Elizabeth Montgomery, of Bewitched fame, stars in The Victim, a 1972 made-for-TV thriller, as Kate, who’s trapped in a large, remote mansion with no phone, no electricity and, unbeknownst to Kate, her beloved sister Susan’s dead body hidden in the basement. It’s an effective setup, and the movie makes good on it thanks to Montgomery giving the role her all. She’d just ended her run in the sitcom world, and this was part of her transition into new horizons. Given that the story is largely her walking from room to room or talking on the phone (when power allows), it really works.
Kate ends up at the mansion after her sister stops answering the phone. Born into wealth, the two are close. But Susan’s marriage to Ben (George Maharis) has been troubled. Kate’s a city girl and her sister’s new life leaves them hours apart. She heads out to the country to check on Susan and ends up in her isolated predicament. There are only two suspects: Mrs. Hawkes (Eileen Heckart), a crotchety, hard-of-hearing housekeeper who won’t stop looking after the property despite being fired by Susan a week before Kate’s night of terror; and Ben, whose “business trip” is called into question when Kate learns he was fired with cause weeks earlier.
There isn’t much of a mystery as to which one ultimately did the deed, but this isn’t really a whodunit. The principal question is whether he or she will do it again and what will happen when Kate finds her sister’s body. It’s an intense piece of filmmaking with a great atmosphere by way of ostentatious 1970s interior decorating and a generous amount of fake rain — the latter sometimes affecting only the immediate foreground of the frame. TV movies from the ’70s clearly weren’t meant to be viewed in high definition.
The Victim lacks the level of gore or psychological complexity easily found in most 21st-century network TV programming, but it’s nonetheless a tense and thrilling short story about a woman out of options.
The new Kino Lorber release is somewhat scant on special features but does include a new commentary by film historian Amanda Reyes. She wrote a book about made-for-TV movies, Are You In the House Alone: A TV Movie Compendium 1964 – 1999, which immediately went on my Amazon wishlist after listening to her informative and engrossing commentary.