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Ron Underwood

Five Desert Horror Flicks


Desierto, which opened on October 14, won a prize at the Toronto International Film Festival AND was selected as the Mexican entry for Best Foreign Language Film at the Academy Awards.  The desert plays a staring role in Jonás Cuarón’s film about immigrants fleeing across an unforgiving landscape while trying to escape from a vigilante intent on killing those crossing the border from Mexico into the U.S. It’s a sobering film and one that is must see. (Click to read the review.)

The film caused us to look back at others that have been set in the desert. Here are our selections:

The Hills Have Eyes (1977) Written, directed and edited by Wes Craven the master of horror himself. Starring Scream Queen Dee Wallace (The Howling, Cujo) and Michael Berryman of One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest and Weird Science. A car crash leaves the seven members of the Carter family and their two dogs stranded in the Nevada desert. They end up set upon by a clan of savage, inbred, cannibals. (Don’t you just hate it when that happens?) The film was originally given an X rating by the MPAA and had to do considerable edits to get down to an R rating. It did all right in its initial box office release but now enjoys a massive cult following and has spawned a major horror movie franchise.

Near Dark (1987) This American Western Horror film was among the earliest films directed by Kathryn Bigelow (Zero Dark Thirty, The Hurt Locker) and she co-wrote it with Eric Red (The Hitcher, The Last Outlaw). Young Caleb Colton (Adrian Pasdar of Carlito’s Way and Heroes) with beautiful young drifter Mae (Jennie Wright of The World According to Garp and St. Elmo’s Fire). Unfortunately it turns out Mae’s part of a nomadic vampire ‘family’ living out of an RV and she bites Caleb so he can join them. It made almost no money in its initial release despite great reviews but has since become appreciated as a cult classic and genuinely fresh take on the vampire genre. Not to mention coining the classic phrase, “I hate it when they don’t shave.”

Tremors (1990) Directed by Ron Underwood (City Slickers, Mighty Joe Young) and starring the one and only Kevin Bacon as cowboy Valentine McKee. ‘Val’ and his partner Earl (Fred Ward of Escape From Alcatraz) are a pair of handymen in former mining settlement Perfection, Nevada where a series of strange incidents occur. With the help of seismology grad student Rhonda (Finn Carter from Ghosts of Mississippi) they figure out that Perfection, is now being plagued by giant underground snake monsters. It was only a modest hit at the box office but did HUGE on video, TV, the Internet, etc.  It currently holds a ‘fresh’ rating of 85% on the Tomatometer and is a favorite among monster movie fans everywhere.

Wolf Creek (2005) This Australian horror film was written, co-produced, and directed by Greg McLean who later went on to work on such films as Crawlspace and Red Hill.  Three backpackers are taken captive.  They manage to escape only to be hunted by a depraved serial killer. Loosely based on the real life murders performed by Ivan Milat in the 90’s and Bradley Murdoch in 2001. It had its premiere at the Sundance Film Festival and was nominated for seven Australian Film Institute awards including Best Director.

Bone Tomahawk (2015)  This Western horror film was written and directed by novelist S. Craig Zahler and starring Kurt Russell, Patrick Wilson, Matthew Fox, and David Arquette. In the community of Bright Hope sometime around the 1890’s a series of mysterious deaths is finally traced to a clan of cannibalistic savages known as the Troglodytes who live in the Valley of the Starving Men. A posse of course is sent out but things don’t go quite as planned. Critically acclaimed, for its realism, its direction, its screenwriting and most especially for Kurt Russell’s performance it has an 89% fresh rating on the Tomatometer and was nominated for two Independent Spirit Awards.