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RAW FORCE MOVIE REVIEW
The Hong Kong scene struck gold in the early 80s when it melded kung fu comedy with the horror genre, with films like Sammo Hung vehicle Spooky Encounters, Kung Fu Zombie, and Mr. Vampire emerging as the premiere output from this short-lived but entertaining sequence. No sooner were audiences delighted by these films than American producers took notice and formulated their own rip-offs. Raw Force (aka Kung Fu Cannibals) is the most notorious of these films, and, as is often the case when Americans try to cash in on the martial arts craze, the result is inelegant, grungy, and altogether shoddy; however, this one was also outsourced to the Philippines, a region that’s often proved to be fertile ground for batty material, some of which is on par with Hong Kong lunacy itself.
Raw Force is pretty close to earning this distinction. It centers around an island in the Pacific that’s home to both female trafficking and a drug ring, but maybe that’s part for the course; far more unusual is that this place is also inhabited by a group of monks keeping guard over the not-so-vanquished spirits of dishonored martial artists. Naturally, it’s a place you’d like to stay away from, so much so that the film itself pretty much avoids it after an opening prologue. Instead, it sticks us with members of the Burbank Karate Club, a group of American mouth-breathers who board a tour ship that takes them out into the region, where they’re warned to stay away from a particular haunted island.
This puts them on a collision course for the island, but first they brawl, wine and dine some of the broads on board the ship, and then fend off a small army of thuggish, Nazi mercenaries looking to seize the boat and kidnap all the women for their illicit slave trade. Good thing these guys are members of a karate club, right? Just as absurd as it sounds on paper, Raw Force is one of those truly mystifying, impossible movies made by people who seemingly have no idea how to make a good movie. They sure as hell know how to make an entertaining one, though, as Raw Force is rarely dull, not so much because it’s shockingly inept, but because it’s aggressively illogical and stupid. Self-aware grindhouse movies weren’t really a thing at this point, but you’d never know it by observing this one because you’d think someone would have to try to make something that manages to be as horribly brilliant as Raw Force.
As such, you might expect this to be the sort of movie that’s only ironically enjoyable or only worthwhile with the assistance of controlled substances. While its threadbare production values, laughable acting, and ludicrous script make it an easy target for mockery, there’s a real earnestness to Raw Force that’s admirable. On the spectrum of bad movies, I’ll take a thousand movies like this over the horde of forgettable mediocrity I’ve encountered. Its crazy quilt approach stitches together an awesome grindhouse patchwork of comedy (some intended, some not so much), kung fu, and the undead, so it’s consistently entertaining even when the plot has basically stalled.
Character interactions during the downtime still manage to be quite wacky; for example, one of the guys on board the boat runs into a woman who claims she’s attempting to escape the country for murdering her boyfriend, a casual revelation that comes as she strips for him. Even the villains are buffoonish cartoon characters, with Ralph Lombardi playing an absurd, Hitler-styled ringleader who’s stuck with a bunch of idiots (upon learning about the island’s undead cannibals, one of them is careful to make sure the zombies take the time to barbecue their victims instead of simply eating them raw). Frequent bad movie MVP Cameron Mitchell serves as the boat’s captain, and he clashes with the on board help while also bemoaning how rickety his vessel is; it’s a routine that really belongs in a different sort of movie, but the beauty of Raw Force is its refusal to be put into a genre box.
