Skeleton Coast (1987)

Ernest Borgnine leads this ultra-trashy but enjoyable action from from Harry Alan Towers. Prism UK R2 DVD.

The Film

In Angola and American CIA man working for the rebels is captured by government troops. His father, Colonel Smith rtd. (Ernest Borgnine) flies into Namibia with a team of mercenaries to try and capture him back but when their trucks are destroyed by a diamond mine security team they have to make their own way into Angola and almost fall victim to the rebel forces themselves. Fortunately Smith is able to persuade them to work with him and free his son from the military fort where he is being held...

From the pen of producer Harry Alan Towers himself (credited as usual as Peter Welbeck), Skeleton Coast is from the very start a trashy action film, with all guns blazing in the pre-credits sequence. The storyline is certainly nothing original and is rather thin but does the job and gives us plenty of good action scenes. There are a few rather lengthy and ultimately quite unnecessary dialogue scenes but they are probably just there to pad out the run-time and the pacing is generally good. Despite a strong and explosive climax, the film does go on a little, with a rather poor ending - again a desperate attempt to get the film up to 90 minutes.

John Cardos does the directing chores here - no stranger to the world of low budget cinema he makes a solid effort although never really manages to get the film above its 'shot on video' roots - this look does bring a certain news footage style realism to many of the action scenes, but is never fully exploited. The action scenes themselves are well choreographed with plenty of big explosions and all of the flying stuntmen you could ask for - they do make full use of the budget in several scenes including exploding aircraft and vehicles that don't appear to be models. There is a little blood in the fight scenes but despite the film's exploitation roots and plenty of teasing, no nudity. Filmed on the cheap in Namibia, the locations, particularly the desert scenes, all look authentic. On the soundtrack, the era of Miami Vice gives the film a fitting but very dating synthesiser score.
Harry Alan Tower's biggest moneymaking strategy down the years was to cast big name actors in minor parts, allowing him to use their names in the promotion but only pay them for a few days work. This is undoubtedly true in regards to the casting of Oliver Reed and Robert Vaughn who both have short, but more than just cameo parts. Reed seems to be really enjoying his part, although it does seem to have been almost tacked on to the story. Vaughn is rather strange casting as an Angolan military officer but plays the part as well as he can. Cult movie regular Herbert Lom is possibly not well known enough to be cast for name value but has worked many times with Towers down the years and makes one of his final film appearances here in another short part.

Surprisingly, Hollywood star Ernest Borgnine is not just cast in a cameo role but actually plays the lead part with some real enthusiasm - although his acting talents in the emotional reunion with his son are rather tempered by the generally trashy nature of the film. The rest of the cast includes a few familiar faces - notably a young Arnold Vosloo (The Mummy (1999)) and Daniel Greene (Me, Myself & Irene (2000)).

Skeleton Coast is a trashy action film all the way with some highly enjoyable explosive highlights, a great leading performance from Ernest Borgnine and a trio of respected actors in extended cameos. However, the storyline has trouble filling out a feature film runtime and at times seems to be desperately padded, while the direction can never lift the film above its video roots and the exploitation sex and gore, that you would expect in such a film are notably absent. Certainly not one for fans of 'good' films, Skeleton Coast will appeal to fans of low budget/trashy action films and makes a good companion piece to the various entries being released in Europe and the States during the era. Partly recommended.

In Brief

Anyone famous in it? Ernest Borgnine - Oscar winning American actor who also appeared in actioner Codename Wildgeese (1984)
Oliver Reed - the legendary English actor who got his start in Hammer's Curse of the Werewolf (1961)
Herbert Lom - an amazingly versitile European star, from The Frightened City (1961) to 99 Women (1969) 
Directed by anyone interesting? John 'Bud' Cardos - a lesser known American actor and director who also helmed William Shatner in Kingdom of the Spiders (1977) and replaced Tobe Hooper on the set of The Dark (1979)
Any gore or violence ? Lots of explosions and killings but only light blood.
Any sex? None (some covered up nudity and implied sex scenes)
Who is it for?
Fans of trashy action films and Ernest Borgnine.


Visuals Original Aspect Ratio - 1.33:1 fullscreen. Colour.
Made for television so probably the OAR - plenty of head-room suggests that a 16x9 cropped version may have been created.
The image quality gives away the shot-on-video roots, particularly in the interiors, although it never looks any worse.
Audio Original English mono - sounds fine.
Subtitles None.
Extras None.
Region Region 2 (UK, Europe) - PAL
Other regions? Also avaiable on R1 DVD from Troma - includes a few extra features but nothing of note (except a trailer for this film).
Cuts? The film is believed to be fully uncut. English language print.



All text in this review written by Timothy Young - 17th May 2008.
Text from this review not to be used without authorization.

Please contact: