Night of the Kickfighters (1988)

aka Night Raiders

The month of March found the members of the Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit trading guest posts, podcast appearances, and in a few cases, illegal imported cigarettes and throwing stars! Our compadre, Denis from The Horror!? was kind enough to watch this 1988 AIP film and write a review for us. He's really earned that complimentary pair of Zubaz pants and the denim vest with the dragon patch on the back!

The company of Carl McMann (Adam “the gosh-darn Batman” West) has developed a shiny new laser cannon ideal for blowing away motionless jet models located on cardboard-looking pedestals. The technical innovation also includes a wondrous microchip that can recognize allied soldiers by their “eye prints”, cleverly even when they have turned their backs towards the laser cannon, though not while they are wearing sunglasses; nobody involved cares about civilians, it seems. However, as it always is when SCIENCE is making the Free World™ better at killing, those evil terrorists are there to mess things up.

Evil terrorist Kedesha (Marcia Karr) takes valuable time off from her various family friendly sexual perversions and lets her henchmen – among them the mandatory weird-looking big strong guy in form of Ponti (Carel Struycken) and his inspired grimaces – kidnap McMann’s daughter Kathy (Lisa Alpert). McMann gives out the data about the laser Kedesha wants from him, but he also hires international man of adventure Brett Cady (Andy Bauman) to find Kedesha, save his daughter and blow the complex (aka a series of grey corridors located in the desert) they’re in as well as the laser data to kingdom come.

Because Brett already had his ass kicked by Ponti once, he goes the seven samurai way and calls in a troupe of friends and business associates as his own private kick-fighting strike force. With a team consisting of computer wiz Clea (Phyllis Doyle), mandatory person of colour Socrates (Fitz Houston), hairy explosives and gadget man Bomber (Michelangelo Kowalski), and “British” stage magician Aldo (Philip Dore), all ready for a stealthy night assault on the Mexican base, evil terrorism won’t stand a chance.

Initially, the main claim Night of the Kickfighters had on my interest was the fact that it was distributed by the glorious Action International Pictures (still the only company I know which actually wanted to be confused with Arkoff’s and Nicholson’s AIP), the finest purveyors of direct-to-video nonsense. Now, after I’ve finally seen it, I’m quite a bit more focused on the film’s adorably silly mixture of low cost Eurospy stylings, Men’s Adventure pulp novel fixations, and part-time martial arts adventure. It’s the sort of thing I can’t help but describe with words like “adorable” and “charming”, because, while it certainly won’t thrill anyone with its exciting plotting, its poetic fight choreography or its brilliant acting, Night is a film very eager to please, putting all its negligible money and talent right on screen with verve and a sense of excitement that just doesn’t care how silly everything going on here actually is.

So how silly is it? Well, there’s a scene that sees Kedesha (and her oh so brilliant accent) dressed down to what might be very sparkly underwear or an equally sparkly bathing suit, writhing on a couch while cuddling with a snake, getting a foot massage by a nameless henchman, and being fed grapes by Ponti, which not only demonstrates how far out of its way the film goes in presenting her as of dubious sexual proclivities (she also likes to play with blood) while still keeping the movie breast-free, but is also one of the more inexplicable things I’ve seen in a movie in quite some time, unless the aim of the scene was to fulfill some producer’s very particular fetish wishes. During the course of the movie, we also encounter nunchuks that shoot bullets, a microwave glass tube for humans, blow-up dinosaurs, a heat-seeking explosive crossbow quarrel, and henchmen making a prescient impression of being time-travelling henchmen out of later stealth based video games, only lacking big yellow exclamation points over their heads; the line “must have been rats”, alas, is missing too.

These moments and little flourishes of reality-deprived nonsense run through nearly every scene of the film, with little happening in Night of the Kickfighters that actually makes sense going by our human logic or the rules of the real world (place of horrors), resulting in a film that can’t help but entertain through the sheer power of its willful imagination, and the absolute shamelessness it shows in putting it on screen, with no thought spent on yawn-inducing nonsense like “ironic distance”.

Surprisingly enough, the action itself is comparatively copious, and decently filmed by first-time (and only-time) director Buddy Reyes. At least, Reyes knows enough about filmmaking to keep his camera moving, giving the film a lively, if messy and cheap feel. Because we demand that sort of thing, there are a handful of explosions, two car chases (the first one rather awkward thanks to the inclusion of a luxury limousine as the chased vehicle), and some mild martial arts fights that do indeed have a kick to punch ratio of 5:1, just as the film’s better title promises.

On the acting side, I found myself rather unimpressed with Andy Bauman’s impression of a moving wooden doll, but Struycken’s truly inspired grimacing and Karr’s all-around impressive scenery-chewing that seems to interpret “femme fatale” in ways oh so patently right in being patently wrong, more than make up for this minor matter.

The resulting film is a beautiful, inspired (by drugs, alcohol or just the unbridled human spirit) thing, lacking even a single dull second. Or, to quote our dear friend Bomber: “Fuckin’ A!”

-- Denis Klotz


Dragon Fury (1995)

PLOT: In the future, a mysterious disease is wiping out the human population. A violent, fascist medical dictatorship is making millions in profit despite their completely ineffective cure serum. One brave warrior must travel backwards through time to undo their misdeeds. Based on the epic GlaxoSmithKline fan-fiction novel of the same name.

