Memorial Valley Massacre 1988
aka Valley of Death
Directed by: Robert C Hughes
Starring: John Kerry, Cameron Mitchell, Julie Jachim
Review by Luis Joaquín González
Those were the days… The intrigue… The tension… The excitement… Oh hello a SLASH abovers and excuse me, I was just reminiscing about the times when I first discovered the Internet and opened the door to a world of slashers that stretched beyond my local video emporium. Strange as it may seem to you all, I was collecting these things even before I knew that they were part of a genre called ‘slasher’. Instead, I’d just pick up similar looking video covers and hope to see certain things that I recognised from the one that started it all for me, Halloween. Nowadays, you can check the web and know instantly whether a prospective picture is actually an entry to our beloved category or not. In moons gone by however, it was all about lucky dip.
When I eventually got onto the IMDB, I would use various investigative techniques to uncover entries to add to my list of ‘desperate to sees’. One of those was typing the word ‘Massacre’ into the search bar and examining each title to see if they were slashertastic enough for a purchase. It didn’t take long for me to uncover this beauty…. but upon discovery, a new challenge arose… locating a copy. During the late nineties, Amazon US weren’t keen on International delivery and despite them having twelve copies available on VHS at a reasonable price, I just couldn’t find a seller that’d distribute across the pond.
There I sat staring longingly at the picture from the listing, dreaming of the slasher fun that lurked inside the cardboard cover. For you pups, I guess it’s a lot easier, because additions such as this have become free content and can be downloaded in an instant from YouTube. Times have changed for the better for slasher buffs. Eventually I came across a Spanish language version in Jaén and I rushed home in excitement, eager to to witness whether Memorial Valley Massacre would satisfy me in all the ways I’d expected…? Well…
It tells the tale of a city businessman that has bought a huge piece of land and wants to open it as a camp site for people to bring their Winnebagos and spend a few days in the wild. During pre-launch, the production has suffered some unexplained events, including the deaths of a few construction workers. Despite no running water, the openning goes ahead as planned to coincide with Memorial Day, and the campers pull up in droves. Little do they know that they are sharing the grounds with a cave dwelling maniac that is out to kill….
I often go to Spain to visit my dad, younger brother and the rest of my family. Last year, whilst laying on a beach in Punta Umbría, I realised how much I miss Andalucía and felt sad that the branches of life had led me away from my true home. I returned to England and the weather was atrocious, which added to my gloomy feeling. In a semi-drunken stupor, I booked another vacation for the next couple of weeks and effectively went straight back to the Andalusian hills. From the moment I got off the return plane, it began raining; – and it continued to do so throughout my trip. ‘Tienes mala suerte’ my dad told me, but I decided that I’d at least try to go out and enjoy Sevilla with an umbrella; – and I did exactly that. That my friends is what psychologists call a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’
You need a ‘Positive Thinking Mindset’ to really enjoy Memorial Valley Massacre, and if you engage one, you may find that your experience will be a lot like mine in rainy Andalucía. We may not have a sterling killer in the woods flick here, but instead it’s an entertaining campy ride that does provide some cheesy thrills – with the emphasis being on cheesy. For 92 minutes, MVM moves incredibly quickly and even if the action only really begins on the hour mark, the characters are silly enough to remain amusing throughout. It’s also worth noting that the picture is certainly authentic and I don’t remember another that goes for a killer that’s been borrowed from Disney’s Jungle Book. Looking like the fifth member of Twisted Sister – in a get-up that you could pick up in any dime-store fancy dress shop – his story is unique, if slightly underplayed. He was left in the forest as a child because a kidnap/ransom attempt went wrong and therefore grew up as a feral human. The filmmakers do however try to bizarrely build pathos for him in the early scenes, by showing him feeding a mouse and generally seeming at one with nature. These moments of vulnerability weaken his fear factor, but when he begins his kill frenzy, he becomes effectively merciless. One chap is set on fire and runs around screaming as he burns to death, whilst another likeable fellow ends up in a pit of spikes. It was refreshing that I felt like I wanted these guys to survive, because in more modern slashers, I couldn’t care less.
Massacre’s strengths are definitely its have a campy ball with the trademarks attitude and it’s cast of likably dumb participants. There’s an interesting relationship between hero, David Sangster, who’s the son of a millionaire businessmen that bought the land, and George Webster, the head ranger of the site. They don’t really get along at first, but instead of the more typical rookie/veteran bonding methodology, Robert C Hughes’ screenplay works slightly differently. We do get a hottie love interest for David, who’s there mainly to add eye-candy. His attempts to woo her are highly amusing, especially the speech that he uses to finally seal the deal. In fact, the dialogue here has some stand out lines like, “I’ve got cigars older than her” and “They couldn’t punch their way through a wet cracker”, which show that Hughes boasted a knack for the tongue in cheek. Having eighties slum artists such as, William Smith, John Kerry and Cameron Mitchell reciting such campiness just added the final gloss to the cheesecake.
This film plays much like Doom Asylum, which I reviewed recently, but it’s not quite as good. Whilst you could never call Doom particularly scary, it boasted gore and sharper direction, whilst Valley just feels too light-hearted, even in moments when it’s more ruthless than you expected. I believe this is because the killer just doesn’t look particuarly intimidating and the attrocious keyboard score doesn’t help. I’m no master musician, but just when you feel that the composer shouldn’t go a note higher nor lower, go there he does – and then some. The final thirty minutes of Valley are rapid with a handful of killings and a breakneck pace, but it still looks devoid of a certain something. Hughes’ direction never seems to draw you in and that’s why I couldn’t buy into what I was seeing. By no means is this a horror comedy but it would only take some minor script adjustments to make it one. And within its undecidedness on whether to go full-on gruesome tone or stay campy lies the movie’s biggest flaw.
We slasher fans know more than most that it’s possible to enjoy a shoddy movie and we pretty much created the ‘so bad its good’ saying. With MVM that’s exactly what happened for me. Due mainly to the minimal gore and nudity, it’s certainly not a worthwhile killer in the woods flick, but it’s one that serious collectors should be adding to their pile for its pure entertainment potential.