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Murray Journal

A journey through Murray City’s legacy on screen

Dec 01, 2023 11:29AM ● By Shaun Delliskave

“High School Musical” used Murray High School’s auditorium for filming. (Photo courtesy of the Disney Channel)

Murray City, with its independent spirit, may not actively seek out film crews, but it has nonetheless become an unsung hero in the world of cinema. Serving as the backdrop for various productions across multiple screens, Murray has quietly but significantly etched its mark on film history. This cinematic journey not only underscores Murray's valuable role in the tapestry of filmmaking but also celebrates its modest yet impactful contribution to the art of storytelling.

While Murray City’s Community and Economic Development team might pass on placing the following information in any tourism brochure, Murray’s most recent notable screen appearance is on Bravo’s “Real House Housewives of Salt Lake City.” The city features quite prominently as housewife Heather Gay owns Beauty Lab + Laser (5495 S. 900 East) and in one of its most prominent episodes police swarm around a vehicle outside the salon to arrest Jen Shah for money laundering and wire fraud.

Just as gossipy, the city was recently featured on TLC’s Sister Wives. The show focuses on polygamist Kody Brown and his four (now mostly ex-) wives. Sister Wives star Christine Brown left her husband Kody in Arizona to move into a Murray duplex. She now has moved from Murray with her new fiancé.

As Ted Bundy’s murder spree came to a temporary end in Murray, after a brave Carol DaRonch escaped his clutches and identified him as her abductor, many documentaries have featured file photos of Ted Bundy in a Murray Police line up photo and 1970s era footage of Fashion Place Mall. In Netflix’s “Extremely Wicked, Shockingly Evil and Vile,” Bundy is portrayed by Zac Ephron and is confronted by a police officer played by Metallica frontman James Hetfield asking, “Have you ever been to the town of Murray?”

Murray locations have popped up as interesting back drops such as the 1982 Civil War mini-series “The Blue and the Gray,” which used Wheeler Farm for some scenes. 1980’s teen music sensation Tiffany filmed parts of her music video, “I Think We Are Alone Now” at the now demolished 49th Street Galleria.

Filmmakers have frequently chosen Murray's diverse locales for a variety of independent and short film projects. The following is a curated list of some of the most prominent films shot in Murray, as rated by popularity on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB). This selection is presented in chronological order, highlighting the city's filmography over the years. 

“Fire" (1923) 

The cinematic history of Murray City starts with the 1923 silent movie "Fire." This 20-minute melodrama, featuring the local fire department and residents, is not just a piece of local history but also a reflection of the era's filmmaking. The addition of music later on paid homage to the silent theaters of the time. The film features the story of a love affair between a senior firefighter and a prominent town member’s daughter. The movie is available to view at the Murray Museum.

"Take Down" (1979) 

Jumping forward to 1979, "Take Down" tells an inspiring underdog story set in the world of high school wrestling. This comedy-drama sports film showcased Murray City as a backdrop to resilience and determination, resonating with the city's spirit. Filmed at Murray High School, it has the highest critical ranking of any Murray film on IMDB. The film starred Edward Herrman, Lorenzo Lamas, and Maureen McCormick. 

"Halloween 4: The Return of Michael Myers" (1988) 

The interior scenes of the movie's fictional Vincent Drug were actually filmed inside the now-closed Millcreek Pharmacy, located at 1260 E Vine St. This local pharmacy stood in for the movie's setting, while the exterior scenes of Vincent Drug were shot at a different storefront in Midvale, which also carried the store’s name. Evidence of this cinematic moment in Murray's history was captured in photographs taken by the pharmacy's owners, showcasing film crews and actors during the shooting process.

"My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To" (1993)

In the horror film "My Heart Can’t Beat Unless You Tell It To," the city lent its locales to create an eerie atmosphere, enhancing the story of troubled siblings and an ailing vampire. Places like now-closed Needful Things in Murray were integral to the film's setting, adding authenticity to the narrative.                     "Read It and Weep" (2006) 

Disney discovers Murray in the first of four films it will shoot around the city. In 2006, "Read It and Weep" brought to life the dual worlds of a shy high school freshman, Jaime Bartlett, and her confident alter ego, Isabella. Shot at Murray High, this film delved into themes of adolescence, popularity, and identity.

"High School Musical" Franchise (2006-2008) 

The "High School Musical" series, spanning from 2006 to 2008, is perhaps the most iconic set of films shot in Murray City. This globally beloved franchise, featuring stars like Zac Efron (Troy Bolton), Vanessa Hudgens (Gabriella Montez), and Ashley Tisdale, turned Murray High School into a cinematic landmark. The films explored the lives, loves, and challenges of high school students, blending catchy music with engaging storylines. The franchise's success led to several sequels, a spin-off, and even a reality show. 

While Salt Lake City’s East High School is the central location, the actual high school musical part takes place in Murray High’s auditorium. The school's corridors, and auditorium became synonymous with the series, drawing fans from around the world. The franchise's impact went beyond entertainment, influencing fashion, music, and even theater productions across the globe.

"Minutemen" (2008) 

In a sci-fi tale, three teenagers, Virgil Fox (Jason Dolley), Charlie Tuttle (Luke Benward), and Zeke Thompson (Nicholas Braun), embark on a journey through time with a machine they built. Initially, their goal was to travel back and win lottery tickets, but they soon pivot to a more altruistic mission: preventing embarrassing moments for their classmates from ever happening. However, their frequent ventures through time lead to unforeseen and significant consequences. Faced with these challenges, they must strategize not only to rescue themselves but also to protect their school. This narrative unfolds at Murray High School, the primary filming location for the movie.

"Darkroom" (2008) 

"Darkroom" is a psychological drama centered around David Mills and his wife, Coy, who work for the Salt Lake Police Department developing crime scene photographs. The graphic nature of these images takes a heavy emotional toll on them, plunging their lives into a deep melancholy. Coy struggles with fertility issues, while David becomes increasingly detached from reality. He faces difficulty in distinguishing his mundane, everyday life with Coy from the vivid, imagined relationships he conjures with the victims in the photos. This internal conflict and constant gloom create a growing rift in their marriage. The film, directed by Joshua Tai Taeoalii, who has strong connections to Murray, explores these complex themes and their impact on the couple's life and relationship.

Murray City's journey through cinema, presented chronologically, shows a dynamic and adaptable character, hosting a variety of stories and genres. From silent films to modern dramas and horror, Murray has not only provided a backdrop for these stories but has also become a part of Utah’s cinematic history, celebrating its unique contribution to the art of storytelling. λ