"Not even a scream escapes."
(back of video blurb):
"Just ordinary people on an ordinanry vacation, and what could be more pleasant than a journey through a unique national wonder?
Perhaps a trip into "Death Valley".
What starts out as an ordinary vacation becomes instead a nightmare from which the travellers neither awaken nor flee. Their relationships to one another, their sanity, and finally their lives becomes the targets of fiendish insanity in a huge surrealistic landscape where there is no place to hide. Sometimes mysterious and sometimes beautiful, this time the blazing open spaces of "Death Valley" conceals an extraordinary form of terror.
But no filmmakers have ever before devoted an entire movie to the wild beauty and the bedrock terror which Death Valley so uniquely has to offer.
"Death Valley". A journey into ultimate terror."
"Three people cut up- like those others found over the years ..."
The local sheriff starts to see a pattern emerging
A mechanical and heavy handed, but minorly effective exercise in sustained suspense, DEATH VALLEY has enough of those good ol' early 80's slasher treats to keep even the most jaded fan, if not on the edge of their seat then certainly moving that way.
Now, I don't have to tell you that each slasher flick has a gimmick (admittedly quite a few choose to borrow the same gimmick from another, more successful, flick), here, bizarrely enough, it's country music and, instead of the usually de-riguer final girl we have a cutesy, blonde haired moppet in the shape of young Peter Billingsley, as Billy, to fend off the maniacal loon's flashing blade. Yes, it's bad taste like you imagine- and then some…
The film kicks off with Billy and his Dad (the LOST BOYS's Edward Herrmann) wandering around an early 80's wonderland New York, accompanied by some Godawful faux-regal music more suited to THE COLBYS (quite what kind of ambiance the filmmakers were aiming at with this is anyone's guess). Now, poor Billy, with his bottom lip jutting out, hears how Dad is sending him off on holiday to Arizona with his Mom and her new boyfriend, which ends in a tearful farewell and the first of the film's annoyingly sentimental KRAMMER VS. KRAMER moments where young Billy lisps: "I love yoo Daad!". … Pass the bucket, purlease!
Billy's Mom (Catherine Hicks), who's got it together with her old highschool sweetheart, brings Billy on holiday and introduces him to her beau. Billy, however, is unimpressed and, with a contrived sulkiness, is a pain in the butt as they drive across Death Valley. Billy takes a momentary break from playing that most infuriatingly annoying of early 80's electronic games- SIMON, and gawps, slack-jawed, at a satanic looking car cruising behind them before it eventually passes the chugging station wagon.
Later, by an abandoned gold mine, a hot 'n' horny teen couple take a break from chopping cucumbers for their salad in one of those RACE WITH THE DEVIL-type palatial mobile homes. Taking to fondling a different type of fruit (in this case, melons) the teens realise, too late, that leaving a dirty big chopping knife lying around is just asking for trouble- and trouble is what they get in the form of some pretty graphic throat slittings at the hands of an unseen assailant.
In a fairly contrived move young Billy, stretching his legs, stumbles across the camper of death. He narrowly avoids any grue (despite pulling back more sliding doors than you'd think one mobile home could accommodate, in an attempt by the director to secure as many false suspense climaxes as humanly possible) but does find a frog pendant lying in the shagpile- unbeknownst to him dropped by the killer. Billy picks it up and, unknowingly, seals his fate.
OK, this isn't brain surgery. Through more twists and a fair few more contrivances Billy becomes the target of at least one psychotic killer.
DEATH VALLEY is quite unique. The emphasis there is on the 'quite', by-the-way. Despite the fact that it is a kid being stalked all the usual clichés are present and correct. What is unique about it is the fact that it features a killer (and the first that I can think of) who wears a stetson and a neckerchief to hide his identity- and, what is truly unique about this movie is that the killer tap-dances on a tin-roof whilst singing some good ol' country ditties in an attempt to scare his prey, and then dismantles their car and throws it, bit by bit, through the window of the house they're hiding in. Now, that I ain't seen before! It also features an overweight baby-sitter whose eventual undoing comes from her fatally sweet tooth, and a cool scene in a Western museum, where Billy thinks the killer is just firing blanks.
Against all odds there's actually a couple of creepily effective moments, too- notably the sight of a house's windows turning off one-by-one with an ominous crash on the soundtrack, signaling the still alive presence of the good ol' boy psycho.
The film, although fairly slickly made, is really only mildly diverting and has a fairly blunt sting in its tail. Also, it's almost sunk by a torturous amount of Country-and-Western music (have that remote handy!) and the aforementioned saccharine streak with the cutesy kid who keeps cracking lame jokes and looking all doe-eyed at the camera- believe me, my biggest fear in this flick was generated by an unshakable feeling he was going to sprout ringlets and break into a rendition of 'Good ship lollipop', at any moment. Now, that would have been scary.
BODYCOUNT 7 female:2 / male:5
1) Male has throat slit
2) Male found with throat slit
3) Female killed (method unseen)
4) Male whacked in the chest with pickax
5) Female has throat slit
6) Male shot dead
7) Male impaled on treetrunk