishing shots than was the norm. (Today, establishing shots are short and sweet, if used at all; we’re expected to understand that the character who was at home in scene A and at the police station in scene B used some means of conveyance–say, an automobile–to get from home to the police station, found a place to park it, walked into the building, and made the customary greetings, without actually being shown all that.) But the whole thing feels like an “ABC Afterschool Movie”.

Except for the sex. No, they don’t show anything, but after refusing to sleep with E.K. (despite going out for, like, six months) she ends up sleeping with Steve after a few days. It’s love, you see. (This is foreshadowed, even: Their first date is to see Three Days of the Condor which features Faye Dunaway (I think?) sleeping with Robert Redford after knowing him for two days.

Then, when she’s raped, we get all the angles on how hard it is to prosecute a rape case. (With Blythe Danner saying “It’s because she’s not a virgin!” though I must’ve missed how she found out.) The weirdest casting was Lois Hamilton as the police woman. I mean, she’s all right, but she looks like a fashion model. You know, Farrah (PBUH) hair, worn down, obvious makeup, etc.

And it gets weirder at this point, and very Nancy Drew. Gail, devastated by the attack (of course), goes from hiding out to going back to school and concocting a scheme to catch her rapist. She’s not even particularly depressed, apparently.

Resilience, people. Look into it.

The movie you can take or leave, but it is a kind of time capsule: fashions, hairstyles, a complete absence of digital technology. This is what we used to do before cable, kiddies.

Cinematic Titanic Sinks The Oozing Skull

Well, it finally arrived. And…? And…?

Well, it’s been 20 years about since the Satellite of Love launched. Our beloved crew is older, wiser, and technology has moved forward a lot in 20 years.

Can you go home again?

Well, Cinematic Titanic is like going home and finding things better than you remember them.

Don’t get me wrong: Episode 1 is not perfect, and we all missed the campy set up and in-between sketches that were standard on MST3K. Also, it feels like a first episode in some ways, like the cast hasn’t got their rhythms down perfectly yet.

But in terms of riffs-per-minute? Sheer comic gold. About as good as anything MST3K ever did.

So, how does it work? The five principals (Joel, Trace, Frank, Mary Jo and Josh) sit along the edges of the screen and riff. The resolution is such that you can actually make them out better than Tom and Crow from the original series (but we do miss the puppets). Sometimes Trace will use the Crow voice and it’s sort of bittersweet.

With five people there is a different dynamic, and there’s a lot to be explored there. This first episode, besides being funny in itself, promises greater things.

To spice things up a bit further, there are guest appearances (Stephen Hawkings in this episode), and they stop the movie from time-to-time. There’s a scene in this one where a character has acid poured on his face, and Joel stops it to ask if it’s really necessary. The gentleness of Joel’s character made a great foil on MST3K and it still works here, as the others scold him for stopping the movie. (You don’t really see anything as far as acid being poured on anyone’s face, by the way. The whole show is pretty family friendly.)

At another point Trace stops the film on a close-up of Regina Carroll so he can fix her makeup, after which Frank quips something like “If that doesn’t get us on Bravo, nothing will.”

Oozing Skull itself is a fairly standard “let’s transplant someone’s brain so they’ll live forever” plot. In this case “someone” is the beloved dictator of a middle (far?) eastern country (“Postcardia!” as Trace riffs when a picture of a Taj Mahal type building is shown). But it’s a sort of no-holds barred ‘70s version of the story that includes a mad scientist, an evil dictator, a platinum blonde bimbette (the director’s wife, no less), a disfigured giant, a dwarf, a dungeon, a lab, and graphic-ish brain surgery! There’s also two romantic sub-plots, betrayals abound, and the mad scientist has a pain-ray-gun.

It’s a myth that only the worst movies can be riffed on. (I have a dream of seeing the crew do Citizen Kane.) The movies must attempt a plot, have the right amount of dialog, and if they have no action at all, they can still be hard to watch, riffing or no. Skull is particularly rich in plot and action, just a little confused and more than a little hampered by a low budget.

This makes it a perfect movie for riffing, and riff they do. It’s definitely a multiple-watcher.

If I had but one request, one dream come true, it would be this: Stay clear of the political humor guys. There are a couple of instances where Frank riffs on Bush and, really, it’s not good. Yeah, I’m sure it gets applause when you do it live. But it’s “clap humor”, not real humor, and I’d rather have a dozen more references to Ray Stevens and Ginger Baker.

For $16 (including shipping and handling, with luck to be dropped to $13 for download-and-burn once they work out that out), you could do a lot worse for a night’s entertainment.