Written by: Judith Parker (teleplay), Richard Peck (novel)
Directed by: Walter Grauman
Starring: Kathleen Beller, Blythe Danner, and Tony Bill
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
ďGail, you're at the hospital. Do you know why you're here?"
"He raped me."
"He raped me."
Made-for-TV horror often presents a flavor-of-the-week knockoff of whateverís hot at the box office at the time (with Carrie arguably reigning as the flavor-of-the-decade after inspiring multiple imitators during the 70s). Are You in the House Alone? is a notable exception in that it only sounds like a rip-off of When A Stranger Calls, what with a babysitter being terrorized by mysterious, threatening phone calls. Actually, the film hit airwaves over a year before Carol Kane was spooked into checking the children, which might be its only advantage in this arbitrarily contrived matchup.
It actually shares a similarity to its theatrical counterpart in that its titular telephoned stalking is but a footnote in the overall proceedings. Are You in the House opens in the aftermath of the stalking and finds a shell-shocked Gail Osborne (Kathleen Beller) headed to the hospital after being brutally raped; she refuses to name her attacker, lest he tracks her down to harm her further. We then flashback to happier days, where Gail and her friends navigate the treacherous waters of high school: the dating, the schoolwork, the social mill. For Gail, those waters only become more unsettling when she begins to receive threatening, obscene notes from a stalker.
I suppose both this and When A Stranger Calls share its DNA with the likes of Black Christmas, Halloween, and other films preoccupied with scaring the shit out of vulnerable girls. Where those films tend towards slashing and suspense, though, Are You in the House Alone? shies away from that and instead embraces the melodrama of an afterschool special. The first hour of the film essentially piles it on poor Gail; in addition to the obvious issues, sheís also dealing with her parentsí increasingly intense marriage, drama involving an ex-boyfriend (Randy Stumpf), and a creepy photography teacher (Alan Fudge). The latter two serve as rather obvious red herrings, of course, as the film finally circles the moment promised by the title once Gailís babysitting gig is interrupted by her stalker, who rapes her in an obviously unsettling sequence (despite its made-for-TV origins, the film isnít even slightly ambiguous about whatís going on).
The sequence is made even more disturbing by the perpetrator. Forgive me for tiptoeing around spoilers of a 35 year old obscurity, but the reveal is just about the only thing the film has going for it, so Iíll preserve that out of courtesy. Letís just say itís not someone youíd expect both within the confines of the story and because heís played by a typical nice guy (which still isnít much of a spoiler considering that could describe multiple male cast members). With this reveal and its subsequent third act, Are You Alone in the House Alone? highlights the inexplicable institutionalization of a culture that often lets rapists off the hook, an especially prescient observation thatís unfortunately still relevant now. As it turns out, Gailís word isnít enough to sink her attacker, so the final act is devoted to her personal quest for justice that involves trickery and her photography skills.
Even here, the film doesnít relent on its overcooked drama, as Gail finds herself at odds with her best friend (Robin Mattson), who writes her claims off as a form of jealously-driven attention seeking. While its more exploitative counterparts deal in bloodletting and savage vengeance, this film relies on visits with guidance counselors and inspirational English teachers. Itís lamer in comparison but perhaps more realistic, which is in line with the filmís low-key, homespun delivery; like so many made-for-TV horrors, itís littered with familiar faces (Dennis Quaid, Tricia OíNeill, Scott Colomby, and Ellen Travolta are noteworthy here), but everyone still has a next-door-neighbor sort of quality, so the film is more slice-of-life than slice-and-dice.
Unfolding like a tepid rape/revenge movie by way of syrupy, After School Special moralizing, Are You in the House Alone? would be totally forgettable without its reveal. Even with it, the filmís a bit of a slog that only manages to unsettle towards the end, at which point it still feels a little bit too corny to take seriously. Such subject matter is admittedly difficult to tackle, and Are You in the House Alone? tussles with it about as well as it can, given its constraints. The ending isnít super-happy but somehow still satisfying, so it likely left viewers in a decent mood before all memory of the film began to evaporate during the next episode of Dallas or whatever. 35 years later, it's reemerged as part of Shout Factoryís TV Terrors pack, where it receives a solid presentation alongside The Initiation of Sarah. Like I said in the review of that film, hereís hoping itís the inaugural TV Terrors offering, as the first one is hit-and-miss, as Initiation of Sarah at least has some batshit insanity going for it at times; its flip-side, on the other hand, is rather dull and would have had me fumbling for the remote during its initial airing. Rent it!
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