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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column 1.21.14 Issue #291: Pray for Death (1985)
Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz on 01.21.2014

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #291: Pray for Death (1985)

Ninja New Year!: Week 2

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been run over by a dump truck driven by a penguin, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number two hundred and ninety-one, Ninja New Year! continues with a look at the 1985 ninja flick starring the great Sho Kosugi Pray for Death.

Pray for Death (1985)

Pray for Death, directed by the great Gordon Hessler (he also directed Kosugi's awesome 1987 movie Rage of Honor, which I reviewed here), is one of the better Sho Kosugi movies out there (it's way better than 9 Deaths of the Ninja, which came out in the same year). It's basically a revenge movie with a ninja twist, sort of like a Death Wish movie with Chuck Bronson wielding a sword instead of .375 Wildey Magnum. It's never boring and features a great cast and a nasty as all hooha villain.

Kosugi plays Akira Saito, a devoted family man who, when he isn't doting on his wife and kids and working at a prominent Japanese food business, is practicing the ancient ninja arts in a weird temple where he talks with his old master. Dissatisfied with his place in the company (he tells his wife Aiko, played by Donna K. Benz, that he'll get a promotion in two years when another executive retires), Akira decides to move his family to the United States and start a business there. Akira isn't necessarily thrilled with the idea of living in the United States (it's an incredibly violent place), but Aiko, who is an American, wants to live there and raise their kids there, so Akira agrees to give it a shot. Before he leaves Japan, though, Akira is told by his ninja teacher/master Kaga (Robert Ito) that he must keep his ninja clan's identity a secret and that he shouldn't engage in any ninja action unless seriously provoked. Akira agrees to follow Kaga's rule and makes his way to America for his family's fresh start.

So, with this being a revenge movie, it doesn't take long for Akira and his family to get into trouble. The old man they buy their house from, Sam Green (Parley Baer), is set on fire by a sadistic local mob henchman named Limehouse (James Booth, who also write the movie's screenplay), and there are corrupt cops all over the place. In fact, both Limehouse and the corrupt cops had been using Green's property to warehouse stolen goods, like the priceless Van Atta necklace, and when the necklace goes missing after being stolen, Limehouse and his boss Mr. Newman (Michael Constantine) lose their minds and demand action. They want the Van Atta necklace found and they want the thief terminated. Limehouse questions the cops first, and after they claim not to know anything about it the henchman homes in on Akira and his family. They know what happened. So then Limehouse kidnaps one of Akira's kids and threatens to kill the little guy unless Akira comes up with the necklace. Akira meets Limehouse on the docks to get his son back and to divulge what he knows about the necklace. When Akira tells Limehouse that he doesn't know anything about the necklace Limehouse freaks out again and starts torturing Akira.

So then Akira whips out his badass ninja skills, beats the crap out of Limehouse and his henchmen, and rescues his son and then goes to police for help. The police, as expected (remember, it's a revenge movie), are completely useless and essentially tell Akira that they can't do anything until the bad guys do something really heinous. So then Limehouse hires some new henchmen to run over Aiko and Akira's other son in broad daylight. Akira goes after the car attackers (great action scene), takes them out, and gets his wife and son to the hospital. Finally, after the car attack, the cops, led by Lt. Anderson (Norman Burton) agree to help Akira and his family.

So then Akira, despite the new police protection, decides to escalate things further with Limehouse and his boss Mr. Newman. In yet another excellent action scene, Akira infiltrates Newman's giant luxury ship, beats the crap out of a bunch of bad guys, and then threatens Limehouse that if he doesn't leave his family alone he'll come after him and Limehouse will "pray for death" (Ha! He said it!). That should be it, right? Why continue to provoke one man who can take out every henchman on a boat? Just let it go, right?

Ha. Please. Limehouse, in full on bastard mode, goes to the hospital in disguise, kills a bunch of cops, and then rapes and murders Aiko. He tries to take out Akira's injured son, too, but Lt. Anderson manages to scare the mob madman away. Akira arrives at the hospital, finds out what Limehouse did to his wife, and vows total revenge. I think you know where it goes from there.

