Vice Squad

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1982

Embassy Pictures

Directed by Gary Sherman

Produced by Frank Capra, Jr./Brian Frankish/Frank Hildebrand/Sandy Howard/Robert Rehme

Written by Sandy Howard/Robert Vincent O’Neill/Kenneth Peters/Gary Sherman

Let’s be upfront about one thing right at the start of this review: there’s not a single thing original about the plot of VICE SQUAD. I’m willing to bet you that this same plot was used at least once by every single police and/or detective show during the 1970s and 1980s. Oh, they’d change it around some. Instead of a psycho hunting down a prostitute it would be a blind girl. Or a little black boy from the ghetto. Or an old man still grieving for his wife. And I do believe that there was an episode of “Hunter” which starred Fred Dryer as a Dirty Harry knock-off which was a loose remake of this movie. In fact, I further believe that Wings Hauser played a tamer version of his Ramrod character in that episode. But I’m working off memory here so don’t quote me, hear?

VICE SQUAD is one of those goofy 1980s movies that I had forgotten about until my friend Christofer Nigro recommend I watch it and about twenty minutes in I realized that I had seen this movie way back in the day in a 42end Street grindhouse. And it was the nuclear-hot performance of Wings Hauser that reignited those memories. And I’ll explain why in a couple hundred words. let’s get the obligatory plot summary out of the way first.

L.A.P.D. Vice Squad detective Tom Walsh (Gary Swanson) as his team are hot on the trail of Ramrod (Wings Hauser) a psychotic pimp known for his vicious treatment of the girls in his stable. Ramrod’s specialty in administering punishment involves a coat hanger and I’m not gonna go any further describing what he does with it. But he’s never killed a girl. Until now. Ginger (Nina Blackwood and yes, it’s that Nina Blackwood) calls her friend and sister prostitute Princess (Season Hubley who was still Mrs. Kurt Russell when she made this movie) for help. Ramrod is looking for her and she knows good and damn well what he’s going to do when he finds her. Princess advises her to stay low and stay out of sight until she can get to Ginger.

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When Princess does get to Ginger she’s in the morgue and Walsh isn’t happy about that. He’s even less happy that the uncatchable Ramrod has killed her. But he makes a deal with Princess. If she’ll wear a wire and record Ramrod saying something, anything incriminating, he won’t throw Princess in the slammer on bogus drug charges. And in the space of a couple of hours, Princess has indeed performed his mission and Ramrod is arrested and on his way to the hoosegow.

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I should mention here that events in this movie happen awfully damn fast. That’s because the events play out in what I think is roughly a 12-hour span of time from 6PM to 6AM. This is a movie that demands you keep up with what’s happening on the screen because it sure ain’t gonna slow down for you. Ramrod escapes from police custody with an easy savagery and then proceeds to go a horrendously violent hunt for Princess to exact revenge. Hunt is a mild term for what Ramrod does. He’s got the single-mindedness of a Michael Myers or Jason Voorhees married to the bloodlust of a Klingon grafted onto the survival instincts of a Comanche. Walsh and his team have to find Princess before Ramrod does but you get the definite feeling they’re fighting way out of their weight class.

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And that’s due to the performance of Wings Hauser. This is the performance that led to him playing whackos for the next two decades and its his own fault because he was so doggone outstanding doing it in this movie. Ramrod is a psycho but he’s even more dangerous because he’s a smart psycho. Combine that with his extraordinary animal cunning and he makes for a formidable adversary. And he steals the movie because it’s way more interesting watching Ramrod in his hunt for Princess than the cops hunting for him because we never know what this guy is gonna do next but we don’t want to miss a second of him doing it, whatever batshit insane thing it turns out to be.

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The rest of the acting in the movie is nothing to write home about. Season Hubley was never an actress that did much for me. She’s okay and that’s about it. Look for Fred “Rerun” Berry in a cameo and and our buddy Pepe Serna (from “Scarface” and “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai”) is here as one of Walsh’s team. And it’s too bad Walsh’s team wasn’t given more characterization as visually they’re an interesting crew and by giving them more quirky personalities and skills they might have presented more formidable opponents for Ramrod. But as given to us the way they are, they really don’t seem to present much of a threat to him.

VICE SQUAD, from left: Lydia Lei, Kelly Piper, 1982. ©Avco Embassy

So should you see VICE SQUAD? I would highly recommend it. It’s a fine example of 1980s exploitation trash that so joyously revels in it’s own sleaze, scuzz and seediness. It’s not a pretty picture and it’s not supposed to be. But if does have that terrific Wings Hauser performance and some really tight directing from Gary Sherman that insures you will not be bored. I’ve provided a link below where you can watch it on YouTube and my recommendation is that you save it for a Friday or Saturday night and make it your Midnight Movie then. Enjoy.

