Armed Response (1986)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Jennifer Upton is an American (non-werewolf) writer/editor in London. She currently works as a freelance ghostwriter of personal memoirs and writes for several blogs on topics as diverse as film history, punk rock, women’s issues, and international politics. For links to her work, please visit or send her a Tweet @Jennxldn

Inspired by Michael Cimino’s Year of the Dragon (1985), Armed Response features Vietnam vet Jim Roth (David Carradine) and his ex-cop dad (Burt) Lee Van Cleef going up against boss Tanaka and his Yakuza gang in L.A.’s Chinatown following the murder of Jim’s brothers in a plot to retrieve a valuable statue that Tanaka needs to appease the local Chinese Tong gang. 

Out of over a dozen films made in the 1980s, this is overall the best that Fred Olen Ray made during those “up-and-coming” years. Not only is the cast good (with Carradine and Van Cleef, you can’t go wrong), but the story is more gripping than many of his other efforts. When another Roth brother (Brent Huff) is kidnapped and killed, you just know there’s gonna be an ass-whoopin’ on the way. Box ticked. 

The lighting and compositions achieved by DP Paul Elliott (who later worked with the Coen brothers) with Ray are far and away superior to many of the films that came after. Not to take anything away from cinematographer Gary Graver, who later served as Ray’s main guy, producing faster, more cost-effective results. But on this film, they took the time to wet the streets down to get the neon reflections. It adds to the mood of the film (along with a good musical score), and achieves the nearly impossible feat of portraying L.A.’s Chinatown as far bigger than it is in real life. These are the things that can elevate any film in the low and mid-range budget to a higher plane. 

Of course, this IS a Fred Olen Ray film, so we do get Michelle Bauer as a stripper wiggling around in the background of an entire dramatic scene, Michael Berryman as a fortune-cookie crushing thug, Ross Hagen as a double-crossing scumbag and a cameo from Roger Corman regular Dick Miller. 

The stunts are pretty good, too. So good, one poor stuntman had to be airlifted from the location at Vasquez Rocks to a hospital. Ray has stated, “In the finished film, you can clearly see a cloud swirling around behind Ross as he hurries to get his dialogue out. It’s the cloud of dust being kicked up by the emergency helicopter blades as it idled just out of frame.”  

Ray has asserted this was the film that ended his “era of want.” The one that pushed his standing as a filmmaker and his paychecks to the next level. Of all his ‘80s films, audiences will likely remember him for Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, but Armed Response is the one Ray should be proudest of. 

MILL CREEK DVD RELEASE: Through the Decades: 1980s Collection: Band of the Hand (1986)

For years, Band of the Hand had me fooled with its “From the maker of Miami Vice” poster line. I always thought this was a Michael Mann directed movie and not one by one of the directors of several episodes of that show, Paul Michael Glaser, who also played Starsky. That said, Mann is one of th executive producers.

Even knowing that, I kinda love this movie. It’s all rather dumb — five teenage criminals get rehabilitated by Vietnam vet and Native American Joe Tegra (Stephen Lang, who is also in Mann’s Manhunter, so maybe that’s another reason I was confused): rival gang leaders Ruben Pacheco (Michael Carmine, who sadly died of AIDS when he was thirty) and Moss Roosevelt (Leon, Derice in Cool Runnings), as well as drug dealer Carlos Aragon (Danny Quinn, who was married at one time to co-star Lauren Holly, who plays Nikki), James Lee “J.L.” MacEwen (John Cameron Mitchell — yes, the writer, director and star of Hedwig and the Angry Inch is in this movie and fights evil drug lords) who killed his father and car thief Dorcey Bridger (Al Shannon).

After surviving training in the swamps and cleaning up their neighborhood, Joe is killed by gangsters who include Laurence Fishburne and James Remar as the big bad Nestor. Of course the Band of the Hand comes together and makes a plan that I am in amazed by as someone who loves wacky revenge plots.

Wrter Leo Garren also directed and wrote the early 70s occult weirdness Hex, while co-writer Jack Baran wrote Great Balls of Fire!

