Tuesday, September 13, 2016

Off the Shelf: Mankillers (Blu-ray)

by Patrick Bromley
They're beautiful...they're deadly...they're on a rampage!

Arguably the foremost auteur of grade-D action movies in the 1980s and early '90s, director David A. Prior is to '80s action what Cirio Santiago was to '70s exploitation: cheap, prolific and interested only in delivering the bare essentials of the genre. Prior's movies could care less about plot or character. He only wants to put as much violent, sweaty action as can be packed into 90 minutes. At this, he is successful. The quality of said action is another story.

One of his earliest films, Mankillers (aka 12 Wild Women, aka Death Squad), was released in 1987, the same year as two other Prior movies: Killer Workout and Deadly Prey, one of his best-known action epics. It plays like an Andy Sidaris film -- one of those campy sleaze-fests in which sexy, bikini-clad girls shoot guns at faceless militias -- only Prior is way more interested in the guns and the shooting than he is in the girls. It is to action movies what something like Don't Go In the Woods is to slashers: it's cheap, it's often amateurish, but for what it sets out to do it delivers the goods.
The CIA tasks former agent Rachael McKenna (Lynda Aldon) with bringing down master criminal John Mickland (William Zipp), a drug lord and sex slave trader running roughshod over South America. Here's the rub: McKenna was once in league with Mickland, having fallen in love with him when she was first assigned to bring him down. He double crossed her and left her for dead, so she's got a score to settle and agrees to the gig pending full reinstatement. To do the job, she recruits 12 female convicts -- a sort of proto-Suicide Squad -- to train and fly to the jungle and bring Mickland down. Some of the girls are more enthusiastic than others.

While the "hook" of Mankillers helps set it apart from other hyper-masculine action offerings of the '80s, it's not something Prior explores beyond its status as a hook. Except for McKenna, I don't think I knew a single of the soldiers' names. I know nothing about them as characters. There's one girl who's more reluctant than the others; she, of course, is the one who does the biggest turnaround and talks the rest of the women into continuing the fight when things look their darkest. When characters would die (Spoiler: some of the characters die), I could never be sure who it was except that she had enormous blonde hair and wore short shorts. So do half the other women. It's like trying to tell the Ninja Turtles apart minus their color-coded masks.

If you can make it to the last 10 minutes of Mankillers -- and if you're a #HeavyAction fan like me, it's never less than entertaining -- you will be rewarded with one of the all-time great bad guy deaths.(Spoiler: the bad guy dies.) William Zipp, who had already spent the entirety of the film's running time shouting and bugging his eyes and being JUST A LITTLE intense, is rewarded with a demise worthy of his HGH approach to acting. It takes roughly 10 minutes for his character to die, by which I don't mean that he is injured and then bleeds out or some shit for the remainder of the movie. What I mean is that he starts getting killed at around the 70 minute mark, then proceeds to stand up, get shot or stabbed again, fall down so we think he's dead, get back up, drag himself further, get shot again, repeat. It's INCREDIBLE. There's not even a sense that he's some indestructible killing machine like Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers. Prior doesn't shoot the climax in the language of a slasher movie. It feels more like Zipp isn't ready to be wrapped yet and just keeps getting back up -- it's the performance, not the character, that refuses to die.
Olive's Blu-ray of Mankillers is being released through the Slasher // Video line, most of which have been sourced from a VHS. The disc comes with a disclaimer that reads: "Mankillers is presented using the best available elements provided by Slasher // Video. Not sourced from an HD Master; remastered from PAL Beta SP and upconverted to Blu-ray and DVD specifications." It looks a lot like an old VHS tape, complete with the occasional tracking adjustment, but that's how stuff like this probably should be seen. I'm not someone who romanticizes VHS in the way that has become fashionable in recent years, but I also understand that genre fans tend to associate the format with a specific type of film. Mankillers is exactly that type of film.

So, yes, I enjoyed Mankillers because I love action movies and have a soft spot for well-intentioned but poorly made trash. David A. Prior is such a unique voice in the genre; comparing him to Ed Wood is too reductive, but he is similarly prolific, similarly passionate about the kinds of movies he made and similarly lacking in the resources to truly bring his oversized visions to the screen. If not for companies like Olive and Slasher // Studios, Mankillers would likely have vanished alongside the VHS format. Now it will never die. Like John Mickland.

Blu-ray release date: September 13, 2016
85 minutes/1987/NR
1.33:1 (1080p)
DTS HD 2.0 Master Audio (English)
English Subtitles
Blu-ray bonus features: Trailer, Photo Gallery

Buy Mankillers from Olive Films here.

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