Thursday, May 5, 2011

Home Alone?: "Are You in the House Alone?" (1978)

Doe-eyed high school student Kathleen Beller is found beaten and raped in the opening scenes of this made for TV movie.

The film then flashbacks to the few days before the rape, as Beller is harassed by a stranger. Beller and Scott Colomby and her best friend Robin Mattson and Dennis Quaid are double dating early on. Beller's anxious parents, laid back Tony Bill and shrill Blythe Danner, wait at home wringing hands and so on. Right away, the 1970's makes its dated entrance, as the young couples discuss the romance and love in "Three Days of the Condor."

Beller, an amateur photographer, begins getting threatening notes stuffed in her locker at school. The film makers wisely give us a whole slew of suspects: Beller's new boyfriend, Mattson's boyfriend, Beller's dad, Beller's ex-boyfriend, and what about that overly friendly photography class teacher who wants Beller to be a little more sexy in her self-portraits? I knew who the rapist was because the Worldvision Video company video box has a picture of the attack on the back cover, destroying any suspense in that regard.

Without giving away who the attacker is, Beller begins getting harassing phone calls, and is eventually raped. The movie then heads south as she makes like Nancy Drew and secretly sets up a time lapse camera to catch the guy stalking another student. Finally, the film makers tack on a hokey ending narration from Beller about the lack of understanding for the victims of rape in that day and age.

The suspense here is very real, without going over the top into scary movie stuff. Beller is very good, and watch for her and Mattson's scene in an abandoned theater- both do great jobs. The film is full of familiar faces, including Ellen Travolta in a small role, and everyone is professional.

This was made in 1978, and it shows. I am sure no one had any idea that this would be reviewed in 2003 by an overcritical horror movie lover, but some of the attitudes here are embarrassing. The teacher who tells Beller to be sexy is never made to explain what exactly he had in mind. Nowadays, if any high school teacher said that, then THAT would have been a made for TV movie on its own.

After Beller is raped, the rapist is still a part of her life, as warrants are issued, blah, blah, blah. There may not be a case because Beller is not a virgin, and cannot prove she was raped by whom she said. Many of these problems have been addressed with modern technology and policing efforts, but this film obviously knew it would have a chance to add to the reform debate. Rape is an act of violence that has not gone away, but efforts today to catch the attackers are miles ahead of twenty five years ago. The problem is the anti-rape angle feels tacked on, like an afterthought. Before that, we have a tight little suspenser that has real honest to God characterization. After the rape, everything changes, filmwise, and not for the better.

I remember Beller from the '70's and '80's (and who could forget her revealing role in "The Betsy"), but she has not done anything in almost ten years. This is a shame, since she was very good way back then.

I will recommend "Are You in the House Alone?" based on the acting alone, with a reluctant nod to at least the first two-thirds of the film. If you want to relive 1970's made for TV high school life, this is your cup of Tab. (* * * *) out of five stars.