Before the era of cable television, all of us turned
towards network television companies and their local affiliates
to deliver our movie-style entertainment (when we weren't, naturally,
at the drive-in). The Movie of The Week became an actual event.
All of the network's tried this, but ABC is fondly remembered
as the top rung in this ladder of benign, sometimes sleazy and
always fun, brainless diversion.
At least from 1969, when ABC first aired The Movie
Of The Week, a decision made by top brass because the network
was in a deep slump, with only one series near the Top 10 in ratings
(the 11th ranked Bewitched) until 1979, when, with cable on the
cusp and a lack of decent product, a Golden Age of television
and made-for-TV movies died. The ABC made-for TV team, which included
a young Michael Eisner, took a $10,000,000 gamble on green-lighting
production on a season's worth of Movies of the Week, a gamble
which would end up being one of the finest examples of network
branding in television history. That is not to say CBS did not
have a few standouts (GARGOYLES, DON'T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK)
and NBC (who had actually invented the made-for TV movie) tended
to take the lowest road with sleazier fare such as DAWN: PORTRAIT
OF A TEENAGE RUNAWAY, JACKSON COUNTY JAIL and DEATH CRUISE. ABC
basically created a television series, if you will, that series
was called The Movie Of The Week and once the sobfest BRIAN'S
SONG had both men and women grasping for tissues at the thought
of Jimmy Caan kicking the bucket, America was sold. Folks began
tuning in every Tuesday to see what the latest offering would
The list of memorable ABC titles goes on for days; SEVEN IN THE
DARKNESS, FIVE DESPERATE WOMEN, I LOVE YOU, GOODBYE, THE HOUSE
THAT WOULDN'T DIE, THE STRANGER WITHIN, TRILOGY OF TERROR, BAD
RONALD and this one, a classic in the genre CROWHAVEN FARM.
CROWHAVEN FARM was an Aaron Spelling Production, worth noting
mainly because in 1970, when CROWHAVEN FARM aired, Spelling was
King Shit of Fuck Mountain. His company had 12 films air that
year on television and the following year 12 more. That's a movie
a month geared towards the Movie of the Week, not a bad little
production deal to have with a television network. Spelling is
overdue a lengthy book not just a mention in a review of a made
for TV movie. He was married almost ten years to television's
Morticia Addams, Carolyn Jones, he has produced incredible cult
movie work from films such as SAVAGES, SATAN'S SCHOOL FOR GIRLS
and THE BOY IN THE PLASTIC BUBBLE, but he is probably best known
in the modern era for being the father of the saline-enhanced
bodacious horse face, Tori Spelling, and for his feuds with Brenda,
Shannon Daughtery, on his universally panned, but loved nonetheless,
BEVERLY HILLS 90210. Spelling was the most powerful Executive
Producer in television throughout the 70s (and an ABC exclusive)
due to hits like CROWHAVEN FARM, and rightfully so. Spelling and
The Movie Of The Week were so successful that it was basically
its own business that was ran out of the central programming office
of ABC. His films eventually became pilots for ABC TV series themselves,
such as THE ROOKIES.
CROWHAVEN FARM was produced and directed by one of Spelling's
best men, Walter Grauman, who had directed standout early television
work like THE TWILIGHT ZONE, ROUTE, THE UNTOUCHABLES and THE FUGITIVE.
Grauman, the year prior, had been instrumental in garnering interest
in The Movie of The Week with his now highly sought after entry
DAUGHTER OF THE MIND. The stellar cast that featured Ray Milland
as a professor whose dead daughter is communicating with him from
the netherworld, also features the beautiful Gene Tierny, a young
Ed Asner and BOF top dawg, John Carradine. Carradine is also the
creepy handyman, Nate Cheever in CROWHAVEN FARM. Grauman was an
able body capable of bringing CROWHAVEN FARM to the little screen
is my point
CROWHAVEN FARM begins with the reading of a will, a married couple,
the Porters learn they are second in line to inherit a farm in
rural Mass. Maggie (Hope Lange) and her hubby quickly move up
to the inheritors when after an abrupt opening sequence with Maggie's
uncle enroute to claim his new farm is scared off the road by
the appearance of a young blond female in the middle of the road,
his car hits a tree and explodes. Hooray the Porters are going
to Crowhaven Farm.
