“Unless a miracle happens, three kidnapped nuns don’t have a chance.”
Welcome to 4:3 & Forgotten — a column where 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 week’s entry sees a trio of nuns cross paths with a pair of crooks somewhere in rural America, and while the bad guys don’t see themselves as criminals the opening makes it very clear that one of them is very, very dangerous… and more than a little psycho. Welcome to a Weekend of Terror.
When: December 8th, 1970
Two people, a woman and a man, run through a house in slow motion. A playful couple, a game of tag? It looks innocent enough until her hair swings away from her face revealing tape secured across her mouth and a look of pure fear in her eyes. He chases her, and after a brief struggle she falls, hits her head, and dies. Eddie (Robert Conrad) reels back at what he’s done, but he’s more distressed that his game is over than he is that his prey is dead. Larry (Lee Majors) arrives and immediately has the opposite reaction. They had kidnapped the girl for ransom, and she’s no good to them dead. He berates Eddie’s sick sensibilities before scrambling to find a solution.
A solution rolls into their lap the following day when a car holding a trio of nuns breaks down on a desert road. Sister Ellen (Lois Nettleton) is dressed casual as she’s just back from a sabbatical in the “real world” where she got to taste life before committing her life to God, but Sister Meredith (Carol Lynley) and Sister Frances (Jane Wyatt) are all habit-ed up in their black & whites. Eddie abducts all three — “Do you think it’s easy to get a woman the right age, the right size…” — with the plan being to use Meredith as a stand-in for the dead girl, but his plan to off the other two nuns meets resistance from the women’s desire to stay alive.
This being a TV movie we know the nuns aren’t in for the kinds of terrors visited upon abducted women on the big screen — think The Last House on the Left, The Hills Have Eyes, etc — so the degree of true horror they experience is kept in check. That said, director Jud Taylor captures some sequences with an eye for the tense and frightening. The opening sequence is creepy stuff, and a later sequence with the nuns running in the night sees their black habits flowing against the darkness to eerie effect.
The big draw here — aside from some very cute nuns who I would have loved to watch slap my hands with a ruler back in grade school instead of Sister Hermina (may she rest in peace, presumably, but honestly I wouldn’t be surprised if she was still kicking) — is the pairing of Conrad and Majors (look at that stache!) as the bad guys. Both were just a few years away from landing long-running series gigs as heroic good guys, so seeing them threaten nuns is a definite change of pace.
Lionel E. Siegel‘s script is an efficient affair and never wastes time on unnecessary exposition, and he delivers some memorable dialogue beats too. “Hey nuns, you want a beer?” is a personal favorite, but the women’s shock upon learning they’re going to be killed also rewards as one of them says “But we’re nuns!” The characters are given room to breathe as a conflict grows between the kidnappers — best friends who disagree on how far they need to go for some extra scratch — and the nuns remain true to their core values of compassion and sacrifice. Ellen sees kindness in Larry and comes to depend on it, but she may live to regret that assumption… if she lives at all!
Weekend of Terror is a tight little suspense tale balancing the strength of these three women against the uncertainty of the men holding them prisoner. It never breaks the mold on the kidnapped nun sub-genre, but a strong cast, good performances, and some energetic direction make for a fun little slice of TV movie heaven.
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