The husband-and-wife filmmaking team of J.S. Cardone and Carol Kottenbrook were last seen meddling with monsters in the Full Moon Productions SHADOWZONE and CRASH AND BURN. They move upscale with this insignificant regional murder mystery.
The setting is Yuma, Arizona, where lone-wolf Sheriff Kyle Shipp (John Beck) proves too unpredictable for bureaucrats back East ("back East" meaning Phoenix). The big boys send city cop Paul McGraw (Steven Bauer) to "modernize" the department and rein in Shipp. This coincides with the grisly
discovery of a woman's decapitated, handless body recently buried in the desert. Against all odds Sheriff Shipp gets a positive I.D. on the corpse: she was the unfaithful young wife of an area tycoon--and she supposedly died with him 16 years ago when he committed murder-suicide.
How did the presumably long-dead trollop turn up freshly butchered? It's less mysterious than it sounds, and as clues fall into the laps of the macho heroes, they pad out the running time by squabbling about proper police procedure, search warrants and all that. The case turns into a standard
inheritance killing, with the field of suspects narrowed to a ruthless politician and a mild-mannered, soft-spoken, well-liked, wouldn't-harm-a-fly businessman. Guess who's guilty. The climax finds Shipp cornering the cringing culprit but collapsing, helpless, from a heart ailment foreshadowed
early on (a conceit made even sillier by the fact that actor John Beck looks healthy enough for a hundred-mile cattle drive). This gives the murderer time for a flashback filled with gratuitous nudity.
That's a lapse for the film as a whole, which honestly tries to sustain interest through local color and personalities rather than sleazy exploitation. But the underdone script never rises above the level of a bland, if profanity-filled TV movie-of-the-week. Arizona politics and folkways get
superficial treatment, and characters are introduced who have absolutely nothing to do with anything, like Sheriff Shipp's barroom brawler of a former son-in-law. He's the ex-husband of the lawman's tart-tongued daughter Elise (Mia Sara), and she has a routine romance with interloper McGraw that
draws no comment from Shipp. One would think that a sheriff who covers every square inch of his jurisdiction would take some interest in his own daughter's life.
One performer whose role has some depth is Katharine Ross. The beautiful, mature actress is surely the last individual one would expect to find playing the hard-drinking coroner Grace who identifies the mystery corpse via unorthodox means. She's quite believable, though, and makeup artist Thom
Floutz gets special credit for "forensic effects," which aren't really too graphic except for creative uses of a severed head. (Violence, profanity, substance abuse, sexual situations, adult situations, nudity.)
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