If anyone wrote the book on complicated parental relations, it’s Anthony Perkins. While Mother is nowhere to be found, this time around Tony is having Daddy issues in How Awful About Allan (1970), an effective, low key TV thriller directed by Curtis Harrington (The Dead Don’t Die). As long as you can leave Norman up in his room, you should have a good time.
Originally airing as an ABC Movie of the Week (because of course) on Tuesday, September 22nd, Allan had to contend with Hee Haw/All in the Family on CBS and the NBC Tuesday Night at the Movies. At the time however, ABC had this format on lockdown with audiences, and for good reason – they always brought in top shelf talent to display on the small screen, and How Awful About Allan is certainly no exception.
Let’s dig out our trusty and totally unreal TV GUIDE and see what we uncover:
HOW AWFUL ABOUT ALLAN (Tuesday, 8:30pm, ABC)
Following a stay in a mental facility for inadvertently causing a house fire involving his father and sister, Allan is released into her care to deal with his psychosomatic blindness. A mysterious boarder may have plans for Allan upon his return home, however. Anthony Perkins, Julie Harris star.
Our teleplay begins with a pre-credit sequence: Allan (Perkins) rises from his bed and sees his father (Kent Smith – Cat People) screaming as a fire rages through his bedroom. Ignoring his father’s pleas for help, Allan panics and flees the house, leaving behind his sister, Katherine (Harris – The Haunting) and their father. Dad doesn’t survive, but sis does, her face badly burned. As neighbors gather on the lawn, Allan suddenly goes blind. Cut to 8 months later, and Allan is about to be released back into his sister’s custody. Reassured by his doctor that the accidental fire (that old chestnut, paint cans and radiators) was not his fault, and that his sight loss is caused by his guilt towards his father, Allan is sent packing and heads home with Katherine. (That’s correct, to the same house. What, you wouldn’t move back into the house where you watched your father burn?)
Before long, Allan’s impaired vision has him believing that he’s being watched and stalked by the roomer they’ve taken in, a local college student who whispers Allan’s name in the darkened halls of the home and on the campus. Or is it the roomer who’s showing an interest in Allan? Perhaps Katherine is trying to send Allan back to his padded cell, or possibly Allan’s neighbor Olive (Joan Hackett – Dead of Night) has ulterior motives of her own…
How Awful About Allan doesn’t really offer too many surprises; the central mystery is certainly not an all-timer, but that’s not what runs this engine anyway. The teleplay by author Henry Farrell (What’s the Matter with Helen?), based on his novel, focuses squarely on Allan’s relationship with the two women in his life, Katherine and Olive, and whether or not they’re complicit in the scheme (if there is one – maybe Allan is just going crazy again).
Allan is an interesting character, and one that I’m sure Perkins found hard to play. He is difficult, and definitely troubled. The easiest point of entry would be Norman Bates, but other than parental problems they really aren’t that similar; Norman is shy, but will engage with people, Allan is churlish and unpleasant to be around. And yet somehow Perkins finds a vulnerability that makes Allan less displeasing, even bordering on likeable. Harris and Hackett more than hold their own, each offering up different versions of his ideal, with Olive nurturing versus Katherine’s smothering. Just don’t decide who’s virtuous simply by their style of affection.
So where do the scares come in? Well, there aren’t any jump scares, that’s for certain; instead Harrington settles on a great conceit to offer up a few uneasy vibes. Allan’s POV is blurred, and the camera frequently stays there to keep us guessing - the shadow down the hall, or lurking in the basement. The audience is never visually tipped as to who’s stalking Allan, until much later on when you’ve possibly resolved the mystery. A nice little capper throws the events into a new light however, providing a needed twist to a very straightforward story.
How Awful About Allan is a solid case of style winning out over substance; from the glazed POV of our protagonist to strong work from a cast who know how to elevate material, it draws enough curves on its straight line to offer up some old fashioned fun.Next: It Came From The Tube: REVENGE! (1971)