Jillian Kesner of Firecracker and Trick or Treats joins cult film standby Cameron Mitchell and Filipino film regular Vic Diaz for a film boasting fight coordination by Mike Stone (Enter the Ninja, American Ninja) and creepy music by Walter Murphy (who may or may not be related to director Edward, or perhaps the composer responsible for cheesy disco fave “A Fifth of Beethoven”).
And whatever else you can say about it, it’s certainly a sight to behold.
A group of goofy mercenary types (including a scrawny junkie dressed like an extra from The Warriors and a Lenny type in shirtless overalls) led by a middle aged accountant sporting the winning style combo of horn rimmed glasses and a Hitler mustache make a delivery of nubile Filipinas to Warriors Island, “the burial ground of disgraced martial artists inhabited by a bizarre sect of monks widely believed throughout the Orient to raise the dead warriors from their graves to repel attacks or threats by outsiders”.
But why? And why is the “too skinny” one hacked to pieces by some poorly corpsepainted white guy in a Rambo bandana with a samurai sword?
“Bullsheet, bastar(d), I don’ ask to (noticeable pause) come here.”
Mitchell is the captain of a private schooner who takes the vacationing members of the Burbank Karate Club (Mike O’Malley (Geoffrey Binney), “John Taylor” (John Dresden) and “Gary Schwartz” (John Locke)) out on a chartered booze cruise to the forbidden island, which seems to raise far less eyebrows than one might expect.
The boat’s owner is one Hazel Buck (Hope Holiday), a hilariously crass and boozy old broad who Mitchell makes bemused (if obviously affectionate) cheap jokes about when not spouting confused mildly-racist cracks to his Filipino first mate about opening a Chinese restaurant (!) and bizarre pronouncements about how she can make him fart on command:
“It’s bad enough her bar blocks my view, now my wind is broken…one day you’ll go too far.”
“When we get together, the way to get by is pull out the booze and let’s get high.”
Beyond the captain, owner and tiny crew, we get Kesner’s vacationing SWAT team member “Cookie Winchell”, the fiftysomething I wish I was Clark Gable Erroll Flynn-looking Lloyd Davis (Carl Anthony) and his young wife Ann (the very Ginger Lynnesque Jennifer Holmes), who the Will Farell-like Binney tries to put the make on.
There are more clueless and amusing one liners in this film than you’d ever possibly expect, making Raw Force pure cult cinema gold. Even the background foley work (think the junk shop scene car crash) and mumbled announcements are priceless:
“Do not drink the tap water as a precautionary measure against bubonic plague.”
I particularly enjoyed the sleazy club bathroom whose graffiti includes such clever bon mots as “go navy” and a huge outlined “FART”…there’s so much laughable material packed into every scene, this one beats similar cheesefests like Pieces or Birdemic all to shit.
The gang kicks things off by taking in all the local tourist attractions, with their opening salvo being a ringer:
“Sure you don’t want to see kickboxing with us, Mike? Then we’re gonna catch a live (wiggles hips Elvis style) sex show.”
Sure enough, our drunken mustachioed friend follows a round of Thai-style sporting with a three way with two local cuties before hitting an all nude go go bar, where Mitchell is assaulted in the john:
“You know, I thought he was a fag until I felt his knife!”
“A knife? Any idea what he was after?”
“Well one thing’s for certain. It wasn’t my body!”
Kevner and company then attend a crazy (and surprisingly packed) shipboard party where the bartender is a balding mustachioed longhair (Michael P. Stone) who breaks huge blocks of ice with his forehead, sheet cakes get smashed into partygoers faces and “the most handsome guy at the party” is a crazed bible thumper (Steve Elmer) who tells a Playboy centerfold she’s “doing it for the devil.” Hell, even a drunken Jewel Shepard shows up (as the cleverly named “Drunk Sexpot”) to stumble across screen for a few frames.
There’s plenty of nudity, a murderous gang moll (the very pseudonymous and very white “Lin Lin Li”, pictured above and below) who tries to get busy with a dorky third grade teacher (Garry McClintic) and a Mexican guy in a homemade swatstika-bedecked biker helmet (which of course makes perfect sense).