Heavy Metal

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1981

Columbia Pictures

Directed by Gerald Potterton

Produced by Ivan Reitman

Screenplay by Daniel Goldberg/Len Blum

Based on original art and stories by:
Richard Corben
Angus McKie
Dan O’Bannon

Thomas Warkentin

Bernie Wrightson

Music by Elmer Bernstein

Strictly for those of you weren’t around in the 1970’s here’s the thumbnail history of “Heavy Metal”, the magazine which served as the inspiration for HEAVY METAL, the movie. In France sometime around 1976 or 1977 there was this magazine being published called “Metal Hurlant” which featured extraordinarily illustrated stories of dark fantasy, horror, sword & sorcery and science fiction. Drug use, nudity, sex, extreme violence and mature language were major and welcome elements of these stories. “Metal Hurlant” was licensed by an American publisher who called the American version “Heavy Metal” and history was born.

“Heavy Metal” the magazine was where I discovered the incredible artistry of Jean Giruad aka Mobius, H.R. Giger, Phillip Druillet and many other European artists. Richard Corben I had already discovered thanks to Warren Publishing’s “Eerie” and “Creepy” magazines but “Heavy Metal” exposed me to a whole new dimension of Corben’s work and thank Odin for that.

HEAVY METAL the movie came along in 1981 and I have fond memories of seeing it during it’s original theatrical run. I went with about half a dozen friends and to enhance our enjoyment of the movie we took along quite a lot of alcohol and various recreational pharmaceuticals as well. Not that we were alone. We saw HEAVY METAL in a Times Square theater and as anybody who was a movie goer back then will tell you, booze and drugs went along with the movie going experience down in Times Square. But I have seen HEAVY METAL a number of times since then in a sober state so be assured that this movie review is one written by a reviewer only biased by his experience and opinion.

First of all, let’s cut to the chase: is HEAVY METAL a good movie? Not in the conventional sense. It’s a movie that is designed to just recreate the visual style of the various artists represented in animated form. The animation is married to the music of various musicians popular at the time. Check it out: Devo. Blue Oyster Cult. Journey. Stevie Nicks. Cheap Trick. Black Sabbath. Grand Funk Railroad. And many more besides. But the problem I have with the soundtrack is that we just get to hear snippets of the various songs and you never get the sense that they’re actually used to enhance and provide additional emotional content to what we’re seeing on the screen. The exception being Journey’s “Open Arms” which I think is used very well in the “Harry Canyon” sequence.

But what exactly is HEAVY METAL all about you ask? It’s an anthology of eight stories, all linked together by the MacGuffin of The Loc-Nar (voiced by an uncredited Percy Rodriguez) The Loc-Nar is a green glowing sphere that declares itself to be The Sum of All That Is Evil. In the framing story “Grimaldi” we see an astronaut launched from a space shuttle and landing on Earth via a vintage Corvette who takes The Loc-Nar to show his daughter. The astronaut is promptly killed in an horrific manner by The Loc-Nar who then proceeds to tell his daughter all about the havoc it’s wreaked across the universe in the following stories:

“Harry Canyon” is my favorite story and its about about a cabbie living and working in the dystopian New York of 2031(voiced by the great Richard Romanus) who gets caught up in a war between rival archaeologists fighting for possession of The Loc-Nar. I think the reason I like this story so much is that I’m convinced that it inspired Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element.” The animation is easy on the eye and while the story skimps on characterization (the girl who gets Harry involved in the plot is never even given a name) it’s pretty cool. It’s easy to see why Besson swiped it for his story. Be advised there’s animated nudity, mature language and sex in this segment. But then again, this whole movie definitely isn’t for the kidlets.

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“DEN” John Candy provides the voice for the main character in this John Carter knock-off about a dorkish Earth kid who is transported to the world of Neverwhere due to his finding in his backyard what he thinks is a green meteorite but is actually The Loc-Nar. On the world of Neverwhere, the dorkish kid is transformed into a seven foot tall bald warrior of Herculean proportions (and sexual stamina) who has to keep The Loc-Nar out of the hands of two rival wizards battling for it. The “DEN” segment is a lot of fun because of John Candy’s narration. Because even though as Den, the dorkish kid appears to be a mature man, mentally and emotionally he’s still a kid and his narration is indeed that of a kid who suddenly finds himself the hero in an adventure straight outta Edgar Rice Burroughs. And I absolutely love the closing scene of this segment: “On Earth, I’m nobody. But here, I’m DEN.

