Felony (1994)

Dear reader, I hope you’re still with me on this final leg of the movies of David A Prior. We’ve only got a few more to go before his ten-year hiatus, and hopefully some of the ones from the end of his career never got official releases so we won’t have to bother reviewing them.

Now, I don’t want to get you too excited, but this might be a genuinely good movie! It’s got a strange premise, actors playing completely against type, lots of scenes of such oddity that they must have been played for laughs, and fun banter between cast members. I know, right? After a miserable last effort, Prior came out all guns blazing here, spent his money wisely, and came out with a winner.

We start off with a “Cops” style reality TV show, where a couple of cameramen are following round a group of cops (and some DEA agents) as they’re about to bust a huge cocaine deal. The cop is worried about the monologue he just performed, and wants a take two, which is a nice touch, but the camera guys are pros and tell him he was great. Bill Knight is the chief camera guy, and he’s played by the great Jeffrey Combs (“Dr Mordrid”, “Abominable”, “From Beyond”, “Lurking Fear”, “Fortress”), who seems to be relishing the opportunity to play a dashing romantic hero.

Anyway, the cops run through the house and find absolutely nothing, but while they’re all stood in the lounge pondering what to do next, they’re set upon by a legion of armed guards (who they completely missed in their apparently not-so-thorough raid of the house) and slaughtered. The only survivors are the two cameramen, who of course caught everything on tape, including main villain Cooper (the great David Warner, “Beastmaster 3”, “Final Equinox”, “Cast A Deadly Spell”). Bill has to go to hospital, so he asks his friend to make sure the video tape is snuck out of the crime scene.

I mentioned casting against type, and we’ve got a couple of beauties coming up. Playing the two cops, whose contribution to the movie is pretty much zero, are Charles Napier and Leo Rossi, both of whom you could consider as part of Prior’s company of players by this point, both of whom far better suited for gruff villainous roles than wise-cracking cops. Also, Napier (who got his start in Russ Meyer movies, I discover) would have been 60 years old when this movie was made, far too old to be a normal beat cop.

When Bill is in hospital, he meets nurse Laura (Ashley Laurence, “Hellraiser”), and despite him being in a rather stressful time of his life, hits on her. Men are scum! I was hoping for a shootout in the hospital, as it looked like we were building for one, but they sensibly decided that “Hard Boiled” was the final word in health-care-facility-based mayhem and didn’t do it.

There are even more characters we’ve not talked about yet! Joe Don Baker, smirking like he can’t quite believe he’s getting paid for this, is a stereotypical Texan who’s also a Fed (working for the Office of Internal…something that starts with an M, I don’t remember), and he wants that tape, almost as much as Cooper’s boss, CIA deputy director Taft (Lance Henriksen, “Hard Target”, “Hellraiser: Hellworld”, also some actually good movies). People double-cross people, get chased through city streets by assassins openly brandishing shotguns, you know, the typical. Oh, and Taft has former Miss Olympia Cory Everson (“Double Impact”) as his arm candy, and I get the feeling she had a larger role that was left on the cutting room floor a little.

Let’s discuss one of the plans of the villains, to get to the other cameraman. He offers to sell the tape to Taft, and gets the cash, but Taft goes to shoot him (you know, like all high-level CIA officials, just murdering American citizens on American soil in broad daylight) and the guy gets away, while being chased by a bunch of assassins, firing indiscriminately into crowds of people. Anyway, he gets away and Taft goes “time for plan B”. So, the camera guy gets back to his apartment, and is unlocking the door when he’s approached by a beggar. He gives the guy some cash, only to get shot four times, nice and quietly, and the beggar to get Taft’s envelope back and slip away. Now, for me, plan B seems a lot more sensible than plan A, and I’d have probably stuck with that one!

The next scene, a little over halfway into the movie, is the biggest indication so far that Prior is having fun with making a movie as deliberately over the top as possible. The camera guy survives being shot four times, but doesn’t go to the hospital or call anyone – he makes it all the way to Bill’s house, way out in the suburbs, and slumps against his front window, getting blood everywhere, before dying in Bill’s arms. Come on! But I guess we’re supposed to believe this is a world where cops are super-bothered about the location of a tape but not remotely interested in the dozens of heavily armed assassins patrolling their streets, so never mind.

If you can wade through the mountains of product placement (Bud Light is favoured), the horrible-looking 90s fake boobs in the strip club scene, and get over the fact that no-one seems to mind that the deputy director of the CIA dresses like a Miami pimp, or watching Jeffrey Combs kick a bunch of ass, then there’s a heck of a lot to enjoy here. Like, a weirdly large amount.

