Theme Song: No.
Interesting Dated References: The kid from A Christmas Story before he became a comedy power house as seen on that hilarious Vince Vaughn comedy tour movie.
Best Line: Delivered by the dad as he explains divorce to his son — “I’m not the man she wanted me to be, and she’s not the woman I fell in love with.”
Social Context: None. Right at the beginning there is like 5 minutes where they analyze the affect that divorce can have on a young child, and then suddenly any element of that sort vanishes. Then at the end there’s some stuff where the writer was probably trying to win over his step-son so he put in a bunch of crap about “learning to love your step-dad.” But even that didn’t last very long. I’m not sure why those elements were even added.
Summary: Death Valley is forever marred because it stars Ralphie from A Christmas Story. It was released two years before that movie came out but I’ll admit, it’s really hard to watch this without constantly thinking of A Christmas Story. I mean, I keep trying to imagine it’s just some random kid so I can enjoy the movie, but I can’t because he’s just so goddamned Ralphie.
So Ralphie plays a character named Billy. In the opening scene we see him shopping with his dad, going to an art museum, etc. Then we learn that dad doesn’t live at home and the parents are divorced. Billy says goodbye to his dad and then leaves with his mother for a trip to Death Valley to visit her hometown and apparently the guy she’s been banging. Once there, Billy acts all possessive of his mother, and they take a trip to an abandoned mine. On the way there, Billy sees an ominous 57 Chevy following them.
Then we flash to a scene of some young adults “partying” at one of the abandoned mine sites. I know they’re partying because they are drinking Olympia. At this point I’d like to remind anyone who still has access to Olympia that I will pay good money to have 12-packs mailed to me. So one of the partying young adults who happens to be wearing a tube top goes to make sandwiches in their RV.
Then her boyfriend walks in during a very erotic cucumber cutting scene, which results in the removal of said tube-top. As you’ll notice in the picture above, there is a fifth hand reaching for the knife. The two young adults are then slaughtered without much gore or boobage. This just happens to be the same mine Billy and his mom and soon-to-be-new-step dad stumble upon. Since Billy is an asshole, he wanders into the RV. His soon-to-be-step dad interrupts his exploration before he finds the bodies.
Later, at the restaurant, Billy’s mom orders orange juice and chili. Billy orders a hamburger and keeps looking at a necklace he stole from the RV. He notices the waiter is wearing a similar necklace and gets all spooked. Seriously though, who orders chili as a main course for dinner? And then who gets a nice satisfying glass of orange juice to accompany the chili? As the family leaves the diner they encounter a crash scene featuring sheriff Wilford Brimley. An RV is all burned to shit and Ralphie offers up the necklace he stole and talks about the mysterious 57 Chevy. Later, Wilford talks with another cop who alludes to the fact that the people in the RV were “cut up just like the ones last year” and that “he’s at it again.”
The family goes to a ghost town and Wilford Brimley goes to talk to the waiter at the waiter’s house, which I think he refers to as “The Peterson Place.” During their conversation, Wilford alludes to the waiter’s brother and some other stupid subplot no one cares about. Then he catches a pick axe in his chest as he leaves with the waiter. At this point the filmmakers want you to believe the waiter is in cahoots with the killer. Billy wanders around an “Old West” museum and plays with some mannequins, one of whom he refers to as “Black Bart” just like in A Christmas Story. Later on, step dad tries to have “the step-dad talk” with Billy/Ralphie. You know the one: They say they respect your dad and they’re not trying to replace them, but they love your mother and want to make her happy. I’m sure you’ve been through it. It’s hilarious. A grown man having to say that to a kid.
So Billy’s mom and step-dad go out and leave him with a fat babysitter stereotype who can’t stop eating. When she goes out for food, she gets her throat slashed by mysterious unknown killer. We then see the killer is the waiter from the restaurant. Billy locks himself in the bathroom and attempts to outsmart the killer by making steam with hot water and filling a shower cap with powder and aftershave and shampoo. Apparently they only were able to do one take on this scene, because when the killer enters and Billy tries to throw the shower cap at his head, it clearly misses and Billy just sort of fumbles with it. The killer then overreacts like he’s blinded by the concoction. Billy runs and hides in the killer’s car. Eventually (one minute) the killer tires of trying to find Billy and gets in his car.
All this time his parents were at a bar where they overheard about more killings. They then rush home and find Billy gone. They go to The Peterson place for some reason and find Billy, a dead Wilford Brimley, and the waiter guy with his shotgun. Somehow the family is inside the house and the waiter is outside where he proceeds to throw parts of a car (hubcaps, grill, fender) through the windows. The waiter runs in the house, shoots at them, and then I assume he is killed by the step-dad. They then walk away (car was ruined with shotgun) and head to “the tourist castle down the road” looking for shelter. They call the cops, a car arrives, the step-dad sees the dead waiter inside the car and is then attacked my some other mysterious guy wielding a knife and a really stiff arm with a little to no control over how far his arm arc swings and no ability to control it once in motion. Billy runs out into the desert and then his mom and step-dad hit the guy with a car and kill him.
The movie ends when Billy hugs his mom. Then he hugs his step-dad, which males step-dads across the wold get teary-eyed. Freeze frame, credits role, and no real explanation for anything is given. In fact, the body count wasn’t even that high. \The box boasts how the entire movie was filmed “in the desert,” but really you didn’t see much of the desert, just a bunch of tourist shops and a fake-ass ghost town.
Poster and Box Art: This poster looks like an ad for a sex doll, compete with guy wielding a switchblade at it. Then there’s also this Turkish poster that is pretty odd looking as well.
Availability: Unfortunately unavailable at this time. I can’t even find any VHS on eBay. Hopefully with the new resurgence of Peter Billingsley’s career thanks to Vince Vaughn, we’ll be seeing a full reissue of this wonderful piece of cinema.