The Horror at 37,000 Feet (1973)

An ancient demon worshiped by the Druids gets a bad case of air rage when rich douchebag architect Alan has parts of an ancient abbey from his wife’s ancestral home shipped from London to New York, including a sacrificial stone the demon is particularly attached to. (Why the demon didn’t see this as an opportunity to harass an entirely new group of people and just relax and enjoy the free flight I don’t know. Some supernatural forces just don’t do well with change I guess.)

The passengers and crew bear the brunt of the demon’s anger, their sparsely populated flight (helpfully explained by virtue of it being an extra flight Alan paid for to ship the abbey and to save on the costs of hiring extras who would surely just spend the film screaming and falling out of their seats whenever the demon acted up) is pretty much ruined right from the beginning when Alan’s wife can’t get the in flight headphones to play anything other than evil voices! No Shelia, that deadly annoying wailing isn’t Tony Orlando and Dawn! It’s a demonic force demanding your sacrifice! Which is almost as bad!

If the cranky creature was only preventing passengers from enjoying big hits by Marvin Gaye and Jim Croce, that would horrific enough, but these entities the Druids worshipped don’t play around! Stewardess injured! The pilot clawed by an unseen force! A dog and flight crew member are frozen to death in the cargo hold! The plane gets suspended in a mysterious wind, unable to fly and burning precious jet fuel! Icky slop starts oozing from the floor! The only thing this monster misses is taking a big smelly dump on the drink cart that anymore is practically de rigueur for any decent in flight meltdown.

While the odds seem overwhelming, the cast is littered with the sort of familiar 1970s television actors that make the flight seem like some sort of emergency refugee airlift from Studio City and Burbank. There’s Buddy Epson as a crabby old rich guy. And Chuck Connors is the no nonsense pilot with the Professor from Gilligan’s Island also in the cockpit. You’ve also got a guy who starred in something called Sugarfoot back in the day. Roy Thinnes was in The Invaders. Even Tammy Grimes has a series! Sure it was called The Tammy Grimes Show and and was cancelled after four episodes, but that’s still good enough for a boarding pass!

And then there’s William Shatner. Working regularly between the cancellation of the Star Trek TV series and the feature film revivals, the Shat appeared in all manner of TV movies and shows (1977’s Kingdom of the Spiders is a highlight from that period for any true fan) and whatever you expect Bill to bring to his role as the hard drinking, disillusioned ex-priest, he delivers!

His strangely effective halting delivery punctuated by facial expressions that make one think he was the only cast member that understood how silly all this midair melodrama was, instantly make his scenes the best.

Playing the part of a snide drunk who doesn’t believe any of this, he is the one who eventually figures out what can keep the evil force at bay and even manages to redeem himself and his faith in the end. Did he have to be such a prick to everyone before he got there though? Even he couldn’t deny there was some strange things going on with the plane. But it was hard to argue with him how absurd it was when most of the passengers lost all reason and attempted to placate the demon in a beyond laughable scene by sacrificing a child’s doll made up to look like the abbey’s owner.

Goofy nonsense (if this demonic force was so hellbent to not be flown anywhere, why didn’t it do all this crazy crap to prevent its removal from the abbey in the first place?) as many cast members compete with Shatner in their efforts to chew scenery including Lynn Loring as his wild eyed companion, Tammy Grimes as the woman who knows all about the druids and might be a witch herself, and Will Hutchins playing a western film star like he was kicked in the head by a horse once too often.

Most will no doubt write it all off as pointless and unimaginative trash, a low budget airplane disaster film with cheesy horror effects substituting for the usual more human reasons for all the turbulence, but for those who appreciate a fast paced time capsule of when it wasn’t unusual for the stars of your favorite shows to turn up in a high concept, low brow movie you were excited to see after watching the ads for it the week before, The Horror at 37,000 Feet is now boarding!

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