It's a crying shame that most of Bruno Mattei's movies are not easily obtainable on DVD. Hell of the Living Dead would have to be the easiest to locate, and Rats: Night of Terror isn't hard to find either. Even Cruel Jaws got an Italian DVD release. I really don't understand however why his best (and by that I definitely mean most entertaining, not most accomplished) movies - Robowar, Born to Fight, Shocking Dark and the two Strike Commando films featured here - are not available on anything except hard to find VHS tapes.
That being said, the first Strike Commando VHS can be picked up on Amazon for a few dollars, but what I have here are the two Japanese tapes. I've recently started collecting these (Phantom Soldiers was the first) and they do tend to go for a bit of coin on eBay, but hey.. you have to collect something, right? Right? Right.
"When I used to steal watermelon down in Alabama I only had to climb fences, not cut them."
Reb Brown as Sgt. Michael Ransom and his team of strike commandos are sent in to blow a munitions depot in Vietnam, their Major and Colonel waiting on the outskirts with a plunger to blow the planted demolitions. Reb Brown takes point, sneaks in and stealthily knives guards and fires crossbows while planting the explosives. With still a minute on the clock, Reb is noticed by one of the guards who fires at him and alerts the other guards. All hell breaks loose and the Colonel not waiting for the timer to run out, and not listening to the Major, orders the depot destroyed. The whole thing explodes and the commandos, except for Reb Brown, all perish. The Colonel mutters something about "The mission above all else."
Then next thing Reb Brown knows is waking up to the face of a ghostly figure in a wooden hut; he screams, falls out the side and hangs on a rope by his feet. It turns out he's been captured by a local Vietnamese tribe who a hiding from the Viet-cong who instead of killing him chant "A-merry-can! A-merry-can!" over and over. Their leader, a Frenchman named Le Due, begs for his help to lead the tribe to safety and he agrees. On the way they trip over a radio and a very pissed off Reb calls home, out for the Colonel's blood. The Major tells the Colonel that Reb is the best and he should watch out.
"The rest of strike commando demands vengeance! They all demand justice!"
The Major is sent in a chopper to retrieve Reb though of course it's not made easy for either of them with all the vietcong around. There's plenty of jungle warfare scenes, vietcong soldiers in pointy hats firing automatic weapons wildly at Reb and missing, grenades blowing up small sea craft etc. Out of nowhere a huge Russian goliath, Jakoda, strangles Le Due to death then he kicks a cobra (yes, really). Reb pulls a Russian badge torn from Jakoda's shirt out of Le Due's dead hands and pockets it. Eventually Reb makes a run for the chopper through rice patties being shelled with mortars, and gets picked up by the chopper.
It all ramps up a notch when after debriefing, Reb returns to get photographic evidence of the Russian influence in the area. Reb finds all the vietnamese tribe dead except for the child who in his dying throes tells Reb that the huge Russian goliath Jokda killed them all and asks about Disneyland. Reb loses his shit and M16's the huts to pieces. That's called 'showing emotion', but all it does is get Reb captured by Jakoda (who calls him an "Americanski" to prove he's Russian) then tortures him. Of course he eventually escapes his captors and decimates everything in his path.
"Disneyland! Popcorn and ice cream grow on trees! Anything you want can be granted to you by the genie in the lamp!"
This movie is hilarious and a real good time. That's why I decided to bold so many of the best lines, and believe me there are plenty more I'm leaving you to find for yourself. Some lines are obvious terrible attempts at humour and others, like Reb's sweet conversation with the Vietnamese child, are so cringeworthy you can't not laugh at them. The body count is also vast, almost up there with Phantom Soldiers, and there are plenty of exploding huts to look out for. Reb is great in his usual way but just not quite as awesome as he is in Predator-ripoff Robowar. He does play a pretty great Rambo-ripoff though.
Strike Commando is a great 85 minute action-filled ride that gets better with each viewing. Yes, it's tragically bad, but that's what we're here for. Perfect for a loud, beer fuelled evening with mates. Hell it even has a cock fight, and by that I do mean chickens. Also, best going-apeshit ending to a film, ever. See this movie.
(Here's a great Reb Brown motage video!)
Strike Commando 2
"I've come to kill you."
Sgt. Michael Ransom is back, this time portrayed by Brent Huff (Born to Fight, Cop Game, Armed Response... some real pearler 80's trash and an actor I really need to get more DVDs of) who plays it less far less straight than Reb Brown did. Ransom wakes in his bed after a flashback-to-war nightmare played in slow motion to one of his ex-army buddies telling him his old commanding officer, Major Vic Jenkins (played by veteran actor Richard Harris), is being held captive by the CIA and to go talk to a guy called Peter Rogue to get information. So Ransom goes and beats the crap out of Rogue until he tells him where Jenkins is being held then sets out to rescue him. Upon arriving Ransom quickly learns that the obviously free Major Jenkins isn't being held captive but is hiding out for a secret operation. Seconds later a helicopter flies by, yells to Ransom that he isn't the one they are after and after a few scuffles on the ground with some Filipino's and a KGB guy in a white suit, take Jenkins hostage - for real this time.
