Anyone familiar with the career of Wes Craven--fans and detractors alike--will be able to tell you his resume is littered with more highs and lows than the national economy; it's hard to believe that the same creative force behind such groundbreaking classics as A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET and SCREAM trotted out mortgage-paying dross like DEADLY FRIEND and SHOCKER. Like many of his fellow titans of terror, Craven ventured into television during the '80s for a quick payday, though even someone with as spotty a work history as Craven should've been able to avoid churning out a frosted dog turd like the 1985 TV-movie CHILLER.
Before I launch into a wholly negative review, let me just add something in fairness to the movie. I purchased the copy being reviewed here for a dollar in one of those free-for-all bargain bins at Wal-Mart, and I don't know how much of the technical ineptitude is poor filmmaking and how much is just a shitty transfer; the picture's frequently blurry, the sound so muddled it's inaudible most of the time. Though supposedly filmed for television, the picture also looks as cramped as a reformatted theatrical movie. So the primary act of simply staring at the television with this thing on is a chore. Nothing within the film itself makes it easier.
Unable to accept the untimely death of her son Miles (Michael Beck), wealthy Beatrice Straight has him cryogenically frozen in the hopes he can one day be resuscitated, much to the chagrin of minister and family friend Paul Sorvino (totally phoning it in here). When a malfunction in his cryogenic chamber suddenly revives him--a rather pertinent plot point that's soon swept under the rug--Straight and her doctors are quick to call it a miracle, unaware that Miles has returned a soulless, unfeeling being. Can Sorvino convince Straight to look past her maternal affections to see the monster her son has become? Will you be able to stay awake long enough to find out?
Photographed, directed, and acted like a soap opera, CHILLER uses the then cutting-edge concept of cryogenics as a gimmick to hang weak domestic theatrics upon. The playing-God angle intimated in the beginning is swiftly dropped in favor of obvious metaphor and possible satire (if that's what this is, it's poorly handled) of the mid-'80s corporate mentality. Running the family company despite being dead for ten years, Miles is a cold, mercenary businessman, focused only on profit margins. Not only does he discontinue charitable contributions that eat into the bottom line, he forces out established (read: old) employees by killing them in dramatically undramatic means (like making them walk up numerous flights of stairs until cardiac arrest) and sexually harasses a female executive (who--in a detail that would send the blood of women and men alike boiling today--freely acquiesces to his advances for the raise and the corner office). He also has an unhealthy interest in underage Stacey (THE STEPFATHER's Jill Schoelen), who I believe is his sister (!).
In the only bright spot of the movie, Beck capably portrays the ruthless, upwardly-mobile yuppie cut-throat, his performance so smug and cold it's almost uncomfortable to watch. The rest of CHILLER, however, remains tame to the point of absurdity, its effectiveness as a thriller blunted by its toothless approach and its emotional core underdeveloped. (There might've been a sense of tragedy if we'd known Miles before his death, though I think the point is that Straight needs to know when to let go.) Slow and drawn-out, as if to prolong suspense that doesn't exist--it's bad enough to make Craven's other made-for-TV howler INVITATION TO HELL look like THE HILLS HAVE EYES.
(Couldn't find a trailer or TV spot, though some helpful wag managed to compile all of Schoelen's scenes for your enjoyment--which is just as creepy as Beck's fascination in this movie.)