Relentless Justice (2015)

It’s over! The review series that started over a year ago, when I thought “wouldn’t it be fun to see if all David A Prior’s movies are as entertaining as Deadly Prey?” ends with the rather definitive answer “no” (to both parts of the question), and yet another journey to the woods of rural Alabama.

There’s still “Dancin’: It’s On!”, which Prior co-wrote with producer / director David Winters, who funded him back in the AIP days; but Prior didn’t direct that and I have absolutely no desire to watch a low-budget version of a genre I already had no interest in. We have a short film called “Way of Redemption” and a full-length one called “Assassin’s Fury” both listed as in “post-production” on IMDB – but, as Prior died in 2015 and there was no big money behind him, I’m guessing they’ll never see the light of day.

Anyway, let’s talk “Relentless Justice”. Although, I could just copy and paste my reviews of “Killzone”, or “Deadly Prey”, or “Death Chase”, or indeed his last movie “Deadliest Prey”, as it’s yet another take on perennial bad movie favourite, “The Most Dangerous Game”, where a group of (usually rich) assholes hunts some poor fool for sport. When the plot began to unfurl, I wondered why Prior had bothered making what was largely the same story, minus the gender of the hunted, and then I realised it’s a perfect end to his filmography; in other words, annoying and confusing.

The first thing we see is a woman park right in front of a “no parking” sign, seemingly not deliberately. A young woman is going on a camping trip with her new boyfriend, and the mother is rather paranoid, telling her to be careful, and giving her a code to survive by. It sounds like “ippity”, but it actually means “Identify, predict, decide, execute”. If you’re wondering if this code will prove useful, either to the daughter or mother, at any point in the course of “Relentless Justice”, then be assured it’s just a massive red herring. Or maybe Prior forgot about it. Who knows? The mother, Victoria De Vries, runs an MMA gym, and actually looks good doing it, unlike almost every other female fighter in the history of low-budget cinema.

Victoria is played by Leilani Sarelle, who was also in “Night Claws”, and in this movie she’s doing an Australian accent (we learn later she used to be in the Australian SAS, in a speech that’s known as the “ultimate badass” among we bad movie enthusiasts).

So, the couple go for their camping trip, but are immediately interrupted by the boyfriend getting his throat cut by a group of angry locals, an all-star team of scumbags. We have the Mayor (Vernon “Commando” Wells), the Sheriff (long-time Prior associate David Campbell), a gent by the name of “Boozer” (Art James, another Prior regular) and Matthews (Ted Prior, who seems to enjoy playing a villain, quite a way down the cast list). He’s killed immediately and she’s captured because they want to use her as bait to get to Victoria, who they think would be a better prey for their little hunting game.

Okay, a quick aside. Vernon Wells, as you may remember if you’ve seen “Commando”, is Australian. He makes no attempt to hide his accent here, and Satsuma, Alabama (a real town, and clearly where they filmed most of the exteriors, such as they are) may be the only deep-south town with an Australian mayor. But, as we mentioned a few paragraphs ago, Sarelle is also doing an Australian accent. Now, that seems like the sort of thing that would be mentioned later on, when the two characters meet. Perhaps they know each other? It would be an extra layer, that’s for sure. Want to guess if anything is made of two major characters in this Alabama-set movie being from Australia?

After not hearing from her daughter in like 12 hours, Victoria decides to go for a drive to where she’ll be camping – she’s paranoid enough to have a GPS tracker set up on her daughter’s phone. Now, bear in mind her daughter is an adult and doesn’t have to call, and is going to the wilderness where there’s never cell reception – okay, it turns out her fears are legitimate, but it still seems pretty weird.

So, she comes up against the town’s crooked leaders, but finds a few good people – Deputy Deborah (Sonia Curtis) and the town’s doctor, Traci Lind (Tara Kleinpeter, a Prior regular by this point). Traci’s husband was killed by the hunters soon after their arrival in town, and Traci wants revenge and hopes Victoria can get it. A solid basis for a plot, definitely.

If you’ve cheated and gone and read the cast list for this, you’ll be wondering what’s happening with the biggest name attached to this project – Eric Roberts – and other name actors Mark Rolston (“Aliens”, “The Shawshank Redemption”) and Sherrie Rose (ISCFC classic “Summer Job”). Well, they clearly had Roberts for half a day, so to say he’s crowbarred into the movie and has absolutely no relation to the main plot whatsoever would almost be an understatement. He’s a mafia guy who is told by Rose of a small town in Alabama where he can store all his drugs, or whatever. He comes in for a meeting with the Mayor, and then drives off. That’s it. Rolston is a hired gun, brought in when it becomes apparent that they’ve bitten off more than they can chew with Victoria. One might think it’s a bad idea to introduce a new main character with 15 minutes of your movie to go, but no-one ever told David A Prior that.

