The Leavenworth Times - Leavenworth, KS
by Garon Cockrell
31 Days of Scream-O-Ween! - Death Valley
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Oct. 3, 2013 5:20 p.m.

By David Massey<>




you’d heard nothing about ‘Death Valley’ and never seen the poster, you’d get

about a quarter through the film still thinking it was an overly angsty kid’s

movie about dealing with divorce. To your surprise, you’d find that the film is

one of the most gussied-up, glitzy actor'd, low-brow slasher flicks every made,

fitting quite well amongst Scream Factory’s Blu-Ray revival of all things weird

and terrifying.<>


<> Death Valley




an impressive cast, it’s really no surprise if you haven’t heard of this one –

I hadn’t and I’m a child of the 80’s. In 1982, with slasher films reaching

their apex of interest, and audiences demanding more and more outlandish scenarios,

director Dick Richards (better known for westerns and noir) set out to make a

serious suspense thriller told from a young boy’s perspective. Fortunately (or

otherwise), he succeeded only in finding a bizarre new genre-limbo somewhere

between ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ and ‘Slumber Party Massacre’; ‘Death Valley’ is a bit

of an awkward fit.<>


played by Peter Billingsley (‘A Christmas Story’), is as sublime a ‘natural’ as

ever there was in the role of the young boy in question. He lives in Manhattan

with his father, a rather sophisticated businessman played by Edward Herrmann (‘The

Lost Boys’) and is about to take a vacation out west with his mother (Catherine

Hicks – ‘Child’s Play’) and her corn-fed boyfriend (Paul Le Mat – ‘American

Graffiti’). There’s no question that Billy is none too pleased at the prospect

but he’s immediately shown to be both mature and intelligent enough to cope.<>


from Billy’s misplaced distrust of his mother’s new beau, the newly-formed family

unit begins a trek across the deserts of Arizona with only the mildest of dysfunction

in tow. Our first hint that the story will dive into dread comes when Billy

notices an ominous old Cadillac passing on the highway; the scene recalls Spielberg’s

‘Duel’ or Carpenter’s ‘Christine’. From here the film spirals down into a bloody-red

murder mystery with Billingsley as the hunted witness and Wilford Brimley (‘The

Thing’) as the bumbling highway cop without any hope of protecting this

unsuspecting family from a mysterious killer.<>


really is a punch about a third of the way into the film (around the time we

see a completely obligatory topless vixen and tomato-soup-red blood pouring

from the neck of a victim – whose killing has no motivation by the way) that

the whole tone turns on its head. ‘Death Valley’ feels a bit like 2 movies with

2 different directors - who have vastly different goals - just collaged together

without much care or purpose. It’s no wonder that Universal didn’t really know

what to do with this one; it sat in a can for over a year before it was

released. Purpose aside, I sat down and tried to figure out why this film

doesn’t work and, in doing so, I found myself with a list of all the reasons it

does: big names, epic cinematography (filmed almost entirely on location),

Wilford Brimley, 1980’s nostalgia (see ‘SIMON’), unapologetic child-in-peril

scenario, and neon-orange blood splattered across half of the movie. What’s not

to like?<>






picture here is gorgeous with the perfect amount of film grain and color

saturation but ‘Death Valley’ definitely has the fewest bells and whistles of

the Scream Factory releases I’ve viewed to date. The packaging cover has the

original one-sheet with some stills on the inside and you get a copy on DVD as

well as Blu-Ray. There is an original Theatrical Trailer and TV Spot; one of

which (kind of) presents the film like a Dukes of Hazard episode, introducing

each of the characters in a folksy who-done-it manner – very odd.<>


highlight of the features – and by highlight I mean the greatest amount of good

intentions resulting in disappointing results – is the commentary with the

director, Dick Richards. In his defense, he has lived a long life and I’m sure

this film isn’t the highpoint but his level of disinterest is a bit shocking.

By half-way in, almost every question posed by the interviewer results in ‘I

don’t remember’ or ‘yes/no’. By the end, Richards seems to be completely

ignoring the questions and we get long periods of complete silence. If you are

a fan of this man’s work, he does talk quite a bit about his career and it

might be worth your time but, otherwise, I’d just focus on the film and give

the commentary a pass. <>




  • Audio Commentary with Director Dick Richards<>

  • Theatrical Trailer<>

  • TV Spot<> 



  • 1080p High-Definition Widescreen 1.78.1<>

  • DTS HD Master Audio Mono<>

  • English-only Audio & Subtitles<>

  • Original Release: 1982<>

  • Runtime: 87 Minutes<>

  • Rated R




  • Story: B / If Spielberg made slasher films, this

    would be his first.<>

  • Presentation: A / The epic desert locations look


  • Scare Factor: C / There are some good ‘jump-out’

    bits that might make you jump.<>

  • Gore Factor: D / Neon-Orange blood doesn’t really

    cut it for true gore.<>

  • Repeat view-ability: D / It drags a bit.

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