Hell On The Battleground (1988)

I feel like it’s appropriate to do one of those “Brain / Big Brain / Cosmic Brain” memes to describe this movie and its evolution of the work of our old friend David A. Prior.

BRAIN: It’s another Vietnam movie

BIG BRAIN: He’s got Russians in this, at least he’s expanding his palette.

COSMIC BRAIN: He’s using the artificiality of the concept – a Vietnam movie with no Vietnamese people in it, Russians as the villains and a hero who looks and acts exactly like Rambo – to protest the 1980s military-industrial-complex and the Cold War!

UNIVERSE BRAIN: Don’t be an idiot

Ted Prior, after taking a few movies away from the acting side of things, is back in a significant role as the rough-and-ready Lance, and he’s joined by regulars Fritz Matthews (as Casey, the Rambo lookalike) and David Campbell (the evil Colonel from “Deadly Prey”, as a friendly member of their regiment). As the military authority figure, who in a shocking turn of events is not a closet villain, there’s B-movie legend William Smith, and there’s also Alyson Davis and Ingrid Vold as Casey and Lance’s girlfriends, who appeared together in another movie the same year, David Heavener’s “Deadly Reactor”, indicating they had the same agent who booked them as a double-act, or something.

I feel like a digression before we get going – the two ladies are at least a step up from the last few Prior movies, which feature no/few women and virtually no romance of any kind; but they’re absolutely useless, appearing to do no other job than look concerned when their men go off to battle. I feel like both they, and the black actor who gets multiple lines and even a tiny arc (!) are there as a result of criticism from the late 80s equivalent of me.

After a good old fashioned shootout in the “jungle” (actually a paintball park just outside LA), we see what amounts, sort of, to an anti-war message. Casey and Lance don’t enjoy what they have to do, and when they see a group of enthusiastic young recruits being brought to the front line, they’re obviously upset – it’s a quietly powerful moment. There’s a sense of ennui we don’t often get from production company AIP or from the Prior brothers, and I appreciated it.

All this is window-dressing compared to the single greatest moment in any movie we’ve seen all year, one of those moments that’s so far out of left field that all you can do is stare in slack-jawed amazement while it’s going on. That moment, dear reader, is a poem about Casey and Lance, over footage of them on a helicopter trip, performed by the extremely gravelly-voiced William Smith. The question must be asked – is this an in-character thing? Like, is their CO writing dramatic poetry about them? What do they think about this? It’s at 24:30 of the movie, or thereabouts, if you’d like to witness it for yourself.

There is a plot, of sorts – it’s not all people shooting at each other in the woods (although, to be fair, it is mostly that). The guys are sent, along with a bunch of rookies, on a pointless mission to do nothing in the middle of nowhere, and are pinned down by Russian troops. There’s a lot of fist-fighting, a lot of soul-searching, until eventually the mega-generic dialogue breaks down and they decide to fight their way out, and the veterans try and save the youngsters. Factor in a nihilistic ending which perfectly fits what’s gone before, and you’ve got a moderately unusual war movie.

It’s got a terribly dull act 2, and it’s got way too many firefights that don’t so much add to the action as provide a sort of background noise. But it’s got a lot of decent B-movie performances from a main cast that knows how to work together, and it’s evidence that, while Prior was still telling the same sort of story, he was at least trying to do something different. Occasionally. A little.

At least the next one is set somewhere different (South America)? I’ll see you in a few days.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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