Enter the Ninja


Street Date 10/31/23;
Kino Lorber;
$24.95 Blu-ray;
Rated ‘R.’
Stars Franco Nero, Shô Kosugi, Sucan George, Christopher George, Alex Courtney, Will Hare.

Some films are better left to memory. In my youth, karate films held zero interest for me. (I was in my fifties before I saw my first Bruce Lee epic.) It wasn’t until Jackie Chan took a more comedic approach to people kicking people that martial arts movies found a place on my Blu-ray shelf.

Depending on the source, the first official ninja picture was credited to Chuck Norris’ The Octagon. I must have been sick the week it opened, but there I was, Mr. First-Nighter when 1981’s Enter the Ninja came to town. Norris may call first dibs on the claim, but it was Cannon Films that put ninjutsu on the map. The opening night presentation at the long defunct The Parkway Theatre, Chicago’s gloriously dilapidated grindhouse (now a Lenscrafters), welcomed a crowd eager and packed to the rafters. The sanguine audience vibe enhanced by the sweet stench of pot wafting through the auditorium may have intensified my appreciation. Seeing it again after all these years, it’s safe to say as a director, Menahem Golan made an exemplary purveyor of low-rent trash.

In a strange way, we have Charles Bronson, the pride and joy of Cannon Films, to thank for Enter the Ninja. The schlock production house, headed by Golan and his cousin Yoram Globus, purchased the rights to the “Death Wish” series from Dino De Laurentis with the intention of Golan directing the first sequel. How inept must Bronson have deemed Golan to insist that Michael “Hack From Way Back” Winner continue on with the directorial duties? That freed Golan up, allowing him for the second time a shot at directing a film for Cannon. According to IMDb, the official excuse was written off as such: “After seeing three days worth of dailies that were shot in which Menahem Golan felt were boring, he fired original director Emmett Alston and took over the project himself.” Theater owners wise to the art of ballyhoo should have sold life insurance policies at the concession stands in case the breakneck 5-to-1 zooms left audience members with a bad case of whiplash.

There’s not a word of dialogue spoken for the first 11 minutes of the film. As much as one would like to chalk it up to artistic purpose, it’s more likely than not that the silence is best attributed to the two leads’ inability to converse in a convincing American dialect. This was Shô Kosugi’s first starring role in an English-speaking picture. The film was such a success that it spawned two sequels starring the ninpō specialist, both of which surpassed their predecessors in terms of budget and quality. (Sam Firstenberg helmed both sequels.) Franco Nero was an established international name, but other than starring as the original Django, when one speaks of Tristana, Querelle, Camelot or Die Hard 2, the actor’s name is not the first that comes to mind. Still at it with over 200 films and television shows to his credit, the 82-year-old Nero stands as one of the hardest working actors in show business. His performance as a ninja is slightly more believable — and nowhere near as hilarious — than what we’ve come to expect from Steven Seagal.

Susan George brings a touch of unnecessary romance, while Christopher George’s (no relations) bombastic turn as the wealthy businessman who hires Kosugi to take out Nero is the film’s biggest plus when it comes to unintentional hoots. To his credit, Golan plays the action fairly straight until the last shot in the film, when the director can’t resist having Nero break character long enough to literally wink at the camera.

Bonus features include the original theatrical trailer plus a new audio commentary by film historians Mike Leeder and Arne Venema.

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Arrow’s July Release Slate Includes Two Boxed Blu-ray Disc Sets, 4K Ultra HD of Argento Debut ‘Bird With the Crystal Plumage’

Two limited-edition Blu-ray Disc boxed sets of classic movies and a 4K Ultra HD edition of Italian horror master Dario Argento’s The Bird with the Crystal Plumage highlight Arrow Video’s July 2021 disc release slate.

Releases get underway July 6 with Threshold, available on both Blu-ray Disc and DVD. The film, produced last year, tells the story of a girl who believes she is cursed and convinces her brother to head out on a cross-country road trip to break the curse. The psychological thriller was co-directed by Powell Robinson and Patrick Robert Young and stars Joey Millin, Nadine Sondej-Robinson, Daniel Abraham Stevens, John Terrell and Madison West.

Other releases all become available on July 27 and include two limited-edition Blu-ray Disc boxed sets.

