The TSL’s Horror Grindhouse: Ninja III: The Domination (dir by Sam Firstenberg)


This 1984 film is brilliant.

Basically, it tells the story of Christie Ryder (Lucinda Dickey), who appears to have everything that someone could want out of life.  Not only does she have a really nice place to live but she also repairs phone lines for a living!  (That might not sound glamorous but she lives in California, which means that there’s always a nice view when she’s working.)  She also teaches an aerobics class because this film is from 1984 and, in 1984, everyone taught their own aerobics class.  At least, that’s the impression that I’ve gotten from watching movies of the era.

Christie only has one problem.  She’s been possessed.  She hasn’t been possessed by any ordinary old demon, either.  Instead, she’s been possessed by a dead ninja.  Hanjuro (David Chung) came to America because there were some people on a golf course who needed to be killed.  Unfortunately, no sooner had he killed everyone on the back 9 then he found himself surrounded by cops.  It took a lot of bullets to take down Hanjuro but down he went.  However, his spirit went up and entered Christie’s body.

Now, Christie spends her time teaching aerobics, working on phone lines, and murdering everyone who Hanjuro feels has wrong him.  Hanjuro wants to kill all of the cops who shot him.  Unfortunately, one of those cops, Billy Secord (Jordan Bennett), is now dating Christie.  Once Billy finally figures out why Christie is acting so strangely, he takes her to an exorcist (James Hong) who explains that it’s going to take more than just an ordinary exorcism to defeat the ninja lurking within Christie.  It’s going to require the help of another ninja, the noble Goro Yamada (Sho Kosugi).  It’s time to go to Japan!

I may not be a huge ninja movie fan (unless, of course, they feature Franco Nero) but I have to say that I absolutely loved Ninja III.  That really shouldn’t come as a surprise.  This film is such an utterly weird mishmash of tones and genres that there’s no way that I couldn’t love it.  It starts out as a typical kung fu film, just to suddenly turn into The Exorcist before then becoming Flashdance before returning to being The Exorcist.  Finally, for the last few minutes of the film, it transforms back into a kung fu film.  As I watched the film, I found myself thinking about all of the other films throughout history that could have been livened up by a demonic or spiritual possession subplot.  For that matter, think about how much more crazy The Exorcist would have been if Father Karras and Father Merrin had been Ninja Karras and NInja Merrin.

Anyway, in all seriousness, Ninja III is exactly what an exploitation film should be.  It’s unapologetically strange and over-the-top and it makes absolutely no apologies for being what it is.  It’s a film that says, “I’m here to tell a story about a woman possessed by a dead ninja and if that’s not good enough for you, you need to figure out what’s wrong with your heart.”  Ninja III is brilliant, wonderful, and definitely a film that you must watch this October.  It’s on Prime so go watch it.  Do it now.

Back to School Part II #14: Grease 2 (dir by Patricia Birch)


Grease_2

 

So, the whole reason that I watched Grease last week was so I would be prepared to watch the 1982 sequel Grease 2 over the weekend.  As I’ve mentioned many times on this site, I absolutely hate Grease and I know what you’re probably asking yourself:

“But Lisa, if you hate Grease so much, why did you want to see Grease 2?”

Well, there’s a very good answer to that question but I’m not going to reveal it.  I’m going to encourage you to learn to love the mystery.  For whatever reason, I wanted to watch Grease 2.  Perhaps it was because I’ve heard that Grease 2 is the worst sequel ever made.  I really didn’t see how that was possible.  How, I wondered, could a film be any worse than the original Grease?

And, so, I watched Grease 2 on Netflix and yes, it was really, really bad.  But you know what?  It was so bad that it became almost compulsively watchable.  Unlike the first Grease, which is full of slow spots, Grease 2 is oddly exciting in its mediocrity.  I watched much of it in open-mouthed horror, wondering if things could possibly get any worse.  And, with each scene, it did get worse.  It was so overwhelmingly and shamelessly bad and so thoroughly misguided that, strangely enough, I really want to rewatch it.

