Saturday, October 29, 2016

Crowhaven Farm: A Creepy Made-for-TV Tale

When her cousin Henry dies in a car accident soon after inheriting Crowhaven Farm, Maggie Porter becomes the estate's new owner. She and her husband Ben move to the rural New England property. He hopes to find success as a painter and Maggie accepts a position as a legal secretary to the town's handsome--and single--attorney. Ben's jealousy fuels already existing marital discord caused by the couple's inability to conceive a child.

Meanwhile, Maggie discovers that she knows things about Crowhaven Farm, such as the location of secret rooms in the house. She also has visions of a woman being "pressed", an unpleasant method of killing witches by placing a wooden door on their prone bodies and stacking large stones on the door. A local historian unintentionally makes matters worse when he tells Maggie the story of the Brampton witches, a coven that existed in Puritan times.

Lange with Patricia Barry, who starred
in a memorable Thriller episode.
As is often the case in these kinds of movies, Ben doesn't take Maggie's concerns seriously. In fact, he's not very observant at all, even failing to notice that the 10-year-old girl they "adopted" seems to prefer him significantly to Maggie. And that's just the beginning of Maggie's problems.

Made in 1970, Crowhaven Farm is an eerie supernatural tale that was made for the ABC Movie of the Week. It was produced and written by John McGreevey, whose many television writing credits include The Waltons. The film's opening scenes can be described as a Waltons plot with sinister overtones. The local handyman, played creepily by John Carradine, isn't the pleasant local craftsman that one would expect. The kindly physician turns out to be a villain. Even the picturesque countryside is revealed to be the site of sacrifices. (Note: Click here to read our interview with Michael McGreevey, John's son, who acted in numerous films and became a successful writer-producer as well.)

Handyman John Carradine.
While watching Crowhaven Farm, I was struck by the similarities with Ira Levin's Rosemary's Baby and Thomas Tryon's Harvest Home. The former pre-dates Crowhaven Farm; not surprisingly, Rosemary's Baby inspired a number of movies about witches' covens. However, Crowhaven Farm was actually made three years before Harvest Home. Tryon's novel features a premise in which a couple with a strained marriage relocates to an old house in a rural community so the husband can pursue an artistic career. Sound familiar?

For me, the most effective supernatural thrillers are those grounded in normal characters who become gradually exposed to unnatural events. In the case of Crowhaven Farm, the casting of Hope Lange as Maggie helps immeasurably. It's hard to think of an actress more capable of portraying conventional and believable characters. Although pretty enough to be a model (which she was), Lange carved out a successful acting career playing naïve teenagers, understanding mothers, and patient wives. Her convincing performance in Crowhaven Farm is one of the reasons this film has lingered with me since I first saw it 46 years ago.

Cindy Eilbacher as Jennifer.
Watching it recently, though, I was also struck by the film's potency. While it's never gory, the image of the witches stacking stones on top of Maggie is pretty strong stuff. There's also a disturbing scene in which young (fully clothed) Jennifer sneaks into Ben's room and climbs into bed with him when they are home alone. It may have been innocent enough in the early 1970s (obviously, the censors didn't object). However, in today's context, Ben casual acceptance of this situation seems highly questionable and caused this viewer to squirm a bit.

If you've never seen Crowhaven Farm, you're in luck: There are several prints on YouTube. The visual quality varies, but they are watchable.

This post is part of the Terror TV Blogathon hosted by the Classic TV Blog Association. To read all the fabulous posts in this blogathon, click here.


David Hofstede said...

Haven't seen this one, but I love the cast and the premise. I look forward to checking it out!

Ivan G Shreve Jr said...

You had me at John Carradine. Dad and Mom were watching The Shootist last weekend and I got a little misty when I saw John in his small but effective role as the undertaker.

Like David, I haven't seen this one either (I'm kind of familiar with the plot) but I'm glad you provided the YouTube info 'cause I would definitely love to check this out.

toto2 said...

I just saw this recently and really enjoyed it! Hope was quite good although I kept wanting her to leave her worthless husband. I miss the movies of the week! Great post for the Terror TV Blogathon, Rick.

Lisa said...

As a big fan of TV Movies I certainly remember "Crowhaven Farm" -- first, what a great title and second, what a great cast! Wonderful choice for some Halloween viewing!

Joanna said...

Ooohh--another ABC Movie of the Week for our Terror TV blogathon. I love it! I have to check this movie out. Thanks for writing this.

Citizen Screen said...

I've never seen Crowhaven Farm, but it sounds a bit too scary for me. Straight horror and gore are OK, but when it gets into supernatural stuff I lose sleep. I am a big fan of Hope Lang's though and have been watching episodes of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir TV show lately. She really was a terrific actress.


Freddie Jaye said...

I first saw "Crowhaven Farm" when it was a new movie-of-the-week. Powerful stuff. It's certainly not a gory, violent flick -- but it *does* build an increasing sense of creepiness. Definitely worth a watch.

Anonymous said...

I first knew Hope Lange from The New Dick Van Dyke. I later saw her on episodes of Murder, She Wrote and Hotel. She was in TV movies with Cheryl Ladd and Jaclyn Smith. Also she was in Bus Stop with Marilyn Monroe and Don Murray who she later married and divorced. She was in Peyton Place with Lana Turner and Lloyd Nolan. Lana and Hope were both nominated for Academy Awards as were Diane Varsi, Russ Tamblyn and Arthur Kennedy.She worked with Elvis in Wild in the Country. She was always a welcome presense.

Anonymous said...

I wrote a post about Miss Lange a day or two ago but it didn't show up. I mentioned her Oscar nomination for Peyton Place. I want to add that she was in the first color episode of The Fugitive. It was titled The Last Oasis.