There was a key for me, and it was when there was a three-way car chase. Car 1 is being shot at by car 2, but then car 3 gets involved and poor old Cooper is having to fire both ways to keep alive. This scene is so ridiculous that it has to be played for laughs, a director amping up the tropes of action cinema to see how silly he can make it without it looking too ridiculous. When you see and understand that, the rest of it, including the last half-hour which ratchets up the “wait, that character is a spy too? He got shot that many times and is still alive?” to insane levels, fits into place.

Yes, my friends, David A Prior has come up with an honest-to-goodness gem of 90s action-comedy cinema, and it only took him 30 tries to nail it. He hides it in a movie with a generic title, with its best actors nowhere near the front cover of the VHS tape, with a moderately slow first half-hour more than made up for by its insanely paced second half.

Rating: thumbs up

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Mutant Species (1994)

There’s a thing in low-budget cinema, where producers will make the first five minutes of a movie as a sort of sizzle-reel, to entice distributors and secure funding for the rest of the production. This is fine, and normal. But there’s also the sort of people Mel Brooks introduced us to in “The Producers”, who make the first five minutes, get distributor funding, then go very cheap on the actual movie and pocket all that sweet cash.

I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you which side of things David A Prior was on, but I’ll take you through a few key scenes in the early running of “Mutant Species” and you can make up your own mind. The Army has some chemical that’s so dangerous they’re launching it in an unmanned cargo rocket into spac; of course, it crashes in the wilderness somewhere, and a group of soldiers are sent out to find it and burn the area so it’s as safe as possible.

The army guys are led by Hollinger (Leo Rossi, who’s a very busy actor still) and the two main underlings are Trotter (Ted Prior) and Jones (Jack Forcinito, making a return to the Prior-verse). Of course, Hollinger has been given alternate instructions by his superiors, and we see a small amount of liquid from the vial crawl into his body before he and his team burn the area. Hollinger slaughters his team with tears in his eyes, but Trotter and Jones escape.

To this point, it’s been superb. A little derivative, maybe, but tight, well-written, with an excellent central group of actors with good chemistry. But most of the rest of the movie feels like a throwback to the old David A Prior, with its being mostly set in the woods, and there’s even a military base which is just some tents. The mutant of the title becomes more mutated and less human; the two remaining soldiers become more desperate; the top military brass reveal all their evil secrets; you know, the same way dozens of cheap “Predator” ripoffs have done it. The monster, when we see him much later on, is a bit laughably cheap too, with silly wobbly arms that are way too low and a dog’s face.

But there’s good stuff too. Denise Crosby, who we’ve met at either end of her career (1986’s “Eliminators” and 2013’s “Invasion Roswell”), is the nice local lady who gets drawn into events, having rather implausibly decided to live off the grid; and Wilford Brimley (“Hard Target”) is the Army general who wears a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses throughout his time on screen. And, for those of us who are deep in this life, there’s a tiny appearance from our favourite member of the Prior-verse, Doug “Pappy” Harter, as a truck driver.

It’s a bit slow, is the last two-thirds. You’ve seen it before, over and over again. So many times. It’s times like this I wish I hadn’t insulted Ted Prior on Facebook so I’d stand a chance of getting an interview with him about why this throwback was where it was in his filmography.

We’re on the final lap of this experiment, that almost killed the ISCFC. I think there’s 10 Prior movies left, and after this I promise we’ll do something funner. I’ve long since forgotten why I thought this would be a good idea. Do you need anything more about “Mutant Species”?

Rating: thumbs down

Raw Justice (1994)

There are many metrics you can use to decide on whether a movie is good or not. Star power, number of jokes, budget – but my household uses a simpler one. A movie is usually going to be good when my wife asks me to pause it when she leaves the room to get herself a drink; to date, this is the first David A Prior effort to get this treatment!

I’m pretty sure this is Prior’s best movie so far. I mean, I enjoyed “Deadly Prey” but it’s a bizarre First Blood ripoff with a spectacularly bleak ending; this has a whisper of “Midnight Run” in it but is kind-of its own thing, has a decent cast, a few actual jokes, all that sort of thing. No-one’s going to mistake it for a classic, but, you know, I could have even tolerated a sequel.

