After starting in Washington D.C. nine years ago Horror Movie Night has expanded to include chapters in Austin, Dallas and Chicago. Horror’s Not Dead’s own Brian Kelley is the originator and programmer of this illustrious weekly Wednesday night tradition which features a “classic” horror film. Each week I will be reviewing/commenting on the past week’s selection so do your best to find the film, most of which have not made it past VHS, and follow along. Better yet, start your own chapter!
Slasher films revolving around a holiday is pretty commonplace. Halloween and Christmas are probably the most popular but there are a few at Easter, some for Thanksgiving (contrary to what you might think from Eli Roth’s fake trailer in Grindhouse), hell, there’s even one for New Year’s Eve. Of all the holidays listed on the American calendar, I can think of very few I’d be surprised to see represented. But I’ll admit that Memorial Day is high up on that shortlist. That didn’t stop writer/director Robert C. Hughes when he set out to make Memorial Valley Massacre, a body count flick set in an historic campgrounds with some fun acting, crazy characters, and a tad too much drama.
Everyone knows that Memorial Day traditionally kicks off the summer season. This is the extended weekend where people get out, grill up some burgers, go swimming for the first time, and, in certain areas, go camping. Such fun is happening at Memorial Valley Campground, but when the campers arrive for a great time, they learn the renovations aren’t complete and they’ll be roughing it a bit more than planned. We’re talking holes-dug-in-the-ground-for-shitting roughing it – eek! But primitive lavatories are the least of their concerns as something out there is killing off some of the campers. At first they think it’s an animal, but we all know it to be a wild man living in a cave. Really, what else could it be?
Girl: He’s gonna get every one of us, one by one.
David: Not if we stick together!
Guy: How long is it until daybreak?
Lisa: It’s 5am… it’s Memorial Day.
There are about twenty to thirty minutes of a good, fun flick in here, but sadly there’s too much drama between our killer and the head ranger, George Webster (John Kerry – no, not that John Kerry). When things stay in the wheelhouse of the fun, late-80s characters the movie excels, but most anytime Webster is onscreen we delve into a rather serious area that doesn’t really balance all that well with the rest of the film. The result is an uneven tone and large sections of boring backstory to a pseudo twist that only a child couldn’t see coming from a mile away. More on that later.
This campground is host to quite a disparate group of campers. Aside from the normal families and couples, there are a few standouts. A small crew of three tough bikers and their old ladies come out for a good time, as does a trio of late teens/twenty-somethings. Some of greatest campers are definitely Walter and his family, as well as the general. Walter is an overweight rambunctious teen with a penchant for off-road vehicles. He has trouble with stealing things and gets rather pissed when the ranger takes the keys to his three-wheeled ATV. On the opposite end of the spectrum we have General Mintz (film veteran badass William Smith) and his wife Pepper. Yes, Pepper Mintz. Ha! The two stay secluded in their RV drinking scotch and watching tapes of old football games on their television. Mintz’s skills come in handy when hunting for whatever has killed the first victim. Walter, of course, is that first victim. Stupid kid.
Another interesting character in this group is one of the campground workers, Deke. He serves as the wise old black man in the film who gives all the pertinent information you need to know about the reserved and mysterious ranger. If you doubt his level of awesome, just know that his real name was Jimmy Marcelous Justice. What a kickass name! Though his film resume is fairly short, this great actor was more well known on the stage for many years. In fact, in 2007 Justice died of cardiac arrest in the middle of performing on stage in Spain.
Alright, I’ve put off the soap opera crap long enough. I’m about to get mighty spoilery, though I don’t imagine too many people are really going to care seeing as this film probably isn’t on too many radars, especially for something from fourteen years ago. Turns out that the ranger is always down and crabby because many years ago someone killed his wife and kidnapped his son in the valley and he’s been searching ever since. Well, wouldn’t you know that this mysterious killer who looks like a Mowgli from hell turns out to be the lost kid! Who would ever see that coming? The big downfall of the film – ok, one of the big downfalls of the film – is how much time is dedicated to the sappy story of a family torn apart instead of bodies being torn apart. If it weren’t for a few moments of the red stuff, this could almost be a made-for-TV movie.
At least there are some fun things to laugh at along the way. The most hilarious being the score, which is mixed poorly and all stems from some MIDI controller. For a late 80s horror flick it sure looks and sounds like mid-90s direct-to-video family fare. The two guys and a girl out for a good time provide a few laughs when they have a hilarious exchange with Walter’s parents that includes the phrases “chuck you farley” and “what’s the matter, don’t you like speed metal?” This along with literally everything Walter does is the reason to keep watching this flick.
Surprisingly someone actually put this film out on DVD. You can snag that bad boy from Amazon for around ten bucks, if you feel so inclined. Just be warned, for all the awesome of fat kids on ATVs and appearances of the gravel-voiced Smith there are three instances of boring.
Until next week – I’ll be working on getting my Flag Day slasher off the ground.
Body Count: 14 (and 1 poor dog)
First Death: 29:04
David Meets Lisa: 10:33
David Hooks-Up with Lisa: 41:00
Number of Cans of Beans on the Ranger’s Desk: Approximately 20
Coming soon to Horror Movie Night (Chronicles are posted one week after screening):
-6/6/12: Pinocchio’s Revenge (1996)
-6/13/12: The Carpenter (1989)
-6/20/12: Bad Dreams (1988)
-6/27/12: Dead Dudes in the House (1991)