Saturday, January 1, 2022

CRUISE INTO TERROR (1978) Movie Review

Cruise into Terror (1978) d. Bruce Kessler (USA) (100 min)

This Aaron Spelling-produced made-for-TV movie has all the earmarks of the medium: an ensemble of lower-wattage “stars” happy to make a buck, slimmed-down production values, some not-so-special effects, and an entertainingly outlandish script allowing for squabbling, snogging, and the occasional shock.

In this case, screenwriter Michael Braverman, who would enjoy more success as a producer on Quincy, M.E. and Chicago Hope, whips up a fanciful tale of a beleaguered cargo ship’s captain (Hugh O’Brien) being forced to take on the overflow from a luxury cruise to Cozumel, Mexico. His passengers include a minister (John Forsythe) and his sex-starved bride (Lee Meriwether), a corporate businessman (Christopher George) and his sex-starved bride (Lynda Day George), a sex-starved divorcee (Stella Stevens), a couple of sex-starved eligible young ladies (Hilary Thompson and Jo Ann Harris) with eyes for the long-haired ship’s first mate (Dirk Benedict), and a crusty asexual archaeologist (Ray Milland).

It is Milland’s character who drives the plot, being that he has finally discovered the final resting place of an Egyptian sarcophagus somewheres down Mexico way. Wait, what? What is an Egyptian tomb doing in Mexico, you might ask? Well, according to Braverman, the tomb contains none other than the son of Satan, and he’s been waiting a loooooooooong time to be released. (I love the idea of some enterprising Egyptians squirreling the coffin away and stashing it halfway around the globe, thinking, “Ha! No one will think to look for it here.”) Well, further complicating affairs is the fact that Forsythe’s man of God has divined from his Scripture reading that one of the passenger is not what he or she might seem, but rather an Agent of the Antichrist (which is a good band name, by the way) sent to assist in the bloodstained resurrection of His Unholiness.

All told, not a lot actually happens in the ways of thrills and chills, with much of the running time being taken up with domestic drama and chaste flirting, but it’s fun to watch this cast of well-seasoned veterans decked out in prime '70s apparel trading barbs through pursed lips and clenched jaws. The Georges are always fun to watch, with Chris munching his cigar whilst scheming to lay hands on the historical artifact for financial gain and Lynda constantly trying to divert his attentions with her endless parade of evening gowns. (Honestly, she has more wardrobe options than Mrs. Howell from Gilligan’s Island.)

Meanwhile, it’s intriguing to watch former Miss America Meriwether (aka Catwoman from the 1966 big screen Batman effort) playing against type as Forsythe’s frustrated battle ax. Latter-day Milland is always a cranky and cantankerous hoot, while Benedict puts to good use the easygoing charm that would make him a TV favorite on Battlestar Galactica and The A-Team. I wasn’t that familiar with O’Brian by name and wondered how he landed the lead role of our steadfast captain; turns out he played the title role in 226 episodes of The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp in the 1950s, which earned him enough credit to keep steadily working throughout the rest of his six-decade career.

Cruise into Terror is an adequate time-waster, running on the twin engines of suspense (who is the killer, er, werewolf, er, Satanist among us) and cheesy effects (watching our sinister mini-coffin actually pulsing whenever dark forces are at play is quite amusing), and probably best enjoyed among other Turkey-lovers.

Trivia: Director Kessler is none other than the man behind the camera of the 1971 Andrew Prine (oc)cult classic, Simon, King of the Witches!


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