Thursday, April 26, 2018

The Last Kamikaze (1984) review


Paul Naschy (Sergio Arandar), Manuel Tejada (Christian Parker), Iran Eory (Monica), Leticia Marfil (Irene), Julia Saly (Sylvia del Rio), Lone Fleming (Vera), Mirta Miller (Natasha Bredonda)

Directed by Jacinto Molina (Paul Naschy)

***WARNING! This review contains images of nudity and graphic violence***

The Short Version: Paul Naschy writes, directs, and stars in this celluloid hit job, a Spain/Japan co-pro about two hired assassins waging war between two crime syndicates. The micro-plot gets lost amid plenty of nudity, sex, graphic violence, blood squibs, bodies blown to bits, and a Nazi-haunted Naschy dressing up as bums, repairmen and little old ladies to get at his targets. The movie does take a few brutality breaks to pontificate on the nature of man's penchant for perversion and whether killers are justified in murdering evil human beings. Mediocre at best, the globe-trotting KAMIKAZE comes equipped with inert action sequences and unintentional laughs--like Naschy in drag and assassinating midgets in the middle of L'amour. The sleazy atmosphere is the sustaining factor for both fans of the trashier side of Eurocrime and those of Senor Naschy.

An international crime ring based in New York hires an assassin named Christian (codename: Danton) to take out members of a rival syndicate, the Giovicci Organization. Included on the list is the oppositions own contract killer, The Kamikaze--who happens to be a master of disguise. Since no one knows what he looks like, the ruthless Kamikaze massacres his way to the center of the criminal organization, ultimately leading to Danton, his long-time rival. Meanwhile, as the bloody back-and-forth between syndicates unravels, a secret meeting between members of both crime rings plot to work together and do away with their powerful contract killers.

Naschy is a triple threat--writing, directing and starring as a disturbed, guilt-ridden contract killer hunted by a rival criminal organization and an old nemesis. Unlike the assassins in the movie, the film fails on some important levels: the characters and the action. The picture could sacrifice one or the other but not both. Lacking focus on its intriguing antagonists (there are no heroes here), and unable to pull off even modestly engaging action sequences, the filmmakers instead rely on exploding bodies, blood squibs and bare flesh. For most, THE LAST KAMIKAZE will get by on that alone even if its more ambitious components are unrealized to the full potential of Naschy's penmanship.

KAMIKAZE was one of over a dozen co-productions with Japan--some of which were documentaries made for Japanese consumption while others were motion pictures; and, additionally, three television series'. Naschy's assassin pesudo-epic was the next to last picture he made in collaboration with the Japanese. The first such co-pro was the crime-horror combo HUMAN BEASTS (1980); and ended with the spy parody OPERATION MANTIS (1984)--a financial disaster as well as a film Naschy considered his worst.

Enriched by location shooting--particularly in Egypt--it's possible the travel expenses gobbled up a lot of the budget preventing the time needed for stronger action sequences. In his memoirs, Paul Naschy detailed his desire to see the country of the Pyramids and Pharaoh's so KAMIKAZE held a special place for him. Implementing some of his disquieting experiences in the movie, Naschy's harrowing ordeal while trying to film there sounded far more sinister and engrossing than what made it to the screen. 

Hidden within the written word of Naschy's script is a compelling thriller; even if all we're ever given are mere crumbs of a story. The idea of a tortured, guilt-ridden assassin desiring death makes for a fascinating character study... if only Naschy focused more on that than the futile attempt at making an action picture his budget is incapable of bringing to life, the proceedings could've been taken more seriously. 

The two killers are the main arcs of the plot. One is a hunter, the other the hunted. Both have obsessions that keep them alive. For Naschy's character, Sergio, it's to meet his own doom; for his pursuer, it's to make that a reality. One of these characters is far better realized than the other; it isn't too difficult to discern which one that is.

When he isn't killing clients, Sergio Arandar passes his time as a painter (inspired by Goya!) and collector of fine art. Arandar is one of the actor's most complex characters. Naschy crams every conceivable expository tribulation into Sergio to the point it becomes a detriment to there being any rational audience identification with him. There's little room to negotiate whether or not Sergio is anything less than a psychopath; but late-blooming devices such as his blood money earned being used to care for a retarded daughter we never see (outside of a picture) and a desire to eradicate memories of his Nazi father do little to derive sympathy.

Pretending to run an export business, Sergio keeps his real job a mystery (or so he thinks) to a beautiful woman of wealth (played by Julia Saly) who desires his company full-time. Sergio wishes for her to take care of his daughter for him in the event of his death. There's some good scenes between them, but writer Naschy scuppers sustaining the drama for very long when another tragi-romantic angle is explored with a younger, free-spirited pot smoker named Irene.

Ms. Saly does double-duty on this picture, acting as a co-producer. She acted in this capacity for several other Naschy pictures including NIGHT OF THE WEREWOLF (1981; a film which she also starred in as Countess Bathory) and THE BEAST AND THE MAGIC SWORD (1983).

