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Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Reel Bad Cinema: Enter the Ninja (1981) review



This is a section devoted to rare, and as yet to be released on legitimate DVD movies. Some films may have been released in some part of the world, or on some public domain label, or some may have simply never been released at all on the digital format. This section is designed to keep these films alive and to provide remembrance to those who may have seen them in some form or other, whether it be on the silver screen, on videotape, or the small screen at home.


Franco Nero (Cole), Susan George (Mary Anne Landers), Sho Kosugi (Hasegawa), Christopher George (Charles Venarius), Alex Courtney (Frank Landers), Will Hare (Dollars)

Directed by Menahem Golan (the very name causes laughter in the hearts of action film fans everywhere)

A combination of Caine in KUNG FU and David Banner from THE INCREDIBLE HULK tv shows, Cole "walks the earth" righting wrongs wherever they may occur.

After completing his martial arts training in Japan, Cole journeys to the Philippines to look up an old friend and finds him being oppressed by a greedy property developer. When Cole proves to be problematic for the determined Mr. Venarius, he imports a Japanese ninjitsu expert of his own, Hasegawa, Cole's former rival.

Nero takes a cue from Terence Hill of the TRINITY movies with some 'ninja' style bitch slapping

Notoriously cut-rate and frugal producer, Menahem Golan directed this hilariously stupid movie that started a mercifully brief wave of ninja movies in America and a ninja shit storm of even worse imitators in overseas markets. Apparently, Karate champion Mike Stone was initially tapped to play the lead role, but Golan wanted international movie star, Franco Nero in the lead. This enormously bungled bit of miscasting adds a whole new meaning to the term 'WTF?'

The only thing that would make this even funnier would be if Nero would run up to the top of that hill and shout "NINJA!!!" like Richard Harrison does in the incredible, guffaw inducing, cut & paste "classic", COBRA VS. NINJA (1987?)

To put it mildly, Nero is about as convincing as a ninja hero as Richard Harrison in his equally laughable, yet long running series of 'cut-and-paste' "ninja" flicks from Hong Kong. Actually, considering Harrison did a slew of (awful) westerns himself, you could also say he's the poor man's Franco Nero. Anyway, Nero, as his fans are already aware, was made a huge western star after appearing in the lead in DJANGO from 1966. Nero also headlined the western TEXAS, ADIOS the same year; a Euroater with shockingly good fight scenes for a change. He is also seen in a supporting role in the exciting Italian western film, THE TRAMPLERS (1965) starring Gordon Scott, Joseph Cotten and James Mitchum.

Will Hare (left) and Franco Nero (right)

Other Nero western films that are worthy of note are THE MERCENARY (1968), MAN, PRIDE & VENGEANCE (1968), LONG LIVE YOUR DEATH (1971), DEAF SMITH & JOHNNY EARS (1972) and KEOMA (1976). Nero later helped light up the Italian crime genre with roles in such classy movies as CONFESSIONS OF A POLICE CAPTAIN (1971) and the birthing of the 'Violent Cop' films with HIGH CRIME in 1973.

I can't tell if Nero is trying to be serious, or if he is totally embarrassed while showcasing his absolute lack of nunchuku skill during one of the "best" scenes in the movie.

The former spaghetti western mega star is hopelessly lost amidst the atrocious script and even worse dialog. Since he's playing an American, Nero is dubbed and appears totally uncomfortable and woefully stiff during the action scenes he's allowed to appear on camera for. Considering the entire enterprise is a 100+ minute unintentional comedy, the biggest belly laugh comes during the scene where we see Cole (Nero) showing off his (non)skill in the use of nunchukus. You'll end up rewinding this brief scene of inadvertent mirth over and over again. If Nero ever wanted serious international recognition, he totally blew it with his role in this picture.

Franco Ne...I mean Mike Stone (white) and Sho Kosugi (black)

Mike Stone is also credited with the choreography and he doubles for Nero during any scene that requires any sort of flexibility (or believability) in the fight sequences. This bits are easily distinguished by the fast cuts whenever Franco Nero is in close up during a fight. The wide shots hang onto the action and it's discernable that it's a double during these shots. Nero was better suited to the wild and wide swinging stiff punches and kicks of so many Italian oaters of years past.

Sho Kosugi made his American debut here and has one of the least hilarious performances of the whole thing. He apparently impressed the devious duo of Golan & Globus as they quickly signed him to a deal for several more ninja movies including two sequel/follow ups, the superior REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983) and NINJA 3: THE DOMINATION (1984). Kosugi's career should have peaked with the ultra violent, yet troubled production of PRAY FOR DEATH (1986), but he ended up being relegated to even worse tripe like NINE DEATHS OF THE NINJA (1985) and one of his last good guy roles in BLACK EAGLE (1989) which saw Sho have several battles with a then unknown Jean Claude Van Damme.

