KILL OR BE KILLED’s James Ryan returns to the screen courtesy of Film Ventures to KILL AND KILL AGAIN, on special edition DVD courtesy of Scorpion Releasing.
Steve Chase (James Ryan, MISTER DEATHMAN) nearly misses receiving his prize at the Sun City International Martial Arts Conference to rescue pretty Kandy Kane (1974 Miss World Anneline Kriel, REASON TO DIE) from a gang of karate-kicking assailants. It turns out that it’s all a set-up by Miss Kane to determine if Chase is the right man to rescue her ransomed biochemist father Dr. Horatio Kane (John Ramsbottom); but Chase is soon fighting off the real thing when a suspicious maître’d delivers a surprise bottle of explosive champagne (“Must be domestic,” quips Chase). Kandy explains that the byproduct of her father’s research into extracting fuel from potatoes is a mind control drug, which his captors are now using on the population of the mountain village where he is being held by Marduk (Michael Mayer), aka Wellington Forsythe III (a millionaire who supposedly disappeared years before on an archaeological dig), who plans to unleash the mind control drug on the world’s water supplies. Kandy wants to come along, but Chase plans to infiltrate the village with the help of The Fly (Stan Schmidt, the film’s martial arts choreographer), Gorilla (Ken Gampu, THE WILD GEESE), Hotdog (Bill Flynn, HOUSE OF THE LIVING DEAD), and Gypsy Billy (Norman Robinson, the film’s other fight choreographer) only. Kandy smuggles herself aboard the private plane commissioned to get them as close to Marduk’s village, and shows herself to be suspiciously capable of defending herself. What Chase does not know is that Marduk has already been apprised of his impending arrival by punk-haired Minerva (Marloe Scott Wilson, TOXIC EFFECT), and that Marduk is looking forward to having him compete in his own private arena against his own hulking karate killer Optimus (Eddie Dorie, KILL OR BE KILLED); that is, “if” Steve survives the obstacles Marduk has put in his way to get into the village (including Operation Bar Brawl, Operation Parachute, and a tussle with a not-so-elite ground force).
Producer Igo Kantor – who was interviewed about his Film Ventures tenure on Scorpion’s two-disc edition of HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW – supervised the scoring of KILL OR BE KILLED (aka KARATE KILLER) when Film Ventures acquired it, and by the early eighties had sufficiently proven himself in a number of post-production capacities for Montoro to put him in charge of the actual production of this sequel reuniting Ryan with KILL OR BE KILLED cast members Dorie, Schmidt, and Robinson, and director Hall. In addition to his producer credit, Kantor also receives “music supervision” credit in the opening titles for his employment of stock music cues, including some of his own past work. The James Bond-ian plot probably could have been more farcical since the humor is often less funny than the unintentional comedy. Ryan’s line readings are a little wooden, but this may be the result of the not-quite-convincing American accent he has to effect (some of the supporting actors are dubbed as usual in South African-shot co-productions), but neither performances nor characterization are anything to quibble over here; nor is the lack of suspense since the good guy always wins no matter what obstacles are thrown in (especially in a PG-rated drive-in action film). The editing and coverage is not always up to the choreography, but the fight scenes are entertaining with some humorous touches (as well as a couple flinch-inducing moments, but the content stays within drive-in and TV-friendliness). Chase’s sidekicks are barely distinguishable other than Gorilla’s brawn and The Fly’s levitation and proverbs (“House of merriment usually breeds trouble” and “The animal trap lies quiet until it snaps!”), but four sidekicks plus Kandy means more opportunities for fight scenes.
