Charles Duke returns to his hometown in Oregon for a holiday, but unwillingly gets caught up along with congressman Jim Corbin political campaign. But Jim is not welcome, as he signed a paper to protect the surrounding wilderness and the town's local cutting mill is closed down because of it. To improve his image with the country folks. He and his secretary, along with Charles and two hometown friends go on a rafting trip. Three unemployed loggers who have been on the drink decide to start shooting at them for fun, but they accidentally kill one and go out of their make to make sure there's no more witnesses.
I really enjoy these types of survival films, and while the formulaic low-budget "Killing at Hell's Gate" is just another one of those battling the elements of nature and man. This is a more than decent made for TV time filler. While coming out around the same time of "Southern Comfort", it seems to share more common ground with the haunting 70s classic "Deliverance". You could almost call it a lesser clone with the hillbillies being replaced with laid-off woodcutters. No way can it match that film's power, but for what is was it's very well put together.
The way the film starts off its more interested in sitting through the cynical politics of this environmental issue, but it never gets too pushy and plays both sides of the coin reasonably. It's slow to get going, as it takes its time to set-up the situation with dramatic sub-plots and letting the impressively beautiful location photography shape up. When it gets lively and picks up the pace after the 45-minute mark. The agile camera-work gets adventurous and director Jerry Jameson rallies up the taut suspense in mildly successful spurts. The problem is it can't seem to sustain the tension throughout. Wearing it off was the editing so it could be played on TV. So those supposed TV breaks (when the screen went black) and the fade-away shot can destroy the mood. Gladly the riverside scenery was a pleasant viewing. A jarring atmosphere might be lacking and the routine (if stalling) script offers really no element of surprise, but Jameson's sturdily practical direction paves way for a solid outing without going out too hard. The film's final climax comes and goes with very little effect and marginally disappoints with its deflated ending. Like these TV presentations cook up, we get one melodically rumbling music score that caters for all moods that the story seems to splash up.
The performances are particularly sound and a few familiar faces show up. Robert Urich is engagingly credible as Charles. An adorably plucky redhead Lee Purcell is good as the businesses minded secretary Jane Pasco and the gorgeously confident Deborah Raffin is superb as "blue eyes" Anna Medley. As for the drunken loggers. A memorably bellowing Brion James plays the psycho lout with great ticker. George DiCenzo is equally as vile and bitter in his striking performance as the head figure Sam.
There's nothing particularly special finding its way into this foray, but efficient handling (and Brion James) makes this workman-like venture passable entertainment.
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