Franco Nero has a great many amazing movies to his name, making tonight's choice annoyingly difficult. He first came to our attention with Django (1966) and subsequent Spaghetti Westerns, but he has also enjoyed working on an international scene in such films like The Bible, Force 10 from Navarone, and tonight's second movie - probably the first official 80's Ninja flick, in which he plays a Ninja of white goodness who runs about in the Philippines kicking bad guys' asses.
Tonight's first film however is a genuine gem of Italian b-movie-dom, and should not go unnoticed by anyone with a taste for off-kilter road movies with a sting in their tail. And boy does this tale have a sting. Strap yourself in, get out that fake moustache you keep in the drawer and attach it to your face - it's time to do the Nero.
Tonight's Zombie Club was brought to you by Zomblee, in association with 'White Ninja' washing detergent.
Hitch Hike (1977)
Plot A bickering couple driving cross-country pick up a murderous hitchhiker whom threatens to kill them.
Zomblee Every now and then I get a little worried that a movie I’ve picked for ZC is just that little bit too good for ZC, given the loveably flawed nature of what we normally sit through at our special mid-week meetings. Hitch Hike is one such movie. However, I knew it was a movie my zombie buddies were not familiar with, and it stars the legendary Franco Nero who, lets face it, was crying out for his own ZC. This dark beast has been sat in the ZC queue for about two years, but now it's time to unleash one of the greatest road movies of all time.
The plot, simply put, involves a bickering married couple (Nero and Clery) who, while driving through the US, pick up a thoroughly nasty piece of work (that'll be David Hess then) who carries a loot of $2M. What follows is a battle of the wills, putting every character ill at ease, not least Nero, who has to sit and watch while Hess psychologically torments then rapes his wife in front of him while he's tied up.
It's a gruelling ride, and always constantly engaging. Nero isn't your average 'nice guy who gets unlucky', but rather a hard drinking "arsehole", as Rawshark put it, who effectively winds Hess up throughout their meandering journey. It's a fascinating twist to the hitchhiking movie formula, and one that lends the movie transcendent dramatic power. There are some truly unpleasant episodes here, the aforementioned rape scene standing out, but unpleasant and unusually sustained as it is, one simply cannot deny its brilliance, partly due to Nero's outstanding performance and also thanks to the mesmerisingly outstanding score by Ennio Morricone. Yes, it's even got a Morricone soundtrack, and trust me - it's a belter.
"I don't think i've ever seen a head blown off through a helmet before!" was Jim's reaction during the irresistibly stylish scene where Hess looses his calm during a police traffic check - this is straight out of the Sam Peckinpah how-to-shoot-shooting handbook, and its a gory pleasure to watch. However, such physical violence is generally not what the movie is about - it's more of a psychological game of minds between three strong personalities, two of which are married, and one of the most intriguing aspects of this dynamic is that they are a couple grown too far apart to be brought together by this horrible encounter. Edgy, brutal and darkly funny, Hitch Hike works off an already clever script and delivers the goods with genuine stylish flair. You really won't know what's coming next. Genius.
Rawshark Hitch Hike, where have you been hiding? Lingering at the back of the B-movie classroom like a sullen, subordinate teen, Hitch Hike emerges on graduation as a top pupil, more than earning it’s B+ grade, perhaps even edging an A-. A top-grade Italian production with great cinematography, a tight, well-crafted script, ample nudity, car chases, bloody violence and a lush Morricone score. Oh, and it also features David Hess and Franco Nero. Seriously, what more could you ask for?
Actually coming across more like a three-way play than a proper road movie, Hitch Hike features our main man of the night as memorable sleaze Walter, a rough and ready alcoholic reporter out on a hunting trip with his wife Eve. Corine Clery more than holds her own as his troubled wife, seemingly trapped in a borderline abuse relationship. It’s a point made quite early on with a quite disturbing sex scene that gives us no sympathy at all for Nero’s character - ”Breasts in less than four minutes” Jim, ”…and rape in under five” Zomblee.
But it’s David Hess who delivers the real menace as he shows in the last of his trilogy of memorable sleaze merchants (following Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park of course), that he really is, as one IMDB poster suggested, a ”Man of all sleaze-ons” Once picked up by the turbulent couple, he first menaces, then worms his way into the temptations of both Eve and Walter, predating the storyline of Kalifornia by a good 15 years, and generally being so unpleasantly unpleasant, he makes Walter’s earlier indiscretions seem like Boy Scout stuff. Although Jim admittedly still thought that he ”sounded like Elmer Fudd”, which may be a reason he never went on to become a major Hollywood player and end up as a villain in the Die Hard series. Shame - it’s Hollywood’s loss.
The trio’s commercially-inspired relationship doesn’t hold steady for long though, and we get a great Duel-like chase that ends in terrific violence, before a particularly harrowing rape scene towards the end that is extremely uncomfortable without ever being gratuitous. Ok, so the last 20 minutes or so may seem unnecessarily tacked on (”Is it me, or does David Hess have really good rigor mortis?” Zomblee), but this film is still really a bit special, and most definitely worth hitching for a ride. As Roger and Ebert would say – two big thumbs up from us!
