Lost At War (2007)

After almost ten years away from the movie business, David A Prior chose to return, for reasons unknown. Well, “because he was broke” is probably the reason, although information about the man is tough to come by on the internet so it might have been anything. I hope he wasn’t fighting cancer or caring for a sick relative or something like that.

 

He’s produced something rather curious here, as writer, director and editor. They make reference to “The Twilight Zone”, and I guess it’s the closest comparison, but it’s shot through with those Prior trademarks and obsessions from way back at the beginning of his career, and is quite the unusual movie.

 

In a forest which is supposed to be the Middle East but looks suspiciously like either Alabama or California, a group of five soldiers are on a mission – Captain Briggs (Ted Prior), Turner (former Prior regular Jack Vogel), Falkner (Jim Marlow), McCune (Adam Stuart) and Smith (James Brinkley). They do their thing, shoot some bad guys, and as they’re about to return to base, one “terrorist” escapes. Smith is ready to shoot him in the back, but Briggs stops him, saying they’ll worry about him tomorrow. This almost, sort of, becomes relevant later. Anyway, back to base they go, and their CO gives them one more mission – a recon of another enemy base, and if they do it, Briggs will get to go home two weeks early. So off they go.

 

These first ten minutes or so feel comfortable for those of us who’ve followed Prior for over 30 movies. Small group of soldiers, unidentified war, unidentified enemy, walking through the forest, military base comprised of a bunch of tents…the building blocks are very familiar. But as soon as they set off on their recon mission, everything goes a little odd. Walking through a bamboo “tunnel”, they find the base but it’s empty, and the woods around the base are infested with mysterious black-clad beings who don’t want to get any closer, ignore being shot, and fade away as soon as they appear.

 

Jumping into a foxhole, they eat their rations, but Smith wishes he had a big old family feast, and when they open the nondescript steel box in the hole next to them, it’s full of delicious food! Then he wishes for beer, and beer appears!

 

I’m going to struggle to recap any more of this movie without giving away spoilers; but I’ll try. We begin getting flashbacks which, eventually, show the lives of the five men were connected before they ever ended up there, but in weirdly tenuous ways. For example, Smith stopped a robbery in a 7-11, and the woman he helped was the girlfriend of one of the other soldiers, whose son was shot in a random act of violence, whose best friend played baseball and the coach was a soldier…

 

The curious calmness of the men, as the Twilight Zone-esque things continue to happen to them, is curious, and the ending is curiouser still. It feels like David A Prior had big plans, and really wanted to talk about the human condition and fate and so on, but had absolutely no idea how to wrap the story up. Or perhaps he was aiming for the extreme bleakness that a literal reading of the last five minutes would give you.

 

It’s five men, sat in a hole, talking about their lives. They’re probably not soldiers (why would a cop in his late 40s suddenly sign up and become a Captain? Or an insurance salesman / baseball coach? Was it originally going to be a story about five paintballers who get slipped some hallucinogens?) but you can’t just dismiss it as a failure. I mean, it is a failure, but Prior tries, he writes an often interesting script, gets some good performances out of his cast, and there’s a sadness at its core which lingers with you. My wife, who’s begun to resent Prior as this is literally all the movies we’ve watched for several months, even put down her magazine and started to get into this one.

 

“Lost At War” seems to have disappeared completely from the consciousness of even Prior diehards. One lonely IMDB review, no cult sites have picked it up, no nothing…which is a shame, as up to the last few minutes, it’s right at the top of Prior’s movies. That he really messed up the landing shouldn’t detract from the interesting first 85 minutes.

 

Rating: a Prior-sized thumbs up

 

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Hostile Environment (1999)

As you, dear reader, waited with bated breath for the next installment in the David A Prior mega-series, I had the temerity to move house. I kept trying to persuade my wife to stop packing and pop on this particular gem, she – for some reason – refused, so I had to wait all this time to give you yet more opinions.

