The Unholy and Bloodsport

February 6, 2012

As if the pseudo-religious nonsense of The Seventh Sign weren’t enough, along comes The Unholy to further hasten the apocalypse.

In this one, an average New Orleans priest (played by English actor Ben Cross, from Chariots of Fire) discovers that he is not average at all—not after he survives a fall from a 17-story building without so much as a scratch.

This miraculous occurrence brings him to the attention of some church elders (Hal Holbrook and the late Trevor Howard) who walk around muttering things like, “He is the one.” Cross is the one, it seems, to do battle with the antichrist, who emerges every year in the form of a beautiful woman in a diaphanous gown.

Most of the movie is taken up with Cross unraveling this mystery, which is somehow connected to a gang of Satan-worshippers down at the local S&M nightclub. The big finish is a special-effects extravaganza in the church, during which director Camilo Vila dabbles in a few Ken Russellesque images, with shaking walls and dry ice smoke, which means the church begins to resemble your basic heavy metal concert.

There are a few good lines of dialogue, the wackiest of which may be the stripper telling the priest, “I got a phone call from hell.” She means it literally. He gets a call from hell himself, and it turns out the line is of full of interference. You might have guessed.

Bloodsport is an unabashed excuse to string together a bunch of shots of guys beating each other up. It’s a vehicle for that “martial arts sensation” Jean-Claude Van Damme, who is participating in something called the Kumite, a secret competition in Hong Kong in which the world’s best fighters come together and do some serious head-cracking. It’s dangerous, and occasionally a fighter is killed on the mat, which leads one character to describe the event as being “Like a cockfight, but with people.”

But the dialogue scenes are relatively brief, and the hits just keep on comin’. Which should be a boon to martial-arts enthusiasts, since the movie is full of chops and shouts and men kicking like the Rockettes.

This fellow Van Damme has a fairly uncomplicated screen presence, and physically he’s an incredible specimen. He’s so concentrated he seems to be from Mars, although he has a French accent. (Same difference.) He’s fond of doing the 180-degree splits, the sight of which prompts his Neanderthal-American buddy to exclaim, “That hurts me just to look at it.” Interestingly enough, he’s just described the movie.

First published in the Herald, April 1988

Belgian accent. Belgian accent. Sorry, JCVD, but who knew at the time? The Unholy is a blank at this point, but one of the credited writers is Oscar-winner Philip Yordan, who has a whole lot of credits, including Johnny Guitar and The Big Combo.


July 28, 2011

JCVD, crossed up

The only interesting thing about Cyborg is that it represents another step in the career of one Jean-Claude Van Damme.

Van Damme is trying to make the leap from European body building champion to American movie star. It has been done before, and Arnold Schwarzengger’s lessons are there for all to study.

Van Damme has learned well. Like Schwarzenegger, he knows not to talk much (Belgian-born, his accent is about as thick as his biceps) and to do a lot of scenes with his shirt off. He has the body and he has the looks, although he doesn’t seem blessed with Schwarzenegger’s droll sense of humor. In fact, he doesn’t display much sense of anything, except how to move.

His martial-arts skills came in handy in his first starring vehicle, Bloodsport, a karate-chopping extravaganza that did strong business internationally. Now comes Cyborg, a trip into the science-fiction landscape of The Terminator and The Road Warrior.

The script (by Kitty Chalmers) is pretty much incoherent. The earth, some years in the future, has been devastated by a plague, but a cure is held in the brain circuits of a cyborg, a robot. This cyborg must reach, of all places, Atlanta, where a small group of scientists is waiting to secure the data. Times are tough for a traveling cyborg, because a group of marauders called the Flesh Pirates are roaming around asserting their nasty will.

So Van Damme, a sort of roving samurai, makes sure the cyborg reaches Atlanta. Director Albert Pyun obviously has been inspired by Kurosawa’s action movies, and there’s some decently mounted hand-to-hand fighting and a violent climactic battle in the rain. There’s also a wild and weird crucifixion scene in which Van Damme painfully knocks himself off the cross when the bad guys aren’t looking. Ouch.

Otherwise, Van Damme glowers, and manages lines like, “I deedn’t make thees world.” I have to admit that when he and the main villain (Vincent Klyn, a champion surfer) faced off, they reminded me of Hans and Franz, the Germanic body building brothers on “Saturday Night Live,” flexing and bellowing. But don’t tell Van Damme I said that; his muscles aren’t cotton stuffed in a sweat shirt, they’re real.

First published in the Herald, April 14, 1989

To be fair, maybe the cyborg is going to Atlanta because the Center for Disease Control is there. And they’d be smart enough to have built a secure plague-resistant HQ, for sure. So I take that comment back, and regret the umpteenth iteration of the “accent thick as muscles” line, too. Frankly this movie sounds like fun, especially the part about JCVD knocking himself off the cross in mid-crucifixion. For more on the cinema of Albert Pyun, check the review of Dangerously Close and the comments section.