Deadly Prey (1987)

As great painters refined their work, going back to the same set of ideas time and again, so it is for filmmaker David A. Prior. After making the thoroughly confusing “Killzone”, he still clearly had something to say in the “guy chased through forest by group of mercenaries” genre, so he wrote and directed “Deadly Prey”, his first cult-movie classic. Well, classic is perhaps stretching it a bit, but it’s certainly beloved and is every bit as entertaining on rewatch as it was when I first saw it.

Returning is Ted Prior, as Mike Danton, who we see in the very first shot do one of those poses like you saw at the end of “The Breakfast Club” or “Red Dawn”, so the entire movie is a flashback from that moment, or something. More crucial to the first few moments is David A. Prior’s love of grenades. If real grenades produced a pitiful flash and did as little damage as they apparently do in his world, I’m not sure anyone would ever bother using them, but he clearly worked out a way to do the grenade effect on the cheap, and uses it a heck of a lot (they’re a constant throughout his early movies, at least).

Anyway, it’s all just a ripoff of “The Most Dangerous Game”, where bored hunters decide to let humans loose in the forest and hunt them instead. This is one of the most enduring of B-movie templates, because it’s cheap (you only need a small cast, and sets can be kept to a minimum). A group of mercenaries, led by Colonel Hogan (Prior regular David Campbell) have decided the best way to train is to grab guys off the street and hunt them. Okay, I guess? Confusion comes from them filming a few scenes among a mass of military hardware, tanks and so on, that don’t really get used. I know why – they probably just borrowed the stuff from the local National Guard and weren’t allowed to use it – but it makes their low-rent training methods look even weirder.

In the grand tradition of bad movies, there’s a coincidence so monumental that you’ll either cheer it or abandon the movie in disgust. Danton is sleepily taking out the trash when some of Hogan’s men, looking for a new subject for their training, happen to be driving past. They see him and grab him, and even leaving aside the extremely simple questions “why not get homeless guys? Mexicans trying to sneak over the border? Literally anyone other than a guy from a rich looking suburb who’s more likely to have people who want to find him?” it’s a heck of a weird one. Turns out Danton is a former special forces soldier, trained by Hogan, who says when he finds out that he was the best soldier he ever trained! Come on! That one of the other soldiers is Danton’s friend from the army (thus keeping the “one of the bad guys is a secret good guy” streak going in Prior’s movies) is small potatoes compared to this.

While this is going on, we get a couple of B-movie legends showing up in small roles, an indication of Prior’s increased budgets. One is Cameron Mitchell, sure to be an ISCFC Hall of Famer (“Toolbox Murders”, “Raw Force”, “Demon Cop”); and the other is Troy Donahue, who was a teen heart-throb in the 1950s before a later career in such gems as this and “Hollywood Cop”. Mitchell is the Dad of Mrs Danton, and Donahue is the guy bankrolling this mercenary army. They have parts purely because Prior could afford them and wanted the star power – they’re billed first and second despite appearing for maybe three minutes each.

Of course, Ted is the star, and is great. I know I’ve speculated about David A’s sexuality before, as he has zero nude ladies (almost unheard of in the b-movie world he inhabited) but lots of ripped shirtless dudes. Here, he pans up the ripped shirtless body of his own brother, which might just be him doing his action-director job, but certainly could be seen as psychologically…a little odd? You do you, though, David A!

What’s perhaps most surprising is how it gives us an entire movie’s plot in the first third – Danton is captured, figures out who’s in charge and slaughters a lot of people, while wearing nothing more than jean shorts. He’s got a heck of a line in home-made booby traps, though (another recurring Prior theme). My wife, half-paying attention, said “there’s an hour to go? Seriously?” at this point, but the rest of the plot is the bad guys kidnapping his wife, and Danton just strolling out of the woods and going home to find her missing. Seriously, they say they’re 75 miles south of LA at one point, and they don’t even show him hitching a ride or getting on a bus or anything. There’s a couple of redneck locals who get involved in things, despite this being completely the wrong part of the world for rednecks – another trend making a repeat appearance in the Prior oeuvre.

The reason it’s so beloved is to do with how much weird stuff goes on, I think. Mitchell offers to help look for Danton, and he’s a retired cop, but evidently none of the other cops are interested in the rogue mercenary group operating on their territory as he’s the only guy who shows up to help. There’s the way our heroes slaughter many people, but keep leaving Colonel Hogan alive, for absolutely no reason. There’s the way one of the soldiers goes “we’re not hunting him…he’s hunting us!” and doesn’t even wink at the camera. There’s a guy getting beaten up with his own severed arm. There’s an embarrassment of riches in “Deadly Prey”.

