Director: Joseph Zito
Cast: Dolph Lundgren, M. Emmet Walsh, Al White
Review by Brian M. Sammons
Yes I know, this is not a horror movie, but it does have some connections to the genre that we love so much. It was directed by Joseph Zito who not only directed the best Friday The 13th movie ever (part 4) but another very decent slasher flick, 1981’s The Prowler. It also has legendary FX guy, Tom Savini, who not only did the special makeup effects for both of those earlier Zito flicks, but the war gore here. Lastly it was made in the 1980s, which is the best decade for film, horror or otherwise. If you don’t agree with that, that’s fine, but you’re wrong. Sorry but that’s a scientific fact. So 1980s, tested horror director, and splatter legend Savini, anything else? Oh yeah, it’s an action flick staring the Russian giant Rocky had to beat up. Come on, if all that doesn’t get you pumped up to see this movie, then I don’t know what will. Oh, I know, maybe a review? Ha, what an idea, so let’s roll with it.
After his big debut as the unbreakable Soviet boxing machine in Rocky 4, Dolph Lundgren tried his best to become the next big action hero. Sadly that was never to be. First there was the misstep that had him playing He-man in the woeful Masters Of The Universe movie. After that he went back to his Russian roots (Dolph is actually Swedish) in this movie playing a Soviet special forces soldier named Nikolai. Comrade Nicky is sent to an unnamed African country where Cubans, Czechs, and Russians have formed a Commie coalition to stamp out a group of plucky gruella fighters who are not down with the Bolshevik plan. Nikolai’s orders are to befriend a freedom fighter in order to get close to the Gandhi-like rebel leader so he can murder the guy.
A hero, ladies and gentleman.
Naturally, since Dolph is meant to be the good guy of this show, he comes to realize that his communist pals are not the team he should be playing for. You know, with them using chemical weapons, attack choppers, and flame throwers to kill entire peaceful villages for kicks, you have to wonder why it took Nikolai so long to pick up on this clue. I guess his big wakeup call comes after he’s sentenced to death for failing his mission to assassinate the peaceful rebel leader. Man those Soviets are hardcore. Anyway, he then turns on his former comrades, makes friends with a cranky American reporter, gets forgiven by the Africans for being a Russian killing machine, and has his very own mystical journey thanks to a friendly bushman and a scorpion sting. What, you thought this film had a badass title like Red Scorpion for no reason?
What you got in this blast from the past is a pretty basic ’80s action flick, with the sole exception being the Soviet protagonist. As such, I cannot say too much about it, either pro or con. It can drag at times between action set pieces, has plenty of corny dialog, some nice explosions, and a shoehorned anti-communist message that was pretty common at the time. Dolph swings back and forth between being as charismatic as a hunk of wood, to having some (very few) funny moments. While not horrible, he just doesn’t have the ‘it’ factor to be a leading man and that is painfully evident here. Perhaps my biggest gripe with the flick is the fact that it had Tom “hallowed be thy name” Savini doing the special effects, and yet it is practically a bloodless movie. There is an arm getting blow off scene, but even that was edited all to hell so that it was completely toothless. Talk about a huge missed opportunity.
As for the how the movie looks on Blu-ray for the first time, it is sadly only so-so. The daylight scenes are bright, colorful, and look very clear. Unfortunately during the film’s nighttime scenes, the dreaded grain monster rears its ugly head and everything on screen gets covered in very noticeable film grain. Now it is a sort of low budget film from the ’80s, so I guess that’s par for the course, but if I didn’t say that this film can look pretty horrible at times then I wouldn’t be doing my job as a hardnosed critic. That said, Synapse Films does their usual fine job of loading up this disc with some very cool special features. There are three interviews here; a 30 minute one with star Dolph that I found very informative, a 13 minute interview with the producer that was ok, and a quick 10 minute one with makeup effects master Tom Savini that was over too soon. Speaking of Savini, he pulls double duty here by providing 10 minutes of behind the scenes video shot by himself. The usual still gallery, trailer, and TV spots can also be found on the Blu-ray, along with a very informative audio commentary track with the director and producer. Lastly it has the cool reversible cover, giving you two choices on how you want to show of your disc, and has both the Blu-ray and DVD in one handy package.
Red Scorpion is about as middle of the road as an action flick can get. It neither excels nor fails spectacularly. It can be a fun popcorn munching, throwback to the ’80s action film and I enjoyed seeing it again for the first time in years. If you’re a fan of old school action films, or you’re partial to watching Dolph Lundgren playing Russians, then give Red Scorpion a run. However if you fall into neither of those two camps, then you might want to avoid this venomous bug altogether or perhaps give it a rent.