Blastfighter (1984)

This time, the movie poster definitely captures some of what happens, like vehicle explosions. For a mix of hixploitation and revenge cinema set in the woods, there are a surprising number of cars and trucks that get blown up. Yet there is only one rainstorm and no lightning, so I feel a little let down.

Tiger Sharp is a former cop on the edge who has just gotten out of prison for committing a revenge murder on the guy who stabbed his wife to death. Unfortunately, that guy was backed by a corrupt District Attorney, so when Tiger gets out, a buddy from the force gives him a souped up shotgun for an assassination mission. That sounds like it’s definitely what an entire action movie could be about, right?

Well, this one ain’t.

Instead of getting revenge against the corrupt DA, Tiger opts to head back home to the rural town he grew up in, only to cross paths with a former rival and his little brother, who have now all become poachers. When Tiger intervenes on behalf of the animals, the poachers begin a tit for tat battle. Eventually, this leads to murder, an attempted rape on Tiger’s estranged daughter, a hunt through the woods as an army of poachers pursue them, and the inevitable finale murderfest in which Tiger proves he can kick ass and take names as the manliest dude in these here parts. Because that’s how we like our toxic renderings of masculinity, man!

Of course, no great action movie lacks a great lead, and Tiger Sharp is played by just such a man: Michael Sopkiw, who has eyes that pierced the very diamond his chin was carved from. Unfortunately, despite a short modeling career and a run of Italian B-grade films, Sopkiw was also smart enough to realize his acting career wasn’t really turning successful; he ended up only starring in four films before getting out of the industry and turning to study medicinal plants. However, the legacy he leaves behind includes the great The Road Warrior meets Escape from New York rip off flick 2019, After the Fall of New York as well as the Jaws-wannabe Monster Shark. He ended with an Italian cannibal flick, Massacre in Dinosaur Valley. Interestingly enough, the actress who plays his daughter, Valentina Forte, also didn’t last particularly long in the film industry; she started in Blastfighter and was done a decade later with the made-for-TV film Servo d’amore, though horror fans will be happy to know she followed up her work here with the cannibals and killer Michael Berryman film Cut and Run.

One name that should put a smile on any Italian B-film fan’s face is that of actor George Eastman. Here, he’s Tom, Tiger’s old rival and older brother to the trouble making Wally. Eastman has a long professional career involving all kinds of projects, from Call of the Wild to Porno Holocaust. Eastman is a towering 6’6”, and even though he’s hobbling around with a limp in this film, he’s always a physical menace due to his imposing height and thick beard. He’s smart here and the older villain who tries to get everyone to walk away but admits he’ll have to side with his family no matter what. While Eastman could pull a grin that conveyed pure evil, he’s more stayed here. It works out to convey him as the wizened bad guy.

I also want to take a moment to point out another minor cameo, but one that plays in heavily to the production of the film: Billy Redden has a brief appearance holding a banjo. Why does this matter? Because Redden’s previous performance had been as Lonnie, the kid with a banjo in Deliverance. In fact, Blastfighter was also filmed in some of the same portions of Georgia as Deliverance and features similar themes of the urbanized male up against both rural man and the elements. However, while Deliverance saw the hillbilly purely as a monstrous force, Blastfighter reveals that Tiger is actually originally from this area before moving to Atlanta to be a cop. The corrupt ways of the city ruining him, he returns to nature and discovers the corrupting force of civilization here too, as the poachers are working for a Hong Kong man to ship animal parts. Tiger’s refusal to allow this to continue is the spark that ignites the powder keg, and though he turns back to a super gun and technology to bring down an army of rednecks, the film ends with a one bullet duel between a revolver and a shotgun.

Yes, the super gun needs to be talked about, because it’s actually not that space age: it’s a Franchi SPAS-12, which quickly became Hollywood’s favorite shotgun for looking futuristic. Notable films it appeared in include the likes of The Terminator, Jurassic Park, RoboCop, The Matrix, Babylon A.D, and a whole slew of others, not to mention numerous appearances in television and mock ups in video games. The super version that appears in Blastfighter features a special scope and an array of special ammunition, but little was done to modify the base weapon; it didn’t really need it to look futuristic, as it was only just starting to pop up in films in 1984. The other main gun that Tiger uses is a Colt Trooper Mk III, which makes sense considering he was a police officer before going to prison.

I mentioned earlier that this movie was filmed in Georgia, and it has a couple of points that I just wanted to note. First, when Tiger is considering assassinating the corrupt DA and receives his shotgun, he’s parked across the street from what would become the CNN Center; at the time, it was still the Omni Complex. CNN would move in three years after Blastfighter was filmed. The rest of the film takes place in a small town called Clayton, Georgia, which actually sits in the northeast corner of the state. The maps you see in places like the sheriff’s office are actually accurate to the county. Clayton has a history of film production, including serving as the location for the killer bear movie Grizzly. It reminds me that I need to head up there sometime for a vacation.

There are a few things in Blastfighter which will leave the audience squirming. The first is a blatantly racist discussion of the guy from Hong Kong. While the locals don’t have bad teeth, they sure are ignorant. The second is an attempted rape scene that leads to murder. Blastfighter comes painfully close to going full rape/revenge in this scene but veers away before going off the deep end.

But do I like the film? Yeah, I do. It has a cheesy Country song that was apparently written by the Bee Gees, and the dubbed dialogue stinks to high heaven, but as the tale of two guys on a slow but steady collision course due to the stupidity and sadism of those around them, it’s tough to beat.

Do I even need to say Lamberto Bava directed? No, I don’t. Go watch the trailer.

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