Amanda Reyes is an author and podcaster who concentrates most of her work on the made for television movie (although she loves and writes about horror movies and soap operas from time to time!). She edited and co-wrote the book Are You in the House Alone? A TV Movie Compendium: 1964-1999, which was released through the UK publisher Headpress earlier this year.
Her blog, Made for TV Mayhem and its companion podcast are the central locus for most of her writing/discussions. Amanda has also been a guest on several other podcasts and has traveled all over the world to discuss TV movies. Most recently, she provided the commentary track for Shout! Factory’s release of the 1977 tele-horror The Spell.
AR: To be honest, I haven’t had time to watch much in the way of new. I did see Get Out earlier this year and really, really loved it! I was happy to see it do so well too. While I don’t get to see as much as I’d like, I can see a real shift in the way post-modernism is dictating some of what is happening in horror, and I quite enjoy it. At the same time, there’s still a hold on the more classic stuff, like the things James Wan is doing with the Conjuring films. He’s a great filmmaker, but admittedly I’ve fallen behind on his films too.
In terms of what I normally watch and have been watching of late, I’m currently working on a paper about female-centric paranormal telefilms of the 1970s-80s and their response to second wave feminism, which means I’m watching things like Midnight Offerings (1981), which is a favorite, and Night Cries (1978). I’m having a lot of fun with the topic.
JB: Tell us a little about your podcast and what we can find there.
AR: The podcast is named after my blog, Made for TV Mayhem, but I added the word "Show" at the end to differentiate it! I have two co-hosts. I do the show with my good friends Dan Budnik and Nathan Johnson. While we’re open to discussing all facets of classic television, the podcast concentrates mostly on the made for television movie. It’s a double feature show, and the way I program it is that I do my best to put one well-known title alongside a more obscure title, pairing them by some sort of theme.
For instance, we did Dark Night of the Scarecrow and Revenge, and they were put together because they are both revenge titles. Also, we did Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark and Crawlspace together because John Newland directed them both. It’s a lot of fun. Just the other day Nate said he enjoyed doing the show because he hasn’t seen a lot of the titles I’ve chosen and he’s never sure what he’s about to see. That’s fun for me. Mostly, we’ve loved all of the movies, but there’s a clunker or two in there!
JB: When did you start getting into TV movies?
AR: As a kid. I grew up on TV movies, although I didn’t know that’s what they were. They were just movies playing on the "Afternoon Movie" on the local station. It was a gateway into horror for me and I can still remember being fascinated by the monsters in Gargoyles, and terrified of the creatures in Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark. And as I got older, I went to the movies as often as I could, but I didn’t have a real source of income, and we didn’t get cable until I was almost out of high school, so I relied heavily on TV movies in terms of feeding an early cinefile habit I was developing.
JB: It seems like sometimes people are reductive when comparing a theatrical picture to being like a "Lifetime" or "Disease of the Week" picture. Do you think TV movies get a bad rap? How would you describe television movies as an art form?
AR: Yes, TV movies get a super bum rap. While it’s true that TV movies were and still are produced in a sort of factory system, there is still artistry within these films. I think that we know that low budgets, quick script writing, and sometimes even quicker production schedules hamper a lot of potential in TV movies. Furthermore, because they are beholden to FCC standards, they are limited in their ability to into anything even marginally objectionable, and therefore, we think telefilms have nothing to offer. But TV movies can be fantastically subversive, or at the very least, extremely entertaining. So, I guess if I were to describe the telefilm as an art form, I would say that TV movies say more with what remains unsaid. They may look superficial, but often have layers of meaning, and it’s a tribute to the medium that many of these films not only endure, but also mean something, even all these years later.
JB: Are there any TV movie directors who are particularly great?
AR: My favorite small screen director is John Llewellyn Moxey. He’s probably best known for directing The Night Stalker, which introduced the world to Kolchak, but he made so many good films. He was a bit of a journeyman, and just seemed to know how to set up suspenseful set-pieces. Some of his best horror films or thrillers are The House that Would Not Die (1970), Home for the Holidays (1972), and No Place to Hide (1981). He also kind of redid the vampire thing in the underrated I, Desire in 1982, which had David Naughton fighting vampires not so long after he had turned into a werewolf in An American Werewolf in London!
I also really like Gordon Hessler, who had a really nice eye, and his films were often very moody. I think Hitchhike, which stars Cloris Leachman, is my favorite of his films. He also did the underrated The Strange Possession of Mrs. Oliver.
JB: Any TV movies with a great music score?
AR: Oh yes, pretty much anything by Billy Goldenberg, who did Duel and The Legend of Lizzie Borden. But honestly, I really, really love the music for Night Terror, which was done by Fred Steiner. It’s so discordant and really gets into the disturbed mind of the killer chasing Valerie Harper across the desert. The soundtrack to The Spell by Gerald Fried runs along those same lines and is also oh-so-seventies!