David A Prior took almost ten years off from movies, in between the late 90s and 2007 (where we’re going to jump to next), and this appears to be his last one before the break. Pair him with a script by a guy whose entire writing career was two different Brigitte Nielsen 1999 movies, and one of the more egregious cases of miscasting ever, and…well, I guess you’ve got yourself something that looks like a movie?

In this particular post-apocalypse, the world’s water supply has been completely contaminated by nuclear waste, and there’s only one place where people can get it, a giant ship commanded with an iron fist by Minna (Nielsen). She has some device that purifies it, and makes sure she gets…well, not a lot, as far as I can tell. Do they trade with people for it? They seem oddly fixated on one small group of people who are distilling their own water, and their boat doesn’t have any cool stuff on it, which you’d sort of expect from the people who own the only clean-water-producing device on earth. Like, works of art or jewels or stuff like that.

Oh, they’ve got lots of slaves too, although they mostly use them for some sort of fight club situation. I don’t know that a lot of slaves is a good idea when you have to provide them with water all the time, and there’s a very small amount of it available.

The plot! Brigitte and her villains are all “hey, villagers (post-apocalypse villagers, you get the idea) – stop making your own water or we’ll kill you”. They don’t, but ask resident badass Mike Erikson for help. He’s played by Mathias Hues (“No Retreat, No Surrender 2“), who looks like a good physical match for Nielsen, but he can’t act worth a damn and isn’t that hot a fighter either. He refuses until an attractive woman, Jennifer (Rochelle Swanson), is attacked, then springs into action. But both of them get taken and turned into slaves on the ship.

I presume if you looked for a retired US Navy ship docked somewhere near Mobile, Alabama in the 1990s, you’d find the place this, and several other Prior efforts, were filmed. While it’s no doubt authentic, it’s not very visually interesting, being the same gunmetal grey everywhere; but as Hues meets some of the other slaves on board and, in between Fight Club sessions organised by the guards, organises a rebellion.

I mentioned miscasting. In the cast list, you might have noticed Darren Shahlavi. He’s entertained us in “Kickboxer: Vengeance”, “The Marine 3”, and “Alone In The Dark” – he’s a superb onscreen martial artist who can act, and never really got the chance at stardom in the West he deserved (he sadly died a few years ago). Here, he plays Rocky, the brother of Jennifer, not introduced til nearly halfway into the movie, and who has a parallel plot before meeting up on the boat for the big final battle. He’s a better actor and fighter than Hues, and it’s not like there’s a great deal of difference in the star power of the two. So…why not make Shahlavi the star? Because, one assumes, that would be fun and entertaining and this is David A Prior.

There’s really not a lot to tell you about “Hostile Environment”. There’s a subplot, but most of it is the miserably leaden Hues wandering about the ship, getting involved with Jennifer and having Minna throw herself at him; Rocky kicks ass and quips; and they really hope you don’t question any of the deeper questions of this society. Like, just how much water all those people (and we see a heck of a lot of people) would need to survive, and why Minna and her people keep so many people alive for no good reason.

I think, if you’re going to make a post-apocalypse movie, think about the concept. Spend a couple of days mulling it over, ask your friends about it, don’t just go “right, there’s no water, only one person can purify it, let’s go”. Perfect planning prevents piss-poor performance, as the old saying goes.

So we leap forward to 2007 next time, and “Lost At War”. I’m sorry in advance, but we’re on the home stretch!

Rating: thumbs down

The P.A.C.K. (1997)

You know if you get an acronym title, you’re going to have a “good” time. “C.H.U.D.” (Cannibalistic Humanoid Underground Dwellers) and “R.O.T.O.R.” (Robotic Officer Tactical Operations Research) are two of the best; and to this fine group we must add “The P.A.C.K.”

I thought what “P.A.C.K.” stood for was a joke when I saw the poster, but no. David A Prior, as the writer of this gem, does not joke around. Here goes (unless you already looked at the poster, a few inches up). Prefabricated Animalistic Cybernetic Killer. Prefabricated? You might think, with a title like “The Pack”, that there might be more than one of the titular creatures, but this is merely a coincidence. Or a trick to make you more interested in watching the movie. I couldn’t possibly comment.

