Dying Room Only (1973)

Phillip Leacock also directed When Michael Calls and Baffled!,two other TV movies of note, in addition to this taunt little thriller.

It was written by Richard Matheson, who wrote the scripts for House of UsherThe Legend of Hell HouseSomewhere in Time and some great TV, like “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” and “Steel” for The Twilight ZoneThe Night StalkerThe Night StranglerScream of the WolfTrilogy of Terror and so much more.

Bob Mitchell and his wife Jean (Dabney Coleman and Cloris Leachman) are on their way to Los Angeles when a detour takes them to the nearly deserted Arroyo Motel, which only has two people there: cook Jim Cutler (Ross Martin, Artemus Gordon from The Wild Wild West) and a customer named Tom King (Ned Beatty). Both of them are beyond rude and Jean feels like something is wrong.

She’s right. When she comes back from using the phone, Bob is gone and soon, someone is driving off in their station wagon, leaving her trapped between the diner and a hotel, which is manned by another untrustworthy local named Vi (Louise Latham, Marnie).

Dana Eclar (Condorman) plays a lawman and Ron Feinberg (Fellini from A Boy and His Dog) is another shady character. A tiny cast for a big feeling movie that honestly escapes the small screen and could have played theaters, Dying Room Only fits neatly into the early 70’s genre of films where city folk using the new highways and byways of America run smack dab into small town backwoods menace.

Originally airing on September 18, 1973, the film faced criticism for how Leachman’s character is nearly destroyed by the loss of her husband, feeling that the movie had no aspiration toward feminism. There were also other reviews that it embodied the worst aspects of regional and cultural prejudice, which is pretty much what every movie in this genre does.

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