Dying Room Only is a made-for-TV movie from 1973. When the movie began, I imagined that it would be incredibly cheesy, predictable, and poorly acted. Thankfully, I was in for a pleasant surprise. I suppose the fact that Warner Brothers is giving it an official DVD release 30 years later as part of their Archive Collection is a reasonable vote of confidence in the movie’s merit.
Dying Room Only opens with a couple stopping at a run-down diner in the middle of the desert. Jean Miller (played by Cloris Leachman) goes to use the restroom, and when she comes out her husband is gone. The two locals in the diner are hostile and refuse to help her. Eventually the sheriff arrives, and not even he can help find her missing husband. Jean begins her own investigation in a desperate attempt to find her husband and uncover exactly what is going on in this mysterious place.
This movie does an excellent job of creating suspense. You can see Jean go from mild worry that slowly grows into full-fledged panic. The atmosphere that is presented here is very engaging, and the viewer wants to just shout in frustration as no one will talk to Jean, even when they obviously know something.
Dying Room Only is based on a short story by Richard Matheson, who adapted it for the screen, and he did an outstanding job. Matheson is the author of the classic novel I Am Legend. His ability to craft frightening moments and suspenseful situations is put on full display here.
The music used throughout is appropriately eerie and supplements the action on screen nicely to heighten the growing sense of impending danger. Toward the end of the movie it falls into a bit more of the standard clichés, but the first hour works so well that it is hard to take umbrage with some minor shortcomings.
The biggest problem with this movie is the actual physical DVD. When I put it in my Xbox 360 to watch, it never loaded. The back of the case has this small warning at the bottom: “This disc is expected to play back in DVD video “Play Only” devices, and may not play back in other DVD devices, including recorders and PC drives.” I ended up having to play it in my laptop and connect it to the television with an S-video cable. There are also no special features at all, but that didn’t really come as a surprise.
This is a thrilling movie full of suspense that is a welcome reprieve from the unoriginal, gore-laden horror movies that seem to flood the theaters currently.