A priest comes to a small town to help get rid of a monster whose blood coagulates very fast. This creates problems as the monster is very hard to kill and then decides to go on a killing spree of its own.
Coming out during the influx of the slasher craze, "Death Valley" could be seen as one of those unlucky films that got lost in the crowd and was pushed aside with those lesser imitations. Unfortunately if that's the case it's undeserved (sadly no DVD release either), as it's a lot more accomplished than its rancid shockers. One thing though, it was one of those video cases that always drew me to its strikingly cool artwork.
Billy and his recently divorced mother leave New York for a vacation to California to meet up with her new boyfriend. For Billy it's hard seeing his mum with another man, but it's the less of his worries. As on their vacation to "Death Valley", Billy stumbles across an empty RV and picks up a necklace. Later they come across this RV again, but it was in an accident or so it seems. Unknowingly to them, there have been brutal murders in "Death Valley" and killer now has Billy in his sights.
"Death Valley" is like a second-rate Hitchcock-like thriller that decently grows on bone-rattling suspense, taking time to let the characters and circumstances unfold that when the threatening tic-tack-toe nature breaks out we're put in an act of alarm and desperation. It really puts the characters on the spot and breathing down an ominous air, the material doesn't do much to hide the killer's identity and the surprise twist is easy to figure out. The rural California locations do it wonders, as the secluded landscapes are harsh and vast with it being truly alienating --- nowhere to hide and help is a long way. Dick Richards directs with panache and vision, orchestrating the unhinged sounds (a suspenseful music score) and observatory imagery (moody camera angles and slow-motion) with the foreseeable one-track story. While slow-winding, as it's slowed up by passages involving family issues --- Billy accepting his mother's new boyfriend, but this does give it a grounded sincerity to the character's relationships and dynamics. These moments are broken up by the heighten tension and an odd nasty jolt that's well-timed by throwing you off with false bumps.
Performances are agreeable. Peter Billingsley (whose massive glasses are somewhat distracting) is likable as the know-all Billy and Catherine Hicks is simply delightful (although she does some questionable actions in the film's climax) as Billy's mother. Paul Le Mat is sturdy, but does look quite bemused more often. Wilford Brimley is hardy as the suspicious sheriff and Stephen McHattie is suitably random and menacing. There's also a minor part for Edward Herrmann at the beginning as Billy's father.
Nothing special, but a diverting, fine old-fashion thriller with the modern unpleasantness.
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