The Vengeance Trails: Four Classic Westerns includes four classic Italian-American Westerns from the late 1960s and early ’70s: Massacre Time, My Name is Pecos, Bandidos and And God Said to Cain.

  • In Lucio Fulci’s Massacre Time (1966), Franco Nero stars as a New Mexico prospector who returns home to help his drunkard brother save the family ranch from a businessman and his sadistic son.
  • Robert Woods stars in My Name is Pecos (1967), from director Maurizio Lucidi. Woods plays a Mexican gunslinger who squares off with the man that killed his family.
  • Enrico Maria Salerno is a gunman who seeks revenge on a former pupil in director Massimo Dallamano’s Bandidos (1967).
  • Rounding out the set is And God Said to Cain (1970), from director Antonio Margheiti. Klaus Kinski stars as a recently released prisoner who tracks down the men who framed him.

All four films all restored in 2K using the original 35mm camera negatives. The four-disc limited edition set includes an illustrator collector’s booklet and a fold-out double-sided poster.

The second boxed set due on July 27 is The Daimajin Trilogy. This limited edition Blu-ray Disc set includes all three films in the “Daiei” series — Daimajin, Return of Daimajin, and Wrath Of Daimajin. The series takes the Golem legend and places it in 16th century Japan. The films have frequently been overlooked, but fans of the films have frequently placed them among the best the kaiju genre has to offer, praising the outstanding special effects. The set includes a 100-page book featuring essays by Jonathan Clements, Keith Aiken, Ed Godziszewski, Raffael Coronelli, Erik Homenick, Robin Gatto, and Kevin Derendorf.

Also out on July 27 is The Bird With the Crystal Plumage, director Argento’s groundbreaking debut and a film largely responsible for kicking the “Giallo” genre into high gear. Roger Ebert praised the film, saying it’s “what thrillers are all about,” while Bloody Disgusting dubbed it a “flawless debut.” Tony Musante stars as an American author vacationing in Rome when he witnesses a terrible murder, but things aren’t quite as they seem. This new release sees the Argento classic make the jump to 4K Ultra HD with a brand new 4K restoration, courtesy of Arrow. This set includes an illustrated booklet featuring writings on the film and a fold-out poster.

MVD and Arrow Video June Slate Includes 1960s Western ‘Django’

MVD Entertainment Group has announced the Arrow Video Blu-ray lineup for June 2020.

Arrow Academy’s Blu-ray of 1960’s America as Seen by a Frenchman was released June 2. French documentarian François Reichenbach spent a year and a half traveling the United States capturing some of the most famous sites and sounds. The result was a look at America with a French sensibility.

Arrow Academy will have a second release for the month June 23 with director Tomu Uchida’s 1962 film The Max Fox. The film was highlighted in the August 2007 issue of Sight & Sound as one of their “75 Hidden Gems — The Great Films Time Forgot.” This release, featuring a brand new restoration courtesy of Toei, will mark the film’s worldwide Blu-ray debut.

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Also June 23 comes the Blu-ray release of 1988’s Dream Demon via Arrow Video. A soon-to-be-wed woman starts having terrible dreams that start to blend into a frightening reality. Harley Cokeliss’ gory 1980s psychological nightmare has languished in obscurity for the past three decades, but that will soon change with this new 2K restoration approved by Cokeliss. In addition to the theatrical release, Arrow’s edition also includes the director’s cut.

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The 1966 Spaghetti Western Django arrives June 30 as a limited edition Blu-ray set that includes a fold-out poster and photo cards of images from the film. A collectible Steelbook edition also will be available.

‘Django’ Steelbook cover

Franco Nero stars as Django, a mysterious loner who arrives at a mud-drenched ghost town on the Mexico-U.S. border, ominously dragging a coffin behind him. With Django, director Sergio Corbucci upped the ante for sadism and sensationalism in Westerns, depicting machine gun massacres, mud-fighting prostitutes and savage mutilations.

A huge hit with international audiences, Django’s brand of bleak nihilism would be repeatedly emulated in a raft of unofficial sequels. The film is presented here in an exclusive new restoration with a wealth of extras including the newly restored bonus feature Texas Adios, which also stars Franco Nero, and was released as Django 2 in several territories.