From the get-go Maggie senses a sort of déja vu about
the property, the house is full of hidden passageways and Maggie
seems to know the key to opening them. She wants to leave but
hubby, Ben, has decided farm living that's the life for him after
only about 10 minutes there. Ben is an artist who hasn't had much
luck in the city selling his wares. He and Maggie have also been
having their problems we learn, they have wanted a child but Ben's
seed has yet to find a perch. Ben promises Maggie "anything
in the world she wants" if they can move and stay at Crowhaven.
And so they do, thankfully for us otherwise the film would be
about 12 minutes long.
Almost daily Maggie is haunted by visions, she keeps picturing
a wooden door-like object and voices and rocks being piled on
the wood. These visions are far from pleasant for Maggie, Ben
usually calms Maggie with a few "there, there, you need some
rest" bullshit which tends to work. When the sound of the
rocks being piled up are reverberated into reality Maggie jumps
out of her skin, but it's only crusty old town "handyman"
Nate Cheever (Carradine). Cheever doesn't smile and talks with
a rather thick traditional New England brogue. Cheever also has
many hats, I mean a hat for every fucking occasion, Hats, hats,
hats. Maggie is uneasy in her new digs and of course, Ben loves
his new found freedom of working in the barn and painting.
One evening the Porters are interrupted by a group of neighboring
well-wishers. They all are invited in, calling themselves The
Weekenders. Head weekender, Kevin Pierce (Lloyd Bochner, MR. NO
LEGS and MANIMAL) seems to take a shine to Maggie, and Ben is
onto this slimey bastard. A sweet older gentleman, Mr. Dane shares
info about the history of Crowhaven Farm with The Porters, it
seems that the farm was involved in some 15th Century witch-hunt
shenanigans similar to Salem and Andover. The adjoining burg was
thought to be 50% witch while the other half was accusers. He
tells of at least 3 hangings and 1 bizarre crushing, which involved
a wooden plank and rocks. The female in question would not relent
and admit to being a witch and was crushed. Hmmm, interesting,
Maggie looks as if she's seen a ghost as Mr. Dane spins his yarn.
Before they all leave Pierce tells Maggie of an office job in
town, Maggie wants some time away from Crowhaven and even after
Ben shows some rather inexplicable jealousy, she decides to take
Some things about early made for television movies. It was a
new thing. The pacing is different than that of cinematic releases.
The movies tend to pause for drama at perfect commercial breaks,
very, what we now consider, soap opera-like. There are plenty
of dissolve edits that lead into other scenes for this exact reason.
It can be a very melodramatic letdown for the viewer though. Because
of these weird constraints you find yourself left to write your
own explanations for things that are not in the actual script.
For instance Ben's jealousy. Ben seems to believe that since he
cannot get his wife preggers, he's slightly less of a man. He
also thinks that Maggie feels this way. This is fairly heavy stuff
for the TV audience. When you watch CROWHAVEN FARM now some of
the what was then daring dialogue seems a little hokey. A female
was termed barren, God forbid a man not be able to produce big
swimmers because he was a outcast in a society of breeders.
