I finally broke down and signed up for the free month long trial of the Warner Instant Archive, and I’m glad I did. Already I’ve watched several good quality movies I wasn’t able to find on unlimited streaming anywhere else, including Oh God!, Americathon, Hero at Large, The Last Run, and tonight’s TV Tuesday feature, The Girl in the Empty Grave. Although Warner Instant Archive’s selection of horror movies is admittedly lacking, it’s wonderful to find a list of TV movies I haven’t seen. And unlike with Netflix or Amazon Prime, they’re listed under their own category; no more trolling the “drama” section hoping to see that a reviewer has mentioned that the selection is a TV movie, or relying on past experience by searching the cast list for repeat offenders of the TV movie persuasion. Since so many TV movies are way the hell out of print (if they were ever offered on home video to begin with), it’s cool to find them on the Warner site in HD.
The Girl in the Empty Grave is one of at least three 70s TV movies to center around the same character, small-town sheriff Abel Marsh. Marsh was played once by James Garner and twice by Andy Griffith, and although I believe there was a fourth movie starring a different lead actor, I can’t find the source to confirm that at this time. Regardless, The Girl in the Empty Grave stars Griffith in what was unfortunately a pilot that was not picked up. Abel Marsh has some similarities to Andy Taylor of The Andy Griffith Show in that he is a small town lawman dealing with quirky and often childish (and simple) townspeople; however, Abel has the luxury of living in the more blunt and natural 70s, and is able to express his annoyance with their antics more freely! How I wish I could have heard Andy Taylor tell some of his citizens in no uncertain terms that they were getting on his last nerve!
The Girl in the Empty Grave begins with a dramatic credits sequence car crash off the side of the mountain. The story then cuts to a police station filled with goobers who are complaining about the county budget only allowing them the head of a push broom for the year’s equipment, when what they need is a car. They also have a town drunk who tries to rob the bank with someone else’s deposit slip made out in the amount of only $11! But the story soon turns back to the wreck at the beginning: Elizabeth Alden was killed a year ago in the crash, but a deputy just saw her driving through town this morning! Abel/Andy at first scoffs at the report, but then he sees her a few minutes later! Not having the heart to ask her grieving parents directly, Abel goes to the ambulance service, state records, and the family lawyer, but no one has actually seen Elizabeth’s body! To make matters worse, her parents have been murdered in a way that cannot be traced. Can Abel find out just who, if anyone, is in Elizabeth’s grave, and who put her parents in the cemetery?
I suppose if I was being uncharitable I might say that The Girl in the Empty Grave was a little uneven, jumping back and forth between the goofy personalities in the town and the macabre details of the Aldens’ lives and deaths. I’m not going to complain too much about that, though, given that 1. this was supposed to be a setup for a series where the viewer would undoubtedly get to know the supporting characters and 2. jumping back and forth from humor to horror worked for Twin Peaks, didn’t it? Besides, I just love Andy Griffith, and I don’t care who knows it. Most of the appeal of TV movies is watching the same people you feel comfortable with anyway. The Girl in the Empty Grave makes up for its strange tone and unlikely plot with a good dose of small town charm.
Best of all, it’s set in rural California rather than in the South. I could have told you we didn’t corner the market on weirdos down here! There’s an old saying in the South: everyone has crazy people in their family, it’s just that here we happen to be able to recognize who is crazy! Warner is also streaming Griffith’s other turn as Abel, Deadly Games, and that one is every bit as fun as this one. I’ll get to that one next week. In the meantime, if you don’t have Warner Instant, I’ve embedded below the James Garner film I mentioned, They Only Kill Their Masters. It’s $2.99 to rent, but it’s worth it.