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.

Foxy Brown

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1974

American International Pictures

Written and Directed by Jack Hill

Produced by Buzz Feitshans

Costumes for Pam Grier Created and Designed by Ruthie West

Music Composed, Conducted, Arranged and Produced by Willie Hutch

FOXY BROWN wasn’t the first Pam Grier movie I saw. That would be “The Arena” released that same year. It actually was a couple of years later that I saw FOXY BROWN. Every couple of years you could count on one of the grindhouses on Manhattan’s 42end St. hosting a Pam Grier Double or Triple Feature and that’s when I saw it. Right from the first time I saw it it became for me THE Pam Grier movie. At least until I saw “Jackie Brown” in 1997

But when people ask me which one of Pam Grier’s classic movies from the Blaxploitation Era they should watch first, I always say FOXY BROWN. It was made after “Coffy” which it shares a lot of similarities to and in fact, FOXY BROWN was intended at first to be the sequel to “Coffy” which was a tremendous hit for American International Pictures. But for me, there are scenes in FOXY BROWN which forever stamped Pam Grier as the first female action star and she pulled it off with not only her breathtaking beauty and unbelievably gorgeous body but true acting talent. This is why I think Pam Grier has had such lasting power in the film industry whereas other women, black and white working in the movies at the same period didn’t last. Right from the start Pam Grier had an earthiness, a believability to her performances, no matter the situation her characters were in.

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This is the movie that has the classic scene where Foxy Brown pulls a small automatic pistol right outta an afro wig big enough to make Angela Davis jealous and shoots two bad guys dead.  There’s something about the way Pam does it that makes you buy the scene with no doubt at all. And then there’s the scene where she gets into a brawl in a lesbian bar. It starts with a woman squaring off on Pam, claiming that she’s a karate expert with a black belt. Without batting an eye, Pam snatches up a bar stool and wallops the piss outta her. Pam stands over her downed opponent, throwing the stool over her shoulder, proclaiming; “I got my black belt in bar stool.” Again, the way she delivers the line and her body language more than sells the scene. You easily believe that Pam Grier knocks out lesbians with bar stools all the time.

Foxy Brown has got two men in her life that are both involved in drugs at opposite ends of the spectrum. Her brother Linc (Antonio Fargas) has gotten into deep trouble with a drug syndicate run by Steve Elias (Peter Brown) and Miss Kathryn (Kathryn Loder). Using a modeling agency as cover they run drugs and use prostitutes to keep local judges, police officials and other public servants off their backs with sexual favors. Michael Anderson (Terry Carter) is a DEA agent who has spent two years in deep cover trying to get the goods on Elias and Kathryn to no avail. Anderson is forced to have plastic surgery to change his appearance and with a new identity and face, he and Foxy make plans to go away and start a new life.

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But Linc figures out who Michael really is and in order to get himself off the hook, rats out Michael who is then killed by the syndicate. Linc is then himself killed by Elias and that sets Foxy off on her roaring rampage of revenge. Foxy infiltrates the drug syndicate by posing as a prostitute. But her true identity is soon found out and that’s when things really get cranked up in more ways than one.

You’ll hear some complain about FOXY BROWN as they don’t like the gratuitous nudity Pam Grier displays throughout the movie and that she’s raped at one point in the movie. They argue that those scenes as well as her posing as a prostitute contribute to the objectification of black women. Is it objectification? Maybe yes. Maybe no. Me, I take FOXY BROWN for what it is: an action adventure revenge yarn where it’s a black woman as the protagonist instead of a white man. And a very satisfying one at that. And it’s one of the true classics of the Blaxploitation Era. There’s a dozen movies that I think should be seen if you call yourself a student or fan of Blaxploitation and FOXY BROWN is definitely one of them.

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What I’ve always loved about her as with most of Pam Grier’s movies, she doesn’t wait for men to rescue her. She rescues herself, such as in the scene where she’s being held captive at a farm which is the drug manufacturing plant for the syndicate. She’s raped, drugged with heroin and still manages to turn the tables on her captors and blow up the farm. She does enlist the help of an all male neighborhood watchdog organization obviously inspired by The Black Panthers but that’s because they’ve got the guns and ammo needed to help her shut down the syndicate. And the scene where she asks the brothers for their help doesn’t rely on her sexiness or vamping the men into helping her. They quite wisely and intelligently ask her what her motivations are and she tells them. They talk as equals.