The craziest thing about this movie is that it has a Bob Dylan song written for it and he’s backed by Tom Petty (who produced) and the Heartbreakers with backing vocals by Stevie Nicks.

“We’re gonna blow up your home of Voodoo
And watch it burn without any regret
We got the power, we’re the new government
You just don’t know it yet”

Let me say that again: Bob Dylan wrote a song for Band of the Hand.

The Mill Creek Through the Decades: 1980s Collection has a ton of great movies at an affordable price. It also has Punchline, Who’s Harry Crumb?Vice VersaThe New KidsRoxanneBlue ThunderSuspectLittle Nikita and Like Father, Like Son. You can get this set from Deep Discount.


Magnum P.I. was a constant in my life through a tumultuous time, starting when I was just 8 and ending when I was 16, seeing me through the most chaotic years of young life. Thomas Sullivan Magnum IV’s (Tom Selleck) adventures in Hawaii were a center, a Thursday night oasis — Wednesday from series 7 onward — that always knew would be there.

Magnum lives in the guest house of an opulent 200-acre beachfront estate known as Robin’s Nest. At some point, he provided services for its owner, world-famous novelist Robin Masters (voiced by Orson Welles for all but the final time when Red Crandell spoke for the character) and he’s been allowed full run of the estate and use of the author’s Ferrari 308 GTB/GTS in exchange for some nebulous security detail. In between, he takes on cases that rarely pay and often put his life in danger.

His archnemisis is Jonathan Quayle Higgins III (John Hillerman). Like Magnum, he’s also ex-army, but he’s by the book while our hero is laid back. He’s in charge of Robin’s estate, patrolling it with his twin Doberman, Zeus and Apollo. The relationship grows and changes as the series progresses, going from antagonistic to near friendship by the close, as well as the suspicion that Higgins is Robin Masters.

Magnum has a near-perfect storytelling engine as it has the perfect setting (all manner of people come to Hawaii for vacation or to escape), the perfect characters (Magnum can be just as much a film noir hero as he can be a military man or a romantic leading man; he’s a comedic figure without losing his coolness) and the perfect job (being a detective is a reliable TV profession for this reason). Add in his friends Theodore “T.C.” Calvin (Roger E. Mosley) — whose Island Hoppers helicopter can take Magnum anywhere — and Orville Wilbur Richard “Rick” Wright (Larry Manetti), whose King Kamehameha Club can be the origin for all manner of intrigue — and you can see why this series ran for so many years.

While T.C. and Rick are former Marines and Magnum is a former Navy SEAL — all served in Vietnam — none of them are shell-shocked zombies. They’re normal human beings who deal with their war experiences in their own way, which was a refreshing change for audiences — especially veterans — when the show started.

Magnum was such a big show that even other big shows crossed over with it, establishing a CBS detective show universe. In the episode “Ki’is Don’t Lie,” Magnum works with Simon & Simon to recover a cursed artifact, a mystery which had its conclusion in their show with the episode “Emeralds Are Not a Girl’s Best Friend.” Yet most famously, in “Novel Connection,” novelist Jessica Fletcher came to Hawaii — along with Jessica Walter and Dorothy Loudon — and then solved the case on her show, Murder, She Wrote, in the episode “Magnum on Ice.”

Speaking of guest stars, all manner of genre favorites appeared on this show, including Jenny Agutter, Talia Balsam, Ernest Borgnine, Candy Clark, Samantha Eggar, Robert Forster, Pat Hingle, Mako, Patrick Macness, Cameron Mitchell, Vic Morrow, John Saxon and many more.

Another reason why this show is so beloved is due to Selleck. He told producers, “I’m tired of playing what I look like.” His suggestion? He remembered having fun with James Garner on The Rockford Files and suggested making Magnum more of blue collar guy. This made him more identifiable with men, not just women.

One of the things that struck me as I caught up on the series was that the theme is different at the start! The original theme was written by Ian Freebairn-Smith and only lasted eleven episodes before being replaced with the iconic Mike Post and Pete Carpenter song that I hum all of the time.

