Friday, August 10, 2007

Memorial Valley Massacre: or, Captain Caveman Goes Nutzoid

I guess by 1988, most of the holiday horror films had already been made. Halloween, Black Christmas, My Bloody Valentine, April Fool's Day, Bloody New Year, Mother's Day...directors were rapidly running out of holidays during which to set their fear flicks. And though it would be a good five years before the trend (and little person celebrity Warwick Davis) would reach its nadir by settling on everyone's favorite Irish/American parade day, for director/writer John C. Hughes, pickings must have looked pretty slim. I can imagine the titles scribbled on wadded pieces of paper in his wastebasket: The Columbus Day Slayings? Violence on Veteran's Day? Washington's Bloody Birthday? Nothing quite clicked. Still, Hughes was determined to deliver a holiday-themed slasher, and it was only a matter of time before all the tumblers clicked into place and unlocked the door to filmic history--before Hughes' sleep-bleary eyes settled on the last Monday of May...


Suddenly, everything must have just flooded from his pen onto the page. A secluded campground, where legions of prospective victims come for fun and frolic...the dark secrets of a sinister past lurking out beyond the tree line...a park ranger who is the only man that can overcome the evil, if he vanquish his own inner demons first. And a killer driven to righteous rage by the inconsiderate campers who toss aluminum cans into streams and drive their ATVs roughshod over mountain trails, despoiling Mother Nature without a thought to the consequences...a killer dressed in animal skins...

Hughes's finished product, Memorial Valley Massacre, is an almost perfect storm of b-movie cheese. Bad acting? Sure. Low rent effects? Uh-huh. Ridiculous, endlessly quotable dialog? Oh yeah. Casio keyboard score? Holla! Characters that could only exist in a silly 80s slasher? Check the hell out of that! It all adds up to about an hour and forty minutes of fun, a little slice of b-movie heaven.

John Kerry (not THAT one, sadly--though he would have been awesome in this role) plays Park Ranger George Webster, formerly "the best special forces tracker in Viet Nam!", now an alcoholic shell of a man reduced by personal tragedy to looking over Cameron Mitchell's corporate-sponsored campground development, Memorial Valley. Seventeen years ago Webster's infant son was kidnapped, and after a botched sting operation during the ransom payment, his son and the kidnapper vanished into Memorial Valley, never to be seen again. He's spent the better part of the last two decades scouring the woods (in between drinking binges) looking for his son. Perhaps alcohol has dulled his tracking abilities, or perhaps the Memorial Valley flora is harder to read than Viet Nam jungle bush, but for whatever reason, he's been entirely unsuccessful.

Not wanting to see his investment founder, Mitchell brings in his son David to keep an eye on Webster. The tension between the two is palpable, though through the course of the movie each earns the other's grudging respect. Memorial Valley Campground is set to open on Memorial Day Weekend, but someone is sabotaging the event--a construction worker is killed (prior to the opening credits) and the water supply is tainted with the decomposing body of the guard dog assigned to watch the equipment. Though Webster wants to cancel the opening, Mitchell insists they open anyway--and the campers roll in, heedless of the danger.

And what a group of campers we have: the independent, lone hawt chick, who at first rejects the young David's advances, but later embraces them fully; the middle-aged biker group, pining for the days when they were a force to be reckoned with, now just paunchy old guys trailing beer cans and carbon monoxide; the strange teen threesome there for a weekend of hormone-induced revelry, though the female of the groups seems content to pit the boys against each other and never "deliver"; the gravel-throated marine Lt. Mintz and his buxom wife Pepper; and the amazing man-child Walter, a delinquent with woman's voice and Sydney Greenstreet's physique who steals every scene he's in, as well as the viewers' hearts.

And then there's the killer himself, who we see less than 15 minutes in as he wrecks the camp's storage shed--and he's a caveman! Looking like a cross between the Ultimate Warrior and an extra from Quest for Fire, this friend of nature fights back against the destructive forces of civilization, with bloody results.

This movie is so much fun, I don't want to ruin it for anyoneby going into great detail, but here's a few things you can expect going in: a Casio keyboard score that is THE STAR of the movie; wanton destruction of nature; a crowd of "poisonous" garden snakes on a picnic table; the teen cocktease (who has chronic nipple-itis) doing a wet t-shirt dance in the thunderstorm (strangely without music); astounding caveman gymnastics; spot-the-continuity flubs; hilarious tent-sex shadow-humpage; a caveman befuddled by an ATV (attacks it with a club) but who later disables all vehichles by removing distributor caps (?); clumsiest attempted caveman seduction EVAR; greatest camper a'splosion EVAR; a multi-biker death scene that defies belief; and so much deliriously dumb stuff I can't even begin to do it justice.

Signature moment: the caveman, tracked by John Kerry, pushes down a tree to hinder him. In what is truly one of the finer examples of the magic of cinema I've ever witnessed, the effect of the falling tree is accomplished ENTIRELY through editing and sound effects! You WILL believe that a tree fell!

This one must be seen, definitely a 2.75 thumber. Be warned: this movie will make you stupider--but that's okay, because that way you'll love it even more than you could if you were smart. Surrender to Captain Caveman. Enjoy.

PS--more fun in the end credits. "Song by RAT PACK." "Thanks to Ticate Beer." And for some mysterious reason, the production designer's credit appears at the ABSOLUTE END of the credits, even after that little oval symbol and disclaimers, and in tiny, tiny letters--I'd love to know the story behind that. I bet the PD PO'd somebody.

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