Friday, July 4, 2014

What the Hell Are You Watching?!! -- Horror At 37,000 Feet (1973)

I want to be all smart alecky.. and I will be... but I can't deny from the giddy-up that I love this movie. It's a clunky classic of the genre of 70s TV horror films that has been a favorite of mine ever since I saw it back in 1973.

Like the disaster movies also being produced by Hollywood (or was it only Irwin Allen) of this era, there's lot of actors performing as cliche characters with very little or no depth. You may know what they're going to do, but you never really know why. We check in with them as the story unspools.

To cover these dramatic basics, some of the finest actors who weren't working at the time are here providing the raw type of cut rate drama that will touch deeply the tattered souls of hardcore couch potatoes. They've been brought together to resolve a small problem: EVIL. Who are these acting

Chuck Conners, the Rifleman himself, checks in playing the Captain on this flight, who learns that evil demons like their air conditioning very cold while ordering drinks from their seats in an ancient cursed temple from England on board, heading for the good old USA. Heck, why not? Previously we've only really had to worry about Cthulhu here in our country. But that's not Chuck's fault, because his star was in decline, and he was looking more scary than heroic. That would serve him well in the horror film Tourist Trap as well as a thug in Charlton Heston's Sci-Fi time waster, Soylent Green.

Russell Johnson, the Professor from Gilligan's Island, learns the hard way just how cold it can get, as does a German Shepherd that had been placed in the cargo. When I first saw this, I was very disappointed by Johnson's character's quick exit. Oops, spoiler.

Roy Thinnes, whose credits include Quinn Martin's The Invaders TV series and Dan Curtis' unsold Norliss Tapes pilot, plays an architect who brought the temple on board. While the worst flight ever taken goes on, his character touches bases with everyone else on board until he gets to his wife (Jane Merrow from The Prisoner and Island of the Burning Doomed), because that was what they did in these things.

We learn she has a slight problem, She can hear the spirits or demons singing in her airline music headset. My solution: Turn off the damned headset and have a stiff drink or two.

Oh, and lest you think I forgot it, that frozen dog was the property of a rival of Thinnes' architect, played by Tammy Grimes. In particular, she says they never should have taken the temple (what a surprise). Too Late. As the story plods along, she gets steadily more nutzoid.

Well past The Beverly Hillbillies, Buddy Ebsen plays an asshole rich guy who slowly realizes that a little corner of hell is in this plane with him. We see that even rich folks make mistakes, as he listens and follows advice from Grimes crazed character.

I have to be delicate with the next character played by Paul Winfield, who was a great actor. Here though, he is used for one for those most thankless role types in film of that era. He is a new cliche busting old cliches. He plays a world famous surgeon, who is BLACK, and refined. If he were female, she could have shown that women can do the same tough jobs that men can do, too.

Having said all that, yet leaving a lot of the film's thin story intact, the best reason of all for watching this film, is William Shatner. This was a tough period for Shatner. He was getting roles after the cancellation of Star Trek, but very few starring roads. In this picture, he plays an ex-priest that is just plain pissed at God about something in the deep past.

Through the story, he is often asked for help, but he declines, taking refuge in a steady intake of glasses Kool-Aid brand fake booze. As soon as you see him and then especially after you get down what's up with his character, you know what's going to happen to him. Maybe not specifically, but you know.

Honestly, this is when Shatner takes over the movie from everyone else. As it goes from the absurd to corny to cliche or even predictable, you don't care. Dammit, this is William Shatner and he's gonna make this work, even with a matte shot that would horrify Sid and Marty Kroft. He shows such bravery and guts. Maybe Shatner knows somewhere in his heart that he's only 6 years away from Star Trek: The Motion Picture followed soon after with financial security. It's all gonna be okay, except that temple in the cargo...

But never you mind that, just sit back and enjoy what only the 70's and Shatner combined could truly do. It could even blow away those foggy memories of "Rocket Man" and "Mr. Tamborine Man."

Uhmm, nah...

-- F Kurtz

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