Matty casts his eye over the Night of the Demons director’s cracking cut of sci-fi-spiked action.
Genre-wise, it’s joyous when a film opens the floodgates for others. Although James Cameron’s The Terminator (1984) ultimately led to the raft of robo-schlockers that littered video store shelves in the ‘90s, before that, in the mid to late ‘80s, Cameron’s barnstormer helped initiate a spate of action pictures with strong sci-fi seasoning; specifically a cycle of ‘alien on the rampage’ flicks typified by John McTiernan’s Predator (1987), Jack Sholder’s The Hidden (1987), and Craig R. Baxley’s Dark Angel (1990). It’s within this bracket where you’ll find Kevin S. Tenney’s PEACEMAKER.
“I actually wrote Peacemaker before The Hidden came out,” the Night of the Demons (1988) helmer told Arrow in the Head in 2002. “Everyone who read it liked it, but they said that it was too similar to The Terminator. An executive at Fox almost bought it but they were already in pre-production on [another similar] film called ‘Outer Heat’, which became Alien Nation (1988). When The Hidden was released, I thought, “Here’s a good film that critics are comparing to The Terminator in a positive way. Maybe now someone will make Peacemaker”. Unfortunately, The Hidden didn’t do that well at the box office so it was a few more years before anyone was willing to take a chance on Peacemaker. It was great when the finished film got rave reviews in Variety and The Hollywood Reporter, and Joe Bob Briggs listed it as one of his Top 10 Films of the Year.”
Peacemaker works brilliantly in two ways. First, as a diverting, ‘keep you guessing’ thriller as Tenney plays hot potato with his live-wire plot. In it, Hilary Shepard finds herself stuck between Lance Edwards and Robert Forster’s warring aliens. One is an intergalactic lawman, the titular ‘peacemaker’, out to protect a swathe of fellow aliens who’ve been sent to earth as part of a cosmic witness protection scheme. The other is the hitman the eponymous space-cop is after; a vicious psychopath who’s landed on our lil’ third rock to assassinate one of those in hiding. Extremely well-written and directed, Tenney makes sure we don’t know who’s who until the film’s squib-heavy finale, and the plentiful, flip-flopping scenes in which Edwards and Forster re-accost Shepard and blast holes in each others’ stories are as awesome as when they’re physically blasting holes in each other.
The second is as a jaw-dropping piece of action filmmaking. As Edwards and Forster are near invincible and can only be killed by total brain damage, Tenney uses this cunningly conceived device to unleash a procession of stupefying — and often death-defying — stunts. The standout is an amazing extended chase sequence. Beginning on foot and going on to incorporate cars and motorbikes before ending with a ginormous fireball, it calls to mind a similar passage in Robert Harmon’s The Hitcher (1986), with every increasingly crazier ‘moment’ upping the ante and besting the gag that preceded it. Dynamically and immersively shot and cut, it’s astounding to behold — full credit to Tenney, cinematographer Tom Jewett, editor (and Tenney mainstay) Daniel Duncan, and Peacemaker’s kamikaze stunt team (coordinated by the legendary B.J. Davis). Tenney’s quirky touches of fish-out-of-water comedy, and an achingly bittersweet, yet totally ambiguous, coda are the icing on the ultra-tasty cake.
While unspooling in a limited theatrical release stateside, Peacemaker went straight-to-video here in the UK, crashing onto shelves via arguably the most iconic label in the country for VHS collectors, Medusa.
Tenney would return to Terminator and Hidden-type territory twelve years later with Endangered Species (2002) (aka ‘Earth Alien’).
USA ● 1990 ● Sci-Fi, Action ● 92mins
Robert Forster, Lance Edwards, Hilary Shepard, Robert Davi ● Wri./Dir. Kevin S. Tenney