Light My Fire: Ultraviolet (1992)

Dave treks to the Nevada Desert, and checks out a Corman obscurity that’s worth unearthing.

Succinct, absorbing and sparingly tense, ULTRAVIOLET allows you to pick over its buffet of plaudits without the fear of going hungry – although its pedigree promises a teensy bit more than it delivers.

Distributed in North American by Concorde-New Horizons, its Corman origins enable a producer credit for the inimitable Catherine Cyran, fresh from overseeing Slumber Party Massacre III (1990) and Bloodfist II (1990). It also has the unusual trivia nugget of being shot and cut by two men who went on to take a pivotal role in their respective trade bodies. Today, Kevin Tent is the President of the American Society of Cinema Editors, while Gregg Heschong occupies the role of secretary at the American Society of Cinematographers. Heschong had got his big break a decade earlier, recounting to the ASC magazine that:

“Joel Schumacher called to ask if I would step in as cinematographer to finish his film D.C Cab (1983) [1]. With that, I was rerated from operator to DP!” [2]

The ensuing years brought Heschong a little second unit work with Broadcast News (1987) and The Seventh Sign (1988), but it was television that provided the main output for his talents – well, aside from a couple of films for Corman, both of which were directed by Mark Griffiths. Between it and the family-friendly survival flick A Cry in the Wild (1990), Ultraviolet is, without doubt, the better of the two, and the arid landscape of Death Valley is a good fit for the acclaimed lensman, who once confessed that his life’s dream would be to shoot a western.

“I thought we were going to give our marriage one last weekend,” ponders Sam (Stephen Meadows), whose relationship with Kristen (Patricia Healy) has entered the last chance saloon. Armed with divorce papers, Kristen has travelled out into the desert to see her park ranger hubby, who’s holed up in a hut with only a pet rattlesnake for company. But if their pending separation wasn’t enough to contend with, they’re also about to face Nicholas Walker (Esai Morales): a sadistic psychopath set to put them through hell…

Throughout Esai Morales storied career, he’s never played anyone as gnarly as Nicholas – and here he does a superb job. Rapist, sadist, and – in a weird plot twist – partial to a blank piece of paper and a pencil sketch. His ongoing war of manipulation with Kristen is the highlight of the movie; kidnapper and victim engaging in an evolving battle of one-upmanship. Sadly, this comes at the expense of Sam. For the majority of Ultraviolet‘s brief running time, Sam is left to wearily stagger through the heat in pursuit of his wife. Thankfully, he’s surrounded by the stunning Nevada landscape, which Heschong shoots as if he was Winton C. Hoch, feasting upon lush wide shots of the stifling, sweat-stained terrain.

Wrapping things up in the long-abandoned former mining town of Rhyolite, Ultraviolet sheds its occasional dawdle to show good momentum in a tidy final reel. It may fall short of being indispensable, but there’s enough quality in this three-hander to warrant an escape from the VHS purgatory it’s presently trapped in.

USA ● 1992 ● Thriller ● 80mins

Esai Morales, Patricia Healy, Stephen Meadows ● Dir. Mark Griffiths ● Wri. Gordon Cassidy, from a story by Mark Griffiths & Gordon Cassidy

[1] If completely accurate, that means Heschong replaced Dean Cundey.
[2] ASC Close-Up: Gregg Heschong, 31st March 2020.

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