Tuesday, June 19, 2012

PRAY FOR DEATH

Eighties ninja movie star, Sho Kosugi (9 DEATHS OF THE NINJA, ENTER THE NINJA) followed up his Cannon Films star vehicles with a couple of flicks for grindhouse market competitor, Trans World Entertainment, both of which were directed by B-movie/TV veteran Gordon Hessler. The best of these - and arguably the best of all of Kosugi's ninja movies - is PRAY FOR DEATH (1985), finally available on DVD as a manufactured-on-demand title from the MGM Limited Edition Collection.

Sho plays Akira Saito, the last in a long line of ninja assassins, who has turned his back on that bloody heritage, and is living as a family man in Tokyo. When the opportunity arises to buy a small restaurant in Houston, Texas, Akira packs up his wife (Donna Kai Benz, THE CHALLENGE) and kids (played by Sho's real-life offspring, Kane and Shane) and moves the clan to America. Unfortunately, it turns out that the local crime syndicate has been using the building as a stash for stolen objects, and when a crooked cop snatches a stolen necklace from his mob employers, they think that the Saito family has it. After repeated attempts to get the Saitos to give up the jewelry - including multiple beatings, property destruction, and a kidnapping - eventually result in the brutal murder of his wife and hospitalization of his youngest son, reluctant warrior Akira finally breaks out the ninja gear and goes after the bad guys. Martial arts mayhem ensues.

Very competently directed by Hessler (THE GOLDEN VOYAGE OF SINBAD, CRY OF THE BANSHEE, RAGE OF HONOR), from a predictable but well-structured screenplay by James Booth (who also plays the film's main villain, a British thug named Limehouse Willie), PRAY FOR DEATH is a highly entertaining revenge thriller in the DEATH WISH mold, spiced up by Sho's show-stopping stuntwork. Hessler and company play the movie almost entirely straight, avoiding many of the more cartoonish aspects of some of Sho's other films, and it works surprisingly well.

The MGM Limited Collector's Edition MOD DVD-R sports not only a remarkably fine 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen transfer, but the ugliest, most amateurish cover art imaginable. I have no idea why they used that abominable artwork when the original movie poster was actually quite striking and well-designed. Oh well. Audio is a perfectly satisfactory Dolby Digital mono. There are no bonus features included, unfortunately, not even the original theatrical trailer.

Overall, PRAY FOR DEATH is a well-made 80s American ninja flick, with some very impressive action sequences and fight scenes. Kosugi is at his best here. He may not have been able to deliver his English dialogue (and unlike some of his other films, he is not overdubbed by another actor here) with clarity or conviction, but he could deliver lightning-fast death blows with the best of them. PRAY FOR DEATH is highly recommended for B-action movie buffs and essential viewing for Sho-biz fans.

BUY: Pray For Death