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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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

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

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

Center of the Web (1992)

As we progress further into the 1990s with David A Prior, we happen upon what might be called, if you squint and are extremely generous, his attempt at a homage to Alfred Hitchcock. There are double and triple crosses, innocent people being mistaken for assassins and drawn into plots, romance, murder and a variety of colourful locations. Okay, there’s nothing quite like Mount Rushmore, but they try!

Our “hero” is John Philips (Ted Prior), an acting coach who has a bit of a weird introduction as he’s asking a couple of his students to act out a love scene on stage. He gives a bit of instruction to his class about rolling with the punches, like if you’re acting and something goes wrong, you’ve got to improvise. Fine advice, and not at all foreshadowing. He’s dating a lawyer, Kathryn (Charlene Tilton), and while he’s waiting outside a building for her to get her purse, he’s bundled into a car by a bad-looking fellow, Tony (William Zipp, making a return to the Prior-verse), and instructed to kill some Governor, or something. But before he’s had the chance to say much more than “no idea what you’re talking about, mate”, some other car is chasing their car and peppering them with bullets.

From this misunderstanding (or is it?), a web begins to trap John, with every turn being a bad one for him, getting more and more entangled in the world of the Department of Justice, hitmen, the CIA (I think), and, er, Tony Curtis. The DOJ want him to continue playing the part of the hitman to infiltrate the bad guys, the bad guys want him to kill people, you know the drill.

Tony Curtis. We’ve encountered him before (“Bounty Hunters 2”), at the back end of a glorious career, owing an alimony payment and therefore doing a quick few days’ work on whatever garbage movie wanted his name on their poster. Here, he’s the friend of Kathryn’s dead father who promised to look after her, but as you don’t have Curtis in your movie for such a nothing role, and they make zero effort to hide that it’s him, it’s no surprise when he’s revealed as some sort of kingpin – although to confuse us, they don’t tell us why he’s doing what he’s doing or what he hopes to gain from it.

As I mentioned in my review of “Raw Nerve”, this second stage of Prior’s career featured bigger names and budgets. We get Robert Davi (“Maniac Cop 2”) in a great role, and (for some reason top billed) Charles Napier as a guy who turns up in one scene just to get shot. There’s some fun stunts, too, like the school bus chase scene, and the one where Ted has to climb over a speeding truck, but during the end credits they – for some reason – play it at normal speed and it looks embarrassing.

I also mentioned that things became somewhat duller. With that pivot towards more mainstream thriller fare, and the smoothing of the rough edges that made Prior’s earlier movies so memorable, there’s a definite loss somewhere. Perhaps when you’re aiming for Hitchcock rather than some cheesy war movie, your failures become more apparent – or the reverse, you’re aware of just how skillful Hitchcock was at generating plot and suspense.

So, another movie that’s bad because it’s not as bad as what came before, if you catch my drift. The sheer volume of twists and double-crosses and reveals becomes wearying after a while, too – it would be more of a twist if they just told a straight story once in a while.

Rating: thumbs down

Raw Nerve (1991)

Welcome, dear reader, to phase 2 of the filmmaking career of David A Prior. We made it through 1989 and 1990, where he had a hand (writing, directing, or both) in a staggering 11 movies; cast his old friends, such as William Zipp, Fritz Matthews, and Douglas Harter; often used “traumatised war veteran” as a central plot point; and heavily filmed in the woods outside his beloved Mobile, Alabama.

Phase 2 appears to last all the way to his “retirement” in 1997 (he made a handful of movies starting in 2007, though). He made fewer movies a year – two, on average; used actors you might have actually heard of; and the budgets, if this is any indication, went way up. Actual sets, inside buildings!

I got worried at the beginning, as I thought this was going to be set in a funfair, and as we all know, all movies set at funfairs suck (exception – “Carnival Of Souls”). But it’s just the spot of the first murder, where a couple of twins wearing red high-heels go into the hall of mirrors and are offed by a mysterious figure. One is strangled, the other, more importantly to the plot, is shot in the face.

Our star today is a welcome return for Ted Prior, who I wanted to interview about his brother’s movies but I looked on his Facebook page and saw tons of Donald Trump propaganda so I just insulted his dumb views instead and moved on. Anyway, he is, according to the VHS box, Jimmy Clayton, a race-car driver who is bringing up his sister Gina (Traci Lords) after the deaths of their parents some years previously. Jimmy has to go and earn a crust from driving a race-car, in a show that starts at 10:30am (?), so he’s off to pick up his mechanic / best friend, Blake Garrett (the great Randall “Tex” Cobb).

During the race, he starts having psychic visions of the murder that happened the previous night. Now, my first thought was “he could have just heard about it on the news that morning, it’s not that psychic” but he goes to the fun-fair, sees a newspaper and realises he has visions of what went on. Being a good citizen, he goes to the police to offer his help, and so we meet the other half of the cast.

The captain is Gavin (Glenn Ford, aka Pa Kent from the 1978 “Superman”, and a million other roles in a busy career- this, sadly, was his last before he retired) and his lieutenant is Bruce (Jan Michael Vincent). We met Vincent before, in 1990’s “Xtro 2”, where he was so indifferent to the filming process that he had to have every line fed to him from just off screen, before he said it. His alcoholism, which stopped his film career in 2002, had already seized control of him, although he could still just about operate. The final piece of this puzzle is Gloria (Sandahl Bergman, “Hell Comes To Frogtown”) as a reporter who’s also Bruce’s ex-wife. She sees Jimmy claim he’s a psychic and decides there’s a story there.

