Friday, April 23, 2010

The Horror at 37,000 Feet - a toupological analysis.

The Horror at 37,000 Feet is a 73-minute 1973 TV movie directed by David Lowell Rich starring William Shatner, Roy Thinnes (the guy from The Invaders) and several other actors including Star Trek guest-stars France Nuyen (also see here) and Paul Winfield.

The plot, from

"An architect and his wife are flying from London to L.A. with an altar from an ancient abbey secured in the plane's cargo hold."

A boxed-up abbey.

"Also aboard the flight are Buddy Ebsen as a pushy millionaire, William Shatner as a drunken, cynical ex-priest, Tammy Grimes as a nutcase, and Chuck Connors as the lantern-jawed pilot."

Bill Shatner with Paul Winfield

The plane is mostly empty, with only a few passengers - two stewardesses and the flight crew - on board.

The stewardesses wear very short skirts...

Yet, something spooky is going on...

The plane seems stuck in mid-air, no matter which direction it turns.

One of the passengers starts to hears strange and horrific sounds coming from the cargo-hold...

While Bill Shatner's character, a mysteriously defrocked priest, laments away, drinking one cup of something alcoholic after another...

The crew investigates. There is no hull breach, yet a freezing cold is penetrating the plane from down below...

What the hell is this?!?!!

We're not going to give away any more than that - except to say that strange rituals with dolls ensue (something to do with druids and the Summer Solstice)... which they are covered in make-up:

There is also some stuff to do with fire:


And yet more fire - this time involving Bill Shatner and a lighter:

By this point, some of you are probably wondering if this movie isn't yet another mid-seventies Bill Shatner turkey. Well, not so fast...

In undertaking our toupological analyses we have found both the good, the mediocre and the bad. And then there is another rare category known as "so bad its good" - something we last found with the movie Impulse.

We also very much feel that The Horror at 37,000 Feet qualifies for this honor. The movie is terrible, but it is also brilliant. It really is great in a totally lame kind of way! Simply put, this movie is awesome; quite possibly the best bad movie ever made! Make sense?

The Horror at 37,000 Feet is pretty much a kind of feature-length episode of The Twilight Zone (entirely unofficially, of course) and mirrors the sense of terror of Bill Shatner's "Nightmare at 20,000 Feet" - the similar names, no doubt not entirely coincidental. That and a healthy dose of Scooby-Doo, with an airplane substituting for a haunted house.

Rather than just being yet another tacky disaster movie, The Horror at 37,000 Feet makes some clever and original choices, for example having a nearly empty airplane. The dialogue is pretty risible at times, but what stands out is the genuinely unsettling atmosphere crafted by the director and assisted by an impressive musical score and some wonderfully eerie sound-effects.

As to why the pilots don't just land the damn plane right away - there really is no explanation for that offered in the movie.

As an example of just how truly awesome this movie is, witness Bill Shatner's bizarre and strangely pointless introduction:

Now, to the hair.

This movie is an example of Bill Shatner's brief relatively long hair phase during the early seventies.

Add to the long hair, a very, very strong toupee side-parting:

During one scene, some strange ruffling goes on at the rear by the neckline:

Was this Bill Shatner's Rubber Soul period?

There's also a scene where Bill Shatner's toupee meets a gust of decompression - but we won't spoil the moment by revealing any more than that.

Anyway, we really enjoyed this TV movie and thoroughly recommend it! Sadly, The Horror at 37,000 Feet is not presently available on DVD (hopefully it will be one day) or even VHS. However, if you search the Internet, you'll find it, we promise (for example, here)... Oh, and a great companion piece to this movie is 1975's equally awesome Murder on Flight 502, which can be watched here.


  1. Excellently researched as usual. This is a phenomenal blog.

  2. I watched this a long a time ago in a late night rerun. Entertaining, in a perverse way. As for teh hair, another ten bucks toupee.

  3. There you go! Captain Kirk meets Jed Clampett. A toup fest at 37.000 feet!

  4. Buddy Ebson never wore a toupee.

  5. ThIs is worse than the TJ Curly era.

  6. Yeah, the lost years toupees were the bottom of the barrel

  7. These "Lost Years" toupees are so fun! A bad one after another...

  8. I noticed these places had this on dvd Thanks

  9. I notice they don't have these 2 movies listed on the internet anymore.

  10. A good sampling of what's great about the movie is in that first clip: Paul Winfield as an unflappable professional with an English accent, Tammy Grimes smirking away, Shatner affecting an Irish accent though his character is American. Heck, Paul Winfield. Tammy Grimes. What's not to like?

  11. chrome(dome) magnonDecember 6, 2016 at 3:09 PM

    The contrast between the parting and curved edges of Bill's faux hair in the fourth last picture are almost architectural in their aesthetic appeal and perfection. The depth and precision of them both is almost beyond words. Only just behind in their mesmerising appeal is the sideburns (or sideboards as they are sometimes known in the UK). If Bill had opted for the combover rather than the ridiculous rat he wears in this film, then the sideburns could have been utilised as extra re-inforcement for the foundational strands of said combover. Could we, his fans, have worshipped and admired him if he had gone down the combover route..?