snapshot: The China Lake Murders (1990 TVM)

US / 89 minutes / color / Papazian-Hirsch, MTE Dir: Alan Metzger Pr: William Beaudine Jr Scr: N.D. Schreiner Cine: Geoff Schaaf Cast: Tom Skerritt, Michael Parks, Nancy Everhard, Lauren Tewes, Bill McKinney, Lonny Chapman, J.C. Quinn, David Crowley, Doug Mears, Gary McGurk, Mary Maldonado, Jack Kehler, Tom Dahlgren, Lara Parker.

China Lake, a small town in the middle of the Nevada desert. Sheriff Sam Brodie (Skerritt) arrived here not so long ago after years policing in the Big City in hopes the move would save his marriage; it didn’t, but he stayed anyway . . . and now he’s ripe for seduction by the lovely secretary at the China Lake PD, Cindy (Everhard), who’s hot for him even though he’s twice her age. Because that’s how things happen in derivative cop movies like this one.


Tom Skerritt as Sam.

Traveler Helene Harrelson (Parker) is found dead in the trunk of her car in the midst of the desert, someone having murdered her by the simple method of locking her in there and leaving her to bake in the heat. Who could have done such a thing? Investigating with naive assistant Bobby Wade (Mears), Sam discovers a pattern of murders and disappearances around town that goes back years, always confined to a short period during the summer.

Nancy Everhard as Cindy.

But what would make people willingly stop their car in the middle of the desert? And why does out-of-town highway patrol officer Jack Donnelly (Parks) take his annual holiday, complete with motorcycle, in China Lake of all places?

It takes Sam an unconscionable amount of time to work out the connection, and even longer, once he’s finally done so, to act upon it. Since we’re being shown the reality of the murders from the outset, Sam’s mental processes seem even slower.

Michael Parks as Jack.

There are nice cameos from Lauren Tewes as diner waitress Kitty, from Jack Kehler (I think it is he) as Clint Early—a man who almost pays the ultimate price for goosing Kitty—and from Lara Parker as the first of this summer’s victims.

The scenery’s worth a look, the cinematography occasionally borders on the distinguished, and Skerritt and Everhard are good value—although Everhard doesn’t have much to do except sizzle—but otherwise there’s not a great deal to pull one to this routine, rather cumbersomely constructed TV movie. I’d hoped for more.

2 thoughts on “snapshot: The China Lake Murders (1990 TVM)

    • It does have its points of interest, but overall it reminded me how much better TV movies generally are these days, prolly thanks to cable outfits like HBO and to the Beeb and ITV — even things like the Midsomer Murders series are better put together than the average 1980s/1990s US network TVM, I’d say.

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