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

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