Ben is so insecure that he barely wants his wife out of his site,
but his behavior is not deemed strange at all in this film, his
reactions are played for realism, it is beyond sexist. He is verbally
abusive to her when her car breaks down and she phones Pierce
who is near her in town to bring her home. Ben insinuates a bunch
of crap about Pierce being able to give her a baby. By the way,
who fixed the car and how did she get it back? But Ben is justified,
at every opportunity Pierce comes on to Maggie. During a severe
rain storm which causes the roads to wash out, Pierce offers Maggie
a room at his apartment, she obliges because Pierce assures her
she'll be alone, although he wishes he could be there. Maggie
decides to not even tell Ben that she stayed there, choosing to
let Ben believe she was at a hotel. Ben, is played effectively
by Paul Burke, an actor of decent merit, who a couple years prior
had the male lead in the scandalous VALLEY OF THE DOLLS. Ben doesn't
strike me as the artist type but his character is an artist nonetheless.
I found I never quite trust Ben in this film, something is not
right with Ben Porter, I can't quite figure what it is yet, but
there's a reason to not trust him.
CROWHAVEN FARM's plot begins to thicken when the Porters are
miraculous blessed with a teenage daughter. Maggie's Doctor mentions
adoption and sets the Porters up with a visit with Jennifer a
cute (and familiar faced) darling and her aunt. The aunt must
leave town and the Porters invite Jennifer to spend the night.
In a stroke of horrible luck the aunt is killed while on her trip
and surprise, surprise, Jennifer has a new home. Jennifer is fairly
likeable initially but there seems to be something sinister under
the surface. Jennifer also knows the secret corridors of Crowhaven
Farm and enters rooms without a peep. When Maggie is trapped in
town at Pierce's apartment, Maggie even makes her way to Ben's
bed, kissing him on the forhead and exclaiming, "I love you
Maggie's bizarre visions continue and her unease with Jennifer
is heightened when she discovers her eavesdropping on a conversation
with Pierce regarding her stay at Pierce's place. Nothing happened
but it's best to not rile ol' jealous Ben. But Maggie's thoughts
are soon far removed from the troubles of Crowhaven and Jennifer
when the good Dr. Terminer delivers the news of a pregnancy. The
good doc is a little suspicious acting as well, Terminer is brought
to life by bit part stalwart, Milton Seltzer, you've seen him
dozens of times, he's the realtor or the doctor or maybe even
the grandpa (he's Papaw Spungen in SID AND NANCY) in features,
both big and small that date back to 1959. Of course, the Porters
are tickled pink they are going to have the baby they've always
wanted! But Maggie's nightmares of Puritans, stones and bizarre
activities don't cease and her curiosity is peeked when she learns
from the postman that Mr. Dane has died in an accident only a
day after visiting her. But Maggie and Ben were away and Jennifer
never mentioned his visit. Jennifer is shown stealing the old
man's cane and delivering it to Cheever (Carradine). Maggie delves
into history books about Crowhaven and the area that Mr. Dane
had given her and learns more about witchcraft, her ancestors
and the farm. Needless to say, none of this is good news
CROWHAVEN FARM like much of television from that era is flawed
but honestly, there is something about the film that drags you
right into Maggie's plight. Far more effective that the blockbuster
THE OTHERS which travels along a similar path, CROWHAVEN actually
is a tense little tale. There is a claustrophobic fog that settles
on you as you watch it, aided by good soundtrack work from TV
music supervisor mainstay Bob Drasnin. The music keeps you on
the edge of your seat but my own theory is that Puritans are just
fucking scary. I don't want to give away any of the final 15 minutes
of the film but things really heat up when the Puritan arrive
The witch hunts and subsequent witch trials are something I find
very frightening at the base level. The mob mentality, the fever
of repressed religious expression and of course the notion of
such ideas as witches and warlocks makes for terrifying script
fodder. There are great movies that revolve around those very
things (more on that in a moment). Actual death estimates from
what has been dubbed "The Burning Times" at one time
were in excess of 10,000,000. A more reasonable number is closer
to 60,000, mostly women were burned or somehow, tortured to death
in the 1600s. Not just in America but around the world this anti-witch
craze was taking place. Possibly the most famous and true story
involves Anne Gamperle, a practicing witch who lived near Dettington
Germany. Her whole family were a group of hereditary witches.
