Airport, the Poseidon Adventure, Earthquake, and The Towering Inferno
Weekly Horror Bulletin Newsletter 215
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We’ve got our usual lineup of four movies and a short film this week— This time, we’ll look at the cause of many people’s phobias and nightmares. Yes, it’s the 1970’s disaster movie craze. If you weren’t afraid of saying, cruise ships, and skyscrapers— you will be. We’ll look at the original “Airport” (1970), “The Poseidon Adventure” (1972), “Earthquake” (1974), and “The Towering Inferno” (1974).
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As a bonus this week, we’ll look at two more disasters:
• Airport 1975 (1974)
• Meteor (1979)
Four years ago, this week...
Four YEARS AGO this week, on episode 9, we looked at “The Stuff” (1985) and “Crucible of the Vampire” (2019).
Listen to that old episode here: https://www.horrorguys.com/hg009/.
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Here. We. Go!
• Directed by George Seaton, Henry Hathaway
• Written by Arthur Hailey, George Seaton
• Stars Burt Lancaster, Dean Martin, Jean Seberg, Jacqueline Bisset, George Kennedy
• Run Time: 2 Hours, 17 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Fear of flying caused by a movie. That’s a phobia. Which is horror. Right? Well maybe. This is a good movie though, taking its time and building tension to the disaster and the aftermath. It’s realistic and big budget, with a large cast of familiar faces.
“I picked a bad day to stop sniffing glue!” – wait, wrong Airplane movie.
Credits roll over scenes of snowplows and flamethrowers cleaning up the runways at an airport. It’s a busy day at Lincoln International Airport.
We watch an airplane land in the snow, and from the music, we can tell that it's very tense. They land short and run halfway off the runway. Emergency vehicles are dispatched, and traffic is re-routed to other runways. Mel Bakersfeld is called in to deal with the situation on the ground. Tanya calls to ask him for coffee, but he has to deal with the plane first. She wants to ride with him to the field. Meanwhile, his Karen-esque wife calls, angry that he’s made yet another excuse not to be there for dinner. Mel calls Joe Patroni, an expert, who’s busy tonight, but comes in anyway.
Mel is the airport’s General Manager, and he’s got lots of problems. There’s a bunch of protesters holding signs to close down runway 22. Vernon and Sarah Demarest arrive; She’s Mel’s sister, and Vernon recently sent in a bad report about the airport’s snowy runway, which annoys Mel. Vernon’s a pilot, and he’s a prima donna.
We see Vernon get into a cab and go to his stewardess and secret girlfriend, Gwen’s, house. Mela and his wife Cindy argue on the phone again. She wants him to take a regular job in her father’s company. Vernon comes back to the snowed-in airplane and says that he refuses to take off on runway 22.
A stowaway, Mrs. Ada Quonsett, is brought in to Tanya. She’s an old woman who does this all the time– she couldn’t possibly afford a ticket. Mel comes in and talks to the old woman, who knows they won’t do anything to a little old lady. She details all the different ways of sneaking onto a plane, she’s quite a con artist. They’re going to send her back to Los Angeles on the next flight. Tanya is annoyed with the old woman, but Mel is simply amused. Afterward, Mel and Tanya talk about themselves. Tanya gets called to Customs, where a woman has been caught smuggling items into the country.
A man in a run-down apartment, Don Guerrero, checks that the flight to Rome will depart on time. He packs his passport and starts assembling a bomb. He stops in the diner downstairs and tells his wife that he’s starting a new job and things will be good again. She tells him to stop dreaming, but he says, “I’ll do it right this time.” He gets on the bus to go to the airport.
Meanwhile, Vernon talks to Anson Harris, his co-pilot before the flight. Joe Patroni arrives and takes over moving the plane off the runway. Mel hears that the locals are going to sue him over runway 22, which is too close to the homes nearby. Inez Guerrero goes home to find a letter from the travel company that they overcharged her husband for his ticket to Rome. That’s not what he told her. She calls the airport to see if he’s on the flight, and they tell her she has to come in person.
Gwen tells Vernon that she’s pregnant with his child. She knows he’s married and can’t marry her. He offers to get her an abortion, but she’s not sure if that’s a good idea. She thinks she might want to keep it, maybe for adoption.
Mr. Guerrero buys a bunch of flight insurance that pays out if anything bad happens on the flight; he carries the bomb in his briefcase. Meanwhile, his wife arrives outside the airport. Harry, the old, experienced security guard, notices that Guerrero acts suspiciously.
Mrs. Quonsett hears that there’s a plane going to Rome and fakes a seizure, which gives her the opportunity to give her guard the slip and board that plane. She sits down right next to Mr. Guerrero. Captain Vernon is informed that the head count isn’t right, there’s an extra person, but he’s in a hurry because of the weather and insists on taking off right now. Mrs. Guerrero runs to the boarding ramp, but she’s too late; she suspects what he’s up to.
