When wealthy teenager Sarah Dobbs (Kathleen Robertson) vomits up blood and then drops dead in the middle of New York City, the coroner’s office is baffled as to what killed her. As far as anyone knows, Sarah has just been suffering from the flu, which she apparently contracted when she was recently overseas. However, there is one doctor in New York who thinks that she knows what’s happening. Dr. Nora Hart (Kate Jackson) takes one look at Sarah’s case and decides that the Black Death — the same plague that wiped out half of the world’s population in 54 AD — has come to New York!
Nora wants to shut down the city immediately but Mayor Carmichael (Al Waxman) says that would not only lead to mass panic but it would also an economic disaster. Working with a team of other doctors (including Jerry Orbach, who is always a welcome presence in New York films), Dr. Hart tries to track down everyone who Sarah came into contact with and quarantine them before both a panic and a pandemic breaks out. Unfortunately, one congressman (Howard Hesseman!) doesn’t want to go into quarantine because that would mean admitting that he was in Manhattan to visit his mistress. Despite everyone’s best efforts, mass panic follows.
Quiet Killer (which is also known as Black Death) is a made-for-TV movie that used to show up on late night television throughout the 90s. It’s a typically overwrought disaster film and it’s easy to laugh at some of the dialogue and some of the acting. (Kate Jackson is particularly wooden in the lead role.) The first time I saw it, I thought the most interesting thing about it was that it featured Howard Hesseman as a congressman. For those who know Hesseman best for playing characters like Dr. Johnny Fever on WKRP, it’s strange to see him playing a member of the establishment. Hesseman isn’t bad in the role but it never makes sense that he wouldn’t be able to think of a way to explain away his presence in Manhattan. You would think a politician would be better at coming up with an alibi or that he could have pulled some strings to keep it from being revealed that he had been quarantined. Instead, he decides to just run off and potentially infect the entire nation. That’s not what I pay my tax dollars for.
Quiet Killer is a good example of how real-life events can shape how we view a film. Up until just a few months ago, this would have seemed like just another cheesy disaster movie. Watch it today and it feels prophetic. Hopefully, by this time next year, it will be back to just being cheesy.