Driving Before Cell Phones: ‘Night Terror’ Film Review

by Rachel Bellwoar

On the surface, Night Terror isn’t all that remarkable a title. It’s the kind of title that requires follow-up questions, like “Is that the one where…?” or “Is that the one starring so and so?” However, in this instance, Night Terror isn’t just a generic name for a thriller. It’s an accurate description of what this TV movie’s all about.

Carol (Rhoda’s Valerie Harper) and her husband, Walter (Michael Tolan) are supposed to be on their second honeymoon. When work keeps Walter at the office late and Carol gets a phone call that their son (Damon Bradley Raskin) is in the hospital she decides to drive to Denver by herself without delay. Then the car runs out of gas and there aren’t any gas stations open, so Carol pulls over to ask a cop for assistance… and that’s when she witnesses a murder.

A lot of films promise to leave you at the edge of your seat, but E.W. Swackhamer’s film is a genuine nail biter. It’s almost a film I wouldn’t run to watch again because of the number it does to your nerves. Night Terror first aired on NBC in 1977. There aren’t any cell phones. Carol doesn’t have GPS. The weather’s temperamental and car trouble happens, but killers aren’t immune to getting their cars stuck, too, and while Carol and the killer (Richard Romanus) aren’t exactly on equal footing, they do both have setbacks. Carl Gabler and Richard DeNeut’s script doesn’t just dump Carol with all the problems. One of the best sequences involves Carol breaking into a gas station for a phone and there are a ton of great side characters, including a homeless man played by John Quade and a married couple played by Madeleine Taylor Holmes and John War Eagle.

Scorpion Releasing’s DVD isn’t perfect. For one thing, when I first opened the case, I thought the disk had been put in the wrong way because the shiny side was facing up. I don’t know if this was a fluke with my copy or if all the DVDs are that way, but there’s no label on the disk – not even around the center ring to indicate which side is up.

The commentary by authors, Amanda Reyes, and Daniel Budnik is excellent, and it shows that they have a podcast together, called Made for TV Movie Mayhem with co-host, Nathan Johnson. At one point Budnik is talking and realizes the film has gotten to Reyes’ favorite scene and stops so she can talk about it. It’s from their commentary that it comes out that two versions of this movie exist – the original broadcast edit (which is the one that’s included) and an extended version for syndication that’s almost 15 minutes longer. Budnik regularly points out what’s missing and it sounds like this broadcast version is the harder find, but it’s a shame both versions couldn’t have been included for comparison.

Night Terror is available on Blu-Ray and DVD starting June 29th from Kino Lorber and Scorpion Releasing.

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