*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Cry Terror! is written, produced and directed by Andrew and Virginia L. Stone. It stars Rod Steiger, James Mason, Inger Stevens, Neville Brand, Angie Dickinson, Kenneth Tobey and Jack Klugman. Music is by Howard Jackson and cinematography by Walter Strenge.
Once in a while there comes a time when you have to say enough is enough with your willingness to accept the fantastique with certain genre viewings. Most film noir fans and avid watchers of olde classic crime cinema will gladly, and rightly, expect and embrace contrivances and a suspension of disbelief. However, this only works if the cast are dynamite in performance and the ultimate pay off is an edge of the seat wowzer.
Cry Terror! asks way too much of its viewers, even for those just passing through looking to tick off a Rod Steiger or James Mason movie from their completist lists. The Stone's, Andrew and Virginia, get pretty much everything wrong here.
Potential of story is nicely set up. Mason is an inventor type dude who gets bluffed by Steiger's shifty operator into making some time bombs on promise of a government sanctioned military contract. Steiger, though, is a thief type who along with his less than brainy minions, demands ransom money or they will blow up passenger aeroplanes. Fast forward and Mason and family (wife and child) are taken hostage whilst Steiger smirks a lot and demands money with menace from the authority suits led by a square jawed Tobey.
So far so possibly good, then. The FBI guys are shown debating and pontificating in true documentary style, while back at the sweaty hostage house Mason stands firm to protect his woman and child. Stevens as his wife is coerced by force into being the bag lady, so she has to go out in the car and collect the ransom money in an allotted time scale or else Jimmy and child are done for. She narrates her every thought as she comes across the everyday pains of American traffic. The suspense is marginal as we are asked to wonder if she will make the return rendezvous in time.
Meanwhile, Jimmy and child are left in the company of Klugman and Dickinson up in some penthouse suite. Klugman is utterly miscast and Dickinson is utterly wasted. So as they are probably miffed at the weak script, both Jack and Angie allow Jimmy to go a wandering out on the terrace for twenty minutes, from where he turns into John McClane in a lift shaft and achieves absolutely nothing that ultimately affects the finale!
It's so frustrating, that a highly impressive cast list could be so badly used, in fact a few role reversals could have made this an excellent thriller, and that is even allowing for the ridiculous plot dynamics. There's a pat on the back due for the Big Apple location photography, while Brand, although cast in type, creates the only genuine menace in the picture as a sexually aggressive ex-con dependant on "Bennies" to get him through the day. But break it down as a whole, and it's very much a case of a production team getting it badly wrong. 6/10
on 28 March 2014
Husband and wife team Andrew and Virginia Stone were responsible for several excellent thrillers during the 1950s and ‘60s – and Cry Terror, with its’ top grade cast and genuine locations, was one of their best. A tale of extortion, with a family held hostage, and episodes that include bombs on planes, car racing against the clock in crowded New York streets, attempted rape, lift shaft manoeuvring and a subway chase, never slackens the pace or tension throughout the film’s 96 minute playing time.
But the edge-of-your-seat plot is well matched by the superior casting. Rod Steiger is the menacing leader of a trio of psychos that includes a nervous pill-popper living on the edge (Neville Brand) and a sadistic, would-be child killer (Angie Dickinson) taking over the lives of husband and wife, James Mason and Inger Stevens – the latter giving a powerhouse performance throughout, shifting between freight to sheer hysteria. Then, on the other side of the picture, the FBI (headed up by Kenneth Tobey) go methodically through their paces in a desperate race against time. A remarkably effective thriller, Cry Terror is a film that deserves much wider recognition.