At the end of the seventh season, Magnum died in a shoot out. I can’t even explain how upset everyone was. The letters page in TV Guide was aghast. Imagine if Twitter existed in the late 80s! Luckily, he came back for one shorter season.

Series creator Donald P. Bellisario — who created this show with Glen A. Larson — was born in North Charleroi, PA. I can probably see his house from mine. After fifteen years in advertising, he went to Hollywood, where he worked on the series Black Sheep Squadron and Battlestar Galactica before creating series like Tales of the Golden MonkeyAirwolfQuantum LeapJAG and NCIS. He was joined by writers like Richard Yalem (who made Delirium), Reuben A. Leder (A*P*E*Badlands 2005), Jay Huguely (Jason Goes to Hell), Andrew Schneider (the “Stop Susan Williams” and “Ther Secret Empire” chapters of Cliffhangers!), Stephen A. Miller (My Bloody Valentine), J. Miyoko Hensley (who wrote the Remo Williams: The Prophecy pilot) and even notorious celebrity fixer and detective Anthony Pellicano, as well as directors like David Hemmings (yes, from Deep Red), John Llewellyn Moxey, Jackie Cooper and Robert Loggia, amongst so many others.

The Mill Creek blu ray box set of Magnum P.I. has all 158 episodes of the show, as well as new interviews with composer Mike Post, writer/producer Chris Abbott, author C. Courtney Joyner on the sixty year career of director Virgil Vogel and actress/writer Deborah Pratt (who was the voice of the narrator and Ziggy on Quantum Leap). Plus, you also get two Tom Selleck guest star roles on The Rockford Files, featurettes on The Great 80’s TV Flashback and Inside the Ultimate Crime Crossover (Magnum P.I. and Murder, She Wrote) and audio commentary on three season 8 episodes.

Much like how Magnum was a calming part of my young life, having this set on my shelf during these turbulent times is just as warm of a feeling. Get this set and let the 80s wash over you like the beaches of Waikiki.

You can get this set from Deep Discount.

CANNON MONTH: The Frog Prince (1986)

Cannon Movie Tales was a huge project for the studio, a series of 16 live action children’s movies from Cannon Group producers Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, associate producer Patricia Ruben and executive producer Itzik Kol. Filmed in Israel, these movies feature major stars as the leads supported by an Israeli cast and they had a $50 million dollar budget.

While sixteen films were announced, only nine were made: The Frog PrinceSleeping Beauty, The Emperor’s New ClothesRumpelstiltskinSnow WhiteBeauty and the Beast, Hansel and GretelPuss In Boots and Red Riding Hood.

Aileen Quinn from Annie plays Princess Zora, Helen Hunt plays her sister Henrietta and Clive Revill plays his second king in one of these Cannon kids movies (he’s also the villainous ruler in Rumpelstiltskin*), but the real reason I was excited about this movie was to see John Paragon play Ribbit, the frog prince. Whether it’s his collaborations with Pee-Wee Herman (he’s Jambi and Pterri) or Elvira, I’m always overjoyed to see Paragon’s name in the credits.

This was directed and written by Jackson Hunsicker, who also made Oddball Hall and wrote the 1989 version of Ten Little Indians.

You can watch this on Tubi.

*Cannon recycled a lot in these films, as this is the Rumpelstiltskin set reused for another fairy tale.

CANNON MONTH: America 3000 (1986)

EDITOR’S NOTE: This movie originally ran on the site on September 11, 2019. It’s been updated for Cannon Month.

David Engelbach wrote Over the TopDeath Wish 2 and two episodes of the TV shows Lottery and MacGyver. He also wrote the 1984 TV movie Goldie and the Bears, which starred Hulk Hogan. He’s only directed one film — the Cannon Films produced America 3000 — and you’re about to learn all about it.

“Nine hundred years after the Great Nuke. The world man created, he destroyed. Out of the darkness and ignorance of the radioactive rubble emerged a new order…and the world was woggos.”

After a nuclear war in the year 1992 — surprise! — mankind has gone back to the Stone Age and is ruled by Amazon women who keep men as wild animals to be used for labor and sex.

