Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Terror Squad
Tagline: A terrorist attack in the United States. They said it could never happen… they were wrong.
Released by: Forum Home Video
Director: Peter Maris
Plot: A small town in Indiana erupts in chaos and violence when three Arab terrorists go on a destructive rampage after a failed attempt to destroy a nuclear reactor. The Middle Eastern maniacs seek refuge in a high school and take a group of teenagers serving detention as their hostages. The local police chief and his department must now negotiate the children’s safe release and restore their freedom from the evil terrorist scum!
Thoughts: There are times when I feel like VHS collecting is a bit like archeology. I’ve spent hours digging through one box after another of old videos covered with decade’s worth of dust and grime, occasionally finding something truly rare and worthwhile. It’s very seldom that I’ll discover a movie like the one I’m going to review now. I’ve seen almost everything, so when I hunt for a video it’s always for something I don’t have and desperately want… but once every blue moon I’ll find a priceless gem I’ve never seen or heard of that has my name written all over it. Terror Squad is one of those videos!
Three Libyan terrorists have crossed the U.S. – Canadian border into Indiana (WTF?) and attempt to destroy a nuclear power plant in the small town of Kokomo. The police are able to stop them from entering the facility and the terrorists are pursued in their car. One of the longest and most brain-scorching chase sequences I’ve ever seen ensues with the cruel Arabs firing machine guns and a rocket launcher with an endless supply of ammunition at everything that moves while they drive through the streets of Kokomo. The chase goes on for at least twenty minutes and features more mayhem and destruction than you can possibly imagine. The filmmakers were really given carte blanche to turn this little mid-western town into a war zone. The Arabs shoot down a water tower, a smokestack, motorcycles, a helicopter and a fleet of Indiana cop cruisers. They also open fire on innocent pedestrians in the streets, shooting men, women and children. Every time a car is shot with a bullet it explodes. Lots of people running around on fire, too. It’s a pretty amazing opening!
The Arabs finally end up at the local high school where they take a group of students serving detention hostage. The Chief of Police (Chuck Connors) and his deputy (Ken Foree) negotiate with the terrorists for the children’s release, but if you think these kids are going to sit by and wait for the desperate lunatics to start killing them each off, you’re fucking nuts! These are American teenagers! Especially after they gun down Gus – the beloved old African American janitor that plays the blues guitar for their enjoyment. Then the jock stereotype gets it next. The rebel stereotype and the nerd stereotype escape into the empty school and start to turn the tables on their captors. This is a good thing because the law enforcement outside does absolutely nothing throughout the film.
Finally, the Arabs take their remaining hostage, the pretty girl stereotype, aboard a big yellow school bus (that inexplicably changes mid-pursuit into a short bus) for a final last-ditch effort to escape the law. The nerd shoots one of the remaining terrorists with a bow and arrow he makes in the school’s shop class, while the rebel causes the bus to jump through a moving train car and crash, saving the pretty girl who has a crush on his bad boy mojo. Peace is restored to the citizens of Kokomo, Indiana. Hoosiers: 3 Terrorists: 0.
This is one of the most insane action flicks from the eighties that I’ve never heard of before. It seems like the director, Peter Maris (Hangfire) was given permission to blow the shit out of every single thing in this small Indiana farm town, because he does. It’s regional filmmaking at its finest. Writer Mark Verheiden (Timecop) manages to combine Red Dawn, The Breakfast Club, Die Hard and Dog Day Afternoon into a four-headed gonzo-action hybrid. The plot is absolutely ludicrous, but never lets up for a minute.
Watching this film back in the eighties must’ve been a good escape that fed the paranoia over the possibility of terrorism on U.S. soil. Now, in our post-911 world, the film actually comes off as pretty humorous in a post-modern ironic way. The carnage that is inflicted upon this town is horrible, but you can’t help but laugh at how silly it’s all handled. Example: at one point during the pursuit, an old man is run over by the terrorists in their car. A group of town folk stands around his body in shock. Just then, Chuck Connors whips around the corner in his cop car and runs the victim’s body over, crushing it violently. It cuts to Connors in the car as he shrugs it off with a “Dammit.” This is played seriously, but it’s fucking hilarious. That moment is reflective of this film as a whole. It’s also reflective of the Bush administration and how they handled all events leading up to and after 911, but here I am getting political over a silly 80’s exploitation flick.