A cruise that’s far from plain sailing…
It’s a horror filled 1970s TV Movie trip set on a wee cruise liner in the Gulf of Mexico with a wee cursed Egyptian sarcophagus onboard.
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Cruise into Terror (1978) is a TV movie with an ensemble cast to die for. There’s not one but two Hitchcock leading men from his movies, headlining this all-star cast of big(ish) 1970s names from film and TV. As John Forsythe and Ray Milland battle against The Omen (1976) inspired, but Egyptian themed devilish forces of evil on board a very small cruise boat.
The plot of Cruise into Terror (1978) is recalled by the chiselled Captain Andrews (Hugh O’Brien) who does a James T. Kirk as he narrates the film’s prologue. In his voiceover, he says he’ll attempt to recall those terrifying events onboard his boat. It all kicks off as Andrews is commissioned by his boss to take eight American customers to Cozumel, where the passengers will join a much bigger cruise ship.
Despite the fact that Andrews’ (wee) cruise boat, the Obdeah is in desperate need of repair, Andrews is threatened with his job if he doesn’t comply. So he reluctantly takes the gig. After Andrews leaves, his boss confirms to someone by phone that Andrews has taken this assignment and that they can join this trip.
After he regrets what he has done to the heavens above, Andrews’ boss is then killed by some (obviously empty) cardboard boxes which fall on top of him (and how Andrews knows about this is anyone’s guess). Cue Omen inspired chanting.
The rugged Captain Andrews is part of a three-person crew of this wee cruise boat. Joining him is his mechanic / right-hand man / ship’s officer Simon Mclane (Dirk Benedict) and the ship’s porter, Nathan (Roger E Mosley). Then it’s a bit like a The Love Boat (1977-87) episodes, as the crew meet the (now) nine passengers which cover every stereotype you need for this far fetched plot.
In no particular order, there’s Stella Stevens as a pretty
vampy divorcee, Marilyn Magnesun. Marilyn is obviously on the lookout for a new man. This is preferably in the form of a certain rugged sea Captain (Andrews). Their on-screen attraction is seen from the outset, and she’s more than certainly aware that the poor man doesn’t know how to button his work shirt, with his 70s manly chest seen more often than Jason Statham’s seen in his career to date.
There are two young girls, both providing Spelling’s then legendary “jiggle” factor. They only seem to have packed swimwear. These are a pretty sassy girl, Judy (Jo Ann Harris) – and her quieter friend Debbie (Hilarie Thompson). Debbie is obviously much prettier than those big specs let her be and Judy immediately takes a shine to Mclane. But then he is an eighties heartthrob, Dirk Benedict.
John Forsythe – complete with a moustache – joins the cast as a redeemed alcoholic but now a man of God, the Rev Charles Mather. He has brought his younger frustrated on-screen wife Lil (Lee Meriwether) with him. He is more into God than into her and boy does she know it.
There is also a work crazy husband and his often neglected wife. They are on-screen known as Neal and Sandra Barry and off-screen as the married Christopher and Lynda Day George. The
Georges Barrys are there for a wee holiday, him from his work and so she is hoping for some soppy time and has packed her sexiest nightie.
Then there is the straw hat wearing Ray Milland – in yet another of his many, many (so bad they are good) TV Movies from back then – as Doctor of Archeology, Dr Isiah Bakkun. He – despite being a doctor in this field – has some really crazy theories.
Finally, there’s youngish Matt Lazarus (Frank Converse), a man who claims he has forgotten his ticket but is allowed on the boat anyway. He is a mathematician and a physicist. He also mumbles a lot when he’s mansplaining this kind of stuff and doesn’t come with needed subtitles.
It’s foggy and a storm is brewing on the ship’s departure, and then there are boat themed problems of all sorts as the boat shows itself as totally unseaworthy. Onboard the plot goes up a notch, in this super cramped boat where the passengers have to dine outdoors as there is no room indoors.
Bakkun is revealed as a
famed infamous archaeologist who believes the Egyptians founded the Mayan civilisation (told ya he had crazy ideas). He believes that there is an Egyptian pyramid at Cozumel, and this has a tomb and sarcophagus in it. Bakkun apparently has the evidence for this, as he owns a papyrus saying as much (which tbh just looks like ye olde con papers). Cue more dramatic music (and possible commercial break).
Meanwhile, in her cabin, Judy chats up Simon (must be his The Love Boat styled uniform), the pair using more double entendre than Roger Moore in a Bond movie. He seems quite taken by her but he tries to act professionally. Her roommate, Debbie can’t handle their flirting and leaves them to it. Then once on deck, Debbie gets knocked over by a lifeboat swinging in the storm. As she falls over she loses her spectacles.
In the fog, she sees two red eerie dots far, far, away and she gets freaked out. Then she gets knocked overboard by the same lifeboat. As she is left clinging to the boat, men, manly seventies men save her from falling to a watery grave. Andrews then dismisses the cause of the lights, saying they belong to a couple of buoys.
Ms Mather and Ms Barry try and seduce their menfolk with varying success. The Rev Mather goes full tilt dramatic – possibly in the hope of beating Milland to an Emmy winning performance – and talks of how he found God after worshipping the bottle. His rant leaves Lil a bit more frustrated. Meanwhile, Sandra tries her womanly charms on Neal.
Meanwhile, Lazarus and Bakkun discuss the location of this Egyptian pyramid. Bakkun states that his bit of papyrus says it can be found where the sun meets the sea. Lazarus does some
random maths and the pair work out that the pyramid is on the sea bed and not on land. Lazarus does more maths and it appears this wee boat is destined to sail right next to it. And then the ship’s radio stops working.