Kosugi is so goddamn awesome as Akira. He's outstanding, as usual, in the flick's many fight scenes (Kosugi put together all of the movie's fights), but he's also excellent in the family scenes with Benz and the two kids (played by Kosugi's real life sons Shane and Kane). He has a goofy warm presence when interacting with his on screen wife and kids, and you really feel for him when he loses damn near everything and vows revenge. His speech in the hospital will give you goose bumps. And you will cheer when he makes his own ninja sword.

Let me repeat that. He makes his own ninja sword.

Booth's Limehouse is both a sadistic bastard and a one man wrecking crew. Watching him tear through the hospital is a thing of beauty (except for the rape scene. It's off screen but it's still awful), and you have no problem believing that he can stand toe-to-toe with Kosugi's Akira at the end. Akira may be a super ninja badass killer, but Limehouse is a one man wrecking crew (I'm sorry for repeating that but there's no other way to describe him). Is that what you get to do in a ninja movie when you also write the screenplay?

Donna K. Benz does a great job as Aiko. She's a doting wife and mother and you can't help but like her. She has great chemistry with Kosugi and you really believe they're a loving couple. You'll get pissed off when she dies.

Kane and Shane Kosugi are hilarious as Takeshi and Tomoya Saito. They get to fight, they're smart asses, and they like watching a show on TV about a badass black ninja. How awesome is that?

Michael Constantine is sleazy as hell as Mr. Newman. He only gets a few scenes but he's a piece of crap that you can't wait to see go down. Norman Burton is hopeless as Lt. Anderson, although you root for him to figure it all out in the end. And poor Parley Baer as Sam Green. All the old man wanted to do was go live with his sister in Atlantic City and he ended up strapped to the hood of a car and set on fire. That's a terrible, terrible way to go.

The fight scenes are all outstanding, and the final fight is a wonderful thing to behold. The only thing that's a letdown is the way Limehouse goes out. Why have a giant table saw in your movie if you don't plan on showing us the bad guy going through it?

I loved Pray for Death. It's a great, awesome ninja movie, one that you absolutely have to see. Sho Kosugi is an action movie God, and if you don't feel that way after watching Pray for Death, man, something is seriously wrong with you. Seriously.

See Pray for Death. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 20+

Explosions: Several.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: Sho Kosugi practicing his ninja sword techniques along with his son, a ninja attack, ninja sword to the chest, a ninja TV show, a karate class, karate class ass kicking, ninja horseplay, a ninja temple, swordfight with a lit torch, lots of slow motion jumping and flipping, an American cemetery, an old music box, a hidden compartment in the floor, a wishing fountain, a car phone, a crowbar beating, cane breaking, a massive fire, exploding car, dirty cops, a new Japanese restaurant, attempted bike theft, ball kicking, nose punching, a bloody nose, knife up the nose, chest slashing, attempted blow torch to a kid's face, an electric shaver, car attack, a big fight in the back of a pick up truck, exploding car and truck, rolling table attack, metal door to the face, a wicked throat punch, a threat, card playing, a hospital attack, tape bondage, attempted rape, a ninja revenge ceremony, a public restaurant massacre, spitting on a dead body, white beads, bead breaking, sword making, a cool metal ninja helmet, a nifty smoke trick, a wheel spoke used as a poison dart, serious throat slashing, bow and arrow hooey, smoke bombs, neck breaker, a ninja dust trick, knife to the gut, a vicious neck stabbing, a truck jump, axe attack, sword breaking, a room full of mannequins, attempted beating with a 2 X 4, chainsaw attack, a giant table saw, and a funny ending.

Kim Richards?: Attempted. Twice.

Gratuitous: Sho Kosugi, Sho Kosugi as a ninja, Sho Kosugi in a movie with his own kids, a ninja TV show, old man overkill, dirty cops, an Australian bad guy (maybe), kids fighting, car attack, a belly dancer, racism, card playing, a public restaurant massacre, a ninja revenge ceremony, ninja revenge, a room full of mannequins, and a giant table saw that isn't used to its maximum potential.