Factor in a genuine “what the hell?” ending and you’ve got yourself a bad movie classic you should all try and watch. There’s a way OTT performance from Ted Prior and a crazily bad one from his wife (and a surprisingly good one from his old friend William Zipp, who deserved better than this), all sorts of fun and never a dull moment. There’s so much cold-blooded murder in this movie! And someone gets scalped! Low budget craziness for ever, I say.

Rating: thumbs up

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Raw Force (1982)

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I’m going to give you a one-paragraph recap of this movie and by the end of it, I guarantee you’ll want to watch it. In fact, I hope some of you stop reading there and go track down a copy of it immediately. Anyway, here goes:

 

Members of the Burbank Kung Fu Club decide to go on a cruise to Warriors Island, in the South China Sea, where the spirits of the disgraced martial artists buried there are said to haunt the place. After some hijinks, they arrive, interrupting a long-running business arrangement between a group of cannibal monks and a criminal gang led by Asian Hitler to trade kidnapped women for jade; to escape from the island, our heroes must fight them and the zombie ninjas and samurai that the monks reanimated.

 

Are you in? I seriously can’t say enough good stuff about “Raw Force”. It’s an absolutely perfect B-movie, delivering on all its promises (how many crazy-looking movies have we seen that turned out to be boring and tame?) and is fun from beginning to end. Not a dull moment! Okay, it’s wildly sexist and they seem to forget about a bunch of characters halfway through, but it’s a small price to pay for such entertainment.

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This was the first of two directorial credits for one Edward Murphy, who was slightly better known as an actor, and it’s that sense of no-one told him the rules yet, that makes this so entertaining. Even the bits with no wild action are great – a decent chunk of the movie takes place on board the cruise ship, with its captain Cameron Mitchell (last seen by us in “Toolbox Murders”) and drunk, cost-cutting owner (Hope Holliday) feuding throughout. The rest of the passengers are a bunch of oddballs, such as the woman who, while getting ready to hop into bed with some guy, tells him she’s on the boat due to murdering her Mafia boyfriend and wanting to escape justice; or the male stripper who tells of all the things he’s had shoved in his thong by excited ladies. I like the exceptionally odd-looking barman who hits on all the women, myself, and for fans of deep ISCFC links, there’s a brief (entirely topless) cameo from a rather beautiful redhead who it turns out is Camille Keaton, formerly of “I Spit On Your Grave” and latterly of “Savage Vengeance”.

 

You might read complaints such as “it takes them nearly an hour to get to the island” and I’ve made similar criticisms of similar movies. But there’s always something happening here! There’s the least suited couple in movie history, with the wife obviously going to end up with the hero and the husband obviously going to end up dead; the husband decides he wants to go to a whorehouse while stopping off in the Philippines (where this movie was filmed) but they end up having to fight Asian Hitler’s goons, who go there to steal some women. It’s just crazy scene after crazy scene, with really weird comic relief dotted throughout. Even the beyond-cheap special effects (fog and fire) add to the charm of it all.

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When they get to the island, they walk to the graveyard of the disgraced martial artist…only to have Asian Hitler fire a rocket launcher at them! Has any movie featuring a rocket launcher ever sucked? Then, after chasing them off, our hero carries it round like a normal sidearm for the next half hour!

 

The monks are some of the craziest over-actors it’s ever been my pleasure to see, led by B-movie mainstay Vic Diaz, and even manage to shock the goons, who think they’re just taking the women to have sex with. Oh no! Eating women gives them the power to raise the dead, or whatever.

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It is almost impossible, I’d imagine, to have a bad time watching this movie. Okay, women are treated poorly (with the exception of Cookie, a cop who’s had extensive martial arts training, all the rest of them are either there to get their clothes off or be rescued) and the extremely small budget shows itself in a lot of ways (for instance, the cruise ship they’re on is never really shown moving, indicating they just filmed it while it was docked and covered their angles). Plus, they don’t quite think through every bit of the plot – an example. The people on the boat are looking at a brochure for Warriors Island, yet apart from the monks and the criminals, it’s entirely deserted. Doesn’t a brochure kind of imply some tourist infrastructure, or at the very least semi-regular visitors?

 

Anyway, this is small potatoes. Maybe the wildest of all the 80s Filipino exploitation movies, and one you should definitely see, and even own.