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“Captain Sternn” Oh, man, is this segment an absolute hoot. On a gigantic space station orbiting Earth, Captain Lincoln Sternn (Eugene Levy) is on trial in Galactic Court for 12 counts of murder in the first degree, 14 counts of armed theft, 22 counts of piracy, 18 counts of fraud, 37 counts of rape and 1 moving violation. But he’s confident that he’ll beat the rap. You see, he’s got an ‘angle’ in the form of Hanover Fiste (Rodger Bumpass) who has agreed to perjure himself as a positive character witness for pay. But under the influence of The Loc-Nar, Hanover condemns Sternn in court and transforms into a Hulkish monster that rampages through the space station trying to kill Sternn. This segment is played strictly for comedy and it’s done very well indeed. I especially love Hanover Fiste’s rant when he’s put on the witness stand. Hanover totally loses it and every time I see this part of the movie, I lose it as well.

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“B-17” is a straight-up horror story in the tradition of those classic EC horror comics or Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone.” I do believe that it is also the shortest segment. The pilot of a WWII B-17 bomber finds himself trapped on his damaged aircraft with his crew who have all been killed and turned into zombies.

“So Beautiful and So Dangerous” is another segment played strictly for laughs. Mysterious mutations are infecting the United States and a prominent scientist is summoned to the Pentagon to try and explain this. The cat spies The Loc-Nar which is being wore as a necklace by a bosomy secretary and attempts to rape her just before the both of them are sucked up into into a gigantic spaceship pilot by a couple of aliens voiced by Harold Ramis and Eugene Levy and whose chief engineer is a robot voiced by John Candy. There’s really no point to this segment except for the the human/robot sex and drug use but this is that kind of movie so what more do you need?

“Taarna” is the longest sequence and relates the legend of Taarna, last of the race of Taarak The Defender. Any of the race of Taarak has no choice but to answer the call when those who are unable to defend themselves ask for the aid of the Taarkaian. The Loc-Nar, which has now expanded to the size of a small moon crash-lands near a village and transforms the peaceful villagers into blood-thirsty ravagers who rampage throughout the land. It is up to Taarna, an Amazonian warrior woman, assisted only by her faithful avian steed to stop these ravagers.
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HEAVY METAL is an absolute blast of a movie if you don’t take it seriously. It’s a really goofy movie that’s just made for you to have a good time. The different styles of animation based of the art styles of the different artists ensures that you have a lot of eye candy to look at and the vintage 1980s soundtrack gives you just as much ear candy as well. HEAVY METAL isn’t a movie that I would call a masterpiece of animation but it is a whole lot of fun to watch. Pair it with Ralph Bakshi’s “American Pop” for a Friday or Saturday Night Animation Double-Feature.

90 Minutes

Rated R: This is NOT an animated movie for the kidlets so put them to bed before your and your spouse watch it. There’s plenty of profanity, nudity, sex , drug use and graphic violence in this one. Especially in the “Taarna” segment.


The Right Stuff

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1983

The Ladd Company/Warner Bros.

Directed by and Screenplay by Philip Kaufman

Produced by Irwin Winkler/Robert Chartoff\

Based on “The Right Stuff” by Tom Wolfe

Music by Bill Conti

Cinematography by Caleb Deschanel

One of the reasons why THE RIGHT STUFF stands out in my memory is because I saw it during its original theatrical run in the theater. And when the end credits played, a good 75% of the sold out audience I saw it with gave it a standing ovation. And I was right with them. I’ve heard felgercarb from modern day “movie fans” who are so very worldly and sophisticated and think it’s oh so very silly to applaud a movie. What’s the point? they say. The filmmakers can’t hear your applause. But in the case of THE RIGHT STUFF that isn’t the point. That audience and I stood and applauded because we’d just seen a three-hour epic about heroism done with style, respect, humor and grandeur. And we had to show our appreciation for how the movie made us felt. And the bottom line is that it made us all feel damn good. Was a lot of the movie made up? Sure it was. THE RIGHT STUFF is a great example of that magnificent line from “The Legend of Liberty Valance”: “When the legend becomes fact, print the legend.”

I say that to let you know right up front that there’s a lot of legend in THE RIGHT STUFF. Yes, it’s based on historical events involving real people but the filmmakers didn’t let them get in the way of telling a good story. Chuck Yeager (Sam Shepard) didn’t fly the X-1 on a whim as the movie would lead you to to believe but damn if it doesn’t make for a great scene. Especially when he breaks a couple of ribs chasing his wife Glennis (Barbara Hershey) on horseback in the desert surrounding the future Edwards Air Force Base and falls off his horse and still gets in the X-1 the next day to break the sound barrier.

