TBS Thriller Milks the Fear Factor

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TBS Superstation's Disappearance
is something of a movie stew, but one that proves surprisingly tasty.

This tale about a vacationing family reunites Harry Hamlin and Susan Dey — cast members on the 1980s legal drama L.A. Law— as Jim and Patty Henley. Their travel companions — 12-year-old daughter Kate, 16-year-old son Matt and his friend, Ethan — persuade the folks to detour to an old mining town called Weaver. The boys found it on an old map, yet no one in the area seems to know of its existence.

The Henleys soon find themselves pursued by an unseen person or force. After taking a look around the spooky ghost town, they can't start their car. They spend the night in Weaver's abandoned hotel, then find that the vehicle has disappeared.

In the hotel whose walls bear strange symbols and an animal skin, they find a video camera whose film depicts a distraught young woman saying her three friends have all disappeared, before she runs away from an unseen threat.

Billed as a "supernatural suspense thriller," the movie is a blend of The X-Files, Steven Spielberg's Duel
(about a menacing truck driver who's never seen as his rig threatens an innocent driver) and The Blair Witch Project. It also borrows from Godzilla
and other 1950s science-fiction films critical of atomic-bomb testing.

In one scene, Jim and Ethan find a monument in the Nevada desert marking "Ground Zero" for a 1948 neutron-device test. That's just before Ethan vanishes into thin air.

Unfortunately, Disappearance
also borrows from old monster flicks that kept the creatures in the shadows until the very end. Here, we never see the heavy-breathing villain.

And though Patty does see him (or it?), she never reveals what she's witnessed.

One hour into the movie, the family finally gets to the sheriff. A prisoner tells Jim several bizarre theories about Weaver, including one which posits that the neutron blast resulted in mutant offspring and animals. (We do know it's someone who can drive a truck and a school bus.)

Later — in an X-Files
moment — we see the sheriff take that man out to a junkyard, start a bonfire and leave him as an apparent sacrifice.

Meanwhile, the family buys a meal at a drive-in diner, where Kate realizes the waitress is the girl from the video.

The brainchild of writer and director Walter Klenhard, Disappearance
is an effective package, whose eerie ending is redolent of the Twilight Zone.
Production designer Les Binns' ghost town — with South Australia standing in for Nevada — is a key contributor to that mood.

Disappearance
will bow on TBS on April 21 at 8 p.m.

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