High Desert Kill

An Experiment In Terror

Following up on last week’s pick, today I have even more Marc Singer goodness for you. I won’t get into the cult phenomenon of Donovan or The Beastmaster again – we made it quite clear by now that Marc is the best worst actor ever and, if High Desert Kill doesn’t convince you, nothing will. Let me just tell you a bit about this movie that was a straight-to-TV offering unleashed to the unsuspecting public in 1989. It kicks with four friends – Jim, Brad, Ray and Paul – that go hunting into the woods honoring a yearly tradition between them. For the record, this is a premise that always speaks of impending doom, as can be judged from our past pick Rituals. Now, things are quite different for the friends this year though: when they arrive at the forest, everything is deadly quiet, with no animals to be found in the vicinity. They do find other campers but they quickly vanish mysteriously. Plus, everybody starts behaving very strangely as if possessed by some kind of higher power… and soon they realize they have become the victims of a sadistic and cruel psychological experiment by an alien being.

So far so good, right? This sounds utterly engaging on paper and, truth to be told, the first minutes of High Desert Kill are terrific: great setting, outstanding cinematography and mood. The eerie New Mexican backdrop is very scary and compelling. Perhaps the script and dialogues are a bit shoddy but serviceable. And the acting, well… it’s Marc Singer. Anthony Geary and Vaughn Armstrong too, who have been in way too many TV shows to mention – they are good actors alright but they might suffer from amnesia in this film. And Chuck Connors… good ol’ Chuck, one of the most under-appreciated actors ever. I became an instant fan of him and his Mr. Slausen with Tourist Trap, additionally one of the most under-appreciated horror films ever. Here though he was pathetic. Poor Chuck seemed tired of being in movies by now and, to add insult to injury, High Desert Kill was a terribly bad choice for his career. That said, he never lost his charm to deliver great one-liners and he’s certainly the most talented actor of the bunch. Still, he’s overshadowed by the out-of-this-world and smashing charisma of MARC SINGER. Anyway, the movie has a good start — the premise works and keeps you guessing as weird events develop in the forest. It’s even thrilling for a few moments. But then it all suddenly grinds to a halt, as if someone had turned off the “Filming Movie” switch. It hits you out of nowhere and you know that everything will go downhill from then on – I’m fairly certain that you know what I’m talking about. In the case of High Desert Kill, that moment can be precisely pinpointed to one scene in particular…

Which brings us to what today is infamously referred to as… “The Campfire Scene”. There’s no way I can explain it properly other than simply saying that you have never seen actors look so psychotic and downright scary out of the context of the movie. I mean, it really feels as if they all were on actual drugs in real life. The scene, involving a techno dance around a campfire that crushes to cinders the rave mega-party in Matrix Reloaded (in terms of “what the f…?!”), is just about everything that was bad and corny about the 80’s condensed into a brief five minutes. I refuse to say anything else about it because it honestly makes me feel very dirty — you’ll have to judge it for yourself in our under-appreciated YouTube channel. High Desert Kill should have remained a bad but curiously appealing Sci-Fi movie, but it will be infamously remembered for this scene alone. And I still like Marc Singer.

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