Born Killer (1989)

Teenagers? Covered in bugs? What movie were they watching?

“Born Killer” honestly feels like something the regular cast and crew of Action International Pictures (David A Prior’s company) made on a slack weekend. Ted Prior says to David “I’d like to do a movie where I’m the deranged villain”, the two of them knock up a script over a pot of coffee, Kimberley Casey, who was their producer for a few years, indicating she invested in the company, asked for a directing job, regular co-star William Zipp gets the last of his five credits as casting director (?), and this is the end result.

Thank the heavens, though, that we get a war flashback in the first five minutes, just like we have in pretty much every David A Prior-associated movie to this point. They’re from Nick, who had to kill his injured best friend in…a war of some sort. He doesn’t look old enough to have been in Vietnam?

Nick is played by Fritz Matthews, one of the Priors’ early collaborators, and this is his last ever acting job (well, unless you count whatever he does in 2013’s “Deadliest Prey”, the fanservice-sequel to the classic “Deadly Prey”). Much like William Zipp, he’s a totally decent actor and deserved better roles – perhaps neither man enjoyed it all that much and just wanted to help out their friends, though.

So, Nick and his buddies, one car full of guys, one full of gals, are off to the wilderness for a weekend of paintballing. Along the way, they happen upon a chain gang, breaking up rocks and shovelling mud, and the face we ISCFC fans immediately recognise is Ted Prior, as particularly evil convict Spencer. Him and his buddy Anderson (James Adam Tucker) have, for reasons I either missed or were never explained, had pistols planted at the scene by persons unknown, so they can break out. So there’s a big gunfight – in the tradition of David A Prior, of course, no-one can shoot worth a damn – and the two of them escape, leaving the other convicts to sink or swim on their own.

Judging by the info, I assumed that the convicts would stalk the paintballers, but they come together quite quickly, and it’s here, about a third of the way into things, when the movie takes a rather upsetting turn. Spencer and Anderson rape and kill two of the women, beat Nick and his buddy Trapper up, steal their clothes and sort-of depart. Seriously guys, what’s your plan? So when the sheriff (who could 100% make a career as a Ted Turner lookalike) and his deputies turn up, you’ve got a couple of normal guys in prison outfits, a couple of prisoners in normal outfits, and a whole heap of cops, wandering round the woods.

It’s clear the two movies the Priors saw before writing their script for this were “First Blood” and “Deliverance”, and perhaps they’d seen part of “High Plains Drifter” too. Nick and Trapper are forced to kill a few cops in order to survive, and Spencer and Anderson keep popping up to kill people (or to rape and kill the remaining woman of the group, Spencer doing it while Anderson cheers him on like a geek). The sheriff is so determined to avenge the deaths of the prison guards that, even when evidence is presented to him that the two guys in prison outfits might not be the escapees, he demands that his deputies hang everyone they find, anyway.

It’s a very dark, quite disjointed movie, with any camp fun definitely spoiled by the sexual assault stuff. Spencer says “soldier boy” to refer to Nick approximately 17,000 times during the movie’s 90 minutes, and they unfortunately forget to give Nick an arc. He uses his soldiering skills to fight back against both Spencer and Anderson, but it’s safe to say he’s not getting over his PTSD after the events he witnesses.

There are technical lulls you don’t normally associate with an AIP movie, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write. Like how Spencer’s chest tattoo starts wearing off in the middle of the final fist-fight; or how Anderson keeps forgetting to limp after he gets a spike through his thigh; or how one of the paintballers is being held hostage and the two villains just forget about him in one scene, yet there he is, still a hostage in the next scene. Run the hell away! Or edit your movie better!

So it’s a curious one, is “Born Killer”. Not dull, but definitely not good either. Prior relishes the chance to play the villain; but it’s really just a bunch of people running round the woods, same as the ultra-low-budget monster movies we used to review a few years ago. Just generic and makes you think of plenty of better movies and how you’d rather be watching them.

Rating: thumbs down

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Rapid Fire (1989)

We couldn’t keep away from the movies of David A Prior, dear reader – sadly (for us and you). We’ve been aiming to do them in chronological order, but it gets a little messed up around here as we did 1990’s “Invasion Force” last year, and did “Future Zone” as part of our “future-movies” series a few months ago. But by the time we get to 1991 it should be smooth sailing from then on out – that is, if exactly chronological explorations of the filmography of trashy B-movie directors is remotely important to you.

