When you a injure a limb, a reliable cast is sometimes necessary. But…when you watch an early 70s television film thriller, a really good cast is always a necessity.
Thankfully, 1972’s Night of Terror delivers with a creative team that glows as brightly as the greasy smile on costar Chuck Conners’ face. Though, I imagine there are a few out there who would rather break an arm then be forced to watch this almost 40 year old tribute to the virginal heroine in distress.
The plucky damsel here is played by television stalwart-nighttime soap opera icon Donna Mills. Before finding eternal fame as the manipulative Abby on Knots Landing, Mills was a prime time movie of the week regular. With credits including Haunts of the Very Rich and Play Misty for Me already under her belt, this blonde dynamo knew how to deliver up the surprise and anxiety that is the bread and butter of her role here. As a kindly art teacher accidentally caught in the crosshairs of Connors’ mob assassin, Mills’ Linda Daniel glows with dewy worry throughout the proceedings and the actress’s traditional Hollywood blondness is the perfect fit for this almost saintly character’s twisted trajectory.
Nicely, she is joined on her journey by many familiar faces, making this exercise in fraught dynamics a truly enjoyable one for lovers of the old school celeb estetic. Bewitched regulars Mary Grace Canfield and Agnes Moorehead show up as a friendly cleaning lady and the physical therapist who treats Daniel’s temporary emotional and physical paralysis, a plot point that shares similarities to such fare as The Spiral Staircase, Wait Until Dark and many other gothic shockers.
John Karlen, then best known for his work with Dan Curtis, meanwhile gives up a frantic appearance as Connors’ first victim. Other notables include esteemed character actor Martin Balsam, soap opera hunk William Gray Espy (AKA the first Snapper on The Young and the Restless) and what even appears to be Julie Kavner in a dialogue free exchange as a nurse attending to the distraught Mills.
Perhaps most interestingly, the quirky and irreplaceable Catharine Burns shows up in the first act as Mills/Daniels’ doomed friend. Always a significantly enjoyable presence, Burns was best known for her devastating, Academy Award nominated work in Last Summer. Her success there, though, did not assure her a major career and she wound up doing smaller television work before fading away from the industry completely. Thus, her sudden death in 2019 was not discovered by the media for almost a year. Nicely, a quick YouTube search finds her here living forever young with all her special talents intact and ready for every agreeable viewer’s consumption.
Until the next time, SWEET love and pink GRUE, Big Gay Horror Fan!