“Hell just froze over.”
— The killer theatrical one-sheet tagline that never was to a movie that may . . . or may not . . . exist.
I’m not really sure how Sam and I are friends: while he ponders his disdain for the new Wonder Woman flick on the eve of the New Year, here I am pondering a 30-year lost Ron Marchini movie.
American martial artist champion, instructor, and author Ron Marchini fought Chuck Norris in 1964 at the Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California, and went on to make eleven movies. (Yes, we know that match is disputed as ever taking place, so spare us the comments.) Sam and I are reviewing them all this week — and I’ve seen them all, more than once, sans one: Ron’s follow up to Return Fire (1988), the final mission of Steve Parrish, with Arctic Warriors.
Yes, in utter desperation — and taking cues from all of the art work recyclin’ and ripoffery of the promotional artwork for the VHS boxes of my cherished Michael Sopkiw and Mark Gregory* Italian and Philippines action movies, I pinched the art work from Marchini’s Jungle Wolf (1986) and made my own retro-cheesy VHS sleeve. And yes, according to ye digital content warriors of the IMDb, what is (or should have been) Ron’s eighth film, was financed and distributed by Crown International Pictures and Film Ventures International**. Now, if we have to go into the resume of those two studios’ influences on 90 percent of our cloud content at B&S, then you need to trade in all of your Mill Creek box sets, for you have shamed us. Turn in your Blu-ray deck.
In all my years of swirling down You Tube digital rabbit holes. All of my years surfing the shelves of home video stores — with multiple memberships, mind you — and my analog archeological digs at vintage vinyl outlets and second-hand stores, I’ve never encountered a copy of Arctic Warriors. It doesn’t appear in any video guides dedicated to the preservation of ’80s action films, martial arts, or trash cinema. And this snowbound karate adventure is no where to be found on the World Wide Web. Not a photo, a poster; nary a clip, a trailer, or review. Not an off-mention on a fan’s blog-homage to Ron Marchini. For all we’ve got to go on is a blank IMDb page — a page with no art work, no stills, no character names for the actors, and no plot synopsis.
Meanwhile, I can find a wealth of information and streaming uploads on a wealth of Filipino-Rambo action retreads (we could literally do a B&S 7 day/28-film tribute week on the genre without breaking a sweat) with titles like Black Fire (1985) and Jungle Rats (1988) starring Romano Kristoff, and Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission (1988), and Just A Damn Soldier (1988), in which Kristoff starred with our beloved Mark Gregory. You want to find more info or watch a Filipino “Awful Blood” war romp from Cirio H. Santiago (Fighting Mad), Jun Gallardo (Slash Extermintor), or Godfrey Ho (Devil’s Dynamite): no problemo, sensei. I mean, I get it: Arctic Warriors isn’t exactly Italian schlockmeister Antonio Margheriti’s Philippines-shot war romp Tornado (1983), but come on, now! There’s Filipino war-cum-karate action romps archived and digitized across the dustiest corners of the web. . . .
And yet . . . Arctic Warriors eludes my ten-figured QWERTY-grasp.
The mind races . . . Arctic Warriors. What could it be about? Is it akin to Sly Stallone’s snowbound shoot ’em up Cliffhanger (1993), with Ron thwarting a bank robbery? Does Ron evade terrorists by barreling down the slopes to ski off a cliff and escape-by-parachute like James Bond in The Spy Who Loved Me (1977)? And since this film falls between the fourth — and final — adventure of Steve Parrish in Return Fire (1988) and the first adventure of John Travis in Omega Cop (1990) . . . is Arctic Warriors the lost, next adventure of Steve, or the missing, first adventure of John, with Ron out-tugging Tugg Speedman? Does Arctic Warriors shamelessly stock footage pillage Roger Corman’s snowy-disaster boondoggle that was Avalanche (1979) for added production value? Did the producers wardrobe-match Marchini and swipe all of the James Bond franchises snowmobile and ski scenes?
Considering the budget of Ron’s films, and knowing the Crown and FVI business model, we can correctly assume Arctic Warriors did not film in the Antarctic. And it was shot in-camera with practical effect and nary a snowy-CGI shot to be greened. A more probably location would be the white-capped highlands of California. Does Ron’s winter bonebreaker take place at an “arctic” ice station? Are we dealing with a hostage crisis at Ski resort in Colorado? Was the President’s daughter kidnapped from her Utah a ski vacation? Is Ron out to rescue his scientist-girlfriend, whose newly discovered cold-fusion formula can save the world?
Well, if we are to believe the digital content managers at the IMDb, the screenwriter behind this snowbound Marchini flick — in his only credit — is a filmmaker by the name of Jim Brown.