Two young guys, Korvis (Chuck Wagner, who was on TV’s Automan and is in The Sisterhood; he went on to be a theater actor and was a ringmaster for the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus) and Gruss run away and find Camp Reagan, the weapons-filled bunker of the President of the United States of America when they aren’t being captured by the Amazonian Comb of the Friscos.

Laurene Landon (who was in the commercials in The Stuff and Maniac Cop 1 and 2), Galyn Gorg (Angie, the nuke addicted bad girl of RoboCop 2), the first Israeli mime and Father Nicholas in The Delta Force Shaike Ophir, black belt Karen Sheperd (The Enforcer from Hercules: The Legendary Journeys) and a monster named Aargh the Awful — who is a Bigfoot with a boombox played by basetball player Stephen Lawrence Malovic — all show up.

With that kind of description, it should be much better than it is. I’m sad to tell you that it drags and that it seems like only Australians, Italians and Filipinos can make proper post-apocalyptic movies.

CANNON MONTH: The Assault (1986)

The Assault won the 1986 Academy Award and Golden Globe Award for Best Foreign Language Film, which fulfilled some of the dreams of Menahem Golam and Yoram Globus, but they only distributed the film instead of producing it.

An adaption of The Assault by Harry Mulisch, it’s a story about the end of World War II and the evening that a Nazi collaborator is shot dead on his bicycle. He falls in front of a house, but the family there moves it to the Steenwijk house. The Nazis assume they are the killers, so they kill Anton’s (Marc van Uchelen as a child, Derek de Lint as an adult) parents and brother in front of him.

Over the rest of his life, he comes to grips with what happened that night. His memories are filled in and he tries to get past the horror that he’s lived through, even as he becomes a successful doctor.

This movie — and the book — were inspired by a real event. Fake Krist, a Dutch police officer and national-socialist who helped the Nazis hunt Jews and resistance fighters was killed in 1944 and in retaliation, Nazi forces executed ten inmates and torched four houses. The way that the man is shot on his bike by a man and a woman was taken from the death of W. M. Ragut, which inspired The Girl with the Red Hair.

Director Fons Rademakers also made Because of the Cats and Lifespan, one of the first mainstream movies to show shibari bondage.

CANNON MONTH: Allan Quatermain and the Lost City of Gold (1986)

Made back to back with King Solomon’s Mines, this was directed by Gary Nelson, who also made Freaky Friday and The Black Hole, which is a pretty wild resume when you think about it.

Speaking of King Solomon’s Mines, Allan Quatermain (Richard Chamberlain) and Jesse Huston (Sharon Stone) plan to be married but Allan is restless. That’s when a man is chased by two masked men into Allan’s estate, only to be murdered later that night. Before that happens, he reveals to Allan that his brother Robeson (Martin Rabbett, Chamberlain’s long-time partner) is still alive and has found the City of Gold.

Along with Umslopogaas (James Earl Jones), Swarma (Robert Donner) and several Asari warriors, Allan and Jesse go on a new adventure where they discover the city, which leads to a battle between the good Queen Nyleptha (Aileen Marson) and the evil Agon (Henry Silva) and Queen Sorais (Cassandra Peterson, which is strange as she doesn’t speak and at this point, Elvira was already well-known).

In true Cannon fashion, most of the music for this movie is just Jerry Goldsmith’s score for King Solomon’s Mines along with only thirty minutes of original music by Michael Linn. And if that isn’t Cannon, how about the fact that Golan and Globus had no contact with Nelson until he screened it for them. Golan was baffled by the film, thinking he was getting to see Invaders from Mars. He never admitted to his mistake and told Nelson that the film was unreleasable. Nelson then walked down a hall decorated with Cannon posters, all of which were in his opinion unreleasable too.

CANNON MONTH: Ha-Shiga’on Hagadol (1986)

Million Dollar Madness was a vehicle for Israeli comedian Seffy Rivlin that was co-written by Menahem Golan.