At its heart, it’s really a shitty martial arts movie. The frequent fights are sometimes impressively staged, and there are a handful of ridiculous stunts (a dude jump kicks right through a windshield, a feat also glimpsed in Bruce Lee Fights Back From the Grave, a similarly incoherent and gonzo masterwork), but a few gaffes occur in the way of some blows that don’t even come close to landing. If there’s a real fault to be found in Raw Force (well, besides the obvious half dozen), it’s that the Kung Fu Cannibals alternate title and subplot is perhaps a bit misleading (which is probably exactly why someone re-branded it in such a fashion). See, Raw Force is sort of the Friday the 13th Part VIII of kung fu zombie island movies since the main cast doesn’t make landfall on the damned abode until the final act. Until then, it’s more of an action movie that even throws in a gunfight among its hand-to-hand fisticuffs. But once the zombies arrive, Raw Force shambles its way into true nutso greatness. Often arriving on screen with an arbitrary slow-motion effect, the undead masters wander in, pursue the group all over the island, and occasionally show off their skills (it’s kind of easy to see why these guys were disgraced). Their uninspired chalky design betrays the obvious low budget, but that’s easy to overlook when the movie is generous enough to provide goddamn ninja zombies in the first place.
A “to be continued” tag at the end of Raw Force indicates that someone was keen on delivering even more, but, alas, the world remains without a sequel thirty years later. Now, the tease just serves as a farcical exclamation point at the end of a ridiculous, nigh-incoherent sentence. It’s a true howler in a film full of laughs; coming after the crutch-aided brawls, the scantily-clad kung fu fighting, and the undead eviscerations, the promise of more might be the funniest moment since there’s pretty much nowhere left to go. At any rate, Raw Force is top shelf lunacy, a movie that demands to be seen; even though a film’s quality is intrinsic, I’m guessing this one is even better with a crowd, where the delirious silliness would be infectious. It’d certainly beat the film’s only “official” DVD release on the Grindhouse Experience Volume 1 set, which features nothing more than a VHS rip of the film. The poor quality will often find you fumbling for the phantom tracking button on your DVD remote, so the film’s already poor aesthetic is done no favors. Given the film’s reputation, it’s hard to believe no one’s acquired it and released a restored version; indeed, it’s truly one of our great failures as a civilization thus far. In the meantime, go ahead and pick up the Grindhouse Experience since you’ll also get 19 other films along with it. If even a fourth of them are as nuts as Raw Force, it’ll pay for itself.
YOR -THE HUNTER FROM THE FUTURE MOVIE REVIEW
Overview: Yor, a smug, strapping caveman-type, romps through a seemingly endless series of cheap mishaps and poorly-lit sets, eventually ending up in an ill-advised Star Wars knockoff. Along the way, Yor destroys several cultures, fights several dinosaurs, fulfills several prophecies and drowns a few hundred women and children.
Directed By: Antonio Margheriti (Credited as Anthony M. Dawson- yeah, right) 1983
The Case For: Classic theme song; Reb Brown's easygoing machismo.
The Case Against: Explaining why you shouldn't watch this movie would be an insult to your intelligence. It's cheap, ridiculous, unfathomably boring, tacky and ill-conceived.
I don't know how to introduce Yor: The Hunter from the Future any better than the film itself introduces him. Against a grey backdrop of stony, mountainous Italo-Turkish scrubland, Yor emerges. Loinclothed, axe in hand, he runs down a rocky hillside toward the camera. The opening strains of the classic theme song, performed by Oliver Onions (best known for their hit "Come With Me for Fun in My Buggy"). The song informs us in no uncertain terms that this is Yor's world, and that he's the man. Actual lyrics:
Yor's world, he's the man!
Lost in the world of past
Our first impression of Yor is a fittingly clumsy one, since he's careening down a hill, looking barely in control. Filmmaking hint: it's a terrible idea to establish a character by making him run down a steep hill. The human body isn't built for it, and our ill-suited legs can only compensate with flailing, galloping baby steps.
But, I gotta say, Reb Brown's body looks like it's built for all sorts of things, like tipping stuff over and jumping up and slapping stop signs. As he reaches the bottom of the hill, he looks around him, surveying his world, quickly realizing it's really freakin' bodacious. His vacuous smile betrays the kind of mysterious smugness that an autistic child might feel after telling a snail a secret, or yelling into a dog's butthole. For the duration of the theme song, Yor continues to careen through the wasteland, stopping only to look both ways and smile dimly, as if he's worried that he'll be hit by a train made of puppy giggles.
