Mark Gregory and Michael Sopkiw are becoming quite regular fixtures here at Zombie Club. The Italian tight jean enthusiast is known for his gonad-squashing antics via Enzo Casterelli's flame-thrower extravaganzas Bronx Warriors 1 & 2, but he was arguably destined for greater things than that. Gregory must've been hopping with joy (or at least sore testicles) when offered the lead role in predictable Italian First Blood rip-off Thunder, because, if nothing else, he wouldn't have to go back working in that damn shoe shop. Not for a while at least. Not until the two, yes two, sequels were done.
American export Michael Sopkiw had an even shorter film career than our old friend the Bronx Warrior, having made a total of four movies. All in Italy. And none of them "good", in the conventional sense. After tonight we can say we've seen three quarters of his total output, which leaves us with the awesomely atrocious sounding Devouring Waves. I have a feeling that this one outstanding Sopkiw sharkfest will be making an appearance at a ZC in the near future, after which we will, regrettably, have to conclude this slightly bizarre preoccupation with his work.
This evening's selection is brought to you by Zomblee in association with some really big guns, and Mark Gregory's screaming gonads. And Native Americans, because they're nice.
Plot Murdering ex-cop 'Tiger' Sharp gets busy with a big gun
Zomblee Welcome to the world of Blastfighter. The video tape is in a massive box, like tonight's next movie, but surely that is little reassurance that this massive gun Italian cash-in attempt is going to deliver the goods. Right? Right. But Michael "I've been in four dodgy movies and i'm damn proud of them all" Sopkiw is in it. Therefore, this is enough confirmation we need that this is pure Zombie Club Gold. But wait, George "Big Ape" Eastman is also in it, playing Tiger's old 'Nam buddie. And to show he's been through the wars, well, Jim put it best: George Eastman has a limp! Brilliant!"
Sopkiw here plays ex-con / ex-vet with a name that any parent should be proud of: Tiger Sharp ("Tiger Shark?! You can't be called Tiger Shark!" - Rawshark), and this Tiger guy is someone who "always pays his debts." Meaning, of course, that he will use that MASSIVE gun his cop mate procured for him (that's the gun he's got on the video box by the way) if he's forced by a clan of ill-tempered hicks to fight for his life in America's liberally forested backwaters. So, this gun. What's it all about? Well, we were all more than a bit impressed by its many functions - let's just say that it can do pretty much anything besides make you a cup of joe. Jim will fill you in on the rest of its many functions (I know he wrote them all down), but to see the mighty blastfighter in action you really have to exercise patience, as it isn't until Tiger Sharp is really pushed to the limit that he raises those cabin floorboards to put it to good use. And put it to good use he does, make no mistake. Hell, even the local hicks are impressed, "Shee-it, that's a gun and a half, where'd ye get it?!", they shout through their gap-toothed, grit eatin' mouths, before getting literally blown to pieces (Rewind!") by this unbelieveable piece of hardware that will, according to Tiger's cop mate, be "standard issue in a year". Yeah, right.
Right, plot. Tiger Sharp ("Easy, Tiger!" - Rawshark) is pushed too far by hillbillies who love to hunt cute animals, they kill his daughter and his mate. Seems that they all work for Tiger's old 'Nam buddy George "Do you like my new limp?" Eastman, who attempts to pacify the situation from his helicopter. Needless to say, negotiations fail to remedy the situation, thank God. So, Tiger gets his MASSIVE gun, uses a variety of different bullets that all do different things, and blows, no, BLASTS all them there huntin' boys to smithereeens. The End. There. Don't tell me I can't follow a complex plot, coz I can.
Rawshark Well, let’s be honest, you can hardly accuse Blastfighter of having a complex plot. Mr Tiger Sharp is released from prison - he was a cop who killed someone you see - and acquires a MASSIVE gun from his old cop buddy that can shoot everything from darts to grenades to peas (probably). He then returns home to find corruption in his little town, hooks up with his long-lost daughter, before wreaking revenge on the hicks who have been out to make his life a little difficult. Nothing too complex about that surely?
To be fair, the film starts off fairly well, with a cameo appearance from Hoyt Pollard, the dueling banjo player from Deliverance (Zomblee - ”It is him!”, Jim - ”Yes, you can tell by…”, Zomblee - ”…by the eyes!” - Zomblee) and a nice hunting scene whereby Tiger saves a baby deer from some over-eager hunters. Unfortunately the hunters quickly take revenge by slitting baby Bambi’s throat, leading to Sopkiw dealing out some of his own fisticuffs justice which particularly pleased Jim – ”Yeah! He got one guy through the window and ‘milked’ the other guy!”
