Movies From the Black Lagoon:A Cry in the Wilderness

Movies From the Black Lagoon
A Cry in the Wilderness - 1974, Unrated
By Tom Doty
Weekly Contributing Writer

Tension seethes through this ABC Movie of the Week that finds a young boy tasked with looking after his sick father who doesn't help matters when he becomes convinced that a flood will kill them both.
The story opens on a small family farm, in the mountains of Oregon, where a family is learning about the good life after leaving Chicago. Dad is a cool guy and very easy going. He allows his 10-year-old son, Gus, to drive the truck as they uproot tree stumps. Unfortunately one of the stumps was home to a skunk and it isn't happy to be evicted. The rodent communicates its displeasure by biting dad and spraying the pair of them.
Two weeks later Dad does something weird. he wakes up and chains himself to a post in the barn before the family is even awake. they find him there in the AM and he explains that his bite was infected with rabies. He states that he has taken the precaution of chaining himself up so he doesn't pose a threat should he go off the deep end. He further notes that rabies results in manic behavior and a fear of water. His barn prison happens to overlook the creek on their property so he will know when he begins to show symptoms of the disease.
Mom is tasked with driving to civilization for help (only four hours away) and Gus will stay behind to tend to his ailing dad. Things go fine for about five minutes but then Mom begins to have trouble on the road. The truck is out of gas by the time she finds her nearest neighbor. She is able to get gas forma kind widow but her luck runs out when she is picked up by a guy who is convinced he is "God's gift to women" even if he must use extortion to get them to cooperate.
Meanwhile Dad realizes the creek is getting low. He hypothesizes that a natural dam is blocking the flow and it will continue to do so until the water is high enough to flood out his home. He tells Sam that it is time to free him so they can take off but Sam turns out to be an excellent listener and he refuses. He remembers what Dad said about hydrophobia and is convinced that Dad is rabid.
Dad is stuck in the barn and begins to suffer from fever dreams, which sap his will power and convince him that he may be acting out due to the skunk bite. Poor Gus is torn between listening to his Dad now or sticking with the one who warned him earlier that he would become a desperate man because of his condition and would be prone to lying. As a result you have great tension building up as Mom's encounters reveal that a flood is definitely on the way.
It all comes down to a terse finale that finds Dad struggling with his chains whilst his son cowers in the home. All the while Mom is at the mercy of a most unhelpful neighbor who is only willing to help if she will submit to his overactive libido. I won't give anything away but you'll never look at a skunk the same way.
This one totally works thanks to a director, Gordon Hessler, who knows how to ratchet up the suspense. Hessler did many horror flicks in England before coming to America to work in television. He proved himself by directing some of the best such as Vincent Price, Christopher Lee, and Peter Cushing. Here he is handed a trio of actors who are very capable. George Kennedy stars as Dad and he manages to juggle a lot of emotions as he struggles with his own sanity while desperately trying to save his boy. Lee H. Montgomery plays Gus. Lee was that rare child actor who could handle complex characters and he is fine here. The Mom role could have been a disaster but they avoid that by handing the underwritten role to Joanna Pettet. She is one of England's best exports and her accent spot on. She is also easy on the eyes but her designer jeans appear to be the one battle she lost when she took on this job.
The ABC Movie of the Week offered a ton of great horror and suspense flicks over the years. Fans should check out "Don't be Afraid of the Dark," "Gargoyles," and "Killdozer" for more outstanding genre fare. If you care to read a guide to these flicks for TV then I suggest you check out Michael Karol's "The ABC Movie of the Week Companion." It is a good time to rediscover these films - now that you can find most of them on the Internet.
Best Line: "I'm not some kind of fool who sends his wife through a flood."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: dotyfox@myactv.net.