When the credits are done rolling, we witness the classic scene of idyllic caveman life: the cave-elder says some vague bullshit about how the gods have blessed them with this wonderful fertile valley, and then he tells his people to "pay homage to the gods by raising [their] children to the heavens." And everyone lifts up their bored, confused kids up by the armpits and kind of holds them there until they decide it's been long enough. Then everyone goes off to The Hunt".
It's during The Hunt" that we meet two of our supporting heroes, a curly-topped cave-babe named Kala, and a grizzled dude named Pak, played by Grandpa Seth from Troll II. If you've ever wanted to see the old dude from Troll II in a fur toga, your ship has finally come in, although it probably comes in all the time because you've got pretty goddamn low standards in ships. Anyway, brillo-top and Grandpa Seth stalk a pig dressed as an armadillo for a while, and are then attacked by a savage, bloodthirsty herbivore. Yor hops down from his beloved hills and clubs the shit out of it, then screams with a mighty reverberation: "YEAAAAEEEEEY!"
Victorious caveman dance party ensues. Girls dance wearing clothes made of sticks, and people drink from bowls made from hollowed out Generic Primitive Bowl Material. Yor and Kala have a lil' moment.
The game of face-footsie is interrupted by some evil cavemen, whose dour faces reveal a hatred of all romance and festivity. They bumrush the shindig, burn everything down, carry off the women, and leave our heroes pretty bummed out. Pak commands Kala to travel with Yor for safety, and then returns to the village to speak with a groaning, dying elder, who tells him everything we already know: he must travel with Yor, because his fate lies with him, etc. The first mention of the word "fate" in a cave-barbarian movie is a magical time in a young cave-barbarian movie's life.
After some boring journeying, a couple of pep-talks about fate and a skirmish or two with the evil cavedudes,Yor is beaten up and Kala is captured and taken to a yucky cave to serve as a squealing sexgirl for the badcavers. The evil guys have an entire cave full of purloined cooch, and Kala is their new prize hog. Aha! So this is where they took all the stolen women and children! Clearly, Yor must intervene.
Two of the ne'er-do-bathes get in a grunting fistfight over Kala, and the winner celebrates by slapping the hell out of his woman-prize, seemingly for no reason other than pure jerkness. Just as Kala gets her teeth rearranged, Yor shoots down a giant cardboard cave-bat, grabs it by the haunches, and uses it as a hang glider to float down into the bad-dude cave. The moment is such an awesome display of Yor's manliness that the score is interrupted, dissonantly and incongruously, by the strains of the theme song: "Yor's world, he's the man!" And, at this moment, he is the man.
Yor beats the shit out of some cave baddies, Grandpa Seth shoots a few with arrows, Yor steals Kala and hoofs it outta the cave as quickly as his bronzed beef logs will carry him. Miraculously, he discovers an underground lake in the cave, and with his amazing Super Yor Strength, he pops open the dike that holds it up, sending a crashing flood into the bad dude lair. All the jerks drown, and their underground asshole city is ruined. Booya!
Now wait just a goddamn minute. Let's take a step back and look at this from a more prudent perspective.
What the heck happened to the enslaved women and children in the cave?
Yor never rescued them. Yor drowned every single woman and child that had been kidnapped from the good guy village in the beginning. Yor saved Kala and left everyone else to die. Yor, Kala and Grandpa Seth were the only survivors. Yor is basically a mass-murderer.
But hey, let's just forget about all that. We're only half an hour into the movie, so let's just put Yor's murderous negligence behind us and move on to the next cheap set piece, or we're going to be here all night debating whether or not Yor killed all those women and children accidentally or whether he drowned them for cheap kicks and sexual gratification.
