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

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Invasion Force (1990)

Welcome back, dear reader, to our review series of the oeuvre of David A Prior. It would appear that around late 1989, someone told Mr Prior that his work was getting somewhat samey, and to keep the public’s interest he ought to widen the scope of movies he was borrowing from. So we got dystopian-ish sci-fi (“Future Zone” and “Future Force”), vampire soldiers (“Lost Platoon”), a sort-of First Blood / Deliverance hybrid (“Born Killer”), and now this, a sort of gentle riff on the Chuck Norris classic “Invasion USA” – starring that movie’s villain, in case you didn’t quite make the connection. The fact that Prior wrote, directed or wrote and directed seven movies in 1990 (how did he have the time to sleep?) is perhaps an indicator that the quality will not always be the highest, but he was trying different things!

He must have been feeling confident because the beginning of “Invasion Force” even has a twist to it. It starts off as a rather cheesy-feeling “Rambo”-a-like, with the blond, muscled Troy walking into a very flimsy-looking army camp, blowing it all up while standing stock still (and never getting shot, of course) before rescuing the rather wooden damsel in distress. More explosions, a few quips and a rather fun denouement when he trades a diamond for the woman, only the diamond pouch is full of explosives…

It’s a film within a film! Obviously, this is well-trodden ground, but it’s nice to see a director like Prior stretch his wings a little. It turns out, AIP (the real company that David co-founded) is shooting a rather AIP-sounding movie, out in the woods near Mobile, Alabama (where David normally shoots). This really feels like he understood and even half-agreed with the criticism that the late 80s version of me was dishing out – that they were formulaic, silly even, and although the viewers could probably notice this was cheesy even for them, it wasn’t quite cheesy enough that alarm bells started ringing.

Our film crew features “Pappy” from “Rapid Fire”, Doug Harter, playing a character called Doug Harter, and a fellow called Charlie Stedman playing himself…but no others. Were the rest of the actors all “I’d rather you not use my real name, thanks”? Perhaps they didn’t want to start throwing too many in-jokes in there.

The other side of this particular conflict is something we’re a little more familiar with – a mercenary army led by a figurehead General whose plan seems to very important but never mentioned ; and a second-in-command, a mercenary whose sole interest seems to be in killing. This is pretty much a retread of the plot of “The Lost Platoon” – I didn’t say Prior had gone crazy and started using entirely original plots, did I? The mercenary is played by B-movie legend and ISCFC favourite Richard Lynch (“Cyborg 3”, “Terminal Virus”, “Scanner Cop”) and it’s always nice to see him.

Their plan is to take over a small town and hold everyone hostage. There’s more to this, but I’d be wandering far too close to spoiling the end of it if I told you the rest. Of course, they’re miles away from civilisation, so it’s just the film crew who have to save America from their evil plan. Have they got enough real bullets? Can the special effects guy make reasonable-looking explosions from the stuff he has lying around? Will the director and his leading lady realise they’re perfect for each other before one of them gets shot?

Let’s play “same / different”, where I list things this movie does exactly the same as other Prior efforts, and then things he tries that are different.

Same: the banter. Oh god, the terrible banter.

Different: people actually take proper cover when other people are firing at them!

Same: military base in a bunch of tents in a forest clearing.

Different: an interesting central relationship between a man and a woman.

Same: Even though the VHS box claimed “town”, it was set in the forest, again.

Different: This was a bad idea, I can see that now.

The movie crew’s plan to rescue their kidnapped director is so perfunctory that it might almost have been designed as a joke – as is their big plan to stop the invasion. Then there’s the crazy reasoning behind it all, and then…there’s quite a big twist, and an even bigger final twist, which is ballsy, sort of explains every ridiculous thing that’s gone before and fits rather well.

It feels like maybe this and the following documentary “That’s Action” are of a pair, building the mythology of AIP. They’re so good their crew could fight real terrorists! Okay, maybe not. But it’s…well, I’m not sure what it is, but I admire them again trying something different, even if the VHS connoisseurs of the time must have been a little nonplussed.

Rating: thumbs up