But in their supporting roles, the men are very good. You can’t ask for better than Antonio Fargas and Terry Carter. They build solid characters in a short amount of time and so we feel for Foxy when they’re killed. I also like how there’s different types of black men in this movie. We don’t just see pimps and pushers. Sid Haig also shows up near the end of the movie and it’s always a blast to see Sid Haig and Pam Grier together in a movie as they’re good friends in real life and it shows on screen. Their chemistry crackles that good.

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While Peter Brown is just your standard generic honky bad guy, I really like Kathryn Loder. She’s got this really strange expression in her eyes and her body language is such that you instantly get that Miss Kathryn may be a criminal genius but she’s got some bad wiring upstairs. Her performance is almost as much fun as Pam’s to watch. They make for well matched opponents.

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If you haven’t seen FOXY BROWN yet then you just oughta. Get yourself FOXY BROWN, “Coffy” (as for all intents and purposes they’re virtually the same character) “Jackie Brown” and make it a Pam Grier Night. Trust me, you won’t be sorry.

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 Rated R

94 Minutes

Rio Conchos

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1964

20th Century Fox

Directed by Gordon Douglas

Produced by David Weisbart

Screenplay by Joseph Landon and Clair Huffaker

Based on the novel “Guns of Rio Conchos” written by Clair Huffaker

Music by Jerry Goldsmith

You tell me that there’s a movie or television show with Richard Boone in it and I’m watching it. Period. Richard Boone was probably the first man crush I ever had, thanks to “Have Gun With Travel.” My father never missed an episode and when it came on he would holler for me to come watch it with him. I fell in love with the show and with Richard Boone. It took me a long time to figure out why I enjoyed watching him on screen. He is a hero that looks, sounds and sometimes has to act like a villain. Take his character of Paladin in “Have Gun Will Travel.” He dresses all in black and that, along with his thin mustache and air of quiet menace he looks like the classic Western villain. But Paladin is truly a heroic, noble man on a knightly quest in the Wild West. Yes, he hires himself and his gun out for pay but his aim is to see that justice is done. A lot of the DNA of Paladin is in my character of Dillon, that’s how much I admire and like the character and Richard Boone.

Richard Boone is also among that brotherhood of actors I call Old Time Tough. Before he found success in acting, Mr. Boone worked as an oil rigger, a bartender and served in the United States Navy during World War II, seeing combat on three ships in the Pacific. He’s a guy who very easily can convince you he’s a tough guy on screen because he was one in Real Life.

It’s a damn shame he never became as big a movie star as he deserved to be because every movie performance I’ve seen in him has been entertaining and when he’s on screen I simply cannot take my eyes off him. RIO CONCHOS is his movie from start to finish and it’s one of the best Westerns I’ve ever seen. It’s a favorite of mine and I take every opportunity to turn people onto it whenever I can. Hence this here review. Now attend while I serve up the obligatory plot synopsis:

Jim Lassiter (Richard Boone) is an ex-Confederate Major waging his own private one-man war against the Apache Nation. Apaches raped and murdered his wife and daughter and since then he has slaughtered Apaches with such viciousness that they sing songs and tell stories about him to scare their children. Lassiter kills a raiding party of Apache and acquires from them a U.S. Army repeating rifle. Soon after Lassiter is arrested by U.S. Army Captain Haven (Stuart Whitman) and his second-in-command, Buffalo Soldier Sgt. Franklyn (Jim Brown) who want know where he got the rifle.

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Turns out that Haven was in charge of a large shipment of the repeating rifles that were stolen from him. Haven’s superior officer Colonel Wagner (Warner Anderson) makes a deal with Lassiter. If he’ll help Haven destroy or recover the rifles, he’ll turn him loose. Lassiter is uninterested until he finds out that it’s his former commanding officer Colonel Theron Pardee (Edmond O’Brien) who is making a deal with the Apache for the rifles. You see, Pardee’s contact with the Apache is one of their chiefs, Bloodshirt (Rodolfo Acosta). And Bloodshirt is the Apache who desecrated and killed his family. Lassiter figures that if he helps Haven get to Pardee that will get him to Bloodshirt. Lassiter agrees to the deal. But only if he can take along Juan Luis Rodriguez (Tony Franciosa) a Mexican outlaw whose clownish demeanor disguises an extraordinary resourceful and dangerous man with both knife and gun. When they’re in the guardhouse together Rodriguez tries to defend his killing of a man as self-defense. Lassiter snorts in derision and says; “A man who can shoot the way you do, its murder.” Lassiter’s argument if that Haven can have a man of his own to watch his back, he should have one as well.