The merry band, still high from the slaughter of innocents, wanders into a Tattooine-style dust area. Grandpa Seth explains that the area contains deep crevices in the earth, containing all kinds of heat and steam and stuff; Kala warns Yor not to go there, because she had a prophetic dream that showed him helpless, surrounded by fire. Yor goes anyway, the big goof.
Yor is attacked by off-brand Sand People with giant flaming cocktail forks. Straight away, Yor is helpless, surrounded by fire. This teaches us an important lesson about the dangers of ignoring prophetic dreams. One time I had a dream that my cat Scuppers and I were trying to name a hockey team, and I thought nothing of it. Scuppers is long since dead, and for all I know that hockey team is still out there somewhere, crying themselves to sleep every night because Scuppers and I never named them and they're still called something stupid like The Ontario Pennywhistles.
I just missed a bunch of shit in the movie because I was thinking about Scuppers. Anyway, Yor gets kidnapped by the phony Sand People and led to their beautiful queen, whose radiant babeness inspires Reb Brown to produce a truly toddleresque facial expression. She explains to Yor that his amulet (did I mention that he had an amulet? No?) is some kind of& special thing. She's got one too (did I mention that she has an amulet too? Yes?). She explains their meaning thusly:
"They say 'I came here together with those men. There [indicates men caught in ice next to her]. Caught in the ice. Why I am alive and they are dead, I don't know. And why the ice has formed in this parched desert is a mystery without an answer, but the little water that comes from it is vital to these people and they worship me as a divine goddess.'"
Wow, great explanation, lady. That really puts the whole fate thing into sharp focus. Good thing they were standing right by that ice when they translated those things, or they wouldn't have made a lick of sense, would they? Anyway, through some more fate bullshit, Yor decides that he and this lady represent the last of some kind of special race, so they hightail it out of yet another cave, collapse yet another cave, and destroy yet another population of people. To be fair, these people were jerks.
They meet up with Grandpa Seth and Kala, who is obviously jealous of the new lady. She offers the new lady a big fuckin' ball of moss because she hates her.
Yor gets his mack on with the new lady, because Yor has a soft spot when it comes to the ladies. It's on his skull; it never grew together properly when he was a baby, and now he has to wear the world's fluffiest Prince Valiant haircut to cover it up. Kala is pissed. She complains to Grandpa Seth about it, but he says "why can't Yor have two?" Grandpa Seth is a mack too.
Kala gets in a fight with the new lady, and they roll around a little bit, which might be kind of erotic if you're a sixth grader with a misogynist streak (or if you're like most Something Awful readers, and just have the mind of a sixth grader with a misogynist streak). The fight is broken up by yet another fight, which is slightly less erotic and significantly more boring. The bad cave dudes from the beginning are back, and they get in a little rumble with our heroes. Yor kicks their asses, but not before they mortally wound the new lady. Before she dies, she lays some jive on Yor about how their race comes from a castle on an island in the middle of "a big sea." Helpful! New lady gives her amulet to Kala, then croaks.
Our band of merry dimwits, after an arduous two-minute journey, finally reaches the beach. That dumb bitch Kala tries to drink saltwater, and everyone laughs at her. They celebrate their apathy over the death of what's-her-face with a nice little fish-fry on the beach, which is interrupted by a giant rubber lizard. Everyone runs around screaming for way, way too long, and the rubber lizard scene ends only when I finally decide to hit the fast forward button.
When I resume my plight, our heroes are chilling on the beach with a group of kids, including one kid who's kind of hot, and who Yor obviously digs. If Yor was the kind of guy who perved on teenagers, he would definitely perv on this one. You can see the side of her boob a little bit, and don't you dare think for a minute that Yor doesn't notice. He comes up with a flimsy excuse about how he already has a woman (Kala), but we know that the only reason he's not putting his big orange muscles all over her is because her dad is right there. Dad shows Yor a little talking box (a communicator) left by "the gods" (spacemen, duh).
Then the village blows up.
