This House Possessed is one of those, and while it might not be an instantly recognizable classic, it's exemplary of the made-for-TV format. This is one that pops up occasionally on retro pop culture websites, and it's never been on my To-See list, but it's been on my radar for some time and I learned recently that it's on YouTube in its entirety.
The film opens on a pair of college-age kids who decide to fool around in an abandoned mansion, but finding it locked, decide to make out outside instead. The mansion's closed circuit security system kicks on, and a garden hose snakes, cobra-like, up to the two kids and turns itself on full-blast. The kids scream bloody murder and run away, none the worse for wear. We won't see them again.
Instead, the story centers on Gary Straihorn, the whitest singer-songwriter you've ever seen. Mr. Straihorn is the middle of a live performance for television, when he collapses from physical exhaustion, which is pretty funny given that his music might be deemed too edgy for "Donnie and Marie Play It Safe" or the "The Carpenters Mind Their Manners". He comes to in a hospital, where he is tended by a pretty, young nurse named Sheila Moore who prescribes a few days of rest. Straihorn's manager, Arthur (Slim Pickens!) agrees that it might be time for a vacation.
Straihorn purchases the aforementioned abandoned mansion and hires Ms. Moore to act as his live-in nurse. Straihorn works on his music and occasionally makes inappropriately forceful advances on Ms. Moore, who eventually starts warming to him. They spend some time cultivating an Olde Fashioned Love Story which is suddenly upset by the arrival of Straihorn's casual girlfriend, a model named Tanya, who treats Ms. Moore like a servant. There's also a bag lady who occasionally stops by to condemn the house as "EVIL!!!!"
Does this sound exciting so far? No, I must admit that it doesn't. The plot moves very slowly--not expertly, just slowly. Sooner or later the shower starts spraying blood and the electronic gate eats a librarian. Slim Pickens gets attacked by a mirror. We get occasional shots of the security system which appears to be monitoring everything, but no one is actively running it; the house feels invaded, and it is attacking our characters the way the body attacks a virus.
This House Possessed is pretty run-of-the-mill. There are enough scares and violence to qualify it as a horror movie, but the story (which is better (but not much better) than my summary suggests) sprawls all over the place. It feels as though some corporate board was presiding over the whole thing, ticking off a checklist to appeal to as broad a demographic as possible: Love story? Check. Explosion? Check. Comic relief? Check. Inoffensive musical variety? Check. Sex appeal, but not too much sex appeal? Check.
Nobody makes movies like this anymore, and that's not a bad thing. I feel like no matter what you want out of This House Possessed, it's just a little too tame. That was fine in 1981 when most families had one television, no VCR, and cable--if you felt like affording it--was a wasteland.1 If the entire household wanted to watch something they more or less had to agree on it. Why bother with the lowest common denominator when you don't have to? Go play outside! Or read a book!
I couldn't find a trailer, but the whole thing is available to watch on YouTube.
1Like any child of the '80s, I remember cycling endlessly through sixty channels on Grandpa's TV and finding nothing to watch. If you'd told me then that one day we'd all be cancelling social engagements in order to watch the last few episodes of Project Runway so we could free up DVR space for the next season of Sherlock, I would not have believed you.