Future Zone (1990)

Night and day, my friends. In between 1989’s “Future Force” and this, David Carradine either stopped drinking or found some better drugs, because he actually appears to be enjoying himself, not walking zombie-like through proceedings. In fact, more energy is on display from everyone here, making it moderately enjoyable to watch!

For those of you not present yesterday, “Future Force” is a cop thriller set in a future which looks remarkably like our present, and has two differences with our time – one, the police force has been privatised, and two, David Carradine has a super-glove which can fly through the air and choke people, as well as attaching to Carradine’s arm and firing lasers.

“Future Zone” is quite different. Although Carradine still has the glove, he uses it even less than he did in the first movie (and both my wife and I were shouting at him to save himself the effort by using it more, then); and while there’s still privatised police, it looks much more like a normal police force. Also quite importantly, despite both movies sharing a main character who does the same job, with the same ludicrous prop, this definitely isn’t a sequel. The sets are different, the outfits are different, the whole feel of it is different.

Absolutely no attempt whatsoever is made to set this movie in any sort of future, but the name is approached from a different angle. Early on in proceedings, there’s a beam of light from the sky, and from it emerges…Ted Prior!

Yes, Ted, star of most of his brother David A’s movies, is the co-star here, and he’s Billy, a cop from the future who’s come back to help Tucker (Carradine) solve a dangerous crime, or something. I was trying to hide the big reveal, although it’s painfully obvious from the first time you see them both together; then I noticed that IMDB spoils it in their synopsis so I don’t feel bad now. Billy is Tucker’s son from the future, although both Tucker and his wife look a little too old to be having children, given they’ve not had any yet (Carradine was 54 at the time of filming, Gail Jensen – who played his wife – was 41). You can tell Billy is from the future due to his incredibly sweet mesh shirt, which is never referred to by anyone but is magnificent.

The plot of this is so inconsequential as to barely be worth bothering with – a huge shipment of cocaine is brought into town, the bad guys kill the dealers…

ASIDE: This is classic Bad Guy Economics. Who will ever trust you enough to sell you drugs after you kill your previous dealer?

…and then blow up the ship it came in on. They really blow it up as well, despite it looking like a huge old rusted hulk and not a ship that anyone has used in decades. Kudos to them for finding a city that was going to do some demolition and getting permission to film it, I guess. Anyway! Tucker stops the shipment and confiscates it, then the bad guys want it back, Tucker and his son have a big “They Live” style fight in an alleyway and at the end of it are friends, you know the routine.

David A Prior was not, I suppose, a stupid man. So when he slips certain little lines in, one must assume he knew exactly how odd they were and was doing it for a laugh. When asked about how he came to be from 30 years in the future, Billy just casually says “some friends of mine built a time portal”. Wait, what? Your friends built a time portal but didn’t use it for anything fun like going to the first ever Beatles gig, or sharing a bottle of whisky with Ernest Hemingway? Nothing serious like killing Hitler? Nope, they decided to send their friend back so he could save his Dad’s life! They must really have liked Billy (or really wanted to get rid of him).

As well as a much brighter performance from Carradine, Prior is on good form too, and there’s some decent supporting turns, such as Charles Napier as the corrupt police chief. Well, as they sort of ignore the privatised thing, it’s difficult to say exactly what his job is. Prior’s budgets means he never had to scrimp on his casting, and it’s a plus here as it is in most of his movies of the AIP era.

What I’d like to think is that Carradine went to Prior after the first movie, and a stint of sobriety, and apologised for the cruddy performance in the first one and offered to make another, and this time he’d really try. But there must have been some argument about the glove – imagine Star Wars where, in the final fight, Obi-Wan just decides to fist-fight against Darth because the lightsabre would be too easy? Why even have it as a thing in the movie if you’re not going to use it? Or comment on it? Argh

So, much better than the previous Future movie, and a fitting end to our mini-series of reviews. If you have any other equally silly ideas for sorts of movies for us to cover, please leave a comment!

