Air Date: Sept. 24, 1974 (NBC)
Production Companies: Alpine Productions, Charles Fries Productions
Running Time: 78 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Sandor Stern
Directed by: John Llewellyn Moxey
Cast: Robert Stack, Vera Miles, L.Q. Jones, Herb Edelman, Dena Diestrich, Ted Gerhring, Margaret Willock
Rating: 6 Vintage Televisions (out of 10)
It’s hard for me to get past the title of this one: The Strange & Deadly Occurrence (1974.) First, there’s no single occurrence. Second, while events that happen in the new country home of Michael Rhodes (Robert Stack) and family are indeed strange, they’re not ultimately deadly. The title caused me to watch and wait for more rather than to simply enjoy it.
While it does have some thrills and chills, I admire it most for the family dynamic. Michael, his wife, Christine (Vera Miles), and their daughter, Melissa (Margaret Willock), seem to genuinely enjoy spending time together. The biggest drama is that Melissa is turning 16 and would prefer to be called by her full name rather than by the nickname, “Mel.”
Why, the in-laws even spend the weekend with them without quarreling. The biggest drama between Felix (Herb Edelman) and Audrey (Dena Dietrich) regards his drinking. However, the subject is broached merely for the humor; it’s not a plot point. Even in the 1970s, it’s hard to imagine a family getting along so well.
Their home is built on the ruins of a mission that was destroyed when one of its patients, distraught over the death of his wife, burned it to the ground. The old well remains on the property. When we learn, as the characters do, that the previous owner of the house drowned in the swimming pool instead of peacefully in bed, we think this must be a ghost story.
I never bought it, though, because there are so many point-of-view shots of someone watching the house, breathing heavily. I don’t think ghosts do that. Then, when a “creepy” man, Dr. David Gillgreen (Ted Gehring) appears one day and offers to purchase the house at any price, I didn't buy that he was anything other than a red herring.
I assumed that any way it concluded, there was going to be a Scooby Doo ending. I won’t say exactly what happens, but the climax both comes out of the blue and yet is simultaneously heralded by some carefully revealed clues along the way. Still, the over-the-top theatrics of the climax doesn’t belong in the grounded environment which we’ve seen so far.
Remove the title, set-ups, and plot points and, yes, The Strange & Deadly Occurrence is a sometimes-frightening film. There’s even a great jump scare that I maintain is hard to accomplish in a TV movie. On the surface it seems unique, but underneath it’s the same old thing. It’s enjoyable, for sure, but not substantial, and sometimes that's OK.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch The Strange & Deadly Occurrence and other great movies from this series...