Childhood living is hard to do
“Not even a scream escapes.”
Director: Dick Richards / Writer: Richard Rothstein / Cast: Paul LeMat, Catherine Hicks, Peter Billingsley, Stephen McHattie, A. Wilford Brimley, Edward Herrmann, Mary Steelsmith.
Body Count: 7
Little Peter Billingsley (then aged 11) goes on vacation to Death Valley with his mom (Hicks) and her new beau (LeMat) and picks up a tacky trinket when he explores an abandoned RV in the desert. The teenage occupants of said vehicle have already been wasted by a knife-toting maniac who wants the gold that’s said to litter the valley floor and has possibly been murdering tourists for yeeeaaars… Or something.
Petey later sees creepy cars and waiters wearing a matching piece of jewelry, one that could place him at the scene of the murders, p’haps? Naturally, the adults don’t believe him but Sheriff Wilford Brimley investigates and the killer comes after Petey, offing a couple of other wrong-place-wrong-timers on route before the big chase finale.
Death Valley is a clunky film, aided no end by the on-location Arizona photography and electing a child hero rather than the usual teenage girl and also benefits from a strong cast of semi-knowns making the most of their slim roles. On the flipside, the bloodletting is almost as dry as the desert sand and there’s definitely room for some cranked-up tension that never really comes into play.
All the same, I kinda dug this one and, impressively, Billingsley still acts and has grown into quite the handsome fella if I say so myself, recently appearing in Iron Man.
Death Valley is one of those films that would probably benefit from a decent overhaul. Now I’m not advocating remake culture, but I’d rather see this “re-imagined” over something that doesn’t require a facelift.
Blurbs-of-interest: Catherine Hicks was the lead in Child’s Play; Stephen McHattie was later in The Dark Stranger; Wilford Brimley was in 10 to Midnight.