Her plight is the stuff of nightmares
The family's coven
was a small one: six adults, most of them members of the Gamperle
family. Paul Gamperle said that he'd been a Witch since childhood,
when his elderly grandmother instructed him in the ways of Witchcraft.
He and his wife Anna had two adult sons, Simon and Jacob, who
were Witches too. Tailor George Smaltes and armorer Ullrich Sehelltibaum
rounded out the coven.
To avoid persecution, the Gamperles celebrated their rites in
a small cave outside of town. But on July 23rd, 1600, a fierce
storm broke out while they were at ritual. Terrified of the lightning,
a neighbor's dog fled into the cave and when his owners came looking
for him, they discovered the Gamperles' coven as well. The Witches
were captured there and then, and the very next day their neighbors
dragged them before the governor of Munich.
Physical examinations turned up damning evidence. Paul Gamperle
was carrying a "devilish book of conjuration" and a
tin picture of a man holding a scroll which read "Magoll,
Cumath, Hellbeza." Each of the Witches carried a small bag
of swine's dung, a common ingredient in early modern spells. The
"trial" itself was a brief farce. The six Witches were
convicted of a mind-boggling list of crimes: almost 500 deaths
and innumerable cases of arson, robbery, and theft were blamed
On July 29th, a mere six days after they were arrested, the Gamperle
coven was brutally executed. Anna died first. She was tied between
her two sons and then, as the crowd cheered, the executioner cut
off both her breasts. He struck the swooning woman three times
in the face with them, then turned to her horrified sons and beat
the men repeatedly with their mother's breasts.
As Anna hung there, bleeding to death, the executioner beat her
with a whip of twisted metal. She was then tied to a wheel and
stretched until both of her arms broke. Horrible as this was,
it was only the prelude. The Witch hunters had planned a dramatic
execution for Anna: they made a settle (a spiked metal chair)
and planned to roast her alive on it, slowly. But mercifully Anna
died on the wheel. Her body was burned in the settle even though
she died before being placed there.
Her sons and husband were not so blessed. All of the men were
beaten with the wire whip and had their arms broken on the wheel.
Then four of them -- Simon, Jacob, Ullrich, and George -- were
burned alive at the stake. However, like his wife Anna, Paul Gamperle
was singled out for a horrific death. He was impaled on a wooden
stake while still alive, and then slowly burned to death. The
witch hunters did not fuck around. The story of the Gamperle family
comes from an early English pamphlet, printed in 1601, called
"A Strange Report of Sixe Most Notorious Witches."
As mentioned CROWHAVEN FARM is but one good motion picture adaptation
of witch hunt shenanigans. WITCHFINDER GENERAL (aka THE CONQUEROR
WORM) being the most famous adaptation for genre fans. The film's
a classic and the fact that Michael Reeves the director would
take his own life adds to the aura of sleaze to this already sleazy
entry. MARK OF THE DEVIL is another entry that lives on infamously.
The film should have been called MARKETING OF THE DEVIL, it's
most notorious for it's now highly sought after Vomit Bags that
were handed to patrons upon its initial release. One of my favorites
is Ken Russell's THE DEVILS, borderline X, and featuring the talents
of Oliver Reed and Vanessa Redgrave, THE DEVILS is a true "big"
picture and was produced about the same time as CROWHAVEN FARM.
THE DEVILS was based on the book by Aldous Huxley, "The Devils
Of Loudon," itself a true story.
So with CROWHAVEN FARM, some made-for-TV history might have been
made, it ranks as one of the best early entries in a time that
heralded big changes in network television. But it's more than
that, it's just fucking fun to watch. It works, pushing the suspense
buttons and touching on somewhat questionable subject matter for
the period. A classic in this pair of jaded eyes. Track it down.
This easiest way it to drop me some mail
Discuss this baby.
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Crowhaven Farm TV movie