What would you say if I told you there was a film that starred Woody Harrelson, Barbara Billingsley*, Jeff Conaway**, and Susan Ruttan***, and that it was about a coven of witches who traded their souls to the Devil for immortality? Do you think that you could handle it? Are you sure? Really?
When I was but a kitten, I got my paws on a VHS bootleg of BAY COVE, a made-for-TV thriller which had been scoffed from Lifetime by a schoolmate of mine. The camera follows an old man as he ambles through a graveyard, and into an impressive cathedral, lit brightly from the inside like a gleaming beacon of salvation. Once inside, the old man begs the attending priest to hear his confession, and to grant him eternal peace. The repenting man releases few details, yet he hints at something powerful, and daunting on the horizon, and then... he is dead. The church is struck by lightning, and the priest goes flying. Talk about one hell of an opening scene!
At this point, the film takes a drastic turn, from Exploding Church Avenue to Yuppie Boulevard. The viewer is introduced to Linda and Jerry Lebon, two up-and-coming newlyweds looking to add some spontenaity to their lives. Linda (Pamela Sue Martin) is a real estate lawyer who just received a big promotion, and Jerry (Tim Matheson) is a desk-bound property developer who misses getting his hands dirty working in the field. When their buddy Slater (Woody Harrelson) drops by the chic, city loft for a visit, they decide to hit a club together, in celebration of Linda's career boon.
Inside the club, the viewer gets a sampling of the film's emotionally jarring original soundtrack, along with the mind-blowing star power BAY COVE boasts. The Three Yuppie Amigos meet up with Debbie (Susan Ruttan) and Josh (Jeff Conaway) McGwin, a couple of about the same age who can't seem to stop talking about the beautiful "fixer-upper" they purchased 40 minutes from the city by ferry, on the remote but lovely Devlin Island. While Jerry is fascinated by the prospect of getting away from the rat race, Linda is unconvinced. At last, she agrees to go with him to meet the McGwin's real estate broker.
True to their new friends' words, Devlin Island is beautiful, and definitely remote. The house they are shown, located within a small community called Bay Cove, is truly the material from which fairy tales are made. There is, however, one small glitch: the owner of the house is an old woman who has grown too attached to the place to leave altogether, so she will be living in a small cottage in the backyard. Beatrice Gower (Barbara Billingsley) is a handsome woman; her mouth overflowing with shiny teeth, and sickly sweetness. How could anyone not want June Cleaver for a nosey neighbour? The Lebons put in an offer on the property, and move in immediately.
And then, shit starts to get weird. First, it's the rather Satanically-themed book Linda finds, which apparently belonged to Beatrice's husband, James. Next, there's the Cat People: Nick and Maddy Kline, who are sweet and kind, but make it perfectly clear that the Lebons' mini-canine, Rufus, will not be tolerated on the Island. Nick (James Sikking) always wears the same, crap-chewin' grin (and a bowtie!), while Maddy (Inga Swenson) does all but lift her leg and lick her butt with a scratchy tongue. And, is it paranoia, or do the Klines wear a concerning amount of black clothing? Then, there's the Emergency Rosary Linda finds tucked beneath a board in the windowseat. Last, but definitely not least, there's the old man in the window! The old man in the window! Oh, my God! It's an old man in the window!
While out on an exploratory walk with their new best buddies, the McGwins, Linda shakes loose some of her concerns about the inhabitants of the Island. She spills her guts to Debbie, who insists that "the Klines aren't the only thing that's weird around here." To make matters worse, the Getalong Gang "accidentally" uncover a secret, Satanic cave in the basement of the Devlin Island General Store, which is hands-down the most unsettling bodega I've ever seen.
The Getalong Gang has entered the historic site of the last known witch execution in the United States, where a coven leader named Lucas Nobel was put to death for his choosing of the Left Hand Path. Sparks (almost literally) fly when Jerry reaches out a hand to touch the stake. The coulda-been orgy is brought to an abrupt end when the foul-looking shopkeeper shoos them away for looking at the Devil Shit without paying the $2 fare. But the afternoon really goes into the toilet when the Lebons learn that their beloved dog, Rufus, has been "accidentally" run over by the Kline Mobile.
