We name drop David A. Prior often around the B&S About Movies’ worker hives, because, well, we dig ’em and bag o’ chips. If you’re not familiar David A.’s work, our reviews of The Silencer, aka Body Count, and the one-two punch of the apoc-adventures of John Tucker in Future Zone and Future Force (from our past April “Apoc Week”) will get you started. And we kid about our admiration of Dave’s three-dozen-plus strong resume: What David A. Prior movie that doesn’t kill you will make you stronger. And when you add Eric Roberts in a quickie name-on-the-box role, we are all in — and twice on Sundays. (And yes, we know that’s a bad joke, because, sadly, we did lose David A. Prior in August 2015, but in no way is that “joke” in disrespect. We love ’em around here at B&S, as we build upon adding more and more reviews of his films to the site.)
And here’s three of them. Yes. This review has Easter Eggs. Let’s crack ’em, shall we?
This time out, Dave keeps it low-key and stays away from the post-apoc, zombies, dragons, and war films of the past. This time, David A. goes “hicksplotation” with the dependable city-folks-run-afoul-of-the-country folks action plot — which was done best by the likes of John Boorman’s influential Deliverance that was, in turn, retro’d to a solid effect with Robert C. Hughes’s Hunter’s Blood. However, this time, instead of a group of fish-out-of-water dick-swingin’ city folk, the penile malcontents are the country folk — and one of them is the backwater town’s mayor (played to an evil-hammy perfection by Vernon “The Wez of Mad Max” Wells). And while there’s not a deeper, underlying social statement about America’s class structure that questions who is stronger in a battle of wills between primitive man vs. civilized man, à la Boorman’s Deliverance, the “change up” is that those backwoods lotharios — and one lotharioette, the mayor’s squeeze, natch — are bested by one woman: ex-Australian Intelligence Operative and MMA Fighter played by Leilani Sarelle, who also owns and operates her own martial arts gym.
So, how do you know Leliani Sarelle?
Well, remember when Tom Cruise got duped by his race crew with the stripper disguised as a Highway Patrol Officer in Days of Thunder? Oh, and in Basic Instinct: Leilani played Sharon Stone’s Catherine Tramell’s girlfriend. That’s Leliani Sarelle — and it’s nice to see her hard work pushed her into a well-earned leading role. Oh, and trivia alert: Leliani is part of the Clooney family and hung out with the famous George of the clan (she even appeared on TV’s Roseanne when George was on that series) by way of her marriage to Miguel Ferrer, the son of Jose Ferrer, by way of George’s Aunt Rosemary, the famed ’40s and ’50s singer.
So the trivia is out of the way. On with the story . . . which throws back to the mother of all “death sport” stories: 1932’s The Most Dangerous Game by Richard Connell — which fueled the likes of the mother of “death sport” movies: 1965’s The 10th Victim by Elio Petri.
When Victoria De Vries’s (Sarelle) daughter goes off camping with her boyfriend (in flip-flops, no less) they head into the local redneck general store for a pee and a phone, because, well, out here, it’s the ol’ cellphone-don’t-work trope (that’s not a rip on David; all films are like that; batteries and alternators die on brand-new cars in the movies, too — they have to, or there’d be no story to tell). And, the city folk have a snippy attitude, natch — and well, little sis De Vries is pretty cute. So, with the town mayor, again, Vernon Wells, leading the charge — with one of his minions being David’s brother Ted (who’s been all of his brother’s films) — they head off into the woods for a little sumthin’ sumthin’ (wink, wink). And they slit the boyfriend’s throat, do the ol’ weigh-’em-down-with-rocks thing into the water and kidnap Victoria’s daughter.
So, the “sport” begins when our backwoods idiots — who have been doing this for years, thanks to the looks-the-other-way-corrupt Sheriff — learn, thanks to Vicki, Jr.’s jibber-jabber bragging about mom’s past, that mom would make for a nice “game piece” and lure her into the woods. This is a town where, when one of the general store rednecks tries to pull shite with Victoria, she kicks his ass instead of being raped — and she’s arrested and tossed in jail. But again: the Sheriff and the Mayor are stacking the chips on their little backwood’s “game field.”
In the end: It’s all very, very bad idea, Mr. Mayor: Victoria De Vries has a bigger “dick” than you.
And just when you think this will kick ass and take names with a nice feminist message — the story decides to take a little snooze in the tent . . . with talking and chitty-chatty . . . and grimacing and scowling hammy thespin’ . . . and nothing really “kicks ass” until the last half of the third and final act.
“Hey, where’s Eric Roberts in all of this?”