Yeah, it’s pretty wild, and there are so many hilarious lines, bits and throwaway sight gags it’d be difficult to capture them all in the course of a single review. No question, this is the true high point of the picture…
“Ever see so many weirdos? What’d you say your name was? How long you been a cop?”
“Four years. What do you do?”
“I’m a male stripper!”
– the best pick up line ever, courtesy of the sleazy John Rosselli
Then things turn extra weird when a rather expanded edition of our goofball mercenaries decide to shanghai Cameron’s cut rate pleasure cruiser, presumably to abduct more ladies for the island monks. A whole lot of fake blood and bad kung fu, including malicious use of a crutch and the world’s worst pre-CG overlay of flame results.
Mysteriously, all those now you see ’em now you don’t partygoers onboard have vanished back into the oblivion from whence they came and we’re back to the original group of karate clubbers, skeleton crew and the boozy and adulterous Davis and wife, who collectively are forced to abandon their scuppered ship and run aground on Warriors Island.
Suddenly things turn all cut-rate action film, with the mercenaries taking on the shipwrecked travelers in a sub-Django cemetery shootout cum karate fight. Then the monks show up, throw a Hawaiian style luau and raise some truly absurd ninja/samurai/Shaolin monk/kung fu movie-wardrobed zombies from the grave.
Surprisingly, this is actually the low point of the film – as goofy as all this is, we’ve already hit all the truly funny stuff before our zeroes…I mean heroes even reach shore. And of course, the tale is “to be continued.” Yeah, like we’ll ever see that happen…
Kesner is as stiff as ever, and while she does get nude at least once during the proceedings, she stands out far less among all the (generally attractive) nude partygoers and Filipina stripper types than she did as the “naked karate” starlet of Firecracker.
Binney and Locke ramp the goofiness factor up to 11, and Mitchell and his soused ladyfriend Holiday are clearly having the tongue in cheek time of their lives. But perhaps the greatest bit of thespianism on display comes courtesy of Solange herself, I Spit on Your Grave, Tragic Ceremony and What Have You Done to Solange starlet Camille Keaton, who delivers what is clearly her greatest acting role as “Girl In Toilet”.
Previously vetted as a likely Code Red release, Raw Force bears all the hallmarks of a Bill Norton Olsen offering: an utterly absurd, somewhat infamous grindhouse oddity that presents itself as an ersatz genre picture (horror, action, kung fu or some combination thereof), but veers straight into unintentional comedy territory: think The Chilling, Devils Express, Haunted, Night of the Demon, Voodoo Dolls or Light Blast just for a starting course.
That said, Vinegar Syndrome brings to the table a far crisper Blu-ray presentation, complete with extras, topping what we’ve come to expect from the ostensible competition with a generally surprising clarity to most sequences and grain levels where they appear kept to a lighter, if still quite noticeable level than might be expected for an obscurity of this order.
There’s a brief impromptu phone call with Corman regular and cult director Jim Wynorski who tells how he was drafted to re-edit the film down from a slower paced 105m cut to its present form. Plagued by an incessant stream of Skype or Facebook notifications throughout, it’s pretty insubstantial and of poor quality, but an interesting footnote to the film (though if we had our druthers here, I’d certainly have preferred to have seen the original cut, for all it’s supposed extra flaws, over this more oddly cut theatrical release variant). Either way, it’s a priceless grindhouse oddity that genre fans should be all too happy to see on the release slate for this month.
Insofar as the planned extras proper, first director Edward Murphy tells how a rookie director was hired by producer Lawrence Woolner to write (and eventually direct) a script from his idea of combining two then-hot exploitation commodities: Kung fu and zombies. Together. Even Murphy has to laugh at this one.
Cinematographer Frank Johnson then joins in (via camera splice editing), but has little of interest to add to the conversation. That said, Murphy is a hoot, and wastes no time in informing us just why old brassy Hope Holiday got cast in the first place (hint for those who missed the opening paragraphs: she was Cameron Mitchell’s ladyfriend), the fact that he personally cut 12 frames from 150 prints of the film just to make a gag funnier (!), and that no less than Chuck Norris joined Murphy for one of the very first screenings of the film.
His reaction? Murphy doesn’t say, but notes they both went for a tall cold one immediately afterwards…