If you've been hanging around these parts for more than...oh, let's say three minutes, then you know I've always got a hankerin' for some made-for-TV horror. It's great that it seems like no matter how many I've seen, there's another ol' new-to-me flick waiting in the wings, such as today's one vote wonder, A Cold Night's Death (1973). I tells ya, I hope I never run out of made-for-TV horror!
A Cold Night's Death originally aired on Tuesday, January 30, 1973 as ABC's Tuesday Movie of the Week. Movie of the Week ran from 1969 to 1975, each year comprising "seasons" that featured low budget films produced exclusively for ABC. All genres were dabbled in, and hot topic issues like feminism, racism, and homosexuality were often center focus. After a couple seasons, horror had proven to be one of the most popular genres; Some of ABC's titles would go on to become classics both mainstream and cult: Bad Ronald, Scream Pretty Peggy, Home for the Holidays, The Night Stalker, Don't Be Afraid of the Dark, Trilogy of Terror, and Duel are but a few. Blumhouse fucking wishes.
No star was too big for the small screen, either. Milton Berle, Barbara Stanwyck, Olivia de Havilland, Bing Crosby, Bette Davis, Charles Nelson Reilly...a whole Hollywood Boulevard's worth of names appeared in one or more productions over the years. A Cold Night's Death is no different, giving us Robert Culp and Eli Wallach as two scientists stuck at a remote research station where they battle the elements, each other, and maybe...something else! oooOOOOOOoooooooooooo
Robert Jones and Frank Enari (Culp and Wallach) are helicoptered to Tower Mountain Research Station after base camp loses contact with the station's lone resident, Vogel, whose last radio messages had been increasingly delusional and erratic. After some searching through the trashed station, they find Vogel sitting at the radio, frozen solid. A nearby window was open. The door was unlocked. The station's primate test subjects are freezing and starving.
This is all ominous to be sure, but after Vogel's body is helicoptered back down the mountain, Jones and Enari stay on to continue the research. Enari is excited about this venture and doesn't mind the isolation, as he's looking forward to digging into the facts and the data. He also has a nice rapport with control chimp Geronimo, and with all these monkeys and chimps and the such in this movie--and this movie being from 1973--well, I can't be the only one who's braced for the possibilities of animal abuse, right? My Food of the Gods PTSD is still fresh!
Jones, on the other hand, is immediately bored and depressed. He loves the exploration and mystery aspects of research, and there's not much fun for him noting temperature readings or whatever in a remote mountaintop lab buried in snow. Space travel is cool, but recording the effects of altitude in primates to aid space travel is uncool. Jones is bummed because he clearly subscribes to the ethos of Countess Luann de Lesseps of The Real Housewives of New York.
It's interesting to me that the men divide up the tasks at the station in a way that's...mmm, let's say it's along the lines of 1970s traditional gender roles: While Jones is to take care of all the mechanics and maintenance of the station, including shoveling vast amounts of snow to melt for water, Enari takes on the domestic chores. He ties on aprons, makes the beds, cooks, cleans, and at one point, he even worries about his figure. Now I'm not saying there's any notes of romance happening between these two men, because I don't think there is. I'm just saying that the coding is a thing that makes me go hmmm (CCMusicFactoryVEVO™).
It doesn't take long for things to start getting weird around the station. The monkeys start flipping the fuck out at night. Noises are heard. The window in the radio room is found open. The generator is turned off. Food is ruined. What's going on here?
Mystery-loving Jones thinks that Vogel's strange death is tied into it somehow. The men begin to accuse and distrust each other, turning into to The Thing Blairs in a pod.
The big reveal is maybe some silly kind of EC Comics stuff, but it really doesn't matter. The real fun is in the getting there, the span of time where we know something is up with this place. The men know something is up with this place, even if they're sometimes reluctant to admit it. Heck, even the monkeys know. A Cold Night's Death is a suspenseful little yarn indeed. It all hinges on Culp and Wallach, who bicker their way through growing paranoia and mistrust whilst trapped in horrendous conditions. The scenes outside of the station look convincingly freezing: the snow is piled high, the wind and storms are relentless, and even in the heat of summer it'll likely have you reaching for your Snuggie. An effectively eerie, sci-fi tinged score from Gil Mellé keeps things moody and the atmosphere creepy.
Yes, I was genuinely creeped out at times, despite the fact that I watched this on YouTube, where you can tell by the screencaps that the resolution is approximately 50p. It's well worth "suffering" through, though, as A Cold Night's Death is a terrific way to spend 75 or so minutes. I'm thankful that good folks have uploaded some titles already, but that shitty picture quality (and slightly out-of-sync sound) has me hoping that someone like Kino Lorber, who's done a wonderful job cleaning up several other ABC Movies of the Week (The Victim, The Screaming Woman, etc), will give it a proper release at some point. We deserve this. The legacies of Culp and Wallach deserve this. The legacy of my man Bert Remsen, who starred in Tarantulas: The Deadly Cargo and acted as casting supervisor on this film, deserves this. Film history deserves this. Most of all, Geronimo and all the other monkeys and chimps deserve this. Can I get a (monkey voice) ooh ooh ooh AHH AHH (GeronimoVEVO™)?