Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Rage of Honor (1987)

As I may have mentioned before, ninja movies were all the rage when I was young. I was a huge fan of Revenge of the Ninja (1983), which starred the amazing Sho Kosugi. I watched and enjoyed a few of his other films, like Enter the Ninja (1981)  and Ninja III: The Domination (1984), but none of them quite lived up to the impossible standards set by Revenge of the Ninja. Perhaps for this reason, I never watched Rage of Honor (1987) back in the day. In fact, I barely knew that it existed…

Gordon Hessler is a name that I came to recognize from British horror films, like The Oblong Box (1969) and Scream and Scream Again (1970). He directed those films, as well as The Woman Who Wouldn’t Die (1965), Cry of the Banshee (1970), and Murders in the Rue Morgue (1971). He started his career working for Alfred Hitchcock on TV shows like Alfred Hitchcock Presents (1955-62) and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour (1962-65). It seemed, to me, as if suspense and horror were Hessler’s thing. So imagine my surprise when I found out that he directed a 1980s martial arts action film like Rage of Honor.

Gordon Hessler went back into television after a successful run of theatrical features. he made some TV horror and suspense movies like Scream, Pretty Peggy (1973), Skyway to Death (1974) and Hitchhike! (1974), which stars Cloris Leachman as a woman who picks up a psychopathic hitchhiker on her way from Los Angeles to San Francisco. I saw this movie for the first time a couple of years ago and thought it was quite good. Hessler also directed episodes of TV shows like Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-75) and Kung Fu (1972-75) – an early indication of where he was going, perhaps? He directed many mystery, cop, and crime shows, including twelve episodes of one of my childhood favourites, CHiPs (1977-83). He also directed one of the most significant water-fountain movies of my childhood, Kiss Meets the Phantom of the Park (1978). The halls of the elementary school were sure buzzing the day after that one aired on TV – but that’s another story.

I barely remember this show, but The Master debuted in 1984, and got cancelled after a total of 13 episodes. It was about an aging American ninja master, and starred Lee Van Cleef, Timothy Van Patten and Shô Kosugi. It’s hard to believe it failed with a cast like that – but more importantly, it starred Shô Kosugi! This is the first connection (that I know of) between Gordon Hessler and the most famous ninja star on the planet (and when I say ninja star I mean actor, not the little throwing stars that we all used to make in shops classes). Hessler directed Kosugi in three episodes of The Master. They must have gotten along well, because Hessler went on to direct not just one, but two Shô Kosugi ninja films: Pray for Death (1985) and Rage of Honor.

I saw Pray for Death when it first came out, and I recall being a bit disappointed by it. It just didn’t live up to the awesomeness of the first three Shô Kosugi ninja movies. At least, this is how my friends and I felt back in 1985. I have never tried to watch the film again, so perhaps I would have a very different experience of it now. And I think that my reaction to Rage of Honor might be proof of that.

Put simply, I loved Rage of Honor. It delivered all of the things that I look for in a Shô Kosugi ninja movie: amazing action, a compelling revenge story, cool ninja weapons, and just a little bit of campy humour to top it all off. I’m not sure whether to credit Kosugi, or some unknown stuntman, but he did some pretty amazing stunts in this movie. And whether it was all him, or a team effort, it doesn’t really matter. It’s a joy to behold. 

VHS box for Fire in the Night (1986), which features Robin Evans, one of the stars of Rage of Honor (1987).Perhaps in an inadvertent nod to Gordon Hessler’s horror roots, Rage of Honor features Robin Evans as Kosugi’s love interest. She is best known for starring in one of my personal favourites, One Dark Night (1982). Sadly, she had a fairly brief acting career with mostly TV appearances to her credit. She was, however, in one other movie that looks like it might have Not Quite Classic potential: Fire in the Night (1986), which has something to do with a woman and her father being terrorized by a rich dude who had the hots for her until she turned him down (or something). Oh, and the woman seems to be a martial artist. I haven’t seen Fire in the Night, but now I want to. Rage of Honor was Robin Evans’ final film (at least so far). 

Gordon Hessler and Shô Kosugi would reunite one more time for Journey of Honor (1991), which could be described as a Shogun or samurai movie. It was Hessler’s final film.

I avoided watching Rage of Honor (1987) for years because I didn’t expect it to live up to the holy trinity of ninja movies (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III). My gut reaction, upon seeing it for the first time, is that it actually does live up to those earlier films. Perhaps multiple viewings will give me a different perspective – and I dare say that I’m going to find out, because I will undoubtedly be screening Rage of Honor again on another #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. – but for now I will simply call it a sparkling example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema entertainment.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989)

When I was in school, ninjas were the height of cool. There were always one or two guys in my shops classes that were secretly making ninja weapons when they should have been working on their assignments. I witnessed guys making “numchucks” or nunchaku sticks in wood shop. I saw guys making throwing stars in metal shop – and had to duck a few times when they threw them at me. I even remember some persistent geniuses making weapons out of the raw materials in electronics shop. I don’t recall anyone making weapons in food shop (or cooking class as some people called it), but that didn’t mean food shop wasn’t a dangerous place  – and not just because there were knives and forks around.

In my first year of junior high school, students were forced to try ALL of the shops classes – regardless of which ones might have interested them. I guess it was almost like a sampler year; we spent a few weeks in each shop to give us an idea of what it would be like to take any one of those classes for a full year (or half year as the case might have been). This meant that my friends and I were forced to take sewing and cooking, alongside more traditionally “male” activities such as sawing wood and building speakers for telephones (it should be noted that not too many years before that, guys weren’t even ALLOWED to take those shops – and vice-versa for girls). As it turned out, many of us guys decided that food shop was actually the best place to be. Not only was it fun to learn how to bake a cake or make Jamaican Patties, but it meant that we got to eat a free meal at the end of each class. What could be better than that?

Another positive side effect of being in food shop all afternoon was that there were very few psychopaths trying to make weapons and hurl them at us. I won’t go so far as to say that there were none, because two of the most annoying troublemakers in the school decided that they liked to bake their cakes and eat them too. The class was divided into several kitchens, each one with two to four people in it. My kitchen included a good friend of mine, Kevin, and a couple of other decent guys. The kitchen next to us featured the two troublemakers. One of the troublemakers was physically smaller than Kevin and me, but he was always getting in our faces – perhaps because he felt he had to prove himself. He walked into our kitchen on the first day and put Kevin into a headlock while we were seated at our table. I got up and told him to get out. He said something unfriendly, but I grabbed his arm and carefully led him out of our kitchen. I say carefully, because I was trying to diffuse a potentially bad situation. I was studying Tae Kwon Do at the time, and probably could have wiped the floor with this guy, but he had a lot of friends – many of whom were much bigger and more dangerous than him.

After he was gone, Kevin got up from the table and said “That guy smelled like dried piss.”

We both laughed, and from that day forward we always referred to that guy as Dried Piss.

“If he smelled so bad, ” I asked, “then why did you just keep sitting there? Why didn’t you do something?”

“I considered calling him an asshole,” Kevin said.

I laughed and said ” Next time help me kick him out.”

The other troublemaker, and kitchen-mate of Dried Piss, was the de-facto leader of all the troublemakers at our school. He was larger than Dried Piss – and larger than us, too. He wore a stupid looking bandana around his head, and liked to cause trouble for me in particular. He was clearly more dangerous than Dried Piss, but I was fairly confident that my martial arts training would serve me well in a fight against him. My bigger concern was the gang of goons that he would send after me in retaliation. Part of me wanted to fight him anyway – and for a while I was convinced that a showdown between us was inevitable – but that’s part of a much larger story that did not ultimately play out in food shop.

Stupid Bandana would periodically invade our kitchen, and I would carefully shove him back out. Over time I got less careful, and I’m still not sure how the situation never escalated further than smirking and insulting words aimed at Kevin and me. Perhaps on some level Stupid Bandana knew that it would be a bad risk to fight a trained martial artist. He was one the people who made ninja weapons in wood and metal shop, but he was certainly no ninja and I think he knew that. Perhaps he was afraid that my non-weapon-building friends and I might be – if not actual ninjas – whatever the Tae Kwon Do equivalent might have been. We weren’t, of course, but we enjoyed watching ninja movies. Enter the Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and Ninja III: The Domination (1984) were the holy trinity, of course. We discovered American Ninja (1985) a little bit later, but for some reason I did not watch any of the sequels until very recently

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989) is not the continuing saga of Joe Armstrong, American Ninja, as played by Michael Dudikoff. Apparently Michael Dudikoff was originally supposed to be in this movie, but he was feeling “burned out” on martial arts and didn’t like the fact that the movie was going to be filmed in South Africa while apartheid was still going on. Dudikoff did return to star in American Ninja 4: The Annihilation (1990).

I knew nothing about American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt prior to last Friday, and I had expected David Bradley to be playing the same character, Joe Armstrong, that Michael Dudikoff had played. Much to my surprise, he plays a different guy named Sean Davidson – who is also referred to as The American Ninja at times. Steve James, who reprises his role as Curtis Jackson, does not know Sean Davidson at the beginning of this movie. At one point he says to him “Are you a ninja?” and Sean answers yes. “That explains a lot…” Curtis says.

So, it’s like Curtis makes an easy transition from best buddy of Joe in the first two movies, to best buddy of Sean in this one. I’m not sure why they didn’t just have David Bradley play Joe Armstrong, the way Roger Moore took over the role of James Bond. But in some ways, it just adds to the inspired lunacy of this movie, so I guess that’s a plus. It also paved the way for American Ninja 4: The Annihilation to feature BOTH David Bradley and Michael Dudikoff playing their respective characters. I haven’t seen that movie yet, but if it isn’t cinematic gold then something is wrong with the universe. 

