Memorial Valley Massacre Blu-ray Review
Written by Robert Gold
Blu-ray released by Vinegar Syndrome
Directed by Robert C. Hughes
Written by Robert C. Hughes and George Frances Skrow
1989, 92 minutes, Rated R
Released on October 27th, 2020
John Kerry as George Webster
Mark Mears as David Sangster
Lesa Lee as Cheryl
John Caso as Hermit
Jimmy Justice as Deke
William Smith as General Mintz
Cameron Mitchell as Allen Sangster
As its Memorial Day weekend opening day approaches, the Memorial Valley Campground is suffering a few setbacks, most recently a tainted water supply. Camp owner Allen Sangster is counting on a successful season to bolster his plan to develop the surrounding land into condos and a business district. His son David reluctantly takes a job working at the park for the summer and struggles to escape Allen’s imposing shadow. Head Ranger George Webster hates nepotism and is not thrilled by David’s arrival, believing him to be a company spy. David is actually a genuinely decent guy and works hard to earn George’s trust. Despite a lack of running water, the camp opens and a crowd of visitors flood in.
This year’s crop of campers includes a variety of colorful characters, including many suburban families, a trio of rocking teens, a retired General and his wife, and a small group of motorcyclists. Deke is the good-natured groundskeeper and beautiful Cheryl is a potential love interest for David. The staff does their best to keep everybody happy while adhering to the park’s rules and guidelines. Something strange is going on, however, as a mysterious wild man stalks the grounds causing trouble. Things take a dark turn with the death of a mouthy teen who at first appears to have been mauled by a bear but upon closer inspection was stabbed. Many campers leave, but George insists the park is staying open. David is looking for answers but making little progress as George is reluctant to call for help. As other campers disappear, a search party is organized, but the deeper they venture into the woods, the more likely they are to cross paths with the wild man.
Campgrounds are a popular setting for horror movies with films like Friday the 13th, The Burning and Sleepaway Camp doing their part to make the woods a frightening place to spend your summer. Following the success of Halloween (1978), filmmakers were quick to lay claim to any other popular holiday or school event as a setting for terror. My Bloody Valentine, Mother’s Day, April Fool’s Day, Graduation Day and Silent Night, Deadly Night all hit the mark with audiences who appeared insatiable for “dead teenager movies”. By the late 1980s just about all of the good holidays had been taken with only a few exceptions. Memorial Day was ripe for picking and director Robert C. Hughes (Hunter’s Blood) took advantage of the vacancy and co-wrote the script for Memorial Valley Massacre (aka Memorial Day aka Valley of Death).
The plot is strictly by-the-numbers and genre fans will immediately recognize several familiar tropes. The characters are paper thin and the location is a cliché, but Hughes manages to inject the material with enough dark humor and gruesome imagery to keep things entertaining. As far as villains go, the wild man is not particularly scary with his caveman clothes and tangled wig. Unlike other killers, he isn’t out for revenge but rather is a defender of nature, which is kind of a nice touch – seeing him slaughter somebody only to return to his cave and rescue a bunny or feed a mouse. Following a lengthy scene of exposition among the staff, it isn’t hard to figure out the hermit’s identity, though I’m not sure how much of a mystery it is intended to be.
This is the first and only picture for the majority of the cast and overall everyone does a fine job with the material. There are a few minor marquee names brought in for credibility, starting with the always enjoyable Cameron Mitchell (From a Whisper to a Scream), who at this stage in his career seemingly never turned down a script. As Allen Sangster, he breezes through his early scenes before happily driving away to let the film do its thing. Genre vet William Smith (Maniac Cop) plays General Mintz, bringing gravitas to the picture. In the starring role of Ranger George Webster is John Kerry (Dolemite), who excels as a no-nonsense authority figure. Newcomer Mark Mears gives a solid performance as our protagonist David Sangster.
Memorial Valley Massacre is a late entry in the slasher sub-genre, but plays it straight without relying on corny one-liners or terrible puns that were so popular in the genre at the time. Not everything works, as there is a lot of rambling dialogue and repetition to the plot, but the film scores a few points for working a large bear into the mix. Hughes knows exactly what kind of movie he is making and doesn’t stray too far from the formula, delivering a sizable body count and some passable special effects. This one is a pretty good choice when picking a title to watch with friends to kick off the summer season.
Video and Audio:
The original camera negative has received a 4K scan and restoration with the image presented in the native 1.85:1 aspect ratio. Picture quality is excellent with bright colors and rich black levels. Flesh tones appear natural throughout and there is plenty of small-object detail missing from earlier releases.
A DTS-HD MA 2.0 track offers respectable audio levels with easily understood dialogue and well-balanced music cues and sound effects. The mix is clean and free from hiss, pops or other distortion.
Optional English subtitles are included for anyone in need.
Director Robert C. Hughes covers a lot of territory in the interview segment Welcome to Memorial Valley (14 minutes). He opens with a history of the “feral child” story device and traces the origins of this film and the various drafts of the script. Other topics include casting and shooting on location and the many setbacks faced during the production. Some highlights include entertaining stories about working with a bear and staging an explosion.
In Ranger Danger (10 minutes), actor John Kerry shares his thoughts on his character and looks back at how he got into this industry. He has kind words for his director and co-stars and goes on to discuss the filming location.
A short photo gallery (43 seconds) offers a collection of publicity stills.
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