Well, his name-on-the-box scene is with Sherrie Rose (who made her debut in the apoc’er Cy Warrior and made a pretty cool Easy Rider update with Me and Will). She’s the related/sister of the Mayor’s wife (we think; the whole scene is “out of the country” and looks like it’s cut-in from an entirely different movie and doesn’t make much sense), and makes a deal for Roberts to store his drug inventory . . . in the town where games pieces go to die. In his second scene, Eric actually appears — unlike in most of his flicks — with other principal cast members, in this case, Vernon Wells and Ted Prior. But again, what’s this all have to do with the “death sport” game plot? Nothing. We think, at first, that Eric is one of those gangsters of the Eli Roth-variety who’s into the Hostel “Elite Hunting Club,” but no. Again, it’s like Roberts and Rose dropped in from another flick, entirely. It literally feels like a “pad” for the film’s short running time. You need 10 more minutes of film to get the running time out to an hour and a half: call in Eric Roberts and we’ll make the scene “fit,” somehow.
Oh, and to level the playing field: Mark Rolston — who you know best as Private Drake in Aliens (and over 180-other movies) — is an ex-special forces op Major hired to take out the troublesome Victoria De Vries, who has proven harder to kill than expected. Like Roberts, Rolston’s not here that much, but, like Roberts, what little he’s here, he’s effective — as always. And when Rolston shows up, that’s when things really kick into gear — with a nice knife-through-the-mouth-into-the-tree kill and thumbs-diggin’-out-the-eyeballs kill. Oh, and it turns out Victoria knows the Major from a bungled Middle East mission op — and he took the gig with an ulterior motive: a good ol’ fashioned revenge kill for outing him on the mission to their joint superiors. Their fight scenes — choreographed by five-time world kickboxing champion Kathy Long as the film’s stunt coordinator — are the best parts of the film that more than make up for the lagging talking and yakity-yak first and second “set up” acts.
Anyway . . . being a big David A. Prior fan — and being well-versed in his works via his Action International Pictures, and taking into consideration he got his start with the self-financed SOV-horror Sledgehammer in 1983 — Relentless Justice turns out to be a well-written, plot-twisty film that’s well-shot with decent direction and editing. And thinking back to Sledgehammer: the gore is vastly improved here. Overall, the film’s not great, when compared to other ’80s-actioners set in the woods — Arnie’s Commando and Sly’s First Blood — from which it takes its cues, but Relentless Justice isn’t awful, either.
Now, I know what you’re wondering: what happened to Eric Roberts’s drug stash? Did all the shite go down before the drug deal was done? Did the drugs ship to the town to be stored — and, when the Sheriff, the Mayor and their minions were all dead — did his Deputy, who turned her back and let Victoria kill the last man standing, aka the Sheriff, confiscate the drugs? There was a hint of a lesbian subtext, so did the female Deputy and Vicki hook up? Does Eric come back in a sequel? Does he go after Vicki, blaming her for losing his drug stash? Or does he go after the Deputy — who’s now the new Sheriff — and Vicki returns to kick ass, again? Does Sherrie Rose end up being the town’s new mayor?
Sadly, there was no sequel to tie that Eric Roberts loose end as, well, David passed away after the release of Relentess Justice — if there was even an intended sequel on the future adventures of Victoria De Vries.
Now, you may not know David A. as well as I, so if I tell you Relentless Justice feels a lot like his fourth feature film, Deadly Prey (1987), that’ll mean nothing. That film — starring Cameron Mitchell (Space Mutiny) with Troy Donahue (Shock ’em Dead) — also clips from The Most Dangerous Game, as a group of sadistic mercenaries kidnap people off the streets and set them loose on the grounds of their secret camp, so their “students” at the camp can learn how to track down and kill their prey.
See, how similar it is? And there’s one more bunny egg to crack.
Ted Prior’s Mike Danton from Deadly Prey returns in the 26-years-in-the-making sequel, The Deadliest Prey (2013). Nearly three decades after his abduction by the psychotic mercenaries from the first film, Danton, heads back to those Mobile, Alabama, backwater woods to stop the games that started up again — games backed by an Internet company that broadcasts the games on the web.
Are they any good?
Hell, yes! The first one from 1987 is your expected, cheap-but effective against-the-budget David A. Prior fun fest. The remake-cum-sequel stands tall to the quality of Relentless Justice — as it should: since both were shot back-to-back in the same neck of Mobile, Alabama, woods with the same crew — but the updated “dark web” angle is a nice update to the old story from 1987.
It saddens me David passed, as the quality of his films grew by leaps and bound since the likes of his ol’ David Carradine apoc-romps with the John Tucker adventures in Future Force and Future Zone. There’s were definitely some more solid films from David A. to be had.