Lock n Load (1990)

After a few movies where new things were tried – plots, locations and so on – we’re back in familiar territory for David A Prior, in the last of the 7 (!) movies he wrote or directed, or both, in 1990. We made it out of 1990, people!

It’s been a while since we’ve seen brother Ted in one of these movies, and “Lock n Load” is no exception, featuring one Jack Vogel in the lead role. Vogel is a fine lead actor, but his career was largely focused in the late 80s and early 90s, mostly in Prior movies, making a few appearances in Prior’s much later efforts (more on such gems as “The P.A.C.K.” and “Zombie Wars” later).

Here, Vogel plays Paul, a Vietnam vet (take a shot), who’s having traumatic dreams (take a shot), but not about his actual wartime experiences. He’s walking down a corridor which looks like it was borrowed from the set of a cheap sci-fi movie, and an unseen figure at the far end is trying to get him to submit, or something, but…he wakes up sweating, etc.

Paul realises something is going on when, listening to the radio, he gets information that one of his old Army buddies has robbed some drug dealers, then killed himself (we saw it in the “cold open”, which was rather confusing, but I liked it). Helpfully, he has a list of the guys from his old platoon, and it’s got a few Prior in-jokes on it – one of the crossed-out names is Doug Harter, aka “Pappy” from most of our recent reviews, and “David Prior” is one of the names too – so he tries to call a few of the ones who are still alive to talk to them. Evil businessman Jordan Prescott tells him to take a hike, but one of his buddies, Ken, who’s in what looks like a very unhappy marriage to Claire (Renee Cline, the female lead of “Invasion Force”), invites him to a barbeque the next day so they can discuss it.

But, before he gets there, Ken receives a phone call which says simply “lock and load”, which causes him to go into a trance, walk out the door (not before punching Claire, who tries to stop him) and go rob some security guards. He drops the money off in a secret location before driving to a secluded spot to blow himself up – Paul almost saves him, but sadly Ken has a bunch of dynamite on him. Luckily, one of the cops is both friendly and believes Paul’s rather odd story, so he sort of teams up with both him and Claire to try and get to the bottom of things.

One might wonder “did brainwashed Ken just instinctively know where there’d be people with sacks of cash?” But don’t worry about that, as the movie doesn’t (at least until the very end). One might also wonder how quickly Paul and Claire get together, but…she’s been treated badly for a long time, and Paul is a decent human being, so it’s not too odd. But seriously, Paul! She’s your friend’s wife, and he’s been dead for like two days!

Act 2 is s-l-o-w. There’s a horribly underdeveloped army guy who tells us of the secret of “King’s Pawn”, and there’s a Governor who is introducing environmental laws, who Jordan is feuding with, being an evil businessman and all. They crawl towards an understanding of what’s really going on, despite the actual villain being obvious as hell, until things kick off again towards the end.

What becomes apparent is that the script is underbaked. I try to avoid being an armchair quarterback when it comes to these things, but it would have taken relatively little to massively improve “Lock n Load” (including trimming about ten minutes off the run-time). The military insist that the cop stops investigating these brainwashed men committing robbery-suicides, but why? It’s not like the guy doing it is in the military any more, or is doing things that benefit the military. Wouldn’t it have made more sense for them to kill the guy who was actually doing the brainwashing?

Then there’s the twist at the end, which is so obvious that…well, I realised it. “Hey, looks like you were wrong,” says my wife, to which I reply “he’s faking it” (no names, in case you want to watch this one yourself). But then there’s the twist’s twist, which makes no sense when you think about it for more than half a second.

I feel like this sort of movie, featuring brainwashed soldiers, would have had more resonance in the Soviet era, when Americans were so desperately afraid of being exposed to a better way of organising society (satire!) that these sort of half-baked “Manchurian Candidate” inspired efforts would have seemed scary.

There’s a lack of the gun-battles that Prior “fans” know and “love”; sadly, it’s no better for their absence. The acting is fine, the visuals are different (filmed in actual snowy Colorado), but…eh. It’s alright?

