Repost: Terror in the Sky (1971)

Editor’s Note: This review ran on December 28, 2020, as part of another one of our “TV Week” tributes — dedicated, in part, to TV airline disaster movies (see our end of the week Round Up). We’re bringing it back for our our second day of our three-day “Bernard Kowalski Week” tribute — a great director!

CBS-TV got its start in the airline disaster sweepstakes in September 1971 with this tale about transcontinental flight struck with food poisoning. To save the aircraft, the cabin crew locate a passenger with enough flying experience so that he can be coached by an experience pilot on the ground. Doug McClure, it goes without saying, is very good in his role as a Vietnam war ex-chopper pilot who’s called into action to safe the day.

While many write this off as a rip-off of ’70s airline disaster flicks — and, in a way, it is (which we will get to) — Terror in the Sky has it roots in an Alex Haley-written Canadian telefilm starring James “Scotty” Doohan, Flight Into Danger (1956). The CBC-TV screenplay was quickly rebooted as the Paramount Pictures features film Zero Hour! (1957) starring Dana Andrews — each deal with a “food poisoning” premise. Haley then took the premise and retooled n’ tweaked it again for the novel Runway Zero-Eight (1958), then again as novel Airport (1968), which, in turn, became the Burt Lancaster-starring Airport (1970). So, officially, Terror in the Sky is a bigger-budget TV remake of Zero Hour! and a loose cousin to Runway Zero-Eight. which aired on CBS-TV in September 1971.

As for Zero Hour!: Interest in the film was renewed in the ’80s when it was revealed that the Abrahams-Zucker Brothers’ (The Kentucky Fried Movie) Airplane!, which spoofed the Airport series of movies of the ’70s, was actually an almost verbatim comedy-remake of the film.

Yeah, you know why we love this, as it’s another airline disaster TV movie with bonkers casting: assisting Doug McClure are Roddy McDowall and Kennan Wynn, along with ’50s gents Kenneth Tobey (The Thing) and Leif Erickson (On the Waterfront).

Is the name of director Bernard Kowalski ringing any bells? It should. He gave us the Alien precursor Night of the Blood Beast, The Fast and the Furious precursor Hot Car Girl, and the giant monster mash classic Attack of the Giant Leeches, and the mad scientist romp Sssssss. Oh, and the western-horror about devil worshiping voodoo cowpokes, the most awesome TV movie ever, Black Noon (1971). And let’s not forget he closed out his career with TV’s Colombo, Airwolf, Knight Rider, and Jake and the Fatman.

You can watch this on You Tube.

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