I've had an idea for a new review feature for a while but never acted on it. For some reason, even though I've got more than enough screeners to get through this month, I found the inspiration last night and here it is; the first of my hopefully regular The Gates of Video Hell posts.
The idea behind The Gates of Video Hell comes from a little hobby/sideline I've been doing recently. I'm a big bargain hunter and love a good charity shop (or thrift store as I think they might be called in the US). What I like to do on my shopping trips is spot rare VHS tapes of films that never got released on any future formats. The idea was to sell them, as collectors will pay a good price for a rare video and I get them for anywhere between 50p and nothing (some people just give away old tapes these days). However, a lot of the films look interesting so I don't want to sell them until I've watched them and sometimes the films are pretty good so I want to keep hold of them.
This gave me an idea for a running feature. Why not review these rare films and judge them here in terms of whether they're worth keeping or getting rid of. To give it a third rating category though, I thought why not decide how they deserve to be treated, if they're allowed to live on in today's entertainment world. So I came up with these 3 categories:
- Rot in VHS hell: This film should stay where it is and never see the light of day
- Resurrect on DVD/Netflix: This film deserves a second chance, but it's no masterpiece
- Resurrect on Blu-Ray: This film is a forgotten gem and a boutique label like Arrow should give it the remastered re-release treatment
Director: Phillip Noyce
Screenplay: Charles Robert Carner
Based on a Script by: Ryôzô Kasahara
Starring: Rutger Hauer, Terrance O'Quinn, Brandon Call, Noble Willingham
Running Time: 86 min
BBFC Certificate: 18
Easing us into The Gates of Video Hell is a film with a reasonable pedigree. Blind Fury stars Rutger Hauer, famous for classic films like Blade Runner and The Hitcher. It's director, Phillip Noyce, has had plenty of mainstream success too with Dead Calm and Patriot Games and, away from thrillers, respected titles like Rabbit-Proof Fence and The Quiet American. This film has had an US DVD release too so it's not as rare as some titles I might cover. Nonetheless, it hasn't seen life beyond the humble video tape in the UK, so I will decide its fate here.
Blind Fury is basically a present day American retelling of Zatoichi. Hauer plays Nick Parker who we're introduced to in the jungles of Vietnam after a devastating attack. He seems to be the only survivor, but has lost his sight during the conflict. Some Vietnamese peasants take him in and nurture him back to health as well as, for a reason that is never clear or explained, training him up in the art of swordsmanship.
Some years later, Nick arrives back in the US and goes in search of his old army buddy Frank (Terrance O'Quinn) who he discovers survived the attack. Unfortunately Frank has got himself in trouble with MacCready (Noble Willingham), an evil casino owner in Reno, who wants the chemist Frank to make designer drugs for him. To 'tempt' him into the job, MacCready orders his goons to kidnap his ex-wife Lynn (Meg Foster) and son, Billy (Brandon Call). Nick just happens to be at Lynn's house at the time of the proposed abduction though and, although Lynn gets killed, he manages to fight off the bad guys. Lynn's dying wish is for Nick to get Billy to his father, so the unlikely duo head off on a trip to Reno with the goons still hot on their trail.
Now this had a few problems. The young Brandon Call as Billy isn't particularly good and the scenes with him and Hauer are pretty cringeworthy. They get a little too close too, making for a slightly creepy relationship. It gets a bit sappy at times because of this, even though the film has its brutal moments (Lynn's death is pretty full on).
It's a comedy as well as an action drama and the humour is pretty shaky too. Far too many of the jokes are at the expense of Nick's disability which is probably why this film has remained in VHS hell. It doesn't feel horribly offensive as it does have a strong visually impaired lead who saves the day and Nick always has the last laugh if anyone makes fun of him (even Billy is horrible to him in their first scenes together).
The action is well done though, with Noyce delivering some memorable set pieces such as a chase in a corn field and a well choreographed sword fight around an electrified hot tub (featuring a cameo appearance by Shô Kosugi!) The use of sound is fairly well done too, putting you in Nick's head. This is particularly noticeable in a climactic fight scene on a nightclub stage.
Is some good action enough to save this from devastation though? Well, as easy as it is to pick holes in the film as I have, it has a certain charm. It feels very much of its time with its goofy and vaguely bad taste humour, but as long as you're willing to accept this, the film is very enjoyable. So I choose to...
Resurrect on DVD/Netflix