Mankillers (1987)

Because I’d like some of that sweet Twitter recognition, here’s my 140-character review of an almost completely forgotten movie by a director whose recognition even in cult movie circles is pretty patchy – in other words, guaranteed to get countless thousands of retweets:

“It’s the Dirty Dozen, only with women. Except they’re just normal convicts, not military ones, and also the movie is rubbish”.

Now please stay with me for another thousand words or so of largely the same thing. Yes, we’re back in the land of David A. Prior, for his first movie without any involvement from his actor brother Ted (who was possibly working on “Surf Nazis Must Die” at the time). I’m beginning to notice some themes creeping into Prior’s work, so we’ll discuss them, should you be remotely interested.

We’ll also get into one of my favourite new topics – “Bad Guy Economics”! Yes, dear reader, it’s that time where I single out something a bad guy does and wonder just how economical it really is. Our villains in this epic are led by renegade agent John Mickland (the wonderfully named William Zipp). Anyway, he’s trading three women to some sleazy guys for a suitcase full of cocaine, but rather than do the deal he suspects a double-cross and kills them all – turns out he was right to suspect that, but it’s not important to our discussion. The number of double-crosses in drug deals in bad movies are super-frequent, which leads me to wonder, if you were a drug dealer, would you go and do business with a guy who slaughtered the last lot of salesmen who went to his place? How would Mickland, in the world of the movie, ever be trusted to buy drugs again? This is a question that can be asked about hundreds of movies, and one that’s never satisfactorily answered.

Our hero is Rachel McKenna (Lynda Aldon), described by the head of the CIA as too much of a loose cannon – she’s crazier than the criminals! But as she has a previous relationship with Mickland – she went rogue when he did, although he double-crossed her and left her for dead – she’s called in as the only person who can bring Mickland down.

She says she’s going to need a team of 12 women, which inspires the wonderfully dismissive line “how in the hell are you going to pull off this mission with women?” (her response is sort of reasonable for the genre and year). However, when you’ve finished watching the movie you realise that the gender of the strike team is entirely irrelevant – maybe they were going to go undercover as “merchandise”? Nope they’re just there to fight, and apart from maybe one tiny scene, you realise Prior had an idea for a female Dirty Dozen but couldn’t be bothered to provide any justification for it.

Nor could he be bothered to write a scene where McKenna picks her team – to all intents and purposes, it looks like she wanders through a prison and picks 12 women at random. Luckily, they’re all skinny model-types, and unluckily about two-thirds of them are blonde and look very similar to her, which would’ve been a problem if they’d bothered trying to give them any character. We get a training montage and one character – the really mean woman who becomes the most dedicated member of the team after being whipped into shape; and then the CIA guy tells them they only have 12 more hours to finish their training. Why not just hire 12 women from the army if they needed them combat-ready so quickly? Sorry, more questions the movie chooses not to answer.

The fighting and gunplay is genuinely pitiful, like I felt sorry for the people who had to do it. At least Ted Prior, bless him, could throw a punch – neither women or men in this movie look like they’ve ever fought or shot a gun before. There’s a scene where the women set off on their mission and just run into the bad guys in the middle of the woods – neither group is in any sort of cover, but the death rate is remarkably low.

A quick mention of how un-titilating “Mankillers” is. I know I normally complain about the preponderance of T&A in these things, but a trashy 80s movie about a gang of women with absolutely zero nudity is unusual enough to be worth commenting on. This was one of the very first movies from A.I.P., the production company that specialised in action-trash from the late 80s to the mid 90s, and with Prior being one of the founders, he presumably had a lot of control over what went into his movies. Another producer might have demanded nudity? I certainly can’t accuse him of being a feminist, or of lingering on the male form either, so who knows. Perhaps he was too cheap to pay women to disrobe – although given one of the gang, Edy Williams, is very well known for getting naked on camera, even that sounds unlikely.

There are times when this feels like it’s using sets or plot ideas left over from “Killzone”. Someone is tied to the wall of a corrugated iron shack and tortured. It’s yet again about a large, heavily armed group living in a bunch of shacks out in the woods. Yet again, precious little information is given about why they’re doing what they’re doing or why the authorities are so desperate to bring them down. It’s safe to say that Prior had a central set of ideas he liked working through multiple times, much like Andy Sidaris or Coleman Francis. Given I’ve seen the next movie we’ll be covering, “Deadly Prey”, years ago, I can confirm that these themes will show up again. Making its first appearance, though, is Prior’s love affair with grenades, although the explosions they cause here are a little embarrassing.

The final fight is fun, as it starts with Mickland getting shot in the chest and just goes on from there – he’s one surprisingly resilient fellow. But the rest of it is just a waste of time. It feels like he had about half an hour’s worth of money that he stretched to 90 minutes – there’s no variation to anything, no logic, and no fun. It has none of the surreal touches that made previous Prior movies so entertaining, but it does have plenty of plot holes. Kudos to some fine overacting from lead villain Zipp, though, who looked like he was doing cosplay as porno legend John Holmes.

Probably one to avoid if you’re selecting a Prior marathon for some masochist film festival.

Rating: thumbs down


Killer Workout (1987)

When I decided to watch all the films of the Prior brothers – director David A and actor Ted – I was a bit worried that, after a delightfully incompetent surreal slasher (1983’s “Sledgehammer”) they’d get normal and boring, but it looks like we’re good for many years of curiosity. They’re so excited to be making movies they keep forgetting to explain the twists!

I’d lay good money on this having been “inspired” by the John Travolta / Jamie Lee Curtis movie “Perfect”, which came out in 1985 – this was made in 1986, not released til 87. One can tell because it seems like they told the aerobics dancers / extras to just recreate all of Travolta’s moves, every hip-thrusting, lycra-clad second – still, it’s fun to remember the time when this sort of thing swept the nation. Well, I say fun.

After an opening where an unseen woman is burned in a gigantic sunbed (built by co-star Fritz Matthews, apparently) we’re right into the world of Rhonda’s Workout, a gym with a crudely fashioned sign out front, in what looks like a strip-mall. Rhonda is Marcia Karr, a regular with us here at the ISCFC despite a career that ended in 1990 – she was in “Maniac Cop”, “Death Blow: A Cry For Justice” and “Night Of The Kickfighters”, three more different cheesy 80s movies you couldn’t imagine. Anyway, there’s background hotties, a couple of women who have “cannon fodder” stamped on their foreheads, and guys so sleazy they really deserve to be in jail. Matthews is Jimmy Hallik, who hits on Rhonda with an intensity you don’t see outside of sexual assault movies, and Richard Bravo as Tom…actually looks really similar to Jimmy, so it’s quite difficult to tell them apart when you’re watching on a nice fuzzy VHS. He keeps trying to unzip the front of the main instructor’s lycra outfit and I’m not glad about many things, but I am glad that movies have changed to make this sort of crap unacceptable in 2017.

There’s really no need to get bogged down in detail, though, as this movie is nice and simple. People start getting killed and there are tons of red herrings. Is it one of the two pieces of human garbage, or is it the new employee, Chuck (Ted Prior, whose puzzled expression is hopefully about the weird parts his brother keeps giving him)? What about the extremely angry cop, Detective Morgan (David Campbell, the villain from “Killzone”)?

Chuck has been at work maybe ten minutes when he drops the garbage he’s carrying, has the first of two hilariously incompetent fist-fights with Jimmy, and then just goes for a drive with one of the gym-bunnies? I guess you know he’s a good guy because he just drinks Diet Pepsi and asks her for information about the place rather than hitting on her – she throws herself at him a few minutes later though, and he’s only human.

The murders are mostly done with a giant safety pin, for some completely unknown reason. In the grand tradition of crappy slasher movies, no-one fights back when they’re grabbed by the killer, they just go “oh well, such is fate” and wait for the final blow to land. I felt sorry for Diane, who just wanted to make a human connection, but ended up getting murdered (the cop, for some reason, is hammering on her door at that exact moment, but rather than immediately identifying himself, he just shouts “open up! Come on, let me in!” for a few minutes first.

One interesting thing is how “Killer Workout” tried out alternate titles for itself, inside the movie. A couple of graffiti kids decide to tag the front of the building with this:

“Aerobicide” is its original title, probably dropped when the aerobics trend passed its high water mark, and “Death Spa” was actually used as the title of a rather similar-sounding horror movie from 1988.

This leads us on to perhaps the most curious thing in this movie full of curious things. By the hour mark, 7 people have been murdered in or around the gym. Yet this doesn’t affect the attendance there at all? We keep seeing full classes of gyrating flesh, despite (in one scene) them literally putting a corpse into a body bag in the next room, as the class is going on. My notes have, several times, “GO SOMEWHERE ELSE TO EXERCISE”, and in fact I’d have opened another gym in that town with the sole selling point “You Are Much Less Likely To Be Murdered Here”.

You have the standard thing of the killer being a stealth-ninja able to break into properties and murder at will, and someone taking a garden rake to the leg but still being able to climb fences and run at a fairly decent speed; with this one, though, you can also ponder why all those sleazy guys hung around the gym from the second it opened to when it closed – they certainly don’t work there.

Technically it’s fine – I mean, it’s cheap as hell, but what do you expect? The acting is mostly okay, even if Marcia Karr as Rhonda is a bit grimace-y and OTT, the effects are fine, it’s shot okay (despite, apparently, the DP being extremely difficult to work with, according to David A)…no real issues on any of those scores, and nothing much to mock either.

The twist is strange, and the final twist is perhaps even stranger; I’m not sure how long I can continue to blame Prior being new the filmmaking game, and fear this is just what we’re going to get from here on out. While it’s full of stuff that makes no sense, and isn’t gory or titilating in the slightest, it’s weird enough to be of enjoyment to bad movie enthusiasts. I love how Ted Prior is shown as being a crap fighter in all of his brother’s movies to this point – I’d have maybe read the script and gone “can I not win just one? Please?”

Add in a soundtrack full of songs written specifically for the movie, synth-cheese at its finest, and you’ve got yourself an entertaining, if thoroughly bizarre, movie. Bring on “Mankillers”, and let’s have some more fun.

Rating: thumbs up

Killzone (1985)

The ISCFC’s journey through the movies of the Prior brothers continues with director David’s second, and it’s a puzzler. I will have to give away the twist, as otherwise this would be a very short review (it does happen fairly early on, too), so if you’re interested in watching it, I’ll post the link to the full movie on Youtube below these very words right here so you can check it out for yourself.

Trapped in a POW camp in Vietnam are a bunch of soldiers – most notably McKenna (Fritz Matthews) and Mitchell (Ted Prior). The scenery is nothing at all like Vietnam, and the camp is tiny and cheap-looking, but I laughed this off as just the miniscule budget that Prior was working with. Little did I know! There’s a “hot box” made out of corrugated iron, and the head of the camp, Major Ling, along with collaborator Colonel Crawford, are really pumping McKenna for information. McKenna seems like he’s losing his mind, and will give up the secrets the Vietcong are asking for, when he sees a chance to escape, kills a guard and hightails it into the woods.

This is maybe the first half-hour of the movie, and while it’s not original, it’s kind of okay. My interest was definitely held. But then…it turns out the entire thing is some sort of “survivalist-type military camp” and, one would assume, all the men have paid to be there! Mitchell breaks character to demand the Colonel answer for his excessive treatment of McKenna, and suddenly a lot of questions come up. Did McKenna pay for the entire thing himself? Why? How long were they there, as presumably McKenna didn’t lose his mind on day one? Why did everyone maintain character at every second, even when they can see they’re about to have a huge problem? What sort of crazy business model is this?

The rest of the movie is a rough approximation of “First Blood”, just with one good guy (Mitchell) on the other side too. McKenna runs into some locals, and has some vivid dreams where his friends are dead and he’s unable to help them. There’s a weird reference to George Lucas – one of the other soldiers is named Lucas, and when he gives his name, rank and number, it’s got 1138 in there (Lucas’ first movie was “THX-1138”, and there’s been 1138 references in all the old Star Wars movies) – and a helicopter chase which, despite being well-filmed from a technical perspective, goes on for way too long and is completely pointless.

So much of this is skating round the central issue of not really knowing why it’s there. Unless I missed a crucial line of dialogue, the existence of this camp makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – a largely similar plot, just one that bothers to be remotely logical, would be used to far greater effect in “Deadly Prey”, which the Priors would make with most of the same cast a few years later. One of McKenna’s “flashbacks” involves Crawford killing his wife and kid, but whether this is guilt over something he did himself, just a fantasy or literal reality is never commented on by any character or the movie itself. This somewhat surrealistic take on action movie tropes leads me to believe Prior still had no idea what he was doing, but it didn’t fit quite as well as the oddity of his first movie, “Sledgehammer”.

One thing that Prior lucked into was having a decent leading man in his back pocket. Ted Prior, honestly, deserved a better career than he had, as he’s got a great look and can actually sell a scene pretty well. Co-star Fritz Matthews, whose entire career was five or so Prior movies, is the same, a solid actor with a decent look. There’s not a weak performance among them, really, and there’s even a small part for Simon Rhee – aka the bad guy from the first “Best Of The Best” and one of the UniSols in the first “Universal Soldier”. I’d have enjoyed seeing Ted in something where he got to stretch his wings a little, but if they were both happy with the arrangement, who am I to complain?

I think this can safely be disregarded as minor work from the brothers, and unless you’re like me and have some sort of compulsion, skip from “Sledgehammer” maybe straight to “Killer Workout”. It’s just…boring? I mean, you get a fun decapitation and a few cool scenes, but you also get a ten-minute helicopter chase with no payoff and a plot which is bonkers (just not in a good way).

