Phew. We did it! Twelve Ron Marchini films in two days. You know the drill! Yee-haw, let’s round ’em up!
Born in California and rising through the U.S. Army’s ranks to become a drill sergeant, in his civilian life, Ron Marchini earned the distinction as the best defensive fighter in the U.S.; by 1972, he was ranked the third best fighter in the country. Upon winning several worldwide tournaments, and with Robert Clouse’s directing success igniting a worldwide martial arts film craze with Enter the Dragon (1973), the South Asian film industry beckoned.
After making his debut in 1974’s Murder in the Orient, Marchini began a long friendship with filmmaker Paul Kyriazi, who directed Ron in his next film, the epic Death Machines, then later, in the first of Ron’s two appearances as post-apoc law officer John Travis, in Omega Cop.
Ron also began a long friendship with Leo Fong (Kill Point) after their co-staring in Murder in the Orient; after his retirement from the film industry — after making eleven dramatic-action films and one documentary — Ron concentrated on training and writing martial arts books with Leo, as well as becoming a go-to arts teacher. Today, he’s a successful California almond farmer.
In the annals of martial arts tournaments, Marchini is remembered as Chuck Norris’s first tournament win (The May 1964 Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California) by defeating Marchini by a half a point. Another of Chuck’s old opponents, Tony Tullener, who beat Norris in the ring three times, pursued his own acting career with the William Riead-directed Scorpion.
You can learn more about Ron Marchini with his biography at USAdojo.com. An interview at The Action Elite, with Ron’s friend and Death Machines director Paul Kyriazi, also offers deeper insights.
About the Review Authors: Sam Panico is the founder, Chief Cook and Bottle Washer, and editor-in-chief of B&S About Movies. You can visit him on Lettebox’d and Twitter. R.D Francis is the grease bit scrubber, dumpster pad technician, and staff writer at B&S About Movies. You canvisit him on Facebook.
During these past two days, we’ve reviewed the films of martial artist Ron Marchini — from his 1974 debut in Murder in the Orient with Leo Fong, and up through to his eleventh and final film, 1995’s Karate Raider, aka Jungle Wolf 3 (in some quarters), which he also directed. But Ron has one more film, a twelfth film — a documentary released prior to his feature film debut, known as New Gladiators (now Elvis Presley Gladiators in its digital reissue format).
New Gladiators was a film that was believed to myth; a film mentioned in passing in the many tomes on Elvis Presley and martial arts history books; a film that Elvis produced — but no one ever saw. It was believed the 16mm-shot film was an unfinished project, the reels lost amid the many legal skirmishes after Elvis’s death in August 1977.
At the time, with Bruce Lee’s Enter the Dragon igniting a new, worldwide interest in karate, the film’s concept of chronicling the world tour of the U.S. Karate team — a team which starred Ron Marchini — was presented to Elvis’s karate instructor, Ed Parker. Initially, Elvis, who bankrolled the production, was to serve as the film’s host and narrator. But due to his Las Vegas entertainment commitments and ongoing medical issues, he was only able to make a brief appearance in the film for a practice and demonstration session.
In addition to Ron Marchini, keen eyes will notice Professional Karate Association middleweight champ Bill “Superfoot” Wallace, who made his acting debut as “Sparks” in A Force of One (1979) with Chuck Norris and co-starred alongside Jackie Chan as “Benny Garucci” in The Protector (1985); he also made a brief appearance in Leo Fong’s Killpoint (1984). During the course of the film, Elvis is part of a ceremony when Wallace is promoted from a 3rd to 4th Degree Black Belt. You’ll also notice Benny Urquidez, who, among his many film credits, is best remembered for his role as assassin “Felix La PuBelle” in John Cusack’s Grosse Pointe Blank. But since these past two days were in tribute to the film and acting career of Ron Marchini, we have to call out his spotlight bout with German champ Geert Lemmens in the film.
Contrary to opinion, Elvis did not write or direct the film, and was only a producer in the financial sense of the word. The film was shot by cinematographer Allen Daviau, who would go on to earn five Oscar nominations as “Best Cinematographer” (E.T the Extra-Terrestrial, The Color Purple, Empire of the Sun, Avalon, and Bugsy). Producer and editor Isaac Florentine became a director in his own right, with the Undisputed franchise, and his most recent film, Seized (2020), stars Kickboxing Champ Scott Adkins.
The film was discovered amid other Elvis personal items stored in a West Hollywood, California, storage facility in 2001; the 16mm footage was restored and released in August 2002 to commemorate the 25th anniversary of his death. It has since been reissued — with more Elvis karate footage not related to the original film — in 2009. DVDs of New Gladiators — as well as many of Elvis’s other films — can be purchased direct at Elvis DVD Collector. Several extended clips can be enjoyed on You Tube.
Thanks for joining us these past two days for our tribute to the films of Ron Marchini (he’s featured in the trailer, seen above). Stream ’em and enjoy!
