The hardest thing about doing an entire month of 80s horror, which is how I spent October if you’re just tuning in, was trying to find movies for TV Tuesday. Last week I completely forgot to do TV Tuesday at all. The 80s were just not the best time for TV horror. The 70s, on the other hand, were the golden age. Even when they were mediocre, like tonight’s offering, they were still pretty fun.
In The Strange and Deadly Occurrence, a family of three has just moved from L.A. to the country, into a big ranch house that was the site of a bizarre murder sometime in the 1800s. Also, the previous owner died there, and not peacefully in his bed as the real estate agent claimed when they bought the house. When weird stuff starts happening around the house, like electrical problems, and creeping intruders who disappear only to be explained away as nightmares, we’re supposed to wonder if the house is haunted. Then a squirrely guy shows up and pushily tries to buy the house, which is not for sale, so the family starts thinking it’s him causing the disturbances. But the truth is a bit weirder and more dangerous than they guessed.
Although I did not guess what was going on either, and I did enjoy the mystery part of the story, I just didn’t feel much suspense or fear. It was also obvious that parts of the story were inspired by Cape Fear, which almost no thriller, especially a TV movie, is going to compare to. The Strange and Deadly Occurrence technically falls under the heading of “thriller,” but even those should creep you out if done correctly. I expected better from TV movie master John Llewellyn Moxey, who also directed The Night Stalker. The last big confrontation with the bad guy was pretty disturbing, though, so I guess that’s all that matters.
I’m actually used to Robert Stack, who plays the dad here, as the host of Unsolved Mysteries, so it was a trip to hear that voice pronouncing to his wife (Vera Miles) that he wants to go skinny dipping in their pool. Everything he says sounds like it’s a matter of great importance. It took me over half the movie to get used to hearing him do normal dialogue.
Speaking of Cape Fear, in my opinion the worst thing about that movie being so influential in the horror and thriller genres is that screenwriters always feel the need to kill off the dog! I’ve gotten to where I expect to see the dog die every time one shows up in a genre movie, but it still upsets me every time. And I’m not even a dog person! Is there a site that will warn you if the movie you’re about to watch includes violence against the family pet?