THE CHILLING, a 1989 horror cheapie from directors Deland Nuse and Jack A. Sunseri, not only shares a similar title with Wes Craven's telepic CHILLER but it also mines the same territory: that of suspended animation through cryogenic technology. But while Craven's film was a weak satire on the corporate mentality of the 1980's, THE CHILLING takes a straightforward, horrific route, making the thawed-out dead flesh-hungry zombies. This approach makes it no less anemic than Craven's film.
THE CHILLING takes a while figuring out just what kind of story it wants to be, starting off as a listless melodrama about cryogenics research (where Troy Donahue oversees a clinic containing the frozen stiffs of Charlie Chaplin, Teddy Roosevelt, Walt Disney, and . . . Michael Jackson?) before shifting into crime flick, in which the criminal son of one of Donahue's clients is iced for later reanimation. Besides the inferior acting--the only real crime committed in this film--the budget for this movie wouldn't cover the overhead of a tampon commercial, let alone a thriller involving bank robbery. But once the overlong, head-scratching-inducing set-up finally gets out of the way, the directors break out the zombies as a freak accident unleashes them from their frozen states. The movies doesn't get any better, as it continues with the same leaden pace and incredulous storytelling skills, but at least the zombies are hungry, devouring any incidental character that crosses their path.
Linda Blair (who's wasted as Donahue's lab assistant) looks suitably embarrassed to be part of this travesty, and musters a straight enough face to make her way through her handful of scenes. GRIZZLY ADAMS's Dan Haggerty (who's not wasted enough as a loutish security guard) quickly steps in as the would-be hero, transforming from wage slave to zombie-slaying mofo in record time; too bad he never takes a page from the Bruce Campbell Playbook of Zombie Killing, proceeding to wipe out the living dead with as little muss, or gore, as possible.
It's woefully bland pablum, to be sure, but THE CHILLING manages to squeeze out a little extra stupidity for its finale, piling one inanity upon another until it crumbles beneath the weight of Haggerty's out-of-nowhere "tragic" flashback and the "gotcha!" ending. The filmmakers even follow up with a series of "Where are they now?" title cards, in which all the supposed loose ends are tied up and we learn where every goes afterward (Haggerty, we're told, traded in his rent-a-cop uniform for a cabin in the mountains where he lives with his pet bear--stop, my sides are aching).
Asinine and dull, THE CHILLING belongs in one of the film's frozen vaults, only we're going to play it smart and never let the damn thing out.