Zombie Wars (2007)

In a job like this, you realise after a thousand or so reviews that the bottom of the barrel is a sliding scale, and even though you’ve seen what you think is the worst, there’s always new depths to sink to. You may have thought “Mutant Species” or “The P.A.C.K.” was as bad as David A Prior could get, but I am sad to report that is not the case.

Thanks to a voiceover, we discover that “Zombie Wars” is set 50 years after an unspecified event caused the dead to rise up and start eating people. Humanity has been reduced, at least as far as we know, to 12 small settlements, and they’ve kept and maintained enough guns to form a strong militia that goes out, kills as many zombies as possible and rescues humans. From whom? Well, the zombies in this movie appear to have a rudimentary society and breed humans for food, so occasionally there’s a group of model-beautiful women in their mid-20s being led through the woods for our heroes to help out.

This is, I suppose, an interesting take on the zombie story, but the least thought reveals it’s not. Why are zombies hungry, not being alive and all? Well, because George Romero showed they liked eating people, is the simple answer, because otherwise it just makes no sense. If you do need food, why not just breed some animal that provides a bit more sustenance than skinny humans? If the hunger is some supernatural thing, why do they wait for the humans to get to adulthood before eating them? Why does the human farm not have any children in it? Too many questions for too early in the movie.

Our heroes are two cool brothers, David (Adam Mayfield, best known as a soap actor) and Brian (Jim Hazleton, a Prior semi-regular who retired from the acting biz around 2011). They wisecrack and shoot zombies, all the while continually getting jumped by zombies with incredible stealth powers. Over and over again, to the point you really wish one of them would suggest covering each others’ backs or something like that. The General of their little gang is the helpfully unnamed “General” (Kristi Renee Pearce, who’s a totally good actor and has like two credits, so I assume she works more regularly under a different name in union productions).

I was trying to think of something to say about the vast majority of this movie, but there’s really nothing to it. David gets captured by the zombies, along with one of the women he rescued earlier on, named Star (Alissa Koenig), and taken to the zombie town. Because people who can talk are dangerous, they’re killed straight away, so David keeps his mouth shut; he meets a guy called Sliver (a gentleman by the name of Jonathan Badeen, who appears to be doing an impression of Christian Slater doing an impression of Jack Nicholson) who is a sort of double agent but has a heart of gold.

The General and Brian organise a rescue, there’s a mysteriously well-stocked town with nice clean humans in it which is occasionally glimpsed, and, er, that’s it. So let’s discuss, briefly, the logic behind “Zombie Wars”.

The voiceover tells us that the zombies eat 5 people a day. That’s around 1800 people a year, and if this has been going on for 50 years, we’re talking 90,000 humans eaten. And that’s just this tiny gang of the undead (the settlement appears to have 30 or so zombies in it). The only evidence that the zombies are feeding the humans comes from one small carrot patch tended to by human slaves, and there’s no evidence of a mountain of human bones anywhere either. They say they’re breeding humans but the problem is, humans take a long time to mature compared to other animals, need years and years of parental interaction to stay alive, all that sort of thing.

Also, if you were a human and zombies were everywhere, where would you live? Would you find a nice easily defendible hill, or fortified building, or just some clear area with plenty of sight of things coming your way? Or would you stay in some tents in the middle of the woods, giving approaching zombies all the cover they needed to come and eat you?

I was just really bored of “Zombie Wars”, really quickly. The undead are almost always used as a metaphor in movies, but giving them the rudiments of society while keeping them the same shambling, mindless group, just seems silly. I’m not even mentioning the pathetic makeup effects or the fact we’ve got another damn military base in the middle of the forest in some tents, because it’s par for the course in the Prior-verse. Oh, for those of you keeping count, Ted Prior pops up for a five second wordless cameo as one of the good guy soldiers, right at the very end.

