Relentless Justice (2015)

It’s over! The review series that started over a year ago, when I thought “wouldn’t it be fun to see if all David A Prior’s movies are as entertaining as Deadly Prey?” ends with the rather definitive answer “no” (to both parts of the question), and yet another journey to the woods of rural Alabama.

There’s still “Dancin’: It’s On!”, which Prior co-wrote with producer / director David Winters, who funded him back in the AIP days; but Prior didn’t direct that and I have absolutely no desire to watch a low-budget version of a genre I already had no interest in. We have a short film called “Way of Redemption” and a full-length one called “Assassin’s Fury” both listed as in “post-production” on IMDB – but, as Prior died in 2015 and there was no big money behind him, I’m guessing they’ll never see the light of day.

Anyway, let’s talk “Relentless Justice”. Although, I could just copy and paste my reviews of “Killzone”, or “Deadly Prey”, or “Death Chase”, or indeed his last movie “Deadliest Prey”, as it’s yet another take on perennial bad movie favourite, “The Most Dangerous Game”, where a group of (usually rich) assholes hunts some poor fool for sport. When the plot began to unfurl, I wondered why Prior had bothered making what was largely the same story, minus the gender of the hunted, and then I realised it’s a perfect end to his filmography; in other words, annoying and confusing.

The first thing we see is a woman park right in front of a “no parking” sign, seemingly not deliberately. A young woman is going on a camping trip with her new boyfriend, and the mother is rather paranoid, telling her to be careful, and giving her a code to survive by. It sounds like “ippity”, but it actually means “Identify, predict, decide, execute”. If you’re wondering if this code will prove useful, either to the daughter or mother, at any point in the course of “Relentless Justice”, then be assured it’s just a massive red herring. Or maybe Prior forgot about it. Who knows? The mother, Victoria De Vries, runs an MMA gym, and actually looks good doing it, unlike almost every other female fighter in the history of low-budget cinema.

Victoria is played by Leilani Sarelle, who was also in “Night Claws”, and in this movie she’s doing an Australian accent (we learn later she used to be in the Australian SAS, in a speech that’s known as the “ultimate badass” among we bad movie enthusiasts).

So, the couple go for their camping trip, but are immediately interrupted by the boyfriend getting his throat cut by a group of angry locals, an all-star team of scumbags. We have the Mayor (Vernon “Commando” Wells), the Sheriff (long-time Prior associate David Campbell), a gent by the name of “Boozer” (Art James, another Prior regular) and Matthews (Ted Prior, who seems to enjoy playing a villain, quite a way down the cast list). He’s killed immediately and she’s captured because they want to use her as bait to get to Victoria, who they think would be a better prey for their little hunting game.

Okay, a quick aside. Vernon Wells, as you may remember if you’ve seen “Commando”, is Australian. He makes no attempt to hide his accent here, and Satsuma, Alabama (a real town, and clearly where they filmed most of the exteriors, such as they are) may be the only deep-south town with an Australian mayor. But, as we mentioned a few paragraphs ago, Sarelle is also doing an Australian accent. Now, that seems like the sort of thing that would be mentioned later on, when the two characters meet. Perhaps they know each other? It would be an extra layer, that’s for sure. Want to guess if anything is made of two major characters in this Alabama-set movie being from Australia?

After not hearing from her daughter in like 12 hours, Victoria decides to go for a drive to where she’ll be camping – she’s paranoid enough to have a GPS tracker set up on her daughter’s phone. Now, bear in mind her daughter is an adult and doesn’t have to call, and is going to the wilderness where there’s never cell reception – okay, it turns out her fears are legitimate, but it still seems pretty weird.

So, she comes up against the town’s crooked leaders, but finds a few good people – Deputy Deborah (Sonia Curtis) and the town’s doctor, Traci Lind (Tara Kleinpeter, a Prior regular by this point). Traci’s husband was killed by the hunters soon after their arrival in town, and Traci wants revenge and hopes Victoria can get it. A solid basis for a plot, definitely.

If you’ve cheated and gone and read the cast list for this, you’ll be wondering what’s happening with the biggest name attached to this project – Eric Roberts – and other name actors Mark Rolston (“Aliens”, “The Shawshank Redemption”) and Sherrie Rose (ISCFC classic “Summer Job”). Well, they clearly had Roberts for half a day, so to say he’s crowbarred into the movie and has absolutely no relation to the main plot whatsoever would almost be an understatement. He’s a mafia guy who is told by Rose of a small town in Alabama where he can store all his drugs, or whatever. He comes in for a meeting with the Mayor, and then drives off. That’s it. Rolston is a hired gun, brought in when it becomes apparent that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew with Victoria. One might think it’s a bad idea to introduce a new main character with 15 minutes of your movie to go, but no-one ever told David A Prior that.

Much like “Night Claws”, main characters die in completely meaningless ways, lessening any drama the movie might have. The doctor’s off-screen death and then her post-death contribution to the plot is really top-level bizarre.

