#1183 Halloween 2019: Dark Night of the Scarecrow (1981)

The prize for the most positive surprise of this Halloween goes once again to a made-for-TV movie.

Unlike the contemporary slashers, being a TV movie Dark Night of the Scarecrow can’t rely on gore or nudity so it has to make up for it with smart editing, suspense and atmosphere.

Dark Night of the Scarecrow is not particularly 80s horror movie, owing much more the classic black and white scary stories – but it stands out in a positive way for that very reason.

80s-o-meter: 55%

Total: 83%

#988 The Executioner’s Song (1982)

Tommy Lee Jones stars in The Executioner’s Song, a solid made for TV movie documenting the life and ultimate death of Gary Gilmore who was executed in 1977 upon his own request.

Unlike many other crime movies, The Executioner’s Song doesn’t go out to glamourise the killer or the criminal life style and handles its subject in a way that seems semi-documentary at times. Gilmore is pictured as a complex, short-tempered man who often resorts in violence and even in the passing moments of regret he still maintains his ominous, possessive and obsessive presence.

Tommy Lee Jones makes the best out of the role, easily outperforming the movie itself.

80s-o-meter: 72%

Total: 64%

#923 The Day After (1983)

The Day After portrays a nuclear war between the two cold-war giants USA and Soviet Union, and the effects there after. The initial setup establishing a Kansas site of nuclear weapons works and the movie escalates in an interesting way to its nuclear holocaust peak, but the events after that – as horrid and graphic as they may seem – just feel much too staged and phoney.

Set design is pretty impressive for a made for TV movie and could’ve partially passed for an actual feature film. The same cannot be said about the special effects and the make-up where the lack of budget really shines through. There’s an impressive array of actors involved for a made for TV movie, but here they don’t really add up any additional value to the movie compared of going with some no name actors. The movie is also too long at 120 minutes of which a good 40 minutes could’ve been left in the cutting room floor to save us from many of the scenes that drag on for much too long.

The Day After is a movie made to touch and to shock, but its melodramatic, soap opera feel to it plain prevented me to get really emotionally involved in it. The grim and hopeless Testament, released the same year, portrays the devastating effects of a nuclear war in a more subtle but realistic and powerful way.

80s-o-meter: 78%

Total: 46%

#816 My Name Is Bill W. (1989)

Part of the Hallmark Hall of Fame series that began running already in 1951, My Name Is Bill W. is a dramatisation of the William Griffith Wilson, the co-founder of Alcoholics Anonymous.

Based on the real life events, the movie is an interesting look into the life of an addict, and still as topical as it was back in the 1920. Production quality wise the movie is definitely one of the better made for tv movies, and the era is well established. James Woods – whom I’ve really grown to like only recently – plays the lead convincingly, but remains a far too distant character to the viewer to adapt to. JoBeth Williams thankfully provides a much more natural object to identify with in her role as the loving, caring and mentally exhausted wife at the end of her tether.

Like the most made for tv movies, this is no roller coaster ride, but if the slow pacing doesn’t scare you, My Name Is Bill W. definitely rates as one of those rare watchable period pictures.

80s-o-meter: 43%

Total: 62%

#796 A Hobo’s Christmas (1987)

Ahh, christmas – the time for forgiving and the new beginnings. But as the old vagabond returning to his grown up son’s for the christmas soon finds out, forgiving and starting anew can sometimes be a challenge.

The old man may not have any problems winning over the hearts of his grandchildren, but it’s his long neglected son that has understandably a hard time letting it all slide. The viewer is on the edge here as the gramps kind of wins our hearts over by making an effort – to best to his capabilities – but he never seems quite ready to really make an actual commitment to his son.

Being a christmas movie, A Hobo’s Christmas is taking place in that special universum where the drifters don’t booze, nor suffer from mental problems, but instead join together for a jolly little song and even pitch in for creating the best even christmas meal. But that’s beside the point, and the interesting story between the neglected son and his father is still a solid backbone that carries the movie. Tension between the two is kept up until the end and old wounds seem very hard to heal – like they would be.

Darn it. I never expected this, but I kind of liked A Hobo’s Christmas. Unlike your normal sentimental christmas fluff, A Hobo’s Christmas is sentimental christmas fluff that actually has some food for thought, plus a relatable situation that speaks for both the adults and the kids. It’s not going to earn my recommendations for your family’s new christmas tradition movie, but for a small, humble made for TV christmas drama it’s surely among the best ones in its class.

