Movies From the Black Lagoon: Dead Man Down

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Horror at 37,000 Feet - 1973, Unrated
By Tom Doty
Weekly Contributing Writer

A transatlantic flight experiences major turbulence when haunted rocks demand a human sacrifice (anything to stick it to the passengers flying coach) in this TV terror outing from the swinging seventies.
The story begins with the passengers assembling at Heathrow Airport. It's a who's who of ABC's "Movie of the Week" talent and includes: Chuck Connors; as the rugged pilot; Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) as an architect with money to burn; Jane Merrow; as the architect's wife who's harboring an ancient family secret; Buddy Ebsen (Barnaby Jones) as a self-made millionaire who's a bit of a braggart and a closet coward who probably would have vaulted over old ladies like O.J. Simpson in a Hertz commercial if he had been on the Titanic; and William Shatner (James T. Kirk himself) as a self loathing ex-priest who's lost his faith but found the bottle.
Once the flight gets under way things begin happening. The flight crew is the first ones to notice that they're plane is being pushed along by winds that a hurricane couldn't manage. They try to turn the plane back but are blown back on course. Heaven forbid they arrive early so that people have a snowball's chance of making their connections.
In first class the architect finds out that his proper British wife is not at home to being stalked by a fellow Brit (played by Tammy Grimes) who claims that they made a big mistake when they chartered this plane. Turns out the architect is using the flight to bring the remains of the family abbey to his Long Island home. The Mrs. is further irked when she learns that the abbey held a special place in her family tree. Apparently her forefathers were under the thumb of an odd sect of Druids that demanded human sacrifices to ensure stable crops.
Sure enough the rocks begin chanting her name. When she doesn't respond (at least she doesn't have rocks in her head) they go on the offensive and start their reign of terror by releasing a freezing vapor. This turns out to be bad news for the German shepherd sharing the cargo hold. The rocks also take out the first crewman who steps into the hold. That poor fellow turns out to be Russell Johnson (the Professor from "Gilligan's Island" who isn't so smart here).
Pretty soon everyone figures out what's going on and it's not pretty. These passengers turn on each other like starving hyenas. At one point they even steal a child's doll to feed to the spirits but these ghosts want the real thing. Just as they are all set to chuck the architect's wife to the wolves you get a surprising act of heroism from the fallen priest. This also leads to the worst special effect on display. They try to simulate someone getting sucked out of the plane by superimposing what looks like a paper doll onto the lens.
TV. Movies don't come much better than this cheese fest. You get all the histrionics of a major disaster film on only a tenth of the budget and in half of the running time. It may be goofy but it's well orchestrated by veteran TV man David Lowell Rich (who cut his teeth on "Route 66" and "The Alfred Hitchcock Hour." It pops up frequently on the TNT Network. The film also sports plenty of howlers. Shatner gets most of them and they were hard to pick from so we'll leave you with the best lines from the "Price Line" Guru.
Best Shatner Lines:
"I'm probably wrong. I was a worse scholar than a priest."
"You don't want a priest Mr. Farlee. You want a parachute."
"Lady, are you trying to tell me that a piece of rock had something to do with killing the flight engineer?"

The Lagoon is poised to represent at this year's Mid Atlantic Nostalgia Convention, Sept. 19-21, 2013 in Hunt Valley, Md. Join us there Thursday evening as the Lagoon welcomes character actors extraordinaire Ed Asner and Robert Loggia. Attendees will have the opportunity to ask Mr. Asner and Mr. Loggia anything they would like during the interview.
That same weekend we will be on hand at the Leitersburg Theater - Sept. 21 - for the premiere of "Reminisce" - a locally filmed romantic comedy, which features a talented cast of Marylanders, was shot right here in Hagerstown. Yours truly guest stars as a high school principal but don't let that stop you from digging the gifted youngsters who do most of the heavy lifting in the film.
Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: