The P.A.C.K. (1997)

You know if you get an acronym title, you’re going to have a “good” time. “C.H.U.D.” (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) and “R.O.T.O.R.” (Robotic Officer Tactical Operations Research) are two of the best; and to this fine group we must add “The P.A.C.K.”

I thought what “P.A.C.K.” stood for was a joke when I saw the poster, but no. David A Prior, as the writer of this gem, does not joke around. Here goes (unless you already looked at the poster, a few inches up). Prefabricated Animalistic Cybernetic Killer. Prefabricated? You might think, with a title like “The Pack”, that there might be more than one of the titular creatures, but this is merely a coincidence. Or a trick to make you more interested in watching the movie. I couldn’t possibly comment.

By the way, you could add this to the list of movies (including Prior’s own “Mutant Species”) where there’s at least a reasonable suspicion of it being a “The Producers” style scam, where the first five minutes is made exciting to get distribution money, then the rest of the movie is made with a fraction of that distribution money and the producers walk off with the rest of the cash, knowing it’ll never make a profit.

The beginning – a thing crashes to Earth from space, and we see a bunch of people in the woods get torn to pieces. One of them is a biker called “Bullet Head”, the last ever performance by ISCFC favourite Douglas “Pappy” Harter. If he’s still around, and anyone reading this knows him, I’d love to tell him how much I enjoyed his performances in the Prior-verse. Anyway, crash bang wallop, a fine start to proceedings, but then everything switches to a rather slower pace and it becomes that sort of thing we know and hate, a People Walking Through The Woods movie!

It’s also an “alien cop hunts bad alien on Earth” movie, which makes it part of two of the most enduring traditions of B-cinema. The creature, which frightens people despite being a bloke in a leather coat and a stupid dime-store alien mask, runs round for a bit, until we see a beam of light bring down…Ted Prior as alien cop T-7043! His face, and that of Harter, indicate there was a considerable amount of time between the filming of this and the other most recent Prior movie (1994’s “Mutant Species”).

There’s also a decent handful of Earth-people in this movie, although the fact the biggest name of the lot is Sandahl Bergman (Prior’s own “Raw Nerve” from 1991, “Hell Comes To Frogtown”) is an indicator the budgets, once so plentiful, are now back down at the levels of AIP’s mid-80s output. The local sheriff, by far the most interesting character in it, is played by Red West (“Road House”, most of Elvis Presley’s early movies); and there’s a weird group of characters who you’ll assume are going to be central to proceedings but aren’t, a group of NSA agents.

Now, if you were in the NSA (which they certainly appear to be) and were going to a new town, what would you do? Would you call ahead, make sure local law enforcement knew who you were? Or would you wait at a road block outside town, refuse to identify yourself, then drive off at high speed through the woods with the sheriff giving chase, making yourselves as suspicious as possible? Their plan sucks from beginning to end, and is so bad I kept wondering if it was deliberate, but it feels like the actors decided to go on strike for better pay after a few days of filming and the producers just fired them on the spot. It feels weird to spend so much time introducing this team only to (SPOILER) kill almost all of them off after ten minutes.

So, the bulk of the movie is the sheriff, an investigative journalist for a UFO magazine, the lady NSA agent (Bergman), and T-7043 walking through the woods trying to find the creature, and the creature killing loads of people off quite easily. T-7043 explains the plot but it’s the same old same old – if movies about evil space creatures being chased by space cops could be considered that way.

It feels shambolic, honestly, like no-one involved in the making of it gave much of a damn how it ended up. Director Bryan Todd is making his debut (and clearly didn’t like directing all that much, as he’s now a “field producer” for a bunch of reality TV shows) so I’ll give him a slight pass, and this represents the entirety of co-writer Michael Evans’ writing career. So it’s on Prior and his regular band of producers, who’d been making movies for 15 years by this point and really should have been trying harder. It’s basically “Predator”, but if the soldiers sent to track down the creature were a bunch of middle aged men and women who can’t do a damn thing but wait to die.

We’ve only got one more (1999’s “Hostile Environment”) to go before the long hiatus which was broken in 2007 – I’m guessing by that point the budgets were virtually nil and we’ll be down in the mire, with even cheaper effects and no actors you’ve ever heard of. But we’re on the home stretch now, dear reader. We can make it.

Rating: thumbs down

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