Tanya figures out where Mrs. Quonsett went and calls the plane. Gwen goes back to see if the old woman is there, which she is. They decide not to do anything about her until they land.
Vernon and Anson talk about abortions and unplanned children. Mrs. Guerrero is really upset, and someone brings her to Tanya, who recognizes the name of the last man on the flight. Cindy shows up and tells Mel she wants a divorce and that their daughter has run away.
Tanya tells Mel about Guerrero, and they figure out his plan: suicide by bomb for the insurance money. His wife says that he used to work with explosives in his old job before he went to the mental hospital. They call Vernon aboard the plane about the potential bomber.
Mel calls Patroni inside to talk about structural stuff if the bomb goes off. It’ll blow a hole in the plane which will suck out everything within twenty feet of the bomb. The plane might still be able to fly. Anson decides to turn the plane around and head back where they came from, while Vernon goes back into the passenger compartment to see what’s up. Mel’s boss comes in and wants to shut down the airport, which is bad timing.
Gwen confronts Mrs. Quonsett about her missing ticket. They bring her to the pilot’s cabin. It’s a ploy. Vernon doesn't care about her being a stowaway, he wants her to go back to her seat and help with Mr. Guerrero. The old lady works a distraction, and Gwen grabs the suitcase with the bomb. Guerrero grabs it back and heads to the back of the plane. Vernon tells him that everyone knows what’s going on and his insurance won’t pay out.
Vernon talks Guerrero into giving up the bomb, but then some random guy comes out of the restroom behind him. Guerrero ducks inside, and the bomb goes off. Since it was in the restroom, the damage isn’t super severe. Vernon returns to the cabin and sends the second officer back to clean up things. The second officer notices a big crack in the roof and reports back to Vernon.
The air controller calls Vernon; they may have to land on too-short runway 22, which annoys everyone. It’s up to Mel and Joe Patroni to get that other runway clear! Joe swears he can drive the stuck plane off the runway, but he needs fifteen more minutes. There is drama and angst as Joe pushes the engines to the limit before the bulldozers can wreck his plane. Joe gives it all she’s got, and the plane finally gets off the runway, freeing it up for Vernon’s flight.
The concern now is the crack on the plane. “One bounce, and we’ll leave the tail behind.” It’s cloudy, so they have to go in blind on their landing path. A priest smacks a whiny passenger for panicking. It’s tense, but they land safely and intact.
Vernon runs back to talk to Gwen, who might lose an eye or her baby. He tells her that they’re gonna be fine. The news people are all over the airport by the time the passengers disembark.
Mrs. Guerrero rushes in to apologize to the passengers for what her husband did. Sarah, Vernon’s wife, overhears that Gwen is pregnant and knows that her marriage is over too.
Mrs. Quonsett is given a legitimate plane ticket for her help. Mel and Tanya go out for breakfast.
Quite a few interesting split-screen shots that resemble comic book layouts, which show things like both sides of a phone conversation. There are many elaborate sets and a huge cast of actors that were recognizable at the time.
It’s long; the plane doesn’t even take off until 70 minutes in. The film still mostly holds up; obviously, airport security is leaps and bounds more secure now than what’s shown here, but this was pretty accurate for the time period.
It was good. It was well-acted, the effects are good for the time period, it’s actually tense where it needs to be, and there are bits of humor here and there to keep it going. Only one person dies, so there were actually more divorces in the film than there were fatalities. It’s only a minor disaster, but the film and its sequels caused phobias for generations.
The Poseidon Adventure (1972)
• Directed by Ronald Neame
• Written by Paul Gallico, Stirling Silliphant, Wendell Mayes
• Stars Gene Hackman, Ernest Borgnine, Shelley Winters, Red Buttons
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 57 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s an epic disaster adventure with a big cast of powerhouse actors that is still very entertaining fifty years later. It’s not quite in the horror genre, but there’s plenty of people being trapped, drowned, blown up, falling, and burned in a large ship that has completely flipped, so there’s lots of fear and tension.
We’re told that it’s New Year’s Eve and the ship Poseidon went down with only a handful of survivors.
Captain Harrison calls the engine room; the stabilizers aren’t broken, but it’s not good enough. The engineer says the company man Linarcos is the problem, not the stabilizers. The waves are high, and it’s getting rough. The ship leans quite dramatically, and the captain says they’re top-heavy.
The ship’s doctor and nurse go to see Mr. and Mrs. Rogo. She’s very seasick, and he’s a loud-mouthed jerk. He doesn’t know what to do with the suppositories they give his wife. Meanwhile, James Martin is a fitness nut, out jogging on the deck, right past Mrs. and Mr. Rosen, who are headed to Israel to meet their grandson.
