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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 be.


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 the job.

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 Ben Porter!"

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 on set.

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 upon them.

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…
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The ABC Movie Of The Week! Settle down kids...

Chris Wayne
Maggie, Hope Lange, bathed in the warm 1970 glow...women were just "different."

Ben, Paul Burke, he's quite insecure about the effects his johnson might not have...

Ahhh, John Carradine, yes, that's the Grand Master and one of his many hats seen in Crowhaven Farm.

The art dreiction is impeciable as you can see...

MR. Weekend, Pierce strokes Maggie, just what is he up to?

MR. Dane tells Maggie of the bizarre histroy o fCrowhaven...

A very Brady Puritan...that's Jennifer all dolled up with school play clothes.

Maggie's night terrors lead her to witness a ceremony of sorts...

She even sees herself in another time adn place...

The Dr. and Ben try and calm Maggie down.

TJennifer comes into Ben's bed, she's scared of thunderstorms...

There's John Carradine again, and there's another fantastic hat.

Witch books are always written in Old English font, it's the law...

Maggie can't believe what she is reading!

Pierce giving Magie a ride when her car won't start, in his convertible Barracuda, what a slimeball.

Maggie envisions herself crushed by a board...

Nice brim Mr. Carradine, can I get you a Scotch?

Purtians are scary! Well, they are when you're looking up at them.

Maggie finds it a little unfomfortable under that haevy rock-ladden board.

IS that teh Dr. and Jennifer in Maggie's visions?

Okay, I forgot to mention that William Smith shows up in the final 2 minutes, but it would give away too much...see it yourself.
Brains On Film 2003