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And it’s fun to see the friendly rivalry between Yeager and Scott Crossfield as they break each others speed records repeatedly. This is while hungry young pilots such as Gordon “Gordo” Cooper (Dennis Quaid) Virgil “Gus” Grissom (Fred Ward) and Donald “Deke” Slayton (Scott Paulin) are pouring into the base, looking to make their mark and prove they have “The Right Stuff.” Okay, maybe some of this is made up but if you want the facts, go look them up for yourself. We got these things called libraries. You might have heard of them. Make use of them.

But exactly what IS “The Right Stuff”? nobody ever says. It’s one of those grand and glorious Man Things That Cannot Be Given A Name. Chuck Yeager doubtless has it. In fact, he may have it more than anybody else even though he is deemed not worthy to be invited to join the space program. In one of the movie’s best scenes Gus Grissom is being ridiculed by the media and fellow pilots for his insistence that the explosive bolts on the hatch of his capsule exploded on their own during splashdown. The common consensus is that he panicked. But Yeager comes to Grissom’s defense;” You think a monkey knows he’s sittin’ on top of a rocket that might explode? These astronaut boys they know that, see? Well, I’ll tell you something, it takes a special kind of man to volunteer for a suicide mission, especially one that’s on TV. Ol’ Gus, he did all right.” Now, maybe Chuck Yeager said that or maybe he didn’t. But it matters in the context of the movie and the story that the movie is telling and that’s enough.

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The bulk of the movie is taken up with the 1960s Space Race, accelerated by the Russians launching Sputnik in 1957. NASA is tasked with putting an American in space and that initiates a near hysterical search for astronauts. Ironically, pilots like Yeager are excluded because he doesn’t “fit the profile” but after extraordinary grueling physical and mental tests, The Mercury Seven astronauts are chosen; Cooper, Grissom and Slayton along with John Glenn (Ed Harris) Alan Shepard (Scott Glenn) Walter “Wally” Schirra (Lance Henriksen) and Charles Frank (Scott Carpenter). But even though they are trained to be pilots, the engineers of the project (and it’s very clear that the majority of these engineers used to work for the Third Reich in WWII) see them as nothing more than passengers. You add to this is extensive publicity machine surrounding these proceedings and you’ve a situation as ripe for comedy as it is for drama.

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And one of the thing that takes people by surprise about THE RIGHT STUFF when they see it for the first time is that is a very funny movie. In fact, at times, it almost plays like a comedy, especially where Dennis Quaid is concerned. Those of you who have seen the movie know what I mean. But just about everybody gets their chance to be funny, even when they’re not being funny. If you know what I mean. Harry Shearer and Jeff Goldblum get a lot of laughs out their bit as a pair of recruiters looking for candidates for the fledgling NASA program. But that doesn’t mean that the rest of the cast don’t get their funny moments as well.

This movie may have just have the greatest cast of talent on screen since “It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World.” Here we go: Fred Ward. Dennis Quaid. Scott Glenn. Ed Harris. Sam Shepard. Lance Henriksen. Scott Paulin. Barbara Hershey. Veronica Cartwright. Harry Shearer. Jeff Goldblum. Pamela Reed. Charles Frank. Donald Moffat. Scott Wilson. Kathy Baker. Royal Dano. John P. Ryan. William Russ. John Dehner. And Chuck Yeager himself. He shows up as the bartender at Pancho’s, the joint where all the pilots hang out. It’s an utterly extraordinary cast and what’s even more extraordinary is that the script and the director gives them all a chance to shine without detracting from the overall story the movie is telling.

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And the musical score by Bill Conti is absolutely magnificent. It won the Academy Award that year for Best Original Score and rightfully so. A large part of the reason why THE RIGHT STUFF is still so highly regarded is because of that heroically soaring score. The special effects are also worthy of note because they’re practical effects, done with models. I don’t have anything against CGI and fully understand that a lot of my favorite movies of recent years couldn’t be done without them. But practical effects have a weight and realism that can’t be duplicated. When Chuck Yeager is in that X-1 and says that it’s still going up like a bat outta hell, we believe him.

Chances are that most of you reading this have already seen THE RIGHT STUFF and agree with me. But for those you who haven’t seen this movie, do yourself a favor and check it out at your earliest opportunity. THE RIGHT STUFF is one of the finest American movies ever made, period. And it’s a whole lot of fun to watch as well. Enjoy.

