At this point in cult film culture, it’s easy to feel like everything that needs to be explored has been explored. Want to buy a book on Cannibal Holocaust or see a documentary on exploitation films made in the Philippines? Both easily available. It feels like the same is true for every other once-esoteric topic.
That said, some blind spots remain. A big one in Schlockmania’s estimation is the reevaluation of the made-for-television movie that was such a staple of network programming from the early ’70s through the late ’90s. Only a small sampling of these are easily available on video and there’s a few generations of cult movie buffs who know nothing of the small screen charms of Dawn: Portrait Of A Teenage Runaway or Bad Ronald.
And that’s where Amanda Reyes comes in. She’s been flying the flag for small-screen cinema for years over at her Made For T.V. Mayhem blog and, with the help of some fellow enthusiasts, has recently parlayed her expertise into a book entitled Are You In The House Alone?: A T.V. Movie Compendium 1964-1999. For the most part, it’s a worthwhile introduction to this still-underexplored frontier of the cult movie world.
The first quarter of Are You In The House Alone is devoted to essays. Reyes starts it off with a quick but comprehensive potted history of the format that gives insight into how television took advantage of its assets as a medium – accessibility, immediacy, quick turnaround – to compete with movies in an era where cable hadn’t become an equalizer between the two.
The rest of the essays cover everything from different threads of t.v. movie programming – Stephen King adaptations, the revenge of nature movie, etc. – with broader topics like how the small screen dealt with sensitive topics like sexual abuse and rape (both of the latter are covered by Jennifer Wallis in strong, academic-styled pieces). Highlights in this area include a slyly witty ode to the U.S.A. Network’s “world premiere” movie by Paul Freitag-Fey and a Reyes article on how short-lived series would be refashioned into quickie t.v. movies.
The larger part of the book is devoted to short-form reviews for dozens of t.v. movies and miniseries, the majority broken down into sections by decade. A variety of names familiar to readers of cult movie studies pop up here: notables include Kier-La Janisse, Daniel Budnik, Lee Gambin, David Kerekes and John Harrison. This is the part of the book that will most likely be the most re-read by its owners and despite using a variety of writers with the own unique voices, most hit the right blend of affection, knowledge ability and humor.
The only exception is one D.F. Dresden, who hits a discordant note amongst the contributors with frequent, often mean-spirited sniping at the people involved in making the movies and a brand of snarkiness so acidic it will leave you questioning whether Dresden has any affection for the book’s topic at all. Even the more positive reviews feature potshots at less-liked cast members or the budget-conscious nature of t.v. movies. This critic is pretty prolific in this section so if Dresden’s style annoys you then you might find your patience tested as you skip past the author’s sour style.
Beyond that unfortunate element, Are You In The House Alone is a pretty brisk, engaging read where the only other complaints are quibbles: mainly, anyone who’s into this topic will notice titles missing that they might have liked reading about. For example, Schlockmania’s list would include audience favorites like Roots, Lace, Holocaust and Smash-Up On Interstate 5. In fairness, it’s tough to cover every key title in a book that covers so much ground and Reyes and company do a solid job exploring the basics.
In short, Are You In The House Alone is a solid, information-dense primer for a topic that deserves more exploring by writers, viewers and cult movie home video outlets. Hopefully, Reyes and others like her will keep that flame burning.