KILL AND KILL AGAIN was one of a number of Film Ventures titles that received DVD releases at the dawn of the format from NuTech Digital/DVD Ltd. (which also included THE GRIM REAPER cut of Joe D’Amato’s ANTHROPOPHAGUS, DAY OF THE ANIMALS, and GRIZZLY). Although licensed from rights holder Liberty International (who also own HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW, MORTUARY, and other Film Ventures titles). I haven’t seen the earlier disc, but I’m assuming it was derived from the aged video master of Media Home Entertainment’s VHS given the quality of the other DVD Ltd. Film Ventures discs. When Scorpion licensed the film, they were able to access the film’s original interpositive to create a colorful new progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer. Although HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW and MORTUARY looked quite impressive in their new transfers, KILL AND KILL AGAIN may be the best-looking of the Film Ventures’ remasters (I only noticed one instance of noticeable scratching). Orange sunrises, the red opening titles, and Minerva’s pink wardrobe are supersaturated without distortion (Minerva’s punk-pink hair, on the other hand, is blinding). The Dolby Digital 2.0 mono track is also in very good condition, as is the isolated score track (also in Dolby Digital 2.0). The music impresses more than the dialogue, but that may be because the scripted dialogue is more often awful than campy.
Star James Ryan appears in an audio interview, which is actually a phone interview that plays over the first forty-two minutes of the film (the track reverts to the original audio once Ryan hangs up). The South Africa-born performer studied drama first in his own country and then in England. He did stage work back in South Africa and moved to movie work before being approached to do a martial arts picture (Bruce Lee’s films had been very popular in the country). He speaks highly of his co-stars, as well as late director Hall (with whom he also did the first film as well as some television work). Although he admits that the sequel is more polished, he thinks that the heart of the original is the enthusiasm of the mostly-inexperienced cast and crew members. He also discusses some of the stunt mishaps on the first film. Ryan also describes going to Hollywood to promote the film and picking up some additional work stateside, but having to pass on a three-year-three-film contract with Film Ventures when his first son was born (his also mentions that his younger son is set to follow in his footsteps). He gives some details behind Film Ventures’ planned third film THE MOST DANGEROUS MAN with Sharon Stone slated for the love interest, but Film Ventures’ money troubles in the early eighties meant that the production never came to fruition. In the second half of the track, he discusses his subsequent work, including his comeback RAGE TO KILL with Oliver Reed (with whom he had done some stage work in London years before) and Cameron Mitchell (with whom he made three other movies).
Writer John Crowther appears in an on-camera interview (23:40). The playwright turned novelist and screenwriter recalls how he winged the pitch, which was a karate version of THE MAGNIFICENT SEVEN. He tells the interviewer that the producers got around any rights issues with the first film by changing the surname of Ryan’s hero from “Hunt” to “Chase” (despite the fact that the film’s share much of the same cast and director). Crowther actually found the sidekicks more interesting to script, particularly Gorilla (whose penchant for ear-biting in the ring anticipated Mike Tyson). He felt that the various shortcomings of characterization and the production itself actually contributed to the enjoyment factor, and describes the finished product as a parable for everything that is wrong with world today. He also discusses his later scripts including THE EVIL THAT MEN DO (he was hired on to punch up the script since the first draft by the source novel’s author was unsatisfactory, and was brought onto location when J. Lee Thompson replaced the original director. He does not recall Sergio Martino’s HANDS OF STEEL, and believes it was probably a script he translated into English or an unfinished project he was working on while living in Italy. He does, however, recall his other Italian action film COVERT ACTION starring David Jannsen (Crowther was brought on to rewrite the script since the star was unhappy with the script). He closes out the interview by mentioning the WGA-mandated change that had to be imposed on subsequent prints of the film after its initial release – the change from “screenplay by” to “written by” since he also conceived the story – and arbitration over the “screenplay by” credit on the previous DVD release (the correct credit is on the Scorpion disc). It is odd that Scorpion could not get producer Kantor back for an interview since he had more involvement in the film’s production than on HOUSE ON SORORITY ROW. The PG-rated theatrical trailer (2:35) is also included, as well as trailers for Alistair McClean’s PUPPET ON A CHAIN, THE LAST GRENADE (with Stanley Baker), the Greydon Clark sex comedy JOYSTICKS, Alvin Rakoff’s DEATH SHIP, Film Ventures’ MORTUARY, and Crown International’s MALIBU HIGH (“… where the most important subject is physical education!”). (Eric Cotenas)
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