Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Video Cheese: HIGH DESERT KILL (1989)

Note: This review is edited from a review which originally appeared at and has been reprinted here by the kind permission of Mr. Ken Begg.

HIGH DESERT KILL (1989 - color)

The short story: “Something is hunting the hunters in the New Mexico badlands.”

The details

   This was a real treat. It reminds one that TV movies used to be just as good as theatrical films. During much of the 70′s and 80′s, in fact, they tended to be better than theatrical offerings. TV products, after all, still had to adhere to a code of self-censorship, and thus forced more creativity from the makers of said films. (That’s not to say there couldn’t be some pretty nasty vapors wafting from the tube in those years, however.)

    I find myself wondering if this didn’t get a theatrical release, given that the box has a PG-13 MPAA rating. I’d never heard of the film before seeing the video box. I know that some TV movies did get theatrical screenings, often in other English-speaking countries. In addition, I suppose it could be considered pretty intense for a 1989 TV movie.

   I was nervous at first. Our premise has something to do with a creature from another planet, and the first thing we see is a pair of Indians stopping by the deserted ruins of an ancient pueblo. Monster movies featuring American Indians tend to be pretty lame, as they almost always go in that Indians-are-more-in-tune-with-nature-and-without-the-white-man’s-sin-and-so-they-can-commune-with-Martians direction where the aliens are really good guys. Fortunately, we avoid such an exercise, although it means killing off the Indians before the titles. Right off, I was tossed something unexpected, given the date on the film. In this case, being spared a mystical Indian movie, (remember back when Indians in movies were just human beings?). I was quite pleased by that.

   The first actual scene of the film didn’t inspire a lot of confidence either, as it was quite poorly acted and rather pedestrian in its writing. With the next scene, however, things really pick up in quality. The writing gets much better, for one thing, and the acting tends to be pretty good. (To be expected, really, with a cast of vets including Anthony Geary, Marc Singer, and Chuck Connors!)

   I’m tempted to think that the lame starter sequence was tacked on at the last minute and written by another author, given that the film could have started in the next scene and worked just fine. All this footage really does is offer a few lines for a woman who can’t act to save her life (the director’s wife, maybe?) as she tells her husband she doesn’t have a good feeling about his upcoming hunting trip.

   The film details an excursion into the New Mexico badlands to hunt deer. This annual trip is a tradition among a trio of friends, although one of their number has recently died and his nephew is taking his place. That right there shows you how novel this picture seems. Can you imagine a TV movie with hunters as the main characters (normal, intelligent characters, one even being a DOCTOR) being produced in the last 20 or so years? Can you imagine such a thing on the big screen within the last 10 or 15?

   Along the way to camp, they run across old timer Stan, as played by Chuck Connors (Yay!), the local tracker. Stan alerts our heroes to the fact that the game seems to’ve been spooked out of the area, by what it isn’t clear. First order of duty is to scatter the ashes of their late friend over the area he loved so much. During this, SOMETHING is watching them, and reading their thoughts……..

   I’m not sure how much to give away, as the film manages to go in unexpected directions frequently. That’s to the film’s credit, as is the fact that the story remains intriguing and never seems to be spinning it’s wheels. Each new scene builds on what has been established and fleshes out a very Outer Limits-y concept. Nice to see a film that builds upon itself rather than have a dry spot in the middle where you’re waiting for things to pick back up. Here was one story that kept me engaged the entire 90+ minutes.

   I can also honestly say that, for one of the very few times in my movie-watching career, I didn’t figure out the larger plot before the characters did! That’s not to say the show doesn’t have it’s blemishes. Obviously, the budget is restrictive and we must rely on the acting ability of our cast to carry us across the limited locations in which our story is based. It’s cheap, but thankfully it’s effective!

   I'd love to see more films like this. 

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