Rating: thumbs up

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Future Force (1989)

Welcome to the end of one review series, and the continuation of another. Picked pretty much at random was “movies whose titles begin with the word Future”, and as I was scanning IMDB to find the ones I wanted to tell you about, I noticed that our old friend David A Prior – see his reviews HERE – made a couple of “Future” movies, and in our on-hiatus series of his stuff, we’re nearly at the right time (there’s two other movies from 1989 of his we’ve not covered yet, but it’s not always easy to track this stuff down). I like a bit of dovetailing!

Okay, that’s quite enough of that. You don’t care about my thought processes, you care about knowing which terrible movies you’ve never heard of are worth watching, if you’re – for some reason – stranded in a VHS shop with a gun to your head, told you have to pick a good one or else you’re dead. I have no other reason why anyone would want to read this site.

Along with David A Prior, we get David Carradine! Even though David Carradine died in 2009, movies he worked on are still being released (most recently, “The American Connection” in 2017). In this movie, he just looks like he wishes he was dead, and plays Tucker, a cop.

Well, he’s sort of a cop. In this heady far off future, which coincidentally looks exactly the same as the ugly parts of LA looked in the late 80s, law enforcement has been privatised. C.O.P.S., which the beginning of the movie says stands for “Civilian Operated Police Incorporated”, but a sign hanging above their dingy office claims the last word is “Systems”, is a force of…about 8 people? All the guys have mullets, all the women have big ol’ perms, and everyone has a denim vest with a “C.O.P.S.” badge on.

Head of the force is Captain Adams (William Zipp, a Prior regular and a surprisingly good actor, although he’s not trying very hard here), who, accompanied by goon Becker (Robert Tessier, who was a goon in pretty much every TV show of the 70s and 80s) wants to take over the streets. Quelle surprise! Who’d have thunk a privatised police force would be susceptible to corruption? Anyway, a TV reporter has footage of them not upholding the law, so Adams places a fake charge of treason on her file and all the cops try and hunt her down. No-one says “seems a bit unlikely that this TV reporter would be guilty of treason, seems more likely the cops are guilty and trying to kill her”, but Tucker figures it out quite quickly and it’s the two of them against the world; even more so when C.O.P.S claims Tucker’s guilty of murder too.

There’s a stupendous amount of padding in “Future Force”. Every car journey is shown in excruciating detail, almost – almost – to the point where you wonder if it’s a joke. Surely just watching this pre-release must have clued him in to how boring those segments are? It’s 84 minutes long and could have comfortably trimmed 15 off that (although I guess there’s a low limit to what can be sold as a movie for TV stations wanting a two-hour block with adverts).

We’ve not discussed something very important in this movie from 1989, set in the impossibly distant 1991. This is no surprise to those of you who’ve bothered to look at the front cover art above.

DAVID CARRADINE HAS A POWER-GLOVE AND BARELY EVER USES IT

Imagine you’re a cop in the lawless lands of the future. You have a weapon so powerful it pretty much guarantees you’ll come out on top in any confrontation, so what do you do?

a. Use it all the time to ensure your victory and survival?

or

b. Leave it in the back of your car and use your crappy old six-shooter all the time?

I presume they mentioned how he came to own such an amazing piece of technology in one of the lines of dialogue I wasn’t listening to (he does have a tech genius assistant, I suppose) but that really ought to have been more central to things. It’s the only remotely futuristic thing in the entire movie! It’s even remote controlled and beats up the last two bad guys for him while he lays down! Why are you so against using it! Okay, I know the actual reason is it was too expensive to do the effects for, for a low-budget organisation like AIP, but even so.

It’s a weird film, this. It’s relentlessly ugly, filming in the parts of LA that most movies don’t use, with good reason. Just endless concrete vistas with squat, broken down industrial buildings – it may well be what the future looks like, but I hope not. Zipp and Tessier relish their opportunity to be OTT bad guys; but Carradine is so comatose that it’s a real surprise he lived for 20 more years after this, and (Tarantino appearances notwithstanding) never really appeared in anything good ever again. He reminds me of Eric Roberts, who also largely stopped appearing in good things, with the difference being Roberts appears to enjoy his life and relishes appearing in dozens of movies a year. Do you think Carradine enjoyed any of the…15 movies he’s credited for in 1989?

Of interest to:

  • Carradine completists (I’m sure there are some)
  • Prior completists (welcome, friends)
  • “Person with a super-powered glove” movie completists (this, Laserblast, and…?)

Rating: thumbs down

EDIT: The chaps at Rifftrax have covered this, so head on over to rifftrax.com for some comedy good times.

Jungle Assault (1989)

David A Prior’s mission to chronicle the mind of the Vietnam veteran reaches a sort-of remarkable point where you’re not sure if he’s aware of just how bleak his worldview has become. Two Vietnam veterans drink their lives away due, in large part, to the horrors they witnessed; their old CO, whose daughter has become an unwitting mouthpiece for a Central American leftist terrorist group, begs for their help and they realise that the only time they feel remotely alive is when they’re killing people.

That’s really the only reading you can give “Jungle Assault”, as dark-hearted a straight-to-video low-budget war B-movie as you’ll ever see. William Zipp (a fine actor who really deserved better than the Prior-based career he had) and Ted Prior are Kelly and Becker, who we meet in their filthy bottle-strewn apartment, ignoring an eviction notice to go and drink more beer. William Smith, who has made trash for most of the ISCFC’s favourite directors (and a lot of our least favourite, too – he’s prolific and has no standards, is what I’m saying, like an even gutter-ier Danny Trejo) finds them in a bar and asks them to go to South America and rescue his daughter.

So, while the plot might be different to the average David A Prior movie, everything else isn’t. The building blocks are all present and correct:

  • A “jungle” base for the bad guys which is actually a bunch of shacks in the middle of the woods in California somewhere

  • An opening scene of a really badly framed gun battle

  • A racially random group of goons to get mown down

  • Vietnam flashbacks

  • Helicopter battle

  • Extra-gruff authority figure

  • People doing front flips when hit with a grenade – every dang time

  • Torture taking place in a tin shack

Then there’s a few things which aren’t quite as regular, like a really weird monologue from William Smith, as Ted Prior and William Zipp fly off in a helicopter (an almost exact replica of the scene from “Hell On The Battleground”, although that was done as poetry), so you could definitely be forgiven, if you’re doing some strange thing like watching dozens of Prior movies in a row, for getting confused about just which one you’re watching.

But the reason we watch these is the emotional intensity. You genuinely believe Prior and Zipp are washed-up alcoholics; and when they’re snapped out of their funk by the prospect of beating the crap out of a bunch of rapists who just drag a woman into a bar and are cheered on by the barman, you…well, I’m not sure a group of rapists as deranged as this one exists anywhere in real life, but you get the idea. The whole subplot about the kidnapped daughter slowly realising the brave leftists she was with were a bunch of criminal rapists is absolutely ridiculous, of course, but it’s really just reason to bring the two stars to South America rather than Vietnam.

I wonder what fans of the time made of Prior. Producing movies for AIP, one of many B-movie straight-to-video suppliers, were they just seen as war movies to capture some of that Rambo / Platoon money? Did they leave a curious taste in the mouth for people who came for the lowbrow fun but instead discovered a uniquely bleak worldview? Or were they laughed at as so-bad-they’re-good gems, as “Deadly Prey” definitely was?

There’s a few morsels of evidence for the final thought here. One villain does that thing where he breaks a beer bottle by just crushing it in his hand…only he doesn’t quite do it the first time and needs a second squeeze. Why not just re-shoot it? Did they only buy one breakable bottle? Or was that the best take they got? After that, a tiny moment that made me laugh my ass off, the bit where Zipp jumps – from the ground – to grab onto a low-flying helicopter, and the villain empties a gun at him from about five feet away and misses with every bullet; is small potatoes.

I do love a good ending song which describes the action that’s gone before, and this doesn’t disappoint. I don’t know whether my brain is just being rewritten by over-exposure to these movies, but I rather enjoyed this. I enjoyed the rocket launcher being fired at someone’s face. I enjoyed a great pair of central performances from two men who deserved a bigger stage.

