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JUNE 2004

> CHILLER (1985) | mike smith

Directed by Wes Craven. Written by J.D. Feigelson. Starring Michael Beck (Miles Creighton), Beatrice Straight (Marion Creighton), Laura Johnson (Leigh Kenyon), Dick O'Neill (Clarence Beeson), Paul Sorvino (Reverend Penny), and Jill Schoelen (Stacey).

A cryptic sign outside of what appears to be a cryogenics facility reads, "They Shall See Tomorrow." Inside the lab, fog surrounds a row of chambers containing frozen human bodies. The facility and the bodies look a little creepy, but the fog and the music are too much. The atmosphere gets old after just a few minutes. A guard sits in an office and tries to take his mind off things by reading a book. He hears a few sounds, but as expected, he ignores them time and time again. Meanwhile, someone is lurking around the facility, looking at the guard and hiding behind one of the chambers whenever the guard looks up. Finally, the guard gets up and walks around with a flashlight. Also as expected, it turns out to be just another guard, there to relieve and prank his colleague for the night.

Almost immediately after the shift change, our prankster guard notices that one of the bodies is starting to "thaw out" and reports the malfunction to a supervisor. The next thing we know, Reverend Penny (Sorvino) is meeting Marion Creighton (Straight) at the hospital. Doctors say that since the body can't be re-frozen (for reasons that are not entirely explained), it is imperative they try to bring him back to life using technology that wasn't available 10 years ago. We learn the body is that of Marion's son, Miles Creighton (Beck). Marion naturally sees this as a second chance for her son and is all up for the resuscitation, while Reverend Penny is skeptical and doesn't want her to get her hopes up.

The lengthy surgery scene is way too dramatic as is the music that accompanies it. All we see are shots of scalpels being passed around to wide-eyed doctors. After five or six shocks, the doctors finally revive Miles. Miles is then in a coma for six weeks and doctors persuade Marion to pull the plug. She refuses on the grounds that her son is alive thanks to a miracle and insists that he will wake up. As if right on cue, an over-acting nurse treats Miles and he wakes up. The scariest moments in the film occur here, as Miles's body shakes and his veins bubble beneath his skin. His heart rate soars to over 200, adding to the suspense that was effectively built in this scene. Finally, his eyes open to reveal something evil (although we're not sure what this evil is). When the nurse tries to prove what she saw to a colleague, Miles's eyes are those of a normal person's and before we know it, Miles is running the company his father left him.

Miles soon begins physically and emotionally terrorizing Clarence Beeson (O'Neill), an old family friend who has been running the company while Miles was dead. Miles offers one of his employees a higher position in exchange for sex. She accepts and gets both the new position and a black eye. Miles also frightens and eventually attacks his half-sister, Stacey (Schoelen), who rightfully suspects Miles in the death of the family dog. These scenes are extremely weak because violence is only suggested, never shown. For instance, Miles "forces" Beeson up a few flights of stairs and he has a heart attack. Miles runs over Reverend Penny, but we only see the Reverend's eyes in Miles's headlights. Miles somehow uses his bare hands to kill the family dog, which is huge and vicious. We have only our imaginations here and since this is not one of Craven's better films, that's just not enough.

Although I was disappointed with the virtually non-existent violence and special effects in this "horror" film, I was more disappointed with the lack of character development between everyone. Straight genuinely portrays the mother whose son has returned to her, but her relationships with old friends like Beeson and Reverend Penny are never brought to the forefront. Useless characters like Stacey and the female employee provide only an outlet for us to see how evil Miles is and since we don't really like these characters, we don't feel too sorry for them when they are no longer in the picture. Sorvino only provides "clues" as to why Miles came back the way he did. We could have easily gathered these clues from Straight, who would have delivered them much more effectively and believably.

Chiller is obviously far from being Craven's best work. Beck as Miles is ridiculously weak as a leading man. Whereas Mitch Pileggi was ruthless in the role of Horace Pinker in Craven's Shocker, Beck simply comes off as an asshole in Chiller. We wonder why everyone is so afraid of him. He's not physically intimidating like Pinker or psychologically intimidating like Craven's Krueger in A Nightmare on Elm Street. It is too difficult for us to feel sorry for Creighton's victims because they have no excuse to be victims.

This film ultimately neglects the opportunity to examine how people would react to the scientific breakthrough that results in Miles Creighton's second chance. After Miles is back, there is absolutely no mention of cryogenics and what it means to the human race. In the end, it's up to the dying Reverend Penny to spread the word about Miles and force Marion to accept the truth about her son. Maybe the behavior of Miles represents the dangers of cryogenics, but by the end of this film, nobody cares.

> BIOGRAPHY | about the author

Mike Smith has worn lots of shoes.