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 heads out to sea as familiar faces hoping for a good time instead find “the son of the evil one, the son of Satan!” It’s time to get your feet wet with the ridiculous nightmare that is Cruise Into Terror.
When: February 3rd, 1978
A small cruise ship is coerced into service for a trip to Mexico, and while Capt. Andrews (Hugh O’Brian) isn’t happy about it he’s professional enough to do the job without whining. His crew, including first mate Simon (Dirk Benedict) and deckhand Nathan (Roger E. Mosley), are equally committed to making the journey a success. Their goal is hampered, though, by a combination of greed, excessive cleavage, and the devil’s spawn.
That’s not to imply those three things carry the same weight of course…
Dr. Isiah Bakkun (Ray Milland) is a doctor of archaeology heading to Mexico because he believes a previously unknown Egyptian tomb is there, and this makes complete sense. Neal & Sandra Barry (Christopher George & Linda Day George) are a married couple at odds over his work schedule, and the Reverend Charles Mather (John Forsythe) and his wife Lil (Lee Meriwther) are a couple at odds over his love for Christ getting in the way of her love for knockin’ boots. Marilyn (Stella Stevens) is a horny divorcee, Judy (Jo Ann Harris) and Debbie (Hilarie Thompson) are best friends, and Matt (Frank Converse) is a mathematician (or something) who deduces the tomb is actually on the ocean floor… and they’re going to be right over it!
The stage is set for some on-the-water horror along the lines of Death Ship, Ghost Ship, Triangle, and the like, but you’ll want to lower your expectations immediately and dramatically as Cruise Into Terror never reaches their respective highs in intent, content, or execution. You know things are doomed when the film’s only black character — embracing the old chestnut about minority characters being more in tune with the supernatural I guess — warns that “something’s wrong!” Would it surprise you to learn he’s also the first to die aboard the ship?
A mystery element is added to the mix when the good Reverend announces that someone here is a soulless assistant to the devil. He proceeds to run around accusing everyone of being the traitorous imp, but viewers paying even the smallest bit of attention will have already solved that particular quest as the passengers work to haul up the sarcophagus they find on the bottom of the ocean. The priest wants it gone, some others want it for the gold, and the captain just wants to reach shore before these nut-bags get him killed.
It’s an Aaron Spelling production which explains the casting, the cleavage, and the overall cheesiness, but there are a few moments that entertain despite his touch. The sarcophagus is the son of Satan’s, and the creepiest element about it is that it’s kid-sized. And did I mention we get to see it breathing and pulsating? The good captain cuts a heroic figure, and O’Brian gives the film’s best performance, but his highlight is an early sequence where he sees a shark heading towards his passengers as they enjoy a leisurely swim… and then he jumps in with a knife, swims between them, and threatens the toothy predator.
Okay, I lied and said “a few” when there’s actually just those two entertaining beats.
Cruise Into Terror has the bones of something fun, and that makes it the kind of movie that would benefit with a remake, but as it stands (floats?) it’s a dud. Overacting, a lack of commitment to its goofiness, and an ending that feels like a cop out are just the tip of its problems. It builds to very little leaving us with a mostly unappealing ensemble crumbling beneath the weight of an unseen evil — evil I say! As not one but two characters mention before the credits roll, “That there is a devil, there is no doubt, but is he trying to get in us, or trying to get out.” Why can’t it be both?
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