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Rating: thumbs up

The VRAs – The Toolbox Murders (1978)

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This is our ongoing series about films that were banned by the British government, using the Video Recordings Act of 1984. You have the right-wing gutter press and a few Christian pressure groups to thank for these films becoming more famous than they had any right to be (in all but a few cases), and the fact they’ve now virtually all been re-released, uncut, while the law remains in place, tells you more about moral panics than it does about the content of the films. See the VRAs “mission statement” here.

Cameron Mitchell could have an entire site devoted to his terrible films. Look at ’em, one can only assume he had some excellent blackmail material on some casting directors, while simultaneously having the worst agent ever. “The Toolbox Murders” is his only dalliance with the world of video nasties, though, so let’s see if he made the right choice with this one.

After seeing, in flashback, a corpse which is very visibly breathing (seriously, hold your breath for three seconds) we then spend most of the first half an hour in the company of a murderer, shot from angles which don’t reveal his face until he puts on a ski mask. He’s recognised by the first woman, who thinks he’s come to repair something in the house – although he’s the world’s most stylish DIY guy, in his leather coat and pressed trousers. He appears to be trying out different methods of murder as he makes his way through the apartment building – there’s a drill, a hammer, a screwdriver and a nailgun. He doesn’t seem particularly worried about capture, and I must admit I like a nice confident serial killer. He’s pretty calm about the whole thing, allowing several of the women to almost get away when he could have killed them while they were distracted.

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In between his two trips to the building, we’re introduced to Laurie, who you’d think would be the heroine of the film (the name sounds like a reference to Jamie Lee Curtis’ character from “Halloween”, released a few years previously). She’s a smart teenager who lives in the buildings where the murders are taking place, so when she’s captured by the killer a little before the halfway point and then not seen again til near the end, it’s a bit surprising. It’s Laurie’s brother Joey, along with Kent, who do the bulk of the work in the middle portion of the film – Kent is the nephew of the building superintendent, Vance (Mitchell).

Alongside some of the worst music ever used on film, we see a fairly substantial gay subtext to the friendship between Joey and Kent – they find a vibrator and their attitude to the tool of female pleasure, as opposed to their attitude to the gallons of blood in the room they’re in, is telling; and the scene where one kneels down and the camera makes his head appear a lot closer to the other’s crotch than it really is are the most obvious, but it’s there in spades. The identity of the killer, fairly clear before, is discovered by Kent first, then Joey (the police investigation, which we spend a fair bit of time with, is entirely irrelevant to the denouement) but I won’t spoil the end by telling you who kills who and what rather odd character choices are made.

It’s a film of three parts – toolbox murders, Joey and Kent’s investigation, and the killer with Laurie – their scene together is so long, and so boring, that it gave rise to a theory. This feels like it was designed for drive-in theatres: the killings are all at the beginning, when people are still buying popcorn and getting comfortable, but by the half-hour point they’re ready to start having sex, or whatever it is people did at drive-ins, so the film stops being interesting, realising it’s just background noise at this point. A few murders at the end too when people are cuddled up, job done.

First and foremost, it’s not very good. Cameron Mitchell as the murderer (there, I spoiled it, seriously if you’re watching a 35 year old film you need to expect this to happen) has a classic killer motivation of cleaning up the streets, with the added bonus twist of wanting a replacement daughter (the corpse we see at the beginning is hers, she died in a car accident). HIs nephew Kent is suitably creepy too, and there’s interesting stuff in here, just surrounded by so much padding.

The ending is worth a mention – as the sole survivor walks across a deserted parking lot, we get an intertitle saying this is based on a true story, which happened in 1967. It seems the internet is silent on the issue, and I’m guessing this was done to allow them to structure the film in an odd way (and have the police in there to make up the numbers) and is loosely based at best. Then, after the end credits, someone really liked that awful music because it plays over a blank screen for the best part of a minute before the film stops.

How about its status as a video nasty? I can only assume they really didn’t like any reference to non-traditional murder devices – “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” has very little actual blood on screen and is all atmosphere; “Driller Killer” is more about the horrible effects living in the scummy mess that was New York in the late 70s has on a person’s mind; and “The Toolbox Murders”, while it undoubtedly has some gory sections, seems to have qualified for the list by association more than anything else.

Rating: thumbs down, but only by a little

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Demon Cop (1990)

NOTE: I did some research on this after I watched it, but all the observations, trite as they may be, are my own.

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We’re here, everyone. That place where the bottom of the barrel is but a distant memory, where Coleman Francis goes “damn, this film is a stinker”, down below even those classics of the bad movie genre. “Manos: The Hands Of Fate” has a beginning, middle and end; “After Last Season” sort of makes sense, even if it’s a horrible piece of audience alienation; we’re right down with that grey nothing of a film “Monster A Go Go”, at the very very bottom of the cinematic pile.

