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

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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

Mankillers (1987)

Because I’d like some of that sweet Twitter recognition, here’s my 140-character review of an almost completely forgotten movie by a director whose recognition even in cult movie circles is pretty patchy – in other words, guaranteed to get countless thousands of retweets:

“It’s the Dirty Dozen, only with women. Except they’re just normal convicts, not military ones, and also the movie is rubbish”.

Now please stay with me for another thousand words or so of largely the same thing. Yes, we’re back in the land of David A. Prior, for his first movie without any involvement from his actor brother Ted (who was possibly working on “Surf Nazis Must Die” at the time). I’m beginning to notice some themes creeping into Prior’s work, so we’ll discuss them, should you be remotely interested.

We’ll also get into one of my favourite new topics – “Bad Guy Economics”! Yes, dear reader, it’s that time where I single out something a bad guy does and wonder just how economical it really is. Our villains in this epic are led by renegade agent John Mickland (the wonderfully named William Zipp). Anyway, he’s trading three women to some sleazy guys for a suitcase full of cocaine, but rather than do the deal he suspects a double-cross and kills them all – turns out he was right to suspect that, but it’s not important to our discussion. The number of double-crosses in drug deals in bad movies are super-frequent, which leads me to wonder, if you were a drug dealer, would you go and do business with a guy who slaughtered the last lot of salesmen who went to his place? How would Mickland, in the world of the movie, ever be trusted to buy drugs again? This is a question that can be asked about hundreds of movies, and one that’s never satisfactorily answered.

Our hero is Rachel McKenna (Lynda Aldon), described by the head of the CIA as too much of a loose cannon – she’s crazier than the criminals! But as she has a previous relationship with Mickland – she went rogue when he did, although he double-crossed her and left her for dead – she’s called in as the only person who can bring Mickland down.

She says she’s going to need a team of 12 women, which inspires the wonderfully dismissive line “how in the hell are you going to pull off this mission with women?” (her response is sort of reasonable for the genre and year). However, when you’ve finished watching the movie you realise that the gender of the strike team is entirely irrelevant – maybe they were going to go undercover as “merchandise”? Nope they’re just there to fight, and apart from maybe one tiny scene, you realise Prior had an idea for a female Dirty Dozen but couldn’t be bothered to provide any justification for it.

Nor could he be bothered to write a scene where McKenna picks her team – to all intents and purposes, it looks like she wanders through a prison and picks 12 women at random. Luckily, they’re all skinny model-types, and unluckily about two-thirds of them are blonde and look very similar to her, which would’ve been a problem if they’d bothered trying to give them any character. We get a training montage and one character – the really mean woman who becomes the most dedicated member of the team after being whipped into shape; and then the CIA guy tells them they only have 12 more hours to finish their training. Why not just hire 12 women from the army if they needed them combat-ready so quickly? Sorry, more questions the movie chooses not to answer.

The fighting and gunplay is genuinely pitiful, like I felt sorry for the people who had to do it. At least Ted Prior, bless him, could throw a punch – neither women or men in this movie look like they’ve ever fought or shot a gun before. There’s a scene where the women set off on their mission and just run into the bad guys in the middle of the woods – neither group is in any sort of cover, but the death rate is remarkably low.

A quick mention of how un-titilating “Mankillers” is. I know I normally complain about the preponderance of T&A in these things, but a trashy 80s movie about a gang of women with absolutely zero nudity is unusual enough to be worth commenting on. This was one of the very first movies from A.I.P., the production company that specialised in action-trash from the late 80s to the mid 90s, and with Prior being one of the founders, he presumably had a lot of control over what went into his movies. Another producer might have demanded nudity? I certainly can’t accuse him of being a feminist, or of lingering on the male form either, so who knows. Perhaps he was too cheap to pay women to disrobe – although given one of the gang, Edy Williams, is very well known for getting naked on camera, even that sounds unlikely.

There are times when this feels like it’s using sets or plot ideas left over from “Killzone”. Someone is tied to the wall of a corrugated iron shack and tortured. It’s yet again about a large, heavily armed group living in a bunch of shacks out in the woods. Yet again, precious little information is given about why they’re doing what they’re doing or why the authorities are so desperate to bring them down. It’s safe to say that Prior had a central set of ideas he liked working through multiple times, much like Andy Sidaris or Coleman Francis. Given I’ve seen the next movie we’ll be covering, “Deadly Prey”, years ago, I can confirm that these themes will show up again. Making its first appearance, though, is Prior’s love affair with grenades, although the explosions they cause here are a little embarrassing.

The final fight is fun, as it starts with Mickland getting shot in the chest and just goes on from there – he’s one surprisingly resilient fellow. But the rest of it is just a waste of time. It feels like he had about half an hour’s worth of money that he stretched to 90 minutes – there’s no variation to anything, no logic, and no fun. It has none of the surreal touches that made previous Prior movies so entertaining, but it does have plenty of plot holes. Kudos to some fine overacting from lead villain Zipp, though, who looked like he was doing cosplay as porno legend John Holmes.

Probably one to avoid if you’re selecting a Prior marathon for some masochist film festival.

Rating: thumbs down

Killer Workout (1987)

When I decided to watch all the films of the Prior brothers – director David A and actor Ted – I was a bit worried that, after a delightfully incompetent surreal slasher (1983’s “Sledgehammer”) they’d get normal and boring, but it looks like we’re good for many years of curiosity. They’re so excited to be making movies they keep forgetting to explain the twists!

I’d lay good money on this having been “inspired” by the John Travolta / Jamie Lee Curtis movie “Perfect”, which came out in 1985 – this was made in 1986, not released til 87. One can tell because it seems like they told the aerobics dancers / extras to just recreate all of Travolta’s moves, every hip-thrusting, lycra-clad second – still, it’s fun to remember the time when this sort of thing swept the nation. Well, I say fun.

After an opening where an unseen woman is burned in a gigantic sunbed (built by co-star Fritz Matthews, apparently) we’re right into the world of Rhonda’s Workout, a gym with a crudely fashioned sign out front, in what looks like a strip-mall. Rhonda is Marcia Karr, a regular with us here at the ISCFC despite a career that ended in 1990 – she was in “Maniac Cop”, “Death Blow: A Cry For Justice” and “Night Of The Kickfighters”, three more different cheesy 80s movies you couldn’t imagine. Anyway, there’s background hotties, a couple of women who have “cannon fodder” stamped on their foreheads, and guys so sleazy they really deserve to be in jail. Matthews is Jimmy Hallik, who hits on Rhonda with an intensity you don’t see outside of sexual assault movies, and Richard Bravo as Tom…actually looks really similar to Jimmy, so it’s quite difficult to tell them apart when you’re watching on a nice fuzzy VHS. He keeps trying to unzip the front of the main instructor’s lycra outfit and I’m not glad about many things, but I am glad that movies have changed to make this sort of crap unacceptable in 2017.

There’s really no need to get bogged down in detail, though, as this movie is nice and simple. People start getting killed and there are tons of red herrings. Is it one of the two pieces of human garbage, or is it the new employee, Chuck (Ted Prior, whose puzzled expression is hopefully about the weird parts his brother keeps giving him)? What about the extremely angry cop, Detective Morgan (David Campbell, the villain from “Killzone”)?

Chuck has been at work maybe ten minutes when he drops the garbage he’s carrying, has the first of two hilariously incompetent fist-fights with Jimmy, and then just goes for a drive with one of the gym-bunnies? I guess you know he’s a good guy because he just drinks Diet Pepsi and asks her for information about the place rather than hitting on her – she throws herself at him a few minutes later though, and he’s only human.

The murders are mostly done with a giant safety pin, for some completely unknown reason. In the grand tradition of crappy slasher movies, no-one fights back when they’re grabbed by the killer, they just go “oh well, such is fate” and wait for the final blow to land. I felt sorry for Diane, who just wanted to make a human connection, but ended up getting murdered (the cop, for some reason, is hammering on her door at that exact moment, but rather than immediately identifying himself, he just shouts “open up! Come on, let me in!” for a few minutes first.

One interesting thing is how “Killer Workout” tried out alternate titles for itself, inside the movie. A couple of graffiti kids decide to tag the front of the building with this:

“Aerobicide” is its original title, probably dropped when the aerobics trend passed its high water mark, and “Death Spa” was actually used as the title of a rather similar-sounding horror movie from 1988.

This leads us on to perhaps the most curious thing in this movie full of curious things. By the hour mark, 7 people have been murdered in or around the gym. Yet this doesn’t affect the attendance there at all? We keep seeing full classes of gyrating flesh, despite (in one scene) them literally putting a corpse into a body bag in the next room, as the class is going on. My notes have, several times, “GO SOMEWHERE ELSE TO EXERCISE”, and in fact I’d have opened another gym in that town with the sole selling point “You Are Much Less Likely To Be Murdered Here”.

You have the standard thing of the killer being a stealth-ninja able to break into properties and murder at will, and someone taking a garden rake to the leg but still being able to climb fences and run at a fairly decent speed; with this one, though, you can also ponder why all those sleazy guys hung around the gym from the second it opened to when it closed – they certainly don’t work there.

Technically it’s fine – I mean, it’s cheap as hell, but what do you expect? The acting is mostly okay, even if Marcia Karr as Rhonda is a bit grimace-y and OTT, the effects are fine, it’s shot okay (despite, apparently, the DP being extremely difficult to work with, according to David A)…no real issues on any of those scores, and nothing much to mock either.

The twist is strange, and the final twist is perhaps even stranger; I’m not sure how long I can continue to blame Prior being new the filmmaking game, and fear this is just what we’re going to get from here on out. While it’s full of stuff that makes no sense, and isn’t gory or titilating in the slightest, it’s weird enough to be of enjoyment to bad movie enthusiasts. I love how Ted Prior is shown as being a crap fighter in all of his brother’s movies to this point – I’d have maybe read the script and gone “can I not win just one? Please?”

Add in a soundtrack full of songs written specifically for the movie, synth-cheese at its finest, and you’ve got yourself an entertaining, if thoroughly bizarre, movie. Bring on “Mankillers”, and let’s have some more fun.

Rating: thumbs up