There was once an era when TV movies could be as good as those in the theaters — and a few (like Duel and The Night Stalker) actually bordered on greatness.
Generally, I figure it was over by the early Eighties, but one does occasionally find exceptions, particularly when we are looking at those made for the early days of Cable. High Desert Kill was one of the USA Network’s World Premier Movies, and it caught me off guard as my expectations were low.
Mind you, as I’ve pointed out before, low expectations can do more to help a film than almost anything else. But we’re talking about a creepy B-Movie ghost film that turns out to be something rather more, with a solid cast of dependable TV actors and enough mysterious twists and turns to keep the audience guessing.
So it really didn’t need much help.
For years, three old friends have taken an annual hunting trip together: however, one of them died and the other two (General Hospital‘s Anthony Geary and Marc Singer, who gets second billing as he was in a career lull at the time, between his lead role in V and the first of his Beastmaster sequels) are off to the desert again with his nephew. Along the way, they team up with a professional hunter (Chuck Connors, looking quite battered) who warns them that he hasn’t been able to find any game this year, and a couple of girls who make it quite clear that they do not want to be bothered.
But there are far more tensions between the three than it appears, and, far worse, there is something else out there in the High Desert with them, something that is watching them, and has unpleasant plans for them…
It gets off to a somewhat rocky start, with the sort of short, nearly non-sequitur scene so typical of TV shows, involving a couple of Indians who become the first victims of the unseen presence, and a scene between Anthony Geary and his wife which is of notably poorer quality than the rest of the film (she also has an obvious lisp!) which one suspects was slapped on after the rest of the film was done (and maybe she was the producer’s girlfriend). But once Marc appears and the story turns towards their trip, things definitely pick up.
For most of the film, we learn little of the thing that is stalking them, and the film could just as easily be a ghost story, with an occasional glimpse of their dead friend and a lot of monster cam shots. But, in one of the film’s best touches, when one of them finally begins to understand what is going on, it isn’t just some random guess, but a deduction based on his scientific background.
It all builds nicely, layering one creepy detail on another before things take a very disturbing turn as they fall under the influence of the mysterious entity.
This ultimately leads to a bravura scene where they confront it in its own lair and it proves to have a curious weakness — one which leads to its spectacular demise.
There’s a lot to be said for this one. It swings from what appears to be eerie supernatural horror, full of sinister events, strange omens and ghostly glimpses to something far more desperate when it finally reveals that their unseen enemy belongs to the realm of science fiction. There are a lot of unsettling moments, and, except for some rather obvious Eighties TV lighting in the first scene, one might almost forget that this was a TV movie.
More than anything else, it seems almost impossible to imagine a modern cable channel — SyFy, perhaps — creating something this off-kilter. It really doesn’t fit into any familiar genre patterns, even if elements of it might resemble bits and pieces of other films which have little in common with each other.
No, it isn’t one of the great TV movies from the golden age of TV movies in the Seventies, it doesn’t have anyone quite as talented as Dan Curtis, Richard Mattheson, Steven Spielberg or Joe Steffano on board, but it is a reasonably good horror film with enough genuine shocks to keep the audience watching.
And that’s rare enough, whether you are talking TV or theatrical films.
3 thoughts on “High Desert Kill (1989)”