Shitty Movie Sundays: Deadly Reactor

Action International Pictures and producer David Winters have done it again. Of late, whenever I’ve been in the mood for a truly shitty action flick from the 1980s or early ’90s, Action International has been there. It’s not all flicks directed by David A. Prior, or starring William Zipp, either. Today’s movie is 1989’s Deadly Reactor, written, starring, and directed by David Heavener, who has an unimpeachable CV as a b-filmmaker.

It’s the near future. Earth has been rendered a post-apocalyptic wasteland by nuclear war. Society consists of roving gangs of thugs, and small outposts of regular folk who are just trying to get by. Heavener plays Cody, a preacher in the Agopy religious sect, which are portrayed as something akin to the Amish or Mennonites, only without the bonnets or the chin straps.

Cody is leading a peaceful life on a farm with his sister and her children, when the evil Hog (Darwyn Swalve) shows up with his gang. Cody’s sister is raped and killed, the children are shot while fleeing, and Cody himself is shot and left for dead. He is found by Duke (Stuart Whitman), a hermit-type character who takes Cody in, nurses him back to health, and teaches him to shoot straight so he can go out and get revenge for his dead family.

Cody then goes on a mission of revenge, taking him to an Agopy village (played by lonely Independence, California, in the Owens Valley to the west of Death Valley), that has also been terrorized by Hog and company. He rallies the townsfolk to his cause, leading to a finale where Hog’s gang goes up against the townsfolk in a fight to the death. If this sounds familiar, that’s because this plot is lifted from Deadly Reactor VHS boxcountless western movies. That’s basically what this movie is. Sure, it takes place in the post-apocalypse, but just about the only indication that the 20th century ever happened is Hog’s rickety Ford LTD and a couple of motorcycles.

Many post-apocalyptic flicks crib from westerns, and that’s understandable. It’s a proven genre, takes place in the desert, and can be made on the cheap. If a filmmaker really wanted to step up their game, they’d add in some car chases. That’s what George Miller did with the Mad Max flicks, and he did it so well he basically created a subgenre of film. Heavener, not so much.

Like many low budget action flicks, the biggest problem is the loose definition of the word ‘action.’ There are action set pieces scattered throughout the movie, but they never come close to the frenetic intensity of great action flicks. In Deadly Reactor, the action is pale imitation, almost to the point of being ersatz. There are some wonderful moments of mirth, though.

My personal favorite was the start of the big finale. Townsfolk take up their positions on the roofs of the village, weapons and ammo at the ready. Hog’s gang arrives and make of themselves ready targets. For the next two or three minutes, the townsfolk unload on the bandits…and miss every single shot. I’m not joking. The bad guys stand in the street and dance little jigs as the townsfolk manage to shoot nothing but the crumbling asphalt. I’m not sure what Heavener was trying to accomplish here, but baffling filmmaking decisions are one of the draws of shitty movies.

About the only other bone Heavener throws the audience’s way is some scattered gratuitous nudity. That doesn’t mean much when Hog and his gang are fooling around with the gang’s resident old ladies, but it does pique interest a little bit more when Cody’s love interest, Shawna (Alyson Davis), peels off her Holly Hobbie dress.

That’s it for this flick’s shallow appeal, though. Heavener assembled all the ingredients he needed to make a memorable shitty movie, but undercooked everything. The plot is too slow, the action too thin, the acting too unrehearsed, the nudity…I’m okay with that part, actually. Not too much, not too little, the nudity lands within the wide range of what I consider just right for a movie of this type.

Deadly Reactor, the post-apocalyptic would-be Mad Max ripoff that is more of a western, lands in the Shitty Movie Sundays Watchability Index at #412, in between Metamorphosis and Fortress. That’s not good, but it will scratch an itch.

Of final note is the music, from Brian Scott Bennett. It’s pervasive and absurd — a synthesizer interpretation of western movie music, presented as an energetic shuffle no matter what the scene. Whether Cody is shooting bad guys, eating breakfast, or swimming in the nude, Bennett’s music will worm its way into a viewer’s brains to the point of distraction, becoming yet another source of mirth. Meanwhile, Ted Prior, beefcake Action International stalwart, worked as the film’s construction foreman.

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