JB: It was exciting to see that you did commentary for the The Spell. This is actually my first TV movie memory. I believe it aired as an also-ran on TBS. I was haunted and disturbed by it and didn't know the name of it for years! I finally traced it down a few years ago and it seemed so much less sinister but more of a fun watch. What are your experiences with the film?
AR: I didn’t discover The Spell until I was an adult. I had a friend who was obsessed with it and thought it was a must see film, so he made a copy of his copy for me. I can imagine what seeing it as a kid must have been like, and I’m sure that re-watching it with adult eyes made it a little less sinister. It’s got a lot of depth to it though, which I discovered as I was prepping the commentary track. It’s like I mentioned before, these telefilms can appear inconsequential at times, but there’s a lot going on at their core. I was glad I got to revisit it and give it some deeper thought.
JB: Are there any other TV movies that should be on bluray?
AR: Oh yes! My favorite TV movie, This House Possessed has never had any kind of legitimate home video release, and it really needs one. It’s endlessly entertaining, and I just recently watched it with a crowd and they loved it too.
Also, there’s some classics that are just woefully in need a real release such as Midnight Offerings, Don’t Go to Sleep, Satan’s Triangle and I Saw What You Did, just to name a few off the top of my head. Also, there are some dramas like Griffin and Phoenix and That Certain Summer that deserve a chance at a second audience. And I think Murder By Natural Causes is such a clever mystery/thriller. It would be nice to see that get a release as well. Oh, who am I kidding, can we release every TV movie on bluray? Please?
Actually I’ve a seen a few people comment that they’d like to see an Aaron Spelling boxset. Spelling is, of course, best known for his TV series, but he produced something like 140 telefilms, many of which are absolutely wonderful. I think a box set like that would be a good place to start.
JB: Do you think that's common--that we sometimes have vague memories of a TV movie but can't place the name of it or know who's in it? Perhaps because it was always hard to find a resource list of films or the actors in them? It sounds generic but I have one where a woman is being followed by a truck (or another car?) for a long amount of time on a deserted highway. Any guesses?
AR: Check out the aforementioned Night Terror and let me know if that’s it or not. I think it might be!
I had a vague memory, which I don’t want to go too into because it will spoil two films, but it turns out I was conflating a telefilm – Scream, Pretty Peggy and an episode of the British series Thriller – "Dial a Deadly Number" together, and for years I was looking for one film. I’m not quite sure how I extrapolated the memory but I’ve been able to get copies of both things, and I can see the similarities now.
I think when we’re young there are just some images that resonate and we don’t really know why yet. Those are the types of memories that linger. If you grew up in the seventies or even the eighties I can see where those images might have come from a made for TV movie. If you caught it on its network airing, it may not have aired ever again.
JB: What do you think the state of television movies is today? Have you enjoyed any recently?
AR: That’s a good question, and very difficult for me to answer. I don’t watch all that much in terms of new television. For one, I don’t have as much time as I used to, and secondly, I’m not as drawn to long form series the same way I once was. I am a soap opera addict though and am really into The Young and the Restless right now. I only mention that because modern TV really takes a nod from the soaps in terms of long-term story arcs, and I do love stories that take a long time to unfold. But for whatever reason, I haven’t found a show that has hooked me yet.
JB: Many are calling this era a renaissance for television. As someone who prefers the medium and time constraints of a film, rarely do I last through multiple seasons of a show. Lately I've been re-watching early Dynasty though. Do you have favorite TV shows?
AR: Old shows? Yes, I love a lot of them. As far as nighttime soaps, I’m an uber Dallas fan. It’s so amazing. Lots of fun, and great acting. My all time favorite show was One Life to Live, which I watched religiously for 30 years. I miss it every day. But my favorite prime time series is Magnum P.I. Now, that’s a show that just keeps giving. While there’s a lot of a fun-in-the-sun-car-chase episodes, there was a lot of depth given to many of the stories, and certainly to the characters. So much of what came during and after the fifth season could be really esoteric and thoughtful. I fell in love with every recurring character and constantly return to my DVDs to enjoy the show. I also worship at the altar of the Golden Girls, but who doesn’t?
Another show I’m revisiting and loving is Reba, which was an early 2000s sitcom that is truly funny. And I’m a sucker for Three’s a Crowd, which was the spinoff of Three’s Company. It only lasted one season, but it’s all about John Ritter and Robert Mandan chewing the scenery. That was a show that needed a longer life. Oh, and I really adore Lucan, which is another short-lived series that had a surprising amount of depth and heart. And Love Boat, Fantasy Island and Charlie’s Angels are my go-tos when I need to escape from the world. Lately I’ve also been revisiting and loving Eight is Enough. Oh, I also love The Waltons!
This is why I don’t have time to watch new shows, apparently!
JB: And how is your day today?
AR: Very well, thank you! I really enjoyed this interview! Thank you!