Written by: Robert Hughes, George Frances Skrow
Directed by: Robert Hughes
Starring: John Kerry, Mark Mears, and Cameron Mitchell
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
Just when you thought it was safe to go back in the tent.
History has vilified the slasher genre as a lazy, trendy, self-perpetuating motion machine greased by grime and gore. I donít know, though: have you seen how many of these things were produced just in the 80s alone? Say what you want about the slasher movie, but I think you have to respect the hustle of a trend that yielded hundreds of movies in a decade. If nothing else, Memorial Valley Massacre is a monument to that hustle, not to mention proof that this genre was out to fuck up every single day on the calendar, including Memorial Day. Thatís right: they even made a damn Memorial Day slasher, in case you were wondering if any holiday might be too sacred to pollute with a maniac murdering nubile numbskulls. Thankfully, the answer to that is ďabsolutely notĒ because Memorial Valley Massacre isnít just disrespectful to the memory of fallen servicemenóitís disrespectful of the very notions of filmic competence and good taste, which is exactly how we like it around here.
Memorial Valley is a remote patch of land that seems like the perfect spot for an idyllic holiday weekend getaway, at least if you can ignore all the sordid tales surrounding the place. Thatís just what an enterprising real estate developer (a top-billed Cameron Mitchell who dips out after the first five minutes) does, much to the delight of dozens of campers looking to spend their holiday out in the wilderness. All isnít well, though: not only is the campsite not exactly finished, but some of the workers also fish a dog carcass out of the well, leaving questions about the viability of the water. Remarkably, this doesnít stop anyone, though: sure enough, everyone sticks around, which is good news for the homicidal wild man living in the nearby woods.
We know this is exactly whoís doing the killing because we get a glimpse of him rummaging around the camp early on. Heís an immediately ludicrous sight: decked out in animal skins and some of those oversized hillbilly teeth you find in gumball machines, he looks like a dime store caveman. Not that Memorial Valley Massacre ever gives you much of a reason to take it seriously, this practically gives you permission to just start shoving the popcorn in your mouth and enjoy the slaughter. The script doesnít even have much pretense of stringing audiences along with a mystery surrounding the killer. Less than halfway through the movie, we learn that the head ranger George Webster (John Kerry) had a son that was kidnapped and his last known location was traced to this area. For the past 16 years, heís been combing the area with the expert tracking skills he honed in Vietnam, but to no avail. Hell, he specifically took this post just so he could keep tabs on the area in case the kid surfaced. It doesnít take a genius to put two and two together and figure out who the psycho caveman is.
Not that Memorial Valley Massacre is in any hurry to connect those dots, nor is it particularly invested in delivering a whole lot of massacring. One of the campers is knocked off about 30 minutes in, but otherwise, everyone involved thought itíd be more fun to strand the audience with a bunch of characters tooling around on vacation for an hour. But to its credit, Memorial Valley Massacre does feature a pretty colorful cross-section of Americana. Weíve got a pair of asshole metalheads; a gang of bikers who use the word ďanachronismĒ; a retired vet who just wants to hole up in his camper to watch his VHS copy of the 1958 Army/Navy game; a girl who puts on an impromptu wet t-shirt routine during a thunderstorm; a vicious Yuppie couple and their entitled teenage son who thinks he should be able to illegally ride his ATV in the wilderness. I think we are calling these kind of people ďKarensĒ now, and itís especially gratifying when the little dipshit gets his. Not for nothing, but it also drove me up the wall when they kept referring to his 3-wheeler as a bike. Arrogant and stupid is no way to go through life, especially in a slasher movie.
Memorial Valley Massacre also has a subplot usually reserved for Jaws knock-offs when Webster becomes unusually cagey and insistent about keeping the park open, even when itís clear danger is afoot. When the first corpse turns up, everyone assumes a bear is responsible for the carnage (a bear that can wield a blade if the very obvious knife wounds are any indication). At first, it seems like Webster is purposefully covering up for his son, who he knows is actually a murderous wild child and heís designated himself as some kind of demented caretaker. But noóit turns out that our expert tracker really has spent the last 16 years uncovering absolutely no trace of his son until he emerges from the woods to dispose of these campers. Apparently, it never occurred to Webster to check the nearby cave because a couple of dolts stumble upon his sonís lair, which is full of the skeletal remains of his victims. Itís an amazing turn of events, really: it might defy logic, but the demented father-son reunion at the climax here is much more interesting than the olí ďfather feeding unsuspecting victims to his killer hillbilly kidĒ routine.
Anyway, because Webster refuses to shut down the place and send everyone home, the final 30 minutes or so feature a ton of mayhem. Itís pretty inventive stuff at that, as the killer wields an assortment of axes, spears, and booby traps to lay waste to fifteen victims. While the effects themselves arenít exactly exemplary, Memorial Valley Massacre gets an A for effort and creativity. Itís not often that a slasher movie finds a way to blow up one person, much less multiple people like we see here. Likewise, there canít be too many of these where three people are crushed to death when the killer sends a vehicle tumbling over a ridge. (Never mind that the shot of the crashing vehicle features no actorsóitís the bloody aftermath that counts.) One character burns to death, resulting in an unhinged stunt that leads you to the realization that someone lit themselves on fire for this movie. Itís all so ludicrous and over-the-top that Iím not sure how Memorial Valley Massacre isnít at least infamous for some of these bits.
Of course, the wiseass answer to this is that Memorial Valley Massacre is a late-era 80s slasher that few people have seen, let alone seen enough to launch it into any plane of public consciousness. A wiseass would further argue itís for good reason because itís not exactly the most exquisitely directed piece of work. Admittedly, it almost plays like a Greatest Hits of low-rent 80s slashers: the actors can charitably be described as ďinvested,Ē youíve got one of those scores that feels like it was banged out on a Casio in about 30 minutes, and the whole thing feels like it could have used another pass (or three) at the script stage. It also has the most cringeworthy lovemaking scene this side of the hot tub escapades from Madman. The ultra-low budget also betrays a pretty killer location: despite the occasionally evocative shots of a setting sun, most of the movie unfolds in broad daylight, effectively sapping it of any ambiance or atmosphere until the moonlit climax. Still, this wiseass would say that this is also true of plenty of 80s slashers that have been lovingly restored to Blu-ray, some of them not even as entertaining as this one. You can find it on plenty of public domain releases and even some of the sketchier streaming platforms out there, where it endures in VHS quality, forever trapped in the amber of low-res obscurity. Itís further proof that we really havenít reached the bottom of the barrel just yet on home video, so hopefully one of our favorite labels will get to scraping this one up soon.
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