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The Haunting History Of Horror In The High Desert

"Horror in the High Desert" is a pseudo-documentary-styled film about outdoor enthusiast and survivalist Gary Hinge's (Eric Mencis) mysterious disappearance in the Nevada high desert. This indie film uses fictional talking head interviews, beautiful landscapes footage and the found footage narrative style popularized by "The Blair Witch Project" to elicit unbearable anticipation, tapping into the primal fear that comes with not being able to see clearly in the dark.

When Gary doesn't make it home from a solo backcountry hiking excursion, his sister Beverly Hinge (Tonya Williams Ogden) reports him missing to authorities, who begin a search. They attempt to narrow their search area by pinging his cell phone, but Gary had turned it off shortly after leaving home. When authorities find Gary's truck, there are numerous prints that are not his and they thus deem it a crime scene.

After calling off the search and rescue effort, the police are alerted to Gary's video log channel, where he goes by a pseudonym and has thousands of followers who believe Gary vanished while trying to find a remote cabin he had spoken about in one of his YouTube videos. Gary's YouTube account suggested Gary revisited the backcountry to prove the existence of the cabin after being cyber-bullied by his followers. Months after Gary's disappearance, his backpack is placed in a campground containing the found footage of Gary's last moments in a camcorder gripped by his severed hand. 

This quietly thrilling found footage horror is worth a deeper look, so here are some haunting details about this indie sensation. Warning: Spoilers about "Horror in the High Desert" ahead!  

Horror in the High Desert shares striking similarities with Kenny Veach's disappearance

Although writer-director Dutch Marich hasn't cited a real-life missing persons case as an inspiration for his film, it shares striking similarities with Kenny Veach's missing persons case. As reported by Nevada Magazine, Veach was an active YouTuber, nature enthusiast, and hiker, who went missing in the Nevada desert in 2014 and was never seen again.

Veach reported a strange experience on his YouTube channel, saying, "One time during one of my hikes out by Nellis Air Force Base, I found a hidden cave. The entrance to the cave was shaped like a perfect capital M. I always enter every cave I find, but as I began to enter this particular cave, my whole body began to vibrate. The closer I got to the cave entrance, the worse the vibrating became. Suddenly, I became very scared and high-tailed it out of there."

Veach was pestered by his followers to go back to the cave and share a video of his experience, which he did attempt, but he claimed he could not locate the unusual cave when he posted the video to his YouTube channel. This video sparked a lot of interest, and his followers once again encouraged him to seek the M-cave, doubting he couldn't find it on his last outing. Veach never came back from his second excursion, although his cell phone was found by the abandoned mine shaft featured in the video.

Like Gary in Horror in the High Desert, Kenny Veach's disappearance sparked conspiracy theories

As reported by Nevada Magazine, after search and rescue found Veach's cell phone near the mining shaft, the leads dried up; the case went cold and Veach was never found. His case sparked strange conspiracy theories online amongst his followers, suggesting the involvement of everything from aliens to the military. Some commenters pointed out timestamps on his last video, where they think Veach saw something near the cave that frightened him away, and that he had in fact found the M-cave but chose not to go inside or include it in his video.

Eventually, Sheryon Pilgrim posted a comment on Veach's YouTube channel. Pilgrim claimed to be Veach's girlfriend and shared her personal theory about what happened, saying, "I want you to know that I do not think Kenny had an accident." Pilgrim explained that Veach "battled depression for many years and would not take medication or see a doctor. He quit his job a little more than a year before he disappeared... He also did not take his video camera with him on this solo hike. It was left in his home. So, he had no intention of filming anything."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Writer-director Dutch Marich wants to make a Horror in the High Desert franchise

In an interview with Dread Central, Dutch Marich shared that he actually grew up in Ruth, Nevada, the town featured in "Horror in the High Desert." Marich says the high desert of Nevada has a plethora of scary stories and he wants to be the filmmaker to tell these stories, saying "I have plans for a Horror in the High Desert Universe — Skinwalkers & Haunted Hotels & Ghosts, OH MY!"

