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

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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

Forgotten Warrior (1986)

Blandest alternate title ever?

Blandest alternate title ever?

Ron Marchini! Back in the days when all you needed was a black belt, and a real tournament victory or two, to be given your own series of martial arts movies, Ron was…one of those guys!  He stood out from the crowd by being a bad actor even by the standards of other acting martial artists – I’ve described him as an un-actor, a negative presence on screen – and is probably best known for two different series, one of which is “Omega Cop” / “Karate Cop”, a pair of post-apocalyptic gems. This is the other, and we’ve already covered the second one without realising it was a series (“Jungle Wolf”). Will going back in time, metaphorically, spoil your enjoyment?

 

Of course not, is the simple answer. What might spoil your enjoyment, though, is that the only way to get hold of this movie is via Dutch VHS (never released in the US or UK, as far as I can tell), and there’s Dutch subtitles throughout. This leads to the fun time of when the Filipinos are talking, the tape blacks out the English subtitles to put Dutch ones over the top, which means we English speakers will miss all the subtleties of the dialogue. Or maybe that choice made it better!

 

Ron is Steve Parrish, a POW in Vietnam in 1974. Luckily, this movie realises that no-one is going to see Ron Marchini for his dialogue, and the action starts immediately, as he and his fellow prisoner bust out of their bamboo cages and beat the crap out of a bunch of Vietcong, rescuing an American colonel who was about to get killed. Then, during the escape, the other prisoner kills the Colonel and tries to kill Steve too! Luckily, he’s just wounded, and manages to make it to a village, where he’s looked after, and he stays there for the next two years.

 

Perhaps Steve was tired of war, but thanks to the extreme lack of dialogue from our star, we never really find out. So, he falls in love, gets married to a beautiful local woman and has a kid, and as this all happens by the 30 minute mark you know some bad stuff is going to happen to them all. This first 30 is absolutely chock full of weird choices, though, like how this group of people living in huts in the mountains can find a beautiful traditional wedding outfit for Steve’s wife; or, also on a clothing tip, how Steve can rip his yellow shirt into strips to wrap round a wound, only to have it back on, completely stain and rip free, in the next scene. I wondered where the movie was set, too, but they absolutely don’t tell us that. It’s probably meant to be Vietnam, but it (along with so many other cheap 70s and 80s action movies) was filmed in the Philippines, so maybe that river he escaped on at the beginning just went a really long way?

forgotten2

Anyway, some local army group, or maybe just a bunch of terrorists, are about to raid Steve’s village, so he sneaks into their camp and murders a bunch of them. Steve breaks one guy’s neck, then punches him in the face a few more times! He’s not getting back up, mate! This escalates and the full army group raids the village and kills pretty much everyone. Oh, and news of POWs like “Yank Crazy” (Steve’s nickname) has gotten back to America – or a room full of white people that represents America – and the government decides to send the guy who nearly killed Steve (who I’m pretty sure is Major Thompson, played by a guy called Quincy Frazier) back to rescue them. Only Thompson wants Steve dead, due to him being the only witness to his other murder. Why he did that murder in the first place? No idea at all.

 

From that 30 minute mark, the entire last hour of the movie is one long fight. From defending the village to hunting down the remaining Vietcong to killing the American villains, it’s scene after scene of people shooting or kicking the crap out of each other, and honestly, it gets a little wearing. I never thought I’d say “this action film has too much action in it” but there’s no let-up, no space to figure out what these people are up to or why they’re there. And the action honestly isn’t all that good- one or two decent fight scenes, but there’s a lot of people just spraying bullets around and killing everyone in range.

 

There’s a rainbow in one scene, just after the hilariously wooden lovemaking, that looks painted onto the celluloid. They weren’t enough clouds in the sky to produce the rain to produce the rainbow, but whatever – the rainbows did give this movie its alternate German title, “Commander Rainbow”, though, which could be the greatest title ever. This and other effects are helped by the well-worn VHS tape I watched this on, though – some movie seem designed for that washed out look.

 

Ron Marchini is in the unusual position of having devolved as an actor. Here, right at the beginning of his career, he’s loose-ish, can smile, can do emotions, and I think it’s to do with him being a complete amateur and not being aware of his own limitations. When he started “trying” to act, it became an absolute disaster and he seemed to freeze in place. It’s weird watching this and then thinking of the charisma vacuum he’d become. I mean, he’s not great in this, I hasten to add.

 

I’d probably pass on this one, if I were you. Stick to “Omega Cop” and Ron’s ludicrous hat. Still, we’ve got part 3 of the “Steve Parrish” series to come with “Return Fire”, then a film confusingly titled as “Jungle Wolf 3” which is actually nothing to do with this series at all.

 

Rating: thumbs down