Thursday, June 16, 2022

Junesploitation 2022 Day 16: '80s Action!



    Gordon Hessler's PRAY FOR DEATH: UNRATED (1985, Arrow Blu-ray, 95 min.) and RAGE OF HONOR (1987, Arrow Blu-ray, 92 min.), both for the first time.

    1983's "Revenge of the Ninja" will always have a special place in my heart. It led me to discover my favorite movie podcast a decade ago this year (Film Sack) while doing a Google search after listening to Patrick's heartfelt solo commentary. It's the first time I realized who Shô Kosugi was, that there were other fun Cannon movies besides the Chuck Norris and Charles Bronson flicks and that Sam Firstenberg was an honest-to-goodness auteur. After three solid ninja flicks for The Cannon Group in the early 80's, though, Shô took his acting/fight choreography/hire-my-young-sons-to-kick-butt to a Cannon wannabe (TransWorld Entertainment) with a 'meh' director ("Murder in the Rue Morgue's" Gordon Hessler) with uneven-but-still-entertaining results. If anything, these late 80's action movies doubled or maybe tripled Shô's eyeliner budget! :-D

    "Pray for Death" is beat-for-beat a remake of "Revenge of the Ninja," but the tone feels closer to Steven Seagal's "Above The Law": born-and-bred Japanese ninja Akira Saito (Kosugi) moves from Yokohama to America (Texas as Anywhere USA) to start a new life with his family, but his new place of business happens to be where a corrupt cop hides-and-then-steals the valuable Van Atta necklace (aka McGuffin) that belongs to criminal boss Mr. Newman (Michael Constantine). James Booth plays a Milo-from-"The Last Boy Scout"-level henchman that is sadistic, racist and pure animal instinct. You know you want to see Limehouse Willie die a thousand horrible deaths after he punches AND kicks Kane Kosugi with his car door, and his one-on-one final fight with Saito is suitably epic. Peggy Abernathy's "Back to the Shadows" theme song is 80's pop gold, and it helps distract from the generic soundtrack and missing sound effects from the Unrated version (which defaults in the Arrow Blu-ray). Like "My Bloody Valentine" and "Silent Night, Deadly Night," the grainy and inferior-looking insert footage is worth putting up to see "Pray for Death" deliver some rather nasty stuff (Limehouse's graphic murder of Shô's wife is actually quite disturbing :-O). Even though it goes full Cannon a couple of times (Kane Kosugi's gadget-filled bike, Maurice Binder-style opening titles, etc.) "Pray for Death: Unrated" ends up becoming another great entry in Shô Kosugi's impressive 80's action resume. 4 DEATH SCENES RIPPED OFF BY TECMO'S ARCADE "NINJA GAIDEN" 'CONTINUE' SCREEN (out of 5).

    "Rage of Honor" is basically "Miami Vice" by way of Argentina, with Shô playing a hotshot federal narcotics cop that quits the agency and goes on a personal vendetta after his partner is killed in a Phoenix, AZ drug warehouse by sadistic drug trafficking boss Havlock (Lewis Van Bergen, a poor man's attempt at a Eurotrash villain that is all looks and no heft). I'd like to imagine the 007 producers/writers seeing this after "The Living Daylights" wrapped-up and basing their own "Licence to Kill" on this nearly-identical template, including the cheapness of the budget by using a foreign location (Argentina) to maximize production value. The last 45 minutes are one super-extended action sequence of Shiro Tanaka in the jungle near Iguazu Falls killing murderous locals (shades of Indiana Jones), rescuing his girlfriend ("One Dark Night's" Robin Evans) and dodging bullets/explosives in abandoned warehouses, drug fields and a ship graveyard. While it doesn't fly as high as "Pray for Death" or the Cannon ninja flicks, it offers plenty of bang-for-buck, top-notch Shô Kosugi ninja fun... plus all the guns and bow-and-arrow mayhem you can handle. 3.75 ACTION SCENES WITH CREW MEMBERS VISIBLE IN THE BACKGROUND (out of 5).

    1. I picked up the Arrow blu-ray for Rage of Honor quite cheaply a few years ago. I had a good time with Rage of Honor back in 2020, but that Iguazu Falls sequence seemed so out of place in the context of the film. The main villain was one of the worst I can remember for that type of film.

    2. What!?!?! There's another commentary? That was a couple years before I started listening to Fthismovie, but I thought I had scoured the Movies A-Z and listened to them all. Somehow missed this one. It's not available for streaming here, but I'm going to order it posthaste.

