It’s like my mother’s “clean out the fridge” soup: a bit of everything.
A bunch of martial arts experts are taking a pleasure cruise on a leaky boat owned by Hazel Buck (Hope Holiday) and captained by Captain Harry Dodds (Cameron Mitchell). Meanwhile, Thomas Speer (Ralph Lombardi) and his hoods are trading topless women for jade to a cannibalistic order of monks – who actually wear hoods – that is headed by head monk (Vic Diaz) on Warrior’s Island. Eventually, everyone ends up on Warrior’s Island and the dead are raised leading to a huge battle between the martial arts tourists, the slavers, the cannibalistic monks, and warrior zombies.
No, I’m not making this up, simply trying to summarize it.
The good guys:
There’s the boat crew people. Captain Harry Dodds, a man who’s the archetypal crusty seaman, tough, rough, loyal, and goodhearted underneath his thick, salty skin; a stereotype so fundamental that his surname might has well have been “Dolby.” Hazel Buck is the owner of the ship and is a shrew of a woman who’s greedy and cheap and comes complete with a thick Brooklyn accent. Apparently, Cameron Mitchell and Hope Holiday were great friends, and, after her career stalled – she slapped Jerry Lewis hard enough during a scene they were doing in a film that Paramount canceled her contract, so she’s okay by me – he got her involved in some of his low-budget gems. There’s also Go Chin (Rey Malonzo) the ship’s cook / martial arts master whose expertise in both arts, used to serve his ship, predates Under Siege (1992) by a decade. Finally, there’s the awesome bartender (Michael P. Stone) who looks like David Crosby and uses his head to shatter ice to mix drinks.
Then there are the notable passengers. There are three members of a karate club Mike O’Malley (Geoffrey Binney), Gary Schwartz (John Locke) and John Taylor (John Dresden) who are good buddies. LAPD SWAT officer Cookie Winchell (Jillian Kesner) – a member of SWAT named “cookie?” – and her non-combatant cousin Eilleen Fox (Carla Reynolds), both nice ladies. Then there’s the dysfunctional couple Lloyd (Carl Anthony) and Ann Davis (Jennifer Holmes). Lloyd is a total dickbag who drags Mike along to a whorehouse as “cover”, he tries to cheat on his wife other times, when the ship is sinking, he doesn’t help but does sit in the lifeboat (on the deck, making them drag him out before it can be lowered into the sea) and he even tries to take charge, stealing a gun when he’s roundly defeated, and gets another smackdown from Go Chin. Ann, on the other hand, is nice and seems to be sticking with Lloyd because … I guess she’s a doormat.
The bad guys:
Slaver Thomas Speer, he has a toothbrush mustache and sounds like – the amazing – Rene Auberjonois farting around and doing a bad German accent; dime-store Hitler! He’s a white-slaver … wait, are Filipino women white? … some of the women he trades are white … they’re not really slaves though, they’re cattle destined for barbecue … why should the term “white-slavery” even exist, after all, slavery is always bad – unless both master and slave are really into leather, vinyl or latex, then it’s okay – so does the color of the slaves’ skin actually make any difference? I mean, it’s not like “white magic” versus “black magic” where one is helpful while the other is harmful, both kinds of slavery pretty much suck; okay, that’s quite enough of that. Then there’s Cooper (Mark Tanous) – slaver pilot and hood commander – who’s a greedy dickhead, as you would expect from a guy who sells women for food. Finally, there’s the head of the cannibalistic monks, the head monk himself – a guy who’s perfectly happy to slaughter women for food and raise the dead; that’s not nice behavior. Wonderfully, Vic Diaz is like a sleazy Filipino amalgam of all the villains from ‘The Maltese Falcon’ (1941) – both in looks and quality of acting – giving the audience a gleefully evil character to just hate.
You have award-winning Filipino actress Chanda Romero playing the madam of the House of 1001 Pleasures, well-known Hong Kong actress Lin Lin Li playing a gun-moll, star of the notorious ‘I Spit on Your Grave’ (1978), Camille Keaton, in a scene where she’s topless in a bathroom as some loser (Dennis Edwards) tries desperately to literally get into her pants as she guzzles liquor, and American b-movie favorite Jewel Shepard who is stripped by a male stripper (John Rosselli) – who, himself, looks like a cross between Richard Belzer and Edward James Olmos with a porn star mustache. There is also the weird situation where 3rd grade teacher Steve (Garry McClintic) – who is celebrating his birthday – goes to bed with an unnamed woman who’s a former mobster’s girlfriend – former because he’s dead – and she strips for him. As soon as she’s naked, a crazy attacker with a WWII helmet with a swastika on it breaks in, beats Steve with a gas can, the woman gets the gas can and beats the attacker, then he ties her down on the bed – face down like a pain in the ass … oh – and then gets into a vicious fight with karate champ Milt (Joe Pagliuso) who wins – despite being named after fish cum. There is also a religious freak (Steve Elmer) who hates naked women and thinks that the woman he’s talking to (Britt Helfer) is working for the devil and a woman who’s credited as “Girl With Tattoo” (Judi Brooks) – it’s on her butt. What the hell?!
