Death Chase (1988)

Welcome back to our series of reviews of the movies of the Prior brothers, who were crazily prolific in the late 80s – an average of 5 movies a year were directed by David A. Prior between 1988 and 1990. And not all of them had the same plot!

Although this could, quite reasonably, be said to be a development of the “themes” that he “developed” in “Kill Zone” and “Deadly Prey” – in other words, it’s yet another spin on 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. A car chase between a guy who’s so happy to have a random .44 pistol that he kisses it in a quiet moment, and a few ugly, badly dressed goons, introduces us to Steve Chase (yes, the title isn’t just a description of what goes on!), played by William Zipp, probably the best of the stock company Prior had at the time. He’s off out bicycling with his sister, but is caught up in the chase – he lies on the ground but his sister decides to run over and check on the status of the guy who was being chased.

She gets shot, and the chasee hands over his gun to Steve, saying he’s “it”. Please bear with me, this stuff is sort of important to the plot. So, the surviving chaser asks for the gun, but rather than hand it over, Steve shoots him, only to be witnessed in the act by an old lady (who apparently saw nothing else of the extremely noisy and bullet-drenched battle that went on just outside her house) and forced to go on the run.

So it’s a game, sort of a game of tag, but an extremely deadly one. The person with the gun has to survive teams of people trying to kill them, and the game is overseen by a room full of rich assholes – although what they gain from it, and just how the winner goes about claiming their prize, are matters of no interest to writer/director Prior or writers James Hennessy (“China O’ Brien 2”) and Craig Hyde (the latest member of the ISCFC One-Timers Club, having this as his only credit of any kind). The rich assholes have a guy on the ground overseeing things, and he’s the late great Paul L Smith (“Midnight Express”, “Popeye”, “Crime Wave”, “Pieces”). He’s “Steele”, and he makes sure that cops don’t stop him (by shooting them) and that hunters are punished for failure (by shooting them).

“Death Chase” gets going quickly, which I love. It’s barely ten minutes in before Steven is running from cops and teams of doughy, shabbily dressed assassins, seeming genuinely perplexed about how they keep finding him, and what the hell the game is all about. This is a level of perplexity he shares with the audience – I think Prior just assumed “rich people pay poor people to hunt other poor people” would be enough plot, no sense worrying about how they observed the competition or bet on it or whatever.

I do love how shabby it all is, though. There are too few movie car chases which prominently feature run-down old Volvos, and it’s one example of many of it looking exactly like a modern, big budget action movie, just without all the effects and A-list names and so on. Put Liam Neeson or Ryan Reynolds in the William Zipp role (a sentence I never thought I’d write) and you’ve got yourself a dependable slice of summer action fare.

My theory of Prior not being interested in exploiting women due to him possibly being gay took a battering with “Death Chase”, which features a scene in a strip club with a whole heap o’ nude ladies. But it’s also a really ugly, miserable looking strip club, so perhaps this is just him doing a scene to titilate the audience, but super-resentfully.

Not only is Chase dragged into proceedings entirely by accident, but so is his love interest, Diana (Bainbridge Scott). She’s just some passerby who nearly runs him over with her car, and from such a tiny acorn doth grow an oak of love. She doesn’t trust him, because obviously, then when she sees a bunch of people try to kill him for no reason, her opinion changes a little. It’s quite sweet, if a little Stockholm Syndrome-y. Then there’s his old buddy and a crooked cop to round things out.

If there’s any advice I could give to low-budget filmmakers, excepting the dozens of pieces of advice I’ve tried to foist on them down the years, it would be “pick your angles”. When you can’t afford to close a set, but have a gun battle going on twenty feet away from entirely indifferent motorists, it looks a bit weird. Just shoot from above so we can’t see the background so much, or something.

But I love their sense of making do with whatever is lying around, which is done here when they switch to boats at the end for no reason, I’m sure, other than someone offered the producers the use of a couple of speedboats for the afternoon. It’s a lot of fun and leads to you never being sure what to expect next.

The good – Zipp, Smith, the pace

The bad – most of the other actors, the moderately incomprehensible plot

The ugly – all the sets and cars and so on

I think this is probably my favourite Prior movie so far. It’s every bit as quick and strange as “Deadly Prey”, and has the bonus of no brain-twisting coincidences. It has a nice satisfying ending to it, and if you can track it down, I predict a fun evening ahead.

Ratin: thumbs up

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