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192 Minutes

Rated PG

 

 

 

 

 

 

Pray For Death

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1985

Transworld Entertainment

Directed by Gordon Hessler

Produced by Don Van Atta

Written by James Booth

Sho Kosugi made PRAY FOR DEATH after the popular and successful “Ninja Trilogy” he did for Cannon Films: “Enter The Ninja” “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination.” And if you don’t mind taking some advice, I’d suggest you also watch PRAY FOR DEATH after watching the “Ninja Trilogy.” Or better yet, watch it before the trilogy. Not because it’s a bad movie. It’s actually quite good, in fact. But the movies in the “Ninja Trilogy” are designed to be Saturday afternoon chop-socky action adventures with plenty of outrageous action and goofy plot twists. They’re light entertainment, nothing more. PRAY FOR DEATH is a much darker film, a movie about the dreams of an immigrant family turned into a nightmare. There’s a wide streak of sadism infesting the movie and except for one scene the violence isn’t played for fun. For the most part this is a bloody revenge story and the ending doesn’t shrug off the tragedy that befalls this Japanese family.

Akira Saito’s (Sho Kosugi) wife Aiko (Donna Kei Benz) desperately wants to return to America where she was born and raise their two sons Tekeshi (Kane Sosugi) and Tomoya (Shane Kosugi) there. Akira is somewhat reluctant but he’s just been told that he has to wait three years for a promotion that he really wanted and he doesn’t want to wait. He and his wife agree to start their own business in Los Angeles.

Akira has another reason for wanting to leave. His family doesn’t know that he’s a ninja and for years he’s been living with the guilt of killing his own brother who tried to steal gold from the ninja temple where they were trained. Akira wants to put his ninja life behind him and thinks that a fresh new life in a fresh new country will do the trick. The Saitos go to L.A. and purchase a restaurant from widower Sam Green (Parley Baer). The boys busy themselves acclimating themselves to American life while Akira and Aiko renovate the restaurant. They’re so busy that they have no idea that the abandoned cigar store next door is used by a pair of crooked cops for their dirty work. They’re supposed to hide the priceless Van Adda necklace there but one of the cops decides to double-cross his boss Mr. Newman (Michael Constantine) and keep the necklace for himself.

Newman’s viciously psychotic enforcer, Limehouse Willie (James Booth, who also wrote the script) goes to pick up the necklace and finding it gone, sees Sam Green and his packed up car and makes the incorrect assumption that Sam must have taken it. Now, it must be said that even though Limehouse Willie’s job all throughout this movie is to recover the necklace he honestly doesn’t seem all that interested in doing his job. He much would rather beat people to death and terrify them. Limehouse Willie, after killing Sam (hell, he just doesn’t kill the poor old bastard. He pounds him to death with a iron pipe, pours gasoline on him and sets him on fire) figures that the Saito family must know where the necklace is and proceeds to raise hell with them.

He kidnaps Tomoyo, breaks Takeshi’s nose, threatens to burn off Tomoyo’s face with a blowtorch, strings up Akira, tortures him by slashing him across the chest with a razor sharp knife and this son of a bitch is just getting started.

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Of course the Saito family doesn’t know anything and of course Limehouse Willie steps up his game until he kills the one person he shouldn’t have killed. That’s when Akira decides it’s time to put and end to this bullshit and once again takes up the way of the ninja to enact his revenge.

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If the events of PRAY FOR DEATH had happened to a Caucasian, native born American family I don’t think the movie would have the resonance that it does. Akira Saito and his family are immigrants who come to American with hopes, plans and dreams and almost from the time they set foot on American soil they’re ill used by almost everybody. Sam Green is virtually the only American who shows them any kindness and he’s killed off rather quickly for his kindness. Saito and his family can’t even walk down the street of their new neighborhood without being physical and verbally assaulted by street toughs. Akira can’t get help from the police to protect his family from Limehouse Willie. And while we know that Akira will eventually resort to using his ninja skills it comes far too late to keep his family whole.

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Understand me that we’re not talking about High Art here. But what we are talking about is a movie where Sho Kosugi makes a sincere effort to tell a solid story about a dangerous man seeking to live a peaceful life according to the laws and values of a new country that holds promise for him and his family. He’s no Steve McQueen but he does a serviceable acting job as both family man and avenging angel of death. For pure fun and kick-ass entertainment check out Sho Kosugi’s “Nina Trilogy.” But if you want to see a decidedly darker side to him, watch PRAY FOR DEATH.

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92 Minutes

Rated R

Enter The Ninja

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1981

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Menahem Golan

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by Dick Desmond/Story by Mike Stone

I can hear some wise ass in the back saying; “If this is the first movie in the Ninja Trilogy then why are you reviewing it last, Ferguson?” Because even though this is indeed the first of Cannon’s so called “Ninja Trilogy” which includes “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” it really doesn’t matter in which order you watch them. The only thing they have in common is that they’re about ninjas and Sho Kosugi is in all of them. But he plays very different characters in all three and “Revenge of The Ninja” is the only one where he has a starring role. He’s pretty much regulated to supporting roles in the other two. Such as here in ENTER THE NINJA where we see him at the beginning of the movie just long enough to establish that he doesn’t like Our Hero. He then disappears until near the end when the movie’s real Big Bad hires him to kill the hero.

