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Friday, January 19, 2018

The Ghost of Flight 401 (1978)

Well this starts a new series here at the horror dude blog. I’m calling it made for T.V. mayhem! Before we had hundreds of cable channels there were the big three networks. They had the audience all to themselves and because of that had some extra money to spend. All of them started to make some fun horror and science fiction movies. I’m going to cover some well-known ones like Kolchak as well as some hidden gems like this one. The Ghost of Flight 401 appeared on NBC in 1978 and told the supposed true story of a tragic crash and its aftermath. Let’s check it out.

In the opening, we are introduced to an airline pilot named Dom, played by Ernest Borgnine. He is a nice guy with a young family and a wife that he dotes on. He is very popular with his coworkers and is very kind. On a return flight to Miami he goes into the “hell hole” underneath the cockpit to check on the landing gear. Because he isn’t in his seat the other pilot doesn’t notice that the plane is descending due to accidentally bumping the controls. The jet crashes and many people die, including Dom. After the investigation, the parts are released and used as spares in other aircraft. Dom’s ghost starts to appear on those planes and actually warns one flight to Mexico about an engine fire before it happens.

This movie scared the heck out of me when I was a kid. Things start off with people smelling his cologne and seeing him reflected in glass. Eventually he starts to appear right in front of them and even speaks. It has a creepy vibe that continues to build until the very end. Now a much older me isn’t scared by this movie but I enjoy it for other reasons. First, I appreciate that you have a more innocent ghost story. Here Dom isn’t out to get anyone. The movie does a great job establishing that he is a decent person who feels responsible for his passengers even after death. He means no harm and the bit with the cologne implies that he is watching over his children. That is a nice change of pace from what we normally get from hauntings on screen.

Borgnine and Basinger!
I was also impressed by the cast. You get to see some very good actors in both large and small roles. Obviously, Ernest Borgnine is great as Dom, but after he dies there isn’t much acting or dialogue from him. This ghost gig seemed pretty easy for him! Howard Hesseman and Russell Johnson have small but important roles and are quite good. We even get to see a very young Kim Basinger on screen as well. But the performance that struck me was Gary Lockwood. He plays an executive and friend of Dom that doesn’t believe in ghosts. He shows a great deal of range from amusement to anger at the supposed haunting.

There isn’t much more to say about The Ghost of Flight 401. It is a fine example of the quality of these made for television movies. The networks too some pride in what they were shooting, and it was a great place for the up and coming as well as established actors to practice their craft. I recommend tracking down a copy and checking it out. The Ghost of Flight 401 is a good time and I encourage everyone to check it out. Hell I even linked to the full movie on YouTube instead of a trailer! You have no excuse.

© Copyright 2018 John Shatzer

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