"I don't know what you want me
to do about it, Gail. This isn't a
death threat, it's a detention notice!"
Just a warning right up front: Such is our disgust at this movie that we are going to spoil its only plot twist. So if you don't want to know, or if you're really offended by spoilers, you may not want read any further.
We picked up Are You in the House Alone? in the horror section of a local video store. That turns out to be false advertising, because Are You in the House Alone? is not really a horror film. It plays more like a twisted ABC after-school special, only with a really disgusting moral.
Are You in the House Alone? was made for TV in 1978, which is pretty amazing considering the subject matter. The movie opens with young Gail (Kathleen Beller) being wheeled out of a house on a gurney. She has been raped, but she will not identify her attacker. "No! No one will believe me," she protests.
The movie then flashes back to before the rape, and we get to see how this came about. While trying to make it through the trials of everyday life as a high school student, Gail finds a threatening note stuck in her locker door. Up to this point it could be a slasher flick: we have a high school student being stalked by a psycho. Then the movie follows standard protocol by introducing a round of suspects. Is it the swarthy, Harvey Keitel-ish ex-boyfriend who dumped Gail because she wouldn't sleep with him? Is it Steve (Scott Columby), her new boyfriend? By far the creepiest candidate is Gail's photography teacher. He keeps telling Gail that she needs to look "sexier" when she models for her self-portraits.
Meanwhile, Gail's home life is falling apart. Her mother (Blythe Danner) wants to return to her old job as a real estate agent, but dad argues vehemently against it. This plot thread is later magically resolved without the inclusion of the audience. Then dad loses his job and spends his days boozing at a bar across the street from his office, without telling Gail. Why are we subjected to this? Apparently to fill out the movie, because none of what happens at home has anything to with what happens at school until the film finishes its flashbacks and we return to the present and learn the rapist's true identity.
Here comes that spoiler. The rapist turns out to be Phil, the well-to-do boyfriend of Gail's best friend, as played by Dennis Quaid. Quaid is appropriately revolting, so much so that we were amazed that of all the young actors here, he is the only one who went on to a successful career. This is the second movie we've reviewed that features an up-and-coming actor playing a psycho rapist. The other is The Lonely Lady, with Ray Liotta.
The fact that Phil is Gail's best friend's boyfriend, of course, leads to all kinds of juicy character conflict, because Gail has labeled Phil, the most eligible bachelor on campus and son of a wealthy family, as a rapist. Here's where the movie starts to get really frustrating. Phil doesn't even try to deny that he had sex with Gail. He claims it was consensual. Everybody believes him, apparently because Gail is known to have had sex with her boyfriend, Steve. So the moral is, "Don't have premarital sex, because if you're raped by a psycho, even one who leaves lots of evidence behind, beats you so badly you end up in the hospital, and even admits to having sex with you, no one will believe it was really rape because obviously you asked for it." The movie spends a little while drumming this moral into us, and then sort of backs away from it, by saying the real reason Phil won't be arrested is because his father is friends with a judge. So what, is this movie now trying to be a scathing indictment of the justice system? Or is it actually embarrased by its own crudity?
Dennis Quaid as Phil.
In the real world, Phil would have denied that any contact had ever happened and gotten himself a decent lawyer. In this TV movie, however, he provides Gail with ample opportunity to gather evidence that he is indeed a rapist. When Gail discovers that another girl in school is beginning to get the same notes, she sets up a trap using a Previously Mentioned Plot Device: her talent as a photographer. Using a timed shutter and rolls and rolls of film, Gail catches Phil in the act of leaving a note in the girl's locker. He then discovers Gail's trap and proceeds to attack her, allowing plenty of time for the eyewitnesses to arrive. Roll credits.
The thing that most disgusted us about this film is the way the movie lingers over Gail's trauma, especially during the rape scene. We are spared nothing within the limits of television censorship, and the resulting emotional distress, while perhaps an accurate portrayal of the feelings of a rape victim, is stomach-turning to watch. Perhaps it hits a little too close to the mark, as if the director simply turned on the camera and said, "Okay, Dennis, now go rape her." Some things are better left off camera, especially since this scene brings nothing to the film but some tawdry shock value.
Our final complaint about Are You In The House Alone? is its billing as a horror film. Certainly, it uses horrific elements, but from the opening moments of the movie it is clear that this is a rape drama, not a horror movie. Perhaps it was retooled to seem more like a horror movie after the success of Halloween that same year. Add to that the fact that it is a poorly scripted, made-for-TV high school rape drama, and a one-lava lamp rating is born.