Vengeance (1970)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

John Boorman’s Point Blank was a very influential movie. It informed the fractured storyline of Oldboy. It also inspired the look and feel of Vengeance. That makes this movie lean more towards an art film than Five Elements Ninjas. What will bring you down to earth from the fancy heights of cinema is the straight-up, no frills english dubbing by all the same voices that looped the other Shaw Brothers films around the same time. I was hoping there would be the original Chinese dub available to take that cheesy edge off, but that option was not available. In spite of that minor flaw, this is a very good, artsy, dark martial arts movie that I personally found quite enjoyable. It’s got a bit more drama than fists a-flyin’ but I give it high marks for it’s look and style.

Not available on domestic Blu-ray.

Five Elements Ninjas (1982)

Main image – my photo of a hand-painted Ghanaian poster for “Five Elements Ninjas.”

Streaming on Amazon Prime and Netflix | imdb | trailer

Now THIS is a Saturday Night movie! Five Elements Ninjas is one of my top five favorite martial arts films of all time. The Shaw Brothers serve up a heaping helping of non-stop, insane, bloody ninja action. The film is often ridiculous, and utterly improbable, but it all works together beautifully somehow. Enjoy with your favorite psychoactive for maximum impact.

Available on Blu-ray from Tokyo Shock.

Starsky and Hutch – Pilot (1975)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | no trailer available

If you are not interested in ‘70s TV cop shows you will want to skip this recommendation. I don’t normally talk about television series here, but the feature-length pilot of the this gritty old cop drama was too irresistible. Please note the following important features: Dirty old LA, Richard Lynch as an uncredited hitman, a scene in a porno movie theatre, an appearance by a young Gordon Jump from WKRP, music by Lalo Schrifin (Mission Impossible, Enter the Dragon, Dirty Harry) and Hutch / David Soul’s sweet-ass leather jacket. I was impressed by the quality of the film-making too. That probably has a lot to do with the fact that it was helmed by Barry Shear, who also directed Across 110th Street.

I used to watch this show as a kid and had never seen this pilot. Obviously it was a lot of fun for me. I think anyone not into ‘70s TV crime shows would think it was just an old police action movie with all the blood and nudity cut out. I understand but I still can’t believe this was broadcast to every home from coast to coast. Starsky and Hutch seems to have begun with the idea that they would push the limit of what network censors would tolerate as much as possible. It really was a different world back then. Note: this is listed as “Episode 0” on Amazon Prime, and on the tablet app it’s under “bonus” at the bottom of season one.

Not available on Blu-ray.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God (1972)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

If you’ve never seen anything from Werner Herzog other than his many documentaries, this is mandatory viewing. The two standout components of the film are Klaus Kinski’s amazing performance and the beautiful score by Krautrock legends Popol Vuh. Pay close attention to one of the early scenes of a seemingly endless line of people winding around a narrow mountain path. I have no idea how Herzog managed to pull off this shot. It’s one of the most beautiful moments in the history of cinema. Please note that at first the film may appear cropped, but the nearly-square aspect ratio (1.37 : 1) is how it was originally filmed.

Available on Blu-ray from Shout Factory.

Coffy (1973)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

My girlfriend and I have an expression we use a lot – “Ten Times Pam Grier” (emphasis on ten times with pauses between the words). It works for many purposes. This comes from the time we saw a 35mm print of Coffy with a Pam Grier Q&A after. A very enthusiastic fan said the above words to Ms. Grier and followed by “I’ve seen this movie ten times” and many kind words about the actress. Pam loved it and I love this movie. It’s easily my favorite blaxploitation film and you can watch a nicely restored version on Amazon Prime.

Available on Blu-ray from Olive Films.

The Cat o' Nine Tails (1971)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

I could write a lot about the many pluses and minuses of Dario Argento, but I will restrain myself. I saw an interview where the director said he didn’t care for The Cat o’ Nine Tails because it was too straight-forward. I love it. This is a pretty bloodless murder mystery. It was rated PG no less, but I think they had to cut a couple of graphic death scenes to get that certification. Those scenes have been restored on both versions that are on Amazon Prime. The one with the red cover is in Italian with subtitles available. The other (cheesier) cover has the English language version that lead actor Karl Malden dubbed himself. The red cover is the latest Arrow transfer but both look great. This movie also features one of the catchiest Ennio Morricone theme songs. The Cat o’ Nine Tails is an excellent example of the giallo subgenre. Yes, it’s somewhat tame, but should not be missed.

Available on Blu-ray from Arrow Films.

Dead or Alive (1999)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

This was my first Takashi Miike experience. I was lucky enough to see a 35mm print at the Philadelphia Film Fest (thank you Travis Crawford). I am always hunting for fast paced movies. This is one of the fastest! Dead or Alive is crazy, hyperactive action from start to finish. If you can forgive a little cheap looking CG at the end, this movie is a blast (pun intended).

Available on Blu-ray from Arrow.

The Big Racket (1976)

Streaming on Amazon Prime | imdb | trailer

For a while there Italy was making the best crime thrillers in the world. They were initially inspired by Dirty Harry so you should know what to expect. The subgenre is called Poliziotteschi and there’s a ton of these films to sift through. The Big Racket is one of my top favorites of this style, and I give it my highest recommendation.

NOTE: Unfortunately this movie is not available in HD. The version on Amazon is at least widescreen and looks damn good for SD.

Not available on Blu-ray.