Thursday, November 21, 2013

Richard Matheson TELEFILM TIME MACHINE: THE STRANGER WITHIN (1974) Movie Morlocks


The acclaimed horror and science fiction author, Richard Matheson passed away earlier this week at age 87 and in appreciation of his work I decided to devote my latest installment of Telefilm Time Machine to THE STRANGER WITHIN (1974). This noteworthy ABC Movie of the Week was based on one of Matheson’s original short stories (Mother by Protest aka Trespass), which was first published in 1954. Matheson was also responsible for the script of THE STRANGER WITHIN and even though it might not have the strong cult following of some of his other popular telefilms such as THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) and TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975), it does have its own kind of eerie charm.

strangerwithintvThis sparse drama unfolds in the barren hills of Los Angeles, California at the home of Ann and David Collins (Barbara Eden and George Grizzard). Ann is an artist and David is a teacher who returns from work one afternoon to find his wife waiting for him with some unexpected news. We soon discover that Ann’s managed to become pregnant even though her husband had a vasectomy three years earlier. How did Ann become pregnant? Why is she suddenly devouring salt and drinking large amounts of black coffee? And when did she become immune to the cold and gain the ability the speed read text books? These are just a few of the odd questions that begin to plague the couple as they try and navigate the strange situation they’ve found themselves in. Things are further complicated by Ann’s medical history, which suggests that the pregnancy could kill her but when her doctor (Nehemiah Persoff) recommends she gets an abortion, the medical procedure is continually delayed due to Ann’s recurring health problems. The couple eventually turns to friends (Joyce Van Patten and David Doyle) who suggest Ann should undergo hypnosis in an effort to find out more about her unusual condition but this only seems to complicate matters. As Ann’s behavior becomes increasingly erratic her marriage begins to suffer but she insists on giving birth to her fatherless child regardless of the consequences.
At first glance THE STRANGER WITHIN seems to be just another twisted take on ROSEMARY’S BABY(1968), which generated plenty of knockoffs and copycats. But Richard Matheson penned his strange tale of parenthood fears, suburban paranoia and a marriage on the rocks 13 years before Ira Levin published his best-selling novel that was the basis of Polanski’s film. If we’re going to make comparisons it’s best to acknowledge that Levin was probably inspired by Matheson’s unmatched ability to take familiar settings and situations and turn them upside down while exposing the cold, dark, terrified and tender underbelly of the American psyche.
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1 comment:

Ben Boulden said...

That sounds interesting. I'll have to look for this one.