Tag Archives: Dick Richards

Death Valley (1982)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 1 out of 10

4-Word Review: Kid tangles with psycho.

Before Peter Billingsley played Ralphie Parker he was Billy Stanton a 10 year-old-kid who gets shipped off to Death Valley with his mother (Catherine Hicks) and her new boyfriend (Paul LeMat) for a vacation. Once there he spots a sinister man (Stephan McHattie) driving around in a creepy old car. The man has just committed double homicide and fears Billy may have been a witness. Now he proceeds to silence the kid who proves to be surprisingly ingenious.

The screenplay was written by Richard Rothstein who later went on to write the script for Universal Soldier as well as producing the HBO anthology series The Hitchhiker. Apparently he came up with the concept for this story after vacationing in Death Valley and seeing a mysterious old car, the first car they had seen in miles, driven by an odd looking man. The story though is quite one-dimensional and offers little intrigue. It might’ve worked better had the killer’s identity and motivations been kept a mystery, or the viewer made to question whether Billy was just making the whole thing up.

Everything seems strangely sanitized particularly the killings which amounts to nothing more than a quick slash to the victim’s throats and it’s over. It was almost like they were trying to make a horror movie that was ‘kid-friendly’ or something that the ‘whole family could watch together’, which was a mistake. Having the protagonist as a kid instead of an adult doesn’t add any interesting perspective and the twist that comes at the end is not clever and something that I had actually predicted.

Hicks, in her film debut, is wasted and LeMat has about as much screen presence as your local garbage collector. Billingsley is cute, but he’s always put into a situation that he can figure his way out making the tension quite minimal.

The film was shot in Death Valley National Park, which allows for a stark ambience that doesn’t get taken advantage of enough. Director Dick Richards who burst onto the movie scene in the ‘70s with The Culpepper Cattle Company seems to have lost his way here. It could’ve been that after the financial failure of March or Die, which lost over 5 million at the box office, he was happy to get any film opportunity at all, but his heart was clearly not into this one and the result is a flatly told Hitchcock-like misfire .

My Rating: 1 out of 10

Released: January 22, 1982

Runtime: 1 Hour 24 Minutes

Rated R

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Blu-ray

The Culpepper Cattle Company (1972)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: Life on cattle drive.

Feeling that life on the farm is boring Ben (Gary Grimes), a young teen of about 16, begs cattle company owner Frank Culpepper (Billy Green Bush) for a job on his upcoming cattle drive. Frank reluctantly agrees, but Ben soon finds what a tough and unglamorous job it is and he makes many mistakes that not only jeopardize the safe delivery of their herd, but the men’s lives as well.

The film marked the directorial debut of famed commercial photographer Dick Richards and was hailed at the time for its attention to detail and realism although for the most part there are a lot of inaccuracies including the men using a type of rifle that was not yet invented during the setting’s time period and the cowboys wearing beards even though most of them from that era just had mustaches. There is also an overuse of music. A gritty movie aiming for realism should rely on natural sound for its ambience and not music to create the mood. The melody itself is pleasing, but it’s the exact same score that was used in the The Flim-Flam Man, that came out 5 years earlier.

The story is episodic with a few too many cutesy ironies and dramatic arches. Certain segments aim for authenticity while at other times it gets completely overlooked for instance when Ben has his horse stolen he must walk the rest of the way to the next town, which is several miles and yet when he gets there he doesn’t look all that exhausted or dehydrated. The one part at realism that I did like is when he is shown taking a poo in the open and using tree leaves to wipe himself, which is interesting as that was one topic that has never been tackled in any other cowboy movie that I’ve seen.

The best thing is Grimes who looks like he was whisked away after his stint on Summer of ’42 and thrown immediately onto this one. His tender, wide-eyed gaze is perfect for the part and I enjoyed seeing the begrudging friendship evolve between him and the other men even as he continued to make life harder for them with one mistake after another.

Spoiler Alert!

The film’s biggest drawback is the violent ending in a film that had been pretty much lighthearted up to then. The climactic shootout is too similar to the one in The Wild Bunch and seemed almost like a trendy cliché as so many other westerns from that period were reverting to a similar type of climax. The idea that this was to convey that Ben as growing up into manhood as he takes it on himself to single-handedly defend a religious group from persecution of a corrupt landowner gets botched because once the bullets start flying he passively stands around with the same deer-in-headlights look that he had all along and does nothing to help as all of his friends from the cattle drive who came to his aid are systematically killed. Instead of coming off as growing up the character seems more like the same naïve screw-up that he had been throughout and continuing to stupidly get himself and everyone else into dangerous jams making him almost like a curse to anyone who dared befriend hm. The blood bath is not exciting either, but instead quite jarring and the whole thing leaves the viewer with an unnecessary depressed feeling when it’s over.

End of Spoiler Alert!

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: April 16, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 32Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dick Richards

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region B/2), Amazon Video