Saturday, August 4, 2012

Dying Room Only (1973)

After the success of Duel (1971), it was inevitable that prolific fantasy/sci-fi writer Richard Matheson would pen more TV movies in the same mode, although none of these subsequent projects had Duel’s strengths of an inspired concept and a superstar-in-the-making director. Still, second-rate Matheson telefilms including Dying Room Only are highly enjoyable, simply because the man knew how to twist the screws of a suspense story. In this seedy melodrama, stressed-out spouses Bob Mitchell (Dabney Coleman) and Jean Mitchell (Cloris Leachman) pull into a roadside motel while traveling through the Southwest. The Mitchells are suitably disturbed by the locals occupying the diner adjacent to the motel, including corpulent customer Tom King (Ned Beatty) and snarling short-order cook Jim Cutler (Ross Martin), so they decide not to stay. Yet while Jean uses the restroom, Bob disappears, and the locals try to persuade her that Bob bolted. Thus begins a slow-burn nightmare in which Jean must convince a small-town sheriff (Dana Elcar) that a conspiracy is afoot. Although the storyline of Dying Room Only is predicated on the usual contrivance of ostensibly intelligent people making stupid choices (when you walk into a redneck diner and everyone glares, leaving is probably your best option), Matheson brews a tangy combination of claustrophobia and paranoia. Leachman freaks out effectively, accentuating the primal emotions inherent to Matheson’s narrative; furthermore, reliable character players Beatty, Coleman, and Elcar nail their supporting roles, while Martin is surprisingly sinister as the main villain. Familiar to TV audiences for his long run as a wisecracking sidekick on The Wild, Wild West (1965-1969), veteran actor Martin digs into darkness with gusto. Like so many TV movies of the era, Dying Room Only ends abruptly since the brief running time precludes full exploration of the story, but it’s a fun ride while it lasts. (Available at

Dying Room Only: FUNKY


Bonnach said...

Thanks for the info on where to get this. I'm a big Matheson fan.

Also, I love this blog, I check it out frequently.

By Peter Hanson said...

You're welcome, and thanks for visiting frequently!

F. Ben Martin said...

Pre-Wild, Wild West Ross Martin played many villains, most impressively, terrifyingly and memorably (in my opinion) in Blake Edwards' EXPERIMENT IN TERROR for which Martin was nominated for a Golden Globe supporting actor award. Am extraordinarily versatile actor who adored his profession.