Plus, Pamela Anderson is in it, and you kind of remember why she was so beloved back in the mid 90s. She had talent as well as looks, and was able to do comedy as well as act fairly well – perhaps if she’d had a better agent who’d gotten her away from Baywatch and onto her own decent starring vehicles earlier? Anyway, I’m guessing this was filmed before its 1994 release date because she disrobes at the drop of a hat, and there’s no way David A Prior could have afforded whatever 1994-level superstar Anderson was charging to get naked. But more on that later.

There are two heroes to this story – one is bounty hunter Mace (David Keith, “Major League 2”, “Epoch”, “Path of Destruction”), who comes into contact with Pam when he borrows her clothes, boots and wig in order to trick a criminal who’s waiting for a prostitute (for that is her profession); and the other is Mitch (Robert “Airplane” Hays), a sad sack – given almost no character background at all – who goes on a date with the Mayor’s daughter, it’s a bit boring, he drops her off and then she gets murdered a few minutes later.

As I’ll try and avoid spoilers, I’ll just give you the actors playing the Mayor and Deputy Mayor – Charles Napier, who’s appeared in other Prior movies, and Stacy Keach, doing a bizarre camp Southern accent. As I’ve said before, this is definitely the era when Prior had $$$ to hire casts that looked good on VHS covers, and he had a great cast here.

Mace is hired in his alcoholic stupor by the Mayor to keep an eye on Mitch, who’s been arrested for the murder of his daughter but released on bail. Mace is the daughter’s former boyfriend, and the Mayor knows he’s basically a good guy underneath the gruff exterior and alcohol at 8am vibe. We know Mitch didn’t do it, and luckily Mace is convinced of his innocence quite quickly and we just get to the two of them in all manner of odd-couple style shenanigans trying to track down the real killers. Sarah (Ms Anderson) encounters them on the street and after briefly helping Mace, is on the killers’ list too.

Okay, this bloke getting killed with a giant dart was unexpected

Okay, so a little word about the, er, “erotic” scenes now. Being chased by the goons, Mace and Sarah are hiding out briefly in a warehouse. Because, I mean, he’s got Pamela Anderson next to him, Mace is not concentrating on staying alive, and I guess neither is she, because they’re right at it. It became a running joke that both main actors agreed to work for free if they got to maul their beautiful co-star; the first scene is weird and un-erotic and apparently Anderson didn’t enjoy it either, bad-mouthing the movie in interviews. The scene later where Mitch and Sarah go for it (because she falls in love with him, gently giving Mace the brush-off) seems a bit better, but all the time you’re thinking “that’s Ted Striker from Airplane. Why is Ted Striker kissing Pamela Anderson’s boobs?”

I’m sorry, dear reader. I don’t feel comfortable writing about this sort of thing. I’ve never much cared for nudity for its own sake in these sorts of movies, and literally no-one needs to know the things that I find, er, “visually appealing”. So let’s get on with it.

Although I’ve already been very complimentary towards “Raw Justice”, you know there’s some Prior weirdness to be had, and I want to break down an early scene. Mitch is coming back to his home after being bailed out, and notices a weird smell. He looks inside his fridge to see a suicide note, realises everything’s about to blow and gets out just in time. So, I have a few questions.

1. Did the killers expect the note to survive the inferno?

2. What if the explosion had happened while he was on the phone to someone?

3. What if the explosion had happened before he got home, and the police had found the suicide note?

It is funny to see how Mitch lives like garbage, with his filthy appliances and cracked paint, though (although that’s probably someone’s house that agreed to let them film there for half a day – sorry, home owner).

While it’s fun, and there’s actual chemistry between the two male leads (not so much Pam, but she’s a beautiful young woman and they’re both lumpy middle-aged guys), a lot of the movie amounts to a bunch of fight scenes and rather poorly staged chases. One more example – that bit at the beginning where Mace dresses up as a prostitute? It doesn’t allow him to get the jump on the criminal, and the boots slow him down during the inevitable wacky chase. Why not just boot the door in and hold the gun on him?

Anyway, you know who the bad guys are, so it’s just a matter of how they’re taken down. Prior once again films everything like the cheap TV movie it was clearly intended to be, but at least he films everything clearly and lights it properly, which is far from a given in the low-budget world we inhabit here at the ISCFC.

Through good fortune and writing himself a decent script, Prior has stumbled onto his first real winner. Actually…recommended?

Rating: thumbs up

Double Threat (1992)

I had a whole thing planned for the beginning of this review based on a line from the “official” IMDB synopsis. It reads in part: “The plot becomes difficult to follow as it changes between real life and the movie they are making.” I was expecting some bonkers David A Prior film-within-a-film nonsense, like 1990’s “Invasion Force”.

But it turns out that doesn’t happen, and IMDB are lying to us. There’s a grand total of two scenes from the movie they’re working on, and it’s totally obvious that’s what it is (because the characters have different names, for one). So let’s journey through this “erotic thriller” together and see if he’s figured out how to make one by now, eh?

Anyway. Sally Kirkland, Oscar-nominated (“Anna”, 1987) and way too classy for this, is Monica Martel, an ageing movie star who’s attempting a comeback after 20 years away. We’re never informed what caused her hiatus, but she’s back, and starring in an erotic thriller alongside her much younger boyfriend Eric Cline (Andrew Stevens, “Mongolian Death Worm”...and “Dallas”, “Massacre At Central High” and tons of other things – best known now as a producer, though). When the director shows the producer what he’s got, the producer (Tony Franciosa, who was in “Tenebrae” and tons of other great things, and was also nominated for an Oscar, in 1958’s “A Hatful Of Rain”) likes it, but says there needs to be more flesh. I mean, he’s not wrong, as no-one watches this nonsense for the plot.

So they hire a body double, Lisa. She’s played by Sherrie Rose, who we first met in the extraordinary “Summer Job”, and is now something of an ISCFC regular, appearing in “Lauderdale”, “No Retreat, No Surrender 3”, and “No Retreat, No Surrender 4” (as a different character).

While Monica does not want to take her clothes off for the movie she’s making, Sally Kirkland has no such issues, and we’re treated to a scene of her masturbating to a video of Eric lifting weights, and a few topless segments later on. Anyway, she’s furious about the body double but there’s nothing she can do, so after the necessary introductions we get a love scene between Eric and Lisa which is, I have say, not how I’d film a sex scene involving a body double. I’d probably do it by filming Monica’s face in close-up looking all excited, then filming a variety of shots of the naked Lisa, but making sure her face wasn’t in shot or was obscured. They just straight-up film the scene with Lisa instead of Monica here. Regular ISCFC readers may remember Prior’s “Deadly Dancer”, which features one of the craziest uses of a body double in history, and maybe he got mocked for it so much that he decided to make it a plot point in a future movie?

There’s also a cop lurking round proceedings, played by Richard Lynch (“Invasion Force”, “Scanner Cop”, “Terminal Virus”, “Cyborg 3”, “Puppet Master 3”), who suspects Eric of some unspecified but serious crime; and the producer is immediately established as a nice guy, which is a really weird choice. He’s Lisa’s Dad and the ex-husband of Monica, which I’m ashamed to say I completely missed the first time I watched it – yes, reader, I’m thorough.

Right, I’d best get on with it, if you wanted a vague recap of the movie you could just head to IMDB. Eric is a dog from minute 1 and tries to get with Lisa, Monica suspects and Eric barely tries to pretend he’s not going to have sex with her the first chance he gets. There’s a PI sniffing round, paid by person or persons unknown, a one-scene appearance by Ted Prior as a hoodlum, and another nice hefty clue in the shape of a missing gun which is full of blanks.

Aside: Again, I’m not a director, but the movie-within-a-movie scene where Monica tries to shoot Eric but there’s no bullets is ended by the director saying they’ll have to shoot the entire thing again. Er, why? It cuts to Monica right before she pulls the trigger, why not just shoot that bit again? David A Prior, you’d been making movies for over a decade by this point, you must have been aware of that, right?

The plot lurches all over the place in the last half-hour, as people try to kill other people, and people react weirdly to being told they’re being cheated on, and there’s an extremely risky strategy to expose the real villain. You know, one of those house-of-cards plans that just needs one thing to happen in a slightly different way to bring everything crashing down. But I’ll try and avoid spoilers, even though…are you going to spend all the effort I did to track down a VHS copy of this movie and watch it? Probably not, honestly. Just ask yourself – these people appear to have known each other for some time. Would there not have been family photos lying round? Or parties that family members were invited to?

I’ll say no more. Prior shoots this like every other bland TV movie, flat lighting, scene transitions like in TV, and were it not for Kirkland going all out to make it better than it deserved to be, it would totally appear to be every late-night Cinemax soft-core erotic thriller you’d ever seen (not that I’m implying you’ve seen a lot of them, dear reader, that’s just me). There’s just a little bit too much of that thing where the movie deliberately misleads you, rather than writing a clever script, and characters when there’s no one around to fool, acting like they don’t know each other when they very much do. Still, it’s nice to see a change from Prior.

