Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Film Review: NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY (1976)



"Why the Hell isn't this on DVD yet? -- Number 30







NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY (1976 ABC-TV) Starring Deborah Raffin, Lynne Moody, Chuck Connors, Tina Louise, Della Reese, Robert Reed, Ralph Bellamy, Fionnula Flanagan and Lana Wood. Directed by John Llewellyn Moxey.


Deborah Raffin and Lynne Moody are beautiful coeds taking a road trip through the south during summer break to go looking for the "real U.S.A." a la EASY RIDER...uh oh. They have a run-in with sheriff Chuck Connors and quickly find themselves convicted of the (completely bogus) charges of trespassing and prostitution.  Sentenced to a work farm for 30 days, our leading ladies are subjected to hard labor, physical and sexual abuse by the guards, and shabby, segregated living quarters. Worse, with each attempt to contact the outside world, Raffin and Moody only find out just how well connected Connors and corrupt warden Robert Reed are.

From an era in which films made for television were broadcast "events" at best and cheap knockoffs of the fads passing through drive-ins at worst, NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY very much reflects the time and fits into the latter category. We have a consistently downbeat tone with our two heroines punished again and again for one "little mistake" (a la LAST HOUSE ON THE LEFT). We also have a road trip through the South gone horribly awry (a la MACON COUNTY LINE) and a conspiracy that absolutely everyone seems to be in on (a la RACE WITH THE DEVIL). Finally, we have as much exploitation as prime time television will allow for an intentionally lurid telefilm emulating the "women in prison" subgenre that Pam Grier cut her teeth in pre-COFFY.

Actually on this Vidmark VHS release we have a lot more exploitation than prime time allowed, as additional footage that wasn't aired on the original ABC broadcast pads out my copy. A stand-in bares breasts briefly during a rape scene, similar inserts are added to a "hosedown" scene to break up the obligatory free for all fight, and additional full scenes involving lesbian favors for a lighter workload and whipping both contain extended full frontal nudity. This certainly wasn't shot with a home video release in mind in 1976, and I doubt NIGHTMARE was ever planned for a U.S. theatrical release as the only TV-movies to accomplish that were the most critically acclaimed (DUEL, MY SWEET CHARLIE, BRIAN'S SONG). IMO the film would be much better and tighter without the additions; the nudity seems out of place and distracts from Moxey's establishment of the girls' Hellish situation.


Only two months after premiering NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY, ABC spread the ROOTS miniseries over a full week of its schedule to overwhelming acclaim. Interestingly, usual TV good guys Connors and Reed played unsympathetic characters in both productions, with Connors playing a vile, racist rapist in each. Reed's villainy was not that obvious at the beginning in ROOTS, but his warden here is a scumbag from the get-go: a corrupt pedophile, rapist and murderer whose deeds are well-hidden because his connections extend to the governor's office. Reed was also reluctantly reprising his most famous role in THE BRADY BUNCH HOUR during a very busy 1976-77 season, and he must have really relished the opportunity to play such a despicable character. His performance is arguably the film's most memorable and effective.

Elsewhere, Raffin (NOBLE HOUSE) and Moody (whose next TV gig was also ROOTS, as Irene Harvey) are both attractive and appealing. Tina Louise is unconvincing as the most sadistic of the "trustees", and Fionnula Flanagan is a guard with an unrequited attraction to Raffin. Della Reese also gets to play against type as the inmate who takes Moody under her wing.


So---why isn't this on DVD?

Even some of the most acclaimed 1970's telefilms are still missing from DVD: MY SWEET CHARLIE, THAT CERTAIN SUMMER, TRIBES and THE EXECUTION OF PRIVATE SLOVICK among them. It's safe to say that NIGHTMARE IN BADHAM COUNTY is probably low on the priority list.

As was the case with RACE WITH THE DEVIL, it's hard to believe the conspiracy is so wide-reaching, or that a phone would be so easily accessible in a key scene.

Why it should be on DVD:

The 1970's and early 1980's definitely represented the Golden Age of the made-for-TV movie, and both the classics and the more fascinating lowbrow entertainments are more than worthy of DVD release. DVD releases of telefilms like this one would be especially welcome now since these films have just about completely disappeared from cable in the last decade.

Let's face it: you want to see Robert Reed, Tina Louise, Ralph Bellamy and Chuck Connors all playing sleazeballs, don't you? Not to mention a film that more or less ripped off every low-budget drive-in smash hit from the early to mid-1970's.

Film has a cult following and appears to be one of the more well-remembered telefilms of the era, explicit version or not. A DVD release with both versions would be ideal.
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