Release Date: July 21st, 1980 (UK) Directed by: James Glickenhaus Written by: James Glickenhaus Music by: Joe Renzetti Cast: Robert Ginty, Samantha Eggar, Christopher George, Steve James, George Cheung, Irwin Keyes
“Hey man, whatcha doing? Come on man, don’t fuck around! Hey! Hey! Don’t do that! Come on, man. Whatcha doing that for? Stop!” – Chicken Pimp
Before he was one of the world’s most prolific Ferrari aficionados, James Glickenhaus was a film director. While his movies might not have connected with most people, I’ve always liked his work. I hadn’t seen any of his pictures in awhile, though, so I figured I’d watch the one that immediately comes to mind when I think of his films: The Exterminator.
This movie is a simple vigilante story. It also plays like a Punisher movie if the Punisher was actually allowed to get uber hardcore and get revenge in a balls out, unrelenting ’70s/’80s action film sort of way. Plus, the vigilante here really likes using a flamethrower, which just adds an extra level of extremism to his brand of street justice.
The film essentially starts out as a war movie as we see our would-be hero and his buddy getting tortured by sadistic captors during Vietnam. They escape and make it back to New York City. There, the friend is paralyzed after trying to stop some piece of shit thugs. So the would-be hero decides to make the scumfucks of the NYC slums pay for their scumfuckery.
The Exterminator is action packed and gritty as hell. However, it wasn’t as hard as I remembered it being even though some baddies are turned extra crispy. I feel like this really should’ve gone full on exploitation, grindhouse style and maybe it’d be a bigger cult classic than it is.
I like the action and the story isn’t bogged down by unnecessary plot filler. This just gets to the point once it gets going and it doesn’t let up until the final frame.
I dug revisiting this a lot and I especially loved how enjoyable Robert Ginty was as The Exterminator.
My only real complaint is that the vigilante hero didn’t look as cool as he does on the poster. He should’ve wore that badass black leather outfit.
Rating: 6.5/10 Pairs well with: its sequel, as well as other ’70s and ’80s vigilante flicks.
Also known as: Robert Townsend’s Hollywood Shuffle (VHS title) Release Date: March 20th, 1987 Directed by: Robert Townsend Written by: Keenan Ivory Wayans, Robert Townsend, Dom Irrera (uncredited) Music by: Udi Harpaz Cast: The Hollywood Platers (Robert Townsend, Anne-Marie Johnson, Craigus R. Johnson, Helen Martin, Starletta DuPois, David McKnight, Keenan Ivory Wayans, Lou B. Washington, Brad Sanders, John Witherspoon, Eugene Robert Glazer, Lisa Mende, Dom Irrera, Damon Wayans, Kim Wayans, Rusty Cundieff, Steve James)
Conquering Unicorn, The Samuel Goldwyn Company, 78 Minutes, 81 Minutes (Ontario cut)
“There’s always work at the post office.” – Bobby Taylor
Man, I hadn’t seen this movie in a few decades. I think the last time I watched it was when I was a teen in the ’90s working at a video store. It sort of washed away with time but it was on the Criterion Channel for about a month, so I figured I’d revisit it before it vanished.
Robert Townsend is a talented guy and he was one of my favorite comedians and entertainers in the late ’80s and early ’90s. I loved his short-lived sketch comedy show on Fox, as well as his superhero film Meteor Man. However, this is probably the best thing he’s made.
Sure, this was his directorial debut and he would go on to have a lengthy, fruitful career but there’s just something superb and honest about this movie. Plus, it displays his, as well as Keenan Ivory Wayans’, immense creativity and great sense of humor.
This film almost feels like an anthology, as it is primarily a series of skits and sequences. However, there is a main story that ties everything together. The presentation style of it feels a lot like Weird Al Yankovic’s UHF. It also feels very ’80s but that kind of just adds to the charm of it, looking at it all these years later.
Hollywood Shuffle is a parody and commentary on how black talent was being used and exploited in Hollywood. It was a tongue-in-cheek, humorous critique on how Hollywood viewed blacks but told from the black perspective. Strangely, thirty-three years later, a lot of what’s here still rings true.
While I feel like there have been definite strides since 1987, Hollywood is still a cesspool of assholes and deluded dipshits that only make changes when decades of white guilt pushes them into thoughtless platitudes and declarations that don’t actually fix the system and only expose it being out of touch, pompous and so high on its own farts that it needs to wear a helmet to walk down the hall.
Anyway, enough with the imbeciles running the system, Hollywood Shuffle just justifiably puts them on blast and does so quite well. It just sucks that seeing this, all these years later, only kind of reinforces the points that are cleverly made in the film. Sure, Hollywood thinks its doing better now but so does the heroin junkie that woke up next to some spare change in the dumpster behind Del Taco.
Rating: 8/10 Pairs well with: the early films of Robert Townsend and Keenan Ivory Wayans.
Release Date: August 2nd, 1985 Directed by: John Hughes Written by: John Hughes Music by: Ira Newborn Cast: Anthony Michael Hall, Ilan Mitchel-Smith, Kelly LeBrock, Bill Paxton, Robert Downey Jr., Robert Rusler, Suzanne Snyder, Judie Aronson, Vernon Wells, Michael Berryman, Steve James, Wallace Langham (as Wally Ward)
“So, what would you little maniacs like to do first?” – Lisa
This was one of those films that I used to watch constantly when I was a kid. I loved this picture and, at the time, it was one of the coolest movies I had ever seen.
It’s been quite some time since I’ve seen it but I still really enjoyed it, even if it’s much harder for me to suspend disbelief as much as this film requires. But it doesn’t really need to make sense if you just surrender yourself over to the absurdity of it.
However, it has not aged well and it almost feels like a relic from the ’80s in a bad way. Also, out of John Hughes’ four big teen movies of that decade, I’d have to consider this one the worst, even though it was once my favorite.
The story is just absolutely bonkers and doesn’t make a lick of logical sense but the spectacle of it makes it entertaining.
My main problem isn’t that two teens make a girl using “science” it’s just how half-assed and convenient the whole process seemed. As a kid, you don’t think about this shit. However, as an adult, you do and if most people are like me, your brain will get more literal thinking with age. That’s not really going to bode well for this film’s longevity, as its audience has grown up and moved on. Well, maybe not those that are so addicted to nostalgia that they have to continually live vicariously through the past.
It probably sounds like I’m shitting on the movie and I don’t mean to. It’s fine for what it is and for its era, especially considering the age of its audience at the time. But even seeing this now, it’s hard not to like these characters, even if their journey seems kind of pointless and they don’t seem to actually learn anything important other than boners can make a man brave.
Kelly LeBrock is great in this and honestly, she’s the glue that keeps this movie from falling apart. But, as an adult, you start to see her character through a new lens and her story is pretty tragic and incredibly fucked up.
Here we have a supremely intelligent woman that was created by two horny teenagers that take her for granted, use her and then dump her less than 48 hours later, leaving her to wander the Earth with her magic powers and no real human connection with anyone. Sure, she’s Einstein level intelligent with beauty and personality but this sounds like the origin of a horror monster. And maybe, just maybe… there’s some sequel potential there. Just send me a check, I’ll see myself out and go straight to the bank, Universal.
Anyway, this is a fun, dumb movie that might not work as well in 2020, as it did in 1985, but it still probably deserves the beloved status it’s built up over the years. Despite my new take on it, I’ll still probably revisit it once in a while. But that’s also because it’s hard for me to sometimes resist the nostalgia bug even though I can see it for what it is.
Rating: 7/10 Pairs well with: other ’80s John Hughes movies, as well as ’80s and ’90s teen comedies.
Also known as: Night Hunter (working title), American Warrior II (Belgium & France) Release Date: September 12th, 1986 Directed by: Sam Firstenberg Written by: James Booth Music by: George S. Clinton Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, William Wallace, John P. Ryan, Marc Alaimo
“Matt, you don’t have to get involved in this part, this is my fight.” – Larry Richards, “Your fight is my fight. You just remember that.” – Matt Hunter
If you asked 100 people on the street to tell you who Sam Firstenberg is, 0 out of 100 would be able to tell you. Sam Firstenberg is one of the most notable directors from the era that was my childhood, however. He was the architect of several badass ninja movies and also made some good pictures with Michael Dudikoff and Steve James, Avenging Force being one of them.