”Two million dollars can turn a shit man into a big man.”
Jim Yes, I too had never heard of Hitch Hike, but if there’s one thing that Zombie Club has taught us it’s that there are a hell of a lot of movies out there that you’re not only not seen, you’ve never even heard of. And some of them are great, like this one.
As the boys have amply explained, this is a three way hostage battle-of-wills road movies kind of thing set somewhere in Middle America filmed full-on Italian style. It stars Franco Nero as a news reporter with questionable morals and David Hess as the same twisted killer he played in Last House on the Left and House on the Edge of the Park. And it also stars Corine Clery as Nero’s estranged wife, but she was also in Moonraker as the hot Bond girl that gets killed by Drax’s dogs (which I can’t believe either of my colleagues hasn’t mentioned already as we love our Bond references at Zombie Club!)
And a lot of fun they have with their respective parts too. Nero plays against convention with enthusiasm (exclaiming early on, “My wife is a bit of a whore!”), whereas Hess seems to deliver lines that would put other actors to shame without blinking (I think his third or fourth line in the movie is, “Would you like to suck my cock?”) Corine Clery, on the other hand, does what she does best, i.e. look beautiful in a fragile way, like something really bad is going to happen soon, like having David Hess touch your crotch, which happens a few times actually. As Rawshark said, “He only had three major roles and he got to touch crotch in all of them.” I guess some people get all the luck.
Anyway, while you’re watching this tense plot pad out, keep your eyes open for a couple of highlights. My favourite, as you may have gathered, is the cop getting his head blown off through his helmet, but also look out for the truck going off a cliff (“It went down the cliff for ages, but caught fire far too quickly.” - Zomblee). And, I’m afraid, I have to mention the sequence where Hess finally forces himself upon Clery. It’s worth praising because, for once, there’s very little nudity at all and the whole scene is carried by that suitably manic Morricone score (although Rawshark thought the scene also worked because of “…her eyes, and her tattoo…”, which is true enough as well).
Clever, well made and thought-provoking; these are terms not often heard at Zombie Club. In fact, I’ve had enough of this. Bring on the ninjas…
“My wife is a bit of a whore.”
Director Pasquale Festa Campanile
Cast Franco Nero
Runtime 104 mins
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Enter The Ninja (1981)
Plot After just completing his training at a ninja school, an army vet named Cole (Franco Nero) travels to the Philippines...
Jim Regarding Zomblee's dilemma about bringing good films to Zombie Club, I don't think he had any such reservations about tonight's second film, Enter the Ninja. The movie opens with a wicked ninja attack sequence with the white ninja ("Get your ninja whites whiter than white!" - Zomblee) battling red ninjas and one black ninja, and it's as completely silly as it sounds. The short white ninja starts in a tree and double back flips into a large bush, but out of the bush steps a surprisingly tall white ninja which we soon recognise as our man Nero. ("I can almost see his 'tache..." - Zomblee, "It's grown actually, since the last film." - Rawshark). He then goes on to beat every other ninja up in an economical but crowd pleasing manner, before storming the ninja stronghold. But hang on; has it been a cunning rouse? Was it all some big test in order to get a special qualification? In a word - yes - much to everyone's surprise. ("I really like this movie, he's just got his fucking ninja license!" - Zomblee). It's just a shame that Sho Kusogi is such a traditionalist ("I'm not happy that white man is ninja!" - Rawshark).
Anyway, before long it's off to the Philipines to visit his old war buddy Frank and his hot wife Susan George on their plantation. They're having trouble with a local property developer who desperately wants their land (played with camp gusto by Christopher George) and is prepared to do anything to get it. First off they stop Frank hiring new staff by sabotaging his interviews in a local bar, but it's okay because Nero's there to beat all the heavies up ("What kind of job interview is this?" - Rawshark). They than pile into his estate, but Nero's there again to send them all packing, even the white-suited piggy guy with the hook.
Eventually the white-suited Christopher George gets fed up with all his men getting beaten up ("So, white ninja outfit good, white suit bad?" - Rawshark), and ends up hiring Sho Kusogi from the beginning of the movie, giving Nero an excuse to put his ninja whites on again for the final showdown, in what is a surprisingly good fight. Actually, that was a running theme through Enter The Ninja. The second movie at zombie club doesn't usually hold up as well as the first which is fine because we're usually smashed by then anyway, but Enter The Ninja is surprisingly better in every way than you think it's going to be. Cool fights, zippy pacing and a likeable cast of characters, occasionally sporting full ninja garb, go a long way. And to think, I haven't mentioned the Ninja Porn sequence, the tight jeans, the security guard with a huge torch or the bizarre editing of Christopher George's death sequence, which we surmised was trimmed in the final cut because it was crap.
"I want a ninja, a professional ninja..."