As we roll out our two-day tribute to the martial arts films of Ron Marchini . . . and my being a post-apoc road warrior . . . I had to watch the double-packed adventures of future cop John Travis, again. And when I first reviewed both films on September 18, 2020, for our “Apoc Month” blow out, well, that wasn’t the first time I watched them both, then. Hey, like Andy Warhol said: Another man’s trash is another man’s art. But truth be told: These are the BEST of Ron’s films. And he’s got some good ones. But I hold these two dear.
So, lets roll ’em and take a fresh look at the adventures of John Travis.
Now, Mr.Warhol isn’t the only one with the intellectual quips. We have a saying around the B&S About Movies’ cubicle farm: What David A. Prior movie doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. And, because of my Marchini love, I get ribbed around here with: What Ron Marchini movie doesn’t put you into a coma, should.
Ha, ha. Very funny. I am filling out the harassment forms right now, work place bully.
Yes, dear reader. I am very much toasted, with an ingested pharmaceutical side dish chaser, as I write this. So strap in, ye reader, we are going off the rails in Marchini fandom.
So, anyway, as I reflect on this duo of films in 2021, I believe it’s time Ron called up his ol’ directing sidekick (no pun intended, well, yeah) and longtime friend Paul Kyriazi — who directed Ron in Omega Cop, but not in the sequel, Karate Cop — and they devise a continuing-adventures-of John Travis-sequel based on . . . Death Machines, their mutual debut film from 1976. Only — this time — that remake really will have the “death machine” ancient pyramid in the deep Philippine jungles (okay, the woods outside of Stockton, California) teased in the poster of Death Machines.
I can hear that Zardos-cum-Rollerball death monolith bellow:
“The Penis is evil. The Penis shoots seeds, and makes new life to poison the Earth with a plague of men, as once it was. But the Gun shoots death and purifies the Earth of the filth of Brutals. Go forth, and kill, my death machine warriors. Your toothy pyramid god has spoken!“
Too bad Adam West — who stars in Omega Cop, but not Karate Cop — and David Carradine — who stars in Karate Cop, but not Omega Cop — left the terra firma for the celluloid blue above, for they could both be in a film I thee christen: Death Machine Cop. And that sequel would be awesome, because, David Carradine, if you recall, portrayed future post-apoc cop John Tucker in (sadly, the now late) David A. Prior’s two-fer: Future Force and Future Zone.
Think of it: John Travis and John Tucker — with robotic forearm gloves slipped on — inside a forgotten, sentient Mayan-cum-Aztec pyramid, kicking ass. Oh, I don’t know . . . saving some damsel-in-distress (like a Fred Olen Ray warrior queen) and Indiana Jonesin’ some sparkly trinket that can stop the apocalypse. Thus, the “teeth” inside the glistening jungle obelisk chewing and spitting everyone out two and three at a clip.
Yes, Mr. Kyriazi. It is time to film the follow up to your most recent, seventh film from 2018, Forbidden Power. For it is to be called . . . Death Machine Cop. And, if we may suggest a casting choice: Put the call out to our favorite post-apoc warriors of Italian cinema: Michael Sopkiw and Mark Gregory. And any ’70s blaxploitation actor that ended up in Italian and/or Philippines apoc or Rambo-namsploitation movies.
So, what we really need to know: which is the chicken and which is the egg, here?
I swear, I think David A. Prior’s and Ron Machini’s “future cop” romps — which clipped Mad Max, natch — are the same picture. So, who ripped whom? Or is it all just a low-budget cowinkadink? Future Force, 1989. Future Zone, 1990. Then Omega Cop and Karate Cop in 1990 and 1991. If you read our previous reviews to all four of those movies, you know each have souped-up Jeep Cherokees. However, they both do not have robotic forearm gloves. (And Ron is more adept at the kicking than David, but that’s why David got the mech-glove.) But that’s okay: Ron’s getting a robo-glove in Death Machine Cop, right Paul? And lose the jeeps, okay Paul? Give Roger Corman a call and rent out the Calamity Jane from Death Race 2000 that ended up in Interzone. Call Universal and rent out the DeLorean. Call Ridley Scott and rent out the Blade Runner Spinner.
But, please, Paul, no bolo ties. In fact: no neck wares. But yes to the robo-gloves, for everyone.
In Omega Cop, Adam West’s Commander Prescott runs his “Special Police” — 22 years in our “past” of 1999 — from a one-room set that he never leaves (Adam did that often in his late career; see Zombie Nightmare, for one), as he sports a bolo and QWERTYs a couple of Commodore 64s amid some leftover Batcave props from the 60s. Yes, Commodore 64s will protect the Southern California wastelands. So, as you can see, Death Machine Cop will look awesome because of all of the green screen and touch screen and VR-imaging tomfoolery we get in today’s films. For the Tucker and Travis apoc war wagons will kick ass.
