BLASTFIGHTER 1984 aka FORCE OF VENGEANCE
Michael Sopkiw (Tiger Sharp), George Eastman (Tom), Valentina Forte (Connie), Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (Matt), Michele Soavi (Pete)
Directed by Lamberto Bava (as John Old, Jr.)
The Short Version: Another Italian mishmash, this one combining elements of DELIVERANCE, THE DEER HUNTER, DEATH WISH and FIRST BLOOD. The script and direction are unusually good when dealing with the leads, but less so once the action takes over during the last half. The transition from exposition to violence isn't seamless and the film fails to fully exploit the moody and magnificent exteriors captured by Gianlorenzo Battaglia's camera. Still, compared with other Italian exploitationers of this era, Bava's revenge thriller is a BLAST.
After serving eight years in prison for killing the man that murdered his wife, Jake 'Tiger' Sharp, a former Atlanta, GA cop, has the opportunity to assassinate the lawyer that put him away. Given a special riot gun that can do just about anything, Tiger instead decides to put killing behind him and heads for the quiet of the wilderness. The solace is short-lived when his daughter he hasn't seen in years shows up and tries to have a father-daughter relationship again. However, local cretins won't allow Tiger to live peacefully and he's forced to fight back.
Italians were aces at culturally appropriating intrinsically American film styles like the Western; and they attempt to do the same thing for Southern Gothics with a movie bearing a title that sounds like one of their cheap SciFi knockoffs. If ever a film's title seemed misplaced in categorizing its content it's BLASTFIGHTER. Compared to other Euro-clones of this era, Bava Jr's US-lensed actioner is surprisingly polished when compared to works of his colleagues. If only they could've gotten somebody to write dialog that sounded like things that Americans would say.
The dubbed dialog offers many opportunities for unintended laughs via the dubbers going way overboard in attempting southern accents. Luca and Massimo De Rita's script is strong but undone by the villainous caricatures. What could've been a serious, dramatic exploitation picture, ends up a comic book; nothing wrong with that, of course; only Bava manages some powerful, visceral moments that yield to standard action cliches wrought by exaggerated hillbilly portrayals of all your finer Drive-in mountain man movies.
Michael Sopkiw's character is well defined and given plenty of time to brood and simmer before cutting him loose in the explosion-filled finale. Not only is he a man who lost eight years of his life over avenging his wife's death, he simply wishes to be left alone. Retreating to Atlanta, Georgia where the crime took place (probably not the best idea), he is quickly accosted by rampaging rednecks with nothing better to do with their time.
During this section of the film, we learn Sopkiw's character has great affection for animals, even going so far as to keep a fawn as a pet. The foreshadowing is obvious as to the fate of said fawn. Things are further complicated when his daughter enters the picture, hoping to have the relationship with her father denied her during her early years. Watch for an abundance of product placement during these early scenes! These portions of the film are rich in exposition; and it would've been extremely beneficial had the incidents leading up to the finale been granted a few more additional minutes.
For instance, Jake Sharp's prison dilemma is mostly glossed over, giving the viewer a 'Cliff's Notes' version. The man that killed his wife is the gay lover of the attorney that put him away. Exploring this avenue further--one that plays like a mini-giallo--would've given Jake's conflict with human violence more poignancy in the later scenes. Still, Lamberto Bava has fashioned some commendable work here.
Bava's movie combines a number of elements from various movies such as FIRST BLOOD (1982); much like Stallone's iconic John Rambo, Sopkiw's Jake Sharp just wants to be left the hell alone. The finale is reminiscent of the classic 80s actioner as well. Sopkiw's dress at the end recalls Charles Bronson's attire in DEATH WISH 2 (1981). Other scenes evoke THE DEER HUNTER (1978), and especially DELIVERANCE (1972); probably the film's second biggest influence. Bava and crew shot some of the film in the same locales as the Boorman classic and even hired that film's young banjo player, Billy Redden.
That great ape, George Eastman, is co-starring once again; this time playing a quasi-bad guy. He hated the movie (as evidenced during his scathing interview), but gets to play a conflicted character this time out, as opposed to his usual cartoon villain. Torn between his friend (Sopkiw's Jake Sharp) and his psychotic brother, he knows that eventually he will have to bury one or the other. Eastman may disregard these movies he made, but he does well with this role; a highlight of his exploitation career.
Gianlorenzo Battaglia's photography is one of the film's strongest assets. Bava may not capitalize on using the environment to further a sense of dread, but Battaglia's camera gives us some haunting shots and sprawling vistas of nature.
Code Red's bluray is another stunner, and comes equipped with an array of interviews. Unfortunately, the person in charge of subtitles once more crams too many of them onscreen at once... and again the last interview (with DP Battaglia) the font size decreases. Eastman's interview is the most eye-opening one on the disc; mainly because he nonchalantly trashes not only the film but Bava as well. Both uncomfortable and funny at the same time, Eastman seems bewildered that anyone would be interested in these movies.
Fabio Frizzi's score is unmistakably Italian and feels terribly out of place considering the southern setting. 'Evening Star' is a catchy country tune you hear a few times during the picture. Written by the Gibbs of Bee Gees fame, the song was originally orated by Kenny Rogers and released in June of 1984. Instead of licensing Kenny's version some singer named Tommie Baby covers it; and it's a nice version as well.
If you're a fan of the films BLASTFIGHTER homages, or hixploitation in general, you'll most likely enjoy Bava's action-packed interpretation. Distinctly Italian, it never completely feels like a genuine Southern Fried Gothic, but a good assimilation crammed full of this genres brand of southern (in)hospitality.
This review is representative of the Code Red bluray. Specs and Extras: New HD master; 1080p 1.78:1; audio commentary with Michael Sopkiw; interviews with Michael Sopkiw, George Eastman, Lamberto Bava and DP Giolorenzo Battaglia; running time: 01:29:34