Rating: thumbs down

Universal Soldier: Regeneration (2009)

The “Universal Soldier” franchise is a rare thing indeed – a series where the straight-to-video sequels are vastly superior to the cinema-released original (let’s forget the two made-for-TV ones in the late 90s, and also 1999’s “The Return”, which is ignored by this movie anyway despite being sort of alright). John Hyams, who got his start with an MMA documentary called “The Smashing Machine”, and whose Dad Peter worked with Jean-Claude Van Damme several times, was chosen to direct.

From the very beginning, you know you’re in the hands of a group of people who saw an opportunity to make a calling card for the rest of the film world, not just turn a quick buck or put “something” on the screen. While I’m surprised we don’t see more people like Hyams, I’m glad he did his thing here (even if the career it mostly led to is one sequel to this, and then directing episodes of “Z-Nation”). That beginning is a kidnapping, shootout and a chase through the cold-looking streets of the Ukraine – well, Sofia, Bulgaria, where all these movies are made, but it’s less egregious than pretending it’s LA – where a balaclava’ed group of soldiers grab two teenagers and fight off hundreds of cops to get to a helicopter and escape. It’s well shot! And exciting! And it looks real! Apart from the main soldier taking multiple bullets and not even being slowed down, that is!

That guy is NGU, the new generation of UniSol, created by Dr Robert Colin (Kerry Shale, who in appearance and career reminds one of a slightly low-rent Wallace Shawn). NGU is played by Andrei Arlovski, current (as of mid 2017) UFC fighter; he’s a perfect choice, having a great look, not being required to act, but being required to kick a ton of ass. When he comes back from this mission, they even bother to give us an explanation of how they create the UniSols! It only took them 17 years! It’s to do with messing with the pituitary gland, altering DNA, tons of super-vitamins, along with a healthy dose of brainwashing, and it sort of makes sense – that they bothered at all is to be commended. Colin worked for the USA but absconded with the only working UniSol and is now selling his services to the highest bidder.

So, it’s a group of Ukrainian terrorists wanting the President to release a whole load of their friends; to this end, they’ve wired up Chernobyl to blow again, and are holding the President’s children hostage in an authentically dilapidated-looking industrial building of some sort. The US want their technology back, and to prevent environmental catastrophe, so they send in the few remaining first-generation UniSols they have left. It does not work out well for them.

There’s a lot of plot in this movie, which I don’t just want to recap because that would be dull. JCVD is there, and he’s in a special program to rehabilitate UniSols, led by Doctor Sandra Flemming (Emily Joyce, best known to British audiences as the co-star of sitcom “My Hero”). He’s the best of the lot, of course (I do love a good “ultimate badass” speech), but how will he cope with being asked to go back into the field? Well, asked is a strong word. Abducted in the middle of the night, strapped to a table and injected with UniSol drugs, is a better term for it. I’ve not even mentioned the guy who’s sort of the hero of the piece! Mike Pyle, also a UFC fighter, plays soldier Capt Kevin Burke, and he’s tasked with a bit of sneaky recon and potential rescue, hopefully avoiding NGU and any of the terrorists. But then there’s what happens when a group of bad guys in a movie actually get what they want, something that happens so rarely to be worth mentioning on its own, and just who’s inside that mysterious covered crate that Dr Colin is keeping as “insurance”. Okay, it’s Dolph Lundgren, who’s on the cover of the DVD. But it’s a good reveal.

I feel like I’m skating over stuff, but there’s a heck of a lot of it to cover, which is absolutely delightful for a movie such as this, where you can normally sum up every aspect of the plot on half a beer coaster. If anything, it’s perhaps over-stuffed, where Pyle (despite being a totally good actor, he’s done basically nothing other than this) is in it perhaps even a little less than JCVD, whose credit is an “and…” at the end of the opening credits.

I love what they’ve done with the UniSols in this. NGU doesn’t malfunction – that’s the job of our favourite psychopath (who, yes, was ground up in a mulcher at the end of the first movie, but he’s been cloned here or something) – but he represents the legions of faceless soldiers who get sent to die in far-off places by governments who don’t care about them. The party line is that they’d rather use the dead to fight their battles, but you know they’ll turn them on civilians as soon as they have to. They can also be seen as cast-offs, designed for the Cold War but utterly useless in the drone-dominated war zone of today; perhaps the only reason a Ukrainian terrorist can afford them.

JCVD and Lundgren both have great faces for action like this – there’s the real sense that they’ve done some hard living and fighting before getting to this point, and they’re roles that wouldn’t work (and, indeed, didn’t) when they had younger men playing them. The pain of what their lives are like are written into every scene, and it’s a top-3 all time performance for both of them. Dolph even gets a gibberish speech near the end to match his speech from part 1, which is a nice touch. This is a movie made by people who spent time thinking about what their world would be like, but still made sure it was packed with really good fight scenes and gun battles and exciting stunts. For part 5 of the franchise to be comfortably better than part 1 is an extreme rarity…in fact, I can’t think of any others.

