What would happen if you crossed Demon Seed, Burnt Offerings, and The Legacy? You’d end up with a pretty confusing six hour horror movie I’d imagine, so scratch that. But what would happen if you took those same elements, made it a TV movie, and threw in The Hardy Boys’ Parker Stevenson for good measure? Well, then you’d be watching This House Possessed (1981), a supremely goofy, sublimely entertaining movie of the week that’s low on scares but high on smiles.
Broadcast on Friday, February 6th, 1981 as part of The ABC Friday Night Movie, This House Possessed was up against the CBS juggernaut The Dukes of Hazzard/Dallas, and NBC offered up…oh never mind. We were all watching the Dukes and the Ewings, okay? Is that what you want to hear? Fine. But I suppose there had to be some people who were repulsed at the sight of Daisey Duke (the shorts and the woman they are named after) and tuned into this loopy telefilm.
Please turn your hymnal, the blessed fake TV GUIDE, to page 63 for a synopsis:
THIS HOUSE POSSESSED (Friday, 9pm, ABC)
An exhausted rock star buys a house that is obsessed with his private nurse, and it will stop at nothing to obtain her love. Parker Stevenson, Lisa Eilbacher star.
I’m pretty sure if I had read that description at the time, I would have circled it with a pen so hard it would burrow through to page 74. And it’s as nuts as it promises.
We open on a teenage couple hopping the oppressive iron gate of a gorgeous estate which surrounds (for 1981) a state of the art home, angular and fortressed with glass, and lousy with surveillance equipment. (I’m assuming first on the block with HBO.) They get busy on the lawn, but are chased away by the garden hose, coiled up and hissing water until they run away. Cut to a TV set inside the house, showing rock star Gary Straihorn (Stevenson) in concert. While singing one of his songs (which “rocks” so hard it makes Pablo Cruise sound like Slayer), Gary collapses almost as if the house willed it. (Cheesy music cues help.)
While in hospital, Gary falls for Nurse Sheila (Eilbacher), and convinces her to work for him while he recuperates. He buys the titular house, and it soon becomes clear to Gary and Sheila that all is not as it seems; Sheila seems to have a connection to the house via whispers in the wind calling out “Margaret”, and Gary’s ex takes a shower with the settings hot, cold, or bloody. There’s a mysterious bag lady (Joan Bennett – Suspiria) who also calls Sheila “Margaret”, Gary’s manager Arthur (Slim Pickens – The Howling) tries to help to no avail, and exposition falls to the kind librarian (K Callan – American Gigolo) who Sheila befriends in town. Will Sheila discover the secret of “Margaret”? Will Gary be able to protect them from the evil oozing from the home? And how the hell does the house have cameras everywhere?
This House Possessed takes its major cues from Burnt Offerings and Demon Seed; the house appears to be sentient - the walls throb, POV shots establish its presence to the story, and the hi tech (for the time) traps it sets for its victims all harken back to the previous decade. The Legacy gets a nod because clearly Sheila is drawn to the house for a reason, and I promise it will neither shock nor disturb you. The big reveal is less than the sum of its parts, yet the telefilm ends up being more, due to David Levinson’s (a TV vet of Charlie’s Angels and Hart to Hart) script which is all journey, destination be damned.
THP has several set pieces that back up this claim; from the teenage hydrodance to the crimson shower, an agitated, fevered pool, a fractured mirror and a hungry electric gate all controlled by the lustful motives of the malevolent manor – it longs for Sheila and will stop at nothing to keep her. And thanks to the slick direction of William Wiard (The Rockford Files), you’ll want to know why. Cast all aspirations of answer aside my friends; the house is in L-U-V, and that’s that.
How the cast keep a straight face during all this is beyond me, and that’s a compliment. Stevenson and Eilbacher worked together on The Hardy Boys, and they share a natural rapport that supports their rather sudden romance. The rest hold their own as well; Slim does Slim, but it’s really Bennett’s bag lady (or Rag Lady as she’s known here) who sells the material. She exudes a quiet creepiness that gives this a good dose of dread amongst the kitsch.
But you’ll probably come away with memories of the hose, and the shower, and the mirror, and the gate. Oh, and the singing. You’ll remember that too, I promise. In fact, there’s very little in This House Possessed that you’ll forget. So come on by for a showing; weird has a new home, and it is move in ready.Next: It Came From The Tube: A COLD NIGHT’S DEATH (1973)