It’s also nice to see a professional cast. While I don’t love Andrew Stephens, he’s a fine leading man; Kirkland is superb; Lynch is great too; the supporting cast are all okay; and Sherrie Rose deserved a much better career than these bottom-of-the-barrel movies we love so much here at the ISCFC. The budget remains high, though, with a car getting wrecked for no reason, and actual sets to accompany the real actors he’d hired.

Next up is a movie starring David Keith, Robert Hays, Stacy Keach, Charles Napier, and…Pamela Anderson? I presume it was filmed some time before its 1994 release date, as she was among the most famous women in the world by that time, two seasons into “Baywatch”, appearing on “Home Improvement” and getting her own starring vehicles.

Rating: thumbs down

Night Trap (1993)

David A Prior was, by 1993, firmly in his new mindset of producing competent straight-to-video work to fill those Blockbuster shelves. The man we grew to…love?…with his bonkers Vietnam vet stories, is now like any one of a hundred hacks. So I’m sorry, dear reader, that these reviews will be somewhat less in-depth than you’re used to, mostly because there’s just not that much to write about.

What we have here is a rare starring role for Robert Davi, who’d clearly signed a two-movie deal with AIP, after his supporting role in “Center of the Web”. He’s Mike Turner, your standard-issue tortured cop, and he is, for reasons never adequately explained, part of a stakeout watching a hot naked woman pretend she’s having sex while being in bed on her own, as Bishop (the great Michael Ironside) watches from the other side of the room – he’s in the same room as her, not the same room as Turner.

Bishop throws the poor girl out of the window and then, as the cops chase him through the building, kills Turner’s partner before apparently falling to his death after being shot multiple times. No muss, no fuss, until Bishop’s body can’t be found and he starts calling Turner, telling him he has three days to redeem himself, to kill him or be killed himself.

Rounding out this top-level B-movie cast is Leslie Ann Down as Turner’s ex-wife Christine and John Amos as the surprisingly level-headed police captain, who obviously doesn’t believe in the supernatural shenanigans; there’s also a decent supporting turn from ISCFC alum Lydie Denier (“Project Viper”, “SharkMan”) as the dead girl’s roommate / Turner’s new love interest. And if you’re really into deep cuts, Jack Forcinito, who many years later would star in “Silent Night, Zombie Night”, shows up here in a very early role as a sarcastic cop who gets punched out by Turner when he goes too far.

The setting (New Orleans) and the subject matter (people being killed, demonic unease) is clearly meant to bring to mind “Angel Heart”, one of the greatest films of the 1980s. Sadly, they didn’t have quite the same level of source material to draw from – Alan Parker’s script, from the novel by William Hjortsberg, for one, and David A Prior directing his own script for the other – and while they make an effort to bring some atmosphere to proceedings, it never quite lands.

So, Bishop keeps killing women and, thanks to the magical black person trope, we learn about his backstory. He was the force of nature who killed women back in Salem until the church took over, then just carried on killing women down the centuries anyway. Turner keeps chasing Bishop, and there’s a very oddly done fight scene atop a moving train, which feels like it was crowbarred in because they had the train set left over from “Center of the Web” and decided to re-use it.

Even in a cheap little movie like this, there’s attempts made at artistry, such as the scene which juxtaposes the two men having sex – well, Bishop ties a woman up who thinks she’s going to have sex, then kills her; Turner indeed has sex with his beautiful new French-Canadian girlfriend. It’s quite well done, but it ends up inadvertently leading to one of the weirdest things I’ve ever seen, in this or any other movie.

Turner keeps his shirt on during sex, and also never moves. She’s there, naked and gyrating and doing everything a B-movie woman is supposed to do, but during the first half of proceedings, he’s entirely fully clothed, and when they move to the end-game, you can only see his top half and he’s still got his black t-shirt on. What the hell? I’m not saying anyone bought “Night Trap” to see Robert Davi’s bare chest, but it looks so ridiculous I can’t believe they approved it. Does he have a huge Nazi tattoo? Too many weird scars? Or did he just turn up to the set and refuse to take his shirt off, and they couldn’t do what they did in “Deadly Dancer” and replace him with a body double because it was short notice? I have absolutely no idea, but it’s one of the stupidest things I can remember and if Davi just refused to do it, then shame on him.

I could never quite figure out why Bishop was so obsessed with Turner, despite there being other people in the movie he met long in the past and allowed to live (no spoilers!) There’s also no evidence that the plot as described on the VHS box is the same as the one we actually see – I mean, it may be a soul-selling thing, but no-one says that and Bishop never really hints at it. He’s just a guy who’s been around killing people for hundreds of years.

