20 March 2011


Twelve Things about Death Valley

12. In my Twelve Things about Poltergeist, I wondered why we don't have more "Family Horror". There's no reason children can't enjoy a good scary story. (Seriously, have you ever read the earliest versions of supposedly child-friendly fairy tales?) If you don't mind that Death Valley got an R rating when it first came out, you might want to screen it for your own scare-starved child.

11. I'm not kidding about your kids. This relatively gruesome story of a serial killer skates on a certain level of innocence: only appropriate, as its central character is still a small boy.

Young Billy knows that certain things are amiss and that some people he meets are not to be trusted--but he doesn't see the full darkness of human evil.

Some viewers who were young in the 80s
consider this a "childhood film,"
on the level of The Goonies.

10. Heck, this movie is so innocent that Billy doesn't even see the full darkness of single motherhood.

That surprised me a little: I'm used to 80s movies taking resentful shots at single mothers. Death Valley is unusually forgiving of this mother's choice to take her son from the cultured, polished, virtually symphonic streets of New York City, where his father works as a professor, to the dusty, sun-baked world of Death Valley, where they are to start anew with her younger boyfriend. (It will be another two years before we see Daniel San hit his own single mother with an emotional crane kick of reality . . . but we can wait.)

9. Oh, the mother is played by a very young, very pretty Catherine Hicks. I barely recognised her!

Until the credits rolled, I kept thinking, "I've got to find out the name of this actress who looks like Catherine Hicks!" (LOL!)

8. The father is Edward Herrmann, who does a lot with what is little more than a cameo role. We see him at the beginning, enjoying a whole day with his son. Even before I learned the family dynamics, I thought he had the slightly hungry look of a man who only sees his boy on weekends. And by the end of the sequence, he had the beaten down look of a man who knows that from then on, he will only see his boy on major holidays.

7. As for the boyfriend . . . Let's just say that if this were an "Adults Only" Horror movie, the killer would have gone straight for him and gutted him like a fish. Again, this movie is far more forgiving.

6. Indeed, just when I had the analogy--

New York City : Heaven :: Death Valley : Hell

--neatly set up in my mind . . . the movie showed me how terribly wrong I was.

Death Valley isn't a place where children go to suffer. It's a national park where citified children go to have adventures with some real Western flavour.

5. You read that right: this Horror movie takes its inspiration from classic Westerns! =D It's a cinematic hybrid one doesn't see every day.

At least I know I don't see it every day. But apparently there are lots of Horror films from the same era (or earlier) set in the desert. Interesting . . .

4. I must admit now that I love the setting. These ruins are evocative.

3. Best Line:

"I'll be right back . . . I hate the scary part."

That is the undisputed #1 entry in the "Top 100 Things You Should Never Say if You are a Baby-sitter, Your Charge is Watching a 'Scary' Movie, and You are about to Leave the Room".

2. Something else appropriately scary? The villain's car! It's the perfect kind of creepy for a child!

1. Some people have trouble with the ending, but I didn't. I really liked the twist that was worked in.

But the movie does end too abruptly for me. I would have liked to see the adventure get some real closure with our young hero returning--ideally in his Western gear--to New York City, to regale his father with the story of how he helped take down a serial killer.

Image Source: Death Valley poster


The Mike said...

I've totally never even heard of this...but now I want it. Good as always, ma'am!

Enbrethiliel said...


Thanks again, The Mike! =) This review doesn't really do it justice, though, because I'm so unfamiliar with the Western genre. I suppose I should have asked my twelve-year-old brother to write up this "Twelve Things" post, as he still has a fresher memory of being Billy's age. He saw it with me, of course. ;-)