Outlaw Force (1988)

“Hey Mark, why did this movie suck so bad?”

On IMDB, there’s one of those user-created lists of Frank Stallone movies. How bored must you have to be, how finished with every human activity that could bring you joy, to create a list of Frank Stallone movies? Although, saying all that, he’s kind of fine in this movie. Sorry.

A long time ago, we started covering the movies of David Heavener. He’s one of those names you hear at the bottom of the barrel when it comes to B-movies – a guy who made a little money selling country songs (we think, information is hard to come by), and parlayed that cash into a long movie career. He’s directed over 20 movies, starred in a handful more – his career briefly intersected with that of Donald Jackson and Scott Shaw, who gave the world “The Roller Blade Seven” – and is a genuine lunatic.

If you’re thinking “he can’t be that bad, surely” then I will present the title of a Youtube video from August 2018 as exhibit A. “They Are Slaughtering Our Babies And Trafficking Their Body Parts!” where Heavener, along with a fellow by the name of Coach Dave, discuss their rather extreme anti-choice views. He’s in favour of building a wall along the Canadian border to stop Islamic terrorism, which is apparently being bred there, thinks communism is still the global evil to rail against, and…well, it’s too miserable to continue with. I only discovered his Youtube work as I was sitting down to write this, so forgive my going on about it a little. I’ve no reason to think he’s not genuine in his beliefs but that doesn’t make them any less abhorrent.

So, this may be our last Heavener movie. The two we’ve seen (this and “Massacre”) were so dull that I’m honestly relieved to have a reason not to go deep down another rabbit hole. Given I’ve already tipped my hand as to whether you should track this movie down or not, let’s try and have some fun with this review.

Heavener is Billy Ray Dalton, a country singer (Heavener also wrote and performed the majority of the soundtrack, giving us such gems as “This Honky’s Gonna Honky-Tonk Tonight”) who helps out a guy at a gas station who’s being hassled by some gang of…sort of punks? Metal-heads? Anyway, while he’s out performing, the bad guys come back to town, and to get revenge for the guy being mean to them, rape and murder his wife and kidnap his daughter, planning to sell her to a child pornographer. Fun times!

At the funeral, one of the local cops approaches Billy and says “is there anything I can do for you?” My response would have been “catch the people who did this, you lazy asshole” but Billy is too nice, not even getting annoyed when he’s told that, due to the lack of evidence or eye-witnesses, there’s nothing they can really do. What? There’s tons of evidence! And plenty of people who saw them! Is this cop trying to tell us that he’ll only bother investigating murders when he’s got a witness who actually saw it all happening?

Anyway, Billy puts on his cowboy gear and he’s off to LA to investigate these hoodlums. Well, I say investigate, as he actually asks a few questions when he gets there, but most of the time, just appears to have psychic powers, as there’s no other explanation for how he knows what he knows.

The two cops Heavener pressures to help him are Stallone and the great Paul Smith (Bluto from “Popeye”, “Crimewave”, a million other roles). Smith is playing so far against type that it’s kinda fun, well, if you like reasonable cop dialogue from a guy who looks and dresses like an angry homeless guy (seriously, his shirt is stained and full of holes, while everyone around him is wearing suits). They’re both given personalities, but are extremely irrelevant to the plot, and are definitely only there to get the thing up to feature-length. In fact, their primary role, the only thing that couldn’t be replaced, is looking up Mr Dalton and finding out he’s former Special Forces, what is known in our part of the world as the “ultimate badass” scene.

He kicks a bit of ass, shoots a bunch of people, gets help from one of the abused gang-women (who’s cool with the drug-dealing, but not so cool with the child-porn) and shows these dirty LA scumbags how justice is meted out, old-west style. He literally hangs someone!

Why is this movie so bad? Well, one thing, it’s very poorly directed, by Heavener. My particular favourite was, whenever a character got punched, they just sort of stood there for an uncomfortably long time waiting for the fist to hit them. There’s poor lighting and the way everything looks very slightly out of focus and the sound is pretty rotten too. But we’ve seen lots of movies that we enjoyed with all those technical flaws, and the true fault with this one is it’s boring. The final fight has generated no tension, no atmosphere, and the main character is so taciturn that it’s impossible to support him. Also, with the wild media panics about missing white girls and gang violence (adding in the murder of the wife) there’s no way in hell that the LA police would be so casual about it. It would have been front-page news all over the country!

There’s also the way it’s structured. Take a look at any modern revenge thriller, and how the thing that needs revenging happens pretty early on. We know what’s coming, so get to the good stuff. “Outlaw Force” drags on to almost the halfway point before he sets off for LA, and doesn’t exactly accelerate once it gets there. “John Wick” it ain’t.

If anything, David Heavener reminds me of Neil Breen, only with the barest level of competence. He’s in the movie business purely as vanity, has those ideas that he goes back to again and again, but unlike Breen doesn’t make absolutely bonkers bargain-basement movies; there’s just enough cash and just enough sense to make movies that sort of look like the B-movies we know and love, but with absolutely nothing enjoyable in them.

Rating: thumbs down

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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