Movies from the Black Lagoon: Enemy Territory
Movies from the Black Lagoon
Enemy Territory - 1987, Rated R
by Tom Doty
The latest fad in restaurants is called "Fusion." It stands for blending several types of ethnic foods under one roof and means you could conceivably start your meal with a taco appetizer before moving onto to a steaming plate of "General Tso's Chicken." This week's film delivers a cinematic equivalent of that concept. What you get here is a tasty blend of youth gang pictures, like "The Warriors," fused with a siege melodrama, like "Night of the Living Dead."
The story centers on an insurance salesman named Barry, but don't worry because you'll be able to stand ninety minutes with this guy. He's a desperate soul. A divorce has crippled his finances and the resulting heartache has unseated him from his throne as the agency's top guy. He is so low down that he accepts an offer to drive into the city's worst ghetto and collect a signature on a million dollar policy from an elderly woman can't come to the office. The catch, and there's always one, is that she lives in the projects (that's Urban Renewal for housing that's not up to code). These apartments, dubbed "The Towers," are home to a colorful gang of hoods who have dubbed themselves the "Vampires." They don't have a secret handshake but they do possess a modicum of fashion sense and rock denim vests, red bandannas, and black armbands.
Barry arrives at the building before dusk and is promptly taken for two bucks by three kids who claim they'll watch his car. He doesn't even get through the lobby before he's incurred the wrath of the Vampires. The transgression comes to pass because he can't read the apartment index for all of the graffiti. He innocently taps a young man on the shoulder and finds out that the Vamps are very defensive about physical contact. Luckily the building has a security guard. He turns out to be a kindly senior citizen (so you know he's gonna get it) who offers to shadow Barry on his mission. Signing up his policyholder takes minutes but leaves Barry with two problems.
One, he now has a large cash deposit that he must get back to the office to collect his commission. Two, the gang has traced him to the apartment and is waiting to ambush him. The resulting assault leaves the security guard dead. An Irishman, however, must have kissed Barry, in his crib because he lucks out and is rescued by a phone company employee, Will. He may not be the most honest man at the company (he's visiting a girl friend on company time) but he's
"Superman" to Barry.
This unlikely pair spends the rest of the movie trying to escape from the Vampires. They don't have a plan and have to depend on apartment dwellers for aid. They eventually zero in on a Vietnam Veteran who has turned his apartment into an impregnable bunker. The scene is a high point for the film and peaks when the duo realize that their savior is more disturbed than the gang that's hunting them. It all leads up to a final confrontation in the building's playground. It's a "Hail Mary" moment that finds Barry and Will facing down the entire gang while sporting one handgun that's down to the last bullet.
This one is a lot of fun and it delivers on the action front despite a limited budget. It's also one of those films that gets a lift from talented people who hadn't been touched by fame- yet. The script is chock full of great set pieces, interesting characters, and tense moments. It's all thanks to Stuart Kaminsky, who would go on to become a best selling mystery novelist. The cinematography also helps and was handled by Ernest K. Dickerson, who would go on to direct "Demon Knight" and "Surviving the Game" after serving as Spike Lee's cinematographer on several projects. The casting is mostly on target with Gary Frank (of the 70's TV drama "Family") anchoring the film as Barry. There's also a nice turn by Jan-Michael Vincent as the shell shocked neighbor they reach out too but the film almost blows everything in the casting of Will. Ray Parker tries hard but doesn't seem to be a very accomplished actor. He gave up his film career shortly after this to concentrate on his music and had a big hit with the theme from "Ghostbusters." The best acting honors go to Tony Todd as the leader of the gang. He tears into this role like a hobo on a ham dinner and totally nails the fine line between macho bullying and cowardice. He would later lay claim to one of the better horror franchises when he starred in Clive Barker's "Candyman."
All in all this one is worth your time and deserves a DVD berth. You can find the VHS version at Amazon.com or you can lay your hands on a decent DVD-R version at www.videoscreams.com. Look for their ad in "Fangoria" magazine or go directly to their website for more information on hard to find classics.
Best Line: " There are two people, probably dead, out there. Not to mention the fact that there is some gentleman outside the door named
Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: firstname.lastname@example.org.