The Horror at 37,000 Feet | 1973 | 73 minutes
Starring Chuck Connors, Buddy Ebsen, Tammy Grimes, William Shatner
Directed by David Lowell Rich
An architect and his wife (Roy Thinnes, Jane Merrow) rent a special flight to transport an ancient Druid altarpiece from England to the United States. Somehow they fail to secure all the seats, because also on board are a random variety of other passengers, including a doctor (Paul Winfield), a little girl with her doll, a rhinestone cowboy, a disagreeable businessman (Buddy Ebsen), and a drunken ex-priest (William Shatner) with his guitar-strumming companion.
Soon after take-off, the pilot (Chuck Connors) discovers that the plane is being held in place by what appears to be a localized, 600-mile-an-hour headwind, even though the flight navigator (Russell Johnson) eerily pronounces, “There’s no such wind.” A cold wind is also blowing from the cargo hold, and the architect’s wife begins hearing strange noises through her headphones. Upon checking out the hold, the navigator freezes to death and the pilot suffers a strange scratch-like wound.
In a this-is-a-TV-movie-and-we-need-to-move-it-along kind of way, the passengers quickly surmise that an ancient Druid curse is at work, and take steps to placate the angry supernatural force on the plane. Not committing themselves fully to sacrificing the architect’s wife, who they view as the object of a curse, they offer a creepily made-up doll in her place. After their attempt fails—and with the summer solstice nearing—the passengers improvise an ancient rite in a last attempt to save their lives.
The Druid’s powers are nonsensical; they can hold up planes, make cold wind, cause people to speak in Latin, and bubble up odd-looking mud and green slime from the bulkhead. Perhaps the entire film simply exists in William Shatner’s fever dream, the boozy cynicism of his character bubbling up from his role as the passenger who sees a creature on the wing of the plane in the Nightmare at 20,000 Feet episode of The Twilight Zone. Even the pilot’s pronouncement of his navigator’s death twists a familiar Star Trek line; “Jim…he’s dead.”
Or else the plane serves as some Lost-like purgatory where the stars of The Rifleman, Gilligan’s Island, and Barnaby Jones rendezvous with the T.J. Hooker star before all being sucked out of the airlock into eternity.