Rating: thumbs in the middle


White Fury (1990)

For those of you following the ISCFC’s review series of David A Prior, you may have noticed how he started to change – not having every movie be a weird Vietnam revenge story with a bad gunfight in it, for one – but prepare to be even more surprised by a movie which bears almost no relation to anything he’s done before (one delightful actor notwithstanding).

It’s a snow movie! Our hero is Danny (Shaun Holton), a snowboarding champion, whose girlfriend Christine (Christine Shinn), best friend Greg (William Berg) and Greg’s evil girlfriend Lesley (Chasity Hammons) go off to a cabin in the woods, in the snow, for a weekend of fun. Well, Lesley is a hideous beast who won’t let her boyfriend touch her hair and doesn’t want to go on a snowmobile; Greg is a miserable wet blanket who’s only interested in sex…but we’re expecting some sort of hijinks.

At the same time, we’re introduced to Tyler and Marcus (Deke Anderson and Michael Kaskel), two psychopathic bank robbers. After they’ve taken the money from one bank, they stand there and murder like 20 or so people with their assault rifles, then murder their own getaway driver later! There’s a hefty hint that murder is now Tyler’s main interest in all this business, as his look of sexual pleasure at butchering people does not go unnoticed. They decide to lie low with the bag full of cash, and guess which secluded spot they choose?

The final piece of this jigsaw is one Doug Harter, rapidly becoming an ISCFC favourite thanks to his roles in “Rapid Fire”, “Invasion Force” and now this. I’ll forever know him as “Pappy”, his character name in “Rapid Fire”, but here he’s a bounty hunter by the name of Martin Towers, who, despite being much older than Tyler, has apparently devoted his life to tracking him down. It takes him so long to integrate with the main plot that I began to wonder if this movie, entirely unlike any previous David A Prior effort, was actually someone else’s and Prior had bought it to splice some footage of Harter into to get to sellable length (it’s not this).

If you can get past the negative levels of charisma the four main cast members have with each other, and how Marcus looks more like a bland substitute teacher than he does a murderous bank robber, you’ve still got some curious editing decisions to really put you off making sense of “White Fury”. I’ll try to give an example.

At one point, all four stars are in the room, playing charades together. Tyler and Marcus are outside watching them, wondering why their lovely empty cabin is full of teen assholes. Tyler, who has rape and murder on his mind, looks pleased – but Danny is outside the room when the two men break in, instantly turns into a stealth-ninja and no-one apparently is aware he’s there until he tries to attack one of the men about ten minutes later. Plus, he steals the robbers’ cash to use as leverage, despite it being impossible he could have any idea what the men were carrying.

Further editing oddities include the weather changing from heavy snow to bright sunshine, depending on which character in a chase we were following, and in some cases changing even for those characters. Did no-one notice when inspecting the dailies for this movie? Did anyone inspect dailies? Did anyone apart from a bored, drunk editor watch this movie before it was released? You will be annoyed when you think back to the snowboarding at the beginning, which features a guy in a full scarf in the long shots so we can’t see it’s not Danny; then in closeups has the poor actor, now minus scarf, pretend to be flying about a snowboard track, despite there being no wind and the clouds and trees in the background staying entirely still as he makes his body shake about.

What I thought was the end, but was in fact just the middle, drags on to a ludicrous extent as the two men terrorise the teens and Towers is occasionally seen getting closer to his prey. It’s cheap and ugly looking and boring and everyone is a terrible actor, so it was a real bind to sit through, dear reader: when I discovered there was a whole extra bit, where Tyler turns into some superhero, getting shot, beaten with a baseball bat and still able to overpower three strong, well-rested guys and a bunch of park rangers, I really started to get bored.

Boredom is, unfortunately, the main thing you’ll feel while watching “White Fury”. It’s by far the most amateurish Prior movie to date, with nothing interesting visually, a script that forgot to have a remotely interesting central conflict or any good dialogue, and a running time that felt terribly padded even at 82 minutes. It’s available to watch for free, but unlike many of the AIP movies we’ve covered so far, it’s not even worth watching for that much.

