Bill’s Bizarre Bijou
By William D. Carl
This week’s feature presentation:
NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984)
Welcome to Bill’s Bizarre Bijou, where you’ll discover the strangest films ever made. If there are alien women with too much eye-shadow and miniskirts, if papier-mâché monsters are involved, if your local drive-in insisted this be the last show in their dusk till dawn extravaganza, or if it’s just plain unclassifiable – then I’ve seen it and probably loved it. Now, I’m here to share these little gems with you, so you too can stare in disbelief at your television with your mouth dangling open. Trust me, with these flicks, you won’t believe your eyes.
It is summertime, and a young(ish) film critic’s thoughts turn to summer movies. I don’t need authentic period atmosphere, beautifully written scripts, believable characters, or somber drama; I need explosions, monsters, muscular men with huge guns, explosions, beautiful women partially clothed, crazy action scenes, and explosions. When I was growing up, one studio really embodied the world of summer entertainment. Even most of their fall and winter movies seemed like displaced summer features. Join me as I enter the world of Cannon, as owned by Golan and Globus.
Cannon Films, aka The Cannon Group, had been around since 1967. Owned by Chris Dewey and Dennis Friedland, they produced and distributed many films, both artistic and exploitative over a twelve year period, including JOE (1970), FANDO AND LIS (1970), and NORTHVILLE CEMETERY MASSACRE (1976). In 1979, facing heavy debt, the two men sold Cannon to a pair of Israeli cousins, Menahem Golan (who had already directed the horrifying disco musical THE APPLE – 1979, as well as the Israeli version of AMERICAN GRAFFITI, LEMON POPSICLE – 1978) and Yoram Globus who had served as producer for Golan’s films. During the 1980s, the team managed to tap into the zeitgeist, releasing a massive amount of B-pictures. In 1986 alone, they released 43 movies to a film-hungry public. And, yes, most of them contained some form of explosions, monsters, or other exploitable/marketable production facet. The two cousins were notorious for attending Cannes and selling pictures to the money men with nothing but a one-sheet poster or a concept or a billboard for a movie yet to be written. This is how the world discovered such gems as ENTER THE NINJA (1981), THE LAST AMERICAN VIRGIN (1982), TREASURE OF THE FOUR CROWNS (1983), BREAKIN’ (1984) and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO (1984), MISSING IN ACTION (1984), RAPPIN’ (1985), LIFEFORCE (1985), DEATH WISH 3 (1985), THE DELTA FORCE (1986), THE NAKED CAGE (1986), COBRA (1986), INVADERS FROM MARS (1986), THE TEXAS CHAINSAW MASSACRE 2 (1986), MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE (1987), and CYBORG (1989). Interestingly, they were also known for their distribution of art films, releasing many of the 1980s best quality films. For every Sylvester Stallone arm-wrestling opus, we got John Cassavetes’ LOVE STREAMS (1984), Andrei Konchalovsky’s RUNAWAY TRAIN (1985) and SHY PEOPLE (1987), Neil Jordan’s THE COMPANY OF WOLVES (1985), or THE ASSAULT (1987 – winner of the Academy Award for Best Foreign Film). By 1989, the cousins had spent themselves into a very large hole. Following several box office flops, Cannon was taken over by Pathe’, an arm of the MGM Studios, and Cannon changed forever. Interestingly, for a brief time, Cannon was the low budget arm of Pathe’ and was run by Italian horror maestro Ovidio G. Assonitis (BEYOND THE DOOR – 1974, TENTACLES – 1977). The end of the 1980s brought the end of Cannon Films as a Golan and Globus production. Still, they left a legacy of outrageously whacky summer movies. I will be writing about many of them during this summer, reliving those days at the drive-in when Chuck Norris blasted away hundreds of Vietnamese without a trace of irony, when ninjas raced across American rooftops, when monsters invaded the earth in new and wicked ways. Welcome to the world of Cannon Films.