“Demon Cop” is truly as weird as films have ever gotten, a wretched mistake that actually has negative numbers of redeeming qualities. Bits of footage from all over the place are spliced together, with little effort made to ensure that one follows the other in any way that makes sense, and 90% of the film’s dialogue is dubbed. You’ll learn to love the way that mouths are always slightly out of shot, or conversations are had in a car where the camera isn’t pointing at either of the actors, or exposition is delivered in the form of someone reading or writing a letter.

The film is bookended by a doctor in an asylum, who tells you of the nightmares that are contained within, or something, and reminds you of a bargain basement Criswell from “Plan Nine”, only not as funny. He has some horrific stories to tell you, but for some reason picked this one, which is neither horrific nor a story.

Some cops manage to change their outfits between one side of a house and the other, and we get a glimpse of our “demon”. The opening credits give you reason to pause, as the title of the film is in a different font on a different background, as is the name of one of the actors. I thought “oh no, is this two different films chopped together?”

I’m consulting my notes, and they’re full of “this makes no sense” and “I have absolutely no idea what’s going on”. I don’t want to spoil it too much for you either…although I get the feeling that I could exactly describe every single second of this and it wouldn’t spoil it (or get you any closer to understanding what the film’s about).

Anyway, here goes. Aurora Hills is a small town which is about to start having a gang problem, but someone appears to be killing off the gang members. Some cops are investigating it, and…I really have no idea at this point. Some cops which look similar but probably aren’t the same ones then find that the murders were committed by a werewolf. Sorry, demon. Definitely not a werewolf. There’s also a European scientist who keeps phoning the DJ of a local radio station to get her to warn the town’s inhabitants about their new supernatural neighbour. The scientist guy blows his lines almost constantly, to the point where you think it might be some deliberate choice, and adds another layer to the magnificence that is “Demon Cop”.

The cops and their investigating brings me to the funniest scene in a film full of hilariously awful scenes. They interview a guy who was friends with their suspect, and say “when was the last time you saw him?” He goes “not for a really long time”, then after a few seconds of thinking, says unsurely that he saw him a few weeks ago. We get a flashback, in which the suspect, left alone in the living room for a few minutes, raises a gun to his mouth and is about to pull the trigger. From off screen, the guy doing the remembering screams “NOOOOOO!!” Now, I’m no memory expert, but if one of my friends tried to kill themselves in my living room, I think I’d probably remember it right away.

To really talk about the scientist guy, I need to talk about my post-film research. Director / scumbag Fred Olen Ray bought the rights to a film called “The Curse Of Something Bestial” (surely one of the worst titles ever) and decided what it needed was to be changed from a werewolf movie, which it very clearly was, into a demon movie. So, despite them listing the main characteristics of a werewolf, the word “demon” is awkwardly crowbarred into the big speech. This makes absolutely no sense whatsoever, unless the world was crying out for demon movies in the late 80s. Fred shot a few scenes with the scientist entirely on his own, either dictating messages to the police (exposition, basically) or phoning people up.

There’s an ending to the film, I suppose, which involves a bit of running round someone’s back garden. The film keeps us from seeing the “demon’s” face for a long time, which is sort of pointless as we’ve already seen the demon, way back at the beginning…and that makeup isn’t worth the wait, to be honest. The demon then takes a break from all the fighting to go and write a letter to his girlfriend, then stand there awkwardly in the room as she reads it, which is nice.

I think there’s a tendency among bad movie enthusiasts to over-exaggerate how bad a film is, to be seen as the person who re-discovered some lost classic. We’ll all have read some review, thought it sounded amazing and after watching it were left a little “that was supposed to be terrible?” I’m confident other sites have picked over this before, and am happy not to be first – so believe me when I say this, “Demon Cop” is as bad, stupid, cheaply made, poorly edited, ill-conceived, insulting to the intelligence, absolutely incomprehensible a film as has ever been made. It must truly be seen to be believed, and I recommend you all do so.

The best thing about this film is, I’ve barely scratched the surface with this review. I guarantee you’ll find something of your own to love about this film. Go on, what are you waiting for?

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She’s reacting how we’re thinking

PS. Not only is the main guy in the film not a demon, he’s not really a cop either. But “Werewolf Social Worker” didn’t have quite the same ring to it (I would definitely watch that movie, though).

Demon Cop on IMDB
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