Forgive me for spoilers, but the ending is so utterly stupid I have to mention it. We’ve seen the two guards of the “bad” human village (they taught the zombies how to farm humans so they’d apparently leave them alone? Sure, why not) a few times, sniping zombies as they approach, and right at the end David is emerging from the wilderness, having tried to find Star. First up, the “good” soldiers leave the two guards with their rifles as they walk into the village, even though they could have been shot with those rifles as soon as their backs were turned; then, they see David, a perfectly clean human who doesn’t look anything like a zombie, and just shoot him. Now, this is perhaps a reference to the ending of “Night Of The Living Dead”, but it’s a really cloth-eared one.

I’d say the acting is pretty strong, but absolutely nothing else is. Prior really should have quit in the late 90s, I’ve got no idea why he’d wait all that time and come back with something like this. A waste of time on every level.

Rating: thumbs down

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The Hostage (1998)

Much like some nightmarish Escher-like painting, my quest to get to the end of David A Prior’s filmography appears to get further and further away no matter how many movies I watch. I’ve passed the point where I’m providing useful information to you, dear reader, and now it’s some war of attrition – which leads us to a slight backtracking and 1998’s “The Hostage”. I picked it because it features Ted Prior in a leading role, high billing for Dana Plato, just a year before her unfortunate death (I talk more about her in my review of “Compelling Evidence”) and Cynthia Rothrock, one of our favourite kung-fu / action movie stars.

But then, as the credits rolled, I noticed our old friend David A Prior as second unit director! This isn’t on IMDB (although I submitted a change after seeing this), and second unit directors do stuff like film stunts and establishing shots and so on. Was he bored and owed someone a favour, or did Ted lobby to give his brother a few days worth of work? We’ll never know.

ASIDE: Dana Plato was directed by three men the ISCFC has covered extensively: Donald Farmer (“Compelling Evidence”), Michael Paul Girard (“Different Strokes: The Story of Jack and Jill and Jill”) and now this. This represents…well, nothing great, that’s for sure.

This is a story of a pathetically incompetent group of high-end thieves, who are out-thought and out-fought at every possible opportunity by security guards, cops and a few scattered FBI agents. Their plan, such as it is, is useless, their execution worse, and apart from Ted (playing a character called Ted) they’re all schlubby and don’t move like they’ve had any training at all. The guy who’s set up to have a big role, being the first person we see and getting a lot of screen time at the beginning, is unceremoniously shot in some crossfire about halfway through and never mentioned again, and the ending is stupid.

So, with all that being said, let’s do some recapping! After an irrelevant cold open, presumably just there to get it to feature length, we meet Ted, who’s sad that his wife is dead. He’s a former soldier of some sort, and decides the best way to earn money is to sign on with an Alex “Infowars” Jones lookalike criminal mastermind, who has picked a super-rich businessman as his next target.

The team are boring and indistinct, and you will not go to your grave wishing I’d spent ages listing them all for you, so let’s just move on. The rich businessman, rather than having an office, does his business from a relatively large suburban home, with lots of assistants and computers just in the dining room or the kitchen or wherever. This might be a deliberate choice or it might be that someone associated with the production had a big house they could film in (I’ll go with the latter), but there it is.

Three years of planning have led to this moment. Three years. So they walk in the door, act suspicious, the businessman’s guards ask them who they really are, then everyone starts shooting. I’m an idiot and I could have come up with a better plan than that after about ten minutes! The crooks are outnumbered and the guards have more guns – also, they call the authorities for help almost immediately. First, some cops turn up, then FBI hostage specialist Cynthia Rothrock. There’s a cool bit where some cops are sexist but the main cop, a fellow called Sparks, says “if she was a guy, you’d be running round saying yes sir admiring what a badass he was” which is perhaps the only line of any note in this whole experience.

Anyway, the plan rolls along, and they don’t bother doing anything like having either side be good guys or bad guys, or even just people you want to see succeed. It’s a businessman who might or might not be a scumbag against some thieves who might or might not be psychos. Later on, both sides even dress the same, to really amp up the confusion.

I feel like there’s not a lot of point saying more, as nothing really happens. One interesting thing is it’s shot on video, giving everything that ugly sheen. I’m surprised Prior and Rothrock agreed to take part in what amounts to little more than a home video, but one would presume their cheques cleared before they set foot on the set.

