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The China Lake Murders (1990)

A small town sheriff (Tom Skerritt) has his suspicions in a murder case which involves a rogue cop who goes on a murder spree. Contains mild sexual situations and violence.


Alan Metzger


Nevin Schreiner (teleplay)


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Tom Skerritt ... Sheriff Sam Brodie
Michael Parks ... Officer Donnelly
Nancy Everhard ... Cindy
Lauren Tewes
Bill McKinney ... Capt. Finney N.H.P.
Lonny Chapman
J.C. Quinn
David L. Crowley ... (as David Crowley)
Doug Mears Doug Mears ... Bobby
Tom Dahlgren Tom Dahlgren ... Lewis Harrelson
Jack Kehler ... Germ
Lara Parker ... Helene Harrelson
Dennis Rucker Dennis Rucker ... Police Sergeant (as Dennis Wayne Rucker)
Danny Hassel Danny Hassel ... Highway Patrol Officer
Hans Howes ... Asst. Watch Commander


A small town sheriff (Tom Skerritt) has his suspicions in a murder case which involves a rogue cop who goes on a murder spree. Contains mild sexual situations and violence. Written by John Sacksteder <jsackste@bellsouth.net>

Plot Summary | Add Synopsis


Every year, Officer Donnelly goes to China Lake to unwind, do a little fishing... Kill a few people See more »


Mystery | Thriller


PG-13 | See all certifications »






Release Date:

31 January 1990 (USA) See more »

Also Known As:

China Laken murhat See more »

Company Credits

Show more on IMDbPro »

Technical Specs


Sound Mix:




Aspect Ratio:

1.33 : 1
See full technical specs »

Did You Know?


A TV movie made for the USA network. See more »


Follows China Lake (1983) See more »

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User Reviews

"The One You Don't Hear, That's the One Who'll Getcha"
19 July 2016 | by the_bluesmanSee all my reviews

This thriller is really good, especially if you take into consideration that it's only a low-budget made-for-television movie. Even though it was produced in 1989, it has a somewhat neo-noir look and feel to it that rather resembles 1970s cop thrillers. 'The China Lake Murders' was directed by TV veteran Alan Metzger ('Kojak') and is based on Robert Harmon's 1983 short 'China Lake,' which got Harmon the directing job for the now classic 'The Hitcher.' There are a couple of similarities between the latter movie and 'The China Lake Murders.'

The plot is relatively simple, but the fantastic performances by Tom Skerritt in his typical sheriff role and Michael Parks as the maniac cop elevate 'The China Lake Murders' above the majority of television movies. Michael Parks in particular is chilling but also congenial as the stone-cold killer cop, who believes that the system is broken and he can get away with anything. His character Donnelly is an intriguing villain with traits reminiscent of Max Cady from 'Cape Fear' (portrayed by Robert Mitchum in 1962 and Robert De Niro in 1991), Eric Roberts' Dusty from 'The Nature of the Beast' (1995), Michael Douglas' D-Fens from 'Falling Down' (1993), and of course Rutger Hauer's Hitcher. The beautiful desert landscape and the skillful way it was shot also contribute to the impressive overall picture.

'The China Lake Murders' is not very widely known, and it was never released on DVD to my knowledge, even though it "held the record for the highest rated basic cable film" for many years according to Wikipedia. I was very lucky to have recorded a high quality native 720p HD transfer on TV a couple of years ago that has an excellent, crisp and detailed picture, especially for a TV movie that is more than a quarter-century old. Let's hope this transfer finds its way on Blu- ray at some point. I very much recommend this movie to fans of classic thrillers.

"Unsettling in the best tradition of film noir" -Time Magazine

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