On the last flight of a transatlantic passenger airliner, a priest, a rabbi and the airline crew team together to save a plane from a pandemic of demonic possessions.
Until now, I had thought the singularly distinctive example of the supernatural horror/air disaster mish-mosh was 1973’s made-for-tv The Horror at 37,000 Feet. Essentially it was Hollywood stiffs versus a possessed sarcophagus from an ancient English abbey being carried onboard. You’ve got Chuck Connors, Buddy Ebsen, William Shatner (as a defrocked priest!) and the professor from Gilligan’s Island (Russell Johnson) tangling with an otherworldly evil born somewhere during the middle ages and druidic sacrifice. Directed by David Lowell Rich with more than a slight sense of campy seriousness, it is a silly, fun gem to view on any late Saturday night. Now, along comes director Chad Ferrin’s hilarious and gory take on an airline horror beyond the usual lost luggage terror tale.
Father Romero has a problem of the demon from hell variety. It is a malevolent entity inside the body of a killer named Garvin who he first tussles with in the home of a guy who Garvin has just compelled to kill his entire family and their beloved dog. Thinking the entity vanquished, Romero has the body placed on a commercial jet-liner destined for Ho Chi Minh City in South Vietnam. Romero fails to realize that the presence was merely laying in wait for revenge. More possessions, death and mayhem befall the passengers and crew as they struggle to defeat this invisible spawn from Hell. If only George Kennedy were here from the Airport pictures. Patroni would know exactly what to do!
Ferrin is no stranger to low budget chillers, having helmed Parasites from 2016 and even going back to the bonkers indie feature The Ghouls from 2003. One skill that he continues to exude well in his films is a reliance on a veteran actor or cast when budget allows.
A key arrow to have in your filmic quivver if you stand a chance at making the often outlandish material that makes up an entry in the bloodcurdler genre palatable enough for an audience to willingly absorb things for 90 minutes. Similarly, when the vet roster of actors isn’t enough, try to get writers with enough courage to allow themselves to let the outrageous elements shine on the same level as the more linear narrative.
The willingness to let yourself play with a story without going completely over the edge as to lose all credibility with the audience. Who better to mix kinetic chaos with a good vs. evil formula than the guy who brought a whole new level of comic terror into child conception in 2018’s Cynthia (the first film produced under the Girls and Corpses Presents banner) Rhine seems to either enjoy multi-tasking or have some fetish for self-masochism of a sort because, just as in Cynthia, he dons several job hats with Exorcism. In addition to handling the script (with co-writer Daniel Benton), he produces and co-stars (hilarious as Rabbi Feldman) along with a roster of pros already familiar with the material surrounding them.
Stepping in as the hero, Robert Miano is one of those talents who you, no doubt, remember the face more so than the name. Especially with film fanatics such as myself. I recall him in a strong, very brief moment as a thug in Michael Winner’s 1974 Bronson epic Death Wish. However, the visage and name seared into my brain with his unforgettable work in a small part as Sonny Red alongside Al Pacino and Johnny Depp in the 1997 gangster epic Donnie Brasco. Miano is the type of thespian where reactions, an eye stare, and vocal tonations, and simply lines on the face tell more of the character’s story than an abundance of dialogue could. There is a level of seriousness to his performance that grabs the viewer.
Yet, one gets the feeling that there is a hint of eye wink/kid the audience just under the grim veneer. Supporting Miano a handful of old horror hands who work the material like ghoulish putty in their hands. Lance Henriksen and Kevin J. O’Connor serve nicely as thecrusting, nearing retirement flight captain (complete with a whiskey bottle to get himself going) and his co-pilot. Adrienne Barbeau shows up as a slightly off-kilter senior who keeps a dead dog as company. Bill Moseley has a grand time as the supernatural killer Garvin (chewing the scenery with just the right gusto). The scene-stealers for me, though, were Matthew Moy (Han from 2 Broke Girls series fame) and Bai Ling, who are hysterical as two of the lowest rent flight attendants you will ever experience. A bit involving Moy and green puke had me rolling on the floor.
Special kudos to Ferrin for not just paying tribute to Horror at 37,000 Feet but also giving nods to The Exorcist (Romero’s opening arrival scene in front of the murder house ala Father Merrin and a brief riff on being possessed and diving out of an upstairs window similar to Father Karras’ fate) and even a segment that echoes the snake attack of two people having sex in a plane’s lavatory in the Sam Jackson 2006 opus Snakes on a Plane.
Exorcism at 60,000 Feet is that film that cheerfully plays with its audience. A bucket of blood here, some pea green puke, nuns who engage in lesbian sex as well as ample amounts of other outrageous humor, and a game cast of artists who are in all-too-familiar surroundings and loving it. The end goal achieved by all involved with the production should be (but isn’t always) the mission statement of all cinema studios: give the audience ninety minutes of as much pure escape from reality as is possible.
Exorcism at 60,000 Feet is a Girls and Corpses Presents Production which is being distributed by Shout Factory and Scream Factory