I’m not entirely sure this movie was ever officially released. The version I found says “for screening purposes only” and the only other online review of this I read got it from the same place as me – also, one of the actors commented on it and said they thought it had never been released either. So, good luck getting hold of a copy, if this review has for some reason made you want to watch it.

Director Bryan Todd (who also acts as one of the criminals) is now in reality TV, having made a Jersey Shore spin off about Mike “The Situation” Sorrentino’s post-superfame life among other things; writer Zac Reeder is an executive producer on “Outpost”. So, this movie didn’t kill either career, although it probably should have done. Oh, and there are actors by the name of Rob Lowe and Don Johnson as goons and extras, and no I’m not going back to check if it’s a couple of really well-hidden cameos by former A-listers, and not just a non-union production not giving a toss about the names they use.

A really genuinely tedious experience.

Rating: thumbs down

Lost At War (2007)

After almost ten years away from the movie business, David A Prior chose to return, for reasons unknown. Well, “because he was broke” is probably the reason, although information about the man is tough to come by on the internet so it might have been anything. I hope he wasn’t fighting cancer or caring for a sick relative or something like that.

 

He’s produced something rather curious here, as writer, director and editor. They make reference to “The Twilight Zone”, and I guess it’s the closest comparison, but it’s shot through with those Prior trademarks and obsessions from way back at the beginning of his career, and is quite the unusual movie.

 

In a forest which is supposed to be the Middle East but looks suspiciously like either Alabama or California, a group of five soldiers are on a mission – Captain Briggs (Ted Prior), Turner (former Prior regular Jack Vogel), Falkner (Jim Marlow), McCune (Adam Stuart) and Smith (James Brinkley). They do their thing, shoot some bad guys, and as they’re about to return to base, one “terrorist” escapes. Smith is ready to shoot him in the back, but Briggs stops him, saying they’ll worry about him tomorrow. This almost, sort of, becomes relevant later. Anyway, back to base they go, and their CO gives them one more mission – a recon of another enemy base, and if they do it, Briggs will get to go home two weeks early. So off they go.

 

These first ten minutes or so feel comfortable for those of us who’ve followed Prior for over 30 movies. Small group of soldiers, unidentified war, unidentified enemy, walking through the forest, military base comprised of a bunch of tents…the building blocks are very familiar. But as soon as they set off on their recon mission, everything goes a little odd. Walking through a bamboo “tunnel”, they find the base but it’s empty, and the woods around the base are infested with mysterious black-clad beings who don’t want to get any closer, ignore being shot, and fade away as soon as they appear.

 

Jumping into a foxhole, they eat their rations, but Smith wishes he had a big old family feast, and when they open the nondescript steel box in the hole next to them, it’s full of delicious food! Then he wishes for beer, and beer appears!

 

I’m going to struggle to recap any more of this movie without giving away spoilers; but I’ll try. We begin getting flashbacks which, eventually, show the lives of the five men were connected before they ever ended up there, but in weirdly tenuous ways. For example, Smith stopped a robbery in a 7-11, and the woman he helped was the girlfriend of one of the other soldiers, whose son was shot in a random act of violence, whose best friend played baseball and the coach was a soldier…

 

The curious calmness of the men, as the Twilight Zone-esque things continue to happen to them, is curious, and the ending is curiouser still. It feels like David A Prior had big plans, and really wanted to talk about the human condition and fate and so on, but had absolutely no idea how to wrap the story up. Or perhaps he was aiming for the extreme bleakness that a literal reading of the last five minutes would give you.

 

It’s five men, sat in a hole, talking about their lives. They’re probably not soldiers (why would a cop in his late 40s suddenly sign up and become a Captain? Or an insurance salesman / baseball coach? Was it originally going to be a story about five paintballers who get slipped some hallucinogens?) but you can’t just dismiss it as a failure. I mean, it is a failure, but Prior tries, he writes an often interesting script, gets some good performances out of his cast, and there’s a sadness at its core which lingers with you. My wife, who’s begun to resent Prior as this is literally all the movies we’ve watched for several months, even put down her magazine and started to get into this one.