However the middle section of the film is largely dull and dreary, as Tiger meets up with his old buddy George Eastman, discovers his daughter, and generally loafs around whilst occasionally dodging flaming barrels and jumping out of cars that have had the brakes tampered with. With poorly portrayed dramatic scenes, and some pointless waterfall crossing and abseiling scenes, it comes as a huge relief that the last 10 minutes are actually quite entertaining as Tiger finally gets to unleash his MASSIVE gun prompting Zomblee to ”pause it now and get the garlic bread out of the oven before it all kicks off!”
And kick off it does, with lots of bangs and dummies being blown to smithereens, but it’s a case of too little too late unfortunately, and not even the long-awaited Sopkiw / Eastman Mexican stand-off can save things. Ok, so it’s not a bad film, but with Eastman and Sopkiw both starring, it’s a bit of a disappointment not to get a ‘bad film’, if you know what I mean. Oh well.
”There are 100 ways to feel pain, only one way to feel pleasure. Hardly seems fair does it?”
Jim Bad film? Complex plot? What in God's name are you guys talking about? Or, looking at what my zombie brothers here have written again, are we crossing our banter streams tonight? I mean, I know we were all really excited tonight about watching our penultimate Sopkiw movie, but surely we weren't that mashed so early?
"Every time I try to write Sopkiw down I can't do it coz my hand doesn't think it makes sense..." offered Zomblee early on, which in all fairness could well have added to the confusion. But then halfway through the film he did comment that "...it's really easy to keep track of the plot..." so who knows? Rawshark, on the hand, had something else on his mind. "Oh look, his gun can actually pan!" he spotted, obviously impressed by the amazing gun-cam shots we're gifted with early on. But when Sopkiw spends the next hour with the MASSIVE gun (that fires smoke bombs, flares, tear gas, rubber bullets, lead slugs, armour piercing and grenades) hidden under a floorboard in his cabin, that didn't go down too well. "Where’s the big gun?", "We want the big gun!" and "I’d get the big gun if I were you Tiger!" were all his Rawshark’s. Impatient, eh?
Anyway, after all that plot, being reunited with his daughter, meeting a limping George Eastman, jumping out of a car and having a bit of walking across a waterfall action and some pointless abseiling thrown in for good measure, it was great when it all finally kicked off. Initially, as Tiger sprints it back to his cabin, splitting random rednecks’ throats at lightning speed along the way, we were all worried it’d be over too quickly ("Okay, this is all happening a bit too quickly..." – Zomblee), but we needn’t have worried. Once Tiger gets the MASSIVE gun out, it’s action stations all the way as umpteen dummies and cars get blown away, until things calm down ("he must’ve run out of car blowing up bullets!" – Rawshark) and it’s Sopkiw versus Eastman again for the final encounter.
I have to admit, I really enjoyed Blastfighter in every way, but I am a real sucker for this shit. Crazy guns, blowing up stuff, rednecks, brilliant; although I didn’t feel for it as much as Zomblee, who was getting genuinely worried about the future of that small hick town. "There’s gonna be a lot of single women in this town after this – all these guys have been killed!" he said, but he may have been joking. Who knows?
"You bite, hit me or scream, but don’t move your legs."
Director Lamberto Bava
Cast Michael Sopkiw
Runtime 87 mins
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Plot Native American Thunder gets busy with a bazooka
Jim The trailer before Thunder on Zomblee’s old big box ex-rental tape started the second half of tonight’s Zombie Club in style; it was for a movie called Metal Storm, which was a crazy 80s post-apoc biker movie with loads of cool, totally unbelievable weapons (a bit like Tiger’s in the first film). Metal… Storm… we all scribbled frantically, as it had Zombie Club written all over it. The sad thing is, when I looked the beast up on imdb.com the next day, I couldn’t find it to save my life. Did I imagine the whole thing? Was I already that hammered? Jesus…
Anyway, time for Thunder, probably the most outrageous First Blood clone I’ve ever seen. Take out Johnny Rambo, put in a Native American who’s not really a Native American but looks a bit like one, and you have the whole movie right there. It starts with him turning up on the reserve (“It’s me, Mark Gregory, from Bronx Warriors!” – Zomblee), where he’s reunited with his family, before he heads into town where he gets the shit kicked out of him by a load of redneck small town coppers. In the ruckus, Thunder escapes by jumping through the window into a very appropriate Indian souvenirs shop, grabbing a few items, and running for it. Zomblee summed this one up as Rawshark was laughing too hard to say anything - “So, he escapes through an Indian shop window, nicks a couple of spears and heads out? That’s brilliant!”