Hopefully you’ve already decided to go and watch this. It’s much much better than any fifth part of a series about zombie soldiers has any right to be.

Rating: thumbs up

Movies We Won’t Be Reviewing: Nudes In Limbo (1983)

Bad movie afficionados of an older generation may remember “Orgy Of The Dead”, the Ed Wood Jr – written movie (although to call it written is perhaps overstating it) where a couple has a car crash, wanders into a clearing in the woods and watches bored-looking women strip for about an hour. Back in the day when you had to pay serious cash money to see these monstrosities, I bought a VHS of it only to go from rubbing my hands with glee at the thought of more work from the great Ed Wood to falling asleep at yet another partially undressed, sort of dowdy 1960s lady (ps – the twist at the end is that the couple are dead and this is some sort of purgatory. It’s not worth the wait to find that out).


Although the Priors are nowhere near as famous as Ed Wood, and this is rightly completely forgotten, it’s sort of in the same ballpark. Ted Prior, star of “Sledgehammer” and almost all his brother David’s movies, had a side-gig in LA of being a Playgirl model / bodybuilder and, between “Sledgehammer” and his second narrative movie, “Killzone” (review coming soon) he made this, which also stars at least one “Scream Queen”, Michelle Bauer. The only other cast member with an IMDB photograph is a lady by the name of Shauna Green, a porn actress who committed suicide the year after this movie was released. Her extraordinarily sad life story, which makes Dana Plato’s look like a walk in the park, can be read about on Wikipedia, should you have had a good day and want to feel bad for a moment.


It’s a soft-core videotape which you can still watch in its entirety provided you have ad-blockers and strong antivirus protection, on any number of “adult video” sites, and really isn’t a movie at all. It’s an hour’s worth of extreme closeups of hot bodies in motion, exercising or just moving about, on an entirely blank background to make it look like they’re in limbo. I guess. Clearly, there was some sort of market for this thing. Anyway, Ted is in it, for a few minutes, and if anything I’ve said so far appeals to you in the slightest, then please go and watch it. The director, one Bruce Seth Green, went on to direct lots of TV (including a decent number of early episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”).


The microscopic gap between the low-rent B-movies I love and genuinely awful sleaze becomes a little miserable, at times. Normal service will be resumed soon.

Sledgehammer (1983)

After the Prior brothers’ “The Final Sanction”, reviewed the other day, I thought it’d be fun to go watch the entirety of their ouevre. But you probably don’t think that, or you may just not want to watch every single movie from a director you sort of half-liked, so you come here to find out if it’s worth bothering with. Well, yes and no. But read on, please!

Back in 1983, people just didn’t make shot-on-video slasher movies. “Boardinghouse” had come out the year before, widely regarded as the first full-length movie to take advantage of the new technology, but “Sledgehammer” was hot on its heels – and if you’d like to be pedantic, as “Boardinghouse” actually played in a few cinemas, this could be said to be the first to ever be made specifically for the home video market.

From the little information I can gather, Ted Prior moved from New Jersey to LA sometime in 1979 to become an actor, and ended up bodybuilding, becoming a fairly popular model for “Playgirl” magazine well into the 80s. Presumably, David followed him out there, and rather than shlupping himself round the studios trying to get work, he just made one himself, shot almost entirely inside his own apartment, in 7 days, for under $50,000 (probably significantly under, if we’re being honest). Apparently, the cameras were borrowed from a training-video company, so while they’re not just average normal ones bought from a shop, they’re still significantly fuzzier than even 16mm was at the time. The opening credits are surprisingly creepy / great, with some chilling synth score playing over the sort of credit font that I imagine the cameras came pre-loaded with. I’m a sucker for a good bit of synthy music.

If you’ve seen “Halloween”, you’ll recognise the opening scene, where a kid is locked in his room by his scumbag mother, who wants to have sex with her new boyfriend, only for the kid to emerge from the locked room, grab a sledgehammer (not just a clever title!) and beat them both to death. This scene has the best gore effect (the lover’s extremely fragile skull being split open) and also, I suppose, gives the kid motivation – which our old friend Michael Myers never really had. But, the scene might just be shot weird, or it might have been some indication that the kid didn’t really do it – how on earth did he swing a large hammer that hard? How did he escape from the room?