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And so the four men set out on their damned, doomed mission to find Colonel Pardee and Bloodshirt with a wagon of gunpowder and repeating rifles. The plan being that they let Pardee find them under their guise of being Army deserters looking to make a quick buck. Pardee didn’t get the nickname of ‘The Gray Fox’ for nothing, though. Our boys find that out real quick when their plan goes south even quicker.

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RIO CONCHOS is an uncompromisingly brutal Western. The protagonists don’t particularly like each other a whole lot and spend most of their time together trying to figure out how to double-cross each other to achieve their own goals. It is interesting to see how Lassiter and Franklyn grow to respect each other, to the point where they join together to make the ultimate sacrifice. Richard Boone owns this movie from start to finish and commits to the truth of his character. There’s a startling scene where he’s prepared to let Apaches burn to death and when thwarted, attempts to murder an Apache baby. But it’s a testament to his acting skill that while we don’t identify with Lassiter or his murderous blood rage, we can understand it.

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Stuart Whitman is one of those actors who have never much impressed me but he does here. Haven is a straight up Army man, committed to his duty from start to finish. Tony Franciosa, who is an Italian, has the decidedly un-PC role of playing a Mexican here and if you watch the movie you’ll just have to overlook his attempt to do a Mexican accent and go with it.

Even though this is Jim Brown’s first movie you can see here why he became a major movie star as his career progressed. Even when he’s in a scene where he has nothing to say or do he’s a presence that radiates power and confidence. We know he’s in the scene even though he’s just standing there. That’s a quality that can’t be taught. It’s just something you have or you don’t and Jim Brown definitely has it. RIO CONCHOS is worth seeing not just for Richard Boone’s performance but Jim Brown’s as well. It’s a movie that should be better known to Western fans and I hope that my review will steer you in its direction if you’ve previously passed it by. Highly Recommend.

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107 Minutes

Lone Wolf McQuade

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1983

Orion Pictures/Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer

Directed by Steve Carver

Produced by Yoram Ben-Ami/Steve Carver

Written by H. Kaye Dyal/B.J. Nelson

Music by Francesco De Masi

In “Star Trek” there’s an alternative/parallel dimension called The Mirror Universe. If you’re a good guy in this universe, in The Mirror Universe you’re a bad guy and vice versa. I only mention this in reference to this review because when “Walker, Texas Ranger” premiered on CBS in 2005 I watched it and the thought came to me that Cordell Walker was The Mirror Universe version of our LONE WOLF McQUADE. I mean, there’s no getting around it. The only difference between the two is that Cordell Walker is a much friendlier guy and kills way fewer people than J.J. McQuade. He also talks a lot more. A whole lot more. And if Chuck Norris had been able to pry Lone Wolf McQuade away from Orion Pictures (who owns the character) we might well have had ten seasons of a “Lone Wolf McQuade” TV series. Which wouldn’t have been a bad thing at all. J.J. McQuade is easily good enough of a character that can sustain a TV or movie series. And it’s a shame he didn’t. But we do have this one movie and while I consider “Code of Silence” to be Chuck’s best, it’s this one that is my favorite.

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J.J. McQuade (Chuck Norris) is a highly decorated former Marine and now an even more highly decorated Texas Ranger working out of El Paso. He prefers to work alone, thereby giving rise to his legend as a “lone wolf.” His only companions is his pet wolf, his supercharged Dodge Ramcharger (which has enough personality to qualify as a supporting character in my eyes) and his retired fellow Ranger Dakota (L.Q. Jones). McQuade is divorced, of course. With the exception of Roger Murtaugh no cinematic law officer worth his badge can be happily married with a nurturing home life and still do his job. He lives in a wreck of a trailer in the middle of the desert with the wolf and apparently his sole source of nourishment is beer. Seriously. Watch the movie for yourself and I defy you to find me a scene where McQuade takes so much as single bite of food. He goes into a restaurant and doesn’t ask for an appetizer. He asks for a beer and keep ‘em comin’.

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McQuade’s boss (the always dependable R. G. Armstrong) is determined to make McQuade a team player so he partners him with the green as a Christmas tree rookie State Trooper Arcadio ‘Kayo’ Ramos (Robert Beltran). McQuade has no time for a partner. He’s on the trail of military grade weapons that are in the hands of people who have no business having them and romancing local wealthy socialite Lola Richardson (Barbara Carrera) who he met while Lola rescued McQuade’s daughter Sally (Dana Kimmell) when Sally’s horse ran wild. It’s not easy romancing Lola as her business partner Rawley Wilkes (David Carradine) has his eyes on making her much more than a business partner.

