Director: Bill Crain
Year of release: 1989
Country of origin: USA
Running time: 85 minutes
DVD/Blu ray: Neither (OOP VHS only)
Tagline: "Too terrifying to be real, too deadly to be anything else" and "In the desert, when the sun sets, the real fear begins".
Casting the spotlight on the slasher genre
Story: New couple Greg and his girlfriend Chris are out in the desert having a good time away from civilisation and prying eyes. Among other things they enjoy getting physical with each other but they are not as alone as they think as we see they are observed by a mystery man driving a black pick up truck. Unaware of the attention the pair are soon joined by another couple who themselves have had an encounter with the black truck only for it to disappear when it seemingly had them cornered. Putting the incident to the back of the minds the group continue having fun until they are joined by yet another couple, this time made up of Greg’s older brother Kyle and his new partner. There is tension simmering between the brothers as we learn that Chris was recently dating Kyle only to move on to Greg, something which has stuck in the craw of the older brother.
Soon enough the group are rattled to find an ominous warning note which claims they are all going to die. This development kicks up further trouble between the two brothers who come to blows resulting in Kyle taking off with his new girlfriend in tow. Unperturbed and ultimately deciding to dismiss the warning the rest of the group remain in the desert drinking into the night. Kyle meanwhile decides not to go home after all, instead riding around on his motorcycle to clear his head after the argument while still tormented by feelings for his ex.
Ignoring the warning is a mistake for the five as they find themselves at the mercy of the owner of the black pick up truck who is intent on hunting them down one by one.
Good points: *The desert makes for a unique location and along with a select few others like Blood Frenzy really helps set this apart from most everything else in the genre. I thought the setting certainly helped distinguish this one from the pack lending to a fresh feel which was most welcome. The film wouldn’t be half as memorable as it turns out to be I don’t think were it not for the desert sun-soaked backdrop.
*The use of the black truck is interesting and for the first two thirds of the film it probably instils more of a sense of menace than does the killer himself who for large periods we only see from the waist down. Before the proper and full reveal of the killer we are instead witness to a lot of shots of the truck which manages to appear ominous. Probably Duel inspired it conjures up memories and comparisons to that movie at times which is no bad thing. Again as with the desert setting the inclusion and presence of the truck makes the film stand out a bit more from other slashers.
Though the killer himself is a little disappointing in terms of appearance with no mask or costume he at the same time is no slouch once revealed coming across as creepy and unhinged as well as sadistic in the manner in which he toys with his victims.
*The music is another highpoint with not only several songs I liked playing throughout but also with some well suited more instrumental mood music being used at key moments to build tension and promote a sense of dread.
*The Chris character is a credit to the film in the role of final girl and more than holds up her end of things. As well as fulfilling her duties well in an exciting showdown with the killer towards the end she also comes across as likeable enough in the earlier parts of the film when it would perhaps be easier to see her as a bit slimy moving on quickly from one brother to the next as she did. The other characters, in particular the bickering Mary and Trip are entertaining as is Bambi with her air head tendencies early on. Considering that we only have seven cast members counting the killer and seeing that Bambi doesn’t even stick around too long they do a great job of moving the action forward without it ever becoming a chore to sit through.
*With a small cast there is as you would expect a subdued body count but despite this there are a handful of satisfying gooey moments, grenades, chains and arrows coming into play to provide some memorable gory scenes.
Bad Points: *There were a couple of very brief scenes early on that were spliced in with the two couples talking (just prior to Bambi and Kyle arriving) that I thought seemed odd and out of place. As the group are chatting we see several waist down shots of Chris running away from the killer over rocks which must have been taken from the end of the film though it made no sense to include them here. It was pretty confusing and it made me think the killer had another victim he’d been holding hostage or something who had managed to escape.
*Minor spoilers: Mirage is unrealistic in a couple of areas as you would think that Mary and Trip would have heard the grenade blast and realised something was wrong when the red truck is destroyed. Maybe it was supposed to have occurred a long way from camp but it would have been quiet at night and in relatively flat terrain noise would carry.
At the same time it was also weird how for a few seconds Chris and Greg begin shaking up and down in the front of the truck after noticing the grenade in the back. I didn’t understand this as the truck was parked at the time so wouldn’t have been moving.
Big spoiler: The killer also takes a huge amount of damage, far more so than would be possible to withstand. Would have been better if he’d have plucked the arrow out of his chest or shoulder etc instead of his head as though the effects were good it made things seem too hard to believe.
On another unrealistic note the Kyle character certainly took his time clearing his head as he seemed to drive around all evening, through the night and into the next day without going home.
*Another big spoiler: I wasn’t too keen on the ending which was designed to make us question whether there really was a black truck and killer or if instead this was just a mirage of sorts that Chris imagined with she herself being responsible for the murders. Well either that or the killer somehow survived and cleaned everything up. Neither really make much sense though as Trip and Mary saw the truck themselves before even meeting up with Chris so it’s doubtful they would have shared the same delusion. To go the other way doesn’t add up either as it was unrealistic as it was seeing how much damage the killer took already so to think that he actually survived it all is unfathomable.
Verdict: Mirage for me turned out be an engaging curiosity which I think benefitted a lot from the unique desert setting which is something very seldom seen in the genre. It’s a shame the film was never able to secure a proper DVD or Blu-Ray release and as it was I had to resort to watching it online. Being so difficult to find it isn’t as well known as it should be and probably doesn’t get the credit it deserves. It’s far from perfect as it’s unrealistic at times and the killer might be a mild disappointment to some once finally revealed plus he doesn’t have a backstory. Overall though I found the positives out-weighed the negatives. It’s well worth checking out online on YouTube etc if you can find it and hopefully one day we’ll see this forgotten film secure it’s very own physical release.
Bodycount (contains major spoilers):
1)Greg: Buried up to his neck in sand with a grenade left by his head.
2)Mary: Throat cut during the night. Think the murder occurred off camera.
3)Trip: Run over with the black truck and then shot.
4)Kyle: Shot and then stabbed in the neck with an arrow.
5)Black clad killer: Shot through the head with an arrow. Shot and then cut open so that Chris can retrieve the key he swallowed.
Note: Maybe you wouldn’t want to count #5 seeing that the ending indicated her either survived or never existed inn the first place.