    3. Patrick did several commentaries alone ("Kuffs," etc.). Just go through every single podcast listing to find them. 😉🙂

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    5. Which of the two has the scene with Sho sneaking up on the henchmen using a large wooden spool? It’s a Monty Python’s Quest For The Holy Grail level stealth attack. Both of these are a fun watch.

  2. TOP GUN (1986, dir. Tony Scott)

    I can smell the testosterone coming out of this film. I had not watched Top Gun since the 1980s. Honestly, everything about it screams 1980s Hollywood, but in a good way. I miss this Hollywood. A great cast, an engaging script, terrific aerial photography for and editing of the dogfights, and a soundtrack that is utterly of the era make it a very worthwhile watch almost four decades later.

    Personal note: Though I do not have any strong memories of Top Gun, it typifies the filmmaking of the era that I grew up in. I looked forward to the next Schwarzenegger or Stallone movie, and I watched any John Candy film that was on television. I remember seeing Uncle Buck in a theater with my father. It was not a feeling of nostalgia watching Top Gun; it was more about feeling of being part of a moment that has receded into the past. Time inevitably moves on. All of the young Navy members featured in the film are at least in their mid-fifties now. I am in my forties. Every time I hear that an actor I grew up watching passed away, I think about how I am not young anymore. Like Maverick, we all have to climb into the pilot seat of life and continue on an unpredictable journey.

    1. Nice review!

      That feeling of getting older and recognizing it is something, the character of Maverick is forced to deal with (until he isn't) in Part II. I liked that a lot.

    2. Part of my reason for choosing Top Gun is to prepare for a possible watch of Maverick this weekend.

  3. Miami Golem (1985)

    I have no idea what genre this movie is and I’ll bet it has no idea either. It is an example of one of my favorite microgenre: Italian filmmakers in America, further subset Italian filmmakers in Florida.

    Alberto De Martino doesn’t get mentioned in the same conversation as Argento or Fulci. He’s not even in the Lenzi, Martino or Deodato world either. But he did direct The Antichrist and Holocaust 2000, two examples of the Xerox 70s occult boom that I have a particular fondness for. And he also made the shot in Canada poliziotteschi/giallo hybrid Strange Shadows In an Empty Room, which is a movie more people should watch and the downright weird superhero film The Pumaman. Also — and how can I forget this — he made the wildest Eurospy movie, Operation Kid Brother, which uses Sean Connery’s kid brother and everyone else that has ever been in a Bond film, daring Cubby Brocoli to repeat the violence — and yes, murder allegedly — that he unleashed on Ted Healy.

    For as oddball and quite frankly daffy as Miami Golem is, it has quite a pedigree when it comes to who wrote it: Gianfranco Clerici (The New York Ripper, Cannibal Holocaust) and Vincenzo Mannino (House on the Edge of the Park, Murder Rock).

    De Martino was also smart to cast David Warbeck and Laura Trotter as the leads. If I had my way, this would say “The stars of The Beyond and Nightmare City are back together for the first time!”

    Warbeck is Craig Milford, a local reporter sent to a college — let’s assume it’s the University of Miami — to interview a professor cloning a cell from DNA that was found inside a meteorite. This seems like the worst of ideas, but you know how movie science works. As Milford leaves, gunmen break in, kill everyone and take the alien cells. They start erasing anyone who knows anything about the experiment and as that includes Milford, he goes on the run.

    Somehow, Milford becomes our backwoods planet’s only savior as telekinetic businessman Anderson (John Ireland, who was in great stuff like Spartacus and Red River but I know him as King Arthur from Waxwork II: Lost in Time) wants to use that alien DNA, which is already growing into a quite honestly freaking me out looking alien fetus. He has help from another psychic extraterrestrial, Joanna Fitzgerald (Trotter), who he of course is going to do some reading under the covers with just as my wife walks in, angrily looks at the TV and says, “Why does this happen all the time in Italian movies?” and “That woman’s body hair is upsetting.”

    The aliens left a message on the videotape for Milford that the alien baby is bad, baby, and we’re going to have to do something about it. That means that we’re going to watch Milford get launched around a room by a tentacled fetus, which I had no idea just how much I’d love. Also, by aliens, I mean that they are ghosts and one of them is just a big giant hand.

