Perky administrator Mary Hampton (Linda Blair) consoles wealthy businessman Joseph Davenport Sr. (Jack De Rieux) as his dead wife is placed in cryogenic suspension in the hope scientists in the future can find a cure for her ailment. Six months later the poor man goes through the whole thing again when his crime-crazed son, Joe Jr. (Ron Vincent) is shot dead in a botched bank robbery. He ends up in cryo-freeze too. What no-one suspects is Dr. Miller (Troy Donahue), the sinister scientist behind Universal Cryogenics, is secretly harvesting organs from his frozen patients for sale in Mexico. One stormy night burly security guard Vince (Dan Haggerty) is on duty when a bolt of lightning strikes the lab. It sparks a freak chemical reaction with Dr. Miller's special embalming fluid that reanimates the frozen corpses as flesh-eating zombies. Yikes!
For certain actors with careers on the skids there was no such thing as an all time low. Their roles just kept getting worse and worse. Such was the case for faded Sixties heartthrob Troy Donahue although onetime Pazuzu-possessed Linda Blair was a long way away from the glories of The Exorcist (1973) here or even the mindless mayhem of Savage Streets (1984). Co-star Dan Haggerty remains best known for his enduring role as amiable mountain man Grizzly Adams on television and in numerous DTV spin-off movies but was no stranger to exploitation. He paid his dues in biker movies like Angels Die Hard (1970), Chrome and Hot Leather (1971) and Bury Me an Angel (1972) as well as bizarro bikers versus witches flick Hex (1973) and the same year as The Chilling appeared in the equally lacklustre Elves (1989). All in all despite a collectively dubious output in gutter cinema, The Chilling was a high point for no-one in this ensemble. However, to Linda Blair's credit, she comes across like a real trooper as always while the rest of the performers pitch towards farce.
Not necessarily the worst zombie movie ever made, although not for lack of trying, The Chilling opens with a ridiculous pre-title crawl that declares “the facts are true, the characters are fictional” and ponders the ethics of cryogenics: “Would God approve or is this Satan's work?” Thereafter the film goes out of its way to stress that cryogenics is not just a scam but nothing less than an affront to the will of God, implying that the lightning bolt responsible for unleashing zombie mayhem was some sort of heavenly judgement. Given co-directors Deland Nuse (also the cinematographer) and Jack A. Sunseri (also screenwriter and producer) pan past a row of cryo-chambers housing the likes of Walt Disney, Michael Jackson and Theodore Roosevelt (?!) and the climax features a reanimated Ayatolla Khomeini running amuck one suspects their intentions were none too serious. The film abounds with cheesy jokes what with being set on Halloween, including numerous references to a certain seminal John Carpenter slasher movie (Loomis Armoured Security, anyone?) and a scene where an electrician mistakes one zombie for a trick-or-treater.
It is high on mayhem, low on directorial competence with long, dull stretches focused on banter between Haggerty's bloated, bleary eyed security guy and a semi-romance between Blair's largely irrelevant heroine and De Rieux's balding, middle aged millionaire. Although Nuse musters some mildly spooky cinematography the pacing is inept and devoid of suspense with zombie makeup that is iffy to say the least. As the maniacal Dr. Miller, Troy Donahue gives another of his off-kilter performances less memorable than his equally embarrassing turn in the botched live action adaptation of Kazuo Umezu's outstanding horror manga Drifting Classroom (1987). If you make it through to the end of The Chilling, keep watching for the ridiculous postscript seemingly modelled on American Graffiti (1973) of all things.