I wouldn’t start your journey through the Priorverse with this movie (only a fool would pick anything other than “Deadly Prey”) but it’s a fine addition. Astonishingly, everything I’ve written up to now may be a complete crock, as Prior, in the middle of making four/five movies a year, wrote this in a single evening! Not much room for nuance.

Rating: thumbs up

Hell On The Battleground (1988)

I feel like it’s appropriate to do one of those “Brain / Big Brain / Cosmic Brain” memes to describe this movie and its evolution of the work of our old friend David A. Prior.

BRAIN: It’s another Vietnam movie

BIG BRAIN: He’s got Russians in this, at least he’s expanding his palette.

COSMIC BRAIN: He’s using the artificiality of the concept – a Vietnam movie with no Vietnamese people in it, Russians as the villains and a hero who looks and acts exactly like Rambo – to protest the 1980s military-industrial-complex and the Cold War!

UNIVERSE BRAIN: Don’t be an idiot

Ted Prior, after taking a few movies away from the acting side of things, is back in a significant role as the rough-and-ready Lance, and he’s joined by regulars Fritz Matthews (as Casey, the Rambo lookalike) and David Campbell (the evil Colonel from “Deadly Prey”, as a friendly member of their regiment). As the military authority figure, who in a shocking turn of events is not a closet villain, there’s B-movie legend William Smith, and there’s also Alyson Davis and Ingrid Vold as Casey and Lance’s girlfriends, who appeared together in another movie the same year, David Heavener’s “Deadly Reactor”, indicating they had the same agent who booked them as a double-act, or something.

I feel like a digression before we get going – the two ladies are at least a step up from the last few Prior movies, which feature no/few women and virtually no romance of any kind; but they’re absolutely useless, appearing to do no other job than look concerned when their men go off to battle. I feel like both they, and the black actor who gets multiple lines and even a tiny arc (!) are there as a result of criticism from the late 80s equivalent of me.

After a good old fashioned shootout in the “jungle” (actually a paintball park just outside LA), we see what amounts, sort of, to an anti-war message. Casey and Lance don’t enjoy what they have to do, and when they see a group of enthusiastic young recruits being brought to the front line, they’re obviously upset – it’s a quietly powerful moment. There’s a sense of ennui we don’t often get from production company AIP or from the Prior brothers, and I appreciated it.

All this is window-dressing compared to the single greatest moment in any movie we’ve seen all year, one of those moments that’s so far out of left field that all you can do is stare in slack-jawed amazement while it’s going on. That moment, dear reader, is a poem about Casey and Lance, over footage of them on a helicopter trip, performed by the extremely gravelly-voiced William Smith. The question must be asked – is this an in-character thing? Like, is their CO writing dramatic poetry about them? What do they think about this? It’s at 24:30 of the movie, or thereabouts, if you’d like to witness it for yourself.

There is a plot, of sorts – it’s not all people shooting at each other in the woods (although, to be fair, it is mostly that). The guys are sent, along with a bunch of rookies, on a pointless mission to do nothing in the middle of nowhere, and are pinned down by Russian troops. There’s a lot of fist-fighting, a lot of soul-searching, until eventually the mega-generic dialogue breaks down and they decide to fight their way out, and the veterans try and save the youngsters. Factor in a nihilistic ending which perfectly fits what’s gone before, and you’ve got a moderately unusual war movie.

It’s got a terribly dull act 2, and it’s got way too many firefights that don’t so much add to the action as provide a sort of background noise. But it’s got a lot of decent B-movie performances from a main cast that knows how to work together, and it’s evidence that, while Prior was still telling the same sort of story, he was at least trying to do something different. Occasionally. A little.

At least the next one is set somewhere different (South America)? I’ll see you in a few days.

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Operation Warzone (1988)

I’m beginning to run out of things to say about David A. Prior, dear reader. He served in Vietnam and clearly it had a serious effect on his psyche, as he’s used the same rough set of themes in over half the movies he’s made to date – but I’m not sure he’s…developing? I also appreciate that I’m going a little bit too far down this rabbit hole, but while it would be easy to mock him for being a bit cheap and cheesy (and, to be fair, we’ll do some of that) there’s an honesty and intensity to him that I have to admire.

