by Heath Holland
Patrick has been singing the praises of this movie for a while now, and he’s even recommended it in his weekly streaming showcase. He knew that it would be straight up my street, and he was right! Devil’s Express is ridiculous in all the right ways, marrying a high concept with a DIY aesthetic to create something that feels refreshing in how earnest it is. Think of Miami Connection and how sweet that film actually is underneath the ridiculous levels of violence. Then add afros, a supernatural threat, and a funky chicka-bow-wow seventies soundtrack for an experience that is far from refined, but totally a blast.
Long ago in China, an evil force was unleashed that was so dangerous that good people willingly gave their lives to imprison it. Cut to New York in the seventies, where we meet an inner-city martial arts teacher named Luke and another guy from his neighborhood, Rodan (not Godzilla’s nemesis). Through a series of events that has something to do with an amulet, the evil force has been set free once again, and now it’s loose in the subway beneath the city streets that Luke calls home. How does one beat true evil? With teachings about discipline, and lots of kung fu, of course.
The movie is a mess in other ways, too. Most of the time, it feels like two completely different narratives. In one of them, there’s an evil from East Asia that mercilessly prowls the streets. In the other, there’s a gang war raging over drugs and turf in the inner city. At some point, these two storylines intersect and it all clicks together, but it’s not a smooth ride. Warhawk Tanzania disappears for about twenty minutes of the movie. There’s a buddy cop subplot that’s half-baked. The demon that’s killing people in the subway is never satisfactorily explained. It feels like a lot of this movie was being made up as the filmmakers went along, which I suspect is probably close to the truth.
This film was directed by Barry Rosen, a guy who only helmed two films before moving on to serve as television producer on shows like Highlander: The Series. His other movie is also from 1976 and is called The Yum Yum Girls, and I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t curious. It sounds like a porno, but apparently it isn’t, and it features Judy Landers and Tanya Roberts in a cautionary tale of big city blues. Maybe we’ll be circling around to that one before the end of this series…but probably not.
Read more of Heath Holland's writing at his blog Cereal at Midnight!