Jungle Assault (1989)

David A Prior’s mission to chronicle the mind of the Vietnam veteran reaches a sort-of remarkable point where you’re not sure if he’s aware of just how bleak his worldview has become. Two Vietnam veterans drink their lives away due, in large part, to the horrors they witnessed; their old CO, whose daughter has become an unwitting mouthpiece for a Central American leftist terrorist group, begs for their help and they realise that the only time they feel remotely alive is when they’re killing people.

That’s really the only reading you can give “Jungle Assault”, as dark-hearted a straight-to-video low-budget war B-movie as you’ll ever see. William Zipp (a fine actor who really deserved better than the Prior-based career he had) and Ted Prior are Kelly and Becker, who we meet in their filthy bottle-strewn apartment, ignoring an eviction notice to go and drink more beer. William Smith, who has made trash for most of the ISCFC’s favourite directors (and a lot of our least favourite, too – he’s prolific and has no standards, is what I’m saying, like an even gutter-ier Danny Trejo) finds them in a bar and asks them to go to South America and rescue his daughter.

So, while the plot might be different to the average David A Prior movie, everything else isn’t. The building blocks are all present and correct:

  • A “jungle” base for the bad guys which is actually a bunch of shacks in the middle of the woods in California somewhere

  • An opening scene of a really badly framed gun battle

  • A racially random group of goons to get mown down

  • Vietnam flashbacks

  • Helicopter battle

  • Extra-gruff authority figure

  • People doing front flips when hit with a grenade – every dang time

  • Torture taking place in a tin shack

Then there’s a few things which aren’t quite as regular, like a really weird monologue from William Smith, as Ted Prior and William Zipp fly off in a helicopter (an almost exact replica of the scene from “Hell On The Battleground”, although that was done as poetry), so you could definitely be forgiven, if you’re doing some strange thing like watching dozens of Prior movies in a row, for getting confused about just which one you’re watching.

But the reason we watch these is the emotional intensity. You genuinely believe Prior and Zipp are washed-up alcoholics; and when they’re snapped out of their funk by the prospect of beating the crap out of a bunch of rapists who just drag a woman into a bar and are cheered on by the barman, you…well, I’m not sure a group of rapists as deranged as this one exists anywhere in real life, but you get the idea. The whole subplot about the kidnapped daughter slowly realising the brave leftists she was with were a bunch of criminal rapists is absolutely ridiculous, of course, but it’s really just reason to bring the two stars to South America rather than Vietnam.

I wonder what fans of the time made of Prior. Producing movies for AIP, one of many B-movie straight-to-video suppliers, were they just seen as war movies to capture some of that Rambo / Platoon money? Did they leave a curious taste in the mouth for people who came for the lowbrow fun but instead discovered a uniquely bleak worldview? Or were they laughed at as so-bad-they’re-good gems, as “Deadly Prey” definitely was?

There’s a few morsels of evidence for the final thought here. One villain does that thing where he breaks a beer bottle by just crushing it in his hand…only he doesn’t quite do it the first time and needs a second squeeze. Why not just re-shoot it? Did they only buy one breakable bottle? Or was that the best take they got? After that, a tiny moment that made me laugh my ass off, the bit where Zipp jumps – from the ground – to grab onto a low-flying helicopter, and the villain empties a gun at him from about five feet away and misses with every bullet; is small potatoes.

I do love a good ending song which describes the action that’s gone before, and this doesn’t disappoint. I don’t know whether my brain is just being rewritten by over-exposure to these movies, but I rather enjoyed this. I enjoyed the rocket launcher being fired at someone’s face. I enjoyed a great pair of central performances from two men who deserved a bigger stage.

I wouldn’t start your journey through the Priorverse with this movie (only a fool would pick anything other than “Deadly Prey”) but it’s a fine addition. Astonishingly, everything I’ve written up to now may be a complete crock, as Prior, in the middle of making four/five movies a year, wrote this in a single evening! Not much room for nuance.

Rating: thumbs up

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