Reverend Scott argues with the ship’s chaplain. He no longer believes praying works; he self-describes himself as “angry, rebellious, clinical, a renegade.” He believes in taking control of your own destiny and not relying on God to help you out.
Linarcos orders the captain to go to full speed, but the captain says they don’t have enough ballast. This is the final voyage of the old ship, which is due to be scrapped. Linarcos insists, and the captain does as he’s told.
In the ballroom, Nonnie Parry rehearses her song, “The Morning After.” Mr. Acres, one of the waiters, likes her music. Little Robin annoys his older sister Susan with all the details and facts about the ship; he knows everything about the boat.
Rogo and his wife argue about her former profession; she used to be a hooker, and she’s always afraid of being recognized. Rogo is a cop, and he arrested her six times before she married him.
It’s the big New Year’s Eve dinner, and Mrs. Rosen asks James Martin why he isn’t married– just too busy and a confirmed bachelor. The first mate gets a report of a subsea earthquake not too far away, but the captain is at the dinner. He comes to the bridge and is told that the approaching tidal wave is “Mountainous.”
Midnight comes, and everyone celebrates the New Year. The “enormous wall of water” hits them, and the whole ship rolls over. The captain and crew are killed immediately. People roll, fall, and scream as the huge ballroom slowly turns upside down. People hang from the tables bolted to the now-ceiling, falling one by one.
Reverend Scott immediately sets about helping the injured while the various other characters come to grips with what just happened. Susan is stuck way up high on one of those tables, and Scott gets many of the characters to stretch a tablecloth so she can jump down and land on that.
Martin suggests to Scott that any rescue is going to have to come through the bottom, now top, of the boat, so they all need to climb up. They all work together to move a Christmas tree so they can climb up it to get to the galley. Some climb up, one by one. The purser disagrees with the plan and insists on staying in the ballroom to wait for help. Many agree with him. Scott asks the old Chaplain to go along, but he wants to stay with the dying. There’s some arguing with others, and Scott gives up, climbing the tree himself.
Suddenly, there’s an explosion, and the ship starts rocking again. The ballroom erupts in fire and water, and there’s a mad stampede to the Christmas tree, which soon gets overloaded and collapses. Scott closes the door on the screaming people; it’s time to move on.
Rogo and Scott argue about who’s in charge, but Scott gets his way. They have to walk through a burning kitchen full of bodies, and the water starts pouring in behind them.
Next, they must climb up a ladder in a huge vertical shaft. There’s another explosion, and Acres and Rogo fall off the ladder. Rogo looks for Acres but can’t find him.
They encounter a bunch of survivors who are following the doctor forward, toward the bow of the ship. Scott says they’re going the wrong way, but they don’t listen. Scott and Rogo argue some more about which way to go. Scott goes ahead to scout a path to the engine room, leaving the others behind so they can have dramatic, character-defining moments.
They come to a place that has only recently flooded. Scott says they can just swim the short distance to the other side. Fat Mrs. Rosen says she used to be a swimming champion, and now this is something she can do. Scott thanks her but goes first to the other side. He runs into trouble, and eventually, she goes after him. She saves his life, but she has a heart attack and dies on the other side.
They go across a narrow catwalk that goes to the propeller shaft, and that’s the thinnest part of the hull. Anyone trying to rescue them will come in that way. There’s another explosion, and Mrs. Rogo falls to her death.
Rogo turns on Scott, blaming him for everything, but Mr. Rosen clears that up. Hot steam starts spraying the exit door, so they can’t get out. The only thing to do is turn the relief valve, but in order to do that, Scott jumps to the valve, turns it off, and falls to his death.
With the steam shut down, everyone heads to the exit.
Martin, Nonnie, Susan, Robin, Mr. Rosen, and Rogo are soon rescued by men in helicopters who have cut through the hull.
Even before the accident, the camera was regularly tilting during the scenes to make us think the boat was rocking gently; but we also noticed the drinks on the table weren’t moving.
They filmed this mostly in sequence, so as the actors’ clothing got dirtier and more torn up, it was consistent between scenes.
This was really good, and it still holds up well. The acting is excellent, even though most of the characters are “types” more than people, and it never really slows down or drags.
Short Film: Esther (2023)
• Directed by Matt Cunningham
• Written by Matt Cunningham, Brian Levin
• Stars Haley Heslip
• Run Time: 9:56
• Watch it at:
Katy has returned to her childhood home, and she’s recording a message to her therapist. She’s changed locations and jobs recently, and she’s not doing so well. She’s especially having trouble with her smoke alarm going off every night at 2 a.m., even after she took out the batteries. She has an irrational fear of fire, so that’s kind of important.
