After becoming orphaned and spending three months in a mental institution, Susan arrives at her aunt and uncle’s home to move in with them. Her Uncle Mike is only too pleased to be receiving a slice of Susan’s inheritance to pay her expenses, and when Susan begins mentioning that she’s having conversations with someone named Marc through a television set, Mike sees an opportunity to have Susan committed and legally gain full access to that inheritance. Mike and Marian’s son, Jude, comes home from college with his roommate for a visit, and Susan learns that Jude has seen and spoken to Marc as well – and that he’s scared to death of the handsome man on the TV. Lonely and lovesick, Susan refuses to accept Jude’s disturbing warning that Marc is the leader of an alien invasion force…but if her crush finds a way to step out of the TV, it could be the beginning of humanity’s end.
written by George Lefferts
directed by Lela Swift
music by Robert Cobert
Cast: Pernell Roberts (Mike), Susan Brown (Marian), Kate Mulgrew (Susan), Steven Earl Tanner (Jude), John Ventantonio (Marc), David Lewis (Dr. Steiner), Harry Moses (Richard), and Herman
Notes: This was Kate Mulgrew’s first television job, filmed sometime around her 20th birthday, though it was beaten to the punch by her debut in the series regular role of Mary on Ryan’s Hope (a daytime soap which went into production after Alien Lover). Just four years later, she was starring in her own series, Mrs. Columbo. She was later a series regular on the late ’80s hospital series Heartbeat, the short-lived early ’90s James Garner series Man Of The People, 2007’s The Black Donnellys, Cartoon Network’s live-action series NTSF:SD:SUV, and most recently was Red in the Netflix series Orange Is The New Black, though anyone reading this site likely knows her best from her seven-year stint as Captain Kathryn Janeway on Star Trek: Voyager, a role she reprised (with a promotion) in 2002’s Star Trek: Nemesis. Alien Lover was a TV movie-of-the-week aired as part of the NBC Mystery Movie, an anthology series that ran from 1973 through 1978, usually leaning on crime/mystery stories, but occasionally dipping into – as was the case here – the paranormal.
LogBook entry and review by Earl Green
Review: There’s something delightful about the fact that Kate Mulgrew started her television career standing in front of a screen to communicate with an alien life form. But while Alien Lover is no Star Trek: Voyager, it’s far from being the worst that mid ’70s American TV had to offer. Shot on video, and mostly confined to rooms in a then-modern-day house, chances are that Alien Lover was produced at a pretty good clip to make sure the weekly juggernaut that was NBC’s Mystery Movie was fed for yet another week.
To give credit where it’s due, Kate Mulgrew was good even as this tender young age. Her voice isn’t quite as deep as it would become later (I’m guessing she wasn’t smoking quite as heavily at this age), and yet it’s familiar, as is the face. I’m not saying that Mulgrew has been falling back on the same box of acting tracks for decades, but rather that she brought considerable skills to her work even early on.
The story itself is interesting enough, with Susan’s backstory designed to force the viewer to automatically doubt nearly everything she says or does. It’s only right at the end, in fact, that we’re really presented with concrete proof that it’s not all just happening in her head. And when she hands down her verdict on her aunt and uncle at the end, at least where her uncle is concerned, it’s richly deserved, and it’s something of a victory that she gets to say it.
The unresolved ending is a beautiful thing, leaving the audience to imagine what happens next. The shock factor is nicely executed precisely because it hasn’t all been bogged down with special effects or gore. Big-screen horror was on the cusp of entering a new era thanks to the likes of Tobe Hooper and John Carpenter and, later, Wes Craven, but television standards of the 1970s left TV horror in more or less the same wheelhouse as The Outer Limits or The Twilight Zone. Alien Lover is all the more effective for what it doesn’t show. It’s safe to say that it doesn’t bode well that Susan’s TV boyfriend ends the movie on this side of the screen rather than inside it.
As for Alien Lover‘s young star, at least at the time of filming, it wasn’t crunch time yet…but it would be soon enough.