Film reviews like this make me sad, as we lost Troy Donahue (the metal epic Shock ‘em Dead) and Stewart Whitman (the alien epic Bermuda Triangle) — both who appear in Omega Cop — so they can’t cameo in Death Machine Cop. But we can call in Sean P. Donahue, he of the awesome “future sport” apoc’er, Ground Rules, as he did the stunts in Omega Cop — and he acts — so there’s that possibility with Sean in front or behind the lens.
Which reminds me: Please, Paul: no post-apoc hockey gear. And no hats with “COPS” or “SPECIAL POLICE” patches on them. And everyone gets a robo-battle glove. Even Nick Kimaz rented the baddie “black stormtroopers” costumes of Skeletor’s forces from Masters of the Universe from Cannon Pictures, as well as the props and sets from Battlestar Galactica from Universal for his direct-to-video space opera, Space Chase (1990). And Roger Corman made Battle Beyond the Stars, then recycled the sets, the models, the costumers, and the effects shots into Galaxy of Terror, Forbidden World, and Space Raiders — then lent it all out to Fred Olen Ray to make his women-in-space prison flick Star Slammer (1986). So, let’s rent out what we can to save money and up the production values, right, Paul?
Anyway, for Death Machine Cop, the storyline from Omega Cop that’s set up by Adam West’s voiceover narration, will continue, you know, about us screwin’ up the the ozone layer, the greenhouse effect babble, and the rain forests, and the solar flares that plagued the world, and that “half the world didn’t give a shit.” We’ll also continue the illegal slave action angle, which, whomever replaces West, will run. Well, it’s a bad ass named Wraith — decked out in a Nazi SS uniform. But we’ll retrofit that character into bringing back Madame Lee from Death Machines . . . but she will deck out in full Ilsa She Wolf regalia to evoke (again, sad, as we lost her just last year) Dyanne Thorne. Now, Mari Honjo, who played Madame Lee, is still with us. She hasn’t done a film since Death Machines, so that’s an epic returning role, right there. Oh, man. Mari Honjo . . . Ron Marchini . . . Micheal Sopkiw and Mark Gregory?
Give me some Coco Butter and a roll of Charmin.
And we will keep the John Travis quest with two freed slave women trekking to the utopia of clean air and water in Montana. But we lose the women . . . and put in Sopkiw and Gregory . . . as Madame Lee’s freed slave warriors. And nix Montana: this needs to go full Philippines. Or at least drive from Stockton, California, and get into a Mexican/Central American jungle, you know, like our Marchini war flicks of old.
Okay, so, how are we working the sequel of Karate Cop into Death Machine Cop?
Well, we have Paul “John Travis” Marchini, and whomever we get to doppelganger David Caradine’s John Tucker, with freed slave warriors Sopkiw and Gregory, on their quest to . . . well, Madam Lee — in a fit of anger over Travis and Tucker scuttling her master plan and freeing her two top warriors, Sopkiw and Gregory — has unleashed a MacGufffin that will destroy the world . . . thus our quest to get a trinket from the death machine pyramid that Ron, faux-Carradine, Michael, and Mark will battle. (Subplot: Spokiw and Gregory, under Madame Lee’s thumb, were mortal enemies in combat, but joined forces with the double-Johns’ encouragement and are now warriors-in-arms.) And . . . so, there’s a slave civilization inside the jungle obelisk . . . and the slaves: all they do is fight in games of gladiatorial combat — but the pyramid keeps chewin’ them up and the civilization needs “new meat.”
Now, in case you’re wondering: That was — sort of — the plot of Karate Cop: instead of the female slave ring of Omega Cop, Karate Cop had males enslaved by street gangs, forced into gladiatorial street combat. You know, like Max in the Thunderdome and Snake in the Manhattan square circle. Only this time, unlike Karate Cop, the Death Machine Cop playing field will have THUNDER and will be uber cool and not “square.” And no dopey ’80s theme songs by Tina Turner. Nope, sorry Lady Gaga. We do not need another one of your oddball songs about a pyramid. Go make another movie with Bradley Cooper. Wait, hey? Brad, you lookin’ for a new project? We’re casting, you know. I’ll have Paul give you a ring.
Now, I was going to suggest that Paul also put a call into sexploitation purveyor Alan Roberts of Young Lady Chatterley (1977) and The Happy Hooker Goes to Hollywood (1980) fame (the later starred Adam West, by the way) but, celluloid melancholy, again: we lost Roberts in 2016. Why, because Alan — and not Paul — directed Karate Cop.
So, anyway . . . that’s my outline for Death Machine Cop. Will it be as much fun — at least they are for moi — as Omega Cop and Karate Cop and Future Zone and Future Force? If it doesn’t put you into a coma or kill you, Death Machine Cop will make you stronger.
As we mentioned: Director Paul Kyriazi, who made his debut with the aforementioned Death Machines, then vanished from the film world after Omega Cop, which served as his fifth and final film, recently returned to the writing and director’s chair with the 2018 sci-fi movie, Forbidden Power. You can learn more about Kyriazi’s return and his new film courtesy of a favorable review at HorrorGeekLife and his personal website, paulkyriazi.com.
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook.He also writes for B&S About Moviesand publishes short stories and music reviews on Medium.
* “Death Machine Cop” faux-theatrical one-sheet based on alternate Stargate artwork. Image material use falls under the U.S. Copyright rules of Fair Use in non-profit educational, transformative purposes such as exhibition, criticism, comment, parody, news reporting, teaching, scholarship, and research. All rights and trademarks are the property of their respective owners MGM/UA. Flame overlay and typefaces courtesy of Lunapic and PicFont, respectively.
“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 Warriorsgets 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.
* Aficionados of ’80s action B-flicks will enjoy our retrospectives on Michael Sopkiw and Mark Gregory, both complete with review links to all of their films.
** 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!
About the Author: You can read the music and film reviews of R.D Francis on Medium and learn more about his work on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies.
Welcome back to our two-day tribute to the martial arts films of Ron Marchini. Wow! Is his flick ever ripe for a Mill Creek movie pack bow. But we’re not here for a Mill Creek review, not this time.
We’re here for two reasons: First, to cross another Ron Marchini film off our to-do list of his eleven, all-too-short film career — a career that began in 1974 with the Leo Fong-starring (Kill Point and Low Blow) Murder in the Orient; we’ve done Death Machines and the one-two punch adventures of post-apoc law officer John Travis in Omega Cop and Karate Cop. The second: Adam West (Warp Speed), who worked with Ron again in Omega Cop.
Hell, yeah! This five-video-for-five-days rental just picked itself off the VHS shelf all by itself. Let’s unpack this old school actioner! And if you’re all set to pounce on the film, then you simply do not have the palate for all ’80s things Cannon and Empire, are not wise to the wonders of Michael Dudikoff, or working class, meat n’ potatoes action films title-prefixed by the word “American” and suffixed with words “Ninja,” “Fire,” or “Wolf.”
So, based on DVD cover and the year of release, you’ve guessed we’re bowing at the altar of the Church of Schwarzenegger with an inversion of 1985’s Commando (not to be confused with 1988’s Saigon Commandos) — right down to Marchini’s returning to-the-civilized-world government operative forced to rescue his kidnapped son. And the reason Steve Parrish’s son was kidnapped? Well, you need to watch Steve’s two previous adventures with the 1986-released two-fer Forgotten Warrior and Jungle Wolf: he pissed off all the wrong people, natch. Oh, and let’s not forget that Steve’s searchin’ and destroyin’ those jungles since 1985 in Ninja Warriors.
So, the Marchini Score Card: Two missions for John Travis. Four missions Steve Parrish. Two films with Adam West. And, in a twist: one film with West’s old TV sidekick, Burt Ward, in 1995’s Karate Raider.
Anyway, if you missed those not to worry: Return Fire, aka Jungle Wolf II, brings us to speed with “flashbacks” from those missions undertaken in ’86s Forgotten Warrior and Jungle Wolf — at least this film, unlike most of the low-budget Philippines’-produced potboilers, admits to their stock footage raiding of both films in the end credits (and don’t forget: the Philippines double as Central America in these films). And speaking of credits: In the opening titles, we learn Return Fire was made by AIP Studios . . . what the . . . the same AIP, aka Action International Pictures, run by David Winters and David A. Prior of Space Mutiny, Future Force, and Future Zone fame? Your guess is as good as ours . . . we dare to dream.
So, Stevo no sooner gets off the boat in San Francisco when a couple of pistol-packing, leather clad ruffians (Is that Ron Royce from Coroner?) pursue him through an abandoned (or after hours?) shopping mall. And the baddies kill a cop. And Stevo steals the cruiser to pursue the baddies. And Stevo’s on the hook for the murder. But the bad guys planned ahead: if they can’t get Stevo, they’ll get his ATV-loving son, Zac. Who’s behind the mayhem? His old enemy from Central America: drug boss Petroli (D.W. Landingham, also of Omega and Karate Cop).
Now, when I see D.W. I think of an older Nick Cage — and I mean that as a complement. Did you ever see the Cage in his recent, B-Movie action bad ass-ness in Arsenal? Cage — trashing desks and screaming, “They got the van! Get me back my van!” — would own the Petroli role. Petroli, thanks to D.W.’s take, is a baddy we love around the B&S cubicles, when he tells faux-Ron Royce (?), before putting a bullet in him, “I have to make an example of you. Don’t worry, I’ll take good care of your wife and kids.” Total Cageness.
Hey, but wait . . . where’s Adam West? Finally, 20 minutes in, West arrives . . . oh, no, not again: this is another West behind-the-desk gig, like he did in Zombie Nightmare. Yep, his Carruthers is behind it all as another bad-guy-masquerading-as-a-good-guy, again, this time: he’s a CIA honcho that wants Parrish and Petroli, dead.
Anyway, after the shopping mall . . . it’s time for another rock ‘n’ roll-backed montage at a construction pipeline storage facility, then the country-remote Parrish homestead (coming off like the siege at Brad Wesley’s joint in Road House — only that film wasn’t released yet!), complete with Snake Plissken-esque revolvers topped with gun sights. Then, a dirt bike vs. Camero montage. And those ’80s hair-metal synth-rockers backing the firefights, “Return Fire” and “Fight to the Finish,” are by Gunslinger (never released an album), the band of actor Michael E. Bristow, here as one of West’s agent cronies (he was also in Omega Cop and Karate Cop). The Gunslinger tunes are cool and fitting, but why, no Coroner?
You gotta love how Ron’s films are a family affair; for faux-Ron Royce, ain’t heavy . . . he’s my brother.
So . . . 35 minutes in and, yes, and more West . . . in a dark fedora and trench coat, giving us the backstory that, if Stevo didn’t screw up his last mission, we wouldn’t be here (see, those flashbacks weren’t superfluous stock paddding, after all). Yep, this is a Commando redux: the baddies even tote the subdued kid in a wheelchair. And . . . more factories and warehouses in montage. And more flashback from Stevo’s last two films, West’s secretary (Lynn O’Brien, in her only film role) becomes an ally, we learn Petroli and Carruthers are in the coke business together, and Stevo makes it worse by stealing their coke-converted-to-cash-packed van. And check out that rockin’ van vs. sedan montage — with Stevo’s ten-year-old kid tossin’ explosives! YES! Children and C4! And Stevo making that big weapons cache buy from an old war buddy to end this B.S. once and for all — with West begging for his life on a military airfield, clutching his coke satchel.
Phew. What a crazed paragraph. See how excited I am over this movie?
All that’s left is to season Neil Callaghan’s only directing effort (why, this is B-movie action-awesomeness that bests most AIP efforts) with lots of “rail kills” of the hold-your-chest-and-“Aiyeee”-plunge-to-your-death moments, high-speed dub to VHS tapes, and released into the marketplace at the local mom n’ pops Tapes n’ More and Village Video.
Now, in my never ending quest to defy our trope-laden (uh-oh) company edicts of “No Seinfeld references in film reviews”: In AIP’s other analogous (well, is it the same studio?) actioner known as The Silencer (1995), they went “Seinfeld” by casting Cindy Ambehul as the female-lead love interest. So . . . any luck with Lynn O’Brien and D.W. Landingham . . . Magic 8-Ball says . . . “No Soup For You.” Denied! Neither appeared on Seinfeld. Lynn would have made a great out-of-Costanza’s-league girlfriend, while D.W. would have made for a great Constanza boss at Kruger Industrial Smoothing . . . or at the “real” Vandelay Industries, for D.W. as a crazed latex magnate was a missed casting coup.
And so goes another “Warning Slip” in my mail-slot . . . and the adventures of Steve Parrish . . . which leaves Dragon’s Quest (1983), Ninja Warrior (1985), Forgotten Warrior and Jungle Wolf (1986), the ever-elusive Arctic Warriors (1989), and Ron’s swan song with Burt Ward, Karate Raider (1995), on the B&S About Movies to-do list. And it is an awesome to-do list — sink repairs, gutter painting, and leaky wall patches, be damned. For Ron Marchini* comes first. For he’s “Gold, Sam.” Gold!”
You can watch Return Fire on You Tube. It has the B&S About Movies seal of approval.
* In the annals of martial arts tournaments, Marchini is remembered as Chuck Norris’s first tournament win (The May 1964 Takayuki Kubota’s All-Stars Tournament in Los Angeles, California) by defeating Marchini by a half a point. Another of Chuck’s old opponents, Tony Tullener, who beat Norris in the ring three times, pursued his own acting career with the William Riead-directed Scorpion. But what’s this: others say Norris never faced Marchini in the ring? The plot thickens.
For all the magical reasons that we love the old days of the video store, there was one drawback. Often, the movie that you wanted to rent just might be out of stock. So if you wanted to rent Rambo: First Blood Part II or Commando, there’s a chance that every copy of that movie may be out. Yes, in the days of streaming, this may seem crazy to you, but you couldn’t always get what you wanted.
But if you try sometimes, you just may find you get Ron Marchini.
A former U.S. Army drill sergeant, a survivor of a drive-by shooting, a martial arts tournament fighter said to be the best in the country in 1969 and the toughest opponent Chuck Norris ever faced — or so Black Belt Magazine would have us believe — Marchini appeared in a Murder in the Orient and New Gladiators before getting noticed in 1976’s Death Machines, a film in which he played White Death Machine.
It would be nearly a decade before Ron became a VHS industry all to himself, working with directors like Charlie Ordoñez and Alan Roberts to hit the rental audience with movies like Forgotten Warrior, Omega Cop and Return Fire. They aren’t good movies, but they’re great for what they are. And it’s always pretty amazing that in the midst of the jungle, Marchini chooses to always wear yellow t-shirts.
This film finds our hero — Steve Parrish is his name —in Central American but we all know it’s the Philippines. Some rebels have kidnapped American Ambassador Porter Worthington and only our man Ron — or Steve — can come in and set things right. This was probably shot at the same time as Forgotten Warrior and even goes all Boogeyman 2 on us by recycling plenty of footage and using it as flashbacks.
The best part of a military 80s movie is when the hero gears up, covering himself in weapons before killing everything and everyone. This movie has that happen twice and it has the theme song play so many times that you’ll swear it’s the only audio in the entire movie. Also, the bad guy wears a pirate hat and our hero has a samurai sword and man, this movie is so ridiculous I kind of want to watch it again. Oh, and is there a part two? You bet! And Jungle Wolf II is also known as Return Fire — and III, depending on the foreign repack.
Jake Turner (Ronald L. Marchini, who co-wrote and co-directed this) is on a rescue mission to liberate Jennifer Boyden, a DEA agent and the daughter of his old sergeant, who is being held by Pike (Joe Meyer, who has been in a bunch of Marchini’s films), an American drug lord in the jungles of Colombia. I mean, what was he doing anyway? Punching people for money?
Joe Estevez is in this, in case you need to know about the quality level of this film. This is a movie made for those with the kind of resolution that can watch five Philippines-shot war movies in a day and tell each and every one of them apart.
Also known as Fight to Win, this was also given the completely wrong title of Karate Commando: Jungle Wolf 3, a sequel in name only. In Greece, it was called Hamos stin agria zougla (Doom in the Wild Jungle). Now that’s a movie title. And yes, we’ve reviewed the first Jungle Wolf and it’s sequel, which is also known as Return Fire, just to add to the “sequel” confusion.
Perhaps the nuttiest thing about this movie is that the co-writer was Joe Carnahan, who went on to make Smokin’ Aces, The A-Team, Boss Level and The Grey, as well as the upcoming Western version of The Raid. Or is it? Because this is a movie that has Burt Ward as an evil doctor who helps out the drug kingpins and it’s just a cameo. And it’s also a film that was only released in the Netherlands, which must have appreciated an Indiana Jones-referencing title 24 years after Raiders of the Lost Ark.
You can watch this on YouTube. Trust me, this is not Delta Force 3.
Man, this movie has some alternate titles. In France, they call it U.S. Warrior. In Spain, Traición a un Soldado or Betrayal of a Warrior. Greece? O Hamenos Polemistis (The Lost Warrior). In the UK, they call this Forgotten Warrior. But in West Germany, this gets my favorite title: Commander Rainbow.
Steve Parrish (Ron Marchini) was escaping a POW camp when Thompson, one of his fellow soldiers, doesn’t want to be slowed down by a wounded man. He shoots the soldier, then shoots Steve so that he couldn’t tell anyone else. Luckily, some villagers saved our hero and he chose to stay behind, choosing to marry Malia (Marilyn Bautista, Driving Force, Bloodfist), one of the women in the village where he has settled. His wife gives birth to a son and the warrior soul in Steve is content to be, well, forgotten, just like the title says, as he just likes teaching everyone martial arts.
Our hero plans to live out his days in the jungle, but Thompson’s orders send him back to ‘Nam with the goal of rescuing POWs. Instead, he works with the Viet Cong to try and kill Steve, pausing to assault and murder the wife of our protagonist. Somehow, Steve gas a sword and darned if he isn’t going to kill everyone in the Philippines — sorry, Vietnam — to get the payback that his warrior spirit demands.
This movie kills so many bad guys that it needs two directors, Nick Cacas (Deadly Commando) and Charlie Ordoñez (Jungle Wolf). Parrish would return in that movie, as well as Return Fire: Jungle Wolf III, which of course has nothing to do with any of these movies.
After making his debut in Murder in the Orient(1974) with Leo Fong (Kill Point) and finding a home in our public domain hearts with Death Machines (1976), Ron Marchini retreated from the film industry to concentrate on training and writing martial arts books with Leo Fong, as well as becoming a go-to arts teacher. He returned to our drive-in screens for his third film, Dragon’s Quest (1983). Sadly, as with Arctic Warriors (1989), Ron’s third film is a Marchini title lost to the analog ages. There’s no VHS tape images on the web and the blogs dedicated to Ron’s career make no mention of the film.
So, in desperation . . . and in the grand tradition of low-budget studios recycling artwork (know your Michael Sopkiw vs. Mark Gregory movies), we made our own (it must be cheesy) Dragon’s Quest VHS sleeve with the Mexican-distributed artwork from Ninja Warriors. Oh, what might have been. . . .
Courtesy of the digital catalogers at the IMDb, all we know about Dragon’s Quest is that the film was shot in the native Filipino and Tagalog languages of the Philippines and that Ron portrayed a character named Dragon. Director Celso Ad. Castillo has 65 directing credits and 50 writing credits (he only directs Dragon’s Quest). His career led to his winning the “Cinema Original Award” at the 6th Cinema One Originals Digital Film Festival 2010 for the horror film 666.
As with much of the East and South Asian films cataloged at the IMDb, most of Castillo’s resume entries, as with Dragon’s Quest and his award-winner 666, are barren, dead pages. While most of Castillo’s films were Philippine-only distributed, several have English-language titles, so, most likely, they received distribution outside of his homeland: Dr. Yes (1965), Zebra (1965), The Tall, Dark, and the Handsome (1968), Dirty Face Max (1968), Inside Job (1970), The Virgin (1971), Isabel of the Islands (1975), Virgin People (1984), Snake Sisters (1984), Isla (1985), Paradise Inn (1985), and Virgin People 2 (1996). Unless your willing to explore the Filipino online marketplace for any possible VHS issues or grey DVDs, we’ll just have to let Castillo’s Dragon’s Quest go and live in the now.
AKA Ninja Commandos and American Ninja — Distributor hornswoggling to convince us Arnie or Michael Dudikoff will appear as a ninja warrior
That brings us to Ron’s fourth film — and his first of four appearance as Steve Parrish: Ninja Warriors. At the time, Cannon was swimming in cash with their initiating a new wave of martial arts films in the ’80s with the likes of Michael Dudikoff in every derivative of “American” and “Ninja” and “Warrior” in the title — and with Ron’s old tournament mate, Chuck Norris. As with most of the Ninja-cum-Kung fu flicks of the Filipino variety, you’re getting lots of action adrift in the seas of no plot: but who watches these movies for their plots or character development? And the acting stinks, but the fights are great: but who watches these films for their acting; we came for the fights, the acrobatics, and the stunts. Look, let’s be honest: it’s action porn. We watch porn for the porn and ninja movies for ninjas. And President Reagan — via photographs — is all over the place, just so we know that, while this was shot in the Philippines, the action takes place in America — although nothing in this film looks like America.
So . . . this film rolls out the old “secret formula” trope (this time: mind control) that can either save or destroy the world — depending on who possesses said formula. Baddie Ninja Kurado (Ken Watanabe; not that one, the other one) and his evil scientist boss, Dr. Anderson (Mike Cohen), want the formula. So Kurado’s seven-man, cartwheeling gas-masked paramilitary ninja unit storms the government lab (“Top Secret” stenciled on the cover, natch) and dispatches the ubiquitously feeble security guards by fire, throwing stars, grappling hooks, swords, and ball bearings/marbles; attack-by-trees is their forte. The ninjas, led by Kurado’s best warrior (Romano Kristoff), have succeed. But they only secured half of the formula.
Now, for their next mission: storm a country mansion to kidnap the tennis pro daughter of a wealthy scientist (the ‘ol chloroform n’ burlap sack trope; I was going to use the word “gag,” but I like trope, better, for its reader-irritation levels and to display my thesaurus-ignorance in finding non-repetitive words in my writing) as leverage to secure the second half of the formula. And the ground’s guards, as well as the cops, are, once again, dispatched in quick succession, but a policewoman is kidnapped; in a prisoner exchange gone bad with a captured ninja, the ninjas murder their cop hostage. To paraphase Tommy Wiseau: Is plot twist . . . of no consequence.
Well, it’s time to call in Steve Parrish: Ninja Warrior. And, while Steve has no last name here, in interviews over the years, Marchini has stated — as well as MarchiniHeads more fanboy-manic than I — that Ninja Warriors is the first Steve Parrish adventure. Of course, there’s no character development regarding Steve’s past to confirm his Parrishness. For he just is: a lone wolf wrapped in a puzzle sandwiched in an even-fewer-dollars spaghetti, uh, noodles western, enigma. (How’s that for a non-trope laden sentence? R.D has mad skills.)
Anyway, Lt. Kevin Washington (Paul Vance), lost amid this ninja tomfoolery, knows Steve better than anybody; he calls in his old buddy for schoolin’ of his Japan-based martial arts knowledge in the ways the ninja. But Parrish soon realizes “knowing” the ninja ways isn’t enough: to defeat them, he must become . . . a Ninja Warrior.
Romano Kristoff pops up often in our Marchini reviews this week. Amid his 30 films, he worked with Mark “Trash” Gregory in Just a Damned Soldier (1988) and Tan Zan: Ultimate Mission (1988). Ken Watanabe, who also penned Ninja Warriors, also stars in our favorite Brent Huff film of all time (Hey, Sho Kosugi, we love you too.): Nine Deaths of the Ninja (1985).
Paul Vance made his acting debut as Praxis in the batshite-all-over-the-place wonder that is W Is War (1983) and Mad Warrior (1984) for Willy Milan, and Slash Exterminator (1984, with Romano Kristoff) for Jun Gallardo. In addition, Vance wrote Slash Exterminator and SFX Retailator for Gallardo. Romano Kristoff, starring here for director Teddy Chiu/Teddy Page, also worked on two of Page’s best: Black Fire (1985) and Jungle Rats (1988) (that we seriously need to rewatch and review . . . for a “Philippine War Week” blowout).
If you’re a frequent visitor to the Pasta and Philippine Apocalypses and Vietnam war zones, you’ll recognize the support cast of Mike Cohen, Mike Monty, and Nick Nicholas, each who could easily have a month-long B&S About Movies tribute month based on their respective resumes.
So . . . yeah, Ninja Warriors is bad. But it’s awesome bad because it’s better made than most Rambo and Arnie Commando pasta and noodle rips. Director Teddy Page, averaging a Woody Allen-inspired one film a year across 30-plus credits, ranks right up their with Cirio H. Santiago (Equalizer 2000) in terms of quality-against-the-budget and could teach a thing or two, or three, to Godfrey Ho (Devil’s Dynamite) and Jun Gallardo (Desert Warrior).
You can stream the majesty of Ninja Warriors on You Tube. It’s a kick!’
About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S Movies
Since today (and tomorrow) is “Ron Marchini Week” (yes, a two-day week), we’re bringing Death Machines back one more time — to honor Ron’s all too short, eleven-movie career — with another take by B&S About Movies self-proclaimed uber fan and Marchini authority: moi. (Really, Sam said I can have the title, he’s already made the tee-shirts!) So, now it’s a battle of wills: who loves this film more: Herbert Death Machine, Sam Death Machine, or R.D. Death Machine? And Becca, the “B” in B&S, is our overlord. Hail, Madam Pacino, for she is the Queen of the Death Machine.
If only this sophomore follow up to Ron Marchini’s Murder in the Orient actually had the Zardoz-cum-Rollerball superintelligent machine of teeth thingy. My guess is that Rollerball was on the way and Roger Corman had Death Race 2000, his knockoff of that film, in the marketplace. Only the incisors-ridden pyramid of the cover does not spout any cool Lord Zardoz lines like “The Penis is Evil.” And Ron has no cool, knee-high red boots, skimpy speedos, or bullets belts on his bare chest. There’s no death cycles or post-apoc cars — which you think you’re getting because of the post-apoc poster dupe. I was expecting — to put this in a modern context — some Alien vs. Predator pyramid of death, with an ancient Mayan or Aztec pyramid, deep in the Philippine jungles with martial arts masters trapped inside a booby-trapped monolith, fighting their way out, with spiked walls and ceilings at every turn.
Well, guess what? We’ve been Def-Con’d. For this movie doesn’t make a lick of common sense — or any sense. Or anything that rises above boredom. Not even the great Ron Marchini is saving it with his kung-fu grips. Ugh. Thanks, Crown International.
So, Madame Lee has gathered, i.e., kidnapped, three multi-racial, martial arts masters: White Death Machine (Ron Marchini, aka John Travis of the one-two punch of Omega Cop andKarate Cop), Asian Death Match (Michael Chong of Charles Bronson’s Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects), and Black Death Machine (Joshua Johnson of The Weapons of Death) after she injects them with a mysterious formula that makes them her mindless, karate fighting soldiers. Her plan: to take over the underworld with her bullet-impervious warriors.
One things is for sure: there’s action ‘o plenty. We get a karate school vs. Death Machines blow out. We get sword fights. We get electrocutions. Death by cars (but not apoc cars). There’s a motorcycle gang (but not apoc bikes). And we think the plot concerns the student body of a karate school being wiped out (and I wish I could tell you why Ms. Lee ordered it), and the lone-survivor wants revenge for the Death Machines amputating his hand. And there’s a cop, Lt. Forrester, on the case, but what that “case” is, we guess to destroy the Death Machine warriors, is anyone’s guess.
Blame this ALL on our friends at Crown International Pictures: they got an evil martial arts movie and decided to tweak it into a sci-fi film. Oh, and we are not anywhere exotic. Just ol’ Stockton, California. So much Paul Kyriazi’s “passion project,” he who gave us the awesome Ninja Busters (1984). Now, if you know your Ron Marchini trivia — and you don’t because I am authority at B&S, remember — Paul Kyriazi and Ron fared much better withjoint work in Omega Cop (1990).
If you’re a Kyriazi completist as much as you’re a Marchini one, the rest of his writing and directing credits are: The Tournament (1972), the aforementioned The Weapons of Death (1981), One Way Out (1987), and Forbidden Power (2018). And get this: prior to making his debut with the 12th century samurai adventure The Tournament, Paul worked for NASA in their press department filming space launches. So, the next time you watch late ’60s and early ’70s Mercury and Apollo shots, Paul’s eye is behind that camera.
You can get a copy on the numerous Mill Creek sets we’ve mentioned. You can stream it on Amazon Prime or get the Blu-ray at Vinegar Syndrome. A 4k restore of its original Techniscope camera negative, the VS Blu features all-new interviews with its director and actors. But hey, there’s a copy on You Tube to enjoy.
And Does Ron Marchini fair better with his third movie, Dragon’s Quest? Well . . . well, let’s just say that’s a tale and a half, and we’re reviewing as part of our Ron Marchini (two day) tribute, so strap in.