Who says a dollar can’t buy you anything these days? Not me. One of the big video stores in town recently began selling off their remaining stock of VHS movies for a buck a pop, and despite the fact that I’ve been trying to get rid of my own stockpile of tapes for the past couple of years, I couldn’t resist. I wound up going home with a pretty good stack of low eighties trash that for one reason or another I never got around to watching in the past. These are mostly movies that haven’t been put out on DVD, and even if they were I probably wouldn’t buy them. Hell, I probably wouldn’t even spend 3 bucks to rent ‘em. But for a dollar… hey, what do I have to lose besides a few hours of my life?
I’ll be working my way through the stack over the coming weeks and months, but for now I’ll start with a couple of Sho Kosugi ninja movies. For whatever reason, I never saw any of these movies back in their day. As a trash film aficionado, this was a glaring oversight on my part. So when I saw ‘Enter the Ninja’ and ‘9 Deaths of the Ninja’ among the bargains, I picked ‘em up.
‘Enter the Ninja’ (1981) was the first in a loosely tied together trilogy of ninja films featuring Kosugi. Although Kosugi’s ninjitsu skills are ostensibly the selling point here, Italian exploitation legend Franco Nero is the real star of the movie. Nero plays Cole, a former soldier of fortune who has gone into ninja training. The movie begins with Cole’s final exam, and he passes with flying colors. Traditionalist ninja Hasegawa (Kosugi), however, refuses to join his fellow ninjas in a celebratory drink with Cole, exclaiming, “He is not a ninja!”
Cole then heads off to the Phillipines, where Frank (Alex Courtney), an old war buddy of his, is running a plantation of some sort with his wife Mary Ann (Susan George). Cole is given the traditional Phillipino welcome of cockfighting, and then finds out that his friend is having trouble with a local gangster named Venarius (Christopher George). Cole takes on dozens of Venarius’ goons, so eventually the bad guy decides to fight fire with fire. Shocker of shockers, he hires Kasegawa to pit his ninja skills against Coles, ultimately leading to a climactic showdown.
Although ‘Enter the Ninja’ is not devoid of charm, it’s basically a standard-issue eighties action movie. It’s competently made, has a dumb but passable storyline, and boasts some decent action sequences. Nero makes a good action hero, and the supporting cast is solid. This is nothing you absolutely have to see, but if you like martial arts movies it’s a decent enough time killer.
Sadly, I could not acquire copies of ‘Revenge of the Ninja’ or ‘Ninja III: The Domination’. However, I think I came up with the crown jewel in the Kosugi catalog with ‘9 Deaths of the Ninja’ (1985). You really need to be a hardened bad movie fan before you even think about watching this one. The only eighties film I’ve seen that’s on a par with this is ‘The Howling II’.
‘9 Deaths of the Ninja’ starts out pretty so-so, with a pre-credits training sequence for the DART team, a counter terrorist group consisting of Spike Shinobi (Kosugi), Steve Gordon (Brent Huff), and Jeniffer Barnes (Emilia Lesniak). Then we have the jaw dropping credits sequence, where three girls in skimpy outfits aerobiscise to a terrible eighties pop song while Kosugi swings his sword around.
After that, the DART team are brought in by Rankin (tennis star Vijay Armitraj) to rescue a busload of hostages from a group of drug dealers led by the wheelchair bound German “Alby the Cruel” (Blackie Dammett) and his legion of lesbian mercenaries. The drug dealers want Arab terrorist Rahji (Sonny Erang) set free from prison, or they’ll start killing hostages.
While investigating the situation, our team is attacked in a museum by a midget hit squad. During the altercation, a regular size bad guy jumps maybe 10 feet and lands on his feet, but dies from the impact. Later at a restaurant, Kosugi shows his ninja mastery of disguise by donning a dime store beard and a cane to pass as an old man. Intercut with all this are scenes of Alby chewing the scenery and ranting in the worst German accent ever. It’s all too much for the government to take, and the maniacally cackling Rahji is set free. To prove how evil he is, Rahji pops some kids’ balloons.
I could go on for some time listing the sublime pleasures of this film, but I’d rather let you discover them for yourselves. Suffice it to say it all ends in a final confrontation in which a group of ninjas pop in from another movie to do battle with Kosugi. Everything about this movie is awful, but awful in just the right way to add up to pure entertainment.