Much like “Night Claws”, main characters die in completely meaningless ways, lessening any drama the movie might have. The doctor’s off-screen death and then her post-death contribution to the plot is really top-level bizarre.

“Relentless Justice” is so slow. All the fun stuff – the hunting of Victoria – happens in the last quarter of the movie, which up to then has been somewhat leisurely paced. Some bits of that final chase are fun, but it’s nothing you’ve not seen dozens and dozens of times before, in the filmography of the same man even. A thoroughly unsatisfying end to a largely unsatisfying career.

I’ll be doing a career retrospective of Prior for We Are Movie Geeks (www.wearemoviegeeks.com) to purge myself of him, and then we’ll be moving on to more fun projects, more reviews of the sort of thing we love to entertain both ourselves and (hopefully) you.

Rating: thumbs down

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Deadliest Prey (2013)

In 1991, a fan of the TV show “Doctor Who” decided to launch a direct-to-VHS series called “The Stranger”, starring former Doctor Colin Baker, his former TV sidekick Nicola Bryant, and former Doctor Who villain “Davros” as characters just dissimilar enough from those roles to avoid legal issues. While not as terrible as that could have been, the feel of it being a home movie for the benefit of one man – its maker – was occasionally difficult to shake off.

So it is with 2013’s “The Deadliest Prey”, a sequel to Prior’s most famous movie, “Deadly Prey”. Although the names are the same, and it has a handful of the same people in it, it’s very little more than a fan-made tribute to the first movie, with the money man actually making an appearance as a money man, funding the all-new hunt of Mike Danton.

Colonel Hogan (David Campbell) didn’t die at the end of the last movie, way back in 1987, and has in fact been in prison all that time – he might be the only person to receive an appropriate legal punishment in this entire filmography. He’s picked up on his release from prison by Sophia (Tara Kleinpeter, who was in all of Prior’s last three movies), who clearly has a thing for old angry men, and she’s already set up a new military base so he can exact his revenge.

Mike Danton (Ted Prior) is living a nice quiet suburban life with his new wife Alison (Cat Tomeny) and son Michael (Ted’s actual son, also Michael), but he’s caught, in the exact same was as he was in part 1, while taking out the garbage. So he’s captured, taken out to the woods – yes, once again we’re getting treated to a lesson on the flora and fauna of the areas immediately surrounding Mobile, Alabama – and sent out (in his pyjamas) to run away from a large group of men with guns.

Oh, and there are three “nerds” who I presume are Kickstarter backers – one of whom is wearing an “Everything Is Terrible” shirt, so he may belong to that group – for this movie, as none of them are actors, sat around a table playing a game and bemoaning the lack of realism in modern gaming. The woman says “true that” to a point where she’s clearly trying to launch a career at fan conventions as the “true that lady”. They decide to help Danton later, but their subplot is so awful and amateurish I can’t be bothered to talk about it.

Let’s talk Bad Guy Economics!

I wondered, for a while, how Hogan was funding this, how he found people willing to die in order to hunt and kill one guy in the woods. In the first movie, he had a job, and that job was training soldiers by having them hunt the most dangerous game. Simple, and effective. But now he’s hiring people, and these people all have to agree to track another human through the woods and kill them, not because he’s a bad person or anything, but because Hogan wants him dead. Plus, not a single one of these people can go to the cops and say “do you know what this lunatic is planning out in the woods?”

Turns out his entire enterprise is being funded by a couple of rich douchebags, who want to turn it into an online TV show. Let’s discuss this. First up, every ISP in the Western world would block any and all links to a stream of murderers trying to commit murder, and anyone who tried to pay to watch it would be arrested. It’s not like you can fund Isis via PayPal! Also, anyone can watch it at any time (it’s on in bars, and the three nerds find it almost immediately) so, how are these guys making their money?

But I’m getting ahead of myself a little. Danton starts slaughtering Hogan’s men immediately – I counted 15 deaths in the first 20 minutes – and continues killing at the same grim pace throughout. At no point does he check one of the soldiers for a mobile phone or a radio he can try and get help with; he seems happy to be trapped in a forest with apparently hundreds of men trying to murder him with guns which they all decide not to use when they come into sight of our hero. Danton really kills a lot of people, and shows zero remorse, even when one of the guys begs for his life after saying he only took the job because he needed the money. As this is all on camera, he’s going to have a rough time explaining it to the authorities, one would think. Oh wait, they don’t exist! Not a single cop is seen doing what it takes the nerds ten seconds to – track down where the broadcast is coming from and go there.

