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COLLECTING VHS: Megaforce (1982)

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 warthe 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: Megaforce
Year: 1982
Genre: Gonzo-action/Sci-fi-sploitation
Tagline: Deeds not words.
Released by: CBS Fox Video
Director:
 
Hal Needham

click to embiggen

Plot: Ace Hunter is the leader of Megaforce, an elite combat unit that travels the world upholding freedom with the use of ultramodern weaponry. They are sent on a mission to fight evil in the form of a ruthless dictator and his army of mercenaries that are moving in on a small democratic nation.

Thoughts: “The good guys always win. Even in the 80’s!” – Ace Hunter from Megaforce

Ah, 1982. Will there ever be a year as kind to genre cinema as you were? What with all your classics like E.T. The Extraterrestrial, Blade Runner, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, John Carpenter’s The Thing, Poltergeist, The Dark Crystal, Tron, Conan the Barbarian, Creepshow, Cat People, Halloween III: Season of the Witch, The Entity, Fast Times at Ridgemont High, The Last American Virgin and First Blood. There was such an amazing amount of B-movie titles to choose from too, such as Evilspeak, The Beastmaster, Friday the 13th Part 3-D, The Sword and the Sorcerer, Amityville II: The Possession, Death Wish II, Class of 1984, Tenebrae, Basket Case, The Slumber Party Massacre, Silent Rage, Q: The Winged Serpent, Pieces, Visiting Hours, Forbidden World, Timerider: The Adventure of Lyle Swan, The Beast Within, Alone in the Dark, Parasite 3-D, Madman, Superstition and Humongous to name a few. But of all these films, there was one that I eagerly anticipated more than any other in ’82. It was of course, Megaforce.

I first heard about it in the pages of Starlog magazine where my thirteen-year-old brain almost exploded at the sight of pictures featuring tanks fighting motorcycles armed with handle bar mounted machine guns and rocket launchers. I spearheaded a campaign with all of my friends to see this film in its full glory and splendor on the opening day of June 25th 1982 – leading a pilgrimage of teenage boys on BMX bikes through the suburbs of Chicago to the only remote theatre that was playing it. The auditorium was barely a third full and some of my chums started to get a little nervous, but I was confident that I had chosen the absolute biggest blockbuster of the summer and they would all be thanking me by the time it was over.

I was wrong. With the exception of myself and possibly one other friend, they all hated it and blamed me for ruining their day. And here I was just trying to bring a little culture into their lives. Ingrates!

Hal Needham, the Hollywood stuntman turned director who was responsible for such films as Smokey and Bandit, Hooper and The Cannonball Run, made this piece of sci-fi/action madness that was universally despised by just about everyone who saw it back in the day. Well, they lacked vision. This movie is a crazy stunt laden spectacle that has been a cult favorite of mine for years. Sure the plot is absolutely ridiculous and every performance is really off kilter, but it’s all this strangeness that makes viewing Megaforce so unique. You’ve literally never seen anything like it before.

It takes place in a weird alternate dimension 80’s where a mad third world General named Duke Guerera (a wonderfully animated Henry Silva) travels with his tank army from country to country, blowing shit up, conquering and then moving on. General Edward Byrne-White (Edward Mulhare) and the lovely Major Zara (Persis Khambatta) enlist the aid of Commander Ace Hunter (Barry Bostwick) and the rapid deployment defense unit known as Megaforce, who are called into action whenever the world is threatened. Along with his buddy and teammate Dallas (The Warriors’ Michael Beck), Ace and the rest of his multi-national squad head out to the desert region where Guerera’s forces are currently located. The mission is to trick the crazed dictator into an ambush with Ace’s team that will result in his capture or destruction. Before they leave, Ace secures a date with the beautiful Major for after the mission is completed. Wink, wink.

The entire Megaforce team, including all their futuristic dune buggies, trucks and cycles, are dropped from the plane via parachute. It’s a pretty amazing and completely preposterous sequence to behold. Before long, Ace and his boys engage Guerera’s unsuspecting forces and kick mucho ass in a daring nighttime raid of their base. But we learn that there are no hard feelings because Guerera and Hunter are old buddies from way back in the day. In one absolutely insane scene, the evil yet gregarious villain flies into the enemy camp to have a friendly chat with Ace after one of their skirmishes. It’s actually quite charming as we get the sense that these two men both really like each other a lot.

But Ace and team have been set-up by Guerera and the General that asked them for help. Turns out that Megaforce has been used to incite a war and the only way out is directly through the path of tanks that wait on the other side of the mountains to destroy them. Luckily back at home base, Egg the scientist has figured out a map through an old mine shaft that will put them in a great position to ambush the enemy. The final battle ensues as Megaforce attacks with rockets, bullets and lasers. They overwhelm Guerera’s forces and escape in a huge plane, but Ace is tripped up and can’t catch the fleeing vessel in his motorcycle. At the last possible second he employs his turbo thrust and flies the rocket bike into the open cargo bay doors. Victory!

Watching this movie now, it really feels as if the filmmakers are commenting on American foreign policy in a satirical way, but actually I don’t think Needham or crew had any idea how subversive this film could one day be perceived. I believe their intentions were to make an awesome stunts and special effects laden escapist good time at the movies and they accomplished just that. However, upon my last viewing I can easily see how Trey Parker and Matt Stone were clearly inspired by Megaforce to make the hilarious Team America: World Police.

I also can completely understand why most people, including my friends from that time, consider this movie to be very bad and just downright dumb. It has a really strange sense of humor that comes from awful jokes and smirky acting, especially Barry Bostwick, who plays Hunter with the typically glib macho swagger of the era. The costumes are all skintight spandex unitards with a shit-load of weapons and useless computer modules strapped here and there and the vehicles and weaponry are the kind of stuff that makes a thirteen-year-old boy wet his pants with excitement. Why there wasn’t a huge merchandising explosion for this movie is beyond me.

In short, this film is totally 80’s and I say that’s a good thing, especially when you consider that it’s actually set in the 80’s, but obviously in some futuristic alternate universe 80’s that has never existed. All this movie needed was a giant rocket powered robot of Ronald Reagan to fly by and drop napalm on every living thing left alive to sell that style point. Now that would have been something! America… fuck yeah!!!

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