Code Name: Vengeance (1987)

Code Name: Vengeance (1987)- * * *

Directed by: David Winters

Starring: Robert Ginty, Shannon Tweed, James Ryan, Don Gordon, and Cameron Mitchell

In Africa, an evil terrorist named Musseem Tabrak (Ryan) seems to be gaining political influence in his region. In order to further his nefarious ends, he kidnaps the wife and son of one of his rivals. That’s when the ambassador, Harry Applegate (Gordon), calls in the only solution to this geopolitical problem: Monroe Bieler (Ginty). Bieler is a warrior who was imprisoned by Tabrak for twelve years and is burning with the desire for revenge. Applegate teams him up with a guy from the U.S. consulate named Chuck Hawley (Brophy), but things really start to heat up when Bieler re-connects with old warhorse Dutch Busselmeyer (Cam). Along with love interest/reluctant compatriot Sam (Tweed), the four unlikely heroes proceed to shoot, blast, and blow up the minions of Tabrak – but who is the true mastermind? Will Applegate wrap himself in the flag…and will Monroe Bieler live to machine-gun-shoot another day?

Fan favorite Robert Ginty saves the day in CODE NAME VENGEANCE, an entertaining shoot-em-up/blow-em-up that you pretty much have to love. It's an AIP-distributed outing from director David Winters which looks more professional than usual. His production company this time around was The Killmasters Company, and when you see that that is the first credit on the screen, you know you’re in for a good time.

As we’ve noted before, there are many types of dumb. Thankfully, Code Name Vengeance is the fun kind of dumb. Lots of very stupid things happen, but you can’t help but smile. The movie has that 80’s charm mixed with the type of charm that comes from clunky editing and ridiculously-staged action scenes. The viewer can get by on this combination of dumbness and charm any day of the week. It is also satisfying to see black-robed terrorists getting killed by the good guys. There are many instances where all this comes together. For example, in one scene, there are some terrorists in an abandoned warehouse. Ginty somehow hooks a bunch of grenades onto a very, very slow-moving forklift and sends it towards them. The baddies see this coming and have ample time to run away. Instead, they just sit there for a long time, yelling. Then they blow up. Thank goodness.

When we first see Ginty, he’s embroiled in a prison-yard fight and he looks a lot like Chuck Norris. Then we see Gordon as Applegate and he looks a lot like John Saxon. We went on Cam watch and he eventually shows up 43 minutes in. He adds a lot of energy and even gets into the shooting action with the younger cast members. He would shortly re-team with James Ryan in another South Africa-shot David Winters movie, Rage To Kill (1988).

All the other characters, but especially Hawley, say Bieler’s name many, many times. Almost every sentence they say ends with the word “Bieler”. “I don’t think so, Bieler”, “Not a good idea, Bieler”, etc. It’s not even that cool of a name. By contrast, James Ryan’s name in Rage To Kill was Blaine Striker. Now that’s a name worth repeating. Bieler is dangerously close to Bieber. Obviously they must have known that in 1988 and should have acted accordingly.

The music, by Steve McClintock along with Mark Mancina and Tim James, is terrific and McClintock contributes yet another excellent song, “Is It Really Love?” This just goes to further prove that McClintock was one of the most underrated musical talents of the 80’s.

All the ingredients are here: the Winters direction, the McClintock music, the conspiracy that goes all the way to the top, the terrorists getting blown up, the silliness, the combination of Cam Mitchell, Shannon Tweed, and Robert Ginty, and it was the 80’s. Consequently, it’s easy to love Code Name Vengeance. We say give it a watch.

Comeuppance Review by: Ty and Brett 


Invasion Force (1990)

Invasion Force (1990)- * * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Richard Lynch, David "Shark" Fralick, Renee Cline, Douglas Harter, and Walter Cox

A film crew – an AIP film crew, no less – is shooting their latest action movie in the woods around Mobile, Alabama. Sure, there are some of the typical squabbles that go on, but jokes are being told and pranks are being played in the crew’s off hours, so all seems to be going as normal. That is until a paramilitary organization led by Michael Cooper (Lynch) parachutes into the area with his goons. This INVASION FORCE plans to take over a city (presumably Mobile) as part of their dastardly plans. They take the director, Ben Adams (Cox) hostage and begin shooting people with machine guns. The film crew only has their prop guns, explosions, and tanks to fend them off, so they’re going to have to use their wits to foil the plans of the baddies. Thankfully, Joni Marshall (Cline), the lead actress, and Douglas Harter (presumably playing himself), the weapons expert, have some tricks up their sleeves. In this battle of film crew versus the bad guys, who will come out victorious? And will there be a final twist to this AIP movie-within-an-AIP movie?