She buys a new smoke detector. That night, it goes off again at 2 a.m. She gets up to investigate and records something on her phone that she didn’t expect…
It’s a one-actor show, with Haley Heslip playing both Katy and Esther. She’s good, and the story is excellent. The cinematography and music are great, the pacing is perfect, and the creature effects work well for the story.
I don’t know that it scared me, but the sound of the smoke alarm going off sent my cat under the bed for a couple of hours!
The Towering Inferno (1974)
• Directed by John Guillermin
• Written by Richard Martin Stern, Thomas. N. Scotia, Frank M. Robinson
• Stars Paul Newman, Steve McQueen, William Holden, Faye Dunaway
• Run Time: 2 Hours, 45 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
It’s another long epic movie with a big cast of heavy hitters. It’s also a classic that still holds up pretty well. And it’s not strictly horror, but there’s a big body count of trapped people who are victims of fire and falling.
We watch an impressive cast list on the screen as a helicopter flies over the countryside. It flies over the Golden Gate Bridge and eventually deposits architect Doug Roberts atop the tallest building in the city, which he helped design. It’s actually the tallest building in the world.
Doug tells his boss, the building owner, Jim Duncan that he’s moving somewhere really boring and getting away from all this. Jim tells him that Senator Parker is coming to the big dedication tonight, and he plans to advocate for more of these buildings that Doug can design. Jim thinks Doug’s quitting isn’t serious.
Doug goes to his work office and deals with some problems with the building. He stops in his private office to host his wife, Susan; he’s got a bedroom and is not afraid to use it. Susan complains that she doesn’t really want to leave the city. She’s just gotten a promotion at a job that means a lot to her, so the two of them are in for a rocky situation.
Harlee Claiborne is a cheap old man who cheats the cabbie out of his tip. Mrs. Allbright is a deaf woman with two children who do sign language with her.
While working on the generators, some wiring burns out in the electrical room. We see in a storage room elsewhere that the same wiring has started a small fire in the utility room. Jernigan, the head of security, sees the sensor about the fire, but it’s not showing on their cameras.
Doug looks at the bad wiring in the electrical room. It should have been conduit, and it’s not. He goes up to Jim’s office and yells at him about the shoddy wiring in the building. Dan Bigelow, Jim’s assistant, comes in, and they explain that they almost had a fire. They haven’t even finished installing all the safety equipment. The electrical construction guy, Simmons, can’t be located.
Doug goes over to Roger Simmons’s house. Doug accuses him of “screwing around with the electrical specifications.” Simmons thinks it’s none of Doug’s business. Simmons swears everything is up to code, but Doug says that’s not good enough. Roger is married to Jim’s daughter, so it’s a family problem. Everyone knows Roger was getting kickbacks on the wiring.
Harlee knocks on Lisolette’s door; they have a date to the big party tonight. We also see that he has a suitcase full of fake certificates for something. Many celebrities and politicians are arriving for the building’s dedication ceremony tonight. The senator has a few words, and the mayor also shows up. They cut the ribbon and turn on all the lights at once. Meanwhile, in the utility closet, the fire continues burning.
Dan goes to his office to make out with his secretary Lorrie; he turns the phone off so as not to be disturbed. Harlee feeds Lisolette a line of bull about destiny and how he just got home from the south of France. He’s a poor guy trying to pass himself off as rich to impress her.
Doug continues inspecting the wiring, and it’s all too hot. He orders that some of the lights be turned off. He didn’t realize that all the lights in the building were turned on all at once. Jernigan calls the fire department about the sensor and goes down to the 81st floor to check on what’s going on.
Doug and his assistant get there first, and the assistant gets burned to death when he opens the utility room door. Doug calls Jim about the fire below them. He thinks the fire is under control, but if the wiring caused it, there could be fires everywhere.
Downstairs, the fire department arrives, and it looks like they brought all the trucks. Chief O’Halloran arrives and talks to Doug, who acknowledges that the sprinklers aren’t working yet. O’Halloran warns that they can’t fight a fire over the seventh floor, but Doug says it’s not his fault. O’Halloran is surprised that the 300 partygoers wouldn’t evacuate.
O’Halloran goes to the Promenade Room to get those people out of there, but Jim doesn’t want to cooperate. Jim yells at Roger, who admits he changed the wiring diagrams for the building to save costs. Jim tells the guests about the fire fifty floors below them and says they need to move the party downstairs to the lobby.
Something explodes, and the fireball is super obvious even outside the building. O’Halloran tells Doug to tell Jim to tell everyone not to use the elevators. “Use the scenic elevator. Don’t overload it.” Roger accuses Jim of cutting all kinds of corners to shave money off the budget; it wasn’t just him.
