A Cold Night’s Death (TV movie) (1973)

A Cold Nights Death – sometimes also shown as The Chill Factor – opens much like a low budget TV rendition of the classic Thing From Another World as our heroes – played by Robert Culp and Eli Wallach – arrive at a remote research base half buried in deep snow drifts.
Contact has been lost and they are onsite to regain it and relieve the current researcher who is on site. This, of course, turns out to be rather more difficult to do than they initially thought when the researcher turns out to be frozen to death in room exposed to the elements and the chimpanzees being used as research subjects are found uncared for.
Trapped in isolation with a broken radio and a closed room mystery the two researchers begin to pour through the evidence, the main portion of which is recorded on a frozen reel of tape on which the previous researcher was compiling his notes.
As Culp tries to piece together what happened Wallach tends to the chimpanzees and in doing so begins to experience odd activity around the base. Doors close on him, items are moved and machinery is turned off unexpectedly. Slowly seeds of mistrust are sown and Wallach becomes convinced that Culp is doing research of his own on the base, with Wallach as his subject.
A Cold Nights Death runs a scant seventy minutes, presumably allowing for commercial breaks to raise its running time to a traditional 90 when shown, but it manages this seventy minutes surprisingly well with very little budget and cast to distract its audience. It has to rely solely on its two leads to carry a story of paranoia and mystery and it pretty much perfectly cast for this.
Robert Culp is great as the aloof researcher Robert Jones and Eli Wallach is equally good as the erratic and increasingly unhinged Frank Enari, and the two play off each other perfectly with Robert far too distracted with the mystery too see just how badly Frank suspects him.
As the reel of cassette tape in unfrozen we begin to hear the ramblings of the previous researcher and Robert becomes more aware of a larger story being played out but as he tries to convince Frank of this the paranoid researcher just sees it as more evidence of Roberts manipulation.
With surprising care the director Jerrold Freedman – who went on to direct for The X Files, Alfred Hitchcock Presents and McGyver – manages to create a claustrophobic paranoid filled mystery with an ending that may stretch credibility somewhat, but still manages to be satisfying and more than a little haunting.
This is of course aided greatly by a concise and believable script by genre veteran Christopher Knopf who is best known as a co-writer of the classic 1957 film “20 Million Miles to Earth” realised for the screen by Ray Harryhausen.
Though Freedman and Knopf may not be horror royalty they are certainly names of note and should give any viewer a moment’s pause to see that A Cold Nights Death should be perhaps considered a little more seriously than many of its contemporaries.
Originally shown way back in January 1973 by ABC in the USA A Cold Nights Death is a great example of TV horror that easily deserves an hour of its viewers time. Even though it’s over forty years old and includes such technology as AM transmitters and cassette tape it hasn’t aged too badly at all; and this is due to its simple construction and thoughtful presentation by its actors and director.
If I can go a little off topic to close I find watching old TV presentations like this to be a bitter sweet experience, not only do I see many productions that are sadly underappreciated but I also see many faces that are no longer with us. Both Robert Culp and Eli Wallach died within the last ten years; Culp in March 2010 and Wallach in June 2014, and I have to say this changes the viewing experience and makes me believe that such films should be far better preserved.
It would, after all, be very sad to see such little gems as A Cold Night Death be lost to future generations.
Until next time, wrap up warm, keep your eyes on those around you and watch out for the uncanny and unusual.
Until next time…
Take care.

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