“Relentless Justice” is so slow. All the fun stuff – the hunting of Victoria – happens in the last quarter of the movie, which up to then has been somewhat leisurely paced. Some bits of that final chase are fun, but it’s nothing you’ve not seen dozens and dozens of times before, in the filmography of the same man even. A thoroughly unsatisfying end to a largely unsatisfying career.

I’ll be doing a career retrospective of Prior for We Are Movie Geeks (www.wearemoviegeeks.com) to purge myself of him, and then we’ll be moving on to more fun projects, more reviews of the sort of thing we love to entertain both ourselves and (hopefully) you.

Rating: thumbs down

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Deadliest Prey (2013)

In 1991, a fan of the TV show “Doctor Who” decided to launch a direct-to-VHS series called “The Stranger”, starring former Doctor Colin Baker, his former TV sidekick Nicola Bryant, and former Doctor Who villain “Davros” as characters just dissimilar enough from those roles to avoid legal issues. While not as terrible as that could have been, the feel of it being a home movie for the benefit of one man – its maker – was occasionally difficult to shake off.

So it is with 2013’s “The Deadliest Prey”, a sequel to Prior’s most famous movie, “Deadly Prey”. Although the names are the same, and it has a handful of the same people in it, it’s very little more than a fan-made tribute to the first movie, with the money man actually making an appearance as a money man, funding the all-new hunt of Mike Danton.

Colonel Hogan (David Campbell) didn’t die at the end of the last movie, way back in 1987, and has in fact been in prison all that time – he might be the only person to receive an appropriate legal punishment in this entire filmography. He’s picked up on his release from prison by Sophia (Tara Kleinpeter, who was in all of Prior’s last three movies), who clearly has a thing for old angry men, and she’s already set up a new military base so he can exact his revenge.

Mike Danton (Ted Prior) is living a nice quiet suburban life with his new wife Alison (Cat Tomeny) and son Michael (Ted’s actual son, also Michael), but he’s caught, in the exact same was as he was in part 1, while taking out the garbage. So he’s captured, taken out to the woods – yes, once again we’re getting treated to a lesson on the flora and fauna of the areas immediately surrounding Mobile, Alabama – and sent out (in his pyjamas) to run away from a large group of men with guns.

Oh, and there are three “nerds” who I presume are Kickstarter backers – one of whom is wearing an “Everything Is Terrible” shirt, so he may belong to that group – for this movie, as none of them are actors, sat around a table playing a game and bemoaning the lack of realism in modern gaming. The woman says “true that” to a point where she’s clearly trying to launch a career at fan conventions as the “true that lady”. They decide to help Danton later, but their subplot is so awful and amateurish I can’t be bothered to talk about it.

Let’s talk Bad Guy Economics!

I wondered, for a while, how Hogan was funding this, how he found people willing to die in order to hunt and kill one guy in the woods. In the first movie, he had a job, and that job was training soldiers by having them hunt the most dangerous game. Simple, and effective. But now he’s hiring people, and these people all have to agree to track another human through the woods and kill them, not because he’s a bad person or anything, but because Hogan wants him dead. Plus, not a single one of these people can go to the cops and say “do you know what this lunatic is planning out in the woods?”

Turns out his entire enterprise is being funded by a couple of rich douchebags, who want to turn it into an online TV show. Let’s discuss this. First up, every ISP in the Western world would block any and all links to a stream of murderers trying to commit murder, and anyone who tried to pay to watch it would be arrested. It’s not like you can fund Isis via PayPal! Also, anyone can watch it at any time (it’s on in bars, and the three nerds find it almost immediately) so, how are these guys making their money?

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. Danton starts slaughtering Hogan’s men immediately – I counted 15 deaths in the first 20 minutes – and continues killing at the same grim pace throughout. At no point does he check one of the soldiers for a mobile phone or a radio he can try and get help with; he seems happy to be trapped in a forest with apparently hundreds of men trying to murder him with guns which they all decide not to use when they come into sight of our hero. Danton really kills a lot of people, and shows zero remorse, even when one of the guys begs for his life after saying he only took the job because he needed the money. As this is all on camera, he’s going to have a rough time explaining it to the authorities, one would think. Oh wait, they don’t exist! Not a single cop is seen doing what it takes the nerds ten seconds to – track down where the broadcast is coming from and go there.

Fritz Matthews, who was killed in part 1, returns in part 2 as his own brother, wanting revenge on Danton – the years haven’t been too kind to him, but he does his job as well as could be expected. I was hoping for a brief appearance from Doug “Pappy” Harter, who I know wasn’t even in part 1, but it looks like he’s retired. Or died, and no-one told IMDB. Hope you’re okay Doug, if you’re reading this!

Having now watched all but one of the officially released David A Prior movies, I’m really not sure why “Deadly Prey” is so beloved by bad movie aficionados. It’s okay, for sure, but isn’t much more than a bog-standard “The Most Dangerous Game” re-telling with a sprinkle of “Rambo”. “Killzone”, “Death Chase” and “Night Wars” are all either weirder-plotted or more entertaining (or both) and “The Final Sanction” has the campy entertainment in spades, too.