The pacing is strange, too, as it gets going, then has five minutes of Turner sat around not doing much of anything, with people not believing him til way too near the end – it’s a little over 90 minutes but could have been ten minutes shorter and no-one would have been upset (apart from the actors left on the cutting room floor, I guess). If you’re generous, you could say that “Batman Begins” rips off a central part of the plot from “Night Trap”, but it doesn’t make it any better.

It could have been good, but it really only aimed for average, and it landed that perfectly.

Rating: thumbs down

PS I also just discovered there was a computer game called “Night Trap” from 1992, which was a very early example of a sort of interactive movie. I wouldn’t normally mention it but it “starred” ISCFC alum and cautionary tale in human form Dana Plato, and was so infamous that it drove all searches for the Prior movie off the first few pages of Google. Here’s a gif:

Center of the Web (1992)

As we progress further into the 1990s with David A Prior, we happen upon what might be called, if you squint and are extremely generous, his attempt at a homage to Alfred Hitchcock. There are double and triple crosses, innocent people being mistaken for assassins and drawn into plots, romance, murder and a variety of colourful locations. Okay, there’s nothing quite like Mount Rushmore, but they try!

Our “hero” is John Philips (Ted Prior), an acting coach who has a bit of a weird introduction as he’s asking a couple of his students to act out a love scene on stage. He gives a bit of instruction to his class about rolling with the punches, like if you’re acting and something goes wrong, you’ve got to improvise. Fine advice, and not at all foreshadowing. He’s dating a lawyer, Kathryn (Charlene Tilton), and while he’s waiting outside a building for her to get her purse, he’s bundled into a car by a bad-looking fellow, Tony (William Zipp, making a return to the Prior-verse), and instructed to kill some Governor, or something. But before he’s had the chance to say much more than “no idea what you’re talking about, mate”, some other car is chasing their car and peppering them with bullets.

From this misunderstanding (or is it?), a web begins to trap John, with every turn being a bad one for him, getting more and more entangled in the world of the Department of Justice, hitmen, the CIA (I think), and, er, Tony Curtis. The DOJ want him to continue playing the part of the hitman to infiltrate the bad guys, the bad guys want him to kill people, you know the drill.

Tony Curtis. We’ve encountered him before (“Bounty Hunters 2”), at the back end of a glorious career, owing an alimony payment and therefore doing a quick few days’ work on whatever garbage movie wanted his name on their poster. Here, he’s the friend of Kathryn’s dead father who promised to look after her, but as you don’t have Curtis in your movie for such a nothing role, and they make zero effort to hide that it’s him, it’s no surprise when he’s revealed as some sort of kingpin – although to confuse us, they don’t tell us why he’s doing what he’s doing or what he hopes to gain from it.

As I mentioned in my review of “Raw Nerve”, this second stage of Prior’s career featured bigger names and budgets. We get Robert Davi (“Maniac Cop 2”) in a great role, and (for some reason top billed) Charles Napier as a guy who turns up in one scene just to get shot. There’s some fun stunts, too, like the school bus chase scene, and the one where Ted has to climb over a speeding truck, but during the end credits they – for some reason – play it at normal speed and it looks embarrassing.

I also mentioned that things became somewhat duller. With that pivot towards more mainstream thriller fare, and the smoothing of the rough edges that made Prior’s earlier movies so memorable, there’s a definite loss somewhere. Perhaps when you’re aiming for Hitchcock rather than some cheesy war movie, your failures become more apparent – or the reverse, you’re aware of just how skillful Hitchcock was at generating plot and suspense.

So, another movie that’s bad because it’s not as bad as what came before, if you catch my drift. The sheer volume of twists and double-crosses and reveals becomes wearying after a while, too – it would be more of a twist if they just told a straight story once in a while.

Rating: thumbs down

Raw Nerve (1991)

Welcome, dear reader, to phase 2 of the filmmaking career of David A Prior. We made it through 1989 and 1990, where he had a hand (writing, directing, or both) in a staggering 11 movies; cast his old friends, such as William Zipp, Fritz Matthews, and Douglas Harter; often used “traumatised war veteran” as a central plot point; and heavily filmed in the woods outside his beloved Mobile, Alabama.

Phase 2 appears to last all the way to his “retirement” in 1997 (he made a handful of movies starting in 2007, though). He made fewer movies a year – two, on average; used actors you might have actually heard of; and the budgets, if this is any indication, went way up. Actual sets, inside buildings!

