The streets of New York City. In the 1980’s, it was a scary place. I didn’t really experience that because I was only 7 when Enemy Territory came out. And flash forward to a couple of years ago when I somehow was lucky enough to see it in beautiful 35mm at the Anthology Archives here in NYC at a special screening and it was a film I wouldn’t soon forget. To the point that friends and friends of friends would discuss this film as this wonderful secret film that only a handful of people knew. This film that we would share with others that we thought were worthy to view it.
Which is why I’m writing this particular article. Some films I was lucky enough to see at my video store of choice, Video Reflections, which was right across the street from my apartment growing up here in Brooklyn. Sometimes we would go to a few other video stores, depending on their deals, such as Captain Video or Royal Video. They were in different neighborhoods, so when my dad decided he wanted to see some other video store’s selection, we tended to just wander across the street to find a random film for the weekend.
But somehow Enemy Territory always eluded me. When it was out on VHS, I was too young to watch it. As opposed to horror films, my parents deemed this one ‘a bit too realistic’. They didn’t want me to see the horrors of the real world. Or so I thought. And when I viewed it with a full crowd of crazy film fanatics, it went over like Grover and was possibly the best way to see a film of its caliber.
It’s a perfect setup for a film too. An insurance salesman named Barry (Gary Frank) gets trapped in a housing project while a gang stalks him to kill him. Luckily for him, a telephone company worker (played by Ray Parker Jr. himself, the man who gave us the theme song for Ghostbusters) helps our hapless ‘hero’ get away from the infamous Vampires gang who runs rampant in the projects. Led by The Count (played with menacing glee by Tony Todd), the film is just a nonstop ride of thrills where beyond every corner, behind ever door, looking through every window, you’re stuck in Enemy Territory.
I think I sold it so far, right? Well, you also have a crazed Vietnam vet with a barricaded apartment played by Jan-Michael Vincent, stuck in a wheelchair but ready to kill any of the gang members because he’s not going to let the enemy win this war. And throw in Stacey Dash who tries to get help for our heroes in a weird side story that almost goes somewhere sleazy but luckily doesn’t go that route.
The film was directed by Peter Manoogian, who also made another film I love more than most people do, Arena, which is about an alien gladiator competition where a human has never won (or hasn’t won in thousands of years). He also did a segment in The Dungeonmaster, as well as a lot of other Charles Band produced films, such as Demonic Toys, Seedpeople and DevilDolls. So when you look at his catalog, he was from both the Corman and Band schools of making as much as you could with what little you might have in front of you, and I think Enemy Territory is his best film by far.
The film has action nonstop, and also has a very claustrophobic feel where these villains, The Vampires, just keep coming and coming. And the reason is that The Count is that insane of a main villain. Tony Todd just brings this air of weirdness and bravado mixed together, where he will stop at nothing with his minions of the night. It almost becomes a horror movie, some sort of vampire film set in an apartment building, and it makes me think that possibly the script was originally conceived to be that, but they thought that would be a little too insane. But now all I can think about is that horror film and I’ll be right back, going to call my non-existent agent about a script idea.
The cast all around is great, with Ray Parker Jr. being the biggest surprise. I had only known him as the singer of one of the biggest songs of the ’80s, the Ghostbusters theme, but in this acting turn, he does a great job and makes me wish there was a whole line of action films where he was the main hero. He could have made a great career on direct to video films. Let me also mention Jan-Michael Vincent, who sadly has become a bit of a joke and a sad story (which this film with him confined to a wheelchair hauntingly echoes). He’s badass in this film, and does such a great job as this extra help in the building, and without him our main characters would have been killed off. Luckily he has the tools for them to continue on.
As I said earlier, I was lucky enough to see this on the big screen. The reason why I bring it up again is that this means there’s a 35mm print of the film, and it looks a whole lot better than the VHS print that floats online these days. A little cleaning up and this film would look amazing on Blu-ray and join the line of gritty crime/action films from the ’70s and ’80s already on, such as Vigilante and the Death Wish films. Give me more of these films on Blu-ray. Hell, like I always say, I’ll take them on a clean DVD as well. And it would be amazing if we could get some commentary, especially with the director Peter Manoogian and Ray Parker Jr. That’s a duo I want to hear from.
So film labels out there, like Vinegar Syndrome, Blue Underground, Severin or Synaapse (and the dozens more that put out killer product), let’s get this film out there to the masses. I will sit down and help out in any way. I’ll even do a fan commentary because I love the film so much. Until next time, let’s keep saving these films from the depths of VHS.