Friday, October 06, 2006

Raw Force! - Terror Thursday at the Alamo Downtown

Raw ForceI will probably hate myself later in the morning for sacrificing the sleep to write this entry, but some things have to be documented as quickly as possible lest the spell break overnight and the memory fade away. One of those things is a packed-house midnight screening of Raw Force at the Alamo Drafthouse Downtown. Alamo programmer Zack Carlson's passion at describing this picture when I bumped into him at Fantastic Fest was such that I made the necessary bargains to get out of the house on a school night to attend the screening.

The film begins as so many flicks in the 1980s did - a group of single, ruggedly-handsome regular Joes who are also crack martial arts experts board a run-down pleasure cruise boat captained by Cameron Mitchell (appearing here as the poor man's Ernest Borgnine). The boat is owned by Hope Holiday, yet another classic film actor brought low by the desire to continue working into the decade of hell. You might remember her as "Margie" in The Apartment (she's the girl Jack Lemmon dances with in the bar on Christmas Eve), but here she's a boisterous cruise director collecting a paycheck.

Did I start rambling already? Sorry - let's get back to the point. Raw Force. Right.

The villain is Thomas Speer (Ralph Lombardi), an eye-twitching ersatz Fu Manchu type who trades young Filipino girls to a group of obscure monks for piles of raw jade. The monks keep to themselves on Warrior Island, but they need fresh supplies of young lovelies to eat, thereby deriving the mystic power necessary to raise armies of undead zombie ninja warriors. Why exactly these monks need undead ninja warriors is never made clear and the plot pays only vague lip service to where they get all the corpses of martial artists to bring back to life, but all of this is simply beside the point. The point is to get our heroes to the island so they can fight the cannibal monks and their zombie kung-fu henchmen.

To that end, the picture is a long slow burn to the final fight sequence interrupted briefly by an unbelievable party scene aboard the cruise ship rife with nudity and bizarrely inappropriate sexual dialogue. The Gallagheresque (it's a word now, bitch) bartender crushes ice from a large block with his skull while the festivities descend into an endless cavalcade of degenerate non-sequiturs. The party might well go on forever in a haze of flesh, liquor, and one-liners if it weren't for the arrival of Speer's lackeys. Said lackeys are dispatched to invade the party boat and kill everyone on board, thus preventing the passengers from discovering the secret of Warrior Island.

It seems to me that it would be a simple matter to persuade the monks to give these tourists a quick tour of the island while keeping its secrets. After all, these cannibalistic clergymen have everything to lose if their flesh-eating ways are discovered and a (literal) boatload of dead tourists is likely to draw attention. But hey, I'm not a crime kingpin trafficking in human entrees, so what do I know?

Our core group of characters escape in a life raft, leaving me to wonder what happened to the ancillary cast: whither Naked Nihilistic Former Mafia Girlfriend? (It makes sense if you've seen the film. Trust me.) What about the Head-Butting Bartender? And whatever happened to Drunk Sexpot? Guess they went down with the ship, unlike our group of Joes and their newfound Janes. You receive no bonus points for guessing upon which island shore their life raft eventually washes.

One of the few surprises left in the film is the fact that there are strangely elegant touches to the cinematography as the plot wends its way to its inevitable climax. Slow-motion photography is used to some positive effect, though there are a few unintentionally (?) comic moments, especially regarding one of the monks who appears a bit too giddy as the ninjas attack. Even now the details of how our heroes triumph have started to fade from my mind, but the ending is a happy one and the film ends with a cornball wink towards the camera and a "to be continued" title card. (Apparently there was a sequel, about which I have no details. Sorry.)

I have not begun to cover all of the things that are strange and remarkable about Raw Force; it is many-layered and would certainly surrender even more bizarre details upon subsequent screenings. (Did I mention the sub-plot involving the love triangle between a Joe, a Jane, and her philandering alcoholic husband? What about the rapist in cartoon-heart boxer shorts and a Nazi helmet?) Find a copy and view it for yourself with as many friends as you can stuff into your living room. I promise you won't be sorry, though your friends might be.


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