Every once in awhile, AIP would cast a recognizable name in one of their movies. It wasn't always a big star, but it would be someone many movie-goers would know either from pop culture or from movie watching experience. This usually meant actors that weren't as big as they used to be, like Cameron Mitchell or William Smith. With `Fatal Skies,' they cast Timothy Leary, of all people. I decided to watch this oddity for a change of pace, since it didn't sound like the usual type of film AIP would make. And it isn't. Whether or not this is a good thing I haven't figured out yet.
The plot is very minimal, yet not the easiest to explain, partly because it isn't easy for you to figure out completely when you watch it thanks to new characters and background facts being dropped at unexpected intervals. Jack is taking his niece Toni, her boyfriend Duane, and two of their friends skydiving in his plane. Duane and Toni parachute onto the quarry of Buddy (Leary), who is none too pleased with the intruders because they stumble in while he and his three hillbilly helpers are dumping two strange chemicals into the water. We know these chemicals are bad because they explode when combined together. Buddy pulls a gun on them, but the results are ugly as one of Buddy's helpers winds up dead before the teens escape and tell Uncle Jack. At first Jack doesn't believe them, but upon further thought, soon thinks that the police could be interested. They aren't; they are on Buddy's payroll. While Jack tries to find out who exactly Buddy is working for (a question whose answer really isn't addressed; I mean, we find out a character is having Buddy make the chemicals, but we don't know who he is or why he wants the stuff), Buddy's hick henchmen try repeatedly to kill off Duane and Toni. That's when it is time to take justice into their own hands.
The rating I am giving this movie is not as low as it gets because I realized there was talent behind the camera. Thomas E. Dugan, who apparently wrote or directed no other film, handles his skydiving scenes and most of his other scenes with a careful hand, and his crew no doubt knew what they were doing, too, despite their shallow budget. Tim Burke, who plays Uncle Jack, is the best actor in the lot, but to my surprise, the teenagers really weren't that bad. It's everyone else that makes this a bad acid trip. Leary's mere presence demands attention. He doesn't just have a cameo like he does in other films, oh no, he is the main villain. Some of his scenes (and this I think has more to do with Dugan's pen than Leary's ability) are interesting, but most of the time he is dull. I find it strange that AIP would have hired him at all, as Leary's band of followers had shrunk by the time this was made. Still, Leary is a Robert De Niro compared to the actors playing the henchmen and the police. These guys overact or blurt out their lines like people just pulled off the street. They aren't exactly amateurs, which is very baffling. You would have to actually watch the film and hear the deputy talk to understand why I am stressing this point, but don't, trust me. There are a dozen things you could be doing with your time, much like I should be doing. One more thing, though. I couldn't tell what Dugan was trying to do. At first I thought it was a spoof, with all the overacting and silliness, but then the brutal death of one of the henchmen made me think it was a straight action thriller. Then more weird things happen that made me think it was trying to be funny (but I wasn't laughing) like the coroner hauling a charred body into the police station or the stripper visiting the head bad guy while Jack waited to see him. But then the hicks try to kill and/pr rape Toni and the spoof feeling was gone again. When the final confrontation happened, I was sure it was an action thriller, but then Leary got into fisticuffs with guys much younger than him (bringing an `Oh, come on!' from my mouth). Then there was a gruesome death involving the mysterious chemicals. Action thriller, yes? But then there is the parting shot, some ridiculous epilogues, and an end song called `There's Something in the Water.' At this point I threw up my hands and gave up trying to figure it out. Someone more experienced with consuming toxic chemicals can watch this and make the decision. Zantara's score' 3 out of 10.
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