“Operation Warzone” might as well be called “Double Cross: The Movie”. Pretty much everyone is either a villain and a good guy at one point, then the idea of what a good guy is gets flipped, and…well, it’s certainly never boring. We start off in media res (see, I know some smart-guy things!) with a gun battle between a few US soldiers and some Vietcong. Well, I say Vietcong, I mean everyone who looked vaguely non-white who Prior could afford for the day, and both sides shoot meaninglessly at each other for a few minutes. There’s a problem in that a large building is clearly visible behind the American troops, so you’re left thinking “why don’t they just use that as cover rather than one branch and a few bushes?” This group of Americans features two of Prior’s regulars, William Zipp and Fritz Matthews, and the banter flows freely and easily.

Sorry, we shouldn’t dwell on minutiae. The plot is, there’s a fellow called the General out in the Vietnam wilderness somewhere who has some very crucial information, and the first group rescue another group of soldiers who are trying to find him. So they all decide to team up, but then there’s a solo soldier with a fine moustache who’s dispatched by the obviously shady Colonel to rescue the other guys and find the General himself; and yet another group, this time Australian mercenaries, who are also after the General, or there to capture the second group, or something. The main Aussie mercenary is a casual badass who does a fine job with the rather…er…inconsistently written part he’s given. Oh, there’s a really silly subplot with some high-up Army guy or Senator or something back in the USA that was there because Prior had access to very slightly famous actor (Joe Spinnell, from “Maniac”).

We can’t go any further without mentioning the elephant in the room, the thing that’s so strange it would be the sole thing I’d mention about this movie, were I in some situation where I could only mention one thing – the music. I’m going to share a fight scene, but there’s another scene which isn’t available on Youtube where they’re trekking through the jungle to the strains of some generic bouncy 80s pop which wouldn’t be out of place in a college frat party scene. Here you go, anyway.

There’s even, among the walking and the pathetic gunfights and the double-crosses, some interesting ideas. As they’re talking about the Vietnam war, and wanting to stop it, one of the soldiers mentions, quite casually, that the top brass wants war, that if there were peace they’d get less money. Keep that under your hat, Prior! Powerful people might be listening!

The final fight is actually pretty decent, as the good guys and bad guys are finally resolved, and we get the ass-kicking, squib-exploding fun we’ve come to know and love from this director, plus a healthy amount of grenades, long the director’s favourite weapon. Ted Prior, also credited co-writer, pops up as “goon no.3” in one scene but despite being a much better actor than almost all the cast and obviously being available, is blink-and-you’ll-miss-him. I like the way Prior writes male friendship, honestly, as he has that sort of easy camaraderie down, and a good group of actors to do it with – I just wish he’d tried to do something else with it than yet another movie where a bunch of white guys treks through the jungle and kills a bunch of Asian guys (plus a few evil white guys).

While we’re on the subject of race, there are two black people in “Operation Warzone”, both of whom get killed without uttering a line or having more than thirty seconds of screen time. I have no evidence that Prior was a racist, and he perhaps never even considered it, but it stands out to our 2017 eyes and really shows its age.

What else, what else…there’s a really terrible song over the ending credits called “Is This The Love?”, which is so far out of place in a Vietnam war movie with no love interest in it that I sort of admired the sheer lack of effort which resulted in its placement; and then there’s an extra with the fantastic name of Mace Bacon, which is the name of the hardcore band I intend to form one day. Other than that, it’s very literally nothing you’ve not seen before.

We’ll press on with Prior and “Hell On The Battleground”, which might actually just be this movie under a different title (I joke, but only a little). Stay with us, please?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Death Chase (1988)

Welcome back to our series of reviews of the movies of the Prior brothers, who were crazily prolific in the late 80s – an average of 5 movies a year were directed by David A. Prior between 1988 and 1990. And not all of them had the same plot!

