Sunday, June 6, 2010

ARE YOU IN THE HOUSE ALONE? (1978) - who knew rape could be depressing

Kathleen Beller and Scott Colomby attempt to decipher the handwriting of a rapist's threatening letter; a sly dig on the plummeting penmanship standards of your average American high school.

Are You in the House Alone? is an interesting footnote in the “after school special-sploitation” genre, and another one of those movies I adore that no cares one whiff about. Reviews for the film are usually along the lines of “Yeah. Saw it. Whatever yo.” I consider it one of the greatest television movies ever made, and maybe the definitive rape melodrama (all apologies to I Spit on your Grave, which I see as more of a rape revenge rape-o-drama).

Released the same year as Halloween, the two share stylistic similarities, yet AYITHA came first. AYITHA is essentially a slasher where no slashing takes place; an after school special that falls victim to a cinematic intruder, violating the life of a teenage girl by sneaking into the narrative. The menacing stalker in this case is some jerk-off rapist. The movie is set up as a thriller, but instead of the usual limb hacking and such, we get a realistic portrait of sexual assault. This ends up being far worse, simply because we can better empathize with this young woman’s horror then with someone getting murdered, as none of us have ever been killed before (most of us anyway). We feel for the character throughout the stalking scenarios, whether it ends in murder or rape (or roughhouse tickling, or whatever).

The helps to illustrate an interesting point; something horrific in a film is only truly horrible to an audience member if they believe it could happen in real life, and especially if the viewer has experienced something similar. A character may be walking along barefoot and steps on a piece of broken glass, and the audience grimaces in painful recognition. Then said character gets a battle axe to his frontal lobe, and the audience gasps and chuckles at this awesome display of cranial destruction. Of course, in real life, all things being equal, I would rather be raped then, say, sliced into human steak fillets (especially if it’s a really hot chick doing the raping).

So the deciding factor in this case is whether or not empathy is created, and no one creates more empathy than the lovely and talented Kathleen Beller in the lead role, giving new meaning to the words “vuneralbility” and “heartfelt” (you can also see her naked in The Betsy and The Sword and the Sorcerer). You don’t doubt for a second that Kathleen is a genuinely sweet high school student trying to cope with her world falling apart, supplemented with the impending doom of an asshole stalker messing with her head. You just want to reach out and hold her, and tell her you’re gonna protect her. Unfortunately, she’d probably just assume you to be the rapist trying to get close to her. Also, it’s movie.

So, the varnish on Kathleen’s idyllic high school life starts peeling away in various forms. Her parents keep getting into fights, her father is an alcoholic, and, more importantly, dad was fired from his job. Too filled with shame to tell Kathleen, he instead pretends to commute to work everyday, spending his “work day” in a bar (like Charles Bukowski used to do). Her mother, the always lovely Blythe Danner (who is still slightly hot despite being like 80 years old) tries to maintain a moralistic fa├žade with Kathleen, demanding that she meet a moral, good girl standard that is quickly becoming a hypocritical stance. She is falling in love with a boy, and mom intrudes on this innocent relationship, telling Kathleen she’s too young, assuming the boy to be a creep, etc. Kathleen is just looking for some love and honesty in this cold world, but getting a lot of lies and flak instead.

Also, Kathleen’s photography teacher is a creep that annoys her with vague innuendo, and makes her salaciously pose for pictures in class in front of the other students, under the guise of “education”. This further objectifies her in the eyes of the male student body, and taints her dreams of becoming a professional photographer.

Well, the aspiring rapist starts leaving notes in her locker. She also gets creepy phone calls while babysitting, and her nice night with a couple of cute brats turns into a horror movie of sorts (When a Stranger Calls maybe, although this predates that, and the kids aren’t hacked into munchkin fillet). It just goes to show how easy it is to ruin someone’s day through various media, whether writing a letter, the phone, e-mail, etc. All it takes is one creepy message or threat to turn someone’s life upside down, at least for a few days (and therefore it's a good way to annoy people you hate).

So, with her trust of other human beings (especially men) already plummeting down the billboard charts, Kathleen finally gets raped. She is initially ashamed to talk about it, but she gets the “he’s out walking the streets, ready to rape again!” speech from an understanding lady officer (female officers tend not to be the ruthless pigs their male counterparts are). This convinces her to reveal his name (it’s someone she knows), and the counseling and investigation begin. Kathleen finally goes back to school, but her rapist is free to walk the hallways. She finally takes the law into her own hands, coming up with a secret still camera to catch him in the act of leaving the notes in her locker, using her skills to her advantage, supported this whole time by her new boyfriend.

However, Kathleen still loses the rape case, but at least the culprit is forced to leave school, shipped away somewhere by his parents. She explains all of this in voice over, adding that the legal system is totally flawed. After all, her parents discussed with a lawyer that the fact that Kathleen was not a virgin was a major mark against her in the case. This revelation saddens me, as this means she boinked her boyfriend and they didn’t bother to show any of the steamy action. Well, it is a made for T.V. movie, after all. On second thought, maybe I’m no better than the rapist, objectifying an innocent soul for my own sick desires. Nahhhh…she’s just a fictional character after all. Totally not real.


  1. I love this film also, I've jerked off many times looking at Kathleen in's a good story too, although her father looks like a (slightly) older brother

  2. @anonymous
    I agree her dad seems a little too young for the role. What, no Blythe Danner rub outs? She's worth at least one! Of course, I say that with all due respect.