Add a Review

  • This fairly low budget film makes good use of the scenery, look out for the clever photographic synchronisity; gloves being put on with wheel nuts being tightened, suggesting tools as an extension of the hand etc.

    Token females in film hardly need many lines, but director Alan Metzger really works this 1990 near-surreal thriller with skill and dexterity.

    Lovely bright scenes, you can almost feel the dust. Tom Skerrit and Michael Parks make a good 'opposites' blend.

    Although not too many surprises, that would just spoil it, as most of the film carries itself, and you just know whats coming - but its dished up with relish.

    Highly entertaining.
  • The desert plays a central role in this fascinating portrayal of a serial killer's mad pursuit of self-fulfillment. Michael Parks's character—a big-city police officer who spends his vacation in the desert killing people—is as simple and arid as the desert he makes his yearly hunting ground, a place where his victims fall into his deadly trap as quickly and easily as a rodent in a rattlesnake's jaws. Parks's character lacks passion and depth in a way that suggests, paradoxically, a cavernous psychosis. His eyes are pitiless and impenetrable, and his slow, quiet way of talking gradually shifts from easy friendliness to menacing madness. Tom Skerritt offers an equally adept performance as a sheriff who at first simply wants to help out a fellow officer. The more his suspicions of this odd newcomer grow, the deeper into self-destructive madness does the killer descend. The sheriff's understated normalcy provides an effective measure of the killer's increasing detachment from reality. The fact that the killer has no clear motive to kill the people he chooses on empty stretches of desert highway makes the story all the more compelling and memorable. The murders are pointless to everyone except the killer, and he ain't talking.
  • Vacationing psycho cop (Michael Parks) is an opportunistic serial killer, whose visits to a small desert town coincide with disappearances and unsolved homicides. New sheriff on the scene (Tom Skeritt) takes an interest in Parks as a suspect, and thus commences a cat and mouse game between the hunter and the hunted. Parks is certifiably creepy, with his pompous personality. Some eerie flute music, and great desert locations add immeasurably. For Michael Parks admirers this is a must see. Overall "The China Lake Murders" succeeds as entertainment, and is definitely recommended. ...................... - MERK
  • This thriller is really good, especially if you take into consideration that it's only a low-budget made-for-television movie. Even though it was produced in 1989, it has a somewhat neo-noir look and feel to it that rather resembles 1970s cop thrillers. 'The China Lake Murders' was directed by TV veteran Alan Metzger ('Kojak') and is based on Robert Harmon's 1983 short 'China Lake,' which got Harmon the directing job for the now classic 'The Hitcher.' There are a couple of similarities between the latter movie and 'The China Lake Murders.'

    The plot is relatively simple, but the fantastic performances by Tom Skerritt in his typical sheriff role and Michael Parks as the maniac cop elevate 'The China Lake Murders' above the majority of television movies. Michael Parks in particular is chilling but also congenial as the stone-cold killer cop, who believes that the system is broken and he can get away with anything. His character Donnelly is an intriguing villain with traits reminiscent of Max Cady from 'Cape Fear' (portrayed by Robert Mitchum in 1962 and Robert De Niro in 1991), Eric Roberts' Dusty from 'The Nature of the Beast' (1995), Michael Douglas' D-Fens from 'Falling Down' (1993), and of course Rutger Hauer's Hitcher. The beautiful desert landscape and the skillful way it was shot also contribute to the impressive overall picture.

    'The China Lake Murders' is not very widely known, and it was never released on DVD to my knowledge, even though it "held the record for the highest rated basic cable film" for many years according to Wikipedia. I was very lucky to have recorded a high quality native 720p HD transfer on TV a couple of years ago that has an excellent, crisp and detailed picture, especially for a TV movie that is more than a quarter-century old. Let's hope this transfer finds its way on Blu- ray at some point. I very much recommend this movie to fans of classic thrillers.

    "Unsettling in the best tradition of film noir" -Time Magazine
  • sol121819 December 2009
    Warning: Spoilers
    ***SPOILERS*** Disturbing film about this very unstable individual who just happens to be a member of law enforcement. It seems that over the last five years that every time Officer Donnelly, Michael Parks, takes his vacations he ended up in the China Lake area where a number of people also ended up brutally murdered.

    There's no mystery in who the killer is since we see him-Officer Donnelly-in action within the first ten minutes of the movie. Donnelly impersonates a local traffic or highway cop who stops motorists in the unfriendly Mojave Desert on made up charges, like being drunk or not observing road signs, and ends up murdering them. Donnelly mostly does this by handcuffing and then locking his unsuspecting victims in their car trunk where they slowly suffocate to death in the scorching desert heat.

    On this his fifth vacation to China Lake Donnelly really goes all out trying to break his previous record in not only murdering a record number of victims but also includes one of the local police Robert Wade, Doug Mears, among them. It's Wade's boss and good friend Sheriff Sam Brodie, Tom Skeritt, who at first befriended Donnelly as a fellow police officer who finally realized what a dangerous person he was and tried to stop him before he caused any more damage. Something that Brodie knew he'll have his hands full in trying to prevent!

    What's so unusual about this cop killer, with the cop doing the killing, is that the deranged Officer Donnelly shows no real intentions of wiping out the criminal scum of society, like a Dirty Harry Callahan, with all of his victims being innocent and law abiding citizens. In fact it's in obeying Donnelly's ridiculous and unlawful orders, just because he wears a police uniform, that ends up costing them their lives!

