Go West: The P.A.C.K. (1997)

Dave’s down in Alabama with some aliens, Red West, and a script from David A. Prior.

A Sheriff, a UFO expert and an NSA stooge walk into a bar.

OK, well perhaps not an ale house – but this threesome do walk into a rather ominous situation in Mobile, Alabama after several witnesses report seeing lights in the sky and the crash landing of a mysterious flying object. The National Security Agency sends a crack team into the Gulf state, led by the blonde-haired Rachael (Sandhal Bergman). Accompanying her are a trio of arse-kicking Navy SEALs (played by director Bryan Todd, Mark Krasnoff, and Jack Forcinito – a regular for producer David A. Prior) who, alas, are swiftly slaughtered by a rampaging alien (the ‘P.A.C.K.’ of the title – a “Prefabricated Animalistic Cybernetic Killer”!). Left stranded in the wilderness, Rachael’s only option is to join forces with the T-7043 (Ted Prior in a forest green jumpsuit), a good guy extraterrestrial tracker from another dimension. With additional help arriving in the form of a geeky UFO-spotter, Hopper (Dave Scott), and the cynical Sheriff Stone (Red West), the foursome must then face-off against the deadly invader before it goes on to cause untold destruction in the nearby city.

For David A. Prior, the late ‘90s were proving to be a watershed moment in terms of his career. The sorely missed low-budget mogul had two dozen films under his belt, but with the millennium fast approaching, it was clear that the industry was changing.

“The market has gotten a lot pickier and a lot more sophisticated,” he later remarked to journalist Matt Cuthbert. “I know you can make a $100,000 action picture now and you might not even do $100,000 in sales. When you would do one in the late ’80s for $100,000, you would do $700,000 easily.” [1]

Indeed, it was THE P.A.C.K. and Prior’s subsequent feature, Hostile Environment (1999), that would see the New Jersey native retreat from the movie business for nearly a decade – and even with this slice of sci-fi, Prior sticks to just producing and writing, while handing the directorial reins to first-timer Todd. At the time of The P.A.C.K.‘s making the fledgling filmmaker was fresh out of film school and had recently begun working at Super 8 Sound in Burbank. It’s a period he looks back on fondly:

“It was an exciting time. Home video hadn’t peaked yet and the whole town was buzzing with pictures shooting, actors working, and deals being made. Remember, this was the late ‘80s into the ’90s, and film was still king.  But it was expensive and Super 8 offered an alternative to still shoot on film at a lower budget.  While there, I had some interaction with Jan de Bont, who was DP’ing a show at Warner’s called Flatliners (1990). He was wanting to incorporate Super 8 into picture.  He had mentioned in passing that he knew an executive at Warner’s that was looking for an assistant, so I pursued it, got lucky, and Warner Bros. hired me in feature production under Kurt Neumann Jr.”

“I had come to the attention of David Winters and was subsequently offered a job in production with his company AIP (Action International Pictures).  It was there that I met David Prior.  A few years later, I started a company with another employee from AIP, Zac Reeder, and we created a home video outfit called 4 Corners Entertainment. Zac and I decided to actively get into production, and we knew partnering with Prior was a smart business move.  By this time, Dave’s contract with AIP was up and he had started a production company down in Mobile where he had already shot a majority of his pictures.  David had a script already, The P.A.C.K, and calling in many favours, we were able to put the picture together.  Working with Dave was truly one of the highlights of my life.  He was a great, creative man who had a terrific sense of humour and this ability to put a bunch of misfits together and get magic out of them.  Everyone was fiercely loyal to him.”

Following The P.A.C.K., Todd would lens only one more feature, The Hostage (1998), before moving into the world of reality television – and although he doesn’t shoot with quite the same panache as Prior, he does a serviceable job here, even if it’s the casting of Red West that wins out.

West, a former member of Elvis Presley’s inner circle, the so-called ‘The Memphis Mafia’, featured in a slew of bit parts throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s before achieving notoriety with a weighty role in Rowdy Herrington’s Road House (1989). His stunning performance in Ramin Bahrani’s Goodbye Solo (2008) is a career high, but he also had the ability to make an impression with brief cameos in star-studded ensembles like Oliver Stone’s Natural Born Killers (1994) and Francis Ford Coppola’s The Rainmaker (1997). “My wife fixed some prune dip last night and that shit’s got me on the run,” he bemoans in The P.A.C.K. while waddling to the can, injecting Prior’s outlandish concept with a much-needed dose of normality. Sheriff Stone’s deadpan wisecracks enhance the dialogue so much, which in turn leaves Bergman’s dry Sarah Connor turn and a muted Ted Prior looking a little colourless. Even a last-minute riff on John Carpenter’s Starman (1984) falls a little flat, which is a shame as for the most part, Todd’s film gets a lot right.

USA ● 1997 ● Sci-Fi, Action ● 88mins

Sandahl Bergman, Ted Prior, Red West, Dave Scott ● Dir. Bryan Todd ● Wri. Michael W. Evans Jr., David A. Prior

[1] Moviemaker David A. Prior Returns to Mobile by Matt Cuthbert, AL.com, 18th November 2008

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