    Between the score by Detto Mariano that approximates Harold Faltermeyer’s “Axel F” and Jan Hammer’s synth beats, this movie’s title — and alternative version Miami Horror — are supposed to make us think Crockett and Tubbs. De Martino going by the name Martin Herbert is also supposed to fool us into thinking this is an American movie. Thankfully, it is deliriously Italian, filled with swamp boats, assassins and conspiracy. It makes a great double feature for the similarly goofball UFO quasi-gialo Eyes Behind the Stars.

    Compounding the fact that this is an action movie is that the poster has three helicopters and an airboat all racing away from a gigantic explosion while Werbeck holds a revolver and a woman who is not in this movie in any way wears an outfit that Vampirella would think is kind of uncomfortable.

    Also: Werbeck shoots a helicopter out of the air with a handgun, the kind of lunacy that only Jack Nicholson in whiteface gets away with.

  4. Siege

    been saving this Severin blu ray for quite some time and today is the PERFECT day to bust it out. this. movie. is. awesome.

  5. The Stunt Man (1980, dir. Richard Rush)

    Hollywood director Peter O'Toole blackmails a criminal on the run (Steve Railsback) into becoming a stuntman on his film for nefarious(?) reasons. I thought this movie was really bad, and was surprised reading about it by how critically acclaimed it was and nominated for multiple Oscars. The wild swings in tone from broad silly comedy to incredibly stilted melodrama did not work at all. Also the way movie-making is depicted is laughably off-base. However, I will say Peter O'Toole was awesome playing a very bizarre character who's motivations are never quite clear. Skip this one.

  6. Raw Deal (1986, dir. John Irvin)

    I'm weird. I've seen dozens of 80's action movies where criminals are being indiscriminately mowed down, but when this movie introduced Arnold's character as a former FBI agent who "brought in a suspect with half the bones in his body broken" and asked to root for him, and at the same treated the prosecutor who forced him to resign (and didn't even prosecute him) as a villain, that somehow rubbed me the wrong way.

    So it took me a while to detach myself from reality and meet the movie on its terms, but I still managed to have fun with this. Young Arnie's acting is entertainingly wooden, the action is pretty fun and the plot is appropriately silly.

    Hunters of the Night (Yön saalistajat) (1984, dir. Visa Mäkinen)

    The directorial career of Visa Mäkinen, who my older brother calls the worst director of all time (a not entirely unjustified take), consists of 11 comedies and this "gritty" action movie. (I've previously written about Visa's movies for Junesploitation in 2019 and 2021.)

    A cop infiltrates a criminal organization planning a big gold heist, and what follows is 80 minutes of violence, scheming, backstabbing, drug use and sex. The story's a collection of tired clichés, but this kind of depiction of sex and violence was something new in Finnish film in the 80's, so judging by that metric it's not a bad movie, and definitely Mäkinen's best. It's competently directed and the acting's not bad, especially Matti Mäntylä as a volatile junkie criminal is great.

    So a breath of fresh air in 1980's Finland, a mere curiosity outside that place and time.

  7. Death Wish II (1982)
    I thought I would continue with the series after using two entries for a recent Free Space. Gone is the subtext, it's all sleaze now, baby.

  8. Invasion USA

    After watching this and Siege today, we really need to bring back cartoonish looking guns with gaudy scopes in deadly serious action movies. Movies these days are missing that element. I’m talking Cobra, Robocop, Raw Deal, Escape from New York, Aliens, and these two movies, ridiculous cartoon gun Hall of Famers.

    1. Woot! a quintessential childhood fav from the 80s! also agree, we are long overdue for the return to cartoonish over the top movies like this! (I would add to your list: Commando).

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  10. Robo Vampire (1988) Directed by Godfrey Ho
    Currently on Tubi

    Wow...I think this movie broke my brain. I don't necessarily mean that as a negative.


  11. No Holds Barred

    Watched this on an airplane, and it's definitely an airplane movie (the kind you might opt out of after 30 minutes at home, but hey, you're on an airplane, so why not keep watching). I feel too guilty watching rated R movies on a plane (constantly wary of the person next to me catching some random nudity or crazy gore), and this severely limited my options for 80s Action!

    I suspect this movie may have actually been dictated to the credited writer by their nine year old WWF obsessed son. The hero, the bad guys, the romantic plot--it all seems like an excited kid's fantasy (...and then, Hulk Hogan jumps out of the car through the ceiling, and then, the bad guy hits a lady, and then, and then, and then...). The villain works for a TV channel called "World Television Network." WTN's startup wrestling event is called "Battle of the Tough Guys." Hulk Hogan's character's charity event is called "Rip's Sports for Kids." There's no way an adult came up with those names, right?