Distraught at the death of her father and the blown-upness of her village, Hot Teenager offers Yor her dad's flimsy wicker boat and tells him that he must seek an island in the middle of the sea, which is always surrounded by violent storms. Yor, being a big, stupid, dumb, dumb guy, decides that he'll take the wicker boat out into the violent storms.
Right now, you're probably thinking, "hey, I bet the last half hour of this movie takes place in some kind of futuristic Star Wars space city with robots and an evil guy." You're an idiot, but you're also absolutely right. It is now time to begin Act Four, wherein Yor: The Hunter from the Future stops being the movie it was before and turns into an entirely different movie.
The violent storms capsize Yor's wicker boat (ah-duuuuuhhhh), and he washes up on the mysterious island we keep hearing so much about. But what's this? Somebody is watching him through a crystal ball! Yor stands motionless on the beach, looking in bewilderment at a big rock, plotting his next move with all the horsepower his sputtering brain can muster. His dumbshit reverie is interrupted by a bunch of robots who look like a cross between Darth Vader and a cabbage. He knocks one robot's head off with a rock, but the rest surround him and incapacitate him with a Casiotone laser.
Meanwhile, The Overlord, villain of this new plot (which is conspicuously made out of leftover props from an unrelated science fiction movie) is keeping his creepy crystal-ball gaze fixed on Kala and Grandpa Seth, who have just waded from the wicker wreckage. "I want them both captured and brought here," he says, in his best hammy space-villain seize them! voice, "alive!"
So, Yor is brought in alive, and stuck on a menacing lab table, James Bond style. Some lady, who we're to presume is good because she has a white outfit, explains to him that he's a native of this strange sci-fi subplot island, and that his special amulet tells them all they need to know about him. His name is Galahad, and he's the son of some rebel hotshot whose ship was shot down years ago while he was flying Star Wars ripoff runs over Beggar's Canyon in his T-16. Yor cares; we don't. This movie is fucking long.
The Overlord minces and chews some scenery. He's pissed because he can't find Kala and Grandpa Seth; he allows Yor to be released from his James Bond table, hoping he'll lead the baddies to his buddies.
Meanwhile, the buddies have been found by some guys in white outfits (meaning they're good), who explain that their once-great civilization was destroyed by an atomic blast, and now the Overlord is leading what remains of their proud people toward more and further destruction. At this point, I am seriously pissed off at this movie for trying to cram an entire second plot into the last half hour of this movie, because this is the densest exposition I've ever seen in my life. It's like eating an entire dry brick of shredded wheat, but cheaper.
The density lets up for a solid five minutes, and is replaced by the most fearsome tedium in the history of motion pictures. Yor sneaks around. His buddies sneak around. The overlord swishes around. Eventually, they all meet up in the same room in which they started, and The Overlord reveals his Fiendish Plan".
Somehow, I can't find it in my conscience to dignify this plot with a synopsis. The next fifteen climactic minutes can be told entirely with only a few lines of dialogue; just pretend that these are liberally interspersed with the most grating, high-pitched laser sound effects in the history of cinema:
"Those fools think they can beat me, The Overlord?"
(Daring trapeze stunt filmed using Mego action figures).
And so, the story of Yor draws to a close; Yor hops in a spaceship with his homeboys and splits the scene, blowing up the entire sci-fi island behind him, killing everyone. Can't Yor go anywhere without the blowing up the place he just left? That makes four separate cultures that have been blown up due to Yor's interference. The film leaves us with a message of hope:
"Yor returns to the primitive tribes on the mainland; he is determined to use his superior knowledge to prevent them making the same mistakes as their forefathers& will he succeed?"
No, he'll blow it up and kill everyone, the big silly doof.
Lost In The Static Episode 33: Sunset Thomas Interview: "The Thirty Third episode of my radio show Lost In The Static (Original airdate 04-09-11). Scott and I talk to Adult aActress Sunset Thomas about the industry in general and her personal experiences." - Josh Hadley