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We meet Cole (Franco Nero) in Japan when he has completed his training to become a ninja. We also meet Hasegawa (Sho Kosugi) who has also studied ninjutsu alongside Cole but bitterly resents Cole being given full ninja status. It’s never really clarified as to why Hasegawa doesn’t like Cole. We get some gobbledygook from Cole’s teacher that Hasegawa is just cranky because he wasn’t born during the golden age of the samurai but since we only see Hasegawa for the first five minutes of the movie I guess the writer didn’t want to waste the time on the characterization.

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Cole goes to visit his old war buddy Frank Landers (Alex Courtney) who owns a large farm in The Philippines. Along with his wife Mary-Ann (Susan George) and the native workers, Frank is struggling to keep his land. The enormously wealthy Charles Venarius (Christopher George…no relation to Susan) wants to buy it for reasons unbeknownst to them. Once Cole starts thwarting the army of hired goons Venarius hires to run the Landers off he does some snooping. He discovers that there a vast oil deposit under Frank’s land. Cole attempts to help the Landers keep their land is complicated by his increasing affection for Mary-Ann. An affection that is reciprocated due to Mary-Ann’s dissatisfaction with Frank’s heavy drinking and Cole discovering that his old war chum is no longer the man he once fought alongside. And if that wasn’t enough, Venarius hires Hasegawa to kill Cole and the Landers. We’re not talking a deep, heavy movie with a lot of plot here but it’s enough to get things moving and keep it moving.

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In fact, once the whole thing about the Landers having oil on their land was introduced, it hit me what ENTER THE NINJA was. It’s a modern day Western set in The Philippines instead of The Wild West. Sure it is. If the writer had included the Landers having a kid who worships Cole, the movie would have practically been a remake of “Shane.” Instead of six shooters and Winchesters we’ve got martial arts and ninja swords. There’s even a Walter Brennan type of cantankerous old geezer who throws in with the Landers and Cole and helps them out.

Franco Nero wasn’t the original choice to play Cole. He knew nothing about martial arts and his Italian accept was too pronounced for him to convincingly play an American. His voice was dubbed and Mike Stone, a martial artist and stuntman who wrote the initial story and screenplay as a starring vehicle for himself, performed his stunts and fight scenes. Due to his lack of experience, he didn’t get to play Cole. I’m sure that Franco Nero’s previous film success had a lot to do with that as well. It probably was a lot easier to sell a movie called ENTER THE NINJA with Franco Nero as the star than Mike Stone (You can just hear the distributors asking “Mike Who?”)

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That’s not to say that Nero doesn’t acquit himself well. He’s an extraordinarily likeable actor who knows what he’s doing in front of the camera. While he and Sho Kosugi never have enough screen time to come across as legitimate enemies, his scenes with Susan George and Alex Courtney have enough weight that we buy into it. I really like how the screenplays allows for time for Cole to show how he’s truly upset and saddened at the state his friend is in emotionally and psychologically. But he’s got no other way to help him other than by going out and beating the piss outta the goons trying to steal his land.

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Susan George makes for some nice eye candy and I liked how her character isn’t afraid to grab a shotgun and start blasting away at whoever comes to threaten her man or her land. While I prefer Christopher George as a good guy (remember him from “The Rat Patrol”?) he’s obviously having a great time playing a villain for a change. He swings for the fences to make Venarius a minor league Bond-style villain and I think he pulls it off very well, giving Venarius enough eccentricities and ambiguous sexuality that I wanted to know more about this guy. I like how he and all of his henchmen wear white suits all of the time. Half the budget for this flick must have been spent on white suits, in fact. That’s how many of them there are.

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I only wish the fight/action scenes had some more…well, action to them. Oh, they’re satisfying, don’t get me wrong. But after watching the outrageous fight scenes in “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” the fights here come off as slower and more pedestrian. It doesn’t help that you can tell when it’s Nero and not Stone in the fight scenes as Nero fights like a barroom brawler and not a martial artist.

Still, it makes for an entertaining time waster. My suggestion is that you sandwich ENTER THE NINJA in between “Revenge of The Ninja” and “Ninja III: The Domination” ENTER THE NINJA doesn’t have the over-the-top fight scenes or downright goofiness of those other two but I recommend it for the acting, the modern day Western plot and the characterizations.