Fritz Matthews, who was killed in part 1, returns in part 2 as his own brother, wanting revenge on Danton – the years haven’t been too kind to him, but he does his job as well as could be expected. I was hoping for a brief appearance from Doug “Pappy” Harter, who I know wasn’t even in part 1, but it looks like he’s retired. Or died, and no-one told IMDB. Hope you’re okay Doug, if you’re reading this!

Having now watched all but one of the officially released David A Prior movies, I’m really not sure why “Deadly Prey” is so beloved by bad movie aficionados. It’s okay, for sure, but isn’t much more than a bog-standard “The Most Dangerous Game” re-telling with a sprinkle of “Rambo”. “Killzone”, “Death Chase” and “Night Wars” are all either weirder-plotted or more entertaining (or both) and “The Final Sanction” has the campy entertainment in spades, too.

According to the limited information online, this was filmed at least partly because they had a few days extra either before or after filming “Relentless Justice”, which will be the end of this long strange trip. It shows, too. If you really liked the original, then I guess watch this for whatever closure you assume it may bring to you. If not, then seriously avoid it and just remember Prior for when his bad movies were at least fun.

Rating: thumbs down

Hard Target 2 (2016)

A mere 23 years later, with none of the original cast or crew returning, Universal decided to give us a sequel to the Jean-Claude Van Damme gem “Hard Target”, one of the dozens and dozens of cinematic riffs on 1926 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. I suppose the name recognition of the original being directed by John Woo was just enough to get them to not just make an entirely new film. Or someone offered them a job lot of doves and they had that thing where a lightbulb appears above their heads?

Anyway, replacing JCVD is the guy who he must have been grooming as his replacement, as they appeared in a heck of a lot of movies together, Scott Adkins. Adkins is superb, although he doesn’t have that unusual charisma, he’s JCVD’s equal as a screen fighter and clearly superior as an actor. We’ve covered him in “Eliminators”, the last “Universal Soldier” instalment, and “Ninja”, and will review more of his movies soon. Well, when we’ve completed all the other half-done review series, probably.

Adkins is MMA star Wes “The Jailor” Baylor (I was irritated a little straight off the bat, as it’s “jailer”, but I guess it’s to match his surname, even though it’s stupid), and as we first meet him he’s about to have a fight with Jonny Sutherland, who he appears to be hated enemies with. Later on, we learn that the two of them are best friends who are only fighting because the money is so good, but there’s no love lost between the two in the ring, as Jonny fights dirty and Wes really seems to dislike his wife. I kept expecting some sort of explanation as to why the two of them had fallen out, but no. Maybe left on the cutting room floor? (It is quite long, unacceptably so for an action B-movie like this).

Okay, at this point, halfway through the fight, if you’ve watched any movies before, you’ll be able to tell exactly where the plot is going. Wes will kill his friend and leave the world of MMA behind, and then a few months later, living in some dingy hovel somewhere, he’ll be offered the chance to be the prey in a human-hunting expedition led by some rich assholes. That all this happens and I’m relating this to you after watching it might make you think I’m making it up, but it’s not exactly my finest moment of future-prediction. He actually doesn’t leave fighting behind, just moving to Thailand and kicking ass in a variety of colourful yet low-rent locales; before he fights at a wealthy person’s party on a rooftop terrace and is noticed by Aldrich (Robert Knepper).

Ah, Robert Knepper. For when you want an even sleazier version of Lance Henriksen, he’s your man. He’s an extremely busy actor, and as well as the stuff that pays the rent (big TV roles, character work in A-list movies) he also loves doing cheesy stuff like this, chewing scenery in a variety of villainous roles. Thank you, Robert, for elevating a bad guy like Aldrich. His business model is bribing a general in the Myanmar army to let him use a patch of the jungle there as his hunting ground, and apparently tricking the occasional Western idiot into thinking he’s going there for a million dollar payday in a real fight.

Wes is thus tricked, and is forced to run with a colourful group of hunters in hot pursuit. As well as Aldrich and his sidekick Madden (the great Temuera Morrison), there’s Sofia, the daughter of a super-rich oil tycoon (Rhona Mitra, who was once within a hair’s breadth of proper movie fame but is now stuck in stuff like this), Esparto the bullfighter, a redneck father and son, and a video-game designer.