I got worried at the beginning, as I thought this was going to be set in a funfair, and as we all know, all movies set at funfairs suck (exception – “Carnival Of Souls”). But it’s just the spot of the first murder, where a couple of twins wearing red high-heels go into the hall of mirrors and are offed by a mysterious figure. One is strangled, the other, more importantly to the plot, is shot in the face.

Our star today is a welcome return for Ted Prior, who I wanted to interview about his brother’s movies but I looked on his Facebook page and saw tons of Donald Trump propaganda so I just insulted his dumb views instead and moved on. Anyway, he is, according to the VHS box, Jimmy Clayton, a race-car driver who is bringing up his sister Gina (Traci Lords) after the deaths of their parents some years previously. Jimmy has to go and earn a crust from driving a race-car, in a show that starts at 10:30am (?), so he’s off to pick up his mechanic / best friend, Blake Garrett (the great Randall “Tex” Cobb).

During the race, he starts having psychic visions of the murder that happened the previous night. Now, my first thought was “he could have just heard about it on the news that morning, it’s not that psychic” but he goes to the fun-fair, sees a newspaper and realises he has visions of what went on. Being a good citizen, he goes to the police to offer his help, and so we meet the other half of the cast.

The captain is Gavin (Glenn Ford, aka Pa Kent from the 1978 “Superman”, and a million other roles in a busy career- this, sadly, was his last before he retired) and his lieutenant is Bruce (Jan Michael Vincent). We met Vincent before, in 1990’s “Xtro 2”, where he was so indifferent to the filming process that he had to have every line fed to him from just off screen, before he said it. His alcoholism, which stopped his film career in 2002, had already seized control of him, although he could still just about operate. The final piece of this puzzle is Gloria (Sandahl Bergman, “Hell Comes To Frogtown”) as a reporter who’s also Bruce’s ex-wife. She sees Jimmy claim he’s a psychic and decides there’s a story there.

So, we discover the dark story behind the deaths of the parents, the fact the killer has a thing about women wearing red high heels, and the fact the entire female cast seem obsessed with taunting the killer by wearing red high heels at every opportunity. Blake finds a high heel in the back of…Jimmy’s car?…and we can’t tell if he’s remembering murdering someone or worried about the killer leaving evidence on his car. This deliberate and crude withholding of information is, while stupid, at least an attempt to make an interesting thriller, I guess.

There’s some good dialogue, too. My favourite is this exchange between Gavin and Bruce.

Bruce (given work he doesn’t want): I shoulda been a dentist.

Gavin: I should have been a florist. (PAUSE) I like flowers!

It’s all in the delivery, and when you’ve got an actor of Glenn Ford’s calibre, you can have these moments.

Everything completely falls to pieces in the last fifteen minutes, with characters behaving in bizarre ways just to keep the movie going, and I can’t tell if it’s just my having seen twenty Prior movies in the last few months, but the twist was painfully obvious. Still, the final effect, where a truck flies off the top of a multi-storey parking lot, looked completely real and therefore quite expensive. Not a bad effort!

While I admire how Prior is prepared to go dark, and put his central characters in situations that more mainstream directors wouldn’t, it’s still a bit confusing and boring. Like, why make Prior’s character a race-car driver if you’re not going to have some sort of use of his skills towards the end of the movie? Just little things like that begin to wear on you after a while. So, it’s definitely a step up from phase 1, perhaps the reason phase 1 was so often enjoyable was because they were cheap, and a bit shoddy. This feels too average.

Rating: thumbs down

Deadly Dancer (1991)

I can already imagine your response.

“Hey, Mark,” you say. “I know you’re trying to watch all the David A Prior movies, but his only credit in this is story. He didn’t write or direct it, or even produce it. What gives? Are you feeling okay?”

I understand, and my voice will become calming as I say it’s another AIP movie, directed by Kimberley Casey (who also directed “Born Killer”), and Ted Prior has a “casting” credit, which at least keeps it in the family a little. Then I’ll try and help you explain that the completist’s curse is on me, and we’re over the halfway point so let’s just get through the rest of it together.

“Okay, I guess? You’re the idiot watching these movies”.

Welcome to “Deadly Dancer”! One of the criticisms I levelled at Ms Casey’s previous directorial effort is that it seemed edited very strangely, like she was uninterested in showing why things followed on from other things, and that tendency is very strongly in effect here too. Even if you’re really closely paying attention, there’ll be many moments where you’ll wonder what’s going on, why person A and person B are in a scene when five seconds ago they were in the middle of different conversations in different scenes. So a lot of this review is sort of a best guess as to what she’s aiming for.

