Hot dog, there's just somethin' about video store slasher trash that sets my heart (and my pants-heart) ablaze! I don't mean the familiar franchise fare, nor do I mean the familiar franchiseless fare. I'm talking about the D-tier stuff, the movies that you rent when you've rented everything else already. You pick up a copy of Terror at Tenkiller (1987) or Fatal Games (1984) or, oh I don't know, say, Memorial Valley Massacre (1988), give its sun-faded box the once-over, and present it to your partner-in-browsing with a shrug that says "This?" They respond with a shrug that says "I guess," and you go on your merry way to have what is a grand ol' time. Your results, of course, may vary. But my time with Memorial Valley Massacre? While I did not have the pleasure of nabbing it from the bottom shelf at a video store, I can say that my time with it was grand ol' indeed.
If the horror movie 50-pack has a king, that king is undoubtedly Cameron Mitchell (last seen 'round stately Final Girl Manor during the most recent SHOCKtober, in Silent Scream). In a career that spanned a half-century, he appeared in...well, pretty much everything. This includes A+ mega-watt starpower epics that you can't believe never won any Academy Awards (The Swarm, obviously), episodes of television shows that could rightly be called the pinnacle of the medium (Mrs Columbo, obviously), to countless horror messterpieces that occupy much of the real estate in a collection like Chilling Classics. I wonder how many more times we will get to bask in the work of Mr Mitchell over the course of 2024 as I make my way through all 50 movies?
Side note: Did you know that The Swarm actually was nominated for a single Oscar? No, the dead child with oversized novelty lollipop did not earn a nom, sadly. But somehow the costume design did? How is this possible? No one even dressed up as a bee!
Anyway. On another sad note, Cameron Mitchell is only in, like, the first 90 seconds of Memorial Valley Massacre. It's a real bummer. On a happy note, however, he comes off like the love child of a wild night of passion between Ted Knight and Bert Remsen, which means he is the man of my dreams! Now you see why 90 seconds is not nearly enough time with him.
Mitchell is Allen Sangster, a developer who has big ideas about Memorial Valley. With plans for shopping areas, a ski resort, and more, the area will eventually become "the Poconos of the west" according to me. But for now, those are merely plans and wishes. On this day--on this Memorial Day--Sangster is opening the Memorial Valley Campground. There's still no running water, there have been workplace accidents, and a dead dog was found stuffed down a well, but no matter! The campground must open! The parade festival must go on! Yes, when there was one set of footprints, the Mayor of Amity Island was carrying him.
As Sangster drives away from the film and our hearts, the campers flood in to Memorial Valley. This kind of slasher movie--that is to say, one with tame violence, shitty gore, zero tension, and under-zero scares--is made or broken on the watchability of characters that are not likely to survive until the end credits roll. Blood Lake had Li'l Tony. Friday the 13th Part V: A New Beginning had...well, everyone in it. I can tell you now that Memorial Valley Massacre is one of the most delightful terrible slasher flicks thanks to the folks who pull up an RV or a hatchback or whatever to the campground in the hopes of partying, doing it, or simply getting away from it all. If I may, allow me to introduce some of them, including...
The chubby, fey man-child Byron and his weird, doting parents. Byron gives big Francis from Pee-Wee's Big Adventure vibes. He loves to steal and all he wants to do is tear around the campground on his ATV. All of this is illegal, but Byron doesn't care about the laws of man. He makes his own rules, living life as it was meant to be lived, fast and reckless.
Next up, the least intimidating bike gang of all time. They are so vanilla that they make Fox, Loco, and Ali of Friday the 13th: Part III look like actual Hell's Angels. That said, they don't care if there's no water at the campground because they will wash their hair with beer instead, which is cool.
Here we have the patented slasher movie horny teens, who can never manage to figure out a partner-combination and actually have sex, to which I say: just be a throuple already. They are also the best examples showing why the Converse Outlet Store was thanked in Memorial Valley Massacre's credits.
And finally my favorite, one Gloria "Pepper" Mintz (get it?), who looks like Diane Ladd in Scorsese's Alice Doesn't Live Here Anymore but sounds less like Flo and more like Rogue from X-Men: The Animated Series, liberally sprinkling "sugah" throughout her dialogue.
The killer is quickly revealed to be a full ooka-ooka backwoods caveman (complete with jacked-up Spirit Halloween teeth) who backflips off a tree branch to take his place amongst the other ooka-ooka backwoods caveman killers from slashers like Rituals, The Final Terror, and Don't Go in the Woods...Alone.
We see Ooka Ooka being gentle with other creatures of the forest; He's not a savage, he was merely pushed to savagery by all the encroaching and the like, you see.
There's a complicated backstory to how Ooka Ooka got there in the first place, involving a kidnapping gone awry. His father, it turns out, is Head Ranger at the campground. In fact, he only took the job at the campground so he could put his "expert tracking skills" to use and find his son. He searched the area for 17 years with no luck until opening weekend, when two separate groups of people found Ooka Ooka's cave within, like, a half hour. To Memorial Valley Massacre's credit, characters in the film also wonder at this.
Like most of us, Memorial Valley Massacre suffers from a saggy middle. People walk back and forth between the woods and the campground, carrying shotguns and rifles as they search for the bear they're sure is responsible for the deaths. But we know the truth! And soon enough they do, too, as Ooka Ooka goes HAM in the last fifteen minutes or so. It's not explicit or convincing in any way, but it's super enjoyable.
The film's early running is also enjoyable as we meet characters like the ones I've pictured above as well as some I didn't, such as "Wife With Snakes." The tone, from the weird music to the weird dialogue will have you wondering if this is actually a comedy so much that if you are like me, you will write "is this a comedy?" in your notes. It's just, to bring it back to a movie I mentioned earlier, the New Beginning effect. It's not a comedy per se, but it's also not a serious affair, at least where the characters are concerned.
Again, your results may vary, but me? I loved this. Needed more Cameron Mitchell, obviously, but I am willing to overlook that and its many other faults. I only have stars in my eyes and rubber teeth in my mouth for Memorial Valley Massacre.
Note! All of these screencaps were yoinked from YouTube, where you can watch when I presume is the print from the recent Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray, the film's first on-disc release. (Yes, apparently Vinegar Syndrome is doing the lawd's work and bringing many a Chilling Classic to the hi-def age.) But rest assured, I watched it on my cruddy 50-pack DVD, which is certainly a transfer of the VHS. I just thought...why should faithful Final Girl readers suffer though terrible image quality if they don't have to? See? I care!