109 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

Ninja III: The Domination

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1984

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by James R. Silke

What’s the one thing movie fans can unite behind no matter their race, religion or film preference? Remakes. Mention to movie fans that there’s going to be a remake of a beloved movie and stand back. Such a wailing and gnashing of teeth you have never heard in your life. I’ve actually seen with my own eyes people get more upset at the news that a favorite movie of theirs is being remade than at the news of a family member’s death.

What I’ve never quite understood is why movie fans get so upset about remakes when they happen all the time in the theater and theater fans just take it in stride and go on with their lives. You’ll see that every five years or so there’s a new production of “West Side Story” or “Camelot” or “Oklahoma” and theater fans greet it with joy and anticipation.

But I think I have a solution to the problem. Why not remake movies that were flops and failures the first time around and take another crack at bringing to fruition the promise that they showed? And I’ve got my first candidate NINJA III: THE DOMINATION.

Not that it isn’t a whole lotta goofy fun just the way it is. NINJA III: THE DOMINATION has a lot of the elements I love about 1980s movies, up to and including the obvious fact that nobody associated with the production gave a damn about how silly and ridiculous the plot was. I’ve read that Sho Kosugi wasn’t happy with the movie at all and argued strenuously against mixing martial arts with demonic possession. But the results are so jaw-droppingly batshit insane I’m glad that he didn’t get his way. As a result we get a movie that joyfully and wonderfully embraces its weirdness and doesn’t bother one little bit to be embarrassed about it. It’s the kind of movie where you either go with it or leave it alone.

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The Black Ninja (David Chung) comes to an unnamed American city on a mission of assassination. He’s there to kill a scientist. Why? What for? Who hired him? These questions are never answered. The poor bastard is simply a living MacGuffin to get the plot going. The Black Ninja kills the scientist, his wife and/or girlfriend and his four bodyguards while the scientist is playing golf in less time than it took me to describe. He’s surprised by golf course security who call the cops and that takes us into the first but not the last of the many batshit insane action sequences of the movie.

The Black Ninja outruns cops who are on foot, on motorcycles and in cars but there’s too many of them for him to elude and he strikes back, displaying a nice range of ninja weapons while doing so. And I liked the fact that he didn’t simply slice up cops with his sword. He takes them out using his blowgun, throwing stars, blinding powder, chain and sickle, etc. This cat takes out about a hundred cops and even brings down a police helicopter before going down in a hail of gunfire. The cops think he’s dead, get closer and then believe it or not, The Black Ninja jumps up and proceeds to hack and slash to death about a hundred more cops. Having finally gotten sick of this shit, the police do the only sensible thing and form a circle around The Black Ninja then shotgun him to death. Even then this resourceful bastard still gets away by throwing a smoke bomb and seemingly disappears.

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The Black Ninja stumbles on telephone linewoman/aerobics instructor Christie (Lucinda Dickey) and gives her his sword before finally dying. Turns out that The Black Ninja put his spirit inside the sword which in turns possesses Christie and uses her to get revenge on the police officers that killed him. The situation is complicated by Christie’s flowering romance with Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett) one of the cops who killed The Black Ninja. He becomes increasing more and more curious about Christie’s unexplained disappearances which seem to happen just around the same time his fellow officers are being murdered one by one. That’s when our boy Sho Kosugi comes flying in from Japan. He’s got a long standing blood feud with The Black Ninja and he’s quite aware that even death cannot stop his evil. It isn’t long before he and Billy have teamed up to try and save Christie’s soul from the demonic possession of The Black Ninja and defeat him once and for all.

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Where do I begin trying to describe why I like this movie so much? Should I start with the scene where our old friend James Hong as a Shinto priest attempts to exorcise the spirit of The Black Ninja from Christie? Or the scene where the spirit of The Black Ninja, which has apparently taken up residence inside of Christie’s arcade video game machine takes control of her with smoke, laser beams, and neon strobe lighting? Or the love scene where Christie pours V8 all over her neck and chest and invites Billy to lick it off?

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The idea of a movie that’s a mash-up of two very popular movie fads at that time: martial arts and demonic possession isn’t a bad one and I think that maybe the reason it flopped at the box office was because there wasn’t enough of either one to satisfy fans of either genre. Sho Kosugi himself doesn’t show up until halfway though the movie and even then he stays mostly in the background until the final showdown with The Black Ninja whose demonic spirit has revived his body in true zombie style.

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The movie belongs to Lucinda Dickey who played Kelly aka Special K in the cult masterpiece “Breakin’” And it’s a shame she never again starred in an action movie because she acquits herself very well indeed. Supposedly she got the role based solely on the fact that due to her training as a dancer she was athletic enough to do many of her own stunts. It helps that Lucinda Dickey is nuclear hot and has enough personality and screen presence to make up for any acting deficiencies. The camera absolutely loves her and she just as obviously loves it back.

