Color, 1981, 100 mins. 28 secs.
Directed by Ivan Hall
Starring James Ryan, Anneline Kriel, Michael Mayer, Marloe Scott Wilson, Ken Gampu, Bill Flynn, Stan Schmidt, John Ramsbottom
Scorpion Releasing (Blu-ray & DVD) (US R0 HD/NTSC) / (1.78:1) (16:9)
Though most moviegoers think the '70s and early '80s were a time of martial arts movies from Hong Kong and surrounding territories, action fans also got a few other odd twists on the formula from other corners of the globe. For example, South Africa's substantial martial arts community produced a couple of very successful drive-in hits featuring homegrown actor James Ryan: Kill or Be Killed in 1976 and a sort-of-sequel, Kill and Kill Again, in 1981. Both were produced by Igo Kantor (Kingdom of the Spiders, Mutant), who also composed his fair share of library music including several tracks in both of these films (and which will also sound familiar to fans of '70s and early '80s adult films). Perhaps more significantly, both were also "presented" by the notorious Edward L. Montoro, who executive produced the second film and released both through his company Film Ventures International (FVI), also known for such films as Beyond the Door, Grizzly, and Great White. Three years after this film he raided his company's piggy bank and fled the country, never to be seen again.
Crime-fighting martial artist/secret agent Steve Chase (Ryan) is recruited by beautiful blonde Kandy Kane (South African pageant queen Kriel) to save her father, Dr. Horatio Kane (Ramsbottom), a noted scientist who's developed a new, powerful serum capable of total mind control (and derived from potatoes). It turns out Dr. Kane is in the clutches of Marduk (Mayer, complete with a hilarious fake beard), an Enter the Dragon-style baddie with an army of henchmen, a hot-pink-haired cohort named Minerva (Wilson), and karate-trained underlings in his Middle Eastern camp. Steve assembles his own squad (mostly South African Shotokan fighters) with members like the Fly (Schmidt), Hot Dog (Flynn), and Gorilla (The Wild Geese's Gampu), and they promptly head out to "New Babylonia" to kick some evildoers' butts.
As screenwriter John Crowther notes in the extras, this film was pitched as simply an '80s version of The Magnificent Seven. There's really nothing novel in the plot at all, but the execution here was wild enough to grab moviegoers' attention and ensure a very long life both in theaters and on cable television, where this seemed to play every single afternoon for years. In a time when Charles Bronson and Chuck Norris were turning out generally harder, R-rated fare, this PG offering had enough kicking and chopping without any gore to find a niche. Much of the dialogue appears to be played for laughs (especially the rapport between the villains), but the aggressive comic book colors and exaggerated fight scenes (including gravity-defying leaps in the air and even a standout bullet time sequence during the climax years before The Matrix) were enough to make this a popular title for all ages. Technically it's well below Hollywood standards, of course, but that's still part of its charm.
A video mainstay during the VHS age thanks to a release from Media, this was briefly released on DVD back in the very early days (1999) as an iffy budget title from DVD Ltd. The Scorpion Releasing DVD special edition in 2012 marked its first widescreen presentation in any home video format, and the transfer is far, far better than anyone's seen it outside of a movie theater. The colors are now back to their original early '80s intensity, the film elements are in great shape, and there's really nothing to complain about at all unless you have an aversion to phony facial hair. The mono audio sounds nice and clean as well, and there's even an isolated music track for good measure. As for extras, first up you get a 42-minute phone interview with Ryan (which plays commentary-style with the feature) in which he speaks with his natural South African accent about working on both films, his relationships with Kriel and Kantor, the ins and outs of shooting in his country, and the challenges of intensely physical action sequences. Then the aforementioned Crowther appears for an on-camera interview (23m45s) in which he chats about pitching the film, the WGA's objection to his screen credit, and some of his other films like The Evil that Men Do. Two favorite sound bites: "Nobody really wants character development" and "Go look for subtext... it's a parable for everything that's wrong with the world today, especially vicious dictators." Finally the disc closes out with the original trailer and bonus ones for Puppet on a Chain, The Last Grenade, Joysticks, Death Ship, Mortuary, and Malibu High. In 2017, Scorpion gave the film its inevitable Blu-ray upgrade, with a fresh scan that looks even better with extremely sharp detail and fresh colors; the DTS-HD MA English mono track also sounds clean and clear. The audio interview, featurette, trailer, and isolated music track are carried over here, along with bonus trailers for Force: Five, The Salamander, Barbarosa, and Firepower.
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SCORPION RELEASING DVD
Updated review on November 11, 2017.