Mirage 1989 Review
Directed by: Bill Crain
Starring: Jennifer McAllister, Laura Albert, Kenny Johnson
Review by Luisito Joaquín González
Bill Crain’s rarer than a bus in the rain ‘slasher’ movie certainly doesn’t follow the standard guidelines that have become so common in its counterparts. The boogeyman this time around uses grenades and small arms as well as an awesome array of melee weapons; – ingredients that are rarely seen in most post-Halloween genre pieces. Thankfully, there’s still just enough familiarity to keep slasher buffs from checking the rule book and the plot never strays too far from the path that you’ve grown to expect. I was truly flabbergasted to learn that this has never been released in its country of origin, which is strange for me as it seems to be a picture that has been well financed and produced. I would love to understand the reason behind this, but with so minimal information available on the www It’s hard to uncover any trivia. Nowadays, Mirage has become something of a phantom on the VHS market and a highly sought after piece for true collectors.
It all takes place in the middle of the dessert, which as I’m sure you’ll agree is a unique location for a slasher. Four Youngsters head out for a night away from the commotion of the city. Chris (Jennifer McAllister) and her boyfriend Greg (Kenny Johnson) meet up with amusing new age hippies Trip (Kevin McParland) and Mary (Nicole Anton) at a make shift camp site in the midst of the dune-like wilderness. Greg’s older brother Kyle (Todd Schaefer) and his buxom girlfriend Bambi (Laura Albert) soon turn up to join the body count applicants in their quest for an early grave. Kyle used to date Chris before his younger brother took the liberty of stealing his squeeze – something that Kyle doesn’t seem too keen to forget. Sound like a motive for a massacre? Well what did you expect? Before long an unseen someone driving a truck with tinted windows joins the gathering with a unique set of tricks up his sleeve. Will any of the kids survive to turn up for a sequel?
Due to the fountain of (false) information that is the IMDB, I was confused for ages as to who directed this film. It’s listed there as being directed by Bill Crain, but he has been given a separate profile to William Crain – the man behind Midnight Fear and a few popular TV shows. I quickly found out that both are one and the same person and that explains why Mirage looks so confidently put together. It’s certainly been stylishly photographed with some superb work from DP Michael Crain, and there’s a real talent for building suspense on display from the man in the hot seat. R. Christopher Biggs’ gore FX are imaginatively created and bloody, and a big thank you to the half-hearted employee over at the BBFC who inexplicably let this pass through UNCUT on a usually stringent 18 rating. A couple of the murders are indeed extremely gruesome. One guy gets buried up to his neck in sand before coming face to face with a grenade, while another ends up literally legless after loosing a battle with a chain and a pick up truck! We spend the majority of the runtime seeing only the killer’s boots as he steps out of his vehicle and stalks the youngsters. Later, he is revealed to be someone that completely shattered the image of what I was expecting. I mean that in a good way, obviously. There’s a unique mix of moods here and the atmosphere manages to be creepy, brutal and mercilessly unforgiving in places. The stand off between the maniac and the final girl seems more mean-spirited than usual. He seems to thoroughly enjoy taunting her and looks as if he wants the torture to drag on as long as possible.
The screenplay earns points for not overdoing the use of stereotype with its defined characters. There are two brothers who bicker very much how you’d imagine siblings would and then there is a couple of lovers whose conversations and jesting reminded very much of the kind of jokes that I share with my partner. It’s that level of realism that makes Mirage play like it is more focused and believable. The majority of slasher films that I watch are filled with personalities so shallow and situations so extreme that you never feel true sympathy or recognition of the terror that you are watching on screen. There’s an ambition here to involve the viewer in the action and I think that it allows Crain’s effort to separate itself somewhat from the more common-or-garden entries.
What I also found credible, were the restrained and controlled performances from a cast who overcome weaknesses in the level of their emotional dramatic competence by playing things straight. I remember a conversation that I had with Christian Veil after he had completed the slasher movie Evilbreed. I asked him if he felt that it had been a risk to fill his feature with actresses that had only worked in the porn industry. He told me that it was more the job of the director to work closely with his team and to understand the ways to elicit the best of their ability. It was his belief that if he coached them the right way, he could get the results that he was searching for. I would suggest that Crain is from the same school of thought, because he has driven some astuteness to make the story work. Jennifer McAllister does a fine job as the heroine and B.G. Steers portrays off his rocker dementia with finesse. I must mention the gorgeous Laura Albert as Bambi whose amazing body and bubbly personality stole every scene that she was in. Much like the equally as hot Cheryl Lawson from The Dead Pitt, Albert went on to become a prolific stunts woman appearing in various big budget pictures. The soundtrack works well to build the desolate atmosphere of isolation, which is carefully handled by a filmmaker that I would have liked to see more pictures from. Watch out for the superb nightmare sequence that is truly horror imagery at it’s freakiest.
Mirage is a good late entry to the cycle that was somewhat unfortunate to miss a boom year placing amongst the slasher elite. When you consider that this was made with just a cast of seven and a pick up truck, you have to say that they did a damn fine job. Any slight dramatic flaws don’t detract credibility from the net result. I especially liked the subtle homage to Halloween during the conclusion, which I really advise you to look out for and see if you can spot. Unfortunately you’ve probably got more chance of finding liquid gold in your coffee mug than you have of ever tracking down a genuine copy of Mirage. If, however, you are lucky enough to find this one covered in dust on the top shelf of your local video store, then make sure you pick it up straight away. Recommended.
Final Girl √√√√