Thursday, September 3, 2015

Deadly Farce: TERROR SQUAD (1988)

International terrorism with a conservative dash of middle East flavor was a popular subject for action movies throughout the '80s, but none really approached the subject matter with the gravitas it deserved until Joe Zito's INVASION U.S.A. (1985). In the same year, the harrowing plight of the school detention hall was essayed in THE BREAKFAST CLUB (1985). Due to the weighty issues that these two films discussed, they became very successful and success breeds only one thing.

Peter Maris, writer-director of the infamous thriller DELIRIUM (1979) clearly walked away from 1985 thinking that INVASION U.S.A. and THE BREAKFAST CLUB were the greatest movies ever, but how to capitalize on that? Taking advantage of Indiana's generous tax credits, Maris decided to do a mashup long before that sort of thing was co-opted by hipsters.

A group of obnoxious and diverse teens are assigned detention after school along with their hopelessly frustrated and ineffectual teacher Mr. Nero (Budge Threlkeld). While trying to secretly watch female aerobics on his handheld TV, nerdy Norman (Dennis Moynahan) gets his broadcast interrupted by a news report that terrorists have taken Indiana's nuclear power plant. I'm not sure why this is such a big deal as the plant was never finished and officially mothballed in 1984, but whatever, there are terrorists are attacking it!

In addition to Norman, his classmates include a jock, a preppie girl, a punk girl and Johnny (Bill Calvert) a leather-jacketed guitar player who has jam sessions with the old black janitor Gus (Baggie Hardiman). In spite of showing electric guitars (that aren't plugged in), their jams sound like a Casiotone keyboard on guitar synth mode. After presumably fleeing from howling dogs, Johnny tells Gus "you were heaven out there." I'm not sure what that means, but I do know that it's kind of creepy.

You'd think that the Libian terrorists would sneak in under the cover of darkness, plant a few bombs and bail, but our rag-tag group of homegrown militants will have none of that. Instead they simply use a rocket launcher to clear the heavily guarded gate, and in broad day-light, send one schmuck in a van to drive a bomb into the reactor building. They even get into an argument about who gets to go in. I guess after sitting around in a cave with a bunch of hairy, sweaty men, that old saw about the seventy-two virgins starts to sound totally plausible. For some reason they are surprised when their plan is an epic failure, as the van is shot to pieces and blown up before getting to the employee parking lot.

The surviving terrorists realize that they might be meeting their seven virgins faster than they had planned, high tail it out in their suped-up getaway car... a, uhh. '78 Ford LTD. Who funded this attack? Their grandmothers? With the cops in hot pursuit, they race to downtown Kokomo to spread terror by firing automatic weapons and LAW rockets at anything that moves. Including, horror of horrors, the local bastion of capitalist pigdogs, the local comicbook shop. Meanwhile Chief Rawlings (Chuck Connors) is forced to set aside a burger, much to his chagrin, in order to chase the terrorists.

This allows for what is essentially a 30 minute car-chase that boasts some great stunt work (including a car flying out of the top-floor window of a factory) and even a helicopter with men shooting M16s at the perps. That must have been one hell of a tax incentive! In addition to shooting and blowing up most of downtown Kokomo, the heartless terrorists run down an old man with a cane and a bag of groceries while crossing the street. While he lies bleeding in the street, Chief Rawlings whips around the corner, running over the old man while only registering slight annoyance. At least he can handle the pressures of the job.

The two surviving terrorists stumble across Hoosier High and somehow manage to find the only classroom that is occupied. Yep, our ham-filled Breakfast Club are now hostages to Yassir (Kavi Raz) and Gamal (veteran writer-producer Joseph Nasser who played yet another terrorist in 1987s WANTED: DEAD OR ALIVE). Fortunately for the terrorists, Chief Rawlings is on the scene with Deputy Brown (Ken Foree). When the SWAT commander asks Rawlings what the situation is with the men in the building, Chief Rawlings casually replies "ran over some old man down there". Err, actually chief that is the one thing they didn't do. The SWAT commander insists that the best plan of action is to send in his men, but Rawlings holds him back because he isn't even sure if the terrorists are in the school! "We need to find out what we're dealing with first". Good thing you dragged the entire Indiana police force out to a location where you aren't even sure anyone, terrorist or otherwise, is located.

Of course with Rawlings on the job that can mean only one thing. The kids are going to have to take the situation into their own hands.

Fresno resident Peter Maris is not keen on the details, for instance the cops in pursuit are completely stymied by a truck that has spilled hay bales on the side of the road. Obviously the truck was supposed to be in the middle of the road, but you'd have to reset and shoot the sequence again to get it right and apparently the tax incentive is good, but it's not quite that good. Also, it doesn't take much perception to notice that in the big school bus stunt sequence at the end, the rear-engined long bus suddenly turns into a front-engined short bus! On the other hand, Maris puts his sweat equity into plenty of great action sequences. I'd love to see the budget that he had to set aside just for gasoline explosions.

I can't seem to find any information on the screenwriter,Chuck Rose, but his script is based on a story ("let's rip off INVASION USA and THE BREAKFAST CLUB!") by comic book and genre movie writer Mark Verheiden. The whole thing is absolutely ridiculous, but in the best possible way. When we are introduced to Cheif Rawlings, he is having a burger delivered to his car. When the fast food employee says "thank you" he cheerfully replies "you're welcome!" It is completely unclear why Rawlings is portrayed as a complete idiot, but perhaps the intent was to make him a Midwest yokel. If that is the case, Chuck Connors (in his usual Brooklyn-logo attire referencing his days as a Brooklyn Dodgers first baseman) is completely the wrong casting choice, but from an entertainment standpoint, he is the perfect casting choice. Another Chuck involved in the film is Chuck Cirino who provides another excellent score that raises the film well above its station. I just hope Cirino was not the man responsible for the "guitar" sounds in the beginning of the film.

While this certainly won't get top marks from a site like Rotten Tomatoes, I'm amazed that this doesn't have more of a cult following. Sure, it's no SAMURAI COP (1989), but it beats the hell out of the pre-fab "cult" direct-to-video fodder that is all too common these days.

Moments of Clarity:

2 Reactions:

  1. This was actually released to videocassette in 1988. And also, I'm pretty certain Fat Joe's group blatantly took their name from this movie.

    This film is a guilty pleasure of mine in my book.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Oops, my bad, you are right it was '88. Thanks for pointing that out.

    ReplyDelete

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