Now, everyone knows that the best way to grieve the loss of a pet is to host an official Housewarming Party, and the Lebons do just that. The guestlist includes all the creeps and crazies they now live amongst, and their friend Slater from the city. Linda gushes to Slater about all the strange things that had happened to her since she moved to the Island, who resolves to have a look around the place in order to soothe her. He uncovers The Plot of the Very Old Tombstones, and becomes highly suspicious himself. Why hasn't anyone been buried there in 300 years? Why is Linda with that flake Jerry, when she could be with a real man in Harry Potter glasses, and a red scarf with matching cap?
Before Slater heroically solves any mysteries, however. he is called away to see his mother in the hospital. To make the ferry, he must borrow the Klines' Jeep, and it's vroooooooooooooooom! right off a cliff, and kaboooooooooooooom! Slater's dead. God, what a waste.
After Slater's death, Jerry grows even more distant, and takes a much less active roll in his appearance and hygeine. Linda's last sanctuary is taken from her when her boss at the firm re-assigns her to work on a new zoning project, full-time. The location: Devlin Island!!! Finally, Linda grows suspicious enough about the Island to do something besides bitch and moan. She goes to speak with Bob Holden, the broker who sold them the property. In his place, she finds only Tom Holden, a much older man who looks nothing like the one they dealt with. Even the business card she was given now says "Tom Holden." But...? WTF?
Linda begins to discover that things on Devlin Island are not always what they seem. She goes on a midnight excursion to the old man in the window's lair, in the attic of Nick and Maddy's house. He gestures to her, and she goes to him, as Jerry doesn't appear to be putting out much of the good stuff anymore. Wheelchair Geezer reveals to Linda a most evil, and cunning plot of witchcraft and sacrifice! All the inhabitants of the Island were in on it together, and he feared for her safety.
Linda has heard enough. She tries to escape the Island before it's too late, but the ferry breaks down, and she is then encircled by the coven. Instead of carving her right there on the spot with their sacrificial knives, they shoot her up with something to make her sleep. She awakens in her own bed, beautifully decked out in her red party dress. The occasion? The return of the coven's leader, Lucas Nobel, in the form of her husband, Jerry Lebon. Nobel/Lebon... Lebon/Nobel...
Jerry Lebon is Lucas Nobel!!! OMG!!!
The old man was right, they were all in on it together! And, what's more, they intended to sacrifice Linda at the stroke of midnight to re-affirm their pact with Satan, which was at risk of being broken after Beatrice's husband, James, repented in the house of God. The old man from the opening scene! Now, it's all coming together!
Somehow, Linda is able to convince Jerry to repent as well (these part-time Satanic cultists are a dime a dozen), and then uses him as a decoy to trap the coven inside the church. Looking svelte in their flowing black robes, the coven members fight to free themselves from Holy Prison, but it is of no use; their fate is to become the main course in the biggest demonic fry-up in Devlin Island's history. Did anybody remember to bring dinner rolls?
In the final scene of the film (which I never had on my TV bootleg), Linda is pictured taking leave of the island in a row boat, looking stunned and disheveled. Now, why didn't she think of that sooner?
BAY COVE is what it is: a made-for-TV horror pic that reeked of 1987. While Ronnie Regan was undergoing prostate surgery, the Unabomber was in full swing, and The Simpsons were making their first appearance on TV's The Tracy Ullman Show, Barbie B. and the gang were running around in dark robes, making a movie about witchcraft that would be forgotten by most, if ever seen at all.
What puzzles me now, after more than 20 years of careful contemplation, is how Director Carl Schenkel was able to convince cast members to lend their moderate amount of star power to Tim Kring's over-the-top, under-developed brainchild?
Two words: Drug Money.
Ridiculous? Yes. Laughably dated? Yes, that too. Forgettable? Never!
3/5 Kitty Skulls = Belle of the Bargain Bin!
* You know, June Cleaver... Wally and the Beav's Mom.
** You know, Celebrity Rehab's favourite repeat offender.
*** You know, the totally spaced-out redhead on LA LAW.
A thousand thank-yews to Stephen for ensuring that childhood horror memories don't turn to forgotten dust in my brain. xXx