Although this could, quite reasonably, be said to be a development of the “themes” that he “developed” in “Kill Zone” and “Deadly Prey” – in other words, it’s yet another spin on 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. A car chase between a guy who’s so happy to have a random .44 pistol that he kisses it in a quiet moment, and a few ugly, badly dressed goons, introduces us to Steve Chase (yes, the title isn’t just a description of what goes on!), played by William Zipp, probably the best of the stock company Prior had at the time. He’s off out bicycling with his sister, but is caught up in the chase – he lies on the ground but his sister decides to run over and check on the status of the guy who was being chased.

She gets shot, and the chasee hands over his gun to Steve, saying he’s “it”. Please bear with me, this stuff is sort of important to the plot. So, the surviving chaser asks for the gun, but rather than hand it over, Steve shoots him, only to be witnessed in the act by an old lady (who apparently saw nothing else of the extremely noisy and bullet-drenched battle that went on just outside her house) and forced to go on the run.

So it’s a game, sort of a game of tag, but an extremely deadly one. The person with the gun has to survive teams of people trying to kill them, and the game is overseen by a room full of rich assholes – although what they gain from it, and just how the winner goes about claiming their prize, are matters of no interest to writer/director Prior or writers James Hennessy (“China O’ Brien 2”) and Craig Hyde (the latest member of the ISCFC One-Timers Club, having this as his only credit of any kind). The rich assholes have a guy on the ground overseeing things, and he’s the late great Paul L Smith (“Midnight Express”, “Popeye”, “Crime Wave”, “Pieces”). He’s “Steele”, and he makes sure that cops don’t stop him (by shooting them) and that hunters are punished for failure (by shooting them).

“Death Chase” gets going quickly, which I love. It’s barely ten minutes in before Steven is running from cops and teams of doughy, shabbily dressed assassins, seeming genuinely perplexed about how they keep finding him, and what the hell the game is all about. This is a level of perplexity he shares with the audience – I think Prior just assumed “rich people pay poor people to hunt other poor people” would be enough plot, no sense worrying about how they observed the competition or bet on it or whatever.

I do love how shabby it all is, though. There are too few movie car chases which prominently feature run-down old Volvos, and it’s one example of many of it looking exactly like a modern, big budget action movie, just without all the effects and A-list names and so on. Put Liam Neeson or Ryan Reynolds in the William Zipp role (a sentence I never thought I’d write) and you’ve got yourself a dependable slice of summer action fare.

My theory of Prior not being interested in exploiting women due to him possibly being gay took a battering with “Death Chase”, which features a scene in a strip club with a whole heap o’ nude ladies. But it’s also a really ugly, miserable looking strip club, so perhaps this is just him doing a scene to titilate the audience, but super-resentfully.

Not only is Chase dragged into proceedings entirely by accident, but so is his love interest, Diana (Bainbridge Scott). She’s just some passerby who nearly runs him over with her car, and from such a tiny acorn doth grow an oak of love. She doesn’t trust him, because obviously, then when she sees a bunch of people try to kill him for no reason, her opinion changes a little. It’s quite sweet, if a little Stockholm Syndrome-y. Then there’s his old buddy and a crooked cop to round things out.

If there’s any advice I could give to low-budget filmmakers, excepting the dozens of pieces of advice I’ve tried to foist on them down the years, it would be “pick your angles”. When you can’t afford to close a set, but have a gun battle going on twenty feet away from entirely indifferent motorists, it looks a bit weird. Just shoot from above so we can’t see the background so much, or something.

But I love their sense of making do with whatever is lying around, which is done here when they switch to boats at the end for no reason, I’m sure, other than someone offered the producers the use of a couple of speedboats for the afternoon. It’s a lot of fun and leads to you never being sure what to expect next.

The good – Zipp, Smith, the pace

The bad – most of the other actors, the moderately incomprehensible plot

The ugly – all the sets and cars and so on

I think this is probably my favourite Prior movie so far. It’s every bit as quick and strange as “Deadly Prey”, and has the bonus of no brain-twisting coincidences. It has a nice satisfying ending to it, and if you can track it down, I predict a fun evening ahead.

Ratin: thumbs up

Night Wars (1988)

Our voyage through the movies of David A. Prior (and his brother, actor Ted) brings us to an interesting movie, which – while not spookily similar – predates “Jacob’s Ladder” by two years, and poses some interesting questions about the psyche of the fellow making it.