Brown got his start in the business as a first assistant camera man on The Hot Rock (1972), which is a pretty decent start, considering it was written by screenwriting legend William Goldman, directed by Peter Yates (Krull), and starred the biggest leading man of the ’70s, Robert Redford. And Jim Brown held the same job on the what-in-the-hell-is-Henry Fonda-doing-in-a-hicksploitation-flick The Great Smokey Roadblock, and Stallone’s Rocky II (1979). As an executive producer, Brown guided director Kevin Connor’s Warlords of Atlantis, aka Warlords of the Deep, starring Doug McClure. Now we know you know Kevin Connor (if you don’t, you shame us at B&S): Does the Amicus-produced From Beyond the Grave ring any bells? Motel Hell? How about The Land That Time Forgot, At the Earth’s Core, and The People That Time Forgot (also starring Doug McClure). Jim Brown also served as executive producer on the a-wee-too-late-to-the-woods slasher Berserker (1987), which earned enough of a reputation on the home video circuit for Vinegar Syndrome to reissue it to disc. And, lets keep in mind that Berserker shot in Utah — a state synonymous with white powder. Thus, Brown has the connections to shoot Arctic Warriors on location — no Les Grossman ranting required.
So, who was the director on Arctic Warriors? Jefferson Richard from Berserker? Kevin Conner? Jim Brown himself? Jim certainly had the skill set to make his directorial debut. Your guess is as good as ours: the IMBb lists no director — and we lost Jim Brown in 2006 at the age of 55 in Vienna, Austria.
As for the Ron Marchini’s supporting cast: The two leading names listed are Michael James and Thomas Striker (but never trust the IMBb’s digital packing order, as their algorithms list background actors on top, above the leads, half the time).
While the film is Thomas Striker’s only credit, Michael James made his acting debut with a support role in Stoney Island (1978). In a sidebar: That film was written by Tamar Simon Hoffs, the mother of the Bangles Susan Hoffs; both gave us The Allnighter. The director on Stoney Island, in his debut, is Andrew Davis, he of the Steve Seagal and Harrison Ford box office bonanzas Under Siege (1992) and The Fugitive (1993). James then went on to have character parts in The Fugitive and Brian Bosworth’s Stone Cold (1991).
Okay, that takes care of Micheal James.
Now, where the casting on Arctic Warriors gets really interesting and, based on his resume, he’s obviously the star-antagonist: James Ryan. Now, sure, we know (and kid) Mr. Ryan for the South African Star Wars abortion that was Space Mutiny (1988). But Ryan made his epic start in karate flicks alongside his friend Ron Marchini, with his leading man debut in Kill or Be Killed, aka Karate Killer (1976), and the sequel . . . oh, man, when those commercials came on TV (as with Nine Deaths of the Ninja) for Kill and Kill Again (1981) . . . we couldn’t RUN to the duplex quick enough. And, what’s this . . . friggin’ Stephen Chang from Fury of the Shaolin Fist (1979) co-starring with Marchini and James?
I don’t even need a trailer. I’m there. But the movie ain’t there.
Uh, oh. There’s celluloid tomfoolery afoot. Hey, it’s those analog hucksters at FVI: Film Ventures International, the studio that brought us the aforementioned martial arts epics Kill or Be Killed and Kill and Kill Again, and turned their $100,000 investment in Beyond the Door into a $9 million dollar box office hit. Obviously, Arctic Warriors was in production for an extended period of time, when you consider FVI closed its doors and filed for Chapter 11 protection in 1985. Meanwhile, Crown International Pictures, which produced Ron’s second film, Death Machines (1976), hung on for a little bit longer, dissolving in 1992.
So, where in the hell Arctic Warriors!
According the digital purveyors of the IMDb: DMEG, a Sweden-based film distribution company, whose resumes includes many a B&S About Movies favorites, such as Horror Express (1972), Eyeball (1975), and Cannibal Holocaust (1980), distributed Arctic Warriors overseas in 2004. . . .
And all we can do is watch this Ron Marchini fan-tribute video. Just imagine it’s snowing . . . as we ponder what might have been those 30-plus years ago in the wintery wilds of Colorado or Utah, with Ron and Stephen Chang kickin’ James Ryan’s ass — and he, their’s — up one slope and down another.
** Get the inside skinny on Film Ventures International with our “Drive-In Friday” tribute to the studio shingle.
Update: August 3, 2021: We’ve seem to have inspired a Ron Machini fire! After posting a link of this review to the IMDb page for Arctic Warriors, the once-barren page was updated — with what looks like a DVD sleeve. Does this mean an alternate title for this lost Marchini film is Air Power? After all of our assumptions, is this, in fact, a faux Top Gun actioner?! The plot thickens!