#18 in my ranking of Wes Craven’s filmography.
Wes Craven was suddenly hot stuff, so Chiller sometimes gets billed as Wes Craven’s Chiller. Well, he didn’t write it, it was written by J.D. Feigelson (who also produced the television movie), and it’s more of a return to form for Craven after A Nightmare on Elm Street, by which I mean that it’s Craven returning to his less than stellar roots of horror filmmaking. There are ideas there (they seem one step removed from Craven’s well-trod ground), but the film ultimately just settled into dullness for a very long stretch. It’s unfortunate because the opening is actually surprisingly strong, but there comes a point where all of the promise of that opening is just lost.
Miles Creighton (Michael Beck) was near death and put into a coma and cryogenically frozen ten years before the start of the film where his cryo-pod malfunctions, requiring an emergency procedure and surgery not available ten years prior in an effort to save his life. At the behest of his mother Marion (Beatrice Straight), the doctors go through with it, saving his life. This opening half-hour or so is actually pretty solid stuff. The mystery of the pods, the emergency of the surgery, the earnestness of Marion, the wariness of Reverend Penny (Paul Sorvino), and, finally, the outright body horror of Miles’ body waking up all combine into an entertaining package that would serve as an open-ended short film. If you’re thinking of checking this out, I would honestly just click the thing off after Miles wakes up, because nothing afterwards is all that interesting.
Miles, you see, before he went into cryosleep secretly, was the head of a corporation, and the second he’s back up, Clarence Beeson (Dick O’Neill), an executive at the place, offers him his old job back of CEO, apparently. Because corporations (even privately held ones governed by boards of directors) often just fire CEOs and replace them with people who have been legally dead for a decade. Whatever. It’s stupid, but we can go with it.
Heartless Miles enters his position all heartlessly and immediately wants to kill all charitable works that the company is giving while in the middle of an economic downturn where the company has done better than expected. (I’m the heartless guy who was cheering him on because I loathe all corporate charitable giving.) Up against him is Leigh Kenyon (Laura Johnson), the head of marketing who insists that all of the other big corporations do it (not that it’s effective, sorry, this is kind of a hobby horse of mine), and Miles sets out to dominate her after firing Clarence because he’s heartless.
And…that’s pretty much the bulk of the movie. He’s heartless and he’s a bully. Much like the rest of Craven’s filmography, there’s no sense of rising dramatic tension or stakes. It’s just a series of things that happen in a row where someone is kind of unpleasant until we’re gonna get our big showdown. In some of his work, the showdown is enough to make at least some of the film entertaining (like Invitation to Hell), but others are kind of sad and pathetic (like Summer of Fear). This is the latter.
There’s no real imagination to how it all ends. It’s just a steady series of small events where Miles is kind of a dick to everyone, capping with him running into Reverend Penny and sort of driving off with Penny’s coat caught in the door of his car, and then an attempt to sexually dominate his mother’s ward whom she took on in the ensuing ten years, Stacey (Jill Schoelen). The horror/action climax happens in a freezer (to some ironic effect, I suppose).
The idea supposedly at the film’s core is something to do with the presence of the soul, the idea that science bringing a man back to life brings back only the body, the animal, and none of the humanity. It’s little more than an excuse for anything, though, brought up late and done nothing with it.
This isn’t Craven’s worst film, but it’s near the bottom. That first thirty minutes or so is intriguing and ends with a bit of a bang of a body horror spectacle that is actually quite creepy. Everything after that is just dull, plodding, and formless.