For those keeping score (in other words, me) this is the third of Ted Prior’s six movies to date to feature Vietnam, people getting tortured in the “jungle”, and a main villain who’s an American soldier who collaborates with the enemy, Amazingly, it looks like three of his next four movies – “Operation Warzone”, “Hell On The Battleground” and “Jungle Assault”, all continue the trend (the other – “Death Chase”, looks like another riff on “The Most Dangerous Game”, but set in an actual city!) Although biographical info is in short supply, it seems Prior did indeed serve in the military in Vietnam, so perhaps something he saw or did there traumatised him to the extent of working through it, over and over again, in his movies.

The level of darkness to these scenes is certainly unusual among his b-movie brethren, where war is rarely portrayed as such unremitting hell. It starts off with Trent (Brian Edward O’Connor) having a terrible dream about his time in Vietnam – he escapes from his torture room, frees his friend Jim (Cameron Lowery) but before he can free his other friend, the sadistic American who’s helping out the Vietcong, McGregor (Steve Horton), shoots him. The torture isn’t particularly graphic, but it it feels weirdly real, like it’s not a photogenic Hollywood actor getting beaten up but surviving it manfully. They look like they’re genuinely in pain.

Anyway, the two men meet up and discuss their trauma, and how it’s happening to them both. Jim is married and his marriage starts to suffer, there’s perhaps the world’s sleaziest car salesman in a fantastic cameo, and Grizzly Adams himself, Dan Haggerty, shows up as a particularly unconvincing psychiatrist. His part, much like that of Cameron Mitchell in “Deadly Prey”, feels tacked on and a little unrelated to the rest of what’s going on (plus, his actions – tying the men up and holding them at gunpoint til they snap out of it – seems super-unethical). I mean, I’d worry too if a guy produced a severed finger which could be matched back to a guy who’d been officially dead for 20 years, but still.

In its second half, it sort of pivots to become “A Nightmare On Elm Street” – McGregor realises he’s a figment of their psychosis but still wants to kill them both, over and over again, as “death doesn’t exist here”, and even decides that if they can visit him, he can visit them; and Trent and Jim start arming and preparing themselves for battle over in the dream-Vietnam, figuring that if the injuries they get over there transfer themselves back to the real world, then they can rescue their friend and bring him out too.

I’m not sure it’s all that good a movie, but it’s interesting in a way that a more big-budget movie might not be, as it feels very personal. If Prior had to go through anything like this in Vietnam, then I feel deeply sorry for him (while still appreciating the USA should never have been there in the first place), but the repeated use of these tropes in his movies goes beyond just wanting to get it right and goes into the idea that he can’t get past those images. I have to assume his friends at A.I.P were going, “hey David, want to try some different genres? I think we’re good for dark Vietnam stories for a few years, thanks”.

While budgets are obviously a concern, with Vietnam still looking like the Alabama backwoods it was undoubtedly filmed in, there’s some visual fun, like the juxtaposition of the grotty jungle camp with the flowery bedroom the two men are performing their sleep experiments in; and of course, the old ISCFC favourite, the

WOODEN GUARD TOWER!

As we all know, it only has two variations – it either gets blown up (because if you make a movie, you don’t build a wooden guard tower for the hell of it) or someone gets shot out of it and tumbles to their just-off-camera-crash-mat death. This is version B, and I’m glad to see it.

Just because something’s earnestly made, doesn’t necessarily make it enjoyable to watch, and it’s safe to say that “Night Wars” isn’t going to be in anyone’s top 10 war movies list. But, it’s different. It has a twist-ish ending that you’ll never see coming, and the way it messes with reality is quite interesting too.

Ted Prior didn’t act in this one, but he did get a co-writing credit and serving as art director (not sure what that means in this instance, but good on him). There’s also a rather surprising link to a previous ISCFC review series, with Joe Lara (of “Final Equinox”, “Hologram Man” and “Steel Frontier”) showing up as one of the American army extras in the Vietnam scenes. Join us in a few days for “Death Chase”!

Rating: thumbs in the middle

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