Jim tells the people not to use the main elevator, but a bunch pile in anyway. That goes badly for them. Lisolette runs to tell the deaf woman about the fire, since she probably didn’t know about the evacuation orders. The elevator returns to the Promenade Room, and burning people spill out. Party’s over!
Dan and his secretary Lorrie smell smoke. The lobby of their office is on fire. He tries to call for help, but the phones are off, so he pretends to get through to them to keep Lorrie calm. He soon comes clean about his lie. He puts on some wet towels and makes a run for help, but he doesn’t get very far before burning to death. Lorrie breaks a window and falls to her death.
Jernigan hears about the deaf woman on 87 and goes down to evacuate them personally. Doug goes with him, and they find the mother unconscious. The kid was wearing headphones and didn’t hear anything. The fire has spread to several widely separated floors by this point.
The partygoers are still evacuating, but the one safe elevator only holds twelve at a time. They find that one stairwell is full of smoke, and the other is blocked shut.
Doug, Lisolette, and the two kids head down the one usable stairway, but a gas explosion wipes out the metal stairs. Doug carries the kids down, but Lisolette has to climb down on her own. It’s all very tense, but they make it. They find an elevator but can only go up since the fire is below them.
In the electrical room, the generator burns out. This causes everything to get even more difficult. Doug, Lisolette, and the kids finally make it to the party room.
With most of the characters in the same room now, we switch to character mode. Harlee admits to Lisolette that he’s a poor con man, but she already knows that. She doesn't care; she still likes him. Doug and Jim argue about building codes and safety systems. The mayor and his wife have family regrets.
The partygoers have no way out, so the air patrol brings in a helicopter to airlift the partygoers, but that goes badly and the helicopter crashes and explodes. So now the roof is on fire too. The firemen break out some of the windows to run a line to the neighboring building. They tie off the lines and get everything set to run a basket to the next-door building’s roof. They start wheeling people over, one-by-one. Jim’s daughter gets out safely this way, but it’s really slow.
Doug gets the scenic elevator working, but only for one trip of twelve people coasting down on gravity. Lisolette kisses Harlee goodbye, as does the mayor’s wife, Doug’s wife, and the kids as they board the elevator. Partway down, there’s an explosion, and Lisolette falls out of the damaged elevator that’s dangling by a cable. O’Halloran hooks himself to a winch on a helicopter to lower the elevator to the ground. This also works.
The deputy fire chief comes up with the idea of blowing up the water tanks two floors above the party room. The falling water should put out most of the fire. They “volunteer” O’Halloran to set the charges.
Time is running out in the party room; they only have fifteen minutes left. O’Halloran tells Doug the water tank plan. Some fire appears in the stairwell, and Roger and a bunch of guys jump on the basket all at once. Roger kicks the Senator off, falling to his death. Then the wire snaps and Roger falls too.
O’Halloran takes a copter up to the roof with a bagful of explosives, and Doug meets him there. O’Halloran shows him how to set up the explosives, and they get to work.
The bombs go off, the water tanks explode, and water runs everywhere. The water rushes into the party room, and some of the people get washed right out the windows. It looks like most of the water just pours out the windows, but eventually, all the fire burns out. O’Halloran, Doug, Harlee, and a few others make it out.
Harlee goes looking for Lisolette and learns that she didn’t make it. Jernigan catches up with him and gives him the dead woman’s cat. O’Halloran looks at the firemen in body bags. He says they were lucky; the body count was less than 200.
These disaster movies had proven themselves to be really popular, so the casting choices just kept getting more and more big names. They were also getting longer and more epic; this one’s nearly three hours long, which was nearly unheard of in the 70s.
Funny how the firemen were spraying tons of water on the fire, and it didn’t make any difference, even in small rooms. Almost as if the fires were fake and gas-powered or something. Was it 160 floors of wood and dynamite? There’s so much fire everywhere with occasional explosions, but there’s not nearly as much smoke as there should be. That little Navy helicopter could lift twelve passengers plus the elevator itself? No. Could the water in the tanks of the top floor make it very far with all those broken windows up high? No. A lot of the stuff in the film just isn’t as bad as it should be. Still, this is one of those movies you watch for the cast, not because it’s particularly realistic.
In the end, the building is essentially uninhabitable. How does one go about demolishing a building that tall? One floor at a time, I guess.
The performances are good, the plot moves quickly, and the cast is unsurpassed.
• Directed by Mark Robson
• Written by George Fox, Mario Puzo
• Stars Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, George Kennedy, Lorne Greene
• Run Time: 2 Hours, 2 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
This is a big and epic disaster. The portrayal in the movie, not the movie itself which is pretty good. The horror comes from the high body count and the fact that things like this can and do happen in the world.
