During the VHS era of home video, Are You In The House Alone? was a title you’d always find in the horror section of video stars, complete with a cover image of its star cringing with telephone in hand. Despite the title and imagery, this made-for-T.V. effort is something of a message movie in thriller’s clothing. It uses the cinematic language of suspense films to a ‘t,’ complete with plot hooks and visual techniques that would become de rigueur during the slasher movie era, but it’s actually a surprisingly thoughtful drama that uses these techniques to communicate its ideas.
Are You In The House Alone? is the tale of Gail Osborne (Kathleen Beller), a nice teen with a normal high school life. She’s juggling the demands of school life and a relationship with new boyfriend (Scott Colomby) when she suddenly begins receiving threatening notes and phone calls from a stalker who won’t identify himself. She tries to deal with the fear this inspires on her own, as no one takes the anonymous threats seriously. However, the stalker reveals himself – and when he sexually assaults her, she is forced to draw on her inner resources to bring him to justice.
The first two acts of Are You In The House Alone? play just like a textbook thriller: there are red herring-style suspects, point-of-view camera work to show the stalker trailing Gail and an ominous musical score from Charles Bernstein. Director Walter Grauman was both a television and film vet (his credits include an excellent thriller, Lady In A Cage) and he effectively milks the tension leading up to the reveal of the stalker at the 2/3’s mark.
However, there is much more to Are You In The House Alone? than those kinds of thrills. Judith Parker’s screenplay, adapted from a young adult novel by Richard Peck, also takes the time to involve the audience in Gail’s relationships with her friends and family. This gives the viewer a real picture of who she is as a person via the kind yet vulnerable way she interacts with others: thus, viewers are invested in her when she has to cope with trauma.
These characterizations are enhanced by an excellent cast. Primetime soap regular Beller gives an unexpectedly affecting performance here, creating a heroine easy to sympathize with and admire as she stands up to her problems. Colomby makes a solid romantic lead and his scenes with Beller make for a convincing teenage love affair.
There are also strong turns from Blythe Danner, who brings a nice intensity to her role as Gail’s stern but loving mom, and Tony Bill in a subtler turn as Gail’s dad, who has secret troubles of his own. Elsewhere, b-movie fans will enjoy seeing Robin Mattson as Gail’s domineering best friend and there is also a young Dennis Quaid as Mattson’s preppy boyfriend.
Are You In The House Alone? also boasts a surprising third act. Instead of going for a slasher-type showdown or a revenge finale, the film instead plays out its denouement in a realistic fashion. Gail grapples with her post-assault trauma in a plausible way and the story explores the issue of how rape victims are often treated as defendants rather than innocents. It’s also worth noting that the film has Gail deal with her attacker in a subtler, more levelheaded way than you might expect. Grauman maintains suspense to the end with his slick direction but thrills are never allowed to overpower the film’s thoughtful approach to its subject matter.
In short, Are You In The House Alone? is not the buffet of cheap thrills its title suggests but it is no less compelling for that. Better yet, its focus on strong characterizations and its crafty use of thriller techniques to convey important social ideas give it an unexpected but welcome depth. As a result, it’s well worth seeing for anyone interested in quality made-for-t.v. films from the golden age of such films.
DVD Notes: This small-screen cult favorite just got its first proper revival on DVD via Scream Factory, who put it out on a double-bill disc with The Initiation Of Sarah under the heading T.V. Terrors. This title is an MGM property and they supplied a crisp, colorful print that is leagues above the old VHS dupes that fans have had to make do with for years. Better yet, the retail price of this two-for-one special is a mere $15. Fans of t.v. movies and ’70s horror should make a point of snapping this disc up so Scream Factory will continue this series… there’s a lot of worthy t.v. horror titles out their deserving this kind of treatment and Schlockmania hopes they will do more releases in this vein.