Monday, December 21, 2015

Enemy Territory

One of Empire Pictures’ rare gems, ENEMY TERRITORY is a low-budget thriller starring the unlikely action duo of Gary Frank, who played sensitive son Willie on TV’s FAMILY (he won an Emmy for it), and Ray Parker Jr., the guy who composed and performed the GHOSTBUSTERS song.

Produced right at Empire’s peak (RE-ANIMATOR, FROM BEYOND, ELIMINATORS, ZONE TROOPERS, and TRANCERS also hit theaters around this time), ENEMY TERRITORY features gritty cinematography by future director Ernest Dickerson (SURVIVING THE GAME), a smart script co-written by mystery novelist Stuart Kaminsky, and brisk direction by Empire house jack-of-all-trades Peter Manoogian (THE DUNGEONMASTER). Interestingly, its premise of an Everyman trapped in a skyscraper invaded by murderous gang members predates DIE HARD, though it seems likely the production was somewhat influenced by Roberta Findlay’s vicious TENEMENT.

Frank stars as a down-on-his-luck insurance agent named Barry who is sent to the decrepit Lincoln Towers in the projects to collect a policy on a 70-year-old woman. White people are, let’s say, discouraged from entering the area after dark, and it doesn’t take long for Barry to run afoul of the Vampires black street gang, Their leader, who calls himself The Count (CANDYMAN’s Tony Todd) and calls Barry “The Ghost,” dispatches the building’s security guard (Tiger Haynes, who is great), leaving Barry to fend for himself on an upper floor.

Thankfully, the Ghost rummages up a few allies, including telephone repairman Will (Parker), the elderly Elva Briggs (Frances Foster), her granddaughter Toni (Stacey Dash, now a Fox News presence), and Parker, a paranoid, crippled Vietnam vet played in a tricked-out wheelchair with vim and vigor by Jan-Michael Vincent in one of his strongest post-AIRWOLF roles.

If a thriller is only as strong as its villain, then props to Todd, who is frightening and believably psychotic without going over the top. An effectively grimy location contributes to the claustrophobic mood set by Manoogian, and Kaminsky and co-writer Bobby Liddell’s occasional drops of social commentary add weight without coming off as preachy. An atypical Empire film without monsters, aliens, time travel, or robots, ENEMY TERRITORY ranks among the shortlived studio’s finest accomplishments.

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