I've already written about the 1985 action movie Invasion USA once before for #HeavyAction, spending most of the column complaining about the superstardom of its star Chuck Norris who, despite his karate abilities, remains arguably the dullest and least charismatic action star the genre has ever produced. I don't usually write about movies more than once at F This Movie!. That's not a rule or anything, but because there are so many movies I want to cover and still so many things I want to see, it's hard to justify doubling back and talking about something about which I have already said my piece.
But I spent part of this 4th of July weekend with JB and Adam Riske at a 35mm repertory screening of Invasion USA at Chicago's Music Box Theater and it occurred to me that there's more to say about this film. Truth be told, there are probably fucking VOLUMES to be written about this film, but there's one specific angle I want to discuss. Go with me on this.
Invasion USA is a slasher movie, but Chuck Norris is the slasher.
There's a scene about a third of the way through Invasion USA in which a CIA agent comes to find Hunter to enlist his services. He walks around a dark house for what feels like forever (a lot of stuff in Invasion USA takes a really, really long time) until Hunter springs out at him and takes him by surprise. It's a good jump scare; in the theater I saw the movie on Friday night, the audience was audibly startled. The guy in front of us even spilled his soda all over the place -- the first and only time I've ever actually seen a drink go flying from a jump scare.
The moment got me thinking about the rest of the film. Given that it's directed by Joseph Zito, who one year before had made Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter (still my favorite in the series) and had previously directed The Prowler, there's already a connection to slasher films. It's more than just this scene, too; I began to notice that Zito uses quite a bit of the language of slasher movies in Invasion USA.
Hatchet series. Chuck Norris' usual stiffness in front of the camera reads like sociopathy in this context: there is no anger, no passion in his eyes. There is just blank stalking followed by blank murder. Repeat.
This means that Richard Lynch -- the villain of Invasion USA, and a particularly nasty one at that -- is the film's "final girl" of sorts. This is where the comparison breaks down a little because Rostov does a lot of heinous shit that a true final girl would never do, but if you can look past that there is more of that slasher movie language in the way Zito approaches Rostov. He doesn't want to kill Hunter because he's afraid Hunter will foil his plans -- I mean, that's part of it, but it's clearly much more personal than that. He is haunted and terrorized by Hunter. He has nightmares about his brush with death during their first encounter and wakes screaming from his sleep. When he makes killing Hunter his first priority, it's less about protecting the mission than it is about settling the score and putting his fears to rest. He's taking the fight to the monster that still scares him. It's a trope we see in slashers all the time, whether it's Friday the 13th Part 3 or Hatchet II or even Glenn McQuaid's frustrating segment "Tuesday the 17th" in the original V/H/S.
So let's say I'm right (thanks!) and Invasion USA is a secret slasher movie. So what? What does it mean? Maybe nothing. But I think there's something to the idea that it represents a crossover between the jingoistic action movie (the MOST jingoistic action movie) and the slasher movie, probably two of the biggest subgenres of the 1980s. There are countless horror scholars who have pointed out that most slasher films are told from the killer's perspective even when they aren't designed to be going all the way back to the opening POV shots of John Carpenter's original Halloween. Perhaps the shifting of this perspective from masked murderer to action hero is a more comfortable form of audience identification; we get to work out our bloodlust by taking out terrorists instead of foxy co-eds who have done nothing wrong but smoke a little weed and have some sex.