I can’t even explain to you the sheer madness that this movie unleashed on my elementary school. The notion of Chuck Norris fighting ninjas blew minds at a level that I believe is no longer possible.
The Octagon was distributed by American Cinema Productions, the four-wall exploitation masters who also put Chuck’s Good Guys Wear Black and A Force of One in theaters, as well as The Late, Great Planet Earth, Fade to Black, Silent Scream, Tough Enough, Dirt, Charlie Chan and the Curse of the Dragon Queen, Force: Five and I, The Jury before going out of business. Their final release, The Entity, was picked up by Twentieth-Century Fox.
Directed by Eric Karson (Black Eagle) and written by Leigh Chapman (Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry and Truck Turner, which he did as the pen name Jerry Wilkes) and Paul Aaron (who woud direct Deadly Force), this movie places Chuck into the role of Scott James, a karate champion like so many of Chuck’s characters who simply no longer wants to fight. Yet he can’t even take Nancy (Kim Lankford, Ginger Ward from Knot’s Landing) without getting her and her entire family offed by some back pajama wearing killers.
As trained by Katsumoto (Yuki Shimoda), the ninjas have been told that if they are ever discovered or captured, not only will they die, their entire family will also be extinguished. There must be some pretty great salary and 401K when it comes to being a ninja or maybe the job market in Japan really is rough.
To get some background on the killers, Scott turns to his old mercenary friend McCarn (Lee Van Cleef, who may know a thing or two about ninjas). He’s told, “If you are seeing ninja, you are seeing ghosts.”
Pulling a Paul Kersey, Scott immediately falls for another woman named Justine (Karen Carlson, Black Oak Conspiracy, The Student Nurses) whose idea of a meet cute is asking for help with her car, which is stuck in a ditch, and stealing Scott’s keys and driving off. How does he know where she lives? Why would he put up with that? No matter — they’re soon being tracking by some bodyguards who end up being McCarn’s men. That’s because Justine wants Scott to kill Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita, Seven, American Ninja), the ninja who sliced and diced her father. He turns her down, but McCarn is able to convince one of Scott’s friends named A.J. (Art Hindle!) to join his cause.
That’s when Scott remembers that he’s actually Seikura’s adopted brother, having been raised by the same father (John Fujioka, once again pretty much playing Shinyuki from American Ninja or Tatsuya Sanga from American Samurai) and of course, surpassing the native son with his gaijin karate abilities.
Scott decides that he has to help, so he heads off to a ninja training school run by Doggo (Kurt Grayson, once the Tijuana Smalls cigar pitchman back when cigar ads were on TV). Doggo recognizes him and forces him to fight his entire school, ending with Scott delivering Chuck Norris-sized sidekick injuries to two fighters nicknamed Longlegs (Richard Norton, once a bodyguard for David Bowie, ABBA and Fleetwood Mac before appearing in movies like Gymkata, China O’Brien and many more; he’s a 5th-Degree Shihan rank Black Belt in Goju Ryu, 8th-Degree Masters rank in Chuck’s Chun Kuk Do, 5th-Degree Black belt in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and a 10th-degree Black Belt in Zen Do Kai Karate; he was also the fight coordinator on Walker, Texas Ranger) and Hatband (Chuck’s brother Aaron).
There’s also another evil soldier named Aura (Carol Bagdasarian) that defects to help Scott, which helps because he wasn’t joining the fight and then the ninjas went and killed Justine, who thought Aura was leaidng Scott to the side of evil and went after Seikura by herself. One poison dart later and she’s out of the movie, despite seemingly being one of the leads. McCarn’s men, Scott and Aura then kill everyone in Doggo’s army and decide to go to Mexico to face Seikura.
Before that, Aura takes what we can only imagine is a molasses 2×4 mustache ride, as she realizes that if every other woman is this movie is getting killed, she may as well enjoy some assault with a friendly weapon. Some harpooning the salty longshoreman. Finding the ranch dressing deep in Hidden Valley. You know what I mean. Respectful and mutual affection between two consenting adults.
Look — Chuck Norris went to the Virgin Islands… now it’s just the Islands.
A.J. gets taken and it turns into a rescue mission, as Scott must face multiple toughs in the Octagon — yes, scream, scream when the title is said aloud! — and then Scott faces Kyo, the magically garbed ninja also played by RIchard Johnson and good lord, this may be the best fight ever committed to celluloid. What does Scott get for winning? The chance to see A.J.’s throat et slashed, but Aura is able to convinced the rest of the bad guys to turn babyface and Scott straight up nukes his adopted brother just as he’s attacked from behind, stabbing him and bringing an end to a movie that I wish went on forever.
Somehow, this movie also finds roles for Ernie Hudson, comedian Jack Carter (the mayor from Alligator) and Tracey Walter in an uncredited part. Yes, Bob the Goon in a Chuck Norris movie.
Made for between $2.5 and $4 million, this film made $19 to $25 million — never believe these money claims when you read them by the way, obviously the figure is somewhere in that range thanks to the magic of Hollywood math — this movie gets it all right. After all, “
Forty ninjas and karate fighters died in this movie. We should remember their sacrifice.
Oh man! I totally forgot that Chuck narrates a lot of the movie to himself. Doggo is not the answer…answer…answer…Oh my God! Ninjas…ninjas…ninjas…
The Kino Lorber blu ray release of The Octagon has a new 2K master, commentary by film historians Brandon Bentley and Mike Leeder as well as director Eric Karson, a making of feature, four TV ads, 4 radio ads and a trailer. Buy it as soon as you can.