I sure love me some witches. I especially adore the satanic kind, pentagrams, candles, and the whole shmear. Welcome to Bay Coven (1987), where the tropes are oh so familiar yet warm and snuggly like a quilted comforter.
Originally broadcast on Sunday, October 25th, Bay Coven was part of the NBC Sunday Night at the Movies, and was summarily trounced by Game 7 of the World Series as the *checks notes* Minnesotans beat the other ones to win the cup. Or something. Anyhoo, for those who were into horror, especially so close to Halloween, Bay Coven (AKA Bay Cove) was a fun treat; nothing original at all, but merely the next in the hallowed tradition of what I like to call (as of right now) the Killer Hospitality sub-genre: Rosemary’s Baby, Crowhaven Farm, and The Dark Secret of Harvest Home all setting out the chips and dip for what Bay Coven has in store.
Let’s dig out our faux TV Guide and have a boo, shall we?
BAY COVEN (Sunday, 9pm, NBC)
A young couple moves to an idyllic island community, where their new neighbors harbor a deadly secret. Tim Matheson, Pamela Sue Martin star.
Jerry (Matheson – Animal House) and Linda (Martin – Nancy Drew Mysteries) Lebon are stuck on the big city treadmill when their friends Josh (Jeff Conaway – Grease) and Debbi (Susan Ruttan – Bad Dreams) convince them to check out Bay Cove, a town on Devlin Island (mhmmm) not but a 45 minute drive away from the city. Linda reluctantly goes along with Jerry’s enthusiastic response to the quaint, down home surroundings, and almost immediately Linda is ill at ease with the town folk; the Kline’s, Nicholas (James Sikking – Up the Creek) and Matty (Inga Swenson – Benson), take an immediate dislike to her dog, and dodge Linda’s questions about how long they’ve resided in Bay Cove. Meanwhile, their other neighbor Beatrice (Barbara Billingsley – Leave It to Beaver) is a little too accommodating.
A visit from Linda’s city friend Slater (Woody Harrelson – Cheers) does not ease her mind, as he notices many discrepancies in the islanders’ stories, as only an outsider could; snooping around with Josh and Debbi leads to the realization that the town’s 300 year old legacy is tied to the founder, a fella by the name of John Nobel, who according to a tome found by the foursome, is set to return soon. As Jerry begins to reject his old materialistic ways and embrace the community, Linda keeps looking for clues as to the townsfolk’s true identity. But will she be too late? Will she?!?
The above description is as vague as I could possibly be, and yet I feel I’ve given everything away. There is nothing in Bay Coven that will surprise the viewer; unless that viewer is unfamiliar with Killer Hospitality (that’s going to catch on, right?), in which case, wow, bon appetite – are you in for a treat! Even for those unversed in the sub-genre it won’t play as exactly original or thrilling; which is to say it telegraphs its scares and turns from a comfortable distance so as not to work the cranium too much.
This does not sound like a glowing endorsement. However, Bay Coven should be seen and enjoyed as merely a well crafted thriller that eschews psychological terror and instead focuses on being a simple story well told. There’s certainly nothing wrong with that; in fact, it’s nice to come across something uninterested in reinvention and content to entertain.
Director Carl Shenkel (Knight Moves) manages a few cool shots amongst the ‘80s fashions, and he and writer Tim Kring (Heroes) keep things moving along at a brisk pace, never leaving the viewer too long to question the events. The performances Shenkel gets are solid too, but how could they not be with that cast? Woody was still in likeable bar mode, and was probably “asked” to appear at the bequest of his mother network. (I’m assuming the same went for Ruttan.) Sikking and Swenson make an insidious couple, Conaway seems an odd fit, but Billingsley plays wonderfully against type. There’s zero Cleaver residue to be found here. As our main couple, Matheson is always dependable, but this is really Martin’s show. If one is of a certain vintage, it’s very smile inducing to see Nancy Drew grown up and cracking a case with genuine peril.
That’s what Bay Coven is ultimately; smile inducing. The grizzled horror veteran needs to put away the yardstick sometimes and measure a work on its own virtues, however modest. And for those new to the genre, that quilted comforter is going to give you an extra layer of enjoyment.