We begin our look at Cannon with NINJA III: THE DOMINATION (1984). Why should we start with part three, you may ask? The answer is simple. Not only does this movie have ninjas running rampant in America, but it also has ghosts, exorcisms, and medicinal Jazzercising. Cannon had already released the hit films ENTER THE NINJA (1981) and REVENGE OF THE NINJA (1983), tapping into a public’s undiscovered love of a great ninja movie. Both starred Sho Kosugi, an All Japan Karate Champion and character actor. Strangely, in ENTER THE NINJA, Kosugi was the bad guy, facing off against an aging Franco Nero. After the amazing success of the first film, Kosugi became the good guy for the second movie, whooping ass in Salt Lake City and putting evil drug dealers in their place. Despite his problematic English, Kosugi had the martial arts skills, and the ninja was scheduled to be brought back a third time. In the meanwhile, however, POLTERGEIST (1982) had been a huge hit, and the country was also in the throes of aerobic-exercise fever. What better way to bring back a master ninja than to have him battle a demonically possessed Jazzercise instructor? Umm…
NINJA III: THE DOMINATION begins with a ninja in a Bronson Canyon cave, rolling back a big fake rock to reveal a cache of ninja weaponry, beautifully lit from below. How the electric light was rigged in a cave in the middle of nowhere is a matter for others to ponder. We are already off to the next scene…Ninjas stalk the golf course! A rich white guy who is playing golf with his six bodyguards is attacked by the evil ninja. Within a few minutes, the rich guy, his girlfriend, and all bodyguards are dead. The police arrive in force, but despite being shot more than twenty five times, the ninja manages to kill at least thirty cops (I lost count) and escape into the desert. He even manages to bring down a police helicopter using ninja stars, a hilarious scene that was obviously shot on the ground! Lucky for him, a sexy telephone line repair woman, Christie (Lucinda Dickey, en ex-Solid Gold dancer and star of the forthcoming BREAKIN’ and BREAKIN’ 2: ELECTRIC BOOGALOO—both 1984—and possibly the worst actress to ever headline a motion picture) is in the neighborhood. When she tries to help him (who doesn’t want to help a bleeding guy with a sword wearing ninja gear?), she is possessed by the evil ninja’s spirit and takes the sword back home with her.
When she is interrogated by the police, one of them comes on to her as if they are in a sleazy singles bar. This is Officer Billy Secord, who was at the blasting of the evil ninja along with several other cops who managed to survive the massacre, played by the smug, hirsute Jordan Bennet. He stalks Christie, calling her home (which is uber-Eighties cool, complete with actual arcade games, a dance floor, neon signs on the walls, and a Nagle print). Christie, it turns out, doesn’t only fix the phone lines, but she is a Jazzercise instructor as well! Billy follows her to one of her classes, and she shuns him again. On her way out of the gym, she prevents a bunch of guys from raping a woman from her class, ripping a metal beam from a fire escape and beating the crap out of them. Billy, turned on by this display of martial artistry, drives her home, where she seduces him in the unsexiest seduction of all film history. By utilizing one gruesome bit of product placement, she covers her chest in V-8 Juice, which the lucky cop slurps up. Then, Billy removes his shirt, exposing shoulders and a back so hairy he appears to be wearing a sweater. Later, while Billy sleeps, Christie wanders to her closet, which glows. She watches as the ninja sword she took from the evil black ninja floats on a visible string all over the room. When Billy awakens, he proves his detective skills by telling her how beautiful her sword is . . . forgetting that the sword is evidence in a multiple murder of a few dozen policemen!
