Vic’s Review – “A Cold Night’s Death” (1973)

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What’s it About?

Scientists Culp and Wallach suspect that there is someone other than their research primates inhabiting their polar station.

“A Cold Night’s Death”

Directed by  Jerrold Freeman

8 out of 10

By Vic

‘I had conversations with Alexander the Great!’  – Dr. Vogel ( A Cold Night’s Death )

Boy, Jerrold Freedman (The X Files, Native Son) was the go to guy back in the 1970’s when you needed a quick and original TV movie of the week. He churned them out fast and furious. He started making a name for himself in TV land with some killer entries for Rod Serling’s “Night Gallery.” “House-With Ghost” and “A Midnight Visit to the Neighborhood Blood Bank” being two stand out episodes. Freedman established himself pretty quickly that he knew how to handle a spooky and creepy yarn. Only if the material warranted it. Sometimes it did and sometimes it fell quite short. Just off his roller derby flick, “Kansas City Bombers” (an unfortunate title by today’s standards for obvious reasons), Freedman was approached by the ABC network to bring Christopher Knopf’s (20 Million Miles To Earth) draft “The Chill Factor” to the small screen.

Everything fell into place and the finished product was re-named “A Cold’s Night’s Death.” A TV movie that chills, frightens and appropriately confounds the viewers. A short and sweet little creep-fest that keeps the audience glued with a resonating atmosphere and well placed low budget charm. ACND is a gem of a “Made for TV” flick that joins “Bad Ronald” up at the upper decks of those lost little films that have garnered cult status by being so elusive. ACND is a funky and trippy movie that works on a few levels but enjoys reveling in being a mystery that is a noodle scratcher. It’s weird, spacey and off -kilter somehow. But damn, it’s so engaging. I believe that this flick really works because the actors and Knopf’s script really gel and with Freedman going the “less is more” route he has been so successful at, the movie is a can’t miss. Only if you can catch it somewhere. *cough *cough youtube!  *ahem.

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ACND has practically no cast. Just 3 people occupy this film. Robert Culp, Eli Wallach and Michael C. Gwynne. That’s it folks. But why need more when you have a dry but kooky thriller that is about how 2 smart and intellectual people try to reason their way out of a mystery and put pieces of a puzzle together while missing the more important elements.

Robert Jones (Culp) and Frank Enari (Wallach) are 2 scientists who are sent to Tower Mountain Research Station in the Sierra Nevadas to figure out what happened to a lone scientist who they lost contact with at Summit Base.  His last urgent transmission is strange, garbled and incoherent. They immediately think it may be altitude sickness or a type of cabin fever. They fly to the research station (along with a chimp named Geronimo) in a helicopter and get ready to solve and find out what happened to their friend and fellow scientist, Dr. Vogel. Vogel appears to have found out something very important but unknown to the 2 men it is something dangerous.

They try desperately to salvage the project which involves the current space program. The research facility is frozen over and only some chimps have barely survived. The facility is in total shambles and  upon finding some reel to reel recordings they discover that most of it is damaged and can longer be played. After being settled in by their pilot about how to keep the station running properly, Enari and Jones settle in and some strange shit starts happening right away.

Freedman has a big tale to tell in a short time and he gets the job done. ACND right away establishes that these 2 scientists, as different as they are (one is a theory guy the other a stat guy), are in a real pickle. Tapes get erased, there are noises, chimps freaking out, med analyzers going on and off. All the while, Enari and Jones get antsy and begin to distrust each other. Their exchanges become increasingly heated and confrontational.

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John Carpenter’s “The Thing” comes to mind a few times while watching this movie. Except with just 2 actors trying to figure out a conundrum in this frozen prison they find themselves in. ACND seems almost like a distant cousin of Carpenter’s film as Freedman and his actors do a commendable job at maintaining suspense and raising the stakes. Enari and Jones argue, avoid and blame each other for all of the weird things going on. Enari discovers that the one room where Vogel froze to death has an interior locking mechanism. Jones seems like he has to constantly defend himself from Enari’s suspicions. Yeah, things get ugly.

Freedman tackles the isolation, suspense and conclusion with moody deftness. There are cramped rooms with electronic equipment, closed quarters, dark corridors and those damn chimps are all so damn un-nerving. Something just ain’t quite right about them. I won’t do spoilers for ACND because the final 5 minutes will have you screaming “YO!” and putting your hand over your mouth with genuine surprise. Everything that Culp, Wallach and Freedman worked hard to establish pays off in the last shot of this obscure and chilling movie. Gill Melle’s electronic and stylishly creepy score is amazing in this film.

The very start of the movie takes us on a dizzying ride through snow filled landscapes all the while listening to the Melle score pound out it’s freaky beeps, boops and low key notes. Cool shit all around. Back in the 70’s and even today this movie still works. It succeeds in being different yet a bit familiar in it’s tone and execution. The film is one of the better Spelling-Goldman productions from the ABC network.

The film, throughout, has a very Richard Matheson and Rod Serling vibe to it that I enjoyed very much. So, if you can, try and catch this little, almost forgotten TV movie. It’s a pretty cool flick that is in good company with the “mythos of the mysterious” held up by later works like The X Files and even “The Thing.”  (There’s even a corpse frozen to it’s chair!) It is a film that deserves a cleaned up blu  ray or at least a dvd make-over. Enjoy kiddies!

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You can watch the FULL movie here:

8 comments

  1. This was one of the great “Made for TV” flicks of the 70’s and it’s reputation has slowly grown over the years to “Must see” status. And it still works to this day as both a psychological thriller & a flat out scary movie. How about that ending? They don’t make them like this anymore. Nice write up Vic!

    • Thanks Saint! I’m glad you liked the review. This film has both a killer opening and ending. Back in the 70’s, much in the style of TZ and such, they kept the “twist” for the very last shot. It is so damn effective here, isn’t it? Even if everything before it stunk (I’m glad it didn’t) I would still recommend this movie for that ending. It’s great to see that it is growing in stature over the years like you mentioned. Thanks for stopping by, hermano! I appreciate it!

  2. Hi, I played Val Adams, the chopper pilot, in this tight little thriller. Shot on the back lot at Twentieth Century Fox during a killer heat wave!! I have many fond memories of this shoot. Had worked with Freedman before as it was he that got me into the business after we met at a party on New Year’s Eve ’68-’69 in Hollywood. He also got Steven Spielberg, a wannabe director, into the biz at well. Universal studios was a hot spot back in those early ’70’s. Anyway found your review by accident and wanted to say thanks for the memory jog. I tried to watch the video but it said it was private. I have never seen the picture cuz who had time in those salad days and nobody ever told you when it was gonna be broadcast so there it is. If you have a copy I’d love to see it now that you have piqued my interest. Thanks Victor!
    Michhael C. Gwynne –

    • Thank you so very much for sharing your wonderful experience working on this under-rated TV thriller. I am very happy to hear my review brought back so many good memories. Thank you for the kind words and the amazing feedback. I appreciate you taking the time to read the review and good luck with finding the movie online. Should be available somewhere like Ron previously commented. And I apologize for the late response.

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