As credits roll, we see flyover shots of Los Angeles, ending on a lingering shot of a big dam. We cut to Stewart Graff, who argues with his wife, Remy, which seems like a regular thing. She overdoses while he’s in the shower, and that’s a regular thing too. This has happened numerous times before, so he knows the procedure. There’s a small earthquake, and she freaks out– she was faking the whole thing. We soon see that Graff works for Sam Royce, his father-in-law.
The maintenance crew up at the dam feel a tremor and start doing a routine inspection. Max soon finds Fred drowned in an elevator shaft– something’s flooded. Meanwhile, Officer Lou Slade and in his police car, chasing down a bad guy. Stewart stops off at Denise’s house, and we see that she’s an actress wanna-be. She’s Stewart’s friend’s widow and mother to Cory.
Over at the Seismological Institute, Walter Russel hears about the elevator shaft thing. He whines that the boss is out of town, and he thinks there’s gonna be a big earthquake today. The boss, Dr. Adams, is out in the field and can’t check his computations. Dr. Adams, meanwhile, is working inside a big crack in the ground– a fault line. Another tremor happens, and he and his assistant are buried alive.
Motorcycle daredevil Miles gets ready for his act and begs for some money from Lou. Miles wants Rosa to be his groupie for the show. He describes his show to her, and we see loops, jumps, and flaming rings. He claims to be way better than Evel Knievel. He does a practice run, and that goes badly on the first try, but he gets it the next time.
The men at the dam find some anomalies. The seismologists realize that Dr. Adams is dead, and Walter Russell may be right, but if they say anything, there’ll be mass panic. They decide to call the mayor, who activates the National Guard but doesn’t make the predicted quake public. Jody is a grocery store manager who gets called for National Guard duty.
We learn that Stewart and Denise are a bit more than friends. Stewart talks to clients about buildings, paying extra for earthquake safety features.
Sam, Stewart’s boss and father-in-law asks about Denise, and he clearly suspects Stewart is cheating on his daughter, Remy. Remy knows, too, and arranged for her father to give Stewart a promotion if he’ll stay away from Denise. Remy and Stewart fight.
The big earthquake hits. Miles’s show is destroyed. Rosa’s in a theater that collapses. Bridges collapse, power lines break and towers collapse. A house on a hill almost rolls over Denise. Stewart and Remy try not to get crushed in their office building as people fight over the elevators. Some people learn not to take the elevator in an earthquake. There are an excessive number of scenes of destruction as we see characters dealing with the quake.
The city is left a burning, crumbling disaster. Inside the tower, Sam Royce tries to calm everyone down, but that’s a tough job. The people can’t get out because the stairway has collapsed. He comes up with the idea to lower an office chair tied to a firehose to lower people down to where Stewart is. He lowers dozens of people down safely, and then when he’s alone, he dies of a heart attack. The doctor doesn’t tell anyone about the deaths to avoid a panic.
The guys at the dam argue about something being broken in the relief valves– it won’t budge! They eventually open the gates, which starts to flood the LA River, which is where Denise is searching for Cory. She finds him lying unconscious next to some high-voltage power lines– as the flood waters approach. Miles and Sal are driving by and hear Denise screaming– she can’t get out of the river spillway. They pull Denise and Cory out just before they’d be electrocuted.
Officer Lou barks that many of the police were killed when the police station collapsed, and he starts barking orders to the civilians, who are mostly panicking. Jody and the National Guard show up and start helping people. When Stewart goes off to find Denise, he and Remy argue some more.
Rosa gets arrested for stealing a donut, and Jody recognizes her. He gets her released, but not because he’s a good guy. Cody catches his annoying roommates looting and shoots them all. Once the other soldiers are gone, he brings Rosa food and tries to undress her.
Officer Lou flags down Stewart’s car and uses it as an ambulance, so most of the characters wind up at the parking garage that’s being used for an emergency hospital.
There’s another quake, and lots of people at the hospital die. Jody’s company decides he’s crazy and abandons him as Lou and Stewart hear Rosa screaming. Lou ends up shooting Jody. This time, the experts find that the dam has started to leak.
Stewart hears that Sam Royce and Remy are trapped beneath the hospital in the sub-basements, which will flood if the dam breaks. He and Lou go down into the sewers to try and save the people down there. Meanwhile, the dam breaks apart, spilling zillions of gallons of water down the mountain toward the city.
Stewart breaks through the wall, letting Denise, Cory, and seventy other people out. We get more shots of violent flooding going on all over town. Stewart and Lou finally get everyone else out of the parking garage and work their way out of the tunnels. There’s a backup as people climb out of the sewers, and soon they hear water coming.
The water floods the sewers and washes a bunch of people away, including Remy. Stewart jumps back in to save her, and they both drown. Lou looks for them, but they’re gone.