Grease 2 takes place in 1961.  There’s a whole new gang of students at Rydell High!  Well, actually, Frenchy (Didi Conn) has returned.  You may remember that, in the previous film, Frenchy dropped out of high school and went to beauty school.  (She was also visited by Satan, who came to her disguised as the Teen Angel.)  But now Frenchy is back, trying to pass a chemistry class so she can … well, I’m not really sure what the whole deal with Frenchy was.  I imagine that Didi Conn was probably free for a weekend.

The T-bird and the Pink Ladies are still around but they have a whole new membership.  The head of the Pink Ladies is Stephanie Zinone (played, in her film debut, by Michelle Pfeiffer).  Her boyfriend, Johnny Nogorelli (Adrian Zmed), is the chain-smoking leader of the T-birds.  Actually, Johnny is now her ex-boyfriend.  He cheated on her over the summer.

And there’s a new boy at Rydell!  He’s originally from England and he’s Sandy’s cousin!  His name is Michael Carrington (superhandsome Maxwell Caulfield, who is perhaps fated to always be best known for playing Rex Manning in Empire Records) and, when we first meet him, he’s getting off a school bus and he’s wearing a suit!  Michael really likes Stephanie but you have to be a T-bird if you’re going to date a Pink Lady and…

AGCK!

Sorry, that was a primal scream.  Trying to describe the plot of Grease 2 inspires a lot of primal screams.

Anyway, this is a film is also a musical but apparently, none of the original Grease composers were involved with the sequels.  All the songs kinda sound like something you would hear in a parody of Grease, as opposed to a sequel.  Also adding to bizarre feel of this sequel is that everyone delivers their lines as if they’re appearing in a stage production, projecting to the back of the theater and overenunciating every single syllable.  This may have made sense for Grease, which was adapted from an actual stage show and, despite efforts to open up the action, was still deliberately stagey.  Grease 2, meanwhile, is an adaptation of a stage show that never actually existed.

The film starts with a 7 minute production number called Back To School Again.  As the Pink Ladies and the T-birds and all the other students show up outside of Rydell, they sing, “Woe is me!  The Board of Education took away my parole.”  And the scene just keeps going and going, until you start to wonder if Rydell High is a cult compound.

This is followed by a song about bowling (!) that’s called “Score Tonight.”

And it just keeps getting worse from there.  The film becomes sickly fascinating as you find yourself trying to predict how much more worse it can possibly get.  You may be tempted to give up but you’ll definitely want to stick around for the scene in which Michael discovers that Stephanie wants a “cool rider.”  How does he know that?  She sings a song about it!

Naturally, Michael gets a motorcycle, a helmet, and pair of goggles and he starts to romance Stephanie.  Stephanie doesn’t know who that Michael is the mysterious motorcyclist, despite the fact that Michael is just wearing a helmet and a pair of goggles.  Though you have to admire Pfieffer’s commitment to her role (and she gives a fairly good performance, considering the material she was working with), you can’t help but feel that Stephanie might not be the smart.  Especially after she sings, “Who’s that guy?”

Uhmmm … it’s Michael.  It’s not like he’s dressed up like a bat or wearing the Iron Man armor.  He’s just got a helmet and goggles on.  Add to that, while Maxwell Caulfield doesn’t give a bad performance (he seems to be doing the best he can with what he’s been given to work with), he also doesn’t attempt to act any differently when he’s the mysterious motorcyclist than when he’s Michael.

There are other things going on as well.  The film is full of vignettes about life in 1961, all featuring the students and teachers at Rydell High.  For instance, former teen idol Tab Hunter shows up as a substitute teacher and sings a song about reproduction.

And again, it’s so bad that you can’t look away and you watch knowing that you’ll never get the images and the songs out of your head.  So compulsively watchable is this bad movie that I may have to watch it again after I finish this review.  (Then again, I’ll probably just rewatch the fifth season of Degrassi…)

(That said, I would actually argue that Grease 2 is a better directed film than the first Grease.  Grease 2 was directed by Grease‘s choreographer and, as opposed to the first film, the dance numbers are actually framed with modicum of care.)

(By the way, I’ve always wanted to use the phrase “modicum of care” in a review.)

Anyway, Grease 2 apparently bombed at the box office and, as a result, there have been no further Grease films.  It’s a shame because you so know that Grease 3 would have taken place in 1967 and featured hippies.

Oh well.

We’ll survive…