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Review: ‘Crowhaven Farm’ Remains One of the Most Underrated Horror Films Ever Made

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Review: 'Crowhaven Farm' Remains One of the Most Underrated Horror Films Ever Made

We are fast approaching Halloween, which is likely the favorite time of year for most readers who frequent the Dark Universe web site. We are also approaching the 50th anniversary of a film that is not exactly part of the horror mainstream, but one that deserves more attention than it has received from fans and historians. If you were not around for the 1970s, you might not have even heard of this somewhat obscure film.

It was a relatively small made-for-TV movie that made its debut in November of 1970. At the time, these kinds of made-for-TV horror films appeared all of the time—and many could be classified as mediocre to poor. But not this one. Although it never received a theatrical release, Crowhaven Farm remains not only one of the most underrated horror films ever made, but is so well done that I would rank it among my 20 favorite films in the history of the genre.

Premiering on ABC-TV on November 24th, Crowhaven Farm is centered on a likeable married couple, the Porters, who are struggling with their marriage, in part because of their lack of children. Suddenly inheriting an old farmhouse, the Porters decide to move out of the city and take up fulltime residence in the country home, amidst the hopes that the move to a quieter environment will aid their failing relationship.

Crowhaven Farm

Maggie Porter, who is unquestionably the lead character in the film, is played by the accomplished Hope Lange, a beautiful actress of the 1950s and sixties who gained additional fame for her role in the short-lived TV show, “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir”. (In spite of its title, that show was far more comedic than it was scary, though there was indeed a ghost, played by Irish actor Edward Mulhare.) In Crowhaven Farm, Lange’s husband, Ben, is played by Paul Burke, a handsome actor who occasionally took on starring roles but spent much of his career in supporting portrayals.

The Porters soon arrive at their new home, and almost immediately find themselves in an uneasy situation, especially when Maggie meets the strange and aging handyman, who is hardly the welcoming sort. Horror icon John Carradine takes on that role with relish, and while his screen time is relatively brief, he is effective as a mysterious man of questionable intelligence and intentions. It is clear that he is hiding something, but what that secret might be is not clear. Carradine’s character is a perfect accompaniment for the country house, given its nebulous history, and the strange activities that are about to take place. The attractive but aging farmhouse, known by the name of Crowhaven Farm, seems to hold sinister secrets of witchcraft and torture.

Always likeable, Lange is terrific in the lead role, creating a level-headed and sympathetic character who is also vulnerable. In contrast to her husband, she immediately becomes aware of the strange developments the house, including a girl whose cries can be heard at night, demonic sounds in the nearby woods, and images that appear in Maggie’s dreams. With her husband proving unhelpful, she turns to one of the locals, a friendly man named Kevin Pierce, who is played by longtime character actor Lloyd Bochner. Mr. Pierce provides Maggie with some much needed moral support as the circumstances around the house begin to fall apart, leaving her increasingly concerned.

As much as Bochner’s character tries to help, his efforts are counteracted by the arrival of two other questionable characters. Longtime actress Virginia Gregg, who appeared in several episodes of “The Alfred Hitchcock Hour” and “The Twilight Zone”, plays Mercy Lewis, a scheming woman named after a key character from Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Lewis, who claims to be dying, brings her 10-year-old niece to the Porters, with an offer to have them adopt the young girl. Anxious to have a child, and too gullible for their own good, the Porters agree to temporarily take in the niece while Lewis travels to a nearby hospital for medical tests. The girl, played by a young Cindy Eilbacher, is both attractive and sinister. Her arrival will only complicate matters for the Porters.

In addition to good performances throughout the film, one of the movie’s strengths is the strong imagery created by director Walter Grauman, who specialized in directing made-for-TV movies and series. Relying on solid special effects, Grauman gives us many examples of compelling horror imagery, from fire to stoning to torture to other indications of witchcraft. The effects, while all relatively basic, are executed smoothly and seamlessly. And then there is the musical score, which is haunting and atmospheric, a perfect fit for a film about witchcraft and ghostly activity. Most importantly, Grauman allows our imagination to run rampant, as we wonder exactly what is behind the strange occurrences at Crowhaven Farm.

Some horror films fall apart because of anticlimactic and uninspired endings, but the conclusion to Crowhaven Farm is no such example. As the paranoia builds scene by scene, in a way that is similar to the experiences of Mia Farrow in the far more celebrated Rosemary’s Baby, Lange’s Maggie is forced to deal with a terrifying reality, which is revealed in the second-to-last scene of the film. And just when you think that director Grauman is done with us, he unveils another plot twist at the very end, leaving us with yet another chill. Taken in tandem, these two twists will have viewers looking over their shoulders; it certainly had me doing so back in the mid-1970s. In fact, it’s tempting to call the ending of the movie one of the very best in horror history.

I first watched Crowhaven Farm in the mid-1970s, when it aired in the New York City market as part of the popular “4:30 Movie,” which often featured horror and sci-films and became a destination for school-age children like myself. Even watching in seeming safety and comfort of the daytime hours, Crowhaven Farm terrified me. While I was only 11 or 12 at the time, the film’s creepiness stuck with me, and also helped develop my growing appreciation for horror films. Many years later, I watched the film as an adult, and that follow-up viewing confirmed its lasting legacy; it continued to score well for its atmosphere and its ability to inflict paranoia and terror. The film has stood up so well that it deserves to be called a cult classic.

Crowhaven Farm may have been a made-for-TV production that was done inexpensively, but it has the appearance of a bigger box office production and the feel of a theatrical release. Like most of the made-for-TV films of the 1970s, the movie has almost no gore and little in terms of outright violence. But what separates Crowhaven Farm from most of those TV productions is the ability to carry a good story with suspense, constant tension, plot twists, and professional performances from a very capable veteran cast. None of those TV films—in fact, few horror films of any kind—boasted those traits as well as the underrated classic known as Crowhaven Farm.

Give it a look between now and Halloween. You’ll enjoy it. Maybe not as much as I have, but then again, maybe you will.

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