The premise of Quiet Killer sounds like the setup for a bad joke: A deadly plague invades Manhattan — how could anyone tell? In this fictional TV movie, Kate Jackson is an epidemiologist who is among the first to recognize the symptoms of the deadly disease pneumonic plague (colleague to Kate: ”What is it?” Kate: ”It’s the plague, Jake — it’s the plague!”). Subplots follow some of the disease’s victims, such as a congressman (Howard Hesseman) who doesn’t want to go to the hospital because his wife might find out he has been in Manhattan with his mistress.
Though often ridiculously overwrought (”There are riots breaking out all over the city — actual riots!”), Killer has some effective scenes. In fact, an early sequence,in which we see a young woman crawl along Park Avenue, cough up blood, and then die from what she’d assumed was just the flu, is scarier than most horror movies. And Jerry Orbach, much less hangdog than he was earlier in the week in Broadway Bound, is terrific as the cool, unpretentious New York health commissioner who concludes a tense meeting by saying, ”Let’s try to stay calm, shall we — and let’s not call each other ‘doctor’ so much, okay?” In moments like these, it’s easy to see that Killer, directed by Sheldon Larry (Burning Bridges, Doogie Howser, M.D.), could have been a better TV movie. C