I was about to write “we don’t really have time to ponder that” but we do. We have a lot of spare time, as Prior, possibly to pad his movie out to feature length, has a quite staggering number of slow-mo scenes, including such non-essentials as a door handle being turned, a couple walking down a path, and so on. It’s ten years later, I think, and a group of hard-partying guys and gals in their late 20s turn up with one cooler of drinks between 6 of them – it’s not even all beer! – and they make sure to insert a scene where a mechanic takes their van away to be serviced, just so we know there’s no getting out of this mountain retreat. Yes, they say it’s up a mountain, 50 miles from anywhere, and no, we aren’t ever told why the family from the beginning would choose to live in such a remote location. In fact, the family at the beginning worry about what the townspeople would think of their union! Anyway, can’t get bogged down in minutiae that none of you care about.

Ted Prior, as Chuck, is the commitment-phobic boyfriend to final girl Joni (Linda McGill, although I have no idea why I’m listing any of these actor names as apart from Ted, none of them did much of anything in the industry). There’s also other people, who I’ll call Cannon Fodder 1-4. Because that’s what people do, apparently, they have a food fight in a room which might comfortably seat three; there’s one moment where an off-screen character tells them to stop, and I honestly thought for a moment it was the director and they’d just forgotten to edit that bit out. Then they have a séance, after a not-exactly-eventful first half-hour, and as Chuck relates to them what happened in the house long ago, things begin to happen, developing into a traditional “spam in a can” movie with a bunch of weird trimmings.

I love watching first-time directors doing low-budget genre movies, as they’re always unique in their own weird ways. The “this isn’t the way you do things” people hadn’t gotten to Prior by this point, so we get all sorts of weird stuff happening. The killer ghosts his way through closed doors, and sends other people through them too, but later on is seen messing with handles like he can’t get through. He’s the same kid from the beginning, impervious to damage, at one point, then he transforms into a man and suddenly becomes vulnerable. There’s a pentagram drawn on the wall in blood, but if it’s got a Satanic theme to it then it’s extremely under-developed. Chuck ignores slasher movie law and tells everyone to stay together, in the one room, and wait til morning (it doesn’t do any good, but it’s still sound advice).

All this is hidden under a layer of slow motion, and weird periods of silence like he ran out of incidental music, making everything seem slightly surreal, otherworldly. It actually reminds me a little of all-time worst movie “Things”, but not in terms of quality, acting, or plot, just that enclosed location and the washed out tones of a video camera. The lighting and the blankness of the walls begins to get to you after a while, and it’s creepy almost despite itself.

I think the Final Girl wasn’t given enough character, as it feels all the way up to the penultimate fight that it’s going to be mostly about Chuck; but they stick to that one bit of slasher law, almost set in stone even by this early point. Prior, by the way, was a canny guy, and even though he knew the slasher movie was on its way out (although it’d be revived by Freddy Krueger a couple of years later) he figured if he made it cheaply enough he’d still turn a profit. And he was right – he parlayed this into bigger budgets, peaking around 1990 with his movies for AIP, before slowly tailing off (he took a decade off, coming back with Ted for a bunch of movies starting again in 2007).

I felt quite clever during the final credits, thinking to myself “some of these names sound fake. Is it union guys working under a pseudonym?” I think it’s more likely to just be the same three or four people doing all the jobs, but eventually the names become so ridiculous anyone could spot it – right at the end we’re treated to “Jac Meough” and “I.P. Phreilee”. Well done, Mr Prior!

It’s boring, slow, and ugly, with a ton of basically amateur actors – but all truly bad movies fail in their own weird and wonderful ways, and “Sledgehammer” is worth watching to see how it fails.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club – The Final Sanction (1990)

You may be aware of the work of the Prior brothers. From 1983’s “Sledgehammer” to his death in 2015, David A. Prior directed 34 movies, most commonly military / conspiracy thrillers; 32 of them featured Ted Prior, usually in a starring role. You might have of “Deadly Prey”, covered by the Red Letter Media fellas, or “Future Zone”, which had a comedy commentary provided it by Rifftrax; or you might have got lucky and avoided all of then. Well, today we begin another project we’ll probably get bored of halfway through, and are going to review all the Prior brothers’ work. I feel confident doing this because, despite it being a bit cheesy, both of them appear to be actually competent at their jobs!

Also, Ted had that sweet sweet AIP money behind him. AIP was American International Pictures, then Arkoff International Pictures, then Action International Pictures, and no matter what company claimed the three letters, they all produced cheesy b-movie fun. Back in the video shop days movies such as “The Final Sanction” could actually have a budget, as there was money going round at even the lowest levels, so they sort of look okay, have effects and real actors in them.