"I WANT MY BLACK NINJA AND I WANT HIM NOW!!" Christopher George gorged himself on a massive ham sandwich in his flamboyant role as Venarius

Movie tough guy, Christopher George tackles the damn worst performance of his great career as the white suit wearing and avaricious bad guy, Mr. Venarius. His lines are some of the worst in the film. Possibly George purposely hammed it up. His death scene would give weight to that notion.

One of the funniest death scenes of all time

Christopher George is MILES AWAY from his best remembered days as a leading man, or even an intimidating villain such as his bounty killer role in the John Wayne movie, CHISUM (1970)

He was a gruff character actor and sometimes leading man. He was married to one of Hollywood's most stunning starlets, Lynda Day George, who often appeared opposite him in his movies. One of his best roles was his commanding performance as lead hero, Sgt. Sam Troy in the two season action WW2 program, THE RAT PATROL (1966-1968). George later went on to feature in a slew of exploitation and horror pictures before succumbing to a heart attack in 1983. Some of the most notable are GRIZZLY (1976), DAY OF THE ANIMALS (1977), CRUISE INTO TERROR (1978), THE EXTERMINATOR (1980), CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD (1980) and PIECES (1982).

Susan George (no relation to Christopher) was an attractive actress who made a name for herself appearing in numerous suspense thrillers and exploitation movies. Her role opposite Dustin Hoffman in STRAW DOGS (1971) brought her a lot of attention. Other roles include her 'Lolita' turn in TWINKY (1970) starring Charles Bronson, the babysitter stalked by a madman escaped from an asylum in FRIGHT (1971) and in the hit chase movie, DIRTY MARY, CRAZY LARRY (1974) with Peter Fonda and Vic Morrow. She also had a prominent role in the controversial MANDINGO (1975) as well as movies of varying quality like A SMALL TOWN IN TEXAS (1976), TINTORERA! (1977), VENOM (1981) and THE HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS (1982).

ENTER THE NINJA isn't all bad, though. The opening of the movie features a ten minute action sequence that has Cole maneuvering through an army of red dressed ninjas led by Hasegawa in black. This being the final part of his training, Cole must make it to his masters pagoda. There's a lot of bloody violence here, even though it's all staged as part of Cole's gauntlet challenge. The ending, though, repeats the opening only instead of red clad ninjas, it's Venarius's white suited thugs. This time the violence is for real. After the last of his men are killed, Cole then duels to the death with Hasegawa inside a small arena. The score is also good and quite catchy. It would be better off being in a better movie, though.

Even the ninja practiced the highly effective Captain Kirk double hand chop seen here being expertly demonstrated by Franco Nero in his cringeworthy performance in ENTER THE NINJA

One of the funniest scenes in this movie occurs towards the latter half of the film. Venarius sends his head stoolie to Japan to find a ninja of his own. Of all the places to go and all the people to see, he visits a movie producer(!!) who recommends a man that, "...make five picture with Mr. Kurosawa! He played samurai! Also, he made one picture here with Robert Mitchum!" I assume he is referencing Ken Takakura (BLACK RAIN) who co-starred with Mitchum in THE YAKUZA (1974).

Amazingly, ENTER THE NINJA was a big enough success for Cannon Films to produce even more action movies in a similar vein with distribution through MGM. Throughout the 1980's, movies starring Sho Kosugi, Chuck Norris, Charles Bronson and Michael Dudikoff were all over American movie houses. Previously involved in the distribution of kung fu quickies and horror obscurities, Cannon carved a niche for themselves in the action film market for a little over a decade. Probably Golan's best US movie (and I mean this in all seriousness) as a director would be the popular Chuck Norris vehicle, THE DELTA FORCE (1986).

No, Nero doesn't have anything in his eye, he's just winking at the camera hopefully realizing the stinker he's participated in

While it's far from being a good movie, there's no denying that ENTER THE NINJA (1981) was very influential on the American martial arts movie boom of the 1980's. It's not the Holy Grail of bad movie heaven that is KILL SQUAD (1982), but Golan's goony bird of a ninja movie (remember, this is the same guy who directed OVER THE TOP with Stallone) will surely satisfy the palette of lovers of terrible movies everywhere.


Sean M said...

I watched this on youtube about a year ago.With a small monitor and poor picture quality i never noticed the double for some of Nero's karate moves but overall the film/fight scenes are embarassingly bad.Maybe if and when it gets a decent release i'd get it for the chuckle factor,as i'm assuming it wouldn't stay full price for very long! LOL

venoms5 said...

This one is hilarious, Sean. I remember seeing this for the first on The Movie Channel back in 82 or 83. We didn't have the channel, but it would stabilize every now and again for a few seconds. The first sequel/follow up REVENGE OF THE NINJA is a huge favorite.

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