I’d recently had a conversation with a friend about the heyday of made-for-television movies. The late 60s to mid 70s were a golden time for creepy TV flicks. Not only did we have the great works of Dan Curtis like THE NIGHT STALKER and THE NORLISS TAPES, but some lesser-known oddities like BAD RONALD and CRAWLSPACE. While browsing these old titles, I came across one I hadn’t heard of before–SCREAM, PRETTY PEGGY (1973). Seeing as the fantastic Bette Davis was one of the stars, I dove right in.
The director was Gordon Hessler who earlier had made some horror classics like CRY OF THE BANSHEE (1970) and SCREAM AND SCREAM AGAIN (1970) (and who, five years later, would make the infamous KISS MEETS THE PHANTOM OF THE PARK (1978). The writer was Jimmy Sangster of Hammer Horror fame. It starred some great people alongside Bette Davis. Even with all that talent behind it, all I really cared about going in was Davis. And therein lies the only real complaint I have about the movie–there isn’t enough of her.
She is secondary in the story. Young coed Peggy (Sian Barbara Allen) accepts a job as a housekeeper for an artist (Ted Bessell, “that guy” on the show THAT GIRL) and his mother (Davis a decade after WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE? (1962)). Peggy is an art student herself and becomes enraptured with Jeffrey and his work–macabre red sculptures of terrifying human figures. At first, the mother informs Peggy that her daughter is “away in Europe”. Soon, Peggy learns that she is, in fact, living in the house, locked away and insane. Being the kindhearted woman she is, Peggy thinks it would be a good idea to befriend the isolated sister. Meanwhile, a man starts coming around looking for his daughter–the previous housekeeper. She went missing, although we know what happened to her from the first scene). Soon other people turn up missing, Mother keeps trying to get Peggy to stay away….As much as all the clues point to the tormented sister, Peggy is determined to contact and maybe help her. And, as we know in all these movies, that’s probably a bad idea….
Everyone is great in their roles. Allen’s naivete as Peggy is realistic without being saccharine, Bessell does a fine job as a man torn between loyalties to his family and his dedication to work. The best part, really, is the moments Davis graces the screen. If I were to look at this objectively, she had the perfect amount of screentime for her character and what the movie needed. I am not objective about this–if they could have fit in more for her to do, it would have made the movie even better.
The twists were great, the pacing was great, and, even if the ending wasn’t the biggest surprise, it was still a fun ride.
Question of the night–what is your favorite Bette Davis movie?