A ransom video is sent, with Jenkins detailing the terrorist's demands for ten million dollars worth of diamonds to be dropped at a certain place. Ransom pissed off about the demand for, uh, ransom, volunteers to go and rescue his old Major from the KGB though it doesn't go easy for him. With the ransom diamonds on his possession, his own boat crew try to mug him, but they are easily dispatched with in Rambo-style ways.
"I've never been sure if women are courageous because they are stupid, or stupid because they are courageous."
Now is when it gets funny. Ransom arrives at a bar that is the same damn bar from Raiders of the Lost Ark, complete with similar female bar-owner playing drinking games with the local clients for cash. Her name is... Rosanna Boom. Baha! That's as good as Homer Simpsons' pseudonym Max Power. Anyway, she's a sassy woman just like Marion Ravenwood and gives Ransom shit, but before they can get into too much of a love/hate relationship, some evil music plays and the KGB guy in a white suit - flagged by ninjas of course - enters the bar, introduces himself as Kramet and demands the diamonds. Ransom hands them over but the Kramet is infuriated to discover they are fakes and crushes them in his KGB hands, then unleashes the ninjas in a hilarious display of backflips and "Hai! Hai! Hwah! HI-YAH!" During the fight a ninja is set alight and Rosanna Boom reveals that she is storing boxes of dynamite in the bar for some reason. The whole place explodes and everyone flees to the forest.
Whereas Strike Commando was a war action movie, Strike Commando 2 is definitely an action adventure. It's clear Mattei was trying to combine Indiana Jones with Rambo and the result I think is brilliant (for a B-movie of course). Mattei has managed to get some of the most memorable scenes and characters from Raiders of the Lost Ark and merge them with Rambo III and even a few lines from Predator for good measure and a torture scene from Lethal Weapon 2! It's definitely a more coherent movie than the first and feels like much more effort went in to making a better picture, but the rip-off lines are just shameless. "There's something in the trees", "Turn around".. all the Predator favourites are here.
"I have a shocking surprise for you."
Ransom and Boom (what a name for a partnership!) agree to work together to find the guy holding Jenkins ransom, Huan To. It all goes a bit jungle-warfare again here, but I don't want to say much else about the stuff that follows as it will ruin the HUGE and OBVIOUS twist. I will reveal that the movie does culminate in Rosanna dressing up as a Filipino hooker, a ninja getting shot in the back during a swordplay demonstration, an explosive escape in a stolen truck and a helicopter flyover resulting in total machine-gun destruction of some huts. Ransom also goes apeshit with his machine gun just like the first movie, screaming "RAARRRGHHHHH!!!!!".
Special mention must go to the music - it's brilliant. There are three distinct pieces of music: the suspenseful seg-way used when evil people are on the screen or Ransom is hiding behind a door, the Indiana Jones theme ripoff played when Ransom is swining from vines and kicking Ninja arse, and the Carry On style slapstick tune. The best part about it is the slapstick music is sometimes played over serious scenes.
In my opinion, as good as the first movie is, this one has the edge. The first was played entirely straight which made the funny scenes hilarious in a 'bad movie' kind of way. The sequel has genuine comedic moments which are funny, usually in their failed attempt at being funny. The best line by far would have to be this interchange between Rosanna Boom and Kramet:
Kramet: "I hate women."
Rosanna: "Yeah I have a lot of gay friends too."
Kramet: "I HATE QUEERS."
Rosanna: "You're hurting me!"
Just like the first Strike Commando, make sure you track down and watch the sequel. They run together well as a double feature as the second isn't just more of the same, but it's familiar enough to keep a theme going. I think the best way to end this double-feature review is with a line from the man Sgt. Michael Ransom himself:
"How do you say goodbye in Russian? Auf Wiedersehen!"
Both pictures are on the soft side and washed out but unless a DVD ever comes out, these are definitely the best ways to watch the movies. The first Strike Commando is presented in 4:3 and there are scenes that are obviously trimmed to fit the screen. The sequel however is presented in roughly 1.78:1 letterbox and blows up quite nicely on a 16:9 display. The sound on both are fine with nice and clear explosions.
Two separate eBay sellers for a pretty penny each. For a rough idea of what to expect, I paid AU$20 and AU$40 plus postage for each of these tapes and I think I got pretty lucky. Runtime about 90 minutes each.
Strike Commando 2: