Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: Avenging Force
Tagline: When getting even just isn’t enough.
Released by: Media Home Entertainment
Director: Sam Firstenberg
Plot: Former secret agent Matt Hunter has settled down in Louisiana to take care of his little sister following his parent’s death from a bomb blast. When he visits his former soldier buddy Larry Richards, an African American running for the Senate, he discovers that a powerful group of wealthy white supremacists have targeted him for execution. Matt becomes involved when the paramilitary-trained bigots attack and murder Larry and his family, eventually kidnapping Matt’s sister to hold as ransom, so that he’ll be forced to partake in a “hunting” game in which he is the prey.
Thoughts: If you were a teenage boy growing up in the nineteen eighties then you were all too familiar with Mr. Golan & Mr. Globus’ exploitation movie-producing empire known as the Cannon Film Group and the long list of titles that were made with action stars like: Charles Bronson, Chuck Norris and rising “it” boy and ass-kicking prodigy Michael Dudikoff (Bachelor Party, American Ninja). But, how many of you have ever seen or even heard of the highly underrated quasi-sequel to the incredible Norris hit from ’85 Invasion U.S.A., known as Avenging Force (aka American Ninja 2, American Warrior II), in which Dudikoff takes over the character of ex-military intelligence operative Matt Hunter? Norris was originally offered the role, but he was already committed to about a dozen other films for Cannon that year so it went to up-and-comer Michael Dudikoff, who had previously worked for G & G on American Ninja.
After single-handedly wiping out a force of multi-racial terrorists in southern Florida during the Christmas holidays, Capt. Matt Hunter has retired to an old farm outside of New Orleans so that he may care for his young sister, now orphaned after a bomb explosion caused by his enemies killed their parents. Unfortunately the bayou state doesn’t provide much in the way of stress relief, because before long Hunter has sworn to protect his politician and ex-secret service friend Larry Richards (Steve James) from a group of crazed right-wing, lunatic fringe, paramilitary types that call themselves The Pentangle Hunting Fraternity. In addition to being a brazen group of domestic terrorists that are funded by and made up of wealthy white businessmen, they also get their kicks from conducting a sick “man-hunt” in which they stalk and execute their victims in the local swamps. The group’s leader is played by the great character actor John P. Ryan, who made a little career for himself in the 80’s playing extremely intense bad guys, most notably as the evil warden from the Cannon classic, Runaway Train.
After Richards is attacked at a public rally during Mardi Gras, one of his sons (along with many innocent bystanders) is hit in the crossfire, so Hunter reconnects with his old government pals to learn as much as he can about Pentangle. Just like in Invasion U.S.A. Hunter is offered a chance to come back and work under cover to stop the bad guys, and once again he turns them down in favor of working alone, which once again results in many needless deaths. Larry Richards and his entire family are slain in cold blood and Hunter’s little sister is kidnapped while the house they’re hiding out in is burned to the ground by Pentangle. This sequence features some rather crazy child endangerment moments (including a stunt that obviously uses a dummy) and some downright twisted violence that treats both age and gender with equal cruelty. To make matters worse, Hunter must agree to be the prey in a The Most Dangerous Game-style hunt through the rain-drenched, murky swamps of the bayou, in order to save his lil’ sis.
Apparently the Pentangle boys didn’t realize that they’re dealing with an ex-commando badass when they decided to pick Hunter, because he takes them all out pretty easily with his incredible martial arts skills. The bad guys dress in bizarre outfits that include: a creepy white-faced ninja, a fetish-ed-out Bane look-alike, and a weird rodent-masked John P. Ryan smoking a pipe – who escapes only to be confronted for a final duel, in which the evil racist is ironically impaled on a metal spear held by the statue of an African warrior. Leave it to a Cannon action movie to have a really awesome, over-the-top villain death, but this one’s a little more poignant than most of the others.
This film was directed by Sam Firstenberg, who made a slew of features for Cannon that include: Revenge of the Ninja, Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo, American Ninja 1 & 2, Delta Force 3: The Killing Game and the incredible supernatural/revenge masterpiece Ninja III: The Domination. He does a nice job of keeping the action moving smoothly throughout, as well as guiding Dudikoff into one of the best performances of his career as Matt Hunter. The film has less of a comic book style as Joseph Zito’s far superior Invasion U.S.A., but after re-watching it recently I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with the wealthy, conservative, militia-minded villains featured here and the very real tea bagging NRA nutzoids that I see and hear on Fox News all the time. If you remade it today and recast The Pentangle Hunting Fraternity, it could very easily consist of Mitt Romney, Donald Trump and Dick Cheney in the John P. Ryan role. Cheney would own that shit.
CHECK OUT THE ASS-KICKING TRAILER: