Monday, October 31, 2011

Pray for Death

The Action Mutant…
introduces his newest villain, Crackhouse Dave!

Pray for Death

review by Joe Burrows

With Halloween just around the corner, I have to wonder…when will it be en vogue to be a Ninja again on this holiday? I’m sure there were plenty of them in Sho Kosugi’s heyday but today it’s most likely all about the zombie. Not that there’s anything wrong with that. I’m all for zombies on Halloween or Wednesday. It at least beats the shit out of…brrr, Jersey Shore costumes (or what some douchebags call “everyday wear”). All I can say is if you’re gonna be a ninja this Halloween, be Sho Kosugi. There’s few better to choose from.

The Plot, as it was:
Kosugi stars as Akira, a Japanese immigrant setting up a restaurant business with his family in America. However, he and the elderly gentleman (Parley Baer) he bought the place from do not realize that a valuable necklace that was hidden there has been stolen off the premises by crooked cops. While in cahoots with the cops, the befuddled mob doesn’t realize they have been taken by their partners and decide to target Akira and his family. Strong-armed by Limehouse Willie (James Booth) and his associates, Akira’s family is bullied until his wife Aiko (Donna K. Benz) is dead and son Takeshi (Kane Kosugi) is hospitalized. Another thing the mob doesn’t realize? They have awoken Akira’s inner NINJA!

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
Kosugi starred in many ninja epics in the mid to late 80s and Pray for Death is one of his better made efforts. Like many Action heroes (especially of foreign descent), Kosugi delivery is wooden to say it kindly but the man has the screen presence to spare. When asked to deliver drama, Sho steps up and hits it solid; giving an extra dimension to what could be totally routine. Part of this has to do with Booth’s script, which paints Akira as a man haunted by his past and pushed until he can’t stands no more. Booth writes himself a plum counterpart to Akira in Limehouse Willie (who is NOT a hungry boxcar fighter battling for a sandwich…what was he on when he came up with that name?), who may just be one of the more reprehensible sonofabitches in 80 Action history. Willie does everything short of tying kids & old ladies down to railroad tracks whilst twirling a handlebar moustache (come to think of it, both would be hard to do at the same time). When the finale (which takes place in an abandoned mannequin factory like some plastic Cannibal Holocaust) kicks in, the viewer is just begging for ol’ Willie to be taken out…the mark of a truly great cinematic villain. The finale does bring about one of several implausabilities that might make some eyes roll (how can Akira take out five people at a time but have trouble with a near sixty year old man, no matter how good of shape he is?) Or Akira’s detective skills where he can determine who stole the necklace merely by a thread from the cop’s suit! Or how can the younger Kosugi kid take out every adult baddie within arm’s reach? To keep going would really defeat the purpose, though. This is just great, guilty pleasure fun of the time period from the action sequences to Peggy Abernathy’s “Back to the Shadows’” being belted out during the credits in a Benatar-ish wail (great for parties and ninja training montages…

Body Count/Violence: 47. To be fair, 16 of these take place during a TV show scene that the kids are watching. However, there is a fair bit of bloody goings-on throughout the rest of the flick. Plenty of ninja stars, knife slashing & cutting, swordplay, saw blade action (both chain and buzz), car rundowns, explosions, shooting, etc.

Sexuality/Nudity: Though it was cut by distributors, it’s still subtly obvious that Willie violates Aiko before her ultimate demise. He tapes her mouth shut, smacks her about, then the next shot cuts to Willie washing blood from his face afterwards. It’s actually more disturbing this way.

Language/Dialogue: Some strong F-Word usage and other obscenities, namely what you would expect from someone nicknamed “Limehouse”.

How bad was it?:
Those that appreciate the ninja inside them appreciated this film, citing its positives more than its negatives (Booth’s performance being one of those main pluses).

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Shot for a relatively low $4 million in the winter of 1984, Trans World Entertainment released Pray for Death in November 1985. No grosses were made known but due to its minimal budget, it probably made noticeable bank.

Film: **1/2/*****
Entertainment value: ****/*****

Copyright 2011 The Action Mutant.

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