Where the film fails to stabilize its dramatic aspects, Naschy excels in the exploitation department; the bread and butter of the picture, and the only reason to watch it. In so many of his horror pictures he often played multiple monsters like in DR. JEKYLL AND THE WOLFMAN (1972), VENGEANCE OF THE ZOMBIES (1972) and HOWL OF THE DEVIL (1987). As the motorcycle riding Sergio Arandar Naschy is a master of disguise--decking himself out as bums, electricians, and, in a scene that's supposed to be played straight, a pistol-packin' old lady.

One highlight that precipitates a similar occurrence in PULP FICTION (1994) sees him pretending to be an electric repairman so he can mercilessly assassinate an Egyptian criminal while he's taking a shit! And yet another is a Spanish do-over of the brutal poolside massacre from MAGNUM FORCE (1973). In it, Naschy casually rides up on his motorcycle and begins lobbing grenades at the party-goers before mowing them down with his machine gun. The silliest is when Naschy dons a maid's attire--looking like an old queen while firing off two pistols in an attempt to snuff out an Arabic crime boss.

Regarding the bloody shootings and assassinations, there's an air of untended hilarity attached to them. Outside of the above-mentioned sequence where Naschy dresses as the ugliest woman on the planet, these gangsters have the slackest, most anemic security you've ever seen. Sergio has this dark, Zorro-styled label of no one knowing who he is--with an uncanny ability to always reach his targets and elude capture. This skill level amounts to little more than tossing grenades and firing guns basically out in the open and in broad daylight. Considering these mobsters haven't the money to properly finance protective services, it's no wonder Sergio is able to pull off his hits as easily as he does.

Then there's Danton, assassin #2; the one who has a debt to settle with Sergio. Played with little conviction by Manuel Tejada, he's one of the pictures' greatest weaknesses when he should be one of its best assets. An award winning actor of repute in his native Spain, the thespian of stage and screen seems disinterested, performing his bits of action with lackadaisical ease. When the two meet for the last time, this final confrontation has some mild tension, but it's not the sort of set-piece the film demands. 

While Sergio prefers to make lots of noise with explosives and machine gun fire, Danton's lethal arsenal is on the quiet side--compiling canes with retractable blades; darts ejected from a pipe; and golf clubs masquerading as firearms with built-in silencers. This is another area of the script that could've used some bolstering to enhance the rivalry between the two men.

Occasionally, the steady diet of bloody deaths is momentarily halted so the assassins can mourn their lives and whether they're truly insane for murdering the scum of the Earth. In Sergio's case, he blames his psychosis on his Nazi father who tried to brand the vileness of the Third Reich onto his consciousness. In keeping with the picture's gloomy tone, there's brief, gruesome footage of Holocaust victims. There's also a twist ending that hints a new trainee will be raised as the new Kamikaze. It's dramatic, gut-punching instances such as this that could've enabled the picture to thrive had it not laid its focus on half-baked action sequences with virtually zero energy and choreography.

For example, a chase scene (best appreciated by bad movie buffs) between Sergio and Danton is among the slowest, least exciting ever put to film; culminating in a lazy crash and burn of some conveniently placed cans of flammable liquids in what is supposed to be a gas station.

One bright spot is seeing three of Spanish cinema's scream queens together in the same movie; these ladies of horror being Lone Fleming (TOMBS OF THE BLIND DEAD; A CANDLE FOR THE DEVIL), Julia Saly (INQUISITION; THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK), and Mirta Miller (COUNT DRACULA'S GREAT LOVE; SANTO VS. DOCTOR DEATH)

Fleming's role in the movie has an element of surprise surrounding it; she initially seems a vapid female interested only in materialism; later, her participation has a sinister air of ambiguity as just one cog in a purported global network of criminality. The same could be said of Saly--she isn't all that she seems. Ms. Miller is the most open characterization; a duplicitous crime boss whose last scene is arguably the film's trashiest moment. Naschy interrupts her lesbian love session, blowing big holes into both her and her lover with a sawed-off shotgun.


If only the budget could sustain them, all the ingredients are here for a really good movie to succeed as either a potent parable on the evil of man; or a trashy throwback to the Italian crime films of the 70s Naschy's movie emulates; the main theme comes from one of the best--Stelvio Cipriani's music heard in the trendsetting classic, EXECUTION SQUAD from 1972. Sold as an action movie, KAMIKAZE comes up short. On a par with the weakest of its Italian antecedents, EL ULTIMO KAMIKAZE's primary targets will be Eurocrime specialists and the most hardened of Naschy-files.

This review is representative of the Research Entertainment All Region PAL DVD. Specs and Extras: non-anamorphic 1.85:1; Paul Naschy Interview (78 minutes); Image Gallery; Biographies; Spanish language only; running time: 01:25:39

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