Rawshark After the hefty main meat course of Hitch Hike’s Nero nutrition, Zomblee served up dessert in the form of Enter The Ninja, and if the endless mutterings of ”Ninja! Ninja!” were anything to go by, my two Zombie Club colleagues were both breathlessly excited. ”This is the movie that started off the whole American Ninja thing” said Zomblee over the stylish black title credits featuring Sho Kosugi performing ‘Ninja Moves’, and then Franco Nero leapt in from the side of the frame in a white ninja suit (”Get in there Nero with your white-Ninja goodness” - Zomblee) and all hell broke loose.
”Red Ninjas – only two hits to kill them” commented Jim as White-Ninja-Nero-hero then proceeded to leap off waterfalls, fight hordes of red and black Ninjas and storm a building; a stunning opening ten minutes that ends up being simply a test for Nero’s Ninja Master, a man who has special dispensation to ”kneel on a sponge” (Jim). Unfortunately, Nero is refused his Ninja license by the Master and leaves the grounds in order to visit his old Red Beret buddy (”it looks like Ninja-land with all those Ninja buildings” - Jim). Yes, it was going to be one of those nights where the word ‘Ninja’ would be said a lot. ”Got my Ninja suit, got my Ninja bag. Time to get on the Ninja plane” - Zomblee.
If you like Ninjas, then sit back and enjoy because Enter the Ninja has all the requisites of a classic Ninja movie – bad acting, tight jeans, Red Beret flashbacks, black, white and red Ninjas, synchronised swimming, corny villains, smoke bombs, bad sound editing and terrific fight sequences. Franco Nero is as good value as he ever is (although possibly miscast due to his lack of Martial Arts skills, leading to some hilarious stuntman-to-actor on-screen swaps), but it is the Master, Sho Kosugi who holds the screen best with his Ninja-like grace, leading to his short-lived fame for similar roles in subsequent US productions.
Susan (Straw Dogs) pops up pleasantly as Nero’s friend’s wife (although we’ll skip over the fact that Nero shags her half way through the film – the rogue!) and Christopher George is on hand to ham it up as a baddie who has a rather mean, yet polite, British sidekick as well as a sleazy lower-baddie who has a hook for a hand (“We’re all on tenter-hooks here” - Zomblee). All in all, Enter The Ninja is terrific fun, or as both Jim and Zomblee would say, ”Ninja-tastic!”.
“Do you represent a Ninja? A real Ninja?”
Zomblee Wow. I love the way Rawshark used the word "ninja" SO many times just then. I will also try to use the word "ninja" as much as possible, just like Rawshark. And the characters in Enter the Ninja. As i'm sure you've already worked out, this movie is monumental fun. We've got Franco Nero in his whiter-than-white ninja suit, his icy eyes peering through the gap in his ninja mask, his robust moustache bulging out through the ninja mask (so that everyone knows it's Franco?), but the one thing we don't have is his real voice. That's right, Franco's gone all American. An American Ninja. In the Philippines.
The plot you know: Franco gets his ninja certificate then helps his old war pal Frank (who has James Caan-style hair) and his lady wife ("I like Susan George. She has a pet bison. Or is it an ox?" - Rawshark) fight off evil property developers in Manila by kicking a lot of arses all over the shop. And there are many great characters who pop up (then get knocked down) on his perilous journey, for example a little hook-handed man called Siegfried, who has his hook ripped off by White Franco Ninja, only to have it thrown back to him so he can wear it to inflict great pain on wannabe gangsters another day.
Even better than Siegfried however was Christopher George's English right-hand man, Mr. Parker (Constantine Gregory) - perhaps the best-mannered criminal in movie history. I particularly like the way he researches ninjas for his boss so that they can hire a top warrior to whip Franco's butt ("Is this the ninja auditions?" - Jim). Needless to say, the ninja they cunningly enlist (Sho Kosugi) fails to put a stop to Franco's good guy ninja fun in the climactic battle - a battle which I think is quite over-rated in ninjadom. Way too much defensive somersaulting for my taste, and not enough bloody contact. That's a minor quibble though, because at the end of the day, we get to watch two ninjas in a ring having a fight with all their deceptive trickery. I can speak for all the guys when I say we would pay to watch that.
Ok, things I learned when watching Enter the Ninja:
• Some ninjas can't swim very well
• Ninja chiefs like sponge seats
• Ninjas need a licence
• Ninjas keep their kit in a "ninja bag"
• There are futuristic buildings in Manila
• Security guards in Manila love carrying huge torches
• Given the option, a good ninja will opt to use the elevator instead of wasting his ninja skills
There, don't say you never learn anything at Zombie Club.
"I'll get you a ninja."
Director Menahem Golan
Cast Franco Nero
Runtime 101 mins
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Phew. There you have it. I say to thee go forth and watch some Franco Nero movies, preferably Italian ones from the 70s. Having said that, Force 10 from Navarone is great fun too, and it's got Harrison Ford and Richard Keil in it.
Franco was married to British actress Vanessa Redgrave, you know. Did you know that? I didn't know that. But I do now. And so do you.