There’s a lot of mayhem and goings-on during the actual earthquake scenes. Just when things start to calm down, there’s another aftershock. This might be the most “disastery” of the disaster films based on the destruction shown.
Charlton Heston, as Stewart, was originally supposed to survive the flooding and be with Denise, but he thought that was “immoral” and insisted they change the script to kill him. Originally, mostly unsympathetic Office Lou was supposed to die in a redemption arc, but they switched it around, so Lou lived, and Stewart died.
The acting is fine, but some of the situations are a little contrived, such as Stewart/Remy/Sam/Denise all being interconnected and important players in the story. Office Lou looks like a real jerk, so they had to give him a little dog to save. Lorne Greene gets to die heroically, something he never got to do in Bonanza, but probably wanted to after fourteen years playing the same character on that show.
Airport 1975 (1974)
• Directed by Jack Smight
• Written by Arthur Hailey, Don Ingalls
• Stars Charlton Heston, Karen Black, George Kennedy
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 47 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
Once again, we have the horror of what can go wrong in air travel. Statistically, it’s the safest way to travel– until it isn’t. This is a sequel to the first Airport with George Kennedy back again. Overall, it’s entertaining, and interesting to see what has changed and what hasn’t with technology from the 1970s.
Credits roll as Nancy Pryor walks through the airport terminal. She meets up with Alan Murdock, who is back from Europe. She’s a stewardess, and he’s some kind of executive. They’ve been involved with each other for years, but he’s avoiding a commitment.
Sister Ruth, a nun, wonders who the famous actress is that she sees in the airport; it’s famous actress Gloria Swanson playing— herself. There’s a little girl, Janice, who is flying to get a kidney transplant and can’t be off the dialysis for very long. Captain Stacy and his copilot ogle the stewardesses as they prepare for their flight. Mrs. Patroni and her son are flying home as well. Three drunken men stumble to their seats. Nancy is the chief stewardess, and Arlene is the newbie. Everyone finally gets settled, and they take off.
Somewhere else, three men talk about the bad weather; Scotty plans to fly home anyway since he thinks the weather will clear up soon. He’s got an important meeting tomorrow morning. He gets in his little propeller plane and takes off. Sister Ruth sings a song to Janice.
Joe Patroni, from the first film, walks through the airport and checks on the maintenance guys– he’s got an office now but can’t stay away. The airports are all swamped, so the main flight reroutes to Salt Lake City. Scotty’s little plane is also diverted to Salt Lake, but he’s not feeling well. Both planes approach the airport, but suddenly, Scotty has a heart attack and goes off course.
Both planes collide in mid-air. The copilot is sucked right out through the hole, and the engineer is killed. The pilot’s got glass in his eyes. Nancy comes into the cockpit and finds no one flying the plane. The pilot turns the autopilot on, but then he passes out. Nancy gets on the radio and calls in panic.
Patroni is informed of all this, and he was Alan Murdock brought in. He was the chief instructor pilot for years. Murdock talks to Nancy and talks her into getting the autopilot set up. Patroni tells Alan that there’s no way Nancy can land the plane– there’s just too much terrain on the route to Salt Lake.
The Air Force sends a jet pilot to look things over, and he notices a crack in the side of the plane with a fuel leak. Nancy drops some wreckage and messes up the radio, so they can’t communicate. They figure out what frequency she switched to and get through.
Glenn Purcell, a newsman, shows up at the tower and gets into a fight with Patroni. Patroni’s wife calls on the radio– he hadn’t realized this was her flight. Alan talks Nancy through turning the plane to avoid the mountains. A helicopter with Alan, Joe, and an emergency pilot takes off.
A panel in the cockpit’s ceiling breaks loose, wrecking the radio. The helicopter approaches and drops the emergency pilot by a line. He floats over to the hole in the big airplane and prepares to crawl in through the hole. He gets his tether release caught on some of the wreckage and falls to his death. Alan says he’ll give it a shot. They lower him down the same way, and he makes it aboard the airplane.
Alan takes over flying, but one of the engines is overheating. One of the passengers comes to the cockpit and tells Alan about the leaking fuel. He sees the hole in the cockpit and freaks out. Alan doesn’t even know if the landing gear is going to work, but there’s no choice but to try.
On the ground, ambulances, fire trucks, and everyone else gets ready for a crash. They get lower, and lower, and lower, and touch down on the runway. The brake pressure is broken, so they may not be able to stop. Eventually, Alan stops the big plane, and everyone evacuates in a hurry.
Janice and her mother board an ambulance, as does Captain Stacy. Everyone else is fine. Joe reunites with his family, and Alan kisses Nancy.
The stars in this one weren’t quite as big as in the original film, but there are a lot more not-superstar-but-famous faces here. This is the only one of the four Airport films to not involve any criminals.
