Air Date: Feb. 7, 1977
Production Companies: Charles Fries Productions
Running Time: 73 min.
Available on: YouTube
Written by: Carl Gabler and Richard DeNeut
Directed by: E.W. Swackhamer
Cast: Valerie Harper, Richard Romanus, Nicholas Pryor, John Quade, Michael Tolan
Rating: 8 vintage televisions (out of 10)
Welcome to 1977. As we’ve evolved from the beginning of the decade, our TV terrors have become a little more bloated and a little less terrifying. Therefore, it’s nice to start a new year with a return to classic form: Night Terror (aka Night Drive), a tight, exciting thriller that is simple, efficient, and scary.
Director E.W. Swackhamer has made some hits (Death Sentence, 1974) and some misses (Death at Love House, 1976), but he reaches near perfection with Night Terror. This makes a case for the importance of the script, which is why I always list the writer above the director in the credits summaries at the top of my reviews.
I’ve read that Night Terror goes too far toward making Carol Turner (Valerie Harper) a scatter-brained nincompoop at the beginning of the film so that her sudden wherewithal to combat “The Killer” is more impactful. However, I never thought she didn’t have it in her to be clever when pushed into a corner. She’s the ultimate mother: frazzled by the day-to-day, but the real brains behind the operation.
It could be that as the tension ratchets, I just didn’t remember the confusion and frustration she faced on moving day when she’s supposed to drive from Phoenix to Denver with her husband. Then, when he can’t get away from work, she’s calm and collected. Besides, you should never underestimate the power of a woman whose son lies in a hospital over 850 miles away.
Another character that makes the situation so compelling is “The Killer” (Richard Romanus.) The film opens with a lonely stretch of highway and the camera lingering on a sign that reads “$500 Fine for Littering.” Suddenly, the sign is riddled with bullet holes and we see a slow pan from a man’s waist, up his badly scarred chest, to his menacing face.
He lowers a shotgun and raises an electrolarynx to his throat. Surely related to the scar, he can’t speak without this device. I didn’t recognize Romanus; however, with his list of credits, I imagine many of you will. I mean this only in the nicest way that he has beady eyes that are mirrors to a dark soul.
If appearances alone don’t do it, the sudden brutality that The Killer demonstrates will. When Carol, running out of gas on the highway, slows down to ask a highway patrolman for directions to a gas station, the driver of the car the patrolman has stopped suddenly and unexpectedly shoots him, his body propelled onto the hood of Carol’s car.
We don’t know much about The Killer, but it’s enough to know he’s single-minded and will not stop until he’s eliminated the person who might identify him. With this detour from some kind of delivery he’s supposed to make (there’s a U.S. military footlocker in his trunk), you know he either doesn’t care about his commitment, or he’ll somehow finish the chore in front of him and still make his deadline.
I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention an early appearance of a young actress who was well known to me in the late 1970’s: Quinn Cummings. She plays the precocious young daughter, Nancy. Hot off an appearance on The Six Million Dollar Man (A Bionic Christmas Carol), Cummings would find fame in The Goodbye Girl. I also remember her from Family. Last seen on Evening Shade in 1992, I have to wonder, whatever happened to Quinn Cummings?
Visit the TV Terror Guide: 70's TV Movies playlist at ClassicHorrors.Club TV on YouTube to watch Night Terror as well as all the great movies from this series...