Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: American Ninja 2: The Confrontation (1987)

I remember seeing American Ninja (1985) with my friends when it was brand new, and we loved it. So, how is it that I never saw any of the sequels until last friday? 

I saw Enter The Ninja (1981), Revenge of the Ninja (1983), Ninja III: The Domination (1984) and even Pray for Death (1985) back in those early days of home video rentals. American Ninja was simply the latest in a long line of entertaining Ninja movies made by Cannon FIlms, or The Cannon Group, Inc. Three of those films, including American Ninja, were directed by Sam Firstenberg. So, when American Ninja 2: The Confrontation – also directed by Sam Firstenberg – came out in 1987, where the hell was I?


It’s not that the movie was a failure. According to the IMDb, it grossed $4,000,000 on a budget of $350,000. That’s a respectable profit. And I certainly remember the movie coming out. Why didn’t I see it?

Until I can get my hands on a time machine and go back and ask myself what I was thinking, I will probably never know the answer to this riddle. The good news is, American Ninja 2 is every bit as entertaining to me now as it would have been back in the ’80s – maybe more so. I was pleased to see that both Michael Dudikoff – the titular star of American NInja – and his fellow soldier/buddy/sidekick, Steve James were back for American Ninja 2: The Confrontation

Steve James is incredibly likeable in this movie, and it isn’t hard to imagine that he could have gone on to star in his own action movie franchise. He’s certainly in remarkable shape, with a well toned muscular physique. But he also has that intangible thing that can make a person a star – screen presence. He’s funny, he’s charismatic, he’s tough – in short, he’s a believable action hero. While watching American Ninja 2: The ConfrontationI was sure that I recognized James from other movies I’ve enjoyed – like maybe The Exterminator (1980) or Hero and the Terror (1988). I found myself wondering what ever happened to him.


Perhaps I knew this at some point in the past, but I was surprised to learn that Steve James died in 1993 at age 41.

Man, I hate finding out stuff like that. I always look up movies after I watch them and read about everyone involved. And it seems like far too often I find out that one of the key people – usually an actor, but sometimes a director or writer – died far too young. Some examples off the top of my head: Claudia Jennings (29), directors Tom Gries (54), and Peter Carter (48), Cheryl “Rainbeaux” Smith (47) and one of her co-stars in Revenge Of The Cheerleaders (1976), Helen Lang (42). 

We all know that Jean Harlow died too young (at age 26)  – but her co-star in Platinum Blonde (1931), Robert Williams, died of appendicitis at age 37 the same year the movie was released!

The causes of death include everything from car accidents to heart attacks, to complications from drug abuse.

According to the IMDb, it was pancreatic cancer that got Steve James.

I can only imagine the career that James might have had if it had not been for that cancer. 41 is relatively young for a potential action star. Charles Bronson was 52 when he made Death Wish (1974) and, like Steve James, he was working for Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus at The Cannon Group in the 1980s, staring in films like Death Wish 2 (1982), Murphy’s Law (1986), and Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects (1989) when he was in his 60s.
We’ll never know how many more great performances Steve James could have given us before taking his final bow. His last two movies, M.A.N.T.I.S.  and Bloodfist V: Human Target were released posthumously in 1994.
Thankfully Michael Dudikoff is still making movies today. I haven’t seen any of his recent ones, so I’m not sure if they live up to the impossible standards set by movies like American Ninja and American Ninja 2. But with titles like Fury of the Fist and the Golden Fleece (in which Dudikoff plays Superboss), there may be some hope.
I can’t believe it took three decades for me to see American Ninja 2: The Confrontation. But I am pleased to be able to finally welcome it to the #NotQuiteClassicCinema collection. I look forward to watching it again on a much less distant #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday The 13th At The Home Drive-In: Friday the 13th Part III 3D (1982)

As I said in a previous postFriday the 13th Part 3 3D was my very first Friday the 13th movie. I somehow convinced my Dad to take me and friend to see it. My Dad hated it, but my friend and I thought it was great! And that was in no small part because of the 3D experience.

Friday the 13th Part 3 3D was also my very first 3D movie. Well, on the big screen, that is. As I mentioned in that previous post, I had been lucky enough to see Revenge Of The Creature (1955) in 3D on television. For those who may not remember, that was a bit of a thing back then; 3D movies being shown on TV. The first one I remember was a movie called Gorilla at Large (1954) – and it should have been the first 3D movie I ever saw! There was a big ad campaign leading up to the broadcast, urging us all to get our 3D glasses at 7-11. I remember biking over with my brother and buying a spiffy pair of cardboard glasses with red and blue lenses. On the way home, I put on the glasses and urged my brother to “do something”, expecting that the glasses would magically make whatever he did more exciting. But alas, my brother’s actions looked no more three dimensional with the glasses than without.

The unfortunate twist to this story is that my parents suddenly announced that we were heading up to the lake for our summer vacation at exactly the same time as the TV broadcast of Gorilla at Large. There was no way I would be able to watch it. I remember pleading with my parents: “But I bought 3D glasses especially so I could watch this movie! They’ll be useless if I don’t stay home and watch it.”

My Dad said the same thing that he said when I found out that I would miss the TV broadcast premiere of Prom Night (1980): “They’ll show it again.” But they never showed Prom Night again – and they certainly never showed Gorilla at Large after that first time.

When I got back to the city, my friends all told me that I didn’t miss much. “The 3D didn’t work” they all said. I didn’t know whether to believe them or not. Perhaps they were just trying to make me feel better, but it was no use. The 3D glasses I spent my hard earned allowance on were sitting on a shelf, unused for the better part of a year – and I didn’t think I would ever get to use them.

But then a miracle happened. The TV guide listed Revenge Of The Creature 3D one Saturday afternoon. There was no publicity blitz this time. Nobody telling us to buy our glasses at 7-11. I guess they assumed that we already had them – and I certainly did.

I watched the movie at a friend’s house, and I was blown away when someone in the movie threw a rope to another character and it wound up in the middle of my friend’s living room! This 3D was definitely working! And my friend told me it was so much better than Gorilla at Large had been. I still wasn’t sure if I believed him, but I was happy because my 3D glasses had not gone to waste – and the 3D experience had been even cooler than I thought it would be.

It was the same friend that came with me and my Dad to see Friday the 13th Part 3 3D a year later or so. And as I said in that previous post, it was so much more intense of a 3D experience. For us, it was the gateway to many other 3D movies, including Jaws 3-D (1983), Amityville 3-D (1983), and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone 3D (1983).  Our absolute favourite, as far as 3D goes, was Treasure of the Four Crowns 3D (1983) – not because it was the best movie, but rather because it was an absolutely relentless 3D experience. That movie threw everything out at us. Even in a boring talking scene, people would hand each other stuff and it would hit us right between the eyes. It was amazing!


For some odd reason, modern 3D movies don’t seem to do this. They show us 3D landscapes, and plenty of images with depth. But they mostly seem to shy away from throwing stuff right into our faces. I seem to recall Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone 3D being that way as well – and I remember Siskel and Ebert criticizing it for that. They suggested that the filmmakers were trying to prove that they were above that sort of cheap effect; that they had more class than that. But this raises a simple question:

If you’re making a 3D movie, and you’re not throwing things out at the audience, what exactly do you think the point is?

Friday the 13th Part 3 3D is a good 3D movie. It doesn’t go completely over the top like Treasure of the Four Crowns 3D, but it throws enough stuff out at us to keep us on our toes. It was also my first Friday the 13th movie, and my introduction to Jason. It was a tough one to beat, in terms of body count and gore. Even the highly anticipated Pt 4, The Final Chapter seemed a little lightweight to me after seeing Pt 3 a couple of times. In reality it wasn’t, but that’s how it seemed to me the first time I saw it.

For years I longed to see Friday the 13th Part 3 in 3D again. It was out on VHS and Beta in 2D – and it was only ever on TV in 2D. So, I was particularly thrilled when Paramount released the remastered 3D DVD a few years back. It uses the old fashioned red and blue glasses, but that’s okay. It gave me back an important experience of my childhood, and I can confirm that it is a #NotQuiteClassicCinema favourite.

I would still love to see a a 3D Blu-ray version, but until one comes out, I will keep watching my 3D DVD. Probably about once out of every eight times I celebrate #FridayThe13thAtTheHomeDriveIn.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Vamp (1986)

One of my favourite movies of the 1980s is Fright Night (1985). I saw it when it first came out and I loved the clever mix of horror, humour, and vampires. So, when I saw an ad for Vamp (1986) a few months later, I got excited. It looked like it had all of the elements that I had loved in Fright Night – plus Chris Makepeace and Grace Jones!

I was a big fan of Meatballs (1979) and had watched it on TV several times as a kid. I also saw My Bodyguard (1980) and, for some reason, had read the movie tie-in novelization repeatedly. Chris Makepeace was the teenage star of both of these movies. I was also aware that he was Canadian, which made him somewhat of an inspiration to me. 


I’m not sure how I first became aware of Grace Jones. I saw Conan the Destroyer (1984) and A View to a Kill (1985), but I already knew who she was before those films. Maybe it was because I saw her being interviewed on The Tonight Show, or other programmes – I’m not sure. I knew she had been a successful model and singer, particularly in Europe. My overall impression of her, at that time, was that she was a unique, tough, larger than life personality who had once slapped a talk show host and held her own opposite Arnold Schwarzenegger and James Bond! I thought she was cool, and when a teacher asked me who my favourite actor was – in French class of all places – I answered “Grace Jones.” 


It should be noted that I liked to give strange answers in French class. I’m not sure why. Maybe because my classmates seemed to take everything a little too seriously. In this case, they would have been naming the most respected actors that they could think of. I had only seen Grace Jones in a couple of films at that point, but I named her as my favourite actor because I knew that it would flummox people. And it did.

However, the act of doing so somehow seemed to turn me into a Grace Jones fan. I wound up buying a couple of her records, even though I was primarily a hard rock/heavy metal guy in those days and she was more like pop/disco/funk. I rented movies like Deadly Vengeance (1981) because the box had her name and picture on the front (a dirty trick, as it turned out – but that’s another story). And when I found out that Grace Jones was starring in this new movie Vamp, it was one more reason to get excited about it.

When I saw Vamp I was not exactly disappointed in it. I actually found it to be quite enjoyable. It was funny, and entertaining, but it didn’t quite reach the heights of Fright Night for me. One of the problems was that there wasn’t quite enough of Grace Jones in it, although I loved her silent, but commanding performance. I eventually bought a copy on VHS and watched it a few more times over the years. I resisted upgrading it to DVD (although I was very tempted to). When I found a reasonably priced copy of the new Arrow Films Blu-ray, I could no longer resist. It was great to see it again (as it had been a few years) – and especially in such high quality! The amazing ’80s colours, the costumes – the entire production – has never looked better.

One interesting note: Concrete Blonde, one of my favourite bands from the 1990s, can be heard on the soundtrack of Vamp. I wouldn’t have known who they were in 1986. In fact, they weren’t even called Concrete Blonde yet. Song For Kim (She Said), is one of my favourite tracks on the very first Concrete Blonde album (Concrete Blonde released in1986), but it is credited to Dream 6 at the end of Vamp. This means that it was included in the movie before the album had been released. Four years later, Concrete Blonde unleashed Bloodletting (1990) on the world and it became their most successful album. The sort-of title track, Bloodletting (the Vampire song), was apparently inspired by the novels of Anne Rice. But now I can’t help but wonder if Vamp had helped to get the creative juices flowing. Probably not, but it’s an intriguing thought.

By the way,  Bloodletting (the Vampire song) was featured in the Canadian vampire film Blood and Donuts (1995), which I’ve always admired. Now there’s a film that could use a remastered Blu-ray with extras. But I digress…

Vamp (1986) is not a perfect movie. It is generally rated lower than #Certified ’80s vampire classics like Fright Night (1985) and The Lost Boys (1987), and I would agree that this is appropriate. Still, I somehow find Vamp irresistible, and I will always be happy to see it on a #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn. After all, it is the imperfections that often make a movie a #NotQuiteClassicCinema classic.

Friday Night At The Home Drive-In: Hex (1973)

I rented Hex (1973) on VHS many years ago. My memory of that first viewing is a little hazy, except for the fact that I thought the movie was strange – and not at all what I was expecting. It was supposed to be a biker film of sorts; a biker horror film, in fact (or is the correct term, horror biker film?) I suppose I had visions of something more like Psychomania (also released in 1973, oddly enough), but Hex is nothing like that.

Some VHS tapes called the movie The Shrieking, which is an intriguing title but not as clear to me as Hex. I picked up a bargain bin DVD version on my travels last November which re-brands the movie Charms (which sort of makes it sound like a feel-good comedy, or a breakfast cereal). Not sure why they didn’t just stick with Hex, unless they’re trying to convince people that it’s a different movie. “No, this isn’t that weird biker horror movie Hex that you saw before, this is a charming and delicious horror biker film. Buy it!”

Hex isn’t really a biker film in the true sense of the genre. It’s set in post World War I Nebraska, during the dying days of the wild west era – which kind of makes it a Western. I actually have a theory that all biker movies are Westerns, with motorcycles taking the place of horses, but that’s another story.

Most Westerns are set between 1865 (the end of the civil war) and the late 1890s. There are a few that take place during the civil war, and some even before that. I also believe that the period can extend up to (and include) World War I (and that it was the war that ushered in the next era of North American history). So the two wars are kind of like the book-ends of the Western genre proper. Of course there are also plenty of modern Westerns like Lonely Are the Brave (1962) and The Three Burials of Melquiades Estrada (2005) which are set in their respective times of production, but basically Westerns are period pieces, and Hex is most certainly that.

According to the IMDb, John Carradine – who was in classic Westerns like Stagecoach (1939) and Jesse James (1939) – played a character called “Old Gunfighter” in Hex, but his part is not included in any of the surviving prints of the film (thus far). It is considered a lost performance. For people like me, who are fans of horror films, other genre films and so called psychotronic movies, John Carradine is an icon and a legend, and his lost performance would be reason enough to hope for a restored, remastered and complete version of Hex making it onto Blu-ray and DVD at some point in the future. 

Incidentally, John Carradine’s son Keith Carradine stars in Hex as the leader of the bike gang. It was apparently his first starring role, shot in 1971.

Hex boasts an amazing cast of recognizable faces, including Cristina Raines, Scott Glenn, Hilarie Thompson, Robert Walker Jr., Gary Busey, and Dan Haggerty. Cristina Raines is perhaps best known (at least to me) for starring in one of my personal favourites, The Sentinel (1977), another supernatural horror film. In The Sentinel, directed by MIchael Winner, Raines is drawn into the supernatural horror when she moves into an old building. In Hex, Raines and her sister bring the supernatural horror down on the bikers when they temporarily move onto her family farm and run afoul of the two young women. 

Incidentally, Cristina Raines also appears in another Michael Winner film (and personal favourite of mine) The Stone Killer (1973), but the IMDb incorrectly credits Christa Raines (at least at the time of this writing).

Apparently Cristina Raines and Keith Carradine became romantically involved during the making of Hex in 1971, and were together until 1979. They were both also in Robert Altman’s Nashville (1975) and Ridley Scott’s first feature The Duellists (1977).

When I first saw Hex all those years ago, I dismissed it as a weird movie. Now, I embrace it as a weird movie. Weird is good. Weird is what makes it worth watching. It is unlike any other Western, or Biker Film, or Horror FIlm that I have ever seen. That’s not to say that it is unrecognizable, or impenetrable. It’s easy to follow, for the most part, and logical in its own way. Some aspects may be problematic for some viewers, and it’s certainly not for everyone, but I found myself charmed – hey, maybe that title makes sense after all!

Hex AKA The Shrieking AKA Charms (1973) is a unique, but entertaining example of #NotQuiteClassicCinema and it makes for a fascinating #FridayNightAtTheHomeDriveIn.