If you love movies which grossly misjudge the future, I have you covered. Made in 1990, this posits a world which tips over the line into nuclear war between the USA and the Soviet Union…despite the Iron Curtain coming down the very next year, and the interest of the pro-war section of the US ruling class switching to Islam pretty much immediately afterwards. So, we see a bunch of bombs come down, and then…nothing?

I don’t know what would happen if multiple nuclear weapons were dropped in the USA and the Soviet Union, but I reckon it would affect peoples’ lives quite a bit. After the stock footage, in fact, no reference is ever made to it again, and we move into the meat of the movie, which is a one-on-one fight between a hand-picked Russian soldier and one of America’s finest, much like “The Hunger Games” crossed with “Rocky 4”. The Russian rep is Sgt. Sergi Schvackov, played by the late great Robert Z’Dar (making his second appearance this week for the ISCFC), and he’s trained by the ultra-gruff Maj. Galashkin (William Smith, another legend of low-budget). His training is full of mental toughness exercises and high-tech gadgets, plus target practice with those fancy combat shovels that the Spetznatz guys used to use, whereas the American training is…er…we see their guy eating a healthy lunch one day, I suppose? This is for all the marbles, although quite what will happen when one comes out victorious is never mentioned – will the USA just hand over the government to Moscow if their guy goes down? What a difference that would make today, amirite guys?

Ted Prior is Sgt. Tom Batanic, and he’s brought back into the Army specifically for this fight, having been in prison for the murder of his entire unit during an exercise to protect the Secretary of State. He’s obviously innocent, which is the B-story rumbling along while the A-story explodes across the screen, and he’s also got a communication chip implanted in his head and gets advice from Lt Tavlin (Renee Cline, who was a badass in several movies in the late 80s), who starts off hating him but gradually warms to his wisecracking personality.

The huge majority of the movie is set in a variety of disused buildings and forest areas, as we see one or the other soldier stalking round it, firing at his opponent, the other firing back, and so on. It’s important to state that, despite both these being well-trained soldiers, never really resorting to cover, they barely ever take a hit, and then only a glancing one. Why are people in movies such terrible shots?

No sense spoiling any more, though – it’s on Youtube and you should all pop it on and have some fun. You’ll enjoy the developing relationship between the two men, and the one between Batanic and Tavlin (two names generated by picking letters out of a Scrabble bag, surely) and the inevitable but no less fun for it resolution of the conspiracy plot. Damn you, military industrial complex! “The Final Sanction” also features one of the most bizarre beginning-to-end arcs in movie history. Take the first scene and the last and see if any of it makes the slightest bit of sense!

I’ve picked it apart a lot, but the Priors made a fun movie. Ted can act, and it’s sort of a surprise he never really did anything away from his brother, as he’s got a good action-hero look too. The rest of the actors are fine; the only real crime is not having enough stuff happening in act 2. A lot of other reviewers have bashed it for not being a “typical” (read: hilariously awful) AIP movie, but that’s a pretty strange criticism to make – “I didn’t like it because it wasn’t bad enough!”

A quick word, though, about the extremely misleading poster, provided above. AIP may well have been like Cannon and got funding for movies that hadn’t been made yet, based on the promotion – well, neither of them wears leather at any point, there are no souped-up fast cars (or trains, if that’s what is in the background), and that sort of makes it look like they’re fighting together, which is misleading for like 95% of the movie’s running time. In fact, it makes it look vaguely post-apocalyptic, which I can believe was the first draft of the script but is definitely not what made it to the screen.

Pop it on, have some fun, and we’ll back with more AIP or David A. Prior reviews soon.

Rating: thumbs up



Killing American Style (1988)

We’ve covered Amir Shervan before, he directed the super-entertaining “Hollywood Cop” and “Samurai Cop”, the latter of which became a cause celebre among the bad movie elite a few years ago, leading to a (terrible) sequel. Shervan directed tons of movies in his native Iran before the revolution there, when he moved to the USA – it took him a few years to get the money together, but he then continued his directing career, giving us a handful of delightful bad movies before finally hanging up his hat after “Samurai Cop” in 1991.

The poster / VHS case for “Killing American Style”, his second US movie, is amazing and misleading. Long-haired “star” Harold Diamond, last seen by us in a handful of Andy Sidaris movies, doesn’t really do anything that action-packed, and the great Jim Brown, seen with his giant head in the background like some benevolent but slightly puzzled god, is barely in it. The group of guys doing like a heroic army pose at the bottom are a gang of psychopathic killers and rapists, and Hottie McBoobs is barely in it long enough to have her picture taken.