At the end of "Horror in the High Desert," Gal Roberts (Suziey Block), the journalist who followed Gary's story, talks about how YouTubers and influencers are in the backcountry of Nevada searching for the cabin in the video and the person responsible for Gary's demise, despite being discouraged by authorities. A title card at the end of the film states, "One specific group claimed to be on track to locating the structure and revealing the man seen on the video. They vowed to produce their findings by 2022."

Marich confirmed to Dread Central, he is working on "Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva," saying, "Some people weren't fans of the slow burn of this one and to those folks I say — stick around for Part 2! It's much more full-on FF and I have fun things in the works — slow burn it is not." 

Dutch Marich is a huge fan of documentaries and found footage films

In an interview with Dread Central, Marich spoke of his love for true-crime shows like "Unsolved Mysteries" and "Forensic Files," saying, "Every time I watch one, I'm like 'Imagine if this had a scary ending!' So I made one." Marrying his interest in true-crime television and found footage horror resulted in a pseudo-documentary, that although it's a little slow ultimately delivers a terrifying conclusion to the film with the footage from the camcorder retrieved by authorities from Gary's backpack.

Marich shared with Dread Central how realism was his goal in "Horror in the High Desert" explaining why he spent so much time letting the audience get to know Gary through the talking head interviews and from excerpts of Gary's YouTube videos, saying "I didn't want Gary to simply be dismissed as a MacGuffin for the movie, but rather a fleshed out character."

Marich believes, "The mockumentary approach lends itself to total realism." The film certainly taps into real-world fears of feral people who live in the wilderness and don't ascribe to our norms and mores. The strange music and ghostly images on the camcorder build uncomfortable anticipation and pervasive dread, playing with our imagination while proving that sometimes what you can't see is scarier than what you can. Marich told Dread Central, "I am a massive fan of the fear that lurks just beyond the shadow — the things you don't see."

Dutch Marich cast the film using his friends and family

Like many indie filmmakers just starting out, Marich cast the film largely from his friends and family. Sometimes this is a tragedy, but for Marich, it works out nicely in "Horror in the High Desert." As Waylon Jordan with iHorror reported, Marich cast his cousin Tonya Williams Ogden to play Beverly Hinge, Gary's older sister. Tonya is Marich's cousin, and she is believable as a concerned and heartbroken older sister. She seems completely natural on camera while relaying a story that is emotionally charged and difficult for her to talk about. This wasn't the first time Marich cast a family member in one of his films, according to iHorror Marich cast his sister in "Hunting."

According to iHorror, Marich cast his husband David Morales as William "Bill" Salerno, the private detective Beverly hires to assist the police with their investigation. Salerno is also very believable during his interviews in the film, and will reprise his role in "Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva." This isn't the first time Morales has worked with his husband. Morales was also cast in Marich's previous films "Infernum," and "Reaptown." Suziey Block has the most acting experience on the cast and plays Gal Roberts, the journalist. Block revealed on her Facebook page that she will reprise her role in the second installment of "Horror in the High Desert 2: Minerva" and she also starred in Marich's 2019 film "Infernum."

Horror in the High Desert was made during the pandemic

Making films became very difficult during the pandemic because of public health guidelines, but writer-director Dutch Marich's pandemic project "Horror in the High Desert" was released in March 2021 just one year after the Covid-19 pandemic sent people home from work and school to quarantine.

Marich's film uses a mixture of talking heads, drone footage, fictional found footage, and a YouTube vlog as a narrative device to tell Gary Hinge's story. Because of the pseudo-documentary style of the film, two characters are never on screen at the same time, reflecting the isolation many people felt during the height of the Covid-19 quarantine.

In an interview with The Overlook Hour Podcast, Marich spoke about how Gal Robert's (Suziey Block) interviews for "Horror in the High Desert" were done over zoom during quarantine, and how this journalist will transition into being the host of the true-crime series linking all the fictional stories from the "Horror in the High Desert" universe together as the films continue.