The next day some of the passengers decide to go swimming. Oh oh, it’s some “shark” footage and a John Williams rip off score. Cue Captain Andrews to their rescue. He dives in and threatens the very small shark
footage with a knife… and the baby shark swims away. Nathan tells everyone a shark in these waters is apparently unusual (and no one listens to him).
Later, in sheer coincidence, the boat’s engine packs in just as the boat arrives at the same geographical location as the sunken pyramid. Neal decides that they should take the opportunity to investigate it. He reckons there are all sorts of jewels and other goodies buried with the sarcophagus. His on-screen, off-screen wife is not so sure it’s a good idea after Mather warns everyone about Ancient Egyptian curses.
Then everyone else wants in on the loot. Captain Andrews is not happy at this, but luckily Marilyn is there to provide support and later comfort of all sorts. Some passengers and crew dive in and a golden plate is found, and this find suggests the tomb’s presence. Charles Mather translates some hieroglyphics (yes, really), and he believes that the sarcophagus contains the Devil’s child (and you will discover it’s a very small child too) and this is a bad thing. A very bad thing…
Mather – cue another dramatic monologue from John Forsythe – also strongly feels the tomb should be left in peace or he believes this evil will be unleashed with them all as witnesses. Mather also believes that there is a person on board who is the Devil’s child’s guardian and they have no soul (dammit).
Of course, no one listens to him either… and some of the crew and passengers dive in to retrieve
the very small and breathing sarcophagus. It is seen to be a deadly mission for somebody… Then more horror is unleashed once the sarcophagus is on board.
The entirety of this film plot is a bit over the top, to say the least. But despite it lurching from one crazy trope to another, this combination of two far fetched plot lines fit together as smoothly as a jigsaw. The horror story of the devil’s son and the subsequent mystery of his guardian added together made an entertaining albeit implausible plot.
The “historical” plotlines were purely added for plot convenience and were firmly in the imagination of the writer rather than based on solid and true facts but despite these untruths, they added to the
amusement factor terror.
This TV Movie “drama” (read comedy) used many themes, plots and characters from some of those successful 70s films and TV of this time to build fear and suspense. Be it horror film familiar tropes with a combination of Egyptian lore and those seventies child of Satan Movies.
Or paying tribute to at sea film dramas, where this TV movie used familiar plot lines such as a “shark” (albeit of a low budget Jaws (1975) film kind), a boat in need of repair, and the spooky use of fog and faraway lights. These thrilling and dramatic moments were accompanied by some music that seemed inspired by box office films from these genres.
The plot edged towards full-tilt crazy when the child-sized sarcophagus is brought on board. This very small sarcophagus was possibly made by the same dude who made the Stonehenge monument in This is Spinal Tap (1984), as way too small.
Yet this small sarcophagus resulted in a very different and unique child of Satan seventies horror as its presence affected those onboard. This added to the
comedy drama, but its size added to some unintentional comic moments. Attempts were made more “chilling” by the sarcophagus visibly breathing in and out and giving it a heartbeat and accompanied by a spooky score.
The film in establishing the twelve passengers and crew gave every character a credible back story. Relationships were explored and romances started before the drama and horror ensued. This adding to the more soapy storylines for both passengers and crew. John Forsythe showed himself in a new light as a force to be reckoned with, his acting in Dynasty much more measured.
As a man of God Forsythe and a man of history, Milland’s characters also clashed with their differing views regarding the retrieval of the sarcophagus. These two actors joint scenes and their heated conversations made exciting viewing. Their characters became more
incredible as they disagreed on the ultimate fate of the sarcophagus. Their alternate thoughts on the sarcophagus divided the crew and passengers.
Once the sarcophagus was brought on board, and the curse was mansplained by Forsythe. This led to the big mystery, leaving us (and the crew and passengers) to ask which of these characters was Satan’s child’s guardian.
Some dramatic twists were seen in characters behaviours, and these were apparently under the influence of this unseen child. This evil was summed up by Marilyn who told Andrews (after she bedded him, naturally),
“That there is a devil, there is no doubt, but is he trying to get in us, or trying to get out.”
This obviously low budget TV Movie set on a tiny boat, with the story featuring a tiny sarcophagus and a tiny shark seemed more amateur in its special effects. This when compared to those big cinematic counterparts.
However, this film is more full of big intentions to frighten and thrill in this small-scaled horror of the deep. But I urge you to watch it to see how these tiny terrors and the terrific use of tropes from films from Ancient Egypt and then films of Satan’s children led to John Forsythe’s blaze of TV Movie glory.
Weeper Rating: 😦 /10
Handsqueeze Rating: 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 🙂 /10
Hulk Rating: /10
The Third So Bad it’s Good Blogathon 2021, No 6
This film review was added to Taking Up Room‘s Third So Bad it’s Good Blogathon. Other reviews with this cast include Christopher George in Bewitched and The Love Boat. Dirk Benedict starred in The Love Boat, Murder She Wrote and Hotel. Jo Ann Harris starred in The Simpsons and Xanadu. John Forsythe starred in Dynasty, Charlies Angels, Scrooged, The Colbys and Alfred Hitchcock Presents. Lee Meriwether starred in Batman, The Man from UNCLE, Star Trek, Hotel and Glitter. Lynda Day George starred in Fantasy Island. Ray Milland starred in Hart to Hart. Roger E Mosley also starred in Magnum. Stella Stevens starred in The Poseidon Adventure. Frank Converse was in Dr Cook’s Garden, Circle of Fear, Rhoda and The Bionic Woman.