But, we’ve got a smorgasbord of oddity and bizarre choices to enjoy, so let’s strap in and do a little recapping. We open on an audition at a strip club, I think – the extremely sleazy Lynch (John Lynch) is auditioning a group of women at a strip club. Given he doesn’t appear to work there, and the woman he ends up having sex with in the dressing room is being openly mocked by the other dancers, I’ve really got no idea what the point of it was. Lynch doesn’t exactly look like the sort of man who’d find female strippers attractive, if you catch my drift, although he gives it his all. But he’s interrupted by the rest of his gang – leader Tony Stone (the late, great Robert Z’Dar, one of Shervan’s regulars); Uncle Loony, every bit as bad as his name would have you believe (Jimmy Williams, who was also in “Samurai Cop” and has had quite the career, also appearing in Andy Milligan and Fred Olen Ray movies); and Tony’s brother Jessie (Bret Johnston, whose IMDB bio describes him as an “actor and legal representative” – I hope he’s had more work as the latter, as this appears to be his sole film performance). So, before we move any further, I’d like to welcome Bret Johnston to…


One of the most exclusive clubs in Hollywood. Anyway, a dedicated Shervan-a-holic like myself will notice some trends which start in this scene. It appears the great director had certain phrases and ideas that were very important to him, much like the aforementioned Sidaris, and they stick out here because he was never all that bothered about making himself understood in English. Matthew Karedas, star of “Samurai Cop”, tells a story about working with Shervan, and he once asked him if he could rewrite his own dialogue so it sounded more natural coming from the mouth of an American. Shervan said no, it was to be read out exactly as it was written down – and here we are. Lynch tells his paramour to “keep it warm, baby”, the exact line that Karedas uses on Melissa Moore in “Samurai Cop”; in terms of other similarities, the ice-cream truck storage yard is used in both movies – here, it’s the location of the robbery that Stone and his gang pull off; there’s a restaurant which is used for exactly the same purpose in both – the gang are sat down enjoying themselves, the cops come in to hassle them; there are many other location similarities, so thanks to the people who owned those places for being generous to ol’ Amir. There’s also the theme of good guys accidentally profiting from robberies, but that’s sort of incidental.

They do a robbery and pretty much immediately get arrested, but not before they stashed the cash. The scene where they’re being taken to prison and are busted out of the truck by the rest of their gang allows me to talk about one of my favourite b-movie tropes – the dirt track. The gang were arrested in LA, so at what point between an LA holding cell and a nearby prison would the transport truck need to drive down a dirt track? Are roads really that poor in the USA? Yes, this is the sort of thing that wanders through my mind.

So most of the villains escape, with just Jessie getting shot in the gut. They need to wait for the cash to turn up, and because they’re a bunch of violent psychopaths, hiding in plain sight is right out. So, they find a ranch (making its first of many Shervan movie appearances) and decide a home invasion / hostage taking is the way to go.

Harold Diamond, who I guess is the star, only shows up at this point as the splendidly generically named John Morgan. He has a wife and a kid and his wife has a sister, I think. He’s just some guy, not a cop or anything like that, but he is a badass fighter, which we learn when he takes his son to a contest and has to fight one of the asshole dads.

Up to now, the movie has been typically wonderful Amir Shervan. Stuff happens for the flimsiest of reasons, the acting is bizarre, the dialogue choices even more so, the camerawork is slipshod…a good time is being had by all. But then they get to the mansion and suddenly Shervan’s editor decided to take a few days off. John is forced by the crims to go and sort the money out (being held by a female friend of the Stone brothers) but, rather than go and tell the cops what’s going on and get some help, he just does exactly as he’s told. His wife is raped by one of the villains (another Shervan “favourite” and nothing really comes of it. Lots of padding happens, and until the big shootout / fight at the end, which is just the same as every other Shervan ending fight, you could comfortably tune out a solid half-hour without missing anything.

I’ve not even mentioned Jim Brown. He’s been in more great / cheesy b-movies than I care to remember, but here it felt like Shervan was three-quarters of the way through filming and met Brown in a bar, and got him to drunkenly sign a contract. He’s a cop and does absolutely nothing – this point is hammered home at the end when John tells him “thanks for everything you’ve done” and amazingly manages to keep a straight face throughout. There’s only the tiniest bit of interaction with the rest of the cast, too! Shervan favourite Joselito Rescober (the super camp barman from “Samurai Cop”) here plays a relatively low-key doctor; that he was also the producer of this one is just another layer of weirdness to this onion. I also discovered that John Lynch is slightly better known as Jeff Herbick, who we’ll meet in the future in “Deadly Dancer”, giving another great performance – perhaps it’s a fault on IMDB’s part.

It’s almost great. If it had been a tight 80 minutes, it’d have been talked about the same way as the other greats from the great man; as it is, it’s that one which people chuckle about because of the poster but no-one’s ever really seen.

Rating: thumbs in the middle