Shitty Movie Sundays: Death Chase

Death Chase movie posterFilmmaker David A. Prior has become a favorite here at Shitty Movie Sundays. Whenever we see his name pop up in the credits of some cheapie action flick the air shimmers with excitement. Low rent. Joyous and lacking all shame. Gloriously stupid. Prior, sadly lost in 2015, had an innate sense of what made action flicks of the 1980s work. He could never muster the technical skill to push these flicks into a higher tier of objective quality, but he knew that keeping things light and preposterous was the starting point for successful action at the time.

Death Chase, which Prior directed from a screenplay by James Hennessy, Craig L. Hyde, and himself, is a take on battle royale/most dangerous game tropes, wherein a deadly game of tag is being played on the mean streets of Los Angeles. The marker for who is ‘it’ in the game is a silver pistol. Whoever holds it must defend themselves from other players of the game. Whichever player still has the pistol after all the other players are dead, wins the game and a sizable cash prize.

The game is being overseen by a board of rich white dudes, led by The Chairman (C.T. Collins). Running the game on their behalf is Steele (Paul L. Smith), who appears like a deus ex referee whenever the game, and the movie, needs a kick in the pants to start moving again.

‘It’ is Steven Chase (William Zipp), an unwilling player who was caught in the dustup between rival players early in the movie. His sister was killed in the crossfire, and a witness fingered him for a pile of dead bodies he really wasn’t responsible for. He ends up with the silver pistol in his possession, and is now on the run from the other players, the police, and Steele. Eventually Chase realizes the only way he will be able to survive is to win the game, and then he’ll be able to get some revenge for his sister. Chase is aided by his streetsmart friend and ex-con Eddie (Reggie De Morton), and Stockholm syndrome love interest Diana (Bainbridge Scott). On the side of law and order is Jack Starrett as Lt. McGraw. He’s been assigned to bring Chase in, but when he becomes aware of the game, his motivations become mushy. Meanwhile, all the players trying to kill Chase are so numerous Prior didn’t even bother giving their characters names. Just know there are a lot of them.

This flick is action, more action, and then some more action on top of that. Just about everything else is peripheral. The film begins with a car chase and ends with a bullet storm of slaughter. In between are gun fights, fistfights, a gratuitous strip club, near rape and rescue, more car chases, more gunfights, and denouement.

The car chases are the most well-done of the action set pieces. Once characters have to interact face to face, expectations of realism should be abandoned, but it does make for some enjoyable silliness. Chase, who begins the film as just a random guy, is a superhuman killer by the end. Believable? Not a bit. Also, that does not matter.

Acting didn’t seem to be high on anyone’s list in this movie. Starrett, almost by default, gave the best performance. He was around fifty when this was filmed, and died a couple of years after production wrapped. He looked in very poor health in this movie, and we appreciate the effort he put into his performance.

The look and feel of the movie is one of general cheapness, but the most endearing shitty quality, to me, was the sound. All of the dialogue was dubbed in post, and it never integrates well. The gunfire, however, was closer in scale to the real sound of gunfire than most movies, while still being a world apart. It has a punch that I kept noticing in scene after scene.

Sure, it’s no Commando or Die Hard. David A. Prior was well aware of his skills and his budget. All he managed to do was turn out a b-action flick that is mostly raucous from start to finish, its watchability impacted by some substandard fight choreography and gunfights, and missing or senseless exposition. Death Chase is a film bathed in anonymity, but Prior always managed to make his movies an enjoyable escape. It takes over the #115 spot in the Watchability Index from Blood Sabbath. Check it out.

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