Rivlin plays bank manager Ephraim Rubin who gets institutionalized because of pressure at work and at home. Yet once there, he finds that the mental hospital is much nicer than his real life. He has a friend in inmate Ezekiel Harel (Arik Lavie) and falls in love with nurse Noga (Anat Waxman). However, there’s also a money counterfeiting operation being conducted out of the mental home, but who’s going to believe a crazy person?

It’s a slapstick film where everyone is always at a ten and then tries to go beyond that. That said, I guess it’s nice that Golan never forgot where he came from.

CANNON MONTH: Duet for One (1986)

Duet for One is based on the life of conductor Daniel Barenboim and his wife, cellist Jacqueline du Pré, and Cannon originally bought this back when they made The Wicked Lady, as it was a movie that Faye Dunaway and her husband Terry O’Neill had wanted to make.

A stage play by Tom Kempinski, who also wrote the screenplay, this movie was directed by Andrei Konchalovsky, who also made Maria’s Lovers and Runaway Train for Cannon, so he had good luck at making highly regarded films for the lowly regarded studio.

Stephanie Anderson (Julie Andrews) is a world-famous violinist who has lost the ability to play and must redefine her relationships with her husband David (Alan Bates), her accompanist Leonid Lefimov (Sigfrit Steiner), her star pupil Constantine Kassanis (Rupert Everett) and her manager Sonia Randvich (Margaret Courtenay).

She sees Dr. Louis Feldman (Max von Sydow) for help, but he can’t help her with the rage she feels. Her husband will turn to drink, her accompanist will die, her student will leave and she’ll eventually give away all of her music possessions to a man (Liam Neeson) who can only give her physical affection.

As she finally gives in to the pain and attempts to overdose, only her maid remains to try to save her. And by the end, in what may be a dream, she’s grown closer to the doctor, Constantine returns and Leonid comes back from the dead as a ghost.

Duet for One is a hard watch in a good way, as it’s loaded with emotional darkness. I’m always amazed by the movies that Cannon was part of and the fact that they could make both this movie and Going Bananas.

CANNON MONTH: Firewalker (1986)

Chuck Norris told the Chicago Tribune, “When I got crucified in my first film, Good Guys Wear Black, I went to Steve McQueen. He said the bottom line is if you get the best reviews in the world and the movie bombs, you’re not going to get work. But if it’s a huge success, whether the criticism is good or bad, you’ll work. The key thing is — does the public accept you?”

Chuck was ready to make the transition that Arnold did in 1988 when he made Twins. It was time to make a comedy.

In this movie, Chuck is Max Donigan, who teams with Leo Porter (Louis Gossett Jr.) as treasure hunters who haven’t ever found any treasure. Then they meet the psychic Patricia Goodwin (Melody Anderson, Flash Gordon), who has a treasure map that will lead them to gold that’s also being sought by a one-eyed cyclops called Firewalker.

The map leads them to a Native American Reservation and inside a cave they find hundreds of skeletons, Aztec and Mayan art and a dagger that frightens a man so much that he throws himself into a pit.

Sonny Landham — Billy from Predator — is El Coyote, the man who wants to be the Firewalker and can only achieve that by sacrificing Patricia. And hey — it can’t be an Indiana Jones movie without John Rhys-Davies, right? You also can’t make a Native American-themed movie in the 80s without Will Sampson, right?

Gene Siskel said that Firewalker was “one of the most derivative films in years, splicing elements of Raiders of the Lost Ark with Romancing the Stone,” while Roger Ebert would say, “In literature, it’s called plagiarism. In the movies, it’s homage.”

Even though Firewalker made almost $12 million at the box office, it wasn’t the success that other Chuck Norris movies had been for Cannon, which sadly was due for some big changes.

This was written by Robert Gosnell and directed by J. Lee Thompson, who Melody Anderson had some interesting words about: “J. Lee was a character. Some days the heat got to him worse than others. He would get tired and cranky, but we got along great. At the time, I had no idea the director in The Exorcist was based on him.”

You can watch this on Tubi.

You can listen to The Cannon Canon episode about this film here.