Fresh off the heels of the original American Ninja, Firstenberg re-teamed with its stars, Dudikoff and James, to make Avenging Force. This was the one and only picture that they did outside of the American Ninja series and frankly, this fits better with American Ninjas 1 and 2 than part 3 does.
Dudikoff and James are entirely different characters but Dudikoff is essentially the same ’80s blonde badass that he always is. Instead of fighting a ninja horde, he is pitted against a fraternity of racist killers.
The finale of this film is awesome and it sees Dudikoff enter the bayou to fight each member of the fraternity in one-on-one swamp battles. It sort of plays like an ’80s beat’em up action game where each villain in this film feels like a boss from Bad Dudes, Double Dragon, Streets of Rage, Final Fight, Crime Fighters or Renegade. Every villain has some sort of unique gimmick and style that makes each fight very different and fresh.
This also takes place in and around New Orleans, which gave it a much different vibe than the other Firstenberg movies. Plus, I’ve always loved New Orleans and its culture. This has a pretty fun Mardi Gras action sequence in it.
Now I don’t like this as much as American Ninjas 1 and 2 but it is certainly pretty close to their quality and it is very enjoyable.
Michael Dudikoff wasn’t the greatest martial arts actor of all-time and I really don’t know if he even practiced martial arts before American Ninja but he holds his own. Besides, his fighting is less flashy and feels more organic and real when compared to the extreme agility and dexterity of someone like Jean-Claude Van Damme or Sho Kosugi.
Rating: 7.25/10 Pairs well with: The American Ninja franchise, especially the first two films. Also, the Sam Firstenberg Ninja films and really anything by Cannon Films that features action and ’80s machismo.
Release Date: February 24th, 1989 Directed by: Cedric Sundstrom Written by: Gary Conway Music by: George S. Clinton Cast: David Bradley, Steve James, Michele Chan, Calvin Jung, Marjoe Gortner
Cannon Films, 89 Minutes
“But I am glad that I can tell you that there will be no more inefficient hijackings, no more bungled kidnappings or mistimed bombings, because you see now terrorism can be scientifically focused to be totally effective!” – The Cobra
American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt is where this series went into a steep decline. While one and two are far from masterpieces, they are really enjoyable 80s action flicks featuring a gazillion ninjas and the utter coolness that is Michael Dudikoff. Plus they were directed by the greatest ninja movie director of the 1980s, Sam Firstenberg.
Well, Dudikoff and Firstenberg didn’t return for the third chapter in the series. Many people do not know why Dudikoff bowed out and I didn’t for years until researching it recently. Apparently, after the second film was released, Dudikoff got a mountain of shit from the do-gooders in Hollywood because the movie was made in South Africa during Apartheid. Dudikoff only agreed to return briefly in part four, after convincing the producers to film it in Lesotho, that small independent country surrounded by South Africa. I’m not sure if this is why Firstenberg also left but the filmmakers did not even mention shooting location in the credits of American Ninja 3, which was still filmed in South Africa.
In this chapter, we meet Sean Davidson (David Bradley). As a kid, his father was murdered during a robbery at a karate tournament because why wouldn’t a movie like this start out that way? He is then raised by a ninja, because why wouldn’t he be? When Sean gets older, he’s a bad ass ninja and fights in karate tournaments like his dead daddy. At the 1989 Island Games Karate Tournament, Sean meets Curtis Jackson (Steve James) from the first two American Ninja films but unfortunately, this was his last.
Also at the tournament, Sean and Curtis with their annoying friend Dex, discover that something strange is afoot. There is a criminal madman, as there always is at karate tournaments, that is developing some sort of killer virus. While meddling in the bad guy’s affairs, Sean is captured and given the virus. A bunch of ninja fights happen, Sean meditates the virus out of him and the good guys win.
I didn’t spoil the whole movie but there isn’t a whole lot of plot. Just lots of bad fight choreography and other random stunt stuff. And yes, the fight choreography is almost excruciatingly bad. All the scenes where Michele Chan throws down are horribly executed. She looked like a fish out of water and completely awkward.
When Sean and Curtis were fighting, it was mostly okay but there was nothing to really make you pump your fist like when you see Dudikoff in the first film take on the evil Black Star Ninja. Speaking of which, after two good big boss ninjas in the two previous films, this chapter in the series lacked that. The final fight was Sean against the criminal madman, who really wasn’t a fighter. Well, Sean also had to bat away a couple mid-grade ninja henchmen but they aren’t even worthy of being level one bosses in a 80s Data East game.
I don’t hate American Ninja 3 but it does make me weep at the possibility of what could have happened, had Dudikoff and Firstenberg stayed in the series. Don’t get me wrong, David Bradley was not a bad replacement but it was hard to see him achieve his best in a poorly directed, written and choreographed mess like this.
Release Date: May 1st, 1987 Directed by: Sam Firstenberg Written by: James Booth, Gary Conway Music by: George S. Clinton Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Larry Poindexter, Gary Conway
Cannon Films, 90 Minutes
“I don’t like that tiny maggot, I don’t like him at all. I mean what is this? Ninjas? Drug pushers? My men being kidnapped and murdered? This is really beginning to get on my tits.” – Wild Bill Woodward
When I reviewed the first American Ninja I said that the films got worse and worse. I was wrong on one account, this film. Truth be told, while I watch the original every couple of years, I haven’t seen this one since I was a teenager. Back then, I didn’t like it as much as the first. Now, I think it is pretty equal, if not slightly better than the original. Things do go downhill after this one though.
The plot is a little wacky but the action and the setting are much better than the first picture. The story sees our heroes Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) and Curtis Jackson (Steve James) arrive on a Caribbean island (actually filmed in South Africa) to investigate why some Marines have gone missing. As the film progresses and ninjas keep trying to capture Armstrong and Jackson, we learn that some villain is making mindless super soldier ninjas out of the elite soldiers he captures. The end goal is to sell super ninja armies to other villains with large bank accounts. So we get a big finale of Armstrong and Jackson against an army of super ninjas.
Compared to the first film, Dudikoff is much better on screen in the action sequences. James also puts down the big machine gun and fights ninjas with a couple machetes. The film has a lot more hand-to-hand combat and the skills of the actors and the stunt work is just more refined and fluid in this movie. The main evil ninja isn’t as cool as the Black Star Ninja from the first movie but he’s still a solid baddie.
Unfortunately, Dudikoff left this series after this film except for a fairly brief appearance in the fourth film. This was also the last time we got to see the duo of Dudikoff and James on screen together, following the original American Ninja and Avenging Force, which came out between the two Ninja movies.
American Ninja 2: The Confrontation is a good sequel to the original. The series tanks after this installment but at least we got two good chapters before the breakup of Dudikoff and James and the introduction to David Bradley, who took over the series in American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt.
Release Date: August 30th, 1985 Directed by: Sam Firstenberg Written by: Paul De Mielche, Gideon Amir, Avi Kleinberger, James Silke Music by: Michael Linn Cast: Michael Dudikoff, Steve James, Judie Aronson, Guich Koock, John Fujioka, Don Stewart, John LaMotta, Tadashi Yamashita, Phil Brock, David Vlok
Cannon Film Distributors, 95 Minutes
“These symbols will give your mind ultimate purpose. Gin, Retsu, Zai, Zen.” – Shinyuki
American Ninja is a movie that I rented so many times as a kid in the 80s that I probably single-handedly warped the tape into oblivion by the time the 90s rolled around. For those who rented a very choppy copy from Citeo Video, Movie Van, Curtis Mathis, Pix N Picks, American Video, Reel Image Video or any other video store in southern Florida circa 1990, I apologize.
Why did I love this movie so much? Well, it had friggin’ ninjas. Lots and lots of mother friggin’ ninjas! So many that it made all the ninjas in all those 80s Sho Kosugi movies combined, look like a small army by comparison.
The film also features Michael Dudikoff, who may not have been as big of an 80s action star as Stallone, Schwarzenegger or either of the two Chucks, but he was somehow cooler. It’s like he had this James Dean quality and as a kid, I probably even had a major man crush on him even though I’m not gay and I was too young to realize what any of that meant. There was just something about Dudikoff. He spoke very little, looked like the coolest guy in gym class and killed ninjas by the gallons.
However, it doesn’t end with Dudikoff. We also get the always awesome Steve James, who plays Dudikoff’s awesome sidekick and bad ass friend. When this dude comes rolling into the ninja compound on the back of a jeep firing a massive machine gun, we, the audience, truly understand the meaning of bringing a knife to a gunfight. Plus, the chemistry between Dudikoff and James was great. They felt like real friends ready to bust up any ninja clan moving in on their island paradise.
Did I mention that this film also has Judie Aronson in it? While she is no Phoebe Cates (my first love), between this film, Weird Science and Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter, she was certainly on my radar and the apple of my eye after Ms. Cates. Granted, she is kind of a stupid damsel in distress in American Ninja but she didn’t write the script and she did well acting like a spoiled yuppie and mindless doofus.
American Ninja doesn’t have the best plot but it is the least ridiculous of all the films in the series. Essentially, Joe Armstrong (Michael Dudikoff) is a low level Army grunt that is too cool to fit in with the others. On a convoy run, he finds himself in the middle of a hijacking. He fights back but his actions get a few soldiers killed and puts the Colonel’s daughter in danger. Why she is even there, I can’t begin to guess. Ninjas show up, Joe whips ass and then hides in the jungle with the Colonel’s daughter who is more concerned about her designer shoes and skirt than running away from a horde of killer ninjas.
Joe is punished for thinking he’s John Rambo but he befriends Jackson (Steve James). They discover that there is a conspiracy going on between the military and the evil rich guy on the island who is hijacking their weapons to sell on the black market. The evil guy has a ninja army that trains 24/7 at his tropical mountain mansion. One thing leads to another and we got Dudikoff and James’ machine gun versus a gazillion ninjas. But it’s all about the final showdown with the master ninja, simply called Black Star Ninja.
The action in this movie is stellar. Sure, some of the obviously staged shots are a bit hokey but they still look cool. Who doesn’t love synchronized ninja flips? While Dudikoff isn’t the physical specimen that Sho Kosugi is, he still holds his own and was good enough for Cannon Films to move on from Kosugi and turn American Ninja into a franchise that found a long life on the shelves of every video store throughout the United States.
It would have been a lot cooler had Sho Kosugi played the villainous Black Star Ninja but Tadashi Yamashita did a fine job and frankly, he’s got skills too.
American Ninja was a film that was loved by many young boys and teens in the 1980s. It set the bar higher than what its sequels could live up too but that doesn’t mean that my friends and I didn’t rent the hell out of those movies too. We loved the franchise and many of us still do. In fact, I still watch this film every couple of years.
I just wish that Michael Dudikoff would’ve stayed past the second film. Although, he does have an expanded cameo role in the fourth film. Regardless, each movie gets worse and worse and the only other Dudikoff outing that can hang with American Ninja is Avenging Force, which came out a year later and also co-stars Steve James.
Release Date: February 14th, 1986 Directed by: Menahem Golan Written by: James Bruner, Menahem Golan Music by: Alan Silvestri Cast: Chuck Norris, Lee Marvin, Martin Balsam, Joey Bishop, Kim Delaney, Robert Forster, Lainie Kazan, George Kennedy, Hanna Schygulla, Susan Strasberg, Bo Svenson, Robert Vaughn, Shelley Winters, Steve James
This may be my favorite Chuck Norris film of all-time but I need to watch Missing In Action again, because it’s been awhile.
This film is like two films in one. There is the first part which has to do with Lebanese terrorists hijacking a plane. I’m not really sure why because I don’t know if it was even explained but they spend the first half of the movie flying, landing, flying, taking Jewish hostages, flying some more.
The second half of the film deals with Chuck Norris’ team of bad ass Delta Force MFers trying to rescue some hostages from the terrorist compound. Chuck is joined by veteran Lee Marvin and American Ninja sidekick Steve James.
Asses get kicked, stuff gets exploded, everything gets shot and Norris rides a bad ass motorcycle that shoots missiles! What’s not to love?
The cinematography was average, the acting was below average, the plot wasn’t important but did you read the previous paragraph?
The Delta Force is a fun movie. Especially for those of us with nuts full of testosterone.