Color, 1984, 89m.
Directed by Lamberto Bava
Starring Michael Sopkiw, George Eastman, Valentina Forte, Stefano Mingardo, Ottaviano Dell'Acqua
Code Red (Blu-ray) (US RA HD), 88 Films (Blu-ray & DVD) (UK RB/R2 HD), Another World (DVD) (Sweden R2 PAL), CG Entertainment (DVD) (Italy R2 PAL) / WS (1.66:1) (16:9)
In one of the weirder turns in Italian '80s exploitation, producer Luciano Martino and a cadre of writers came up with a cool title for what promised to be another hit entry in the run of sci-fi cash-ins pouring out of the country at the time: Blastfighter. However, by the time director Lamberto Bava came on board in between his gigs on A Blade in the Dark and Demons, the project morphed into a loose imitation of First Blood instead and marked the first of two vehicles for the filmmaker with star Michael Sopkiw, fresh off of Sergio Martino's After the Fall of New York. The end product turned out to be a hugely enjoyable action film shot on location in the mountains of northeastern Georgia, a state that was hopping with filmmaking incentive deals for Italian producers at the time.
Here Sopkiw plays "Tiger" Sharp, an ex-cop sent up the river for killing the man who murdered his wife and partner years earlier. Now free at last, he rides into his hometown in a pickup truck looking to get his life back in order in between afternoon trips to the woods. He's also been given a high-powered gun outfitted with the means to fire just about any explosive known to man, which provides the meaning of the film's title and will of course come in very handy later on. Soon he's tangling with a nasty deer poaching outfit nearby led by violent psychopath Wally (Mingardo), younger brother of Tiger's old childhood buddy, Tom (Hands of Steel's Eastman, stealing all of his scenes as always). The rednecks aren't above adding humans to their hunting list either, which somehow isn't as disturbing as their treatment of a baby deer Tiger decides to adopt. Things start to look up when Tiger's reunited with his suspiciously mature daughter, Connie (Cut and Run's Forte), but soon both of them are running for their lives through the woods in a battle for survival that will soon have the mountains littered with explosions and dead bodies.
Though it's undeniable junk food right down to its heart, Blastfighter is such an enjoyable popcorn film you won't mind how derivative it is. The stunt work is rousing (mainly in the last twenty minutes or so), the wilderness pursuit angle is handled well, and Sopkiw acquits himself well in what it is arguably his strongest performance of his three Italian vehicles (also including Massacre in Dinosaur Valley). It's also filled with little pleasures for Italian genre fans like an energetic score by Fabio Frizzi (who surprised a lot of folks by performing it in his international concerts decades later despite the fact that we still have no official soundtrack release of any kind) and familiar faces like Ottaviano Dell'Acqua (who had just made Rats: Night of Terror and is best known as the worm-eyed star of Zombie) and even future director Michele Soavi in a small role as Forte's beau. Extra points for the opening and closing use of a catchy cover version of "Evening Star," a tune written by Barry and Maurice Gibb and released by Kenny Rogers a year earlier on his biggest crossover album, Eyes That See in the Dark.
Barely released in theaters by Almi Pictures in 1985 just as Italian imports were losing their footing in North America, Blastfighter found far greater success on VHS from Vestron and remained on the shelves of mom and pop stories for well over a decade. After that it dropped out of sight worldwide for quite a while, only popping up on DVD in 2011 in Sweden from Another World (English friendly) and in 2013 from Italian label CG Entertainment (most definitely not English friendly). In 2016 the film made its Blu-ray premiere in a UK edition from 88 Films, featuring a new HD scan of the Italian negative, an LPCM English mono track (the film's intended language), a genial 12-minute interview with cinematographer Gianlorenzo Battaglia (who recalls bringing a very limited crew and enjoying the film's positive critical reception in Italy), and bonus trailers including Spasmo and Night Train Murders.
In 2017, Code Red brought the film to Blu-ray in the United States with a disc mastered from what appears to be the same scan, albeit with what is advertised as a considerable amount of additional color correction. The yellow push visible in the UK disc is shifted away here quite a bit with more naturalistic skin tones and truer whites, which can be seen by comparing the frame grabs in this review with the UK ones below. The film can also be played with an audio commentary featuring Sopkiw and moderated by yours truly, so no comments about its quality - but hopefully it will prove informative to fans. Sopkiw is also on hand for an 8-minute video interview about mingling with the locals, using his modest amount of arms training, and the directorial differences between Sergio Martino and Lamberto Bava. The 20-minute "One Against All" featurette has Lamberto Bava giving his say about this work early in his career, noting how it differed from his prior horror work, posed extreme challenges over the eight-week shoot, covering the U.S. newspaper story that inspired the screenplay, and pointing out other influences like The Deer Hunter and Deliverance (whose banjo-playing local appears in this film, too). Also included is a different 12-minute interview with Battaglia ("Vengeance in Blood"), who covers much of the same territory but offers a few digressions including one about Bill Wyman. However, the real keeper here is "Blood Mountain," an unflinching and often hilariously candid 10-minute chat with Eastman (real name: Luigi Montefiori), who starts right off the bat trashing Lamberto Bava and noting his general distaste for most of the "extremely banal and stupid" films he made during this period (as well as Facebook and the widespread ownership of firearms in Georgia). A fuzzy-looking theatrical trailer is also included.
88 FILMS FRAME GRABS