There are several lessons that can be learned from watching horror films. One that is often overlooked is the importance of staying out of trailer parks. Seriously, I have lost track of how many horror films have taken place within the confines of a trailer park. Once you see someone surrounded by RVs and mobile homes, you know that they’re probably doomed.
Take 1989’s Far From Home, for instance.
Far From Home is set in perhaps the sleaziest trailer park in America. This place sits in the middle of the Nevada desert and is run by chain-smoking Agnes Reed (Susan Tyrrell), who has a voice like a bullfrog, a daughter (Stephanie Walski) who is obsessed with watching TV and eating fishsticks, and a delinquent teenage son named Jimmy (Andras Jones).
The only law is provided by Sheriff Bill Childers (Dick Miller), who has a squad car but apparently no deputies. Childers is gruff but not that bad of a guy once you get to know him. However, he’s also played by Dick Miller and we all know better than to depend on Dick Miller to maintain the peace.
There’s a gas station nearby. A mellow Vietnam vet named Duckett (Richard Masur) owns it. Duckett is always willing to be helpful but he rarely has any gas. This is one of those small towns where the gas truck apparently only rolls in every two months or so. Still, Duckett’s a nice guy and he’s full of stories about how the government used to do atomic bomb tests in the surrounding desert.
(The scenes where Duckett drives around the desert feel somewhat out of place but they’re still enjoyable, due to Masur’s eccentric performance.)
Living in the trailer park, there’s a lot of odd people. Some of them are permanent residents while some of them are just temporarily stranded. 14 year-old Pinky (Anthony Rapp, who would go on to appear in Dazed and Confused and Rent) lives with his mother and is a permanent resident. His mother is rarely seen, though occasionally she can be glimpsed through a window, propped up in front of the TV. Pinky says that, when he was a kid, he and Jimmy were best friends. But now, Jimmy and Pinky are enemies.
And then there’s Amy (Jennifer Tilly) and Louise (Karen Austin), who are just waiting for enough gas to come in to be able to get Amy’s car to start running again. Louise is intelligent and responsible. Amy is flighty and undependable. As soon as one of them accidentally pulls the handle off the driver’s side door, you just know one of them is going to end up getting trapped in that car at a bad moment.
When Far From Home opens, two newcomers have moved into the trailer park. Writer, divorced father, and self-described “former angry young man” Charlie Cox (Matt Frewer) has just spent a month with his 13 year-old daughter, Joleen (Drew Barrymore, who was 14 when she made Far From Home). It hasn’t exactly been a great vacation and it doesn’t get any better when Charlie’s car runs out of gas. Joleen is about to turn fourteen and she doesn’t want to spend her birthday in a crummy trailer park with her incredibly dorky dad.
However, both Jimmy and Pinky are happy that Joleen will be spending at least a day or two at the trailer park. At first, Joleen crushes on Jimmy and then, after Jimmy reveals himself to be aggressive and unstable, she crushes on Pinky, who protects her from Jimmy. One of the two boys is so obsessed with Joleen that he is willing to commit murder to keep her from leaving the trailer park. But which one?
(It’s actually pretty obvious but you probably already guessed that.)
Far From Home is a film about which I have mixed feelings. On the one hand, the movie’s totally predictable. Characters do dumb things for no real reason beyond needing to move the plot forward. Charlie’s parenting abilities change drastically from scene to scene. A traumatized character goes from catatonic to recovered to catatonic again with no real explanation.
One of my main issues with the film is that there’s no real surprise about who the killer turns out to be. Even worse, once the killer’s identity is revealed, the killer suddenly turns into one of those psychos who can come up with a dozen one-liners while trying to kill someone. I mean, seriously, who does that? Are movie psychos required to take a year’s worth of improv clubs and do an apprenticeship with the Upright Citizens Brigade before they’re allowed to pick up a knife? If I was the type to commit murder (and I’m not but let’s just say that I was), I would be too busy trying to make sure everyone was dead to be witty. I’d save the jokes until I was safely on a beach somewhere, drinking pink lemonade and keeping an eye out for Ben Gardner’s boat. That’s just me, I guess.
And yet, there’s a part of me that really likes this stupid, stupid movie. It’s a surprisingly well-directed film, full of artfully composed shots. The trailer park really does take on a life of its own and the film also makes good use of a nearby abandoned apartment building. It’s a great location and, occasionally, it lends the film a dash of surrealism. (Of course, I guess you could legitimately ask who would build an apartment complex in the middle of the desert, especially one that’s still humming with radiation from the Atomic bomb tests, but let’s not.) Richard Masur, Dick Miller, and Susan Tyrrell all give good performances. For that matter, the same is true of Anthony Rapp and Andras Jones. Neither Rapp nor Jones are to blame for the fact that they were let down by a weak script.
Though I doubt either one of them would describe Far From Home as being their proudest cinematic achievement, Matt Frewer and Drew Barrymore are totally believable as father and daughter. In the end, that’s why I like this movie. Whenever I’ve watched Far From Home, I’ve always been able to relate to Joleen. When I was thirteen, I basically was Joleen.
Fortunately, though, I was never found myself stranded in a trailer park full of homicidal maniacs.
I guess I just got lucky that way.