Highway horror is nothing new. The Car, The Wraith and other roadkill flicks such as The Hitcher have used wide-open spaces as inhospitable places of terror. Vehicular manslaughter was certainly seen in a new light after movies like Christine and Maximum Overdrive featured the car as an evil, unstoppable killer. Indeed, automobiles have been possessed (Dark of Night) or they’ve simply been used as a way to conceal the assailant in lieu of a missing hocking mask (Duel). Hell, there’s even a movie about a killer bulldozer (aptly titled Killdozer!). These menacing vehicles allow the killer some power over his victims and it aids the assailant in his escape, making it the perfect tool of death. Mirage was a rather late entry into both the “car killer” and slasher realm, and it definitely reflects both roadster and stalker elements. Yet, it manages to construct something rather unique out of these formulas.
Jennifer McAllister is Chris, the gorgeous athletic blonde who doesn’t mind having sex in the bed of a pick-up truck. She is on a weekend trip with her boyfriend Greg (Kenneth Johnson) and another couple named Trip and Mary (Kevin McParland and Nicole Anton) who like to argue so they can make up, if you catch my drift. Chris’ ex, Kyle (Todd Schaeffer), who just happens to be Greg’s brother, shows up with his new lady friend Bambi (Laura Albert from The Unnamable). Despite Bambi’s significant charms, it would seem he has never gotten over Chris. She also seems a little torn between two brothers, and its easy to see why, these guys look exactly like each other! While they are perfectly surfer-guy attractive, they are also generic enough that I had trouble telling them apart. At any rate, these six friends are soon hounded by someone in a black truck who seems to appear and disappear with a disturbing amount of ease. Eventually this unknown assailant ups the ante and things quickly turn to murder.
If Duel had been a slasher, it might look a lot like Mirage. Of course you need more than Dennis Weaver to make it all nice and splatter-y, and this film ups the ante with six friends vacationing in the desert. But like Duel, Mirage maintains a mysterious fascination with the culprit, who is not seen until close to the end. This is a desert set slasher that works heavily in hallucinogenic terror, and quite effectively. The barren and desolate background is as much of a character as the actors, and in some ways the location even outperforms its human counterparts. Most of the violence also takes place under the brutal sunlight, giving the film a rather post-apocalyptic sense of dread because the dirt, isolation, heat and a sense of nothingness are palpable. Director and co-writer Bill Crain also did the amazing score, which is sometimes eerie, sometimes playful and always downright beautiful.
All these words and I still have a hard time describing what I’ve just seen. I’m surprised that Mirage has languished somewhere on the slasher backburner. Maybe that’s partially due to the fact that it’s not a straight slasher. While the stalking scenes fit into the genre nicely and this film does take the “unique kills” thing pretty seriously with various grenades and dismemberment, it also uses guns and feels perhaps a little less Friday the 13th and a bit more Breakdown. Furthermore, there are a gazillion movies called Mirage, which only serves to make the title less noticeable. That’s too bad, because this is a great little gem that deserves an audience.