American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt is not as good as the first two movies. David Bradley is a really good martial artist – perhaps better than Michael Dudikoff, but Dudikoff is a better actor than Bradley. The story is relatively ludicrous – which could actually be a good thing – and Steve James doesn’t have enough to do in this movie (although he is great at what he does). In some ways they should have just made a movie about his character. Having said that, American Ninja 3 is still quite entertaining for anyone with a taste for this kind of late ’80s insanity. One of the characters makes use of disguises in ways that are a constant source of delight. And who doesn’t love watching scores of incompetent ninjas getting knocked around the screen?

All in all, American Ninja 3: Blood Hunt (1989) is a very pleasant way to pass a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. While it may not have reached the heights of other third-in-the-series vigilante action films (hello Death Wish 3 (1985)), it continued the flow of quality ninja entertainment from The Cannon Group – a veritable fount of #NotQuiteClassicCinema that has rarely – if ever – been equalled.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

I remember seeing American Ninja (1985) with my friends when it was brand new, and we loved it. So, how is it that I never saw any of the sequels until last friday? 

I saw Enter The Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983), Ninja III: The Domination (1984) and even Pray for Death (1985) back in those early days of home video rentals. American Ninja was simply the latest in a long line of entertaining Ninja movies made by Cannon FIlms, or The Cannon Group, Inc. Three of those films, including American Ninja, were directed by Sam Firstenberg. So, when American Ninja 2: The Confrontation – also directed by Sam Firstenberg – came out in 1987, where the hell was I?


It’s not that the movie was a failure. According to the IMDb, it grossed $4,000,000 on a budget of $350,000. That’s a respectable profit. And I certainly remember the movie coming out. Why didn’t I see it?

Until I can get my hands on a time machine and go back and ask myself what I was thinking, I will probably never know the answer to this riddle. The good news is, American Ninja 2 is every bit as entertaining to me now as it would have been back in the ’80s – maybe more so. I was pleased to see that both Michael Dudikoff – the titular star of American NInja – and his fellow soldier/buddy/sidekick, Steve James were back for American Ninja 2: The Confrontation

Steve James is incredibly likeable in this movie, and it isn’t hard to imagine that he could have gone on to star in his own action movie franchise. He’s certainly in remarkable shape, with a well toned muscular physique. But he also has that intangible thing that can make a person a star – screen presence. He’s funny, he’s charismatic, he’s tough – in short, he’s a believable action hero. While watching American Ninja 2: The ConfrontationI was sure that I recognized James from other movies I’ve enjoyed – like maybe The Exterminator (1980) or Hero and the Terror (1988). I found myself wondering what ever happened to him.


Perhaps I knew this at some point in the past, but I was surprised to learn that Steve James died in 1993 at age 41.

Man, I hate finding out stuff like that. I always look up movies after I watch them and read about everyone involved. And it seems like far too often I find out that one of the key people – usually an actor, but sometimes a director or writer – died far too young. Some examples off the top of my head: Claudia Jennings (29), directors Tom Gries (54), and Peter Carter (48), Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith (47) and one of her co-stars in Revenge Of The Cheerleaders (1976), Helen Lang (42). 

We all know that Jean Harlow died too young (at age 26)  – but her co-star in Platinum Blonde (1931), Robert Williams, died of appendicitis at age 37 the same year the movie was released!

The causes of death include everything from car accidents to heart attacks, to complications from drug abuse.

According to the IMDb, it was pancreatic cancer that got Steve James.

I can only imagine the career that James might have had if it had not been for that cancer. 41 is relatively young for a potential action star. Charles Bronson was 52 when he made Death Wish (1974) and, like Steve James, he was working for Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus at The Cannon Group in the 1980s, staring in films like Death Wish 2 (1982), Murphy’s Law (1986), and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989) when he was in his 60s.
We’ll never know how many more great performances Steve James could have given us before taking his final bow. His last two movies, M.A.N.T.I.S.  and Bloodfist V: Human Target were released posthumously in 1994.
Thankfully Michael Dudikoff is still making movies today. I haven’t seen any of his recent ones, so I’m not sure if they live up to the impossible standards set by movies like American Ninja and American Ninja 2. But with titles like Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece (in which Dudikoff plays Superboss), there may be some hope.
I can’t believe it took three decades for me to see American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. But I am pleased to be able to finally welcome it to the #NotQuiteClassicCinema collection. I look forward to watching it again on a much less distant #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday night at the home drive-in: Revenge of the Ninja (1983)

I rented Revenge Of The Ninja with a friend when it was a brand new release on VHS and Beta, probably sometime in 1984. We thought it was one of the greatest movies we had ever seen. The action was (it seemed to us, at the time) non-stop and absolutely spectacular. We watched the tape several times before returning it to the store the next day. Continue reading