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.
* 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