 

“Lost At War” seems to have disappeared completely from the consciousness of even Prior diehards. One lonely IMDB review, no cult sites have picked it up, no nothing…which is a shame, as up to the last few minutes, it’s right at the top of Prior’s movies. That he really messed up the landing shouldn’t detract from the interesting first 85 minutes.

 

Rating: a Prior-sized thumbs up

 

Hostile Environment (1999)

As you, dear reader, waited with bated breath for the next installment in the David A Prior mega-series, I had the temerity to move house. I kept trying to persuade my wife to stop packing and pop on this particular gem, she – for some reason – refused, so I had to wait all this time to give you yet more opinions.

David A Prior took almost ten years off from movies, in between the late 90s and 2007 (where we’re going to jump to next), and this appears to be his last one before the break. Pair him with a script by a guy whose entire writing career was two different Brigitte Nielsen 1999 movies, and one of the more egregious cases of miscasting ever, and…well, I guess you’ve got yourself something that looks like a movie?

In this particular post-apocalypse, the world’s water supply has been completely contaminated by nuclear waste, and there’s only one place where people can get it, a giant ship commanded with an iron fist by Minna (Nielsen). She has some device that purifies it, and makes sure she gets…well, not a lot, as far as I can tell. Do they trade with people for it? They seem oddly fixated on one small group of people who are distilling their own water, and their boat doesn’t have any cool stuff on it, which you’d sort of expect from the people who own the only clean-water-producing device on earth. Like, works of art or jewels or stuff like that.

Oh, they’ve got lots of slaves too, although they mostly use them for some sort of fight club situation. I don’t know that a lot of slaves is a good idea when you have to provide them with water all the time, and there’s a very small amount of it available.

The plot! Brigitte and her villains are all “hey, villagers (post-apocalypse villagers, you get the idea) – stop making your own water or we’ll kill you”. They don’t, but ask resident badass Mike Erikson for help. He’s played by Mathias Hues (“No Retreat, No Surrender 2“), who looks like a good physical match for Nielsen, but he can’t act worth a damn and isn’t that hot a fighter either. He refuses until an attractive woman, Jennifer (Rochelle Swanson), is attacked, then springs into action. But both of them get taken and turned into slaves on the ship.

I presume if you looked for a retired US Navy ship docked somewhere near Mobile, Alabama in the 1990s, you’d find the place this, and several other Prior efforts, were filmed. While it’s no doubt authentic, it’s not very visually interesting, being the same gunmetal grey everywhere; but as Hues meets some of the other slaves on board and, in between Fight Club sessions organised by the guards, organises a rebellion.

I mentioned miscasting. In the cast list, you might have noticed Darren Shahlavi. He’s entertained us in “Kickboxer: Vengeance”, “The Marine 3”, and “Alone In The Dark” – he’s a superb onscreen martial artist who can act, and never really got the chance at stardom in the West he deserved (he sadly died a few years ago). Here, he plays Rocky, the brother of Jennifer, not introduced til nearly halfway into the movie, and who has a parallel plot before meeting up on the boat for the big final battle. He’s a better actor and fighter than Hues, and it’s not like there’s a great deal of difference in the star power of the two. So…why not make Shahlavi the star? Because, one assumes, that would be fun and entertaining and this is David A Prior.

There’s really not a lot to tell you about “Hostile Environment”. There’s a subplot, but most of it is the miserably leaden Hues wandering about the ship, getting involved with Jennifer and having Minna throw herself at him; Rocky kicks ass and quips; and they really hope you don’t question any of the deeper questions of this society. Like, just how much water all those people (and we see a heck of a lot of people) would need to survive, and why Minna and her people keep so many people alive for no good reason.

I think, if you’re going to make a post-apocalypse movie, think about the concept. Spend a couple of days mulling it over, ask your friends about it, don’t just go “right, there’s no water, only one person can purify it, let’s go”. Perfect planning prevents piss-poor performance, as the old saying goes.

So we leap forward to 2007 next time, and “Lost At War”. I’m sorry in advance, but we’re on the home stretch!

Rating: thumbs down