EDITOR’S NOTE: Red Scorpion was not produced by Cannon but was theatrically distributed by Scotia/Cannon in Germany. In the U.S., it was Shapiro-Glickenhaus Ent. who released it (after Warner backed out of their initial distribution negative pick-up deal with the Abramoff brothers). Thanks to The Punisher Book ’89 — check them out on Twitter — for the revision!
This movie really needs a movie to be made about it.
It was produced by Republican Party lobbyist Jack Abramoff, who had championed sending U.S. aid to anti-communist guerrilla movements such as the National Union for the Total Independence of Angola. He established the International Freedom Foundation, which was financed by the South African apartheid regime. That makes sense, if only because Abramoff hired Arne Olsen to write a screenplay about the Angolan Civil War. with the money he allegedly received from South Africa. Why? Well, propaganda. They wanted to destroy international sympathy for the African National Congress.
Production began in Swaziland but was delayed after South African agents assassinated eleven ANC members. Moving the shooting of the film to Namibia, which was under South African occupation as South West Africa, Red Scorpion ended up being boycotted by Artists and Athletes Against Apartheid for being made in the country during apartheid. That caused Warner Brothers to pull out, as their deal with Abramoff stipulated that the movie not be made in South Africa. And, well, people were protesting the actual studio.
Meanwhile, soldiers and actual military equipment — like captured Soviet T-54 tanks — were provided by the South African Defence Force. The movie was even shot at one of their studios. But thanks to all the stop and starts, the movie was about ten million over. And Abramoff expected a more family friendly war movie, but he hired Joe Zito, who made The Prowler, and he got a film where Zito hired Tom Savini to go nuts all over again with the special effects.
Based on Jonas Savimbi, an Angolan South African ally and anti-Communist, Red Scorpion places Dolph Lundgren as Lieutenant Nikolai Petrovitch Rachenko, a Soviet Spetsnaz operative from the Ukraine — is this movie not relevant today?– sent to join Soviet, Czechoslovakian and Cuban forces as they battle anti-communists. Sent to kill the leader of the rebels, the mission is scrubbed when they anticipate him and escape, which ends up with Rachenko’s superiors torturing him. He escapes from the gulag and is rescued by natives who brand him with a red scorpion, making him one of them. As you can imagine, Lundgren goes wild killing everyone in his path.
That tribe that saves him is totally real. Their leader, Regopstaan, was 95 years old and agreed to be in the movie if his people could also appear.
Not to be a gun geek, but man — that FN FAL that Dolph uses at the end of the movie is mixed with a twin barrel AO-63 assault rifle and if real could fire six thousand rounds per minute.
By the 2000s, according to an article on Tedium, Abramoff was at the “center of a wide array of lobbying scandals, sometimes involving obscure parts of the United States like the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam” and getting set for “a prison stay, having just been sentenced in a fraud case involving a casino cruise line.”
The fact that this movie was made in the way that it was is astounding. Of course Cannon would release the video.