As their vegetable-juice based romance blossoms, Christie sees Billy’s partner and recognizes him as one of the men who shot the ninja who possesses her. That evening, her arcade game goes all TRON on her, zapping her with lasers as wind blows through her room, and maniacal laughter rings through the place. Her hair gets much bigger, making her resemble Adam Lambert with less make-up. She heads for the Bronson Canyon Cave, retrieves some ninja weapons, and kills Billy’s partner. Christie knows something is terribly wrong, although Billy remains blissfully unaware. When she starts losing larger amounts of time, she decides to work out, doing hours of aerobics in her apartment to heal herself. Jazzercise as alternative medicine doesn’t work, so Billy takes her to a doctor first, who tells her that, “Medically, you’re a very fit young woman. No evidence of any abnormality in the brain, no tumor, you have a strong heart, your diet is better than average. You are under severe stress, of course, but otherwise Doctor Bowen, the psychiatrist you saw, says there’s nothing out of the ordinary. Aside from your exceptional extrasensory perception and your preoccupation with Japanese culture. No harm in that!” He then consults a cop in the “Asiatic Division” who recommends a healer, played by James Hong (BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA – 1986, THE VINEYARD – 1989). He ties her up, and her hair grows bigger than ever, really making her look like Adam Lambert! He tries to exorcise her, but he isn’t strong enough. Fire erupts, lightning and thunder resound in the room, and Christies does some amazing gymnastics while being chained up. “You fools! You cannot stop me! I am ninja!” The Asian Max Von Sydow informs Billy that “Only a ninja can destroy a ninja.”
Finally, Sho Kosugi shows up, called by several elders in the Chinese community. He wears a stylish eye-patch, and he follows the various crime scenes of the evil ninja/Christie picking up on clues we, the viewers, don’t get to peruse. The ways of the ninja are, indeed, inscrutable. Through a flashback, we find out that Kosugi has been hunting the black ninja since he killed Kosugi’s family and threw a ninja star into his eye.
Christie doesn’t recall the exorcism, but she finds two more of the cops who had shot the black ninja during the slaughter of half the police department. When our heroine returns to her home, she faces all kinds of poltergeist activity in her apartment. “No, you don’t,” she shouts. “Not again!” While things blow up around her, fog and evil laughter flood the apartment, plates float around along with the sword. She does what anyone would do when confronted by the occult. Yes, she’s back to trying to Jazzercise the demon from within her, working out to loud, dreadful disco music and ignoring the chaos around her. It doesn’t work, and the forces pull her into the closet a la Tobe Hooper’s POLTERGEIST (1982). When she emerges, she is in full-on ninja mode.
At Billy’s partner’s funeral, she climbs some tall trees and shoots several cops with arrows, killing the two she recognized. It’s another police massacre, with at least ten dead officers by the end of the chase scene. There are some pretty cool stunts here, with Christie (or her stunt double under all that ninja gear) pulling men off the back of motorcycles and fighting her way through the cemetery, swinging from tree to tree. Luckily, Sho Kosugi appears and pursues the rogue ninja. There’s a good fight between them in a half-finished abandoned house with ninjas hanging from beams and bursting through floors.
The cops, thinking Kosugi is the bad guy, take him into custody, while Billy finally figures out his girlfriend is killing every cop in the county, returns to her apartment. He confronts an amnesiac Christie and marches her at gunpoint to a Japanese Temple above the town (what?!) where orange-robed monks practice kendo and where the final confrontation will occur. Thus begins the final battle, which is over-the-top crazy, filled with great stunts and shoulder pads on Christie that have to be seen to be believed.
Will Christie kill Billy, the last police officer left alive who shot the black ninja? Will Kosugi smack the evil out of Christie? Will I ever be able to drink another V-8 Juice again?
NINJA III: THE DOMINATION is certainly not a good film, but it’s a fabulous sort of time capsule for the Eighties. Full of blaring disco music (Body Shop by Dave Powell is especially atrocious), martial arts, aerobics montage scenes, video game references, and more bad acting than you can shake a Japanese sword at, it is never boring! The hair, the tight jeans, the sheer number of leg warmers – combining ninja action and supernatural horror into one huge laughable concoction, NINJA III never fails to entertain.
I give it three V-8 Juices out of four.
© Copyright 2013 by William D. Carl