The fight scenes in this movie are as exciting and cool as one would ever see in a low-budget chopsocky movie. The fight in the bar that starts in the bathroom and turns into a rough brawl culminates with one of the combatants doing a dragon kick through a car window at a driver trying to escape! The battles aboard the ship are all kinds of fun. The fight between Milt and the swastika madman in the bedroom while a tied-up woman watches and a 3rd grade teacher lies unconscious – or dead – on the floor is really nasty as Milt takes a window to the face – getting severely lacerated in the process – before his power goes up to … no, I won’t say it … and he scares the Nazi so much that he retreats to the bathroom where Milt smashes through the door with his fists before drowning the Nazi in the toilet. The final, running battle between the bad guys and the good guys is also delightful; the pyrotechnics, at one point, set the jungle on fire.
There’s also the sleaze factor. Many of the women in this film are present solely to provide nudity. There is the meat delivery at the beginning, naked dancers, drunken hookups, the cannibal kitchen, each providing an opportunity for female flesh to be displayed. Almost all of the nudity is completely gratuitous. This is natural as well as good and proper.
Speaking of naked women, there sure are some strange fish in this film. Surrounding Warrior’s Island is a veritable school district of happy little piranha fish that want nothing more than to eat people. I know that they’re piranha because the footage used is recycled from another New World film that had the rather unambiguous title Piranha (1978). I should probably point out that piranha are not saltwater fish, nor are they native to Asia and they’re not really that dangerous, people eat far more piranha than piranha eat people.
As should be obvious, much of this film is padding. Scenes of people shopping, footage of people fighting, and lots of other stuff just happen to fill out the running time. However, the thing about the padding is that it’s actually pretty entertaining and often pointlessly sleazy and/or violent, much like the padding in ‘Pieces’ (1982) or ‘Don’t Open Till Christmas’ (1984). Since the film works out to roughly 1/3 combat, 1/3 sleaze, and 1/3 insanity, it’s pretty awesome, although there’s enough overlap in the previous three categories that there’s also about 1/3 pointlessness (or 3/3 if you can’t appreciate an energetically bad film) … do I need to draw a Venn diagram to make it clear? What matters about this film though is that it gets the tone just perfect for this kind of thing: not taking itself too seriously. We can laugh at this film while enjoying the ride because it was made with tongue firmly in cheek. It’s quite funny and thoroughly entertaining in a bad ’80s action film way.
The executive producer of this masterpiece was Lawrence Woolner, one of the biggies in exploitation films of the late ’50s to early ’80s; Woolner and his brothers brought us such classics as ‘Hillbillys In A Haunted House’ (1967), ‘Sweet Sugar’ (1972), ‘The Doberman Gang’ (1973), ‘Boss Nigger’ (1975), ‘Dolemite’ (1975), ‘Return to Boggy Creek’ (1977), ‘Kingdom of the Spiders’ (1977), ‘The Redeemer’ (1978), and ‘Satan’s Cheerleaders’ (1979). Truly wonderful men. The writer/director, Edward D. Murphy, was primarily an actor – though he had directed some plays – and this was his first of two forays into writing and directing a film. It was also worked on by producer/cinematographer (that’s a new combination for me) Frank E. Johnson – who went on to work on the similarly delightfully silly ‘A-Team’ television series – whose simple style had already developed; I’m not sure if the slow-motion abuse should be blamed on him or if it was added in editing, but it’s a minor wart on an otherwise nice set of breasts. The score was done by Walter Murphy, who has since worked with Seth MacFarlane and, with that lord of the lowbrow, was actually nominated for an Academy Award in 2013! The original edit of the film was done by Eric Lindemann, who has made a nice career as a sound editor, and was, according to Jim Wynorski, re-edited by … Jim Wynorski; while Eric Lindemann has never edited a film again. Still, it’s nice to see a low-budget exploitation film that was made by people with some experience and many who were on their way up.
The DVD/Blu-Ray release by Vinegar Syndrome looks great. The last time I saw this film it was on some crappy VHS release that had likely been struck from a worn-out print. The image is clear enough to see the marks on the naked dancer’s skin from her having just removed her bra and panties right before the take. For an old b-movie, it really looks wonderful. The special features are minimal but include a featurette with Edward D. Murphy and Frank E. Johnson and a brief phone interview with Jim Wynorski, as well as the trailer, which was also cut by Wynorski. Unfortunately, there’s no commentary, I really would have liked to have heard that.
This is the kind of film I’m always hoping I’ll find while digging around in the bottom of the barrel, something that’s entertaining even though there’s no way you could confuse it with “good.”
Trailer on YouTube.