Tuesday, February 15

Red Scorpion (1988) - 1989 SGE Home Video VHS

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The history behind Joseph Zito's Red Scorpion is more interesting than the film itself. Before disgraced Republican lobbyist Jack Abramoff was sentenced to prison after a broad fraud and conspiracy investigation, he co-wrote and produced this film with his brother. The work was supposed to espouse Abramoff's anti-Communist manifesto, but was marred by a troubled production of harsh African desert shooting, unpaid cast/crew members, Zito apparently taking "violent" liberties with the content, and the revelation financial backing partially came from the then pro-apartheid South African government. Ultimately, this actioner bombed and is often deemed as "propaganda" by critics of Abramoff.

I would bet those people haven't actually seen Red Scorpion because there's nothing anti-Communist or pro-apartheid about it. Sure, those evil Russians are the villains, but that was simply commonplace in the era of Reagan. All the Abramoffs prove, once again, is that generic-action-movie Russian baddies are bad and generic-action-movie Russian baddies manning Russian gunship choppers while in cahoots with the Cubans are even badder. I mean, how bad can the Russians really be when Lundgren, playing their top Spetsnaz asskicker, eventually sees the error of his ways, casts off his dog tags, and sides with African rebel forces? The depiction of the African people negates any pro-apartheid influence. They're either peaceful bushmen tribes living in the expansive red sands or armed villagers searching for freedom from their Russian oppression.

It's best to view this Dolph vehicle as your usual explosive '80s bullshit with heaps of unintentional homoerotism. A bare-chested and short-shorted Lundgren hot muscles through the one-dimensional role, mumbles lines, and maintains a constant oil gleam. A damp M. Emmet Walsh is a hoot making the best out of the difficult shoot; chewing the dusty scenery with a stream of quips and hanging out of a truck window blasting away with a shotgun. The late Brion James shows up as a tough Ruskie, and along with the Cuban military leader, just barely pull off their respective accents. Straw huts explode, squibs rip open, transport vehicles roll, and Lundgren sports a gun as long as his torso (again with the innuendo). Red Scorpion is curiously compelling for the bullet happy camp that it ends up being. An action film of the road less traveled seemingly moving along in roundabout ways unlike the Sly and Arnold product of the decade. A nice and underappreciated change of pace from the expected norms.

Shaprio Glickenhaus Entertainment's SP-speed VHS presents the feature in unmatted full frame in its R-rated version. A slightly longer version surfaced in Japan with a few scene extensions and gory addition to a key limb-ripping scene. This SGE VHS seems much harder to find compared to the later, very poor quality EP-speed tape from Starmaker. I found this SGE edition this past weekend; the first time I've ever ran across it. A trailer for the sweetly comical alien hokum Moontrap (1989) starring Walter Koenig and Bruce Campbell precedes the feature. Simitar and Key DVD also released Red Scorpion on disc, but they're both the shorter version. A few months ago, the great Synapse Films announced a remastered uncut release for DVD and Blu-ray, along with James Glickenhaus' The Exterminator and Scott Spiegel's Intruder:

"Then there’s ’89’s RED SCORPION, with Dolph Lundgren as a KGB agent rebelling against his superiors and taking up arms alongside African rebels “It’s Joe Zito [director, also of FRIDAY THE 13TH: THE FINAL CHAPTER and THE PROWLER],” May notes. “It has Tom Savini effects. It’s awesome. We will also be remastering this film in 2K HD. We understand there are some additional scenes floating around, and we have found what seems to be a longer, but older, master of the film, labeled in the vault as ‘Long Version.’ We’re going to search the vaults high and low for the most complete version and the original negative material. It may take a lot of research to find the additional footage on film, but we’re up to the challenge. Savini may have some behind-the-scenes video, and if so, it’ll be fun to showcase some of that stuff. We’ll have extras, but it’s early yet, so we have to wait and see what we can come up with.” Both EXTERMINATOR and SCORPION will be issue on DVD and Blu-ray!"
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