The cultural impact of satanic megahit Rosemary’s Baby (1968) was substantial and immediate. All of a sudden supernatural horror was in vogue, whether directly mentioning the Big S or delving into covens and cults. Somehow if money was to be made, Lucifer would be there with his asbestos lined suitcase ready to take donations from one and all. Which brings us to the small screen’s Crowhaven Farm (1970), an ABC Movie of the Week that terrified TV audiences with the knowledge that not all evil has to be metropolitan.
Originally airing on Tuesday, November 24th, Crowhaven Farm’s closest competition was CBS’s Hee Haw, but even those yokels couldn’t beat ABC’s juggernaut, which always won its time slot. And while it may not be a match for Rosemary’s devilish wit and urbane horror (not much is), Crowhaven Farm still offers plenty of spooky, countrified atmosphere.
Let’s burn through our trusty TV GUIDE and see who we’re persecuting:
CROWHAVEN FARM (Tuesday, 8:30pm, ABC)
A couple relocates to an inherited farm, where the wife starts to have terrifying visions of a past life. Hope Lange, Paul Burke star.
Maggie (Lange – Death Wish) has just inherited Crowhaven Farm due to her cousin’s death by “car accidentally exploding into a tree” (you know the kind). Off her and husband Ben (Burke – Naked City) go, with Maggie getting icky vibes right from the start; she sees flashes of a mob on the farm from a distant past, who don’t seem too pleased with her. Of course Ben is happy; he can concentrate on his burgeoning painting career. She agrees to stay for him, even after being introduced to the creepy handyman (John Carradine – The Monster Club) or having her house invaded by an overly friendly welcoming committee. Soon after their arrival, things take an upswing for the couple’s fortune – Ben’s paintings start selling, and an adolescent girl named Jennifer (Cindy Eilbacher – Slumber Party Massacre II) stays with them, filling a void in the childless couple.
But miracle of miracles, Maggie finds out she’s pregnant! And other than the (soon to be) missing historian who tells her that her relatives were part of a coven, things could be worse. Which naturally they become when Maggie starts to suspect that the townsfolk have plans for her, Ben, and the baby…
The shadow of Rosemary looms large over Crowhaven Farm; that’s not unexpected, nor is it unwelcomed. This was broadcast only two years after Rosemary, so in that context it still plays fresh. We’ve seen variations on this story many times since (the classic British shocker The Wicker Man (1973) and the mini-series The Dark Secret of Harvest Home (1978) certainly owe a debt to this one); the insidious kindness of strangers leading to a terrifying endgame has practically become its own sub-genre. It’s always been one of the most effective tools for building a sense of dread; we see the sinister light at the end of the tunnel, but we’re not quite sure how we’re getting there. (Rest assured, it isn’t pretty.)
When visceral thrills aren’t a viewing option during TV Dinner time, telefilms have to rely on mood and performance to sell the show; both of which are in amply supply here. Everything is just a little bit off about the citizens surrounding Crowhaven Farm, from the kindly doctor, to creepy little Jennifer (she’s seriously good), to the neighbor who Maggie confides in. Lange always played “normal” well; her open smile and warm eyes drawing us along for the ride, with Burke acquitting himself nicely in a sturdy Marlboro Man pose. Everyone here gets some nice moments, which isn’t always the case when there are so many characters to juggle in a mere 74 minutes.
A lot of the credit should go to TV vets director Walter Grauman and writer John McGreevey, for creating a telefilm that brings a sense of sophistication to a (mostly) rural setting. (Devil worship up to this point seemed to be for the nouveau riche. I mean, could you afford all that velvet and candles?) Rosemary’s Baby may have influenced Crowhaven Farm, but in turn it has laid root in genre films all the way up to Kill List (2011). Do yourself a favor and head down to the farm for some rest and relaxation. I promise you’ll be welcomed with open arms.Next: It Came From The Tube: DEVIL DOG: THE HOUND OF HELL (1978)