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It isn’t until FBI Special Agent Jackson (Leon Isaac Kennedy) arrives to investigate the hi-jacking of a U.S. Army convoy that Wilkes himself is revealed as being an international arms merchant. He gets his merchandise by hijacking U.S. Army shipments. The stakes are upped considerably by a couple of brutal deaths and the kidnapping of McQuade’s daughter which leads to an ultimate showdown between The Lone Wolf Lawman and The Mad Dog Criminal.

Hey, don’t blame me. That’s how it was billed on the movie poster. Go on back up to the top of this review and read it for yourself if you don’t believe it. The showdown between Norris and Carradine was hyped as the reason to come see the movie during it’s original theatrical run. It’s kind of a gyp, though, as Carradine had it written into his contract that his character could not be beaten in hand-to-hand combat by Norris’ character. The movie does a good job of teasing us all through the movie until we get to that showdown, having Norris and Carradine bump heads a couple of times just enough to bark and bite at each other before they finally throw down.

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But until we get there, just sit back, relax and have fun. LONE WOLF McQUADE is an extremely well made modern day version of those classic Spaghetti Westerns of the 1960s and 1970s. It lets you know that right from the beginning with the opening credits. Look at the font of the letters and how the credits glide across the screen. Listen to the music which sounds like left-over microwaved Ennio Morricone. Francesco De Masi, who indeed scored many Spaghetti Westerns before Morricone started his career composed the movie film score. Supposedly De Masi swiped much of Morricone’s score from “Once Upon A Time In The West” for this one. While I think that’s stretching it, I can hear a lot of Morricone in the score and that only adds to the enjoyment of the mayhem.

Norris allows himself to be a little more brutal, a little grungier, a little surlier than he does in most of his other movies. J.J. McQuade has no problem getting as down and dirty as the bad guys and as a result this gives McQuade a little harder edge than your usual Chuck Norris hero. I also like how McQuade’s stylized way of dressing and wearing his nickel-plated S&W Model 29/.44 Magnum gives him the aspect of a superhero. He must have at least two dozen Calvary Bib shirts (the kind with the flap on front) that he wears during the course of the movie, all different primary colors. And he never wears the same one twice.

L.Q. Jones is just as dependable as R.G. Armstrong (he should be…they’ve been in just about the same amount of westerns…a lot of them as co-stars) and he’s got a terrific rapport with Norris. And speaking of which; the pairing of Chuck Norris with Barbara Carrera should not work as well as it does. Only in an 80’s Action Movie would those two be put together as a romantic couple but damn if they don’t make it work. They even make rolling around in a mud puddle while making passionate love seem plausible. And only Barbara Carrera could make gathering her skirt to sit down on a bed sexier than any other woman  doing a full-blown strip-tease.

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Surprisingly enough, I got to give Robert Beltran some applause here. Despite this being one of his earliest roles he’s more fun and far more interesting to watch in the 1 hour and 47 minute running time of LONE WOLF McQUADE than he was in seven years of “Star Trek: Voyager.” As for David Carradine…well, what can be said about him? Give him a good guy to play and he’s kinda lost. Give him an oddball antihero, societal outsider or straight-up Bad Guy to work with and he’s nothing less than magic. If there’s any major problem with LONE WOLF McQUADE is that they don’t have enough screen time together. As for Leon Isaac Kennedy…to be honest, outside of the “Penitentiary” movies he’s never really turned my crank and his role here could have been played by anyone. Not that he’s a bad actor, mind you but when you can’t even steal a scene from Chuck Norris maybe it’s time for you to reconsider your career.

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So should you see LONE WOLF McQUADE? What, you mean you haven’t seen it? Philistine. It’s just about what I consider a damn near perfect Action Movie. Even more than that…it’s a damn near perfect Chuck Norris Action Movie. The screenplay is nothing but Plot and relies upon the actors to provide The Story. What do I mean by that? Just this: Plot Is What Happens. Story Is Who It Happens To. And thanks to a very talented cast that knows how to fill in Plot with Story, LONE WOLF McQUADE is more than worth your time if you’re looking for solid entertainment for a Friday or Saturday movie night at home. People who don’t know anything about Chuck Norris and ask me where to begin I always tell them; start with LONE WOLF McQUADE.

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1 hr 47 minutes

Rated PG

 

 

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