After that the rest of the movie is painting by numbers. Thunder runs away from the cop cars, slowly (“Why don’t you run away, instead of running alongside?” – Zomblee), hides up on the reservation, the cops turn up in force, a nosy reporter sticks his nose in, and Thunder kills a lot of people, some of whom he didn’t really need to (“I was almost preparing my speech to condemn him.” – Rawshark). A local radio DJ gets involved, Warriors style, prompting talk of a Top Ten Radio DJs, meanwhile Thunder gets a digger (“Where’d he get the digger from?” – Zomblee) and a bazooka (“Bazooka digger attack!” – Rawshark) and cleans up, although he makes sure to leave enough cops alive for a sequel. Two sequels, actually.
But as always at Zombie Club, I wrote down a load of stuff for the second movie that in the light of day makes no sense at all. “I thought that was a strange mobile bank!” said Zomblee, inexplicably, “Depth! Depth! Depth!” cried Rawshark, and “Squeeze-o-vision!” proclaimed Zomblee, although I have no idea why. Oh well…
“Thunder is back!”
Rawshark You see, I thought the trailer before Thunder was for a film called Mega Storm (I must have been hammered at this point too), but alas I could not find that on imdb either. I did however find Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn on imdb, which you can see here, so for once I managed to find a film that Jim couldn’t track down! Boo ya!
Anyway, forgetting about Metal Storm for now (until it appears at a Zombie Club very soon!), we’re here to discuss Thunder - the second of tonight’s First Blood rip-offs, this time featuring the Bronx Warrior himself Mark Gregory as a Native American called er, Thunder. The plot is pretty straightforward blah blah Rambo: Thunder returns home to find property developers attempting to build on ancient Indian burial grounds. Thunder protests, gets his ass kicked and then decides to wage a one-man war on those evil capitalist white men. Good stuff! Already I had much more sympathy for this character than I did for Michael Sopkiw and his MASSIVE gun in Blastfighter.
Excessive use of slow-motion aside, (the scene where Thunder breaks into the ‘Indian shop’ is slightly spoiled by an over-use of Bionic Man-style footage) Thunder is well shot, and mostly well-acted. With lots of great scenery from the film’s location in Monument Valley, a solid soundtrack, big explosions, cool stunts, bazookas, one pair of breasts (yes, I know I could have repeated the word bazookas there), lots of war paint and disposable small-town hicks and cops, Thunder has something for most lovers of low-budget straight-to-video rip-off movies.
Just remember – never ever try to build on ancient Indian burial grounds.
”According to our man in the chopper, it seems the Indian’s got a bazooka!”
Zomblee You can't take the piss when it comes to Native Americans. Not unless you're watching a typically shameless Italian First Blood rip-off starring non-Native American Mark Gregory as a downtrodden descedent of a notorious Red warrior chief. And guess what he's called. Go on. Yeah, Thunder. Right, let's get stuck right in. This is feeling good.
Jim was really into this one, right from the get go, "This is a corker, man. You didn't big it up enough!" As usual, he's quite right, I didn't. Not only is Thunder really good fun in an awful kind of way, but it really does have some unexpectidly robust production values for this type of fare. A grand orchestral score helps to give it a lift, setting it apart from so many other Italian rip-offs, and Fulci Arriflex holder Sergio Salvati's assured lensing is weakened only by a bad full-screen video transfer. We are very accustomed to crap video transfers. It goes with the territory.
So, plot wise, we have a bullied but highly resourceful Mark Gregory being all at one with nature, a very hostile local police department who, predicatbly enough, hate Native Americans (especially if they look anything like Trash from Bronx Warriors), buidling contractors who are planning to build on ancient Native Americans' burial grounds, and a whole lot of explosions. And hey, just for the hell of it, lets throw a digger into the madness, because they're, like, really big and heavy and you can mow down rubbish fake police stations with them (" I told you that wasn't a real police station!" - Jim).
Never straying too far from from our beloved horror genre, tonight's second choice is directed by one Larry Ludman who also happens to be called Fabrizio De Angelis, the man who produced maggot mayhem we all know and love, like Zombie Flesh Eaters, The New York Ripper, House by the Cemetary. A man who displays signs of having a Mark Gregory fetish, he also has production credits on the Bronx Warriors films. His last producing credit sounds like his best though. It's called Karate Warrior 6 .
Director Fabrizio De Angelis
Cast Mark Gregory
Runtime 86 mins
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I've been thinking. We're not watching enough horror movies here at ZC. Maybe that's ok. And i'll tell you why. Because watching dodgy Italian First Blood rip-offs which feature MASSIVE guns - guns so ridicuously silly in size that they're even too big for American movies - is so much fun. But they're not too big for Italian movies that try to be American. Oh no. And that's just the way we like it.
And what of our old shoe sales clerk friend, Marco Di Gregorio? Well, I think it might be safe to say that we've seen the last of him here in our hazy little school night gatherings. The idea of doing a Thunder Sequels Night may be pushing things a little far, but you know, it's a crazy mixed-up world we live in. That means anything could happen. Hell, you never know, we might even watch something, like, genuinely good next time. Stranger things have happened...