Friday, March 13, 2015

Worth Mentioning - All Drenched in Red

We watch several movies a week. Every Friday, we'll talk a little about some of the movies we watched that we felt were Worth Mentioning.

Celebrate Friday the 13th with a couple movies that have ties to the F13 franchise.


This month marks the 30th anniversary of the release of Friday the 13th: A New Beginning, the fifth and one of the most divisive entries in the F13 franchise, which was directed and co-written by Danny Steinmann. The film was the peak and unfortunately the end of Steinmann's filmmaking career, which was hindered by a long stretch of bad luck, bad deals, and bad health. The director, who passed away in 2012, left behind just a handful of films, only two of which he took credit for under his real name. Those two films are F13: ANB and the rape revenge thriller Savage Streets, which hit theatres just five months before his Friday sequel.

Linda Blair (The Exorcist, Hell Night) stars as Brenda, a tough teen girl who runs with a wild crowd, but who is very protective of her deaf sister Heather, played by Silent Night, Deadly Night/Night of the Demons/Witchtrap/Robot Ninja/Pumpkinhead II's Linnea Quigley. When a gang of guys who call themselves the Scars nearly hit Heather while she's crossing the street, Brenda and her friends retaliate by stealing the Scars' convertible and taking it for a joy ride... which ends with them emptying some garbage cans into it.

That kicks off a series of altercations between members of the two groups, with the Scars committing brutal acts of violence against the girls. Heather is raped and left on the edge of death, one of Brenda's friends is murdered. Pushed over the edge by the situation, Brenda puts on a black outfit, arms herself with a crossbow, and goes on a mission of vengeance against the Scars.

The production of Savage Streets was a messy one (filming began with Hell Night director Tom DeSimone at the helm, a different producer, and Cherie Currie as Brenda, then shut down after a few days as those players departed and were replaced by Steinmann, who rewrote the script, a new producer, who rewrote Steinmann's draft, and Blair), which could have resulted in disaster. Luckily, it came out to be a solid exploitation flick. It has some rough edges and a coating of sleaze, but there's also a sense of humor to some of its scenes.

The image of Linda Blair in her outfit, holding her crossbow, is a badass and iconic one, but her revenge really takes up a very short amount of the running time. I would have enjoyed the film a bit more if she had gone vigilante earlier.

Beyond the revenge angle and the film's '80s cheeseball style, what draws my interest to it are the Friday the 13th alumni who were involved. Steinmann wasn't the only one. Bob DeSimone plays a school teacher here, and Steinmann took him on to A New Beginning with him. A character named Charlene, a club bartender who is friends with Brenda, is played by Paula Shaw, who was in Freddy vs. Jason nineteen years later. Lisa Freeman was a victim of Jason's in Friday the 13th: The Final Chapter this same year, and in Savage Streets plays Brenda's ill-fated pal Francine.


On an unnamed island in the Caribbean, the Marines who guard the local American embassy dress like and conduct themselves as stereotypical surfer dudes so as not to raise the ire of any anti-American groups who may be in the area. And yet they have still run into serious trouble. Marines have started disappearing from the island, beaten up by a group of scraggly brutes and carried off by black-clad ninjas.

The government sends a pair of Army Rangers to the island to investigate - Michael Dudikoff and Steve James reprising the roles of American ninja Joe Armstrong and his pal Curtis Jackson. As soon as they hear of the involvement of guys dressed in black, Armstrong and Jackson know they're dealing with ninjas, but don't get much support for their theory from embassy head Captain Wild Bill Woodward (Jeff Weston of Puppet Master II and Demonic Toys). In fact, Woodward's response is "What the hell are ninja?"


It doesn't take long for Armstrong and Jackson to verify the presence of ninja, though. The island is swarming with them, and the two have several altercations with them and their local lackeys as they seek to find where the Marines have been taken.

Four time Jason Voorhees Kane Hodder, one year away from playing Jason for the first time, appears in several fight scenes, both hidden beneath ninja gi and as one of the scraggly brutes. There were only a handful of stuntmen working on this production, so they all saw a whole lot of action while being re-used over and over. In one of the first issues of Fangoria I ever owned, issues that came out in the last months of 1989, a letter from Steve James was printed in the fan mail section, as he had written in to proudly state that he had fought Jason Voorhees and included a still from American Ninja 2 that showed him and Hodder facing off.

A huge break in the investigation comes when Armstrong meets Alicia Sanborn (Michelle Botes), whose scientist father owns nearby Blackbeard Island and established a laboratory on it to house his research into curing cancer. Unfortunately, Alicia's father was bought out by a powerful drug lord called The Lion (Gary Conway, who also co-wrote the screenplay with actor James Booth, who would go on to have a role in American Ninja 4). Now the doctor is a captive of The Lion, working on very different kinds of experiments.

This sequel goes into outlandish territory once Armstrong infiltrates Blackbeard Island and all of The Lion's secrets are revealed. The kidnapped Marines are being used in the creation of genetically modified Super Ninjas whose strength, speed, and combat abilities have been enhanced. These ninjas feel no pain and their only emotion is hate. The next step will be to replace their muscles with steel.

Well, the world just can't have Super Ninjas who do the bidding of a drug lord, so Armstrong, Jackson, and the Marines raid Blackbeard Island for an awesome climactic sequence.

Directed by returning helmer Sam Firstenberg, American Ninja 2 is a bit of decline from the first film in that it appears to be cheaper and there are moments of very obvious choreography in the fights. However, it's still a highly entertaining, fun, extremely dopey '80s action B-movie. It's packed with action and leans more toward the comedic than its predecessor, and depending on your reaction to the slightly different tone and style, I could easily understand a viewer enjoying The Confrontation even more than part 1.

Myself, I'd probably give the edge to the first, but instead of choosing between them I'd rather just watch them both.

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