Welcome to 4:3 & Forgotten — a weekly column in which Rob Hunter and I get to look back at TV terrors that scared adults (and the kids they let watch) across the limited airwaves of the ’70s. This time we’re winding the clock back to 1972 for Night of Terror!
Night of Terror opens with a group of bad guys trying to strip a man in the middle of an apartment complex hallway. When the poor fella doesn’t cooperate with their mission at hand, he gets hurled over a staircase and dies on the spot. It’s a lively opening scene and one that paves the way for an entertaining thriller about hitmen, school teachers, and foot rubs. Quentin Tarantino probably loves this movie.
When: October 10, 1972
Directed by Jeannot Szwarc (Jaws 2) from a script by Cliff Gould (Cade’s County), Night of Terror tells the story of Linda (Donna Mills), a paraplegic teacher who is targeted by criminals. There is something in her apartment that the thugs will stop at nothing to get a hold of. They even kill her best friend. Linda doesn’t know what the killers are after, but that doesn’t help her chances of survival. These criminals don’t take no for an answer.
However, Linda does have an ally in the form of Caleb Stark (Martin Balsam), a good guy detective who tries to protect her from harm. That is when he doesn’t leave her to her own devices in the middle of nowhere. Lieutenant Costin (Eddie Egan) also wants to get to the bottom of the case, but he has a bad attitude and scowls at everyone. In fact, Costin also believes that Linda is hiding something. With Linda now a target of the mob, Caleb takes her to a secret location until things blow over. But it’s only a matter of time before her secluded getaway turns into a — wait for it — night of terror. Linda must then overcome her limitations in order to survive.
Night of Terror is basically a riff on the Wait Until Dark concept. Both movies center around women with disabilities who are hunted by criminals over some merchandise. Furthermore, the protagonists in both movies are unaware of what’s going on for the most part. But Night of Terror overcomes these derivative elements by throwing more car chases and feet into the mix.
The reason why I keep talking about feet is that there are chunks of the film in which Stark rubs Linda’s toes and ankles. Since he’s her protector, it’s his responsibility to aid with her physical therapy while they’re both in hiding. These moments do provide some interesting character conversations in between the terror, but it’s still a lot of feet to take. I’m not judging anyone who likes seeing feet on the screen, but I wish the movie explored more varied therapies.
While this is a story of an innocent woman in peril, some viewers will root for the killers. Linda is a whiny character who spends most of the film complaining about her situation. She even admits that she could have given the criminals what they wanted as she’d still be able to walk and her friend would still be alive. Fair enough. I personally loved this aspect of her character. I imagine plenty of people would take the easy way out if they found themselves in a similar situation.
Caleb, meanwhile, is the worst motivational teacher in the world. The way in which he encourages Linda to perform her therapy is akin to a father talking to his daughter. Granted, Linda isn’t exactly enthusiastic about what’s going on, but being called “young lady” and ordered around doesn’t make her try harder. Caleb means well, but he tends to do more harm than good. This becomes more apparent when he leaves her unsupervised to fend for herself against an assailant.
Fortunately, Night of Terror does deliver some moments of taut suspense that make the movie live up to its name. Chuck Connors is an intimidating presence as the lead hitman who wants Linda dead. He has the presence and demeanor of a maniac, especially when he teases Linda during their final showdown. He’s mean and merciless, as all villains should be.
The final third is also very well-executed as a home invasion thriller. There’s one goosebumps-inducing scene where Linda is trying to get her stairlift to work before he enters the house. It’s one of the key scenes that illustrate how helpless she really is, and the moment where many of the naysayer viewers will start rooting for her. This makes her subsequent fight back even more exhilarating.
Night of Terror’s closing moments are stellar, if a little slight. If the film removed five minutes of foot rubbing in favor of more cat-and-mouse moments at the end, it could have been even stronger. As it stands, this is a solid little thriller that contains enough entertaining moments and effective chills to warrant a viewing.