Friday, July 7, 2017

Raw Force is Raw Beauty

DISCLAIMER - My blog is an attempt to show respect to films some small minded, intellectually dishonest hipsters automatically label "bad". There is no film I discuss here that I believe to be bad at all.  The title of the blog comes from a discussion that took place some years ago when I was trying to explain the appeal of these films. The title is not meant to suggest I think these films are bad in the least.  Remember - ART IS ART!

Seriously, if forced to pick a single year of the greatest cinema known to mankind, it was clearly 1982.  In just a sampling of that year, it gave us ...

The Thing
Blade Runner
Fast Times at Ridgemont  High
The Road Warrior 

Raw Force (AKA Kung Fu Cannibals).

Some films absolutely must be seen at a drive-in with a beat up print, mosquitoes endless buzzing your limbs and the sound of crickets in the background...this is one of those films.

Before I move on, it just hit me - this is the third Cameron Mitchell film I've written about in the same number of weeks.  His film legacy is somewhat amazing to me.  Whether the film is The Toolbox Murders, The Demon..or Raw Force, Mitchell never skimped. Few actors have the ability to lose themselves to entirely to a role - even if he was just playing himself.  When I see how much he put into a performance I'm reminded of the old adage  "there are no small parts, only small actors."

That cool May evening in 1982 was quite a double-bill.  The first film was a an interesting Samantha Eggar and Stuart Whitman vehicle, released theatrically the summer prior, entitled Demonoid.   I don't believe I've watched that film since, and not because it was a bad film - I seem to recall the film was quite good.  The reason is simple - Raw Force was just so much better.  If I want to look back on that evening, it's always Raw Force I'm going to go with.

Where to start with this work of art... Well, we begin with a low rent Hitler look alike played by an actor named Ralph Lombardi.  Currently this film is his only credit on IMDB here, but, I'm certain he shares a small scene as a lounge singer with R. Lee Ermey in the 1978 classic Up From the Depths.  

And seriously, if anyone knows whatever became of Ralph, please contact me. He is just brilliant in this picture and I would love to know more about him..but the Google machine is not telling me much.  I suppose it is safe to assume Ralph Lombardi may have been a "stage" name.
In any event, Lombardi plays a heavy by the name of Speer.  Speer and his "gang" kidnap beautiful young woman and ship them off to Warrior's Island, an island looked over by evil monks who tend the graves of disgraced warriors.  What do they use the woman'll have to watch the movie.  However, in exchange for the ladies, Speer is paid in massive amounts of jade, which he then sells for a very sizable profit.

And we cut to Los Angeles, where three gents from the Burbank Karate club decide to take a six week cruise..and to visit Warrior's Island.  Cameron Mitchell is the captain of the ship, Harry Dodds.  The ship is owned by Hazel Buck played note perfect by Hope Holiday, who would star again with Mitchell two years later in the film Killpoint which I wrote about recently.  The film is a textbook perfect exploitation film.  It succeeds at every level and it was a 15 year old boy's dream film when I saw it initially.

I've mentioned some of the cast - but, let me do a bit more name dropping!

Jewel Sheppard
Camille Keaton
Carl Anthony (who starred in TWO Ed Wood, Jr. films) 
Jillian Kesner who was married to one of my favorite cinematographers, Gary Graver (both sadly deceased) and
Vic Diaz whose filmography is like a Grindhouse must see list.

In the late 1990s, I paid a premium for a copy of this film on VHS and watched only rarely as to not wear the tape further.  Then, a boxed set of DVDs called The Grindhouse Experience was released that had a copy of Raw Force...which was literally just a dub of a video tape.  In fact, near the end the tracking goes wonky before they fix it.

This is how I assumed I'd always see this film.  And I wasn't entirely disappointed.  I know, that sounds odd, but, the poor quality served to remind of the first time I'd seen the film a lifetime ago.   

And then...

Vinegar Syndrome released one of the most beautifully done Blu-ray discs I've ever seen.  I was blown away by the actual quality of the film.  Gone was the fuzzy soundtrack and the smeared, runny colors.  Suddenly, I fell in love with the film for an entirely different was friggin' gorgeous.  It was, simply put, one of the best investments I've made - and I own Blu-rays of Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers and Drive-in Massacre.  I can't commend Vinegar Syndrome enough for the work they did in bringing the world a whole different vision of one of the greatest movies ever set to celluloid.

Perhaps, with this version of the film being seen by an entirely new generation this final shot will come true at last...  And again, if anyone knows whatever became of Ralph Lombardi...let me know!!

Miss you Pops.