Personal blog - and temporary home page until new website is finished - of writer, editor and graphic artist Christopher Mills

Thursday, April 26, 2012

Still Missing On DVD: PEACEMAKER (1990)

A couple of days after posting my "Nine Movies I (Still) Want On DVD" article here, I decided to look around online for a cheap VHS copy of one of those titles, the 1990 sci-fi actioner, Peacemaker (not to be confused with the 1997 George Clooney flick), starring Robert Forster (Jackie Brown). Sure enough, I found one for around $5 (including shipping), so I ordered it. Well, it showed up on Monday, and Wednesday afternoon I transferred it to DVD-R. I just finished watching it.

I'm pleased to say that it lived up to my vague but positive memory of renting it back in '90. Although clearly a very low-budget film, it has a smart and genuinely witty screenplay that keeps you guessing almost until the end, strong B-movie performances from Forster, Robert Davi (Licence To Kill) and leading actress Hilary Shepard (a lovely woman who really should have had a bigger screen career), and amazing stunt work of the kind you rarely see today, even in big-budget studio flicks.

The plot borrows elements of The Terminator and The Hidden, but has a fresh twist. The story basically chronicles a running battle in 1990 Los Angeles between two humanoid extraterrestrials. One is a serial killer, the other is the Peacemaker (policeman) chasing him. A pretty young coroner, Dr. Dori Caisson (Shepard), gets caught up in their conflict, but isn't sure which one is the criminal and which one is the cop - and neither is the audience until late in the third act. In the meantime, the two aliens shoot, beat and blow each other up - but since they can regenerate their damaged bodies, none of the mayhem does much more than force brief interludes between clashes so they can heal up for the next.

Surprisingly, the movie was directed by Kevin Tenney, who is best known (by those of us who possess encyclopedic knowledge of exploitation films - not that that's a good thing, necessarily) for directing a handful of cheesy - but profitable - horror films in the late 80s-early 90s like Night Of The Demons, Witchboard and Witchtrap. I say "surprisingly" because, while those films were somewhat entertaining, nothing in his directorial resume suggested that he would prove so adept at an action flick... and it is with the action sequences that Peacemaker truly excels.

Seriously, you're lucky today if any DTV flick - even the so-called "action" films - have genuine stunts in them at all. Fight scenes are all shaky-cam and quick cuts, car chases are listless and boring, explosions and gunfire are all cheap CGI... but Peacemaker is loaded from front to back with terrific stunt work. There are tons of gunfights, fistfights, jumping through glass, car chases and crashes (and I mean like the kind you used to see on CHiPs back in the day - with cars flying through the air end-over-end), huge explosions... it really is glorious. The list of stuntpeople in the end credits is nearly twice the length of the list of speaking cast, and contains the names of a number of well known stuntmen and women.

Yes, it's a cheap, direct-to-VHS movie from 1990. The opening spaceship footage is culled from Roger Corman's Battle Beyond The Stars, and some of the acting is marginal at best. But damn, it's fun.

If you still have a working VCR and are willing to hunt around for it - or search on YouTube long enough - it's well-worth watching. Peacemaker is a genuine B-movie gem.


Bill McFadden said...

I vaguely remember this film. You're right. It was a lot of fun! Damn, I'd like to see it again.

Unknown said...

I ordered a Region 2 DVD and I converted it to a Region 1. Interested?

Christopher Mills said...

I burned a DVD from the U.S. VHS tape. If the UK version is significantly different I might be interested. Is it widescreen?