    ***SPOILERS*** Not that good in explaining the criminal psychology that drives the psycho cop Officer Donnelly to do the horrible things that he does in the film "The China Lake Murders" nevertheless keeps its audience on the edge of their seats as they wait for the next shoe, or victim, to drop. We never know just what's going on in Donnelly's, who always seems to be grinning, very disturbed mind since he comes across as if he's under some kind of hypnotic spell that drives to commit his slew of crimes in the movie. Even Sheriff Brodie is completely mystified in Donnelly's strange behavior only knowing that someone like him is the reason people for the most part don't trust cops! Which makes it just that much harder, like in a number of incidents in the film, for him to do his job.

    The movie's ending is a bit contrived in the street or highway smart Donnelly acting like a first class jerk by falling into an obvious trap that Sheriff Brodie set for him. But by then with Donnelly feeling invincible in outsmarting the law and those, like Sheriff Brodie, who enforce it he was due to overreach himself. It was that one mistake on Donnelly's part that put and end to him and his five year reign of terror in the community of China Lake.
  • Warning: Spoilers
    This movie always impresses me as interesting though I'm not sure why. The story itself doesn't really amount to that much. A big-city cop takes annual vacations near a small town in the desert and, donning his uniform, stops and kills motorists at random, leaving their bodies in the car trunks for the local cops to discover. The local chief runs into the vacationing murderer, identifies him only as a police officer, and more or less recruits him into helping out with the multiple homicides.

    The homicidal vacationing cop is Michael Burns. The local cop who finally twigs is Tom Skerrit. The performances of the two principals have something to do with the film's appeal, I think. Burns is husky-voiced and by turns mean and knowing, but always reckless. Burns' cop is hard hearted, and we understand that this is because of his rotten job of dealing with day-to-day garbage. (We already know about all that from Dirty Harry. At least he wasn't an abused child.) But the script drains him of any humanity without making him engagingly evil. He doesn't just murder people whom he finds offensive. He kills ordinary working-class people. He's a stereotypical racist and enjoys taking down blacks and Hispanics. His "friendship" with the locals seems feigned. He beds a blowzy blond waitress but there is no affection between them. (Lying next to her sleeping body, Burns goes through these weird Dracula-like motions with his hands that adds something decidedly odd to the scene.) Only his expression signals a pustular, very private anguish. He never seems to warm to his fellow officer, Skerrit, and overall comes across as a blank rather than a human. Burns is a good actor but needs something to work with.

    Skerrit is quite good too. He left the force in San Bernardino to come to this small town and is now working his way through a post-marital depressive state. His acquires a neat-looking girl friend, his secretary Cindy, who is attractive without being in the least cute and who has a naked back that radiates a combination of sinewy strength and femininity. Skerrit's character is friendly enough without being gabby, rather passive, except that his expressions spell out his emotions so effectively.

    One of the more compelling features of the film is the location shooting. It's supposed to be somewhere near China Lake, in Hopi Country, in Nevada -- but it's not. The Hopi live nowhere near Nevada. And the desert, of which we see a good deal, is the Mojave in California, full of stucco-coated jumbo rocks and Joshua trees. The scenery excites the imagination. What could be more exciting than zipping along on desert roads on a motorcycle? The sunshine, the wind, the ever-changing horizon, the scent of creosote -- and not another soul in sight except the occasional potential victim if you happen to be a crazed cop. The little towns and road stops we see resemble those around Needles and Blythe of fifty years ago, or so we imagine, without the Styrofoam litter, when people stopped for lunch in cafés instead of driving through Tommy's Big Boy GigaBurgers for take out.

    Anyway, I kind of like it, a minor piece with some redeeming virtues, including some careful casting. When Skeritt first pulls his car up in front of a mobile home in which a man has been beating his wife, we see an overweight middle-aged blond woman. Without indulging in stereotypes, her pinched and sour features suggest the kind of uneducated humble people that would live in such a neighborhood.
  • Maciste_Brother14 October 2003
    As average as it is for a TV movie, the one thing that I got from THE CHINA LAKE MURDERS was the underlying aspect that the director or producers were more interested in showing off cops in their uniforms and the whole fetishistic aspect of their uniforms and the policeman's mantra stemming from this than anything else. The story is VERY slight, and it really doesn't make much sense when you start thinking about it (why doesn't the bad cop kill the people he stops on the road before putting them in the trunks of their vehicles? Bad cop's killing pattern doesn't add up, etc) and there's very little suspense or point to all of it. So, that leaves only one original aspect of this well photographed flick: showing cops in uniforms; An off-duty bad cop who likes to kill people while wearing his uniform; Good cop befriending psycho cop at the drop of a hot; Dueling cops, etc. One only has to look at the video's slipcover box to notice the film's obsession with uniforms.

    The whole relationship between Tom Skerritt and the bad cop is tinged with an underlying subtext : Skerritt befriends the bad cop pretty fast. He even invites him to his home (hmm...ok) ; bad cop is obsessed with Skerritt and he's impotent in bed with women. The relationship between the two men is hard to explain but I suspect that there's more than meets the eye and, subsequently, this relationship brings the whole cop fetish aspect even more to the fore. Whether it was done intentionally or not, I don't know (I suspect it was) but without it, THE CHINA LAKE MURDERS would be a totally forgettable TV flick.
  • This is not a bad little police thriller - some intrigue as our small time sheriff try to solve a string or murders that he suspects attributes to a rogue city cop that takes his vacation in the town.

    The plot does tend to sway away from the main crime story occasionally with the subplots, but the movie still holds up pretty well with the decent acting, pacing, and scene setting of the desert and town.

    Not too many unpredictable or surprising moments, but the movie does keep you amused and sympathetic to the protagonists.

    Grade B-