Sunday, 25 April 2010

Deadly Prey (1987)

Director: David A. Prior

A low-budget Rambo: First Blood knock-off, Deadly Prey looks like a cross between gay porn and a snuff movie, a comparison accentuated by the cruddy VHS visuals I saw it in that made everything look cheap and sordid. Yet this film is a blast since it’s a lot of 1980s muscular dudes stomping around a park where location shoots were cheap, punching and shooting each other into poorly-choreographed oblivion! What we have here are numerous Soldiers of Fortune operating in a forest clearing outside of Los Angeles where nobody notices all the infantry, all the tanks and all the helicopters sitting pretty out in the open. C’mon, the late 1980s was a boom-time for mercenaries who could make millions working for tin-pot dictators in countries like Parmestan. Mind you, wannabe mercs don’t just jump into the war-zone without some experience! Thus the insane ex-army general Don Michaelson (Troy Donahue) orders his men to kidnap random people off the street and turn them into “runners” i.e. contestants for the Most Dangerous Game, yes, the of hunting humans for sport or rather for training purposes (this was before paintball was invented, I guess).

First scene follows a squad of tubby mercs in camo gear and Aviator shades chasing a tubby Spanish dude who in one scene manages to survive a grenade they lob at him (blows up at his feet, but no big deal, only scraped his knee) and brains one of them with a rock. However, before you think this dude is the film’s hero (too fat) he is surrounded in a clearing and screams “Nooooooooooooooooooooooo” before he is shot in the gut by the evil alpha henchman Lt. Thornton (Fritz Matthews). No-one can wear Aviator shades and a muscle t-shirt like this guy! Anyway, Thornton cannot abide any of his men getting hit with a rock so he takes his pistol and shoots the weakling soldier (a recurring motif). What’s great about Deadly Prey is that after this ten minute set-up, it completely dispenses with the real business of a First Act. We are introduced to our hero, Michael ‘Mike’ Danton (Ted Prior), a Dolph Lundgren lookalike with the perfect 1980s mullet-and-muscles combo and all we learn about Danton is that he sleeps in a water bed and is married to a big-breasted blonde wife, Jaimy (Suzanne Tara), who cooks him eggs for breakfast. Wearing little more than tight crotch-hugging denim cut-offs outside, Mike indulges in some regular guy bullshit like taking out the trash before being nabbed and grabbed by mercs in an unmarked van who were scouting out for a new “runner” in that street: “This guy looks like a lot of fun” we hear a merc remark in one of the many lines reminiscent of Deliverance. Boom! Hero shot of Danton as the camera pans up his oily muscular body while the soundtrack kicks out with its synthesizer bombardment of “BAMFS”!

Deadly Prey then enters the narrative equivalent of an action-packed mobius strip since the first half of the movie involves Danton running around the forest like Tarzan and the Predator combined, killing stupid mercs left and right, and then the last half of the movie involves Danton running around the forest like Rambo and Commando combined, killing stupid mercs left and right. I believe if you screened the film in reverse, it would make just as much sense. The acting might also be improved particularly Prior’s fierce annunciation of his lines, which he emotionally strangles with all the agonised fury he can, putting Stallone to shame in the slurring stakes: “How does a man go from being the highest decorated officer in the Special Forces to being some goddamn bloodsucking mercenary?” Yes, it turns out that Michaelson the bad guy was Danton’s old colonel back in Vietnam so they have a convenient back-story much like Rambo and Colonel Trautman but with increased homosexual tension. These confrontation scenes are brilliant not only for the high quality of ACTING and the wisdom of the writing (“They said I was crazy! War was crazy!”) but the fact they break up the monotony of Danton springing up on some slack-jawed merc in countless scenes; whether Danton is hiding in the thick of the jungle (sorry, forest) or hiding in the water to jump out like Jason in Crystal Lake or best of all hiding in the ground, buried in the leaves as a trap for any wayward enemy footsoldier, springing out like a Californian surfer-dude zombie with a knife in his hand and screaming, “GARRRGH!” The Z-Grade budget means that the props and the supporting cast are not up to scratch, which results in some truly hilarious action sequences where people are shot with what look and sound like cap guns. Then we have the supporting actors hesitate for thirty seconds before deciding that, yes, they have been shot, and finally reacting to the blood-pack that has popped in their chest.

Naturally for a 1980s bullshit action movie there’s a strong undercurrent of sexism and misogyny one has to contend with. The former can be seen in Michaelson’s bitchy second-in-command, Sybill (Dawn Abraham) who is dressed in standard issue military uniform of tight green singlet and no-pants, well, thigh-high cut-offs. She engages in pseudo-S-and-M torture and seething insults to the captured Danton, who is tied to a chair with a loose piece of rope. Michaelson and Thornton also kidnap Danton’s blonde wife who is thusly sexually ravaged and confesses this to her ex-cop father on the case (Cameron Mitchell, a cut-rate William Shatner type) with the painful line, “They raped me, daddy!” Well, not to worry, the hero proves to be as vile as the villains in his retribution particularly when he finally escapes to his house and finds Sybill there with a gun, informing him that his pretty little wife has been kidnapped. After a phone call with Michaelson to substantiate this, Danton turns on his acting chops once again and sneers, “Fuck you!” to Sybill, knocking her out cold with the phone and then shooting her three times while she’s unconscious! COLD AS ICE! Deadly Prey is also righteously nasty in the way a low-budget action movie VHS-release-only flick can be.