Rating: thumbs down

PS – this even disproves my previous theory that rocket launchers or bazookas make all movies more entertaining. Even the nice guy bounty hunter carrying around multiple high-powered explosive devices failed to raise any excitement from this reviewer.

That’s Action (1990)

Welcome to one of the more curious entries in the canon of AIP and David A Prior, a documentary made in the middle of their most prolific period (late 80s / early 90s) about their own movies. Well, I say documentary, it’s like a “greatest hits” collection from a band that didn’t really have any hits.

Robert Culp, a legend of TV – “I Spy” and “Greatest American Hero”, to name but two – and a not-so-much legend of movies – “Xtro 3” and “Silent Night, Deadly Night 3”, for instance – is the host for this wander through the filmography of Action International Pictures. Almost all of them are from our old friend David A Prior, but a few others sneak in there, such as “Code Name Vengeance”, “Phoenix the Warrior”, and most memorably, “Space Mutiny”.

So the basic gist of things is – Culp will read the terrible script, and say “here are some movies with X in them”, then a clip, completely devoid of any context, will play. Some of the clips are ten seconds long, some three or four minutes. The areas covered are:

* Car chases

* Gunfights

* Fistfights

* Ladies

* People on fire

* Stuff in the sky

* Pyrotechnics

* Bad guy deaths

There’s one rather crucial problem with this endeavour. If you’ve seen these movies before, then unless you’re some weird masochist, you’re not going to want a VHS tape with random scenes from them on it; and if you’ve not, then the it’ll be more confusing than anyone else. The final fight scene from “Born Killer” is shown at great length, and my wife, who had never seen that particular gem, despite accompanying me for many Prior epics, said “why is that guy covered in red paint? Why are all the cops stood round watching?”

Some scenes are half-explained, like Culp will go “these soldiers are actually vampires” about “The Lost Platoon”, and so on. But most of them aren’t, and some of them are so short – like, we get a shot of a person being blown up, then move on to the next thing – that explaining them would be kind of impossible.

Culp sort of very slowly undresses over the course of proceedings. Like, he comes on in an immaculate suit, but before he’s even finished with the first link he’s unbuttoning his jacket, which is just weird, visually speaking. By the end his tie is loose and his jacket is wide open, as if the sum total of all these amazing clips had a very slight effect on him.

We get one scene repeated, for reasons which presumably made sense at the time (Kalgon kicking the dude on fire out his way in “Space Mutiny”) and lots of scenes which were adequate in their original context, but suck out loud when apparently being used as an example of a classic of their kind – like, a really dull car chase from “Death Chase”, not even the funnest example of a chase from that movie. The “star power” of AIP is represented by a few seconds of a clearly drunk / high Oliver Reed, and a blink-and-you’ll-miss him shot of Dan Haggerty. Can Cameron Mitchell even be called star power?

They proudly show one of the more embarrassing moments in AIP history, where the villain tries to crush a prop beer bottle in his hand and fails the first attempt, which gave me a good laugh. Imagine having twenty movies to mine for material and picking that!

I wish I had more to relate to you, dear reader. But, it’s a TV actor reading a bad script and introducing random clips from mostly average movies. You try and write a good review about that!

Rating: thumbs down

Invasion Force (1990)

Welcome back, dear reader, to our review series of the oeuvre of David A Prior. It would appear that around late 1989, someone told Mr Prior that his work was getting somewhat samey, and to keep the public’s interest he ought to widen the scope of movies he was borrowing from. So we got dystopian-ish sci-fi (“Future Zone” and “Future Force”), vampire soldiers (“Lost Platoon”), a sort-of First Blood / Deliverance hybrid (“Born Killer”), and now this, a sort of gentle riff on the Chuck Norris classic “Invasion USA” – starring that movie’s villain, in case you didn’t quite make the connection. The fact that Prior wrote, directed or wrote and directed seven movies in 1990 (how did he have the time to sleep?) is perhaps an indicator that the quality will not always be the highest, but he was trying different things!

He must have been feeling confident because the beginning of “Invasion Force” even has a twist to it. It starts off as a rather cheesy-feeling “Rambo”-a-like, with the blond, muscled Troy walking into a very flimsy-looking army camp, blowing it all up while standing stock still (and never getting shot, of course) before rescuing the rather wooden damsel in distress. More explosions, a few quips and a rather fun denouement when he trades a diamond for the woman, only the diamond pouch is full of explosives…

It’s a film within a film! Obviously, this is well-trodden ground, but it’s nice to see a director like Prior stretch his wings a little. It turns out, AIP (the real company that David co-founded) is shooting a rather AIP-sounding movie, out in the woods near Mobile, Alabama (where David normally shoots). This really feels like he understood and even half-agreed with the criticism that the late 80s version of me was dishing out – that they were formulaic, silly even, and although the viewers could probably notice this was cheesy even for them, it wasn’t quite cheesy enough that alarm bells started ringing.

Our film crew features “Pappy” from “Rapid Fire”, Doug Harter, playing a character called Doug Harter, and a fellow called Charlie Stedman playing himself…but no others. Were the rest of the actors all “I’d rather you not use my real name, thanks”? Perhaps they didn’t want to start throwing too many in-jokes in there.

The other side of this particular conflict is something we’re a little more familiar with – a mercenary army led by a figurehead General whose plan seems to very important but never mentioned ; and a second-in-command, a mercenary whose sole interest seems to be in killing. This is pretty much a retread of the plot of “The Lost Platoon” – I didn’t say Prior had gone crazy and started using entirely original plots, did I? The mercenary is played by B-movie legend and ISCFC favourite Richard Lynch (“Cyborg 3”, “Terminal Virus”, “Scanner Cop”) and it’s always nice to see him.

Their plan is to take over a small town and hold everyone hostage. There’s more to this, but I’d be wandering far too close to spoiling the end of it if I told you the rest. Of course, they’re miles away from civilisation, so it’s just the film crew who have to save America from their evil plan. Have they got enough real bullets? Can the special effects guy make reasonable-looking explosions from the stuff he has lying around? Will the director and his leading lady realise they’re perfect for each other before one of them gets shot?

Let’s play “same / different”, where I list things this movie does exactly the same as other Prior efforts, and then things he tries that are different.

Same: the banter. Oh god, the terrible banter.

Different: people actually take proper cover when other people are firing at them!

Same: military base in a bunch of tents in a forest clearing.

Different: an interesting central relationship between a man and a woman.

Same: Even though the VHS box claimed “town”, it was set in the forest, again.

Different: This was a bad idea, I can see that now.

The movie crew’s plan to rescue their kidnapped director is so perfunctory that it might almost have been designed as a joke – as is their big plan to stop the invasion. Then there’s the crazy reasoning behind it all, and then…there’s quite a big twist, and an even bigger final twist, which is ballsy, sort of explains every ridiculous thing that’s gone before and fits rather well.

It feels like maybe this and the following documentary “That’s Action” are of a pair, building the mythology of AIP. They’re so good their crew could fight real terrorists! Okay, maybe not. But it’s…well, I’m not sure what it is, but I admire them again trying something different, even if the VHS connoisseurs of the time must have been a little nonplussed.

Rating: thumbs up

The Lost Platoon (1990)

After a long, somewhat less-than-ideal run of very similar movies, our current featured director David A Prior has put something different into the mix. Okay, it’s still a war movie, features a command tent, has flashbacks and none of the characters can shoot worth a damn, but there’s a new thing in there.

Vampires! “Based on a concept by Ted Prior” (who doesn’t appear in this) – I presume this was a coke binge one evening where Ted said to his brother “why don’t you, I don’t know, put some vampires in one of your stupid war movies?” to which David said “screw you! I will!”

After we get that sort of vampire-movie-font opening credits, we’re given an actually pretty smart opening. An old man is looking at photos of soldiers from a variety of conflicts – from the US Civil War to WW1 to WW2 to Korea to Vietnam – and has circled a bunch of faces in each one. Could they be…the same? Quick flashback to his buddy dying next to him in WW2, and him being saved by a mysterious fella in a Civil War uniform, and we’re cracking on.

