ABC CIRCLE FILMS
Directed by Paul Wendkos
Produced by Lillian Gallo
Written by T.K. Brown III and William P. Wood
Before we get into the actual review a brief history lesson: The Made-For-TV Movie is a phrase you don’t hear much these days but it was used all the time back in the 1960’s and especially during the 1970’s when ABC, CBS and NBC who at that time were The Big Three of programming got into the business of producing their own movies specifically made for a television audience and tailored for 90 minute prime time broadcast television viewing slots. Which meant that no longer did they have to rely on movies they purchased from Hollywood movie studios. Now all three networks had their own special movie night but the one that most people remember is the “ABC Movie Of The Week” which aired from 1969 to 1976 on Tuesday nights. ABC had other movies nights such as their Sunday Night Movie but those were generally theatrical features. And of course there was the long-running and classic “The 4:30 Movie” which had an opening credit that was so popular it eventually was adopted as the opening for all of ABC’s late night movies:
And then of course there’s the opening for The Tuesday Night Movies itself:
Now, yes, most of ABC’s Tuesday Movie Of The Week’s movies were forgettable, disposal entertainment. Many TV series such as “The Six Million Dollar Man” “Alias Smith and Jones” “The Immortal” and “Starsky and Hutch” made their debut as 90 minute pilot films here. And then you had a whole truckload of movies that are still remembered and indeed have become legendary in pop entertainment culture. “The Love War” “Brian’s Song” which is still hailed today as one of the best football movies ever made and a movie that guys unashamedly admit they cry when they watch it. “The Night Stalker” which along with “Duel” and “Trilogy of Terror” makes up The Holy Trinity of Made-For-TV horror movies. “A Cold Night’s Death” which is a movie that screams to be remade. “The Legend of Lizzie Borden” starring Elizabeth Montgomery. “Get Christie Love!” “Bad Ronald.” And then there’s the movie we’re going to talk about now: HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH.
Why HAUNTS OF THE VEY RICH you ask? I remember seeing this years ago back in the 70’s as it was a movie that somebody in ABC’s programming department either liked a lot or they got frequent requests to air it. You have to remember that this was an era that was even pre-VCR so the only way you could rewatch a movie if it was broadcast again. And HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH was a movie that got quite a bit of airplay during the 70’s. It’s not a classic by any means but it is an awfully intriguing premise with some solid performances. And for those of you reading this who are “Lost” fans then this is a movie you might like to check out as I see a lot of similarities between that TV show and this movie.
An eclectic group of tourists are flying to a mysterious tropical resort called The Portals of Eden. Each of them have brochures that appear to be tailored to their specific desires. All except for Al Hunsicker (Ed Asner) who was supposed to be on a flight to Texas for an important business meeting. Dave Woodrough (Lloyd Bridges) is an aging ladies’ man who’s looking for another sexual conquest and thinks he’s found it in Ellen Blunt (Cloris Leachman) an emotionally needy woman obsessed with her appearance and thinks that The Portals of Eden is a beauty spa. Annette Larrier (Anne Francis) is looking for somewhere she can recover from her nervous breakdown which probably was caused by her husband and kids. Lyle (Tony Bill) and Laurie (Donna Mills) are newlyweds who only want to spend their honeymoon doing what honeymooners do. The Reverend John Fellows (Robert Reed) is suffering a crisis of spirit and hopes that by participating in a peyote ritual performed by the local Indians he can have a religious vision that will restore his faith.
The resort’s host, Mr. Seacrist (Moses Gunn) at first seems a most genial and amiable sort. But that’s before things start to go wrong. First there’s a hurricane that wipes out their communications with the outside world. Their supplies and fresh drinking water start to dwindle. The resort staff abandons them. The guests are left alone with nothing and nobody to rely on but each other. And the more desperate their situation becomes, the calmer Mr. Seacrist becomes. Any and all attempts at rescue or to get help are frustrated and the little band begins to turn on each other as their idyllic dream vacation turns into Hell. And soon, that’s exactly what Ellen and Dave start to think as they discover that everybody has had a brush with death shortly before coming to the island.
Are they all dead and in Hell or some kind of Purgatory? There’s a lot of evidence to indicate so but there’s as much evidence to the opposite. Maybe they’re just a buncha folks with some truly shitty luck in picking vacation spots…but then there’s the dead body that apparently gets up and walks away and one of their number who tries to commit suicide and loses way more blood than a human can reasonably lose and still live….
I’m probably making HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH seem way more interesting than it really is but while watching it I couldn’t help but think of this as a “Lost” prequel where The Dharma Initiative has brought these people to their island as part of an experiment. What kind of experiment I have no idea but if you decide to watch the movie we can argue about it later.
The acting in this movie is quite strong, especially from dependable pros like Ed Asner who is set up to be the typical stereotyped loud-mouth but develops into a really reasonable character who treats his situation the way I expect a businessman would and doesn’t just rely on his mouth to do his thinking. He and Lloyd Bridges have a couple of nice scenes where they’re discussing their situation as they both turn out to be the natural leaders in this kind of situation. Cloris Leachman is an actress who has never really impressed me in anything she’s done but in this movie I find her amazingly good and she convinced me to invest in her character. But who walks away with the acting honors in this movie? Mr. Brady himself; Robert Reed. And he does it in an amazing scene near the end when he describes what happened to him during the peyote ceremony and explains to each and every one of the other guests why they think they’re dead and in Hell and why they think they’re alive and not in Hell. The man owns the scene from start to finish and it’s worth watching the movie just for that scene. If you only know Robert Reed from “The Brady Bunch” you watch that scene and you can’t believe it’s the same guy. It’s that good a scene.
So should you see HAUNTS OF THE VERY RICH? It won’t cost you a thing because you can see it on YouTube and I’ve provided a link below. But if you don’t want to watch it, it’s no biggie. But it does have a solid story and good performances. And as I said, if you’re a “Lost” fan and want to look upon this as a prequel, I think it more than works in that context. Enjoy.