Director: David Heavener
Writer: David Heavener
Cast: Robert Chapin, TJ Storm, Richard Lynch, Chona Jason, Rick Tain, Chuck Loch, Sean P. Donahue

Cinematically speaking, time travel is a tough subject to pull off. There are almost always plot holes or flimsy layers of scientific logic that beg explanation but can’t be adequately articulated on screen without coming off as ham-handed or expository. The universe of Back to the Future handled it well enough, and 2004’s Primer was an interesting exercise in how the fabric of the universe could be bent on a micro-budget. David Heavener’s 1995 film, Dragon Fury takes a slightly different approach by skirting any question you could have about the logic underpinning its science fiction elements. When you ask how the time machine works, someone gets topless. When you ask why characters are behaving in a particular way, someone gets decapitated. When you ask how time travel will affect people and events, this film hands you an aspirin for the future headache that will occur from going into the past. Of course.

Mason (Chapin) is a rogue warrior in a near-future dystopia who trusts no one but his girlfriend, Regina (Jason), and his close friend, the eccentric doctor, Milton (Loch). The latter has recently uncovered an evil plot from the past that explains the dire state of the present. And he has the brittle newspaper clippings to prove it! Apparently, an organization called the AAMA manufactured some disease in some lab some time in the late 1990s and killed a whistleblowing doctor before the truth got out. Since that time, they’ve been making serious dough by distributing a placebo serum that does nothing to curb the spread of the disease. These big-pharma buttholes are led by “chief medical dictator” Vestor (Lynch) and his band of merry men called the Dragons. Mason was trained as a Dragon and managed to escape before being completely brainwashed, but their treachery haunts him on the regular.

After some intense discussion (<5 minutes) Mason wants Milton to send him to the past to fetch the real cure to save humanity. Milton obliges, gives Mason an aspirin for the post-trip headache, straps his homeboy to some tubing, and sends him through space and time to late-90s Los Angeles. We know this because there are strobe lights, smoke, and occasional screaming, then a jump cut. Regina follows suit, but unfortunately, Vestor shows up shortly thereafter with his head goons. He forces Milton to send Fullock (Storm) and Henchman #2 back through time as well, and the chase is on. Will Mason locate the cure by the time the time portal re-opens? Will he be confused by the past's untorn shirts? The large cell phones? The startling lack of hoverboards?

For a quick and dirty list, here is what the post-apocalypse of Dragon Fury has to offer: fog, disease, torn t-shirts, sword fights, dirty robes, motorcycles, chokers with cock-rings, expensive bread, undercuts, and homing devices that turn into swords but look like vibrators. Here’s what it doesn’t have: adequate lighting, readily available firearms, oil drum fires, endangered water supplies, studded leather, lasers, or decent healthcare.

Beyond his brief cameo as a nerdy newlywed, David Heavener also contributes as the film’s director and writer. This is his sixth film, and I would shudder at any insinuation that this is his best effort. The post-apocalyptic costumes are lame even by b-movie standards, the villains are undercooked, the plot is meandering and silly, and the fights lack any sense of drama or danger for the most part. Some of the stunt set pieces, both large and small, are fairly competent though. Take a look through the credits and you’ll see the name of Parole Violators star, Sean Donahue, who served as the film’s stunt coordinator. He dons silly wigs, falls down flights of stairs, and does all of the little things that great stunt work ethic encompasses. I wouldn’t go so far as to call him the MVP of the film, but you could argue that he served the cinematic equivalent of James Posey on the 2008 Boston Celtics: a valuable role player without whom a championship would not be possible. In this case, that championship is The Best 1995 Film Bearing the Name “Dragon Fury.” (This film went undefeated).

Frankly, I was a little surprised to find that T.J. Storm had made so few appearances in films we’ve reviewed thus far. It *seems* like the dude is in everything. That said, the man best remembered around these parts for getting tricked into painting a garage and getting punched by Bolo Yeung during a solo dance sequence, is featured here as the main heavy, Fullock. Heavener seemed to have a clear idea that he wanted the character to be an Arnie-aping, man-of-few-lines, T-800-esque automaton. Storm is a little goofy at times, but I can’t blame him for the lack of engaging characterization. He’s hulking, throws some intense glares, and carries himself well during fight scenes. Seriously big hair, too.

Even if a film’s plot is silly and the sole ownership of acting chops resides with Richard Lynch and his ~72 hours on the set, not all is lost. Great or even good film fights can go a long way in raising the quality of the overall product. Lack of urgency notwithstanding, the fights here were okay, though it’s certainly a case where the energy level outstripped the choreography. The sword fights were bloodless duds, but Storm in particular looks good during his hand-to-hand fight scenes, and he and Chapin have a nice chemistry together. The fight settings are not particularly varied, though. Underpasses, L.A. concrete, parking garages, and warehouses are (once again) the most dangerous places around if you’re trying to avoid a martial arts fight.

The vast majority of b-level martial arts films have steered clear of time travel, with good reason. It can be a heady scientific story element probably best left to polished science-fiction genre filmmakers like Robert Zemeckis and Shane Carruth. However, I’m glad that Heavener decided that the ethics and philosophy of time travel could be conveniently discarded as long as you had plenty of tubing and strobe lights at your disposal. Fleeting moments of enjoyable absurdity or lively fights, but mostly forgettable.

For hard copies on Ebay or Amazon, VHS is your only format option. The film is also freely available through Troma’s channel on YouTube.

3 / 7 

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