By the way, you could add this to the list of movies (including Prior’s own “Mutant Species”) where there’s at least a reasonable suspicion of it being a “The Producers” style scam, where the first five minutes is made exciting to get distribution money, then the rest of the movie is made with a fraction of that distribution money and the producers walk off with the rest of the cash, knowing it’ll never make a profit.

The beginning – a thing crashes to Earth from space, and we see a bunch of people in the woods get torn to pieces. One of them is a biker called “Bullet Head”, the last ever performance by ISCFC favourite Douglas “Pappy” Harter. If he’s still around, and anyone reading this knows him, I’d love to tell him how much I enjoyed his performances in the Prior-verse. Anyway, crash bang wallop, a fine start to proceedings, but then everything switches to a rather slower pace and it becomes that sort of thing we know and hate, a People Walking Through The Woods movie!

It’s also an “alien cop hunts bad alien on Earth” movie, which makes it part of two of the most enduring traditions of B-cinema. The creature, which frightens people despite being a bloke in a leather coat and a stupid dime-store alien mask, runs round for a bit, until we see a beam of light bring down…Ted Prior as alien cop T-7043! His face, and that of Harter, indicate there was a considerable amount of time between the filming of this and the other most recent Prior movie (1994’s “Mutant Species”).

There’s also a decent handful of Earth-people in this movie, although the fact the biggest name of the lot is Sandahl Bergman (Prior’s own “Raw Nerve” from 1991, “Hell Comes To Frogtown”) is an indicator the budgets, once so plentiful, are now back down at the levels of AIP’s mid-80s output. The local sheriff, by far the most interesting character in it, is played by Red West (“Road House”, most of Elvis Presley’s early movies); and there’s a weird group of characters who you’ll assume are going to be central to proceedings but aren’t, a group of NSA agents.

Now, if you were in the NSA (which they certainly appear to be) and were going to a new town, what would you do? Would you call ahead, make sure local law enforcement knew who you were? Or would you wait at a road block outside town, refuse to identify yourself, then drive off at high speed through the woods with the sheriff giving chase, making yourselves as suspicious as possible? Their plan sucks from beginning to end, and is so bad I kept wondering if it was deliberate, but it feels like the actors decided to go on strike for better pay after a few days of filming and the producers just fired them on the spot. It feels weird to spend so much time introducing this team only to (SPOILER) kill almost all of them off after ten minutes.

So, the bulk of the movie is the sheriff, an investigative journalist for a UFO magazine, the lady NSA agent (Bergman), and T-7043 walking through the woods trying to find the creature, and the creature killing loads of people off quite easily. T-7043 explains the plot but it’s the same old same old – if movies about evil space creatures being chased by space cops could be considered that way.

It feels shambolic, honestly, like no-one involved in the making of it gave much of a damn how it ended up. Director Bryan Todd is making his debut (and clearly didn’t like directing all that much, as he’s now a “field producer” for a bunch of reality TV shows) so I’ll give him a slight pass, and this represents the entirety of co-writer Michael Evans’ writing career. So it’s on Prior and his regular band of producers, who’d been making movies for 15 years by this point and really should have been trying harder. It’s basically “Predator”, but if the soldiers sent to track down the creature were a bunch of middle aged men and women who can’t do a damn thing but wait to die.

We’ve only got one more (1999’s “Hostile Environment”) to go before the long hiatus which was broken in 2007 – I’m guessing by that point the budgets were virtually nil and we’ll be down in the mire, with even cheaper effects and no actors you’ve ever heard of. But we’re on the home stretch now, dear reader. We can make it.

Rating: thumbs down

Body Count (1995)

We’re in the home stretch of our Prior-thon, dear reader. The mission I set myself, the one I’ve long since forgotten why, was to watch all the movies of David A Prior, who made “Deadly Prey” and numerous other wonders of trash cinema. Around 1992 or so, his budgets and casts took a sudden and dramatic upturn, until he stopped making them in 1999, only returning 8 years later for…I have no idea, but the story probably isn’t a happy one.