From then on, until the last five minutes, it becomes a people-walking-through-the-jungle movie, which we here at the ISCFC have reviewed many of. So many. Wes escapes, occasionally kills someone (although he seems legitimately upset at having to do it) and his pursuers get angrier and angrier. He meets a beautiful local in the wilderness, who’s trying to save her village, so gets involved in her story, which gives us the opportunity to have one of those scenes where the beautiful local woman tends to the hero’s wounds. No romance in this one, though.

Because it’s a sequel to a John Woo film, they make an effort to make it look like one. There’s doves all over the shop, and the slow-mo arrow thing he used in the original makes a reappearance. The gun that the villain uses at the end is the same as the gun Lance Henriksen used; and the boat chase that Woo planned but never used (because JCVD wanted a horseback chase) is used here too. So, while director Roel Reine (the WWE wrestling-movie house guy) is no Woo, he at least uses the building blocks reasonably well.

There’s some odd little bits of humour here and there, like Wes being about to hit an elephant which has smacked him one, getting told off by his new lady friend, and saying “he threw the first punch!” Aldrich has some cracking one-liners too – nothing too much, but like a spoonful of sugar to help the medicine go down.

You know how these things are going to go. There is nothing new under the sun, and that’s doubly true for Most Dangerous Game-inspired B-movies. But the stars are fun, the action is decent, and although it mostly ditches the wealthy-hunting-the-poor text of part 1 (the two rednecks don’t seem particularly rich, just assholes) and therefore doesn’t quite have the engine to power the action, it’s still perfectly fine.

There’s something I want to get into, though, and that’s the scene that plays along with the credits, after the ending has the bad guys all dead and the good guys happy. There’s no drama left, no possibility of a twist or anything, so watching Wes go about a day of travelling through Thailand is quite curious. He gets on a bus, eats a little, walks around, enters a house…and that’s it! It feels like a filler scene that was cut, with good reason, but someone somewhere insisted it was included. It’s one of the most curious choices in modern cinema (I say this without fear of hyperbole) and leaves you sort of puzzled and annoyed when you just want to be satisfied with a good slab of action cinema.

Rating: thumbs up

Hard Target (1993)

This is perhaps a bit too big and polished for us to review here at the ISCFC – directed by John Woo before he became a Chinese government propagandist, hefty budget, people you’ve heard of in starring roles – but they made a “sequel” last year starring Scott Adkins, and we love Scott Adkins, so we decided to watch this again for fun. If you’re a reader of this site, I’d be genuinely surprised if you’d not already seen it, so let’s take a wander through a real B-movie classic.

The presence of the cajun subculture in the USA is a huge boon to Jean-Claude Van Damme, who’s played one in multiple movies so he doesn’t have to hide his accent. He’s played characters like “Luc Devereaux” (the Universal Soldier series), “Frenchy”, “Philip Sauvage”, “Kyle LeBlanc” and here he’s “Chance Boudreaux”, the former soldier and now semi-drifter who’s brought into the orbit of Natasha “Nat” Binder (Yancy Butler, whose struggles with alcoholism aged her rather significantly so looks weirdly young here) pretty much by accident.

Nat is in New Orleans looking for her father, who she lost touch with many years ago. He was a former soldier who found life after the service to be difficult and slipped into a subculture of homelessness and infrequent labour; I’d say the movie had something interesting to say about how countries treat their soldiers but it’s all over the place politically, being vehemently anti-union too (the cop who helps them out, eventually, is the only scab as the rest of the police department is on strike).

We saw, though, from the first scene, that her father was killed by a group of scumbag “hunters”, led by Lance Henriksen with support from Arnold Vosloo (two actors with many, many ISCFC credits between them). Yes, it’s “The Most Dangerous Game” once again, as reviewed by us in “Death Chase”, “The Condemned” and “The Condemned 2”, “The Eliminator”, “Turkey Shoot”, “Deadly Run”, “Deadly Prey”, “Immortal Combat”, and probably a few others I’ve forgotten (as well as literally hundreds of movies we’ve not got round to covering yet), where wealthy people with an inexplicable desire to literally murder the underclass they’ve already successfully exploited pay a group of villains to help them hunt a person.

The cold open is one of these scenes, and it immediately poses a question. How excited would you be if your heavily armed, rested, well-trained group shot a completely defenceless, exhausted man? Because they all seem way too pleased at what they’ve done. Perhaps actual hunters are like that when they shoot a deer or whatever. “Look at me! I can kill things!”

