Sunday, September 19, 2010

Dr. Jones, I Presume?: Godfrey Ho's HANDS OF DEATH (1987)

Godfrey Ho is an exploitation God! If you agree with that statement, you might want to get your head checked. Despite rumors to the contrary, Ho is a real person and he is one foolish filmmaker. He is perhaps best know for taking newly shot ridiculous ninja footage starring some of the world’s oddest gweilo actors (most notably Richard Harrison) and splicing it into older Asian films. They usually make little sense, yet we still love him for his cinematic cut-and-paste transgressions. The dude has even stolen music from RAIDERS for his ninja epics. Oddly enough, HANDS OF DEATH makes it into our RAIDERS rip-off retrospective not for the Ho lensed inserts or any illegal music sharing, but for the unknown film that makes up the bulk of it.

Okay, we’ve got two unrelated storylines working here that the dubbers somehow try to tie together so please forgive me if you get confused. The film opens with evil Baron (Mike Abbott, looking like a plush doll version of Robert Z’Dar) killing two guys and stealing their map to a hidden treasure inside Devil’s Cave. “It’s in Willy’s territory,” says the elated Baron since he and the equally evil Willy are partners. Smash cut to the other film as some women are trying to escape from Willy’s slave camp. One woman is shot and dies near the camp of an Army dude/ninja (Richard Harrison, whose name is never given so I’ll call him Harrison). She tells him about Baron and Willy’s operation, so Harrison decides to stick around in the forest to stop Baron. Meanwhile (we’ll get lots of those), Indiana Jones looking Chester saves his sister who is among the group (she mistakenly once refers to Chester as Robert).

Later, Baron and Willy “meet” (re: are edited talking together) to discuss the map. They decide that Willy will do the digging while Baron will do the protection (odd because the girl who died in Harrison’s camp in the opening already knew this before the agreement). Alright, now is where my head starts to hurt. Jenny, the girl who escaped with Chester’s sister, tries to convince him to go on a mission to find the treasure but he declines because of his sister’s condition. Jenny’s friend Jack then goes to persuade him and gets the same negative answer right as a guy runs into the room saying the doctor needs to see Chester. Seems his sister just died, so Chester says “now I can go on my treasure hunt.” So Jenny, Jack, Chester and a guy named David all head into the jungle. Meanwhile, Harrison is busy setting booby traps while his men Ronnie and Mickey (great ninja names) stalk Baron. They apparently suck at it as they are both killed.

Back to the main film, we get a nonsensical bit where some peeping toms spy on the bathing slave girls before they are scared off by a pistol shooting babe. Our heroes trek through the jungle and are all captured by Willy with the men taken off to be executed. They are thrown into a flaming pond (!?!) but are saved by a – hold onto your seats – a jungle girl named Jane. Everyone escapes, but before they get to Jenny she is raped in a hotel (???) and then sold to cannibals in the jungle (2x???). The group attack the cannibals (whose leader looks like Peter Lorre) and save all of the girls. Willy, who is now sporting a Jones-like fedora, and his team make it to the cave, but don’t know that Jane and her witch mother live in the cave too. Chester and his team make it to a different entrance, which is far more treacherous as they encounter a cheap rolling boulder and a bunch of snakes. It is a hilarious bit as everyone stands there all scared before bolting to the huge 10-ft wide pathway that is just a few feet to their right.

Eventually everyone converges outside the treasure’s location and clash in an explosion of kung fu fighting. Our heroes win and enter to grab the treasure, only to find the room is full of nothing but skeletons. “There’s no treasure here,” says one member who throws down the map. We follow it as it falls just a few feet down a cavern to expose a bunch of hidden gold. The group leaves without looking around AT ALL, so they get no fortune. Cut to the severely beaten up Willy crawling out and finding the gold. “I’m rich,” he exclaims before he dies on the spot. The film then wraps up with the requisite ninja vs. ninja fight as Baron and Harrison get in their best day-glo ninja duds and duke it out. As is always the case in a Ho movie, the good guy is victorious but quickly loses out to the world’s fastest “The End” title card.

Like all of these Ho ninja flicks, this is one schizophrenic movie. His slapped together movies (and those of fellow cut-and-pasters Tomas Tang and Joseph Lai) are always tough to follow in a narrative sense, but this one is doubly difficult. Godfrey Ho’s HANDS OF DEATH indeed! But I enjoyed it because of the goofy nature of the newly shot stuff. Seriously, it is hilarious seeing guys refer to Harrison as Colonel and he is decked out in fatigues but still sporting a ninja headband. Is this some new branch of the military? Also, the main feature is actually a pretty decent movie. It is really a shame that the main feature that Ho cannibalized doesn’t get any proper credit. They are obviously doing a RAIDERS rip off and, for the small budget, it is pretty entertaining. There are fights every few minutes and Dr. Jones surrogate Chester (yes, an Asian guy named Chester) gets plenty of action out of his shotgun.

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