A lone, shirtless meathead stalks the forest. He begins shooting two machine guns at the same time and blowing up various huts. It’s a promising start. Soon enough, the director calls cut and lead star Troy (Fralick) whines that the aforementioned Joni stepped on his foot. What AIP mastermind and writer/director David A. Prior seems to be implying is that these action stars might not be so tough after all. Prior goes on to postulate what might happen if one of his small film crews, who normally are so expert in rigging up explosions and providing actors with ammunition, came up against the real thing in real life. How would they handle it? Interestingly, this same ground was covered in Contra Conspiracy (1990) that same year. It would be an interesting double feature of low-budget meta mayhem.

While certainly not a behind-the-scenes documentary of AIP, Invasion Force might be as close as you’ll get. The movie takes the time to show everyone in the crew, from the chef on down, interacting with each other. AIP mainstays like Doug Harter and Sean Holton (as Joey) are engaging and very likable. The director, Ben, bears a strong resemblance to – and should have been played by – Brian Benben. Coincidence? There’s a crew member who looks exactly like Andy Richter who has to help fight the baddies as well. Lower-tier fan favorite and Frank Zagarino competitor David “Shark” Fralick has some fantastic outfits and is well-cast as the musclebound hero. While most of the men in the movie have mullets, we think the bandanna he wears is to cover up his thinning hair on the front of his head. But it’s just a theory. Of course, Richard Lynch is the “Lynch-pin” that holds it all together. (Heh heh). But it’s true.

Could Invasion Force be one big ego trip for Prior and his band of AIP stalwarts? The idea that they could fight against a paramilitary group with real guns and ammo in real firefights? Maybe, maybe not, but it's a good idea for an 83-minute direct-to-video action movie. Even still, Prior and the gang managed to fashion something modest, yet entertaining, on a rock-bottom budget, which is impressive. Imagine Red Dawn (1984) meets Invasion USA (1985) meets Mankillers (1987). And they even thank the Piggly Wiggly, among other chain stores like Krispy Kreme and Home Depot, in the closing credits. It's blue-collar, homespun filmmaking all the way and therein lies the charm.

Comeuppance review by: Brett and Ty 


Lock N' Load (1990)

Lock N' Load (1990)- * * *

Directed by: David A. Prior

Starring: Jack Vogel, Renee Cline, and William Hathaway-Clark

Paul McMillan (Vogel) is a Vietnam veteran living in Colorado. After having some very strange nightmares, he begins to notice that the members of Delta Company – his outfit in ‘Nam – all begin committing suicide. First they go on some sort of crime spree, and then they off themselves. Because this is happening so systematically, McMillan deduces that something nefarious is going on behind the scenes and he begins his investigation into the bizarre happenings. Teaming up with the wife of one of his former compatriots, Claire Hamilton (Cline), and Detective Bach (Hathaway-Clark), McMillan demands answers. But it’s not going to be easy to unravel the mystery. What is “King’s Pawn”? And what is the secret behind the phrase “Lock and Load”?

Lock ‘n’ Load is one of the more somber and subdued AIP movies out there. If you liked AIP’s Night Wars (1988), surely you will like this one as well, as it deals with similar subject matter. The whole outing has a certain rough-hewn charm and the emphasis here seems to be on drama and intrigue, rather than shooting, blow-ups, and silliness. Sure, some of that is here, and there is a classic drug deal gone wrong, but it’s all pretty serious-minded. Thankfully, it’s done well and makes for a nice change of pace.

Speaking of pace, it is a little slow, but there’s nothing wrong with that per se. Vogel/McMillan really, genuinely seems to care about what’s going on. McMillan is a good hero – he’s cool, but he’s not an outrageous caricature. Vogel had been in other AIP movies such as Hell On The Battleground (1988) and Order of the Eagle (1989), and even served in a behind the scenes capacity on Maximum Breakout (1991). But this is truly his “Breakout” role. As for his co-star Renee Cline, she was no stranger to AIP and David Prior productions – she was in Future Zone, Invasion Force, The Final Sanction, and Lock ‘n’ Load all in the same year – 1990. Talk about a banner year! Fitting with the overall tone of the movie, her performance is a total 180 from Invasion Force and she goes for a more melancholy and sedate style.