From before the days when the Armed Forces had final script approval over anything that used their stuff, we start off on the USS Alabama, berthed near David A Prior’s regular filming location, Mobile, Alabama. It’s very obviously a retired ship, and Prior very obviously couldn’t afford enough Navy uniforms so half the people on board are Army guys, but never mind that! Strolling on board with a Navy outfit and a ludicrously large steel briefcase is one Eddy Williams (Michael “son of John” Wayne, whose entire acting career consists of a couple of tiny roles in his Dad’s movies and a couple of starring ones for Prior). He’s there to bust out the guy being held in the brig, Mustapha Ahmed (Del Zamora, who was half-Mexican, half-Apache), and does so with almost embarrassing ease, using the super-gun he carries round in the briefcase.

I think it’s important, if you’re a movie director, to pay attention to stuff. Prior had made ten movies by this point? Enough that he really ought to have had a clue. But the same couple of guys get shot twice, and there’s lots of scenes where people just run around randomly, perfectly calm expressions on their faces. Could he not have said “look like there’s a bad guy on board who wants to shoot you?” Would that have been too much? Anyway. The most important thing we learn from this scene is that, once again, in a David A Prior movie, no-one can shoot worth a damn. People stand, stock still, with trained gunmen firing at them, and not a single bullet so much as grazes them.

Our hero is a man who looks like every other 1980s B-movie leading man gave some DNA to the creation of the most generic-looking guy imaginable, Mike Thompson (Ron Waldron). Hero and both villains have the most generic names imaginable, too, almost like it was a joke. But it wasn’t. Anyway, he’s in some random bar, and he helps out a woman who charms him, so he follows her out to the parking lot, where he’s coshed and taken away to be tortured until he agrees to help out the CIA by killing Ahmed and Williams and stopping whatever diabolical plot they have. Turns out Thompson and Williams are hated enemies so he agrees to do the job straight away. Why not just lead with that?

This is all in the first twenty minutes, and you’ll already notice some Prior fetishes.

* Torture

* Flashbacks to trauma in an unspecified war

* Untrustworthy authority figure

There are plenty more to come, though.

We then meet the great sidekick, “Pappy”. He’s bald, has a magnificent beard and is surrounded by beautiful ladies in his pool, which happens to be shaped like a penis. Now, if you’d told me this, I’d not believe you, so here’s a screenshot:

Pappy doesn’t like Eddy either, so agrees to help him out, after Pappy’s wife walks in with a shotgun and interrupts them (fun fact: this woman owned the house they were filming in, and let them film there on the proviso she get a part in their movie). So it’s the two of them, and the hot CIA agent Corey (Dawn Tanner, who only has two credits so I’m assuming is a union actor moonlighting under a different name), against Eddy, Mustapha and their legion of goons.

On the surface, this seems quite generic – the good guys and bad guys circle each other, escalating their tactics, coming to an explosive conclusion – but as with other Prior movies, it’s all about what’s going on underneath. Mustapha, the reason Eddy and Mike are in conflict, is absolutely 100% irrelevant to the plot, operating as a MacGuffin of sorts. In fact Eddy, who was paid to bust him out of jail, dismisses him as a “fuckin’ sand monkey” at one point.

Eddy and Mike served together in an unnamed war. Tired of his heroism, Eddy shoots Mike in the back and steals his special gun (the one we see at the beginning), and then we see him shoot Mike a few more times. Now, this certainly looks like it’s all over for Mike, and indeed no explanation is given for how Mike survived, how Eddy was unaware of this, etc. The gun, also, despite looking like magic space-age tech, never has its provenance explained. I feel like this stuff is kinda important, you know?

I’ve mentioned before that Prior, to a greater or lesser extent, has a gay subtext to his movies, but here it’s so blatant that it almost becomes the only way you can look at it. The two men are only interested in each other, and their animosity seems to come from nowhere. Is it poor scriptwriting or were the two men lovers? It certainly explains a lot, if they were.

I was sort of toying with the other idea, that Mike doesn’t actually exist. Eddy is suffering from severe war psychosis, and keeps seeing himself, dressed in military fatigues, giving a hostile running commentary to his actions. Is he so guilty over the wartime death of his friend he takes on increasingly dangerous missions til finally he gets killed? Is Mike’s backstory, with a weirdo best friend who owns a penis-shaped pool, completely fictitious? I doubt it. But I think the people of 1989, picking this off a video shelf expecting a normal slice of military-themed revenge, will be a little puzzled about how dark it goes.

The gunfight at the end is amateurish, even by Prior standards (they shelter behind a few casually stacked wooden pallets at one point, which deflects every bullet headed their way), and the CIA guy seems drunk throughout his small part (this is Joe Spinell, who died 6 weeks after filming wrapped, so perhaps he was just ill). And then.

I say “most X Y of all time” quite a lot on here, but this must have the all-time most puzzling coda. We hear a bit of ADR from Pappy saying he was thinking of getting into wrestling, so we cut to him, in the thrift store clothes he bought at the beginning of the movie, in a bar, wrestling a bear. What? Best guess, is they were drinking in a bar one night after filming and saw an advert for bear wrestling, and asked the guys running it if they could film a little bit of it for their movie. If you can think of another reason, I’d love to hear it.

Anyway, another extremely entertaining, if somewhat baffling, movie from David A Prior. Next up is one he only wrote, “Born Killer”, but it does star Ted Prior and their regular collaborator Fritz Mathews, so I think it ticks enough boxes to qualify. See you soon!

Rating: thumbs up

Incoming (2018)

Misleading at best (no guns, and it’s set in space)

The “space / future prison” genre has a long and honourable history. Well, okay, neither of those things are true, but there are certainly plenty of them. From the classic “Escape From New York”, to 1990’s “Moon 44”, to “Alien 3”, both “Fortress” movies, 1997’s “Moonbase”,Assault On Dome 4”, then getting further down the quality scale to “Starfire Mutiny” and “Total Reality” (there are plenty of others), audiences have been delighted by the implausibility of sending your worst criminals into space when it would be a great deal cheaper and easier to put them in a vault at the bottom of the ocean, or something, for 40 years.

The latest addition is “Incoming”, which first piqued my interest due to its casting of Scott Adkins. Adkins is B-movie royalty – you might recognise him from small roles in “Doctor Strange” and the second “Expendables”, but although his filmography sounds like some cruel joke – things you’ve never heard of called “Wolf Warrior 2”, “American Assassin” and “Ninja: Shadow Of A Tear” – he’s one of the greatest modern on-screen martial artists and is a surprisingly strong actor.

“Incoming” is about terrorism, in a way, but a terrorism completely devoid of any motive, political or otherwise. The Wolfpack, a group mostly comprised of Eastern European men solely because it was filmed in Serbia and that’s what the producers had access to, blow up Big Ben in London, and the first scene is a man in an empty apartment, save for a laptop he’s watching the news on, get arrested.

Five years later! And we’re at the International Space Station, which has been repurposed as a prison for the six members of the Wolfpack they’ve been able to catch. Argun (Vahidin Prelic, doing surprisingly well for his second language) is being tortured by Kingsley (Lukas Loughran), and Kingsley is one of those monsters who seems to quite enjoy his work. The government-approved torture is being done to find out who the Alpha of the Wolfpack is, although it being five years might indicate to some that the torture isn’t working. Whatever!

Into this happy scene comes a pair of CIA agents – one, a doctor, coming to check them out, Stone (Michelle Lehane); the other, an accountant, just one who happens to be ripped and mean-as-hell-looking, Reiser (Adkins). There’s a pilot who flirts with Stone a little, Bridges (Aaron McClusker) and the other five terrorists, of course.

I’ll give the movie credit for being against torture, by no means a given in the world of 2018. We get the line “the Geneva Convention doesn’t apply in space”, which was good enough to put in the trailer, and we get a decent argument against it from Stone, too. But then, she’s tricked by Argun and inadvertently lets the terrorists out, and it’s torture-crazed terrorists versus a woefully underprepared foursome for the last two-thirds.

The “incoming” of the title refers to the terrorists’ plan to point the International Space Station at Moscow and use it as a giant bomb, but it just acts as the race-against-time thing the good guys have to stop and doesn’t particularly factor into things. Well, I say good guys, as there’s definitely some layers to the non-terrorists on board.

There are some nice touches, such as when the terrorists find the room they’ve been tortured in for the last five years and, even though they’re in control, seem unsure about entering; Adkins gives a decent performance too. The sets use their cheapness to their advantage, as it sort of looks like what the ISS would look like if it was largely ignored for five years. Okay, there’s a bit where they carry in the supplies for the prisoners, huge boxes labelled “Beans” with a picture of beans on it, and it’s very obviously an empty box, but no-one’s perfect.

ASIDE: I do like how they get round not being able to afford the zero-gravity effect, by saying “by the way, we’re using this super-good new gravity technology on everything these days”. Good save, movie!

I’d suggest the main problem with “Incoming” is the lack of a reason for why anyone does anything. The terrorists want to blow up Moscow…why, exactly? Why have they done any of this? And when the twist, such as it is, happens, unless you’re paying absolute and complete attention to the dialogue, the reason for their behavior would be a complete mystery to you.

Hiring Scott Adkins for your movie but only giving him two short fight scenes is like hiring Fred Astaire and only bothering to have him do a vague bit of soft-shoe in the background. But, of course, he makes the most of it, and the fights, as well as being brutal, actually tell a story and help advance the movie.

It’s a tense thriller with not an ounce of fat on its bones – while it may be curiously scripted at times, I’d suggest the action of it means it’s worth your while.

Rating: thumbs in the middle