But we’re up to 1995 now, with only three movies left before the hiatus. I hope you’ve enjoyed this, and maybe even found a movie or two to watch yourselves. Anyway, as you can tell by my lack of desire to get to the point, this wasn’t really one of the fun ones. But onwards!

After a classic “cool guy walking away from explosion” scene, we lumber into the plot, which is, to put it mildly, confusing. The great Sonny Chiba is in it though! After last seeing him as a party-loving cop in “Immortal Combat”, he’s Makato, an assassin, here, who’s been paid $100,000 to kill a couple of mafioso, the Gianelli brothers. This he does with special bullets that look like ice and are completely undetectable, but after asking for and receiving an extra $100,000 from the middle-man who arranged it all, he’s double-crossed by persons unknown, arrested and sent down for life.

Now, if I was a hitman, I’d take arrest as something of an occupational hazard. Like, I kill people for a living, right? But Makato is furious and has all sorts of revenge on his mind – luckily, when he’s on a chain gang digging a ditch, Brigitte Nielsen pitches up, kills all the guards and rescues him.

It might have been interesting if Makato had been sort of a good guy, like so many movie assassins who kill only evil people. But when he murders one of the guards in cold blood, you get the inkling he’s not, and you’ll also know that the people who betrayed him are some of the good guys who are supposed to be tracking him down (given we don’t get introduced to any other characters, and it has to be someone we’ve already met). It’s just unnecessarily complicated, and kind of boring, at the same time.

The good guys are two cops, Cook and Rizzo (Robert Davi and Steven Bauer) and they gave decent on-screen chemistry, although the only thing I’m comparing them to is other Prior movies – I’ve watched basically nothing else for months. They’re joined by an FBI agent who takes over the investigation for basically no reason, Special Agent Janet Hood (Cindy Ambuehl, mostly known as a TV actor). To say her behaviour is inappropriate is putting it mildly; she strolls around her two new underlings in lingerie or a towel and exposes her ass to Cook while they’re, for some reason, sharing a sauna.

I’m just recapping the movie, badly, so I’ll move on. Makato kills everyone remotely related to his old case, trying to find whoever set him up, but you get the impression he’s no nearer to finding out who did it at the end than he is at the beginning. He kills a surprisingly sober-looking Jan Michael Vincent, who’s one of the other cops, but gets nothing from him, and it’s really more a process of elimination than it is anything else. It’s not that he’s particularly good, the cops are just incompetent. There’s a subplot about Rizzo’s daughter being abducted in the past, then returned to her family, but she never talks again and barely moves from her deckchair – this takes on a much darker tone later, but it’s weird tonally.

Much like all the later AIP movies, it’s shot well and all the actors are fine. Money has been spent! There’s a few car-based stunt scenes too, which is standard for these things. People scouring the shelves of their local Blockbuster would not have been terribly disappointed, I imagine. I mean, if you’re in the mood to pick something you’ve never heard of with Robert Davi on the cover, your standards should be pitched appropriately low.

It’s a puzzler, dear reader. None of the characters behave sensibly, and when you find out what’s really going on, you’ll wonder what all the fuss was about. It’s another Idiot Plot – if a couple of characters had behaved sensibly at the beginning, all this could have been resolved in no time at all.

Perhaps we went too deep. This just gives a “story by” credit to our man Prior, with the script credited to a guy called Henry Madden (who I presume is not the same guy who also directed many Dora The Explorer episodes?); the director is Talun Hsu, who we met before directing “Witchcraft 5”. Man, the Witchcraft movies were terrible and we’ve got three new ones to watch soon!

Rating: thumbs down

Felony (1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: thumbs up

Mutant Species (1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: thumbs down

Raw Justice (1994)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: thumbs up

Double Threat (1992)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: thumbs down