What other genius scenes does this sucker include?

  • Michaelson’s boss turns out to be a distinguished grey yuppie businessman who arrives at the merc camp in a suit and delivers lines like “You’ve got one month, not a day more!” and “I’m a businessman, not a fool” with the lifeless affect of Data from Star Trek: The Next Generation.
  • Danton is cornered by a moustached merc who he knocks out easily enough and then PICKS HIM UP and then SLAMS him against a tree, breaking his back. Oh yeah, he also knocks out another merc with the fakest looking prop of an apparently thick tree log straight out of The Flintstones. Last but not least, Danton faces off with a muscular blonde Danton-lookalike merc who carries a huge machete. On his back, Danton defends himself with what’s lying around – it’s a STICK! – and yes, he stabs the stick through the blonde muscular merc with the swiftness of a sword. The forest is Danton’s weapon!
  • Michaelson surmising the situation with the dead bodies piling up with the intuitive conclusion: “I know this style. This is my style. Danton? Mike Danton? ... I trained him. I know his style!” Then later around a camp fire, someone else remarks of Danton’s style: “He went through our men like they were toy soldiers!” Danton's Epitaph... THIS GUY'S GOOD!
  • Danton bumping into one of Michaelson’s men, Cooper (William Zipp) who is friendly to him and becomes a quasi-ally for this reason: “I haven’t seen you since you took that bullet to save my life back in ‘Nam.” One of the best lines of dialogue written ever! Take that, Robert Towne!
  • Hiding out in the forest like a castaway on The Blue Lagoon, Danton lives off the land and eats something that looks like a fat worm but was possibly a leftover Allen’s snake lolly.
  • The Thornton-lead squadron look for Danton in a section of the forest, glancing everywhere around them and then splitting up. The camera pans to the right to find Danton stuck up a tree hiding IN PLAIN SIGHT. Capped off with another synth-BAMF!
  • Thornton with his trusty Aviators on stumbles across another merc corpse. One of Thornton’s men starts to shake and quiver with true “Game over, man!” panic, yelling: “We’re not hunting him! He’s hunting us!” If that wasn’t hilarious enough, Thornton turns around and mutters, “Awful performance” (actually he yells, "Suck this!") and shoots the poor guy in the stomach (these mercenaries have a quick turn-over rate).
  • When Thornton gets the drop on Danton, they engage in some light kickboxing action and then clocking his gun at Danton’s head with the puzzling one-liner: “End of story!” However, Michaelson wants Danton alive and they engage in another confrontation scene with this priceless exchange on the merits of mercenary work:
DANTON: “Blood money!”
MICHAELSON: “It’s all green!”
  • Danton’s escape involves him placing a grenade down a sentry’s pants. Explosion and then a cut away to a smoking boot of the blown-up sentry. What is this, a fucking cartoon? More outlandishness in the scenes where Danton faces off solo against a tank easily (throwing a grenade in the opening) and then a helicopter (shoots it into stock footage explosion).
  • When the ex-cop father of Danton’s girlfriend corners the distinguished grey businessman and rips into an out-of-nowhere 10-minute monologue about how he spent thirty years as a cop with “filth in the street, there’s no music down there... blah blah”, about how corporate scumbags like him get away with murder and so he shoots the unarmed businessman three times. Later, the ex-cop father brandishing a shotgun comes across a merc and asks the question:
EX-COP FATHER: “Friend or enemy?”
MERC: “Friend!”
EX-COP FATHER: “You’re a liar” [BOOM]
  • The action climax where Danton goes Commando, reborn with face-paint and war-face and weapons galore, exchanging lame gunfire with the dopey remaining mercs, only to kill them all with twig-death-traps and one bazooka blast that blows up everyone. Of course, this leads to the Clash of the Titans between Danton and Thornton after Danton is too late to stop Thornton from shooting his wife dead, so he runs over to him with machete drawn, miraculously unimpeded by the bullets Thornton is firing at close range (the power of love, y’know), and he chops off Thornton’s arm and then beats him to death with his SEVERED ARM! While the sequence begs a suitable pun (“You’re disarmed!”), instead we have some grim shit where Danton scalps Thornton’s dead body, clutching a rubber wig with corn syrup in his hands as a trophy. Cut to the nihilistic conclusion where Danton with his wife dead and his life ruined, confronts Michaelson, forces him to take off his shirt and his shoes and become a “runner”, thus turning the hunter into the hunted but not before one more animalistic scream into the sunlight: “ARRRRGH!”

Deadly Prey... truly a bullshit action movie masterpiece of epic proportions. Much thanks to Everything Is Terrible for alerting me to this VHS classic. Check out their 3-minute summation of Deadly Prey’s considerable highlights:


Mitch said...

Great review T. I don't know how we hadn't heard of this movie before now.

tristan said...

Thanks, Mitch! Yeah, looks like the director David A. Prior has a slew of other movies with titles that bespeak similar quality. I particularly like the sound of Mankillers:

Reading through Ted Prior's other films as an actor, it seems like he'd cornered the market on playing a psycho G.I. that runs around a forest...

Mitch said...

This one looks good too.

I'll see what I can do about digging some of these up.