So, we discover the dark story behind the deaths of the parents, the fact the killer has a thing about women wearing red high heels, and the fact the entire female cast seem obsessed with taunting the killer by wearing red high heels at every opportunity. Blake finds a high heel in the back of…Jimmy’s car?…and we can’t tell if he’s remembering murdering someone or worried about the killer leaving evidence on his car. This deliberate and crude withholding of information is, while stupid, at least an attempt to make an interesting thriller, I guess.

There’s some good dialogue, too. My favourite is this exchange between Gavin and Bruce.

Bruce (given work he doesn’t want): I shoulda been a dentist.

Gavin: I should have been a florist. (PAUSE) I like flowers!

It’s all in the delivery, and when you’ve got an actor of Glenn Ford’s calibre, you can have these moments.

Everything completely falls to pieces in the last fifteen minutes, with characters behaving in bizarre ways just to keep the movie going, and I can’t tell if it’s just my having seen twenty Prior movies in the last few months, but the twist was painfully obvious. Still, the final effect, where a truck flies off the top of a multi-storey parking lot, looked completely real and therefore quite expensive. Not a bad effort!

While I admire how Prior is prepared to go dark, and put his central characters in situations that more mainstream directors wouldn’t, it’s still a bit confusing and boring. Like, why make Prior’s character a race-car driver if you’re not going to have some sort of use of his skills towards the end of the movie? Just little things like that begin to wear on you after a while. So, it’s definitely a step up from phase 1, perhaps the reason phase 1 was so often enjoyable was because they were cheap, and a bit shoddy. This feels too average.

Rating: thumbs down

Born Killer (1989)

Teenagers? Covered in bugs? What movie were they watching?

“Born Killer” honestly feels like something the regular cast and crew of Action International Pictures (David A Prior’s company) made on a slack weekend. Ted Prior says to David “I’d like to do a movie where I’m the deranged villain”, the two of them knock up a script over a pot of coffee, Kimberley Casey, who was their producer for a few years, indicating she invested in the company, asked for a directing job, regular co-star William Zipp gets the last of his five credits as casting director (?), and this is the end result.

Thank the heavens, though, that we get a war flashback in the first five minutes, just like we have in pretty much every David A Prior-associated movie to this point. They’re from Nick, who had to kill his injured best friend in…a war of some sort. He doesn’t look old enough to have been in Vietnam?

Nick is played by Fritz Matthews, one of the Priors’ early collaborators, and this is his last ever acting job (well, unless you count whatever he does in 2013’s “Deadliest Prey”, the fanservice-sequel to the classic “Deadly Prey”). Much like William Zipp, he’s a totally decent actor and deserved better roles – perhaps neither man enjoyed it all that much and just wanted to help out their friends, though.

So, Nick and his buddies, one car full of guys, one full of gals, are off to the wilderness for a weekend of paintballing. Along the way, they happen upon a chain gang, breaking up rocks and shovelling mud, and the face we ISCFC fans immediately recognise is Ted Prior, as particularly evil convict Spencer. Him and his buddy Anderson (James Adam Tucker) have, for reasons I either missed or were never explained, had pistols planted at the scene by persons unknown, so they can break out. So there’s a big gunfight – in the tradition of David A Prior, of course, no-one can shoot worth a damn – and the two of them escape, leaving the other convicts to sink or swim on their own.

Judging by the info, I assumed that the convicts would stalk the paintballers, but they come together quite quickly, and it’s here, about a third of the way into things, when the movie takes a rather upsetting turn. Spencer and Anderson rape and kill two of the women, beat Nick and his buddy Trapper up, steal their clothes and sort-of depart. Seriously guys, what’s your plan? So when the sheriff (who could 100% make a career as a Ted Turner lookalike) and his deputies turn up, you’ve got a couple of normal guys in prison outfits, a couple of prisoners in normal outfits, and a whole heap of cops, wandering round the woods.

It’s clear the two movies the Priors saw before writing their script for this were “First Blood” and “Deliverance”, and perhaps they’d seen part of “High Plains Drifter” too. Nick and Trapper are forced to kill a few cops in order to survive, and Spencer and Anderson keep popping up to kill people (or to rape and kill the remaining woman of the group, Spencer doing it while Anderson cheers him on like a geek). The sheriff is so determined to avenge the deaths of the prison guards that, even when evidence is presented to him that the two guys in prison outfits might not be the escapees, he demands that his deputies hang everyone they find, anyway.

It’s a very dark, quite disjointed movie, with any camp fun definitely spoiled by the sexual assault stuff. Spencer says “soldier boy” to refer to Nick approximately 17,000 times during the movie’s 90 minutes, and they unfortunately forget to give Nick an arc. He uses his soldiering skills to fight back against both Spencer and Anderson, but it’s safe to say he’s not getting over his PTSD after the events he witnesses.

There are technical lulls you don’t normally associate with an AIP movie, which is a sentence I never thought I’d write. Like how Spencer’s chest tattoo starts wearing off in the middle of the final fist-fight; or how Anderson keeps forgetting to limp after he gets a spike through his thigh; or how one of the paintballers is being held hostage and the two villains just forget about him in one scene, yet there he is, still a hostage in the next scene. Run the hell away! Or edit your movie better!

So it’s a curious one, is “Born Killer”. Not dull, but definitely not good either. Prior relishes the chance to play the villain; but it’s really just a bunch of people running round the woods, same as the ultra-low-budget monster movies we used to review a few years ago. Just generic and makes you think of plenty of better movies and how you’d rather be watching them.

Rating: thumbs down

Future Zone (1990)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: thumbs up