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