Thursday, November 26, 2015

The Horror At 37,000 Feet

Busy episodic TV writer/producers Ronald Austin and James D. Buchanan tapped out the teleplay for the CBS Movie of the Week THE HORROR AT 37,000 FEET. Aired in 1973, this Movie of the Week directed by David Lowell Rich (THE CONCORDE...AIRPORT '79) enjoys a certain cult cachet four decades later. It’s gloriously silly with a ludicrous plot about a London-to-New York airliner transporting a haunted abbey, unconvincing special effects, and a name cast of ham-slicing stars that threatens to turn the film into a horror version of AIRPORT.

The first to succumb to both overwrought playing and the spooks haunting the aircraft is Jane Merrow (HANDS OF THE RIPPER), whose family has owned the abbey for centuries. She and her architect husband Roy Thinnes (THE INVADERS) are aboard a curiously underfilled flight along with bossy rich dude Buddy Ebsen (then on BARNABY JONES), self-loathing priest William Shatner and his companion Lynn Loring (BLACK NOON), model France Nuyen (who gets nothing to do), nutcase Tammy Grimes, physician Paul Winfield, and spaghetti western star Will Hutchins (SUGARFOOT), ludicrously decked out in ‘40s B-western wear—you know, like Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef wore in Beverly Hills all the time.

At one point, the passengers try to disguise a child’s doll as a baby and offer it as sacrifice to whatever spirit is haunting the plane—a plan that works about as well as you would expect. HORROR AT 37,000 FEET is short enough to maintain a certain level of watchability while never becoming anything close to good. Shatner is the only star who seems comfortable with the campy dialogue, though it may be that he’s the only one with an actual character to play. Darleen Carr, H.M. Wynant, Brenda Benet, Russell Johnson, and Chuck Connors play the ship's crew.

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