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

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

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

Killzone (1985)

The ISCFC’s journey through the movies of the Prior brothers continues with director David’s second, and it’s a puzzler. I will have to give away the twist, as otherwise this would be a very short review (it does happen fairly early on, too), so if you’re interested in watching it, I’ll post the link to the full movie on Youtube below these very words right here so you can check it out for yourself.

Trapped in a POW camp in Vietnam are a bunch of soldiers – most notably McKenna (Fritz Matthews) and Mitchell (Ted Prior). The scenery is nothing at all like Vietnam, and the camp is tiny and cheap-looking, but I laughed this off as just the miniscule budget that Prior was working with. Little did I know! There’s a “hot box” made out of corrugated iron, and the head of the camp, Major Ling, along with collaborator Colonel Crawford, are really pumping McKenna for information. McKenna seems like he’s losing his mind, and will give up the secrets the Vietcong are asking for, when he sees a chance to escape, kills a guard and hightails it into the woods.

This is maybe the first half-hour of the movie, and while it’s not original, it’s kind of okay. My interest was definitely held. But then…it turns out the entire thing is some sort of “survivalist-type military camp” and, one would assume, all the men have paid to be there! Mitchell breaks character to demand the Colonel answer for his excessive treatment of McKenna, and suddenly a lot of questions come up. Did McKenna pay for the entire thing himself? Why? How long were they there, as presumably McKenna didn’t lose his mind on day one? Why did everyone maintain character at every second, even when they can see they’re about to have a huge problem? What sort of crazy business model is this?

The rest of the movie is a rough approximation of “First Blood”, just with one good guy (Mitchell) on the other side too. McKenna runs into some locals, and has some vivid dreams where his friends are dead and he’s unable to help them. There’s a weird reference to George Lucas – one of the other soldiers is named Lucas, and when he gives his name, rank and number, it’s got 1138 in there (Lucas’ first movie was “THX-1138”, and there’s been 1138 references in all the old Star Wars movies) – and a helicopter chase which, despite being well-filmed from a technical perspective, goes on for way too long and is completely pointless.

So much of this is skating round the central issue of not really knowing why it’s there. Unless I missed a crucial line of dialogue, the existence of this camp makes absolutely no sense whatsoever – a largely similar plot, just one that bothers to be remotely logical, would be used to far greater effect in “Deadly Prey”, which the Priors would make with most of the same cast a few years later. One of McKenna’s “flashbacks” involves Crawford killing his wife and kid, but whether this is guilt over something he did himself, just a fantasy or literal reality is never commented on by any character or the movie itself. This somewhat surrealistic take on action movie tropes leads me to believe Prior still had no idea what he was doing, but it didn’t fit quite as well as the oddity of his first movie, “Sledgehammer”.

One thing that Prior lucked into was having a decent leading man in his back pocket. Ted Prior, honestly, deserved a better career than he had, as he’s got a great look and can actually sell a scene pretty well. Co-star Fritz Matthews, whose entire career was five or so Prior movies, is the same, a solid actor with a decent look. There’s not a weak performance among them, really, and there’s even a small part for Simon Rhee – aka the bad guy from the first “Best Of The Best” and one of the UniSols in the first “Universal Soldier”. I’d have enjoyed seeing Ted in something where he got to stretch his wings a little, but if they were both happy with the arrangement, who am I to complain?

I think this can safely be disregarded as minor work from the brothers, and unless you’re like me and have some sort of compulsion, skip from “Sledgehammer” maybe straight to “Killer Workout”. It’s just…boring? I mean, you get a fun decapitation and a few cool scenes, but you also get a ten-minute helicopter chase with no payoff and a plot which is bonkers (just not in a good way).

Rating: thumbs down

Movies We Won’t Be Reviewing: Nudes In Limbo (1983)

Bad movie afficionados of an older generation may remember “Orgy Of The Dead”, the Ed Wood Jr – written movie (although to call it written is perhaps overstating it) where a couple has a car crash, wanders into a clearing in the woods and watches bored-looking women strip for about an hour. Back in the day when you had to pay serious cash money to see these monstrosities, I bought a VHS of it only to go from rubbing my hands with glee at the thought of more work from the great Ed Wood to falling asleep at yet another partially undressed, sort of dowdy 1960s lady (ps – the twist at the end is that the couple are dead and this is some sort of purgatory. It’s not worth the wait to find that out).

 

Although the Priors are nowhere near as famous as Ed Wood, and this is rightly completely forgotten, it’s sort of in the same ballpark. Ted Prior, star of “Sledgehammer” and almost all his brother David’s movies, had a side-gig in LA of being a Playgirl model / bodybuilder and, between “Sledgehammer” and his second narrative movie, “Killzone” (review coming soon) he made this, which also stars at least one “Scream Queen”, Michelle Bauer. The only other cast member with an IMDB photograph is a lady by the name of Shauna Green, a porn actress who committed suicide the year after this movie was released. Her extraordinarily sad life story, which makes Dana Plato’s look like a walk in the park, can be read about on Wikipedia, should you have had a good day and want to feel bad for a moment.

 

It’s a soft-core videotape which you can still watch in its entirety provided you have ad-blockers and strong antivirus protection, on any number of “adult video” sites, and really isn’t a movie at all. It’s an hour’s worth of extreme closeups of hot bodies in motion, exercising or just moving about, on an entirely blank background to make it look like they’re in limbo. I guess. Clearly, there was some sort of market for this thing. Anyway, Ted is in it, for a few minutes, and if anything I’ve said so far appeals to you in the slightest, then please go and watch it. The director, one Bruce Seth Green, went on to direct lots of TV (including a decent number of early episodes of “Buffy The Vampire Slayer”).

 

The microscopic gap between the low-rent B-movies I love and genuinely awful sleaze becomes a little miserable, at times. Normal service will be resumed soon.