Prior, But No Conviction: Lock ‘n’ Load (1990)

Dave taps into another AIP film, albeit one that fails to live up to the company’s promise of ‘Action’.

Although the pen of John Cianetti was responsible for a handful of action movies to relish, it’s questionable whether or not they justify the two separate IMDb profiles that his short-lived dalliance with the film business currently straddles. If John Eyres’ From Beyond the Grave (1996) sits resplendent at the summit of his screenwriting career, with Cedric Sundstrom’s ragged South Africa-lensed caper, The Revenger (1990), somewhere in the middle, then it’s LOCK ‘N’ LOAD that sits slumped on the floor, bearing the weight of those above it.

This was Cianetti’s second film for director and co-writer David A. Prior, with the vastly more interesting hostage thriller White Fury (1989) landing twelve months earlier. Lock ‘n’ Load is by no means a dud, but it fails to bring even the merest hint of joie de vivre to a storyline that offers a cheeky wink in the direction of John Carpenter’s They Live (1988).

Familiar AIP faces lead the show, with Jack Forcinito (credited as Jack Vogel) playing Paul McMillan, a Vietnam veteran who’s haunted by zombie-laden nightmares, and weighed down by the knowledge that former members of his company are killing themselves in the wake of committing a major crime. One such ex-army buddy is Ken Hamilton (associate producer Kipp Lockwood), who blows his brains out just as Paul is heading down to Denver to spend a BBQ weekend with him and his family. Joining forces with his widow Claire (Renee Cline bagging her fourth Prior movie in ’90 alone), the two set out to discover the cause of this behaviour change, and who is behind the sinister reprograming of these retired soldiers.

Lock ‘n’ Load sounds amazing, but Prior struggles to translate an awesome premise into anything resembling its must-see pitch. The biggest issue is pacing. It barely gets out of second gear which, considering the word ‘action’ dominates the name of the production company formed by Prior and The Last Horror Film (1982) director David Winters, is an undoubted disappointment.

There are moments of satisfaction, like the ace production design around the octagonal surroundings of the nightmare sequences, and the big business allegory that (if a little unsuccessfully) frames this monstrous war hero transformation. Forcinito and Cline do just fine, although Jeffrey Judson Smith as the self-made tycoon owner of the Prescott Chemical Company brings a much-needed dollop of villainy to some decidedly flaccid proceedings.

Much of the final third is spent wishing that the pay-off will deliver at least a smidgeon of raucous ferocity, but, alas, a parking lot wrap-up barely shifts the heartbeat above a resting pulse, and you’re left to mourn a missed opportunity in the otherwise gilt-edged canon of the late micro-budget legend.

USA ● 1990 ● Action, Thriller ● 86mins

Jack Forcinito, Renee Cline, Jeffrey Judson Smith● Dir. David A. Prior ● Wri. David A. Prior, John Cianetti

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