But this is John Woo, who knows how to make an exciting action movie without too much rubbish in it, so it’s packed with incident. One of the friendly homeless former servicemen is picked as the next victim of the hunt, the villains discuss how they wait for a place to have problems (like a police strike, or a war) to move in and ply their trade undisturbed by the authorities, and Chance, Kat and the cop work their way through the underbelly of New Orleans to find what happened to Kat’s dad.

You know, of course, it’s going to be JCVD as the subject of the hunt at some point, but they don’t give it to us immediately because they have a plot and actors who can act and a budget and all the other things that ISCFC movies are almost always lacking. You want to see him kick a bunch of ass, and he does. There’s a combination of JCVD’s brilliant fight scenes of the time and Woo’s gun-battle expertise (Woo didn’t usually have a lot of hand-to-hand in his classic movies, if memory serves), and there’s rarely a dull moment.

Ted “brother of Sam” Raimi pops up in a brief cameo as a douchebag, and I was all “huh?” Then I checked the credits and Sam Raimi is one of the producers, along with Robert Tapert (the two of them have produced pretty much all Sam’s movies). How the hell did that happen?

Okay, I know how it happened, but it’s still a bit of a “huh?” answer. Due to John Woo’s limited command of English, Raimi was hired to oversee the production and take over direction if Woo was unable to direct the English crew. Makes sense until you think, why Sam Raimi? A possible answer is that he and Van Damme were thinking of working on another movie together a few years previously, and had perhaps become friends; given Van Damme’s cosmic-sized ego, maybe they wanted a friend on set in case he tried to take things over? I’d like to see a Raimi commentary on “Hard Target”, definitely.

I’ve not even mentioned Wilford Brimley and his super-unconvincing cajun accent; the scene where JCVD punches out a snake; or even the plot of the second half of the movie. Van Damme gets upset over the killing of his old friend Roper, the saintly homeless soldier who supplies the main cast with most of their information, and goes after Henriksen; he then offers some former clients the chance to hunt the ultimate prey for $750,000. Although after he shoots the first hunter for not being violent enough, if I was one of the other three guys, I’d have packed my guns up and gone home. Perhaps why I’m not a psychopath, maybe?

It’s a glorious movie, I reckon. All Woo’s trademarks are there – the doves, the slow motion, the bullet ballet – but it’s filtered through our favourite lunatic Belgian action hero. Apparently, Woo’s original cut was almost two hours long and focused much more on Henriksen (he and Arnold Vosloo, as his assistant, are fantastic together and I wish they’d done a lot more as a team) so JCVD and his editor locked themselves in a room for two days and cut it to the length we see now. I would love to see that version!

Every day where I don’t find out that Van Damme was a massive sex-pest in his prime is a good day; so I can still enjoy his classic movies, when studios gave him a budget, great co-stars and high-end directors (see also: Timecop, which we’ll cover soon). A true blending of Woo’s sensibilities with his star’s abilities, one of the great action movies of the era.

Rating: thumbs up

Death Chase (1988)

Welcome back to our series of reviews of the movies of the Prior brothers, who were crazily prolific in the late 80s – an average of 5 movies a year were directed by David A. Prior between 1988 and 1990. And not all of them had the same plot!

Although this could, quite reasonably, be said to be a development of the “themes” that he “developed” in “Kill Zone” and “Deadly Prey” – in other words, it’s yet another spin on 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game”. A car chase between a guy who’s so happy to have a random .44 pistol that he kisses it in a quiet moment, and a few ugly, badly dressed goons, introduces us to Steve Chase (yes, the title isn’t just a description of what goes on!), played by William Zipp, probably the best of the stock company Prior had at the time. He’s off out bicycling with his sister, but is caught up in the chase – he lies on the ground but his sister decides to run over and check on the status of the guy who was being chased.

She gets shot, and the chasee hands over his gun to Steve, saying he’s “it”. Please bear with me, this stuff is sort of important to the plot. So, the surviving chaser asks for the gun, but rather than hand it over, Steve shoots him, only to be witnessed in the act by an old lady (who apparently saw nothing else of the extremely noisy and bullet-drenched battle that went on just outside her house) and forced to go on the run.