Unfortunately, Lock ‘n’ Load is the only screen credit for one William Hathaway-Clark, who played the mustachioed Detective Bach. We liked him and we thought he added to the movie. Also, if you look carefully at McMillan’s legal pad where he has his list of Delta Company veterans who are behaving strangely, you see the name David Prior. If you blink, you’ll miss it, but it was a nice in-joke.

Lock ‘n’ Load doesn’t seem to be one of the more well-known AIP movies, but if you like that classic AIP style, give it a chance. It’s a little bit different from the rest (well, with the possible exception of the aforementioned Night Wars) and the muted style may appeal to you.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty 


The Death Merchant (1991)

The Death Merchant (1991)- *1\2

Directed by: James Winburn

Starring: Lawrence Tierney, Ivan J. Rado, Melody Munyon, Monika Schnarre, Robert Viharo, Martina Castle, and Andrew Singleton

“History has shown us that death merchants have always attempted to close the “ultimate deal”. Let us hope that their evil endeavors continue to fail.” – Closing words of The Death Merchant

Ivan Yates (Tierney) is some sort of death merchant. What is a death merchant, you ask? Well, in the case of Yates, the answer appears to be an elderly and ailing black marketer who wants a special microchip so he can control the world’s nuclear arsenal. In addition to that, he wants a priceless urn containing the ashes of the ancient Egyptian Shohamen. Also he talks to his pet fish named Seymour.

When an archaeologist, Dr. Farraday (Rado), and his daughter Amanda (Schnarre, of Peacekeeper fame) get tangled in the web of Ivan Yates, only one man can help them out of their predicament: one David McKinley (Singleton), from the Cultural Affairs Department of the U.S. Government. Realizing he needs more power because he is somewhat of a nerd, McKinley turns to 1991-era coolguy Jason Cardwell (Viharo). So now McKinley, Cardwell, Farraday and Amanda have to come up against the conniving and duplicitous Death Merchant, who also has as backup baddie-esses Martina (Castle) and Natasha (Munyon). Who will come out victorious in the battle between the Death Merchant and the entire U.S. Navy?

James Winburn is known primarily as a stuntman, but he has directed three movies in his career: One is The Death Merchant, another is Evil Altar (1988) starring Robert Z’Dar, and the final movie in his trifecta is Miami Beach Cops (1992). While, taken together, that is impressive, if you must see one Winburn movie, see Miami Beach Cops. The Death Merchant appears to suffer from some technical problems, as the sound is horrendously shoddy, and the picture isn’t so hot either. The fact that the movie has audio issues is especially egregious because the movie stars the late, great Lawrence Tierney. Tierney’s inimitable voice CARRIES this movie. If it wasn’t for Tierney and his voice, this movie would be nothing.

We were worried that, though the movie features Tierney, it would be a mere sit-down role. Thankfully, it’s not. Tierney gets a lot of great screen time, and in not all of it is he sitting. Winburn used the man to his full potential, as far as rock-bottom budget AIP movies shot towards the end of his life would allow. Tierney is truly “America’s Angry Grandpa” as he barks and growls his way through the muddy and muddled proceedings. This ‘Merchant must think it’s “Of Venice” because of all the highfalutin and pseudo-Shakespearean dialogue. It’s a clumsily written film, and the lines are delivered awkwardly by a cast of inexperienced actors (except Tierney and Rado, of course).

Our main “hero”, McKinley, is played by Andrew Singleton, and, oddly, this is his one and only movie role to date. He has a penchant for skinny ties and he has a curly mullet. So, obviously he’s the hero. Martina, on the other side of the Death Merchant/anti-Death Merchant divide, was last seen in Total Exposure (1991), released the same year as ‘Merchant. What a year it must have been for her.

There’s a car blow-up and some very weak gun-shooting, but despite its release on ACTION International Pictures, there’s not really any action here to speak of. Most of what we see is a lot of nonsensical “intrigue” that the limited means of the production didn’t really have the wherewithal to support. Perhaps that is best evidenced by the fact that the opening of the film is the exactly the same as the climax. Literally it’s the same footage we already saw. Granted, there’s some McKinley footage spliced in during the second go-around, but come on. In general, though, we give the filmmakers points for trying, and Tierney is fantastic, but The Death Merchant is a no-sale.

Comeuppance Review by: Brett and Ty