Wednesday, 6 January 2016

The Ninja Trilogy (1981 - 1984)

A glorious slice of 1980s exploitation entertainment comes to UK Blu-ray and DVD courtesy of Eureka, who have managed to provide us with three sparkling transfers of films many of us will only have seen on rather blurry VHS.
Before you tuck into the films, however, make sure you read C J Lines’ booklet notes, which will contextualise nicely for you the general looniness that was Cannon Films and the reasons why they made three films they called a trilogy despite there being no continuing characters, no connecting plot situations or anything else other than the word ‘Ninja’. Oh, and Sho Kosugi, who is very good, even if he is playing an entirely different character in all three.

We begin with ENTER THE NINJA (1981) in which Franco Nero comes to the aid of his old war buddy by turning into a stunt double and fighting the forces of evil Ninjadom. And what evil Ninjadom! Well actually it’s just Sho Kosugi but he’s bloody good and the fight sequences are superbly choreographed (also by Kosugi). Christopher George shines as the campest of villains while Susan George looks rather bewildered to be there (but not as bewildered as she actually would be a couple of years later in Kevin Connor’s peculiar HOUSE WHERE EVIL DWELLS). Overall, ENTER THE NINJA is a perfectly respectable action piece, poor old Franco’s dubbing and stunt doubling aside.

It’s the ‘sequel’, REVENGE OF THE NINJA, that alone is worth the price of this set. The acting is terrible, but here we have an exploitation movie that gives its audience exactly what it wants: lots and lots of ninja action, superb stunt sequences, plenty of fights, and every ninja accoutrement in the (probably made up) ninja book. Kosugi is the hero this time, pitted against evil American ninja (non-actor and frequently replaced by stunt doubles whenever the mask is on) Keith Vitali. First-time director Sam Firstenberg gets everything right, showing off the talents of the crew who had honed their skills on the first film. There’s also a great buzzing synthesiser score from several people, including W Michael Lewis who worked on the music to SHOGUN ASSASSIN.

So, one good movie and one great movie. NINJA III: THE DOMINATION isn’t so much a case of the quality going down, but the quite exemplary and lunatic way in which it manages it. Combining elements of ninja movies (of course) with the star of Cannon’s two BREAKDANCE pictures (because they’d been very successful) and adding dollops of POLTERGEIST and THE EXORCIST (what?), NINJA III is a very odd beast. Indeed we shall never see its like again, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t exquisitely entertaining to the right kind of perverted palate. Telephone repairwoman and aerobics instructor (I’m not making this up - but someone at Cannon did) Lucinda Dickey becomes possessed by the spirit of the dying Black Ninja after he’s gunned down by police. 
Driven by a vendetta, bad eighties music, a hairy boyfriend and some painful-looking bikini bottoms, Lucinda is soon looking a bit pasty-faced as she bumps off the Black Ninja’s killers. Of course, (all together now): Only A Ninja Can Kill A Ninja! So back comes Sho as yet another different character to do the decent thing and look as bewildered as we already all are when the Black Ninja’s spirit leaves Lucinda, enters his own dead body and reanimates it in time for a final smackdown. There is no NINJA IV
Eureka’s triple movie set is spread over two Blu-rays. The films look marvellous. ENTER THE NINJA comes with a trailer as extra, while both REVENGE and NINJA III have Sam Firstenburg commentaries.  REVENGE has a little filmed introduction from him and there’s a trailer as well. 
A guilty pleasure, (and absolutely a pleasure), THE NINJA TRILOGY is a fine presentation of a very peculiar ‘trilogy’ of films, from a very peculiar company. 

Eureka Films are releasing THE NINJA TRILOGY on dual format Region B and Region 2 Blu-ray and DVD on 18th January 2016

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