So it’s a game, sort of a game of tag, but an extremely deadly one. The person with the gun has to survive teams of people trying to kill them, and the game is overseen by a room full of rich assholes – although what they gain from it, and just how the winner goes about claiming their prize, are matters of no interest to writer/director Prior or writers James Hennessy (“China O’ Brien 2”) and Craig Hyde (the latest member of the ISCFC One-Timers Club, having this as his only credit of any kind). The rich assholes have a guy on the ground overseeing things, and he’s the late great Paul L Smith (“Midnight Express”, “Popeye”, “Crime Wave”, “Pieces”). He’s “Steele”, and he makes sure that cops don’t stop him (by shooting them) and that hunters are punished for failure (by shooting them).

“Death Chase” gets going quickly, which I love. It’s barely ten minutes in before Steven is running from cops and teams of doughy, shabbily dressed assassins, seeming genuinely perplexed about how they keep finding him, and what the hell the game is all about. This is a level of perplexity he shares with the audience – I think Prior just assumed “rich people pay poor people to hunt other poor people” would be enough plot, no sense worrying about how they observed the competition or bet on it or whatever.

I do love how shabby it all is, though. There are too few movie car chases which prominently feature run-down old Volvos, and it’s one example of many of it looking exactly like a modern, big budget action movie, just without all the effects and A-list names and so on. Put Liam Neeson or Ryan Reynolds in the William Zipp role (a sentence I never thought I’d write) and you’ve got yourself a dependable slice of summer action fare.

My theory of Prior not being interested in exploiting women due to him possibly being gay took a battering with “Death Chase”, which features a scene in a strip club with a whole heap o’ nude ladies. But it’s also a really ugly, miserable looking strip club, so perhaps this is just him doing a scene to titilate the audience, but super-resentfully.

Not only is Chase dragged into proceedings entirely by accident, but so is his love interest, Diana (Bainbridge Scott). She’s just some passerby who nearly runs him over with her car, and from such a tiny acorn doth grow an oak of love. She doesn’t trust him, because obviously, then when she sees a bunch of people try to kill him for no reason, her opinion changes a little. It’s quite sweet, if a little Stockholm Syndrome-y. Then there’s his old buddy and a crooked cop to round things out.

If there’s any advice I could give to low-budget filmmakers, excepting the dozens of pieces of advice I’ve tried to foist on them down the years, it would be “pick your angles”. When you can’t afford to close a set, but have a gun battle going on twenty feet away from entirely indifferent motorists, it looks a bit weird. Just shoot from above so we can’t see the background so much, or something.

But I love their sense of making do with whatever is lying around, which is done here when they switch to boats at the end for no reason, I’m sure, other than someone offered the producers the use of a couple of speedboats for the afternoon. It’s a lot of fun and leads to you never being sure what to expect next.

The good – Zipp, Smith, the pace

The bad – most of the other actors, the moderately incomprehensible plot

The ugly – all the sets and cars and so on

I think this is probably my favourite Prior movie so far. It’s every bit as quick and strange as “Deadly Prey”, and has the bonus of no brain-twisting coincidences. It has a nice satisfying ending to it, and if you can track it down, I predict a fun evening ahead.

Ratin: thumbs up

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

The Condemned 2 (2015)

In this, one of the more pointless sequels it’s ever been our pleasure to cover, we have a very entertaining movie which doesn’t make the slightest bit of sense. It’s not so much “leave your brain at the door”, it’s “arrange to have it surgically removed and beaten long before you even set off to the cinema”.

WWE star Randy Orton finally gets his chance to star in an ISCFC-reviewed movie, after almost being in parts 2 and 3 of “The Marine” (missing out on part 2 due to injury, and part 3 due to someone discovering his less-than-stellar real life military past). He’s Will Tanner, a Bail Enforcement Agent, which I think just means bounty hunter, but you never know, and he and his team are trying to arrest Cyrus, who’s running the strangest underground gambling den of all time.

We’ve seen people bet on all sorts of strange things, but this is perhaps the strangest of them all. Along with his assistant Raul, he’s got two old homeless guys off the street, strapped them both into chairs and given them a lethal dose of some chemical. The betting is on who will die first! I can’t imagine this being too thrilling, even for the sort of jaded psychopath who can be found at one of these events, but there you go. Anyway, Will and his crew go non-lethal all the way, then Cyrus accidentally falls on some spikes and dies. There’s also one of those scenes that the great TV show “Justified” skewered so successfully, where the bad guy, told to stop moving, keeps creeping closer to the good guys until he’s within striking range. Shoot him when he won’t stop moving, dummy!

