ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Robert Freese contributes to many different magazines, zines and websites such as Videoscope, Rue Morgue, Drive-in Asylum, Grindhouse Purgatory, Horror and Sons and Lunchmeat VHS. (His most recent piece, about the 80’s video distributor Super Video, can be found here). He also co-hosts the Two Librarians Walk into a Shelf podcast so he has an excuse to expose library patrons to ninja and slasher films.
In the opening moments we witness Spike “Lollipop” Shinobi, so nick-named for the Blow Pops he keeps tucked in his utility belt between the exploding darts and the poisonous throwing stars, and Steve “Macho Man” Gordon, infiltrate and overtake an unnamed enemy base. Before anything really happens, we learn it’s just an exercise in anti-terrorism.
Spike and Steve make up two-thirds of the D.A.R.T. anti-terrorism team with communications officer Jennifer Barnes. (If they ever mention what D.A.R.T. stands for, it got past me. I’m sure it means something-something-something-Terrorism, but, you know, against terrorism.)
Soon, Nazi wannabe Alby the Cruel, with the help of Honey Hump and her team of ferocious female fighters take a bus of tourists in Manila hostage in exchange for the freedom of psycho Raghi the Butcher and for all the DEA agents in Manila who have been hassling Alby and his gang to lose their jobs.
Pretty soon Spike, Steve and Jennifer are enlisted to find Alby’s hideout and free the hostages.
This is a pretty decent 80’s action flick that saves most of its hot ninja action for the film’s final ten minutes. Although it gets a bit bogged down, it still offers delights such as: a severed head in a box, a rambunctious monkey in a diaper, a growling squad of midget Fedora wearing hit men, 100-year-old ninja pantomime, floppy discs, exploding terrorist and a tennis ball telephone that may have been a special gift for subscribing to Sports Illustrated at one time.
When I was a teen I automatically put this in with the group of Cannon ninja flicks that also featured Sho Kushogi (Enter the Ninja, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination), and with Cannon’s Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus as executive producers, I’m sure that’s exactly what they wanted everyone to think.
At the time it seemed to fit perfectly into the series of unrelated ninja adventures. Watching now it is obvious 9 Deaths of the Ninja, which was released by Crown International Pictures, doesn’t have nearly the same insane sparkle and wacky sheen of the Cannon ninja flicks. (It’s like comparing a brand of cheap beer with beer that comes in a white can that just says “Beer.” Totally different even though they’re exactly the same.)
Many online reviewers claim this is a parody of 80’s ninja action movies. I honestly never looked at it that way before, but it certainly explains the weird James Bond opening credits montage with a sword-wielding shirtless Sho and a trio of prancing Dancercise graduates, as well as the over-the-top villains Alby and Honey. Even if they were going for a playful Roger Moore 007 vibe, I still think it was played more serious than some want to give it.
This was director Emmett Alston’s first directing gig after his 1980 slasher flick New Year’s Evil, which was released by Cannon. He went on direct a couple more ninja flicks, but this is the only one I have seen thus far. (Alston was the first director for Cannon’s Enter the Ninja but was replaced before filming. Later, in a scene in Revenge of the Ninja, a shadow assassin moves through a condo to find his prey in a hot tub and passes a TV that is showing New Year’s Evil.)
Definitely one of the crazier ninja flicks of the 80’s (right behind the absolutely wonky Ninja III: The Domination), 9 Deaths of the Ninja is certainly worth a watch.