80s-o-meter: 67%

Total: 72%

#795 Xmas 2017: A Christmas Without Snow (1980)

A Christmas Without Snow is another made for tv christmas movie, this time about a small church choir getting a new choirmaster and preparing to sing Handel’s Messiah at the Christmas concert. The choir is also joined by Zoe, a teacher who’s just moved to San Francisco from Omaha after her divorce.

The movie introduces quite a wide number of characters and story lines, but still manages go be pretty drowsy and very TV-movie like in its pace of storytelling. It’s not a very christmassy movie, lacking not only snow but that special magic of christmas time, and wouldn’t interest really interest me if it was run again in TV during the holidays.

On a positive note, I did grow fond of many of the characters in the movie, thanks to some believable acting work. Particularly John Houseman deserves a praise here as the demanding but fair and charming choirmaster who delivers his witty lines in a credible and lovable manner.

80s-o-meter: 43%

Total: 48%

#793 Xmas 2017: Babes in Toyland (1986)

Babes in Toyland is a kids’ movie that probably should’ve been disqualified from this list, but its interesting cast got the best of me: There’s Keanu Reeves as the male lead, Drew Barrymore as the girl hero who helps to save the day, Richard Mulligan as the antagonist and Pat Morita as the toy master, all delivering some decent acting work as always.

Although the most well known from this years’ christmas movie featurette, the movie is still totally unknown in these parts of the woods and never was a part of our christmas tradition. After seeing it I doubt I’ll make it there either, but the little ones really seemed the enjoy the movie.

Babes in Toyland is enjoyable in the context of being a made-for-TV christmas movie with a well known cast, but adults without any nostalgic connection to the movie should probably look elsewhere for their christmas entertainment.

80s-o-meter: 64%

Total: 48%

#778 Goddess of Love (1988)

Vanna White, best known to the general public as the hostess of Wheel of Fortune stars in Goddess of Love, a made-for-TV romantic comedy. Although is safe to say the movie wasn’t destined to steal away any academy awards from the theatrical releases, it’s still somewhat passable as a real movie even if the obvious commercial break transitions are a straight giveaway.

The plot: Zeus turns Venus – the goddess of love – into a statue that turns alive in 1988 Los Angeles, causing all sorts of silly events and misunderstandings to unravel. For a plot this fluffy and trifle the movie is surprisingly entertaining, and even the suspension of how it all will turn out in the end is kept admirably.

While it’s impossible to recommend the movie to anyone and still save one’s face, for those who know what they’re getting into Goddess of Love offers solid 90 minutes of nonchalant – and totally trivial – entertainment.

80s-o-meter: 88%

Total: 67%

#552 Testament (1983)

Sometimes a made-for-TV movie can outperform its commercial companions simply by having the liberty to take a more bold stance artistically, instead of aiming just for the lowest common denominator.

Testament is a prime example of a movie like this.

It’s an uneasy and unnerving portrayal of the survivals of a nuclear falloff on a small Californian town and its people trying to cope with the new reality while looking for any glimmer of hope that just seems to keep on slipping further away. It’s a chilling ride that delivers its grim message in a tone that is true to itself.

80s-o-meter: 65%

Total: 95%

#168 Dorothy Stratten trilogy: Death of a Centerfold (1981)

Dorothy Stratten was a waitress from a small town seduced by a small time hustler called Paul Snider who soon after starting dating started booking her some petty appearance deals. Snider then persuaded Dorothy to pose in nude photos and she was picked up by Playboy to be their centerfold and to his shock, the possessive and manipulative Snider soon found Dorothy, his sure meal ticket to the stars, drifting away from his clutches.

When the separation was finally confirmed, Snider invited Stratten to his home, shot her and then committed a suicide; she was only twenty at the time.

A rising star, Stratten’s death was a huge news story in the early 80s and spawned two movies depicting the tragedy.

First one of these is Death of a Centerfold, a TV-movie rushed out and released the same year. The production quality is fine for a TV-movie, but the story takes far too many liberties with the subject, changing names of the people involved and the actual events that took place. Both lead roles are strong, fine actors, but clearly miscasts for the movie.

It’s not entirely a lemon, but the movie could’ve been a lot better had they waited some more and done their home work on the subject before commencing filming.

A soap-opera take on the life of Dorothy Stratten pays no homage to the people involved and was clearly rushed out to cash quickly on the tragedy