There are a lot of side characters in this one, but most of the drama is Alan talking Nancy through flying the airplane. Heston and Kennedy had only finished filming “Earthquake” fifteen days before starting this film, so they didn’t get much of a break.
It’s good. A little dated in technology, probably, but it still works.
• Directed by Ronald Neame
• Written by Stanley Mann, Edmund H North
• Stars Sean Connery, Natalie Wood, Karl Malden, Brian Keith
• Run Time: 1 Hour, 48 Minutes
Spoiler-Free Judgment Zone
There’s the horror of big rocks from space clobbering us. But overall, this isn’t a disaster movie that’s held up as well as some others. It’s a little stretched out, bland, and dated.
We open on a big blue glowing thing in space as credits roll. We then get a narration about comets and space explosions. Then we focus on one particular asteroid named… Orpheus.
Paul Bradley steers a big racing sailboat full of passengers. Then the Coast Guard stops them– they’re after him on a mission for NASA. Harry Sherwood runs NASA, and he explains a new comet discovery to the assembled group. We cut to a manned space mission that is rerouted to check out a new comet that’s headed right for one of the big asteroids, Orpheus. The comet smashes into Orpheus, and the debris wipes out the spaceship. The reason they called in Paul is that there’s a big chunk of Orpheus that’s headed for Earth, and it may hit in about six days.
Paul says that’s the very reason they launched Project Hercules in the first place, so Harry sends him to a meeting in DC tomorrow. We see Hercules in orbit, a satellite with a whole bunch of big missiles on it. We get lots of ominous shots of a big rock tumbling through space. Paul is angry because Hercules was never meant to point missiles at the Soviets; he designed it to defend the Earth against meteors.
Harry says that Orpheus is five miles across and is definitely going to hit Earth. Harry expects resistance to using Hercules because it’s technically illegal to be up there. Paul needs to re-align the rockets to face outward, not inward. Meanwhile, in the Soviet Union, Dr. Dubov briefs the Russians about the same thing.
General Adlon wants to keep Hercules a secret, but he doesn’t have a better solution. BBC announces the asteroid is going to hit the Earth, so they can’t keep that a secret.
They all meet with the President, but it turns out that there aren’t enough rockets on Hercules to do the job anyway. Harry does mention that the Russians have their own equivalent to Hercules out in space; they need to work together with the Russians to resolve the situation. The clever President gives a press release about Hercules and about Russian cooperation– before he talks to the Russians.
The control room for Hercules is deep under New York City. Dr. Dubov and his assistant Tatiana arrive and are taken to the secret base. Dubrov eventually admits they have missiles in space as well, unofficially. Meanwhile, small meteorites start hitting Siberia and Italy. General Adlon screams and rants about how the whole situation is overblown, and Dubrov rants in Russian, but nobody understands him. The Russians finally promise to use their satellite, Peter the Great, to assist Hercules– both satellites rotate to aim in the right direction.
With both satellites now targeting the asteroid, all they have to do is wait for it to get close enough. Except for the little meteors that start causing avalanches and other disasters.
Sunday comes– it’s meteor day. A smaller meteor impact causes a huge tidal wave that is heading for Hong Kong. The city is wiped out. The big meteor is two hours from impact, so it’s time to launch. The Russians launch their missiles as planned, and they wait for forty minutes until the Hercules missiles can launch. Unfortunately, another lesser meteor is found heading for the eastern seaboard at any moment. Paul and Harry have to wait to launch their rockets on time. Just as the missiles launch successfully, the small meteor hits New York City, right above the base.
The base is hit hard, but most of the people there survive. Paul leads the others out through the subway just above them. Except– the river starts flooding the subway, covering everything in mud. The whole crew tries to find their way through the spewing mud, half blinded by the muck. Meanwhile, the missiles continue on their way to Orpheus– will they be enough?
The bombs go off as planned. Orpheus explodes into a million harmless pieces. Paul, Harry, and the underground people hear jackhammers from above- they’re going to survive!
Later, Dubrov and Tatiana return to Russia as heroes. We get more narration about “Project Icarus,” a real-life plan to deal with a situation such as this.
The space scenes aren’t particularly good by today’s standards but were pretty decent for ‘79. The avalanche, tidal wave, and NYC disasters all look pretty good for the age of the film. The mud scene was said to be really hard on the actors, with many injuries.
The 70s had been full of disaster films. As with all other genres, once they decide to make an “... but in space” film, you know the trend is nearly over. There was a heavy focus on the sci-fi space scenes and less with the characters. Unfortunately, the space scenes are pretty repetitive and not very exciting, so there’s essentially a lot of wasted time in the film.
It’s entertaining enough, but the science is not good, the special effects are too many and too dated, and it’s just a little bland.
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