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And thanks be for that as there’s not much else in the way of acting to brag about here. Sho Kosugi isn’t exactly Peter O’Toole but then again, he didn’t have to be. He knew exactly what his role in a movie of this type is and he fulfills that role adequately. Jordan Bennett as Officer Secord comes off as being too much on the uncomfortable side of stalker-ish for my taste. Even by 1980s standards.

As I said earlier, NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is one of those movies that you just have to make up your mind before you start watching that you’re just going to go along for the ride. And if you do, I think you’ll have just as good a time as I did with it. If you’re so inclined, go no further than the YouTube link below and enjoy.

90 Minutes

Rated R

 

 

Revenge of The Ninja

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1983

Cannon Films/MGM/UA

Directed by Sam Firstenberg

Produced by Yoram Globus & Menahem Golan

Written by James Silke

He never achieved the same level of popularity that say, Chuck Norris or Jean-Claude Van Damme or Steven Seagal did. But I’ll bet you next month’s rent that anytime you get aficionados of Martial Arts Movies together to talk about their favorites, Sho Kosugi’s name is going to come up fifteen minutes into the conversation. No, he wasn’t as flashy or flamboyant as some of those other guys but he was good at what he did. He kept his dialog to a minimum and delivered on the action/fight scenes. His major claim to film fame was in what has come to be known as “The Ninja Trilogy.” The movies have absolutely no connection to each other save for one element: Sho Kosugi is in all three, playing different roles. He’s The Big Bad in “Enter The Ninja.” The hero in REVENGE OF THE NINJA and a ninja exorcist in “Ninja III: The Domination.”

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But there is one thing I notice that Sho Kosugi has in common with Norris and Seagal: none of them can run for shit. You think that’s why they got into martial arts in the first place? Because since they couldn’t run they damn well had to learn how to stand their ground and fight?

The movie starts with an extremely brutal scene of slaughter in Japan as members of the family of ninja master Chozen ‘Cho’ Osaki (Sho Kosugi) are wiped out. What makes it even more brutal is that it’s women and children killed by the army of rogue ninjas. I mean, we’ve got women being sliced to pieces with swords and an eight year old kid taken out with a shuriken to the eye. Cho shows up in time to kill about a dozen ninjas but the rest get away. The only surviving members is his baby son Kane (played in later scenes by Sho’s real life son Kane Kosugi) and his mother (Grace Oshita).

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Swearing to give up the life of a ninja, Cho moves his son and mother to America where he opens up an Oriental art gallery at the urging and financial backing of his old friend Braden (Arthur Roberts) Turns out that Braden isn’t such a pal after all. He’s using the gallery as a front for heroin smuggling, hiding the drugs in shipments of handmade Japanese dolls. Braden is stiffed for money that the local mob boss, Chifano (Mario Gallo) was supposed to pay him for the drugs. It’s shortly after this that a ninja assassin wearing a silver demon mask starts killing off Chifano’s men. The police reach out to Cho for assistance but he refuses to help. He does tell them that the way the killings have been done is in ninja style. Which really doesn’t do much for Cho’s credibility since he is the only ninja the police know…

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REVENGE OF THE NINJA is nowhere near being High Art. But it is pure 1980s pulp on film. It’s goofy and doesn’t mind being goofy. It takes itself seriously without being serious, if you know what I mean. The movie starts at eighty miles an hour and doesn’t slow down one little bit. Some of the fight scenes are inspired. Such as Cho’s moms taking on the demon masked ninja in one of the movie’s best fights that will have you rooting for Mama. Kane gets a couple of fight scenes of his own, my favorite being the one where he beats the piss out of a gang of bullies harassing him after school.

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The story isn’t what you would call innovative but I did like how for most of the movie, Cho doesn’t know what the hell is going on and has to piece the mystery together while Braden is in the background, merrily killing away and leaving dead bodies everywhere. But when Cho does indeed discover how’s he been betrayed and who’s behind it, he takes up the way of the ninja and the epic showdown between the two ninjas is a lot of fun. As is the whole movie. No, we’re not talking “Enter The Dragon” or “Black Belt Jones” or “Gymkata” here. But REVENGE OF THE NINJA is a perfectly acceptable Saturday afternoon movie. Do yourself a favor and get all three movies in “The Ninja Trilogy.” If you’re a fan of Martial Arts Movies or of Cannon Films and you’ve never seen these movies, do yourself a favor and check ‘em out.

90 minutes

Rated R