One of the more curious things about David A Prior is his re-use of actors at wildly different levels of exposure. You may remember Pappy, the bald comic-relief sidekick in “Rapid Fire” – well, Doug Harter was in a bunch of roles so tiny his characters don’t even have names in other AIP productions, then suddenly fifth billed, then back as “convict” or, as he is here, “random truck driving army guy”. Similarly, the villain of “Rapid Fire”, Michael “son of John” Wayne, is here as one of the vampire soldiers, but not the star, the villain or the main sidekick of either. Even so, quite a lot of the cast are making their first appearance in a Prior movie – no Ted, no William Zipp, no Fritz Matthews.

I keep getting sidetracked! Anyway, Hollander, the old guy we saw at the beginning, is the world’s most famous photographer, as everyone he meets for the first ten minutes tells him. He’s off to Nicaragua, apparently, although it’s never really named, to take photos of the war going on, but as he’s friends with the Colonel in charge of proceedings, he’s going to use his photography skills to convince the military top brass to send more troops and more stuff. Yes, this is the only military photographer in history whose job is as propagandist for the military!

He’s stood around one day chatting to a friendly soldier about his experiences, when he sees out of the corner of his eye a group of oddly dressed soldiers, including one in Civil War gear…his new friend says they’re part of another battalion who got separated and are just hanging out there for a little while, despite the rather obvious visual problem with such a statement. He starts investigating, and even goes to the Colonel with his suspicion that they have a group of vampires in their midst.

I wrote several times “I have no idea what the villain’s plan is”, and after a day of pondering, I’m still not sure. It’s fairly obvious, long before the reveal, that both he (Vladmir, played by Roger Bayless, his only credit) and his evil sexy sidekick Tara (Michi McGee) are vampires too, but they’ve raised an army and are in the local-villager-slaughtering business.

We spend a lot of time with the vampires, although we don’t find out much about them. Most of them are centuries old, so my initial thought that their outfits were the ones they were wearing when they died, seems to be blown out of the water. There’s the sensible boss guy; a hothead who wants to vamp up all the time and tear all the bad guys to shreds; a quiet one (sorry, don’t blame me for their lack of characterisation) and an even quieter one. Just the idea of them being badasses on the side of good is an interesting one, that they tour the wars of history and rip the bad guys to pieces, even if the movie claims a relationship between the groups of vampires that isn’t really there. Like, the good guys didn’t even know the bad guy was Vladimir until really close to the end?

The interesting thing about the group, to our 2018 eyes, is the casting of hothead Walker. He’s Stephen Quadros, and if you watched any old mixed martial events (Pride, Elite XC, and, oddly, one UFC computer game) he’s the commentator. He’s still acting regularly, and choreographs fights for movies too – I wish he’d done a few more for this one.

Also, thumbs up for some of the touches they bring to proceedings. The vampires catch bullets, and one mocks the other when he slightly messes up, tossing his bullet back through the air and into the chest of a bad guy soldier. There’s also a bit where one of them throws a knife that someone has jabbed into them, and you think “that’s a bad effect, the knife’s not in that other guy” until he falls over and you see the knife has gone right through him and stuck to the tree behind. Little touches, but they bring lightness to the story, and lightness is in short supply in the world of David A Prior.

There’s an interesting twist, even! There’s a lot to like about “Lost Platoon”, even if the title makes no sense (there’s only four of them).

But. I do wish Prior would try and do something different when it comes to filming gunfights. Every single one is the same – two groups of people, standing stock still, shooting and missing, 99% of the time. If I was a trained soldier and couldn’t hit a guy standing motionless twenty yards in front of me, I’d quit. It’s just filler and dull filler at that. There’s no visual interest to it, either – like it’d be cool if they were in a good location as opposed to the woods near Prior’s house.

It’s got some camp fun to it, a rarity for Prior. Recommended, despite its lulls.

Rating: thumbs up