Kung Fu fighters stumble upon the jade trade and nearly become cannibal zombie chow on an island of the damned in RAW FORCE, out on Blu-ray/DVD combo from Vinegar Syndrome.
John (John Dresden, BIG BAD MAMA II), Mike (Geoffrey Binney, HOT POTATO), and Gary (John Locke) of the Burbank Karate Club join a cruise on a rustbucket – owned by brassy Hazel (Hope Holiday, IRMA LA DOUCE) and helmed by Captain Harry (Cameron Mitchell, BLOOD AND BLACK LACE) – to visit Warriors Island, an island the Japanese bypassed during the war because of the legend that it is the place where disgraced warriors commit suicide to be resurrected by monks to redeem themselves by protecting the island from attack. Also along on the cruise are LAPD cop Cookie (Jillian Kessner, TRICK OR TREATS) and her cousin Eileen (Carla Reynolds, MANIAC COP), alcoholic Lloyd (Carl Anthony) and his long-suffering wife Anne (Jennifer Holmes, Mitchell's co-star in the South African-lensed THE DEMON), as well as Harry's Kung Fu-kicking chef Chin (Rey Malonzo, THEY CALL HIM BRUCE LEE). During a shopping stopover in China, word of their planned visit to Warriors Island reaches Hitler-mustached jade dealer Thomas Speer (Ralph Lombardi) who sees a threat to his illicit jade dealings with the island's monks (in exchange for abducted girls whose flesh they consume to give them the power to resurrect the warriors). When Speer's hoods – lead by Cooper (Mark Tanous, also in THE DEMON) – fail to kidnap Harry and get their asses kicked by the Burbank trio, they raid the boat on the water, setting it alight and abducting Eileen. John, Mike, Gary, Harry, Hazel, Cookie, Chin, Lloyd, and Anne make it to the life raft and land on Warriors Island where they are spotted by Speer's plane as he arrives with another shipment of girls (including Eileen). John, Mike, Gary, and Cookie successfully fend off Speer's men and accept the hospitality of the monks (lead by Vic Diaz, of course), but they will only help them if they prove themselves in battle against their own warriors. When Mike recognizes one of the serving girls as Mayloo (Chanda Romero), the proprietress of a cathouse he and Lloyd visited on the mainland, they discover the truth of the monk's dealings with the girls and now must fight Speer's men, cannibalistic monks, and Kung Fu zombies to get off the island.
In the disc's interview featurette, writer/director Ed Murphy (HEATED VENGEANCE) describes the film's target audience as seventeen year old boys, and he throws everything exploitable into RAW FORCE as if he were afraid he would never get another chance to make a feature again. Besides the aforementioned cannibals, zombies, and caged women, RAW FORCE also gives you strippers and prostitutes, bar brawls, guns, torture, rape, piranhas, explosions, and plenty of bad comedy and T&A as several extras (including I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE's Camille Keaton and RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD's Jewel Shepard who later interviewed Kessner for the book "Invasion of the B Girls") hop aboard the ship for a random birthday party. Although it never quite fully realizes its sex and gore potential, the film moves at a brisk clip and the martial arts is enthusiastically performed by the leads and Filipino stuntmen who once again prove how willing they are to maim themselves on film. The trio of guys are a little dull but Kessner - who had already demonstrated her karate skills in FIRECRACKER, Cirio H. Santiago's remake of his own T.N.T. JACKSON - is always fun, and it's also nice to see an eighties film in which Mitchell does more than cameo a la John Carradine. The dead warriors rise out of the ground wand trudge along in post-produced slow-motion BLIND DEAD style (or at least, the way they do in the American recut of Hammer's THE LEGEND OF THE SEVEN GOLDEN VAMPIRES) and are striking at first (one also wonders if Murphy had the Ossorio films in mind for the look of the monks), but look ridiculous in daylight. The romances that develop between the various characters are contrived but the cardboard characters are all likeable enough that one can overlook the sappiness. In fact, the film is so enjoyable that its overall cheapness (including optical fog and explosions) are not deficits but part of its overall charm. The diverse score is the work of Walter Murphy, who has more recently worked on THE SIMPSONS, FAMILY GUY, and AMERICAN DAD.
Released on tape by Media Home Entertainment, RAW FORCE makes its digital debut on Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo. The 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen transfer – from a 2K scan of the original camera negative – is crisp, colorful, and healthily grainy (post-produced slow-motion shots are grainier and also riddled with additional scratches from the optical printer) with reasonably clean DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 mono audio.
Writer/director Murphy and producer/cinematographer Frank Johnson contribute separate interviews that comprise the featurette "Destination: Warriors Island" (14:32). After his military service, Murphy wanted to get into filmmaking (having done theater and bit parts while living in the Philippines including MAD DOCTOR OF BLOOD ISLAND) and bypassed the AFI school in favor of approaching independent studios, including American International and New World Pictures before meeting with Lawrence Woolner of Dimension Pictures (whose office was right across the street from Corman's). Eager to work, Murphy agreed to develop Woolner's vague concept of "zombies, Kung Fu, and caged girls" into a treatment called KUNG FU ZOMBIES. Johnson, who had already shot THE LAST REUNION and William Girdler's PROJECT: KILL in the Philippines – recalls the film being not fully financed when they arrived on location. Murphy – a boxer who helped stage the bar brawl – also inspiration striking as the film's prints were being made and working with Johnson to extract twelve frames from 150 theatrical prints and splice them back together to make a shot funnier. Murphy also recalls the never-made RAW FORCE 2 which would have featured Mitchell, Holiday, and Jonathan Winters.
A last minute addition to the release was a quick audio interview with Jim Wynorski (5:04) in which he recalls being invited to a rough cut screening by friends Dresden and Kessner. Woolner subsequently asked him to supervise the trimming from the original draggy 105 minute to its current length (86:21). He speaks highly of the film's poster art, and when interviewer Ryan Emerson reveals that it was painted by the same artist who did the poster for DEMONOID, Wynorski mentions he also worked on that film (and will presumably contribute another interview for Vinegar Syndrome's release of that film). The discs also include the film's theatrical trailer (2:17). (Eric Cotenas)
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