Sunday, 21 August 2016

BITE-SIZED REVIEW: Enemy Territory (Peter Manoogian, 1987)

I first heard about this movie about six years ago on the old version of Latino Review. While they were known for their early scoops and script reviews, occasionally, they would drop reviews of old movies I'd never heard of. 

This one peaked my interest, and it turned out to be a really fun flick.

Gary Frank stars as Barry, an insurance salesman who is failing at his job (he hasn't had a sale in ages) and life (he can't afford child support/alimony for his ex-wife and kids).

On the brink of being fired, he's given one last shot: get an old woman's signature on an insurance policy and get it back to his boss before the end of the day. Simple job, but the problem is she lives in an apartment block controlled by a gang called the Vampires and their psychopathic leader 'The Count' (Tony Todd).

Barry gets the old woman's signature, but an early mishap with a young gang member brings the whole gang down on his head.

This is where Will, played by Ray Parker Jr (Yes, that Ray Parker Jr), comes in. He plays Will, a telephone company employee who has made a stop at his girlfriend's apartment. He joins Barry in trying to get out of the apartment building, while the Count has his men systematically hunt for them floor by floor, apartment by apartment.

Lensed by Spike Lee's early DP Ernst Dickerson (Malcolm X, Do The Right Thing), Enemy Territory is a tight, well-shot little thriller that is far smarter than its simple premise and b-movie trappings would suggest.

Unlike so many thrillers of this kind, this movie does not use race as a a divider between good and evil.

Barry is a gormless townie who is completely out of his depth, and is often relegated to the background. He does not fit in, and has to rely completely on Will and various good samaritans among the weary tenants to help him. The one other white person in the movie, a drunken Vietnam vet played by Jan-Michael Vincent, is a racist paranoiac, who is little help.  

One of the tenants, played by a young Stacey Dash, manages to escape the building and get to the police. In a nasty twist which feels ripped from toady's headlines, she is arrested by the cops who think she is causing a disturbance.

Performances from the cast are generally solid -- Frank and Parker are fine as the leads, Jan-Michael Vincent is visibly intoxicated, and Stacey Dash comes off as a little too much of an ingenue to convince. 

The acting honours go to Tony Todd. As the movie's villain, he owns every scene he's in. Todd's always good value in everything I've seen him in, and he is on sterling form here. He is a believable threat, a veritable cult leader with a genuine belief in his own vampirism. He adds a genuine sense of danger to proceedings.

Overall, Enemy Territory is a fun little b-movie that manages to pack few surprises and doesn't out-stay its welcome.

This movie is on Youtube and you can check it out here.

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