Nightmare at Bitter Creek

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“Made for television, and no better than you’d expect from that.”

Nita Daniels (Wagner) and her three girlfriends take a horseback trip up the mountain, expecting to meet their husbands at the top. However, the trip becomes a nightmare, as four members of the ‘Aryan Survivalist Brigade’ are holed up there, and decide to take out the women and their alcoholic guide, Ding (Skerritt). Initially, Ding takes the fore, but when he is injured it’s up to Nita and her pals to fight back. This TVM struggles, largely because of the lack of justification for the white supremacists: the entire party they attack are about as Aryan as they come, so why, exactly, should they be targeted for elimination? It would have been far more plausible had the party been ethnically-mixed, or even their guide been black – or, heck, Jewish.

Instead, the threat here is…well, a bit crap, really. They’re all but entirely faceless, clearly no good at marksmanship, and even the biggest of them is no match for a hungover Ding. Understandable, the TV-movie limitations restrict how “nasty” they could be shown, but there’s no sense of threat. It probably doesn’t help that the best actor in the film is Buster the dog, probably because his motivations are the most clear. The four women rarely get beyond the most shallow of caricatures, without any background to make you care for them – but I must admit, things do pick up significantly in the last twenty minutes, as the heroines find themselves trapped in a canyon, and Allison (Cassidy) needs to grow a spine if she’s to save her friends.

It’s not a terrible concept; this just needs to be executed with more conviction, and the medium of the television movie is probably not the right one for the story. That doesn’t permit the necessary level of dread, which would be something no TV company would want to show, especially back in 1988, when this was made. Finally, a small note on truth in advertising. Of all the facets depicted on the sleeve (right), there are certainly no bears and no lynchings. Nor is there any mention of the Confederacy or the Ku Klux Klan. Skerritt and Wagner, I will give you, but I’m not quite sure what the middle image on the right is supposed to depict.

Dir: Tim Burstall
Stars: Lindsay Wagner, Tom Skerritt, Constance McCashin, Joanna Cassidy

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