Air Date: Jan. 21, 1975 (NBC)
Production Companies: Herman Rush & Associates, Wolper Pictures
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: You Tube
Written by: Stephen Kandel & John W. Bloch
From the novel by Thomas Chastain
Directed by: Robert Day
Cast: Vince Edwards, Carol Lunley, Anjanette Comer, Vic Morrow, Neville Brand, Norman Fell, Robert Webber, Larry Wilcox
Rating: 5 vintage televisions (out of 10)
By the time Death Stalk (1975) got around to any details that interested me, I was already washed down the white-water rapids without it. Normally, a movie starts out strong, then poops out. Here, though, the beginning is so lackluster that any subsequent redeeming qualities are too little, too late.
Overall, it’s not bad. However, it’s not better than average. The first part is undercut by a score that is not only annoyingly cheery, but also terribly inappropriate for the action being depicted. It’s hard to take the gang of four escaped convicts seriously when the music introducing them during a cross-country chase is so upbeat.
By the time the quartet of bad guys stumbles upon two couples on a rafting trip, leave the men hogtied on the rocks, and take the women as hostages, there’s virtually no music, except when it signals the upcoming break where a commercial would have been placed. Silence has never felt more golden than during the scenes that had no music.
The story gets interesting when the men free themselves and pursue the criminals that got a two-hour head start, but not how you’d expect. Although there’s a lot of river action and the actors appear to be actually participating instead of stunt men, it’s the previously undisclosed character relationships that made me care.
For example, we learn that Jack Trahey (Vince Edwards) works for Hugh Webster (Robert Webber) and Death Stalk demonstrates why you shouldn’t socialize with co-workers, especially if they’re your boss. Suggested power struggles at the office are revealed when the two men get into a fist fight over what they should do next.
Even better are their wives, Pat Trahey (Anjanette Comer) and Cathy Webster (Carol Lynley.) Under pressure, they suddenly blurt out how they really feel about each other. Their interactions are the most terrifying thing about Death Stalk. Friendships can be superficial; it’s best to never ask what someone honestly thinks of you.
Pat is convinced that surrendering to Cal Shepherd’s (Neville Brand) sexual advances may be the only way for the women to survive. There’s a lot of debate about how far they’d go to stay alive. She’s a little too eager to cooperate with her rafting “buddy,” Leo Brunner (Vic Morrow.) Cathy approaches stereotype but is the one who surprisingly makes the best decisions.
It’s a great cast, including Normal Fell and Larry Wilcox as the other two convicts. There’s not an unknown face from 1970s movies or television to be found. It also speeds toward its expected conclusion with no delays. The more I ponder it, I may have liked it more than I originally thought. Still, though, it lacks just one spark to make it something special.
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Death Stalk as well as all the great movies from this series...