Do you know how rare it is for me to get a new Blu-ray in of an old horror movie that I haven’t already seen? As I pride myself on being a walking encyclopedia of all things spooky, let me assure you that it’s incredibly rare. So when I got this new BD from the amazing Scream Factory for the 1982 thriller Death Valley, I was stoked to watch it. Did my excitement remain until the end of the movie or when it was over did I say, “oh yeah, that’s why I never watched this movie before?” Well keep reading and you’ll find out. Oh and as an added bonus, I actually penned some notes while I was watching this movie for the first time, and since that is also a rarity, I thought I’d include them here.
30 seconds in – Hey it’s got the big bad vamp from The Lost Boys (Edward Herrmann) in it. Cool.
5 minutes in – Oh, I guess he’s not really in this movie. Bye, Edward Herrman.
6 minutes in – Hey it’s got Andy’s mom from Child’s Play (Catherine Hicks) in it.
10 minutes in – I usually hate child actors, but thank god this kid is Peter (A Christmas Story) Billingsley, he’s not too bad.
15 minutes in – You know, from the look of this film, to the beginning credits, to the direction and everything in between, this looks like a made for TV movie. Not that that’s a bad thing. Both Duel and Dark Night of the Scarecrow were made for TV flicks and they were pretty cool.
16 minutes – Nope, this wasn’t made for TV. Yay for naked boobies! Oh and a couple of slasher-esq throat slittings. Double yay.
27 minutes in – who would wear such a big, ugly, gaudy necklace. Oh wait, this was the early ’80s. Never mind…
31 minutes in – Hey it’s got Wilford Brimley in it. I like him. Hmmm, I could really go for some oatmeal right about now.
42 minutes in – finally something else happens! Almost 30 minutes since the last thing, I hope this movie picks up the pace. But speaking of picks, that was a pretty nice pickaxe kill. Jason Voorhees would be proud.
48 minutes in – why is this movie going to such pains to hide the killer’s face? We’ve only been introduced to a handful of characters and it’s pretty obvious who it is. Oh wait, don’t tell me … no, don’t tell me it’s going to be…
52 minutes in – You know, I think I’d do Andy’s mom.
1 hour in – Thrill as you watch people eat in diners, go to bars, walk around tourists traps, zzzzzzzz…
1 hour 10 minutes in – Yay creepy killer is finally here. He’s trying to be creepy, but mostly failing. And they’re now showing his face. Yeah the ending is going to be what I thought it was back at the 48 minute mark.
1 hour 16 minutes – Killer is far more silly than scary. Also, why is he doing this? Because “they want to take our gold.” Really? What is he, Leprechaun now?
1 hour 21 minutes in – OK, time for the big twist. Did I call it? Yes I did. Oh well, maybe it was more shocking or surprising back in 1982.
1 hour 24 minutes in – nice bit of misdirection at the end. Sort of stupid if you stop to think about it, but it works. Also death by pointy bushes is just awesome!
As you might be able to tell from the notes, Death Valley isn’t exactly action packed, or memorable, or all that good. The story is about a young boy leaving his dad in New York to go with his mom in the South West as she and her new boyfriend go on a tour of the titular valley of death. There the boy crosses paths with a crazed killer who then fixates on him. A (very) few murders later, not to mention a whole lot of padding that goes nowhere, and you have the confrontation between killer and family. The movie tries to pull off a twist, but I guessed what it would be miles off and most likely you will too. The whole thing wraps up rather unsatisfactory and just leaves you going, “Hmm, ok that was a thing.”
Now to be clear, Death Valley is not a bad movie, it’s just not a very good movie. It has a sort of “they don’t make ‘em like that anymore” early ’80s charm to it. The acting runs the gambit from good (young Peter Billingsley) to OK (Paul Le Mat as the boyfriend/surrogate father figure) to ridiculous (the killer, who I won’t name here to avoid spoilers). The direction is acceptable in a workmanlike way, but it does bring a made for TV feel to the movie. But when it’s all said and done, this film has an air of “meh” wafting through it. It’s the kind of thriller you can sit down and somewhat enjoy, but that you never have to watch again.
To reinforce my opinion that this is a mediocre movie, just look at how Scream Factory chose to release it. So far all of their previous releases were jam packed with extras and goodies. Up till now they had new cover artwork, reversible covers, and slipcases. Death Valley has none of that. As for what extras you can find on the disc, there’s an audio commentary with director Dick Richards, a few trailers, and that’s it. So it’s not completely barebones, but it nearly is. It is a Blu-ray/DVD combo pack, so there is that.
Death Valley might be an enjoyable blast from the past for some, but since I didn’t grow up with it, it wasn’t that for me. I found it to be a perfectly serviceable thriller with some old school slasher elements to it, but it drags at times and contains no surprises. If you fondly remember this one, then pick up the new Blue-ray as it’s a good HD transfer and the movie looks great. If you’ve never seen Death Valley yet, then you’re really not missing much. Consider this one a mild recommendation at best.