Best lines: "Aw, Mom, it was the Black Ninja!," "You know, your teacher said you're going to be a great engineer one day," "You should learn karate one day, Dad. You may need it," "You think it's over?," "You must forget the past!," "Whatever decision you make I know it will be the right one," "You cannot escape your shadows, my son. You will always be a ninja," "You must be as strong as an ox," "The stuff ain't here! Shit!," "Safe in the arms of Jesus," "Don't get cute with me slanty eyed bastard!," "I'm going to burn your kid like a Roman candle," "Are you left handed? Yeah. Something wrong? No," "Are you saying protection from a criminal not my right?," "I'm sorry, Dad, it's my fault," "Oh, Jesus Christ, Vinnie, can't you do anything right?," "Stay away from the Saito family. They don't know anything about the Van Atta necklace. If you don't, I promise you, you will pray for death!," "What we really need around here is a Black Ninja," "What the hell is that? Maybe it's that Jap hitman," "I'm going to rip your stinking guts out!," "You must release the guilt from your past or one day it will kill you." and "Mr. Saito, you're from Japan, do ninjas still exist? No, of course not."

Rating: 9.0/10.0


Next week: More Ninja New Year!

Ninja II: Shadow of a Tear


The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: The Facebook Page!

Please check out The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Facebook page, which can be seen here. There's not much there at the moment, but, as time goes by, expect to see daily questions and musings and other B-movie hooey (this really is going to happen at some point). And it would be cool if you "liked" it, too.

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Facebook page! Yeah!

And please check out my interview with director Brett A. Hart about the Ain't It Cool internet show and more!


And now, a moment of Sho Kosugi


TV Quick Hits

- Olivia as the head of the SVU unit on Law & Order: Special Victims Unit: When it was announced late last year that Dann Florek's Captain Cragen was being written out of the show I was hoping that the show wouldn't put Mariska Hargitay's Olivia Benson in charge of the squad. I was hoping instead that maybe Richard Belzer's John Munch would be brought back to run things or a new actor would be added to the show (Dina Meyer would make for a great SVU boss). Anything but Benson leading the charge. Because you know, at some point, the show is going to have her "push for change within the system" and take on the police bureaucracy, which is great as long as you're also not trying to score Hargitay yet another Emmy nomination. Her recent court appearances against her rapist should be good enough to get some kind of awards consideration. At least I think they should be.

And how long do you think it will take for Benson to leave her new office and desk behind to go out and actively investigate sex crimes? Does Benson really seem like the kind of person who would be content to just manage others? I don't think so.

Do you think Christopher Meloni will come back for an episode or two now? Maybe do a guest spot deal? And do you think Ice-T is worried that the network will want to get rid of him next? He wasn't on the show the first season, but he's been around since season 2, which is damn long time in TV terms, and I bet he's an expensive actor to have around (he's clearly not making the money he made back when he started).

What do you guys think should happen? Should SVU bring in some new blood? Should Benson really be the boss?


The Gratuitous B-Movie Column B-Movie Theme of the Week



And now, another moment of Sho Kosugi


The Gratuitous B-Movie Column B-Movie Babe of the Week: Jessica Alba


Things to Watch Out For This Week

- Machete Kills: This sequel was a massive disappointment (check out my full review here), mostly because writer-director Robert Rodriguez tries to stuff too much, well, stuff into the story. The first part is okay, but once Mel Gibson's bad guy character shows up the movie becomes a weird sort of 1960's spy movie parody, and it just doesn't work the way it needs to. It's still worth checking out, though, as Trejo does a good job as Machete and Marko Zaror is an awesome martial artist. Why he doesn't have a low budget karate movie franchise of his own I have no idea.

- The Insomniac: Danny Trejo also appears in this low budget thriller, along with John Heard. Based on the trailer this looks like one of those "slow burn" thriller type deals, which is cool, as the low budget movie world, at least consciously, doesn't go for that kind of thing all that often. I do wonder, