Something has happened at the Tower Mountain Research Station. A strange transmission was followed by radio silence. Experiments were underway using chimpanzees to investigate the psychological strain of astronauts experience in space. A pair of researchers were sent up to clear up the confusion and what they find is both horrifying and bizarre. The audio recordings that they find tell of conversations with Caesar, Nero and other famous historical figures, leading both men to believe the sole scientist isolated in the wintry wastes had gone insane.
Starring Robert Culp (of Outer Limits, I Spy and numerous other TV appearances) and Eli Wallach (likewise prolific actor of the cinema from the The Good, the Bad and the Ugly and small screen, Wallach is best known to me for his role as Mr Freeze of the 1966 Batman TV series) in a stage-like two handed performance, A Cold Night’s Death is claustrophobic at all times. As viewers we are given one half of a riddle and left to solve it, just like the two left to investigate the happenings on the research station. However, details are scarce and we are left watching the pair of friends slowly go mad.
After establishing that the test subjects are intact, the two men scour the base to find their predecessor only to find him frozen to death, apparently by allowing the heating system to turn off and leaving the window open. But odd things start to happen the longer the new arrivals remain. They blame each other at first for misplaced supplies or a coffee cup moved out of place, but soon the occurrences start to get serious. Dr. Enri (Wallach) is aware that Dr. Jones (Culp) is slowly losing his mind as he delves deeper into the research papers left behind by the previous researcher. But Jones is going deeper into the rabbit hole that swallowed his predecessor’s mind… and it is starting to make sense to him.
Along with the stellar cast, the direction and experimental soundtrack add to the feeling of discomfort that runs throughout the story. Presented as an ABC movie of the week back in 1973, this must have made many viewers shiver in fear. It is also a clear influence on John Carpenter’s The Thing. Back in the day, this kind of entertainment was commonplace for TV drama, which strove to stir up the family with unnerving tales of horror and suspense (much like Night Gallery and to an extent the Twilight Zone had). But the tone and feeling of this film is what makes is stand out enough for me to recommend it to my readers.
Unavailable on DVD, A Cold Night’s Death is uploaded on YouTube where you can also find some other oddities from the 1970’s.