TV Terror Guide: The House That Would Not Die (1970)
Air Date: Oct. 27, 1970 (ABC Movie of the Week)
Production Companies: Aaron Spelling Productions
Running Time: 74 min.
Available on: Blu-ray (Kino Lorber Studio Classics)
Written by: Henry Farrell
Based on the novel, Ammie, Come Home, by Barbara Michaels
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Richard Egan, Michael Anderson Jr., Kitty Winn, Doreen Lang, Mabel Albertson
Finally, here’s the first truly supernatural movie in this series about 1970s TV horror movies. It’s probably the first one that, if you saw it when it was originally aired, you remember. While last week’s Night Slaves established a template, The House That Would Not Die alters it slightly to accommodate characteristics that would become common in the sub-sub genre of 1970s TV supernatural horror movies.
That is to say that it runs at a brisk pace (74 minutes without commercials), it doesn’t waste any time getting into the action, and the characters already have an unexplained knowledge of the occult or are otherwise quick to accept that they are dealing with the occult. It couldn’t be any more efficient or entertaining; however, it could offer a few more explanations for what’s happening. Suspense doesn’t as much build as it just suddenly appears.
Ruth Bennett (Barbara Stanwyck) and her niece, Sara (Kitty Winn) arrive at the estate they inherited. That’s one of the fuzzy details, but is really irrelevant. It’s just a mechanism to get them into a haunted house. Very soon they hear voices, witness spirit possessions, and suffer from heavy indoor windstorms, Talk about a draft! These winds open doors and knock people over.
There’s not much else to it than that. Oh, there’s the neighbor, Pat (Richard Egan), who takes a fancy to Ruth and treats her kindly when a vengeful spirit isn’t inhabiting his body. And there’s his student from the college, Stan (Michael Anderson Jr.) who’s the first one to consider evil goings-on. His stake in the proceedings is Sara’s welfare as, of course, he’s fallen in love with her. All of this unfolds at breakneck pace.
In a way, it reminds me of House of Dark Shadows, a movie I adore, but which consolidates so many subplots that the average viewer sometimes feels like they’re missing something. It also reminds me of the series, Dark Shadows, with its centuries-old mysteries that generate present day nightmares. With any of these, there’s usually a key that unlocks the mystery through finding the missing pieces of history’s puzzle.
The House That Would Not Die was directed by John Llewellyn Moxey, who recently passed. A prolific director, he helmed other TV movies of the sub genre and sub-sub genre, perhaps most notably, The Night Stalker, two years later. It was written by Henry Farrell, author of many of my beloved hagsploitation films of the 60s and 70s, including the mother of them all, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962.) That’s a good pedigree.
It may not play terribly scary today, but it has a style and atmosphere that’s nevertheless creepy. Fifty years ago, I have no doubt people had seen nothing like it in a prime time television movie. How else do you explain the continued productions of movies like this throughout the decade. I don’t have any thoughts on how it could have been better. It is what it is and it’s perfectly fine.