According to the limited information online, this was filmed at least partly because they had a few days extra either before or after filming “Relentless Justice”, which will be the end of this long strange trip. It shows, too. If you really liked the original, then I guess watch this for whatever closure you assume it may bring to you. If not, then seriously avoid it and just remember Prior for when his bad movies were at least fun.

Rating: thumbs down

Night Claws (2012)

I present to you what might be the ultimate ISCFC movie, a culmination of so many different review threads and interests that we’ve shown in our 6 years of operation (don’t worry, we’re carrying on. As long as there are weird B-movies, we’ll be here). So here goes:

Reb Brown! He was in two Bruno Mattei / Claudio Fragasso movies (“Robowar” and “Strike Commando”), an Albert Pyun movie (“The Sword And The Sorceror”), a cheap superhero movie (“Captain America”), an MST3K episode (“Space Mutiny”), and the not very great “Yor, The Hunter From The Future”.

Sherrie Rose! She’s been in teen raunch (“Lauderdale” and all-time classic “Summer Job”), martial arts movies (“No Retreat, No Surrender” parts 3 and 4), an old David A Prior movie (1992’s “Double Threat”) and a bunch of genre gems that I watched before I started working for this site and never got round to re-covering – “Tales From The Crypt: Demon Knight” and the Cynthia Rothrock classic “Martial Law 2: Undercover”, to name but two.

Leilani Sarelle! After being very good in “Basic Instinct” (she was Sharon Stone’s girlfriend) she was not very good in Italian 80s horror “Neon Maniacs”.

Frank Stallone! The all-important “relative of someone much more famous” quotient of ISCFC reviews (see: Joe Estevez, Chris Mitchum, many others), he’s also been in “The Roller Blade Seven”, in the conversation for all-time worst ISCFC movie.

The “we can’t close the local festival even though there’s loads of deaths or we’ll ruin the economy” plot!

Sasquatch movie!

David A Prior! The director who’s filled our review schedule for the last six months or so.

All we’re missing is a link to Donald Farmer, Charles Band, and Len Kabasinski, and this would be at the centre of some FBI agent’s board, with bits of string going to all these other photos and genres (when they were trying to work out why I went crazy and committed those heinous acts, obviously).

Anyway, I suppose I’d better get on with it. Several different groups of people descend on the woods outside of Mobile, Alabama (which we’ve come to know and love as the budgets of Prior movies have gone down the toilet) – first up, is two couples and a guide, who’ve gone for a three-day wilderness adventure, learning to live off the land. Of interest to us is Ted Prior as Charlie and his trophy wife Cindy (Alissa Koenig, who was also in “Zombie Wars” and apparently retired from the acting game after this movie). Anyway, Charlie is, for absolutely no reason we’re ever given, a tightly wound ball of rage, threatening to murder the husband of the other couple after knowing him for about 30 seconds and nothing but wildly hostile to everyone he meets. I can’t help but think he told his brother that’s how he was going to play the character and David never bothered writing any explanation into the script.

Group two is led by Colonel Hunter Crawford, played by returning David A Prior villain David Campbell. Now, Campbell’s character has the same name and rank as his character from 1985’s “Killzone”, but whether this is a pointless Easter egg for us Prior obsessives or he just forgot is a question that we may never get answered. They’re huntin’ something!

Group three is the cops, led by Reb Brown and Sherrie Rose, who are just starting on a relationship, it would seem. I’m not sure even Alabama cops allow their deputies to wear their shirt as low-buttoned and cleavage-revealing as Sherrie Rose, but never mind. They’re accompanied by group four, which is Sarah (Sarelle), a scientist from a local-ish college, and her assistant.

All of a sudden, Bigfoot has awoken and started killing people, and that’s all the explanation we get. There’s a subplot about the real reason one of the characters is there which may or may not tie into “Killzone” (I mercifully remember almost nothing about it), but that’s about your lot.

“Night Claws” features some of the all-time worst “day for night” shots ever – when it’s very obviously daytime but the film is either underexposed or darkened in post-production to make it appear like it’s night. They even film a fire, which looks every bit as murky as the background around it, which is just lazy.

We’re also treated to a stealthy sasquatch, as the 8-foot tall, huge, hairy beast is able to get the drop on our human characters over and over again. I don’t care how naturally agile you are, if you’re that big, someone would hear you coming. And then there’s a few twists at the end which just leave you annoyed. Also high on the annoyance scale is how major characters are just killed off seemingly at random, as if the people who’d made this had no idea how drama works.

I’m genuinely delighted we’re getting to the end of this series now, dear reader. This might as well be a SyFy Channel original movie, just one with an older cast who’s slightly better at acting; I’m just annoyed now. I think I’ve found the person to blame, and that’s Fabio Soldani. He appears to be a rich kid who wanted to be a producer so threw some money at David A Prior – he also has story credits on these later movies, so I guess he went “hey David, I want you to do a sasquatch thing”. He even appears as a money man in the next Prior movie, so I may be on to something.

Anyway. Avoid, obviously.

Rating: thumbs down

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

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

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