Credited first, but maybe fifth in terms of screen time, is one Shabba-Doo. Our younger readers (like, below 50) will probably have no idea who this man is, but he’s one of the pioneers of hip-hop dancing, was in a ton of music videos, and was on “Soul Train” for many years; he’s also a perfectly reasonable actor, playing here Tony Penter, the boss of a dance club. He’s not in the first scene, but later we see him look on approvingly as a black woman dances in a leopard-skin outfit, while the white women get to wear less racist gear.

Okay, this movie goes confusing right away, so, let’s see if I can unpack it for you. We see a guy post a mysterious device in a small flimsy envelope, then walk into a club and pull a gun on the head dancer. Someone who’s sat there having a drink says “no!” but we don’t get a resolution to this scene, cutting straight to the two of them chasing down some bad guys. They’re cops! But does scene 2 follow scene 1 or is it a flashback? “Deadly Dancer” doesn’t worry itself with making sense!

This isn’t even the most confusing thing in the first ten minutes, though. Mike (Walter Cox) and Jack (Jeff Herbick) are doing their police chasing thing in a pretty well-shot, fun little segment. Jack tricks a criminal, there’s some banter, it’s all fun. But then, for some reason, a hitherto unseen third cop dressed identically to Jack takes over the second half of the chase. Here’s Jack:

And here’s the other guy:

As we’re operating in the only-ever-released-on-VHS hinterland here, information about this movie is very very hard to come by. But, in the next scene, when Jack keeps his back to the camera throughout, we start to realise something’s not quite right – then, later on, when he has romantic scenes and we only see his back, or his head’s not in shot, or the camera moves round him to ensure we never see his face…it appears that, for a solid half of his screen time, Jeff Herbick was not around for filming, so they just replaced him with the only other guy on set who had a moustache, despite Jack 2 being several inches taller, 20 pounds heavier and less tanned. This is weird, even for a low-budget movie, and makes the “lead actor wore a wig during reshoots” stuff from “Samurai Cop” look almost normal.

(the scene above, by the way, feels like they added an extra bit in reshoots to bulk the running time. Jack’s “never trust a cop” line is a perfect ending to that scene, but it goes on for an extra minute with the other guy)

I’ve not even mentioned the plot yet, which is kind of appropriate as the plot listed on the video box doesn’t really get going til the last half-hour. And, I’ve not mentioned the second really weird thing about this movie, but we’ll get to both of them soon.

Mike and Jack are told by their captain to take some R&R time, so decide, obviously, to go to a strip club (the same one we saw in the first scene, so we’re in “72 hours earlier” territory). Except it’s not a strip club. There are lots of women in the audience, and none of the dancers take their clothes off. It’s basically small groups of people, or solo women, doing pop-video style dancing to pop-style songs. Wait, what? That was a thing? Later on, Penter tells a dancer who auditions by taking her top off (the only nudity in the movie) that this is a “couples club” and they don’t do that here. Now, the internet is not all-knowing but I searched for any evidence that couples’ clubs were a thing that existed and found a lot of pages about swingers clubs but absolutely nothing about ones where couples went to watch fully clothed dancers in this sort of milieu.

Anyway, Jack takes a fancy to lead dancer Kaycha (Smith Wordes) and despite her not being interested at first, wears her down quite quickly. While the two cops are at the club, though, one of the other dancers is murdered, and so the plot sort of lumbers into motion. Jack starts a relationship with Kaycha while Mike sort of tries to solve the increasingly large number of murders, all of which happen while both Jack and Penter are nearby.

There are tons of odd editing choices to make you think both Jack and Penter are the murderer, so even though you’re fairly sure it’s neither of them, the movie goes through the motions for half an hour or so. The twist isn’t much of a twist, but it does make a lot of the previous scenes really confusing in retrospect – like, why did that character behave that way? Hell, why does Penter have such a large part in the movie? Other than being the most famous name, I mean.

“Deadly Dancer” feels like someone just wanted to film a bunch of dancers (who are all really good, by the way) but then was told to find a plot to fit round the dancing scenes. I’d love to ask Jeff Herbick what was going on that they needed to find another guy to play him in half his scenes…I’m also fairly sure he’s the same guy from Amir Shervan classic “Killing American Style”, but in that movie he went by the name “John Lynch” – perhaps a union thing.

This is a really good one. I don’t mean good like a normal movie enthusiast would use the word, but good like it makes no sense but is entertaining as hell. Enjoy every weird b-movie choice in this brief detour from the movies of David A Prior, why don’t you?

Rating: thumbs up