This causes arrests, even though the only real-life bounty hunter I ever read about killed several people and never did a minute of jail time for it. The team splits up, and Will has to go and apologise to his father, played by the slumming-it-for-20-years Eric Roberts. But Dad is cool with it, eventually, and supports Will when he gets a job as a tow-truck guy. There’s a little scene inserted here, when he helps a couple of college girls out and they basically undress him with their eyes – I think it’s in there because there’s not a whisper of romance, and the only female character is the boss of the towing company (she’s only in one scene). They needed to let you know ol’ Will is straight as a die.

Anyway, I’m just recapping the movie here! One day, one of his old crew shows up, takes him out for a beer and then tries to kill him – luckily, plenty of witnesses means Will is released pronto. Then, another crew member shows up and Will just heads off with him too, as if the last scene didn’t happen, and this guy tries to kill him too!

The gist of things is, Raul, the former assistant, even though he didn’t seem to like Cyrus at the beginning, has set up a “Most Dangerous Game” style event, blackmailing his old team into hunting Will down as revenge for the death of his boss. Dozens of high-rolling gamblers are there, betting on who will come out on top, and Raul keeps standing on tables and saying stupid things. It’s great!

But we must break things down with some bullet points. Not a single thing makes the slightest bit of sense from this point on, so let’s look at how and why. Spoilers, I guess, if you’re going to watch it.

  • Raul claims to have gotten his inspiration from the original Condemned “tournament”, despite them not being the same sort of thing, at all
  • He also claims the original was low-rent, surrounded as he is people gambling. That first movie had about 30 million people watching, at the cost of $50 each, netting him (at the very least) a high eight-figure sum. Given Raul has to pay the people who win, how much does he think he’s going to make?
  • Wouldn’t it be easier for him to just hire a bunch of people who are happy to kill for sport, rather than threaten the families of his old team?
  • Of the five team members who participate, three turn on Raul and help out Will. Does he do anything to their families? Of course not.
  • But one of the guys who does turn chooses to die rather than surrender, when dying holds no promise of helping out his family, surrender being by far the better option.
  • Raul puts himself in the game at the end, helped out by 20 armed goons. Given he’s expecting people to bet, who’s going to bet against the heavily-tooled-up army taking on three injured guys?
  • All the “participants” are sort of boring. If this was a wrestling tournament, you wouldn’t care about who won or lost, and you certainly wouldn’t bet on them. At least the first movie gave you some colourful villains!

This sounds like I hated it, and that’s not the case. There are some fun set-pieces, like in the minefield, and it’s anchored by a surprisingly good lead performance. Orton is great as a sort of super-tough everyman, the kind that “Rowdy” Roddy Piper used to play so well (although Piper was better at it), and if he’d been a bit less stupid I’d have been on board with it 100%. Roberts could have probably phoned his performance in from home, and Steven Michael Quezada as Raul starts at “way over the top” and just keeps on going. He understood the best just what sort of movie this was. Director Roel Reine has done tons of WWE movies so if you’ve seen one of them, chances are it looks quite a lot like this.

It’s a curious one. Lots of fun while being among the dumbest movies we’ve ever covered here, if you’re a WWE fan I’d recommend it; if you love gasping with incredulity I’d recommend it; if you like movies where zero women have anything to do, then…screw you, you sexist asshole, you don’t get a recommendation.

Rating: thumbs up

The Eliminator (2004)

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Bas Rutten could’ve been a star on a level with…well, not the Rock, but easily a Stone Cold Steve Austin or John Cena. He’s a super-charismatic Dutch mixed martial artist, and I think he came along a few years too early, leaving MMA just before it experienced its biggest wave of popularity (in the US, at least). He’s commentated on numerous MMA events and spent 10 years as host of TV show “Inside MMA”, and his own commentary on his career fight retrospective DVD is really entertaining – acting seemed a natural progression for someone with his gifts, but aside from an apparent long-lasting friendship with Kevin James (Rutten appeared on “King Of Queens”, and has made appearances in James’ movies regularly since then), that career never really took off. I imagine it must have been deliberate on his part, as if he’d wanted a career like recent Steven Seagal or Jean-Claude Van Damme, ploughing through swathes of Eastern European extras in Sofia, Bulgaria, he could have easily had one.

 

Before we get to the review, a word on “The Most Dangerous Game”, which I reference all the time as it’s one of the simplest and cheapest templates for low-budget cinema. It was a short story from 1924, written by Richard Connell, and is about a big-game hunter who finds himself shipwrecked on a deserted island, where he himself is hunted by Russian aristocrat, General Zaroff. All you need is some forest and a handful of actors (and preferably some scenes in a mansion, to let you know the villain is rich and evil), and you’ve got yourself a movie. Just in terms of ISCFC reviews, we’ve covered the 2014 version of “Turkey Shoot”, Donald Farmer’s “Deadly Run”, Roddy Piper gem “Immortal Combat”, Steve Austin’s “The Condemned” and 2009’s “The Tournament”; there are literally hundreds of others.

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“The Eliminator” starts off with a boat race, organised by wealthy scumbag businessman Dawson (Michael Rooker, who’s far too good / menacing to be in something as trashy as this). While the speedboats move round the Everglades-style location, we’re treated to their trash-talking dialogue to each other (which sounds like it was recorded via intercom), and I think it qualifies for some sort of “worst dialogue in movie history” award, or at the very least a nomination. Rutten is the totally normally named Dakota Varley, a former LAPD officer, and he wins; but before he can collect his $250,000 (for some random-ass boat race? I seriously question this movie’s grasp on cash), he’s drugged and wakes up in a plane above an island along with six other people in cages, where he’s shoved out with nothing more than a parachute.

 

The twist on the formula here is it’s a bet between a bunch of super-rich assholes, each of whom has found a “champion” – one a guerrilla fighter; one a drug-dealer’s main enforcer; a soldier; and so on. They’re gathered up and told that the last survivor gets $10,000,000, but they’ll be hunted at night by guys armed with rifles, rifles which for some reason only have two bullets each in them. They can kill each other at any time they like, and with those two simple instructions they’re sent off into the forest. A lot of this is an opportunity for Rutten to show off his fighting skills, which are extraordinary – his first big fight is against former UFC star Marco Ruas, and I get the feeling the director just pointed a few cameras at them and told them to go for it. Rutten seems at ease here, quipping to his stoney-faced opponent, and it’s only from here on out that you get a flavour of the charisma he has in spades.

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He befriends Jesse (Paul Logan, who looks a little like a ripped Jerry O’Connell), who’s a solid guy, and also Santha (Danielle Burgio), the freedom fighter, who perhaps seems a little too friendly? Anyway, people run round the forest, make plans, get shot and occasionally do some shooting, and the rich bastards plot away against each other and exchange some terrible dialogue as their champions are eliminated.

 

The basic plot of the movie is solid, so you’re sort of okay on that front, but it’s let down not so much by the acting (most of them are pro fighters, what do you expect) but by the directing and script. The director is Ken Barbet, who’s employed other MMA guys in his other movies, and he’s both a bad director and was given a very low budget (take the awful CGI for the long shots of the island, when it would have been vastly simpler to use some stock footage of an actual island). The writer, David Neilsen, was in the same line of work as me in the very early days of the internet, under the moniker “Self-Made Critic”, starting in 1997 (don’t bother visiting his site now, it’s been parked by some Chinese spammer). He was so unusual in those days that he actually got some work in real movies, much like that idiot from Ain’t It Cool News, and this represents his sole full-length writing work. I feel bad that he got the chance to write an actual movie, and this is good as he could manage, with its pathetic banter and beyond-predictable twists and turns.

 

I’ll give you an example of a logic hole and see what you think. It’s revealed near the end that Dawson is actually arranging the whole contest as well as entering into it, and he’s stacked the deck a little in his own favour. Now, if I was a rich guy, and wanted to bet on human-hunting, but knew the guy organising the tournament was cheating to allow himself to win, I’d probably think twice about participating more than once, and would also tell all my rich friends not to bother. Poor business model, my friend! I’ll also provide you with an example of “someone should have checked this crap before they released it”, and the below graphic, which is one of the “introduce the fighter” screens from near the beginning. Here it is, and let’s see if you can spot the mistakes:

untitledYes, as well as being unable to spell “interrogator”, they also misspell the name of the most famous drug cartel in the world, but in a way that sounds like the graphics guy was just told it rather than having it written down for him, then never bothered to check. “Medy Yeins” = “Medellin”, which had been disbanded for ten years by that point but never mind.

 

I could turn this site into one dedicated to solely covering riffs on “The Most Dangerous Game”, do 3-4 reviews a week and not run out for years, and this would be solidly below-average when it came to the final reckoning. I like Bas Rutten, and think Danielle Burgio is really good too, and of course Michael Rooker is always fun to watch, but it’s so leaden and predictable. Only of interest if you’ve seen all Bas Rutten’s actual MMA fights and want to watch him kick a bunch of ass.

 

Rating: thumbs down