There will never be another studio like the Cannon Group, the company co-owned by Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who famously churned out dozens upon dozens of low-budget genre films in the 1980s. Though known for producing mostly schlock, the Cannon run of the ‘80s is one of my favorite periods for movies, probably because they made exactly the kinds of movies I grew up loving and still do to this day.
A shameless combination of Flashdance, The Exorcist, and a ninja movie, Ninja III: The Domination is the third installment of Cannon’s “ninja” trilogy, none of which have anything to do with one another except that Sho Kosugi appears in all of them, each time playing a totally different character. It begins as all ninja movies do: on a golf course. We’re then introduced to Lucinda Dickey (Breakin’), who stars as a woman who works on telephone lines by day and teaches aerobics also by day. She happens upon an injured ninja post-golf course slaughter and before you know it is possessed by the spirit of an evil ninja. Exorcising that spirit requires the intervention of a good ninja (Sho Kosugi), because only a ninja can kill a ninja!
Ninja III is nearly the perfect Cannon film: it makes little sense, contains wall-to-wall action, is about ninjas, and stars Lucinda Dickey. It’s a crazy movie in the best way and is precisely the sort of thing that made me fall in love with Cannon in the first place: their movies want to entertain you no matter what. Ninja III certainly does that, introducing a lot of supernatural weirdness to all the gratuitous violence on display. It’s the sort of film that the average moviegoer would most likely describe as “bad,” but us genre fans know better; while it would be too much of a stretch to call it a “good” movie, it’s too entertaining and too much fun to ever be truly bad. I understand why it was the last of Cannon’s Ninja cycle, because after an evil ninja possessing the soul of an aerobics instructor, there was really nowhere else for these movies to go. I’m happy to say that at least the series went out on a high note.
For the first time, Scream Factory is double-dipping on one of its own titles, re-releasing Ninja III (which they first put out in 2013) as a “Collector’s Edition” with new extras and improved picture quality courtesy of a brand new 4K scan. The commentary with director Sam Firstenberg and stunt coordinator Steve Lambert has been carried over, but this new disc also adds interviews with stars Lucinda Dickey and Jordan Bennett, as well as Alan Amiel, who did some of the fight choreography on the film. Two versions of the trailer are included, the first being the original theatrical trailer (in HD) and the second the “Trailers from Hell” version with commentary by Josh Olson. Two collections of still photos – one behind the scenes gallery and one with all the promotional art – round out the bonus features.
Movie score: 3.5/5, Disc score: 4/5
The second of two Cannon films recently released to Blu-ray by Scream Factory is Albert Pyun’s Cyborg, an early starring role for Jean-Claude Van Damme and one of my favorite films from one of my favorite filmmakers. Conceived and shot quickly to make use of some sets that had already been built for a scrapped sequel to Masters of the Universe, Cyborg presents a post-apocalyptic wasteland in which a cyborg (Dayle Haddon) carrying the cure for a disease that has wiped out most of mankind must get to the CDC in Atlanta. Serving as her guide is Gibson Rickenbacker (JCVD), a “slinger” who must protect her against a band of pirates (led by the towering Vincent Klyn) who want to watch the world burn.
Like many of Pyun’s films, Cyborg had a difficult road to the screen. The director wanted Chuck Norris to star; Cannon foisted Van Damme upon him because they were pushing him as their next big star. The movie received an ‘X’ rating initially, so the violence had to be cut back. Those weren’t the only cuts, however; Pyun’s original film, called Slinger, was totally different. Scenes were in a different order, the motivations of the characters weren’t the same, and the movie was paced slower and more contemplative. Van Damme and his creative partner Sheldon Lettich went in and recut the movie to make it more commercial, even going so far as to shoot additional scenes and completely replace the score. This was the version Cannon released, though Pyun’s Slinger cut is available out there for anyone motivated enough to look for it.
The version that made it to theaters – the same version contained on Scream Factory’s Blu-ray (I had held out hope that Slinger might be included as a bonus feature, but no such luck) – is still one of my favorite Van Damme movies. It’s still a Cannon movie in that it feels pretty cheap and rushed, but Pyun really knows how to stretch a budget so the movie feels big even when it isn’t. Van Damme was still in his infancy as an actor (he had just a few roles under his belt), so the decision to make him largely silent in Cyborg is a good one; he gets to express himself physically, at which he is very, very good. There are a handful of memorable action sequences and some cool stunts. Most of all, though, is the spare, cyberpunk western vibe Pyun brings to the proceedings. This is a movie that neither looks nor feels like almost anything else in Van Damme’s filmography, just as it neither look nor feels like most of Cannon’s output. It’s a genre movie, sure, and it has its fair amount of schlock, but it’s artier and more ambitious than their usual video store fodder. I say this with love. Video store fodder is my kind of fodder.
Scream Factory’s Blu-ray of Cyborg offers a brand new 4K scan of the film, which is outstanding; it’s less forgiving of the low-budget effects, but as someone who loves these sorts of low-budget effects, I’m not complaining. There’s also a brand new commentary from Pyun, who is open about the movie he was trying to make and how it changed on its way to theaters (and if you have the DVD of Slinger, which also comes with a commentary, this makes a nice compliment). Two new featurettes are included, on making-of and one more specific to the visual effects, and both of those are great, too; they paint a picture of what makes the movie special, what a challenge it was to make, and just how things were run at Cannon in the ‘80s. Finally, there’s the original trailer and some interviews with Pyun and Sheldon Lettich from Mark Hartley’s amazing documentary Electric Boogaloo: The Wild, Untold Story of Cannon Films. As a lifelong fan of Cyborg, I’m very happy with Scream Factory’s treatment of the movie and the bonus features they’ve included. Cannon Films may be a distant memory, but their spirit is alive in this pair of Blu-rays. Long live Cannon.
Movie score: 3.5/5, Disc score: 4/5