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