    There are a few decent action/fight scenes, but nothing that really stood out. Hulk is pretty wooden as an actor (he mugs more than he acts). The TV CEO villain, played by Kurt Fuller, is an outrageous character from a different universe, but he's probably the most entertaining thing in the movie. Tommy Lister doesn't have much to do as the evil rival wrestler, Zeus, but he effectively performs what the role asks for: look big, menacing, and crazy.

    I think the best comedic scene was the one in which Hulk's character and his love interest (and marketing/financial advisor?), played by Joan Severance, are unexpectedly forced to share a hotel room with one bed. I was wary of how this situation might be handled in a 1989 Hulk Hogan vehicle, but I think it sort of miraculously avoided doing anything terribly offensive, and had a few gags that worked.

    All in all, I thought No Holds barred was a bit of a dud, but I probably would have liked it when I was nine.

  12. ALIENATOR (1989)
    An intergalactic antihero escapes from space jail (space jail!) and comes to Earth. He befriends some locals while pursued by a deadly cyborg. Bodybuilder Tegan Clive is an imposing figure as the unstoppable 'borg, half Terminator and half heavy metal album cover. The threadbare budget shows itself in a lot of ways, with tons of padding and the filmed-in-a-warehouse space jail. But when the movie works, it's some fun laser-blasting action. It is, as the saying goes, fine.

    Bonus Lloyd Kaufman-sploitation, day 16: F*RTS OF DARKNESS: THE MAKING OF TERROR FIRMER (1999)
    Troma got into the DVD age in a big way with two-disc sets full of extras, including feature-length behind-the-scenes documentaries. What's great about these is that they don't shy away from the ugly side of filmmaking. We see personality conflicts on set, special effects and stunts not working, and having to cut entire scenes for budget/time reasons. It's a miracle anything gets filmed at all. Even so, this one's pretty tame to what's coming up in later BTS docs.

  13. Kill and Kill Again (1981)

    I have participated in Junesploitation for either the last 6 or 7 years, and this is - hands down - the greatest Junesploitation discovery I have made in that time. There is a scene in this movie where a character fires a gun at someone standing a few feet away, and after the bullet is shown - IN THE AIR - another character runs INTO THE ROOM, leaps, and blocks the bullet. The plot in brief: our hero, Steve Chase, as played by James Ryan, has to get the gang back together to rescue a kidnapped scientist who is being forced to create an army of martial artists in matching light blue t-shirts who are going to take over the world. I watched this on Tubi, but I am now going to search for whatever physical form in which I can purchase this cinematic masterpiece. This movie must be seen to be truly appreciated. By everyone. At least a hundred times.

  14. Cloak and Dagger (1984) dir. Richard Franklin

    Though I’m roughly the right generation for it (I’m a little more NES age than Atari) I hadn’t heard of Cloak and Dagger until this Vinegar Syndrome rerelease, which I honestly just got because it was bundled with movies I was more excited about. Plenty of kids movies I do have residual affection for don’t hold up all that well to modern viewing, so I wasn’t so sure I’d find a lot to like without bringing any of my own sentimentality. It turns out, with or without the benefit of rose colored glasses, this was great!

    For all the Reagan-era kids in peril nostalgia we’ve had around Stranger Things (and the think pieces about that now-lost era of edgier kids fare) it’s easy to imagine that 80’s video store shelves were lined with non-condescending Carpenter synth scored Amblin/Cannon hybrids filled with child heroes dodging death at every turn. Like any good nostalgia play though, Stranger Things creates a cultural world that never really existed, blending together the best bits we remember from schlocky kid fare like Flight of the Navigator and the Goonies (come at me, it’s fine but it’s also schlocky), with very much not for kids movies like Halloween and Scanners. Which is all a long-ass preamble to say : it’s especially exciting when you do come across something that genuinely lives up, maybe even surpasses that artificially elevated bar. As I had noted earlier, I never saw this as a kid, but I sure would have loved it if I had- This was pure fist-pumping kid action, with leads that actually feel like kids their age taking going toe to toe with genuinely menacing adult villains, and even does a good job of playing up the kid-centric themes like adults not taking you seriously, without feeling to patronizing about it all.

    I’ve gotta say too- it looks amazing, with a ton of scenes shot on location in San Antonio, using city landmarks as backdrops for the action (I defy you to watch the scenes on the riverwalk and not want a tourist size margarita and plate of nachos immediately), which also helps add to the sense of danger. Vinegar Syndrome’s packaging is of course amazing too, with a ton of care going into the faux game cartridge look of it all. As a designer myself, nothing quite matches the equal parts professional admiration and jealousy their work inspires in me.

  15. Yes, Madam (1985)

    Hong Kong supercop Michelle Yeoh teams up with Cynthia Rothrock to catch a rich bad guy who punctuates every second sentence with maniacal laughter no matter if the situation calls for it or not, and frankly, that's reason enough for me. But of course they can't get anywhere until they're forced to give up their badges and decide to go off the book on his ass. Meanwhile, there's a second movie going on, a wacky comedy about three petty criminals who accidentally get hold of a super important microfilm which the bad guy desperately wants to retrieve. Eventually, the two movies merge into one and that's when things really kick into high gear.

    The action scenes are great, if brief, the comedy scenes... not so much (plus they go on forever), and the main plot resolves in a weirdly abrupt and underwhelming way. But the big climactic fight in the villain's fancy house more than makes up for any missteps along the way. It's that good. Oh yes, and this being the height of the 80s, some of the outfits worn by Yeoh and Rothrock are truly amazing.

    1. I watched this one for Kung fu day and yeah...the "comedy" is not so great haha

  16. First Blood (1982 – Ted Kotcheff)
    It has been a long time since I’ve last seen the first of this action franchise. It’s a classic franchise start: A very well-made movie, a simple yet compelling story, good characters, good action, and less budget to fuck it up. Sylvester Stallone brings something to his figure of Rambo that probably wouldn’t been there with all the other actors they wanted to hire before him. He can portray a simple man like no one else – maybe because those men don’t really exist in the way he’s portraying them. This makes them larger than life, that’s what happened to Rocky and also with Rambo. And he is doing a lot of his own stunts, which I always like. The true highlight of this movie for me is Brian Dennehy. His character of Sheriff Teasle isn’t openly evil, just very conservative, serving a system that is probably not worth saving, but too simple or too comfortable to see that. At the same time, he stubbornly serves the city he is so proud of to his best intend. He just doesn’t know better – and he doesn’t know, that Rambo is a force of nature he doesn’t have a solution for. His society doesn’t create such things, or does it?

  17. Extreme Prejudice (1987, dir. Walter Hill)

    I had been sitting on this one for a couple of years, but so glad I watched it today. I afterwards read that it was a homage to Peckinpah, and you can really feel it. It's full of stalwart cowboys, ramshackle buildings in the desert, car chases, rigged explosions, escapes to Mexico, and ends with a big group of sweaty dudes having the best shootout you could imagine. There are a bunch of Walter Hill movies I still need to see, and this was a good motivation. Perhaps my favourite watch of this month.

  18. Since my review for DOUBLE TARGET disappeared, I'll try to leave this list project of mine to represent 'Namsploitation:

  19. Sudden Impact (1983)

    My last unseen Dirty Harry! I wasn't too impressed with the first half, but the end really brought me around. The Dirty Harry movies are really interesting, the antagonists are relatively small, so to fill in the gaps in action, Harry just constantly wanders into armed robberies, and there's always a useless mob subplot (featuring Frank Pantangelli!) But once all those subplots get blown out of the movie by a 44 Automag, the film really comes into focus. I could've used a little more mystery in the script, but Eastwood's direction is really strong here. He composes some really striking shots, and successfully builds the tension across the last 25 or so minutes.

    TLDR: It's pretty good.

  20. Thief (1981, dir. Michael Mann)

    When I think of 80s action I don't necessarily think of THIEF, but I wanted to watch a Michael Mann movie and THIEF fucking rules so here we are.

  21. NINJA BUSTERS (1984)

    A film with a history similar to Miami Connection. The main difference with that now well-known title is that Ninja Busters is intentionally humorous. Made by a group of martial artists trying riding the wave of the ninja trend, the film fell into oblivion. Listening to the dialogue and how it gets delivered, I can understand why it did. The plot is not much better. The story is about two goofballs who enroll in a martial arts school and accidentally earn the wrath of a gangster. Gerald Okamura, featured in several Andy Sidaris features, is the only face I recognize. In any case, a film was created and can now be appreciated. Or not. This DIY effort is certainly not for everyone. While I did not dislike it, I did not love it, either.

  22. The Running Man (1987)

    I had so many ideas about what I wanted to watch today. And then just rewatched Running Man because it rules.