Related Posts with Thumbnails

Monday, December 29, 2014

Raw Force (1982) review



Cameron Mitchell (Capt. Harry Dodds), Geoffrey Binney (Mike O'Malley), Jillian Kessner (Cookie Winchell), Hazel Buck (Hope Holiday), John Dresden (John Taylor), Jennifer Holmes (Ann Davis), Rey King (Go Chin), Carla Reynolds (Eilleen Fox), Ralph Lombardi (Thomas Speer), Vic Diaz (Monk)

Directed by Edward Murphy

The Short Version: Overrated exploitation cult item resembles an R rated version of THE LOVE BOAT produced by Troma and helmed by Andy Sidaris. It also boasts home movie level special effects and some of the worst kung fu fights ever put to screen. Unfortunately, Murphy's script gorges itself on so much comedy that it overpowers the outrageousness of the narrative. The bloody brawl with the Nazi Mexican is a highlight, but most of the time, RAW FORCE just isn't forceful enough. This kung fu and zombie combo is occasionally fun, but is sanitized sleaze at best.

***WARNING! This review contains nudity***

The Burbank Karate Club and various other characters end up stranded on the mysterious Warriors Island, a tropical burial place for disgraced fighters. The island's only inhabitants are Jade hunting mercenaries led by a Nazi reject and cannibalistic, women-hungry monks with the power to raise kung fu zombies from beyond the grave. The Karate chopping castaways must fight their way off the cursed island to avoid becoming a meal for the monks, or a victim of the sword-swinging living dead.

In the mid to late 1970s, kung fu movies were still a very popular attraction, and a number of independent companies made their own versions. These low budget North American interpretations were devoted to retaining the flavor of their Asian counterparts even if the budgets were as bare as the chests in a Chang Cheh macho showcase; and the choreography was about as believable as Bruce Lee lacking the confidence to kick your ass. This kitsch quality was turned up to 11 in movies like DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1976), DEATH MACHINES (1976), and DEATH PROMISE (1977) -- which had non-Asian guys running around imitating the way Asians were presented in the dubbed versions of the superior foreign imports.  That same quality is present in RAW FORCE (1982)... to a degree.

The Chuck Norris style of martial arts film would eventually take over, and his influence is evident in RAW FORCE. After Norris drop-kicked a car windshield in GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK (1978), this sort of stunt cropped up a few more times; only its usage in RAW FORCE isn't as exciting in execution. Strangely enough, as entertaining as it can be, there's not a whole lot to get excited about in this movie.

With a plot promising exploitation movie gold, Murphy's flick delivers mostly the Fool's sort due to a pervasive air of comedy that never lets up. All that's lacking is a laugh track. Speaking of which, RAW FORCE could be described as an R rated, two-part episode of THE LOVE BOAT produced by Troma and directed by skin action specialist, Andy Sidaris. So much time is spent on the cruise ship, one almost expects to hear Jack Jones sooth your senses with "Love, exciting and new...."

...But that background noise you're hearing turns out to be Cameron Mitchell mumbling, or arguing with various characters. Mitchell looks and acts like he's been on a booze binge, and he's one of the livelier things about RAW FORCE, making it a much better viewing experience. He gets some of the best lines, too, like when he gets on the ships intercom and remarks, "This goddamn ship is under siege! We've been boarded by a bunch of maniacs!" Another pearl is when the shipwrecked group stumble upon the Warriors Island graveyard and Mitchell grumpily says, "This must be the place where they buried the goddamn kung fu fighters!" Mitchell is more memorable here than he was in his "all in a day's work" role in the superior KILL SQUAD (1982), the holy grail of martial arts movie mediocrity. 

Speaking of martial arts, a slew of unintentional humor finds sanctuary in these kung fu fight sequences; the bulk of which are about as lifeless as the blue-faced zombies on Warriors Island. Only one battle has any real excitement about it -- between some unknown guy and a Nazi Mexican who has hogtied a naked woman in one of the cabins aboard the Love Boat. The subsequent balsa wood beat-down is the best fight in the entire movie. It's a shame the numerous other duels can't muster the same level of enthusiasm. Only Rey King (Rey Malonzo, a Filipino veteran of dozens of fight flicks) shows natural skill in his handful of punch and kick melees. Sadly, the rest of the fighters won't be snatching the pebble from Master Po's hand any time soon; nor will the kung fu-samurai-ninja zombies (that move in slow motion BLIND DEAD-7 GOLDEN VAMPIRE style) give Romero and the Italians any competition in a flesh-eating contest. 

Perennial Filipino favorite Vic Diaz (above in middle) leads the band of cannibal monks that love to dine on barbecued women; a delicacy that gives them the power to raise lousy martial artists from the dead. Unlike his past exploits in Roger Corman and Eddie Romero movies, Diaz isn't given much at all to do in RAW FORCE except utter a few lines, grin a lot, and laugh uncontrollably.

The stunning Jillian Kessner, master of the naked kung fu style seen in FIRECRACKER (1981), plays Cookie Winchell, a SWAT girl for the LAPD. Her bubbly demeanor (along with some of the other cast members) enlivens the proceedings, but she's virtually interchangeable with the rest of the cast. She keeps her clothes on, but does look tantalizing in a bikini before the action switches to GILLIGAN'S ISLAND with Kung Fu. She comes across as less impressive than she did in FIRECRACKER. Considering Mike Stone (ENTER THE NINJA) handled the choreography, the sloppiness of the action is surprising.

Camille Keaton (TRAGIC CEREMONY, I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE) and Jewel Shepard (HOLLYWOOD HOT TUBS, THE RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) have minor, incidental appearances during the lengthy cruise ship sequence where everybody hooks up; or tries to including a musclebound male stripper and a bartender who breaks blocks of ice with his forehead.

Among Filipino cult film fans, RAW FORCE (1982) has a bit of a reputation. Regrettably it only partially lives up to it. In addition to its middling mix of kung fu and zombies, there's dollops of boobs, bare chests, some mild gore, dummy deaths, glaring flubs, and even stock footage from PIRANHA (1978). Virtually everything on the fantastic poster art is in the movie, yet the film doesn't quite match the raucous exuberance of Kim Passey's brushstrokes. It's an entertaining ride, just this RAW trash might of tasted better had it been cooked a while longer.

This review is representative of the Vinegar Syndrome Blu-ray from the DVD/Blu combo. Extras & Specs: New 2k restoration from original 35mm negative; featurette with director Ed Murphy and DP Frank Johnson; audio interview with Jim Wynorski; original trailer; 86 minutes; 1.85:1; 1080p DTS-HD mono.

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails


copyright 2013. All text is the property of and should not be reproduced in whole, or in part, without permission from the author. All images, unless otherwise noted, are the property of their respective copyright owners.