“Choke Canyon” has two things that separate it from the pack of low-budget action flicks of the late eighties and the first is that the main character is a cowboy/physicist. The second is that there was an amazing amount of work put into the aerial effects that create some breathtaking moments sprinkled throughout.
The Pilgrim Corporation is dealing with a toxic waste issue of the most extreme matter, and they have decided to hide the problem in the vast wasteland of Choke Canyon. This area is deserted by all human contact, except for one man. Dr. David Lowell (Stephen Collins, better known as the father on “7th Heaven”) has been conducting some very important research on safe-energy in the area and despite reasoning, bargaining and threats, he will not move. This creates a tense and taut deadly game of cat and mouse.
Collins, is excellent as the film’s unusual hero (cowboy/physicist) and would have made a very amicable action star had his career took a different path. He is smart, sensible and an easy hero to root for. Not only that kiddies, but he cares for the environment. He even provides some unintentional humor in the film during a fist fight, as he is spewing physic jargon, which is so out of that place at that particular moment in the picture.
Bo Svenson (“The Great Waldo Pepper”) is stoic as Captain Oliver Parkside, the hired killer that The Pilgrim Corporation has sent after Lowell. No background information is provided on him and he is not the type of villain that you flat out hate. He is simply a man hired to do a job because he is the best at what he does. Svenson creates a character here that is menacing. Yet you admire his dedication to the profession.
Lance Henriksen (“Aliens”) is completely wasted as a corporate lackey and second in charge of The Pilgrim Corporation. It’s not too smart to have this actor on set and not provide him with some powerful scenes. He basically reads his dull dialogue and leaves.
The cast is rounded out by the luscious Janet Julian (“Humongous”) who could have benefited from a few more acting classes. She plays Vanessa Pilgrim, who starts out as Lowell’s hostage but ends up a love interest.
In spite of the cast, what makes the film work so great is the aerial stunt work that went into some high-flying scenes above the Choke Canyon area. The scenery is beautiful as the audience looks down upon it in the opening credits. Later that same scenery is used as the backdrop of two planes brawling it out in the sky. This creates one thrilling, fast-paced and fun-filled sequence.
Chuck Bail (“Black Samson”) juggles so many elements in this picture as a director and does it very well, because it is a prime example of great low budget cinema. He is helped substantially by cinematographer Dante Spinotti (“X-Men: The Last Stand,” “The Insider”) who does an outstanding job no matter the budget (He is currently working on the latest installment of “The Chronicles of Narnia”).
Code Red has also provided a pristine quality to the original negative of the movie which is why the opening credits go under the original title, “On Dangerous Ground.”The movie is far superior to the Media Home Entertainment VHS release of the eighties.
However, the same can not be said about the audio track, which has visible traces of static apparent throughout. This means you’ll need your remote control handy to lower the action and music sequences and make it louder during the dialogue infused moments.
An audio commentary with the late producer Peter Shepard (“Sonny Boy”) is on hand and is moderated by Lee Christian. He provides a wealth of knowledge on the experience of making this picture. The DVD is dedicated to him because he died shortly after doing this commentary track.
An interview is also done with Bo Svenson and he is very informative on some of the production elements in the film. He then becomes a little pompous with his comments about how fans admire his work.
The original grainy trailer is included in this very nice package too.
And of course the true treat to any Code Red release is the addition of upcoming titles from the company. Here we are treated to three great titles including, the Peter O’Toole political thriller, “Power Play”, the underrated James Coburn thriller “The Internecine Project” and the trippy “Stunt Rock.”
Thanks to a heart helping of extras and sound video quality, “Choke Canyon” and the DVD from Code Red is able to thrive despite some very noticeable flaws and ultimately gives any true cult movie buff a worthy addition to their collection.