I got held up by a sinus infection, but I’m back with this week’s Halloween Made-for-t.v. Marathon! Beware, there are spoilers for a 40-year-old t.v. movie.
Trilogy of Terror
The Initiation of Sarah
Are You in the House Alone? aired on CBS in 1978. While the other two movies I’ve watched so far were straight up horror, this felt more like an after school special with horror/thriller elements.
Kathleen Beller stars as Gail. She’s a bright high school student who likes photography.
Her life seems great but she’s having some issues. Her parents have been fighting and her mom is being strict with her. Her photography teacher is being creepy–asking her to pose for a sexy self-portrait in class and insisting on giving her a ride home from babysitting. And she’s started receiving creepy notes in her locker and creepy phone calls.
The calls and notes become more threatening but pretty much every one she turns to dismisses her concerns. Her best friend, Allison (Robin Mattson) tells her she should be flattered for the attention. Her mom, played by Blythe Danner, is too busy to listen to why Gail wants to change their phone number. She tries to tell her father (Tony Bill, who we last saw as Paul Yates in The Initiation of Sarah) and finds out he was laid off from his job and that’s why he and her mother have been fighting. She tries to tell her guidance counselor, who says things like, “You don’t look like the kind of girl who would encourage this sort of behavior.” The counselor also tells Gail that she “might have been rejecting of a boy” and that “Boys are very easily provoked.” Those are all direct quotes, by the way. Her boyfriend, Steve (Scott Columby) wants to help but points out that they have no way to know who it is and they need to figure out who could be a suspect. The obvious ones are Mr. Elden (Alan Fudge), her creepy photography teacher, and Gail’s ex, E.K. Miller (Randy Stumpf) who’s been bothering her. Gail is determined to figure out who’s tormenting her.
Things come to a head when Gail is babysitting and gets one last call asking if she’s in the house alone. She tries to barricade the house and welcomes her boyfriend to come over when he calls. Someone knocks on the door and she lets him in, since he’s a friend from school, Phil (Dennis Quaid). Unfortunately, he’s Gail’s stalker. He’s also rich and from a powerful family. He brutally rapes her.
The first hour of the movie has the setup of a slasher. There’s lots of POV shots from the stalker’s perspective, creepy notes and phone calls, and ominous music.
The last twenty minutes deal with the aftermath of Gail’s rape and it’s what pushes this into after-school special territory. Gail is afraid to even name her rapist since she doesn’t think anyone will believe her. It takes the woman police officer reminding her that whoever raped her would be free to hurt someone else if she doesn’t name him.
Gail doesn’t plan to return to school until her cool, kind of crazy English teacher, Mrs. Malevich (Magda Harout) visits her and tells her that if she isolates herself and hides then she’s the prisoner and the one being punished.
Gail returns to school but Allison, who’s dating Phil, doesn’t believe her. Jessica (Tricia O’Neil), a lawyer friend of the family and the woman Gail was babysitting for when she was raped, points out that the defense will do everything to make Phil look like an upstanding citizen. They’ll also use the fact that Gail recently lost her virginity to Steven, and that she opened the door for Phil, against her.
Her relationship with Steven is strained as Gail tries to come up with evidence that Phil raped her. Gail notices that Phil is harassing another student. She uses a time lapse camera to catch Phil leaving threatening notes in the other girl’s locker. Unfortunately, Phil realizes that Gail is onto him and Steven catches Phil beating her up. The movie ends with Gail noting that Phil pleaded guilty to assault and they dropped the rape charge because of that, and that the system is wrong.
I really liked the first half of the movie. It’s like the start of a good slasher. The second part is uneven. It’s as the filmmakers were so focused on ensuring the movie had a message that the storytelling suffered. Also, honestly, the sexual politics of the seventies are infuriating and I found myself being frustrated by how many people act like Gail is the one to blame. The only thing worse than that is how women still have to deal with these questions today–why did you let him in your house? Why were you alone with him? Did you lead him on?
This was part of a t.v. movie double feature I got from Scream Factory that included The Initiation of Sarah. Apparently they planned to release more but it never really took off. I can kind of see why because the two movies don’t really match. The Initiation of Sarah is really fantasy-based fun horror and Are You in the House Alone? is really grounded in reality and focused on The Message.
The movie isn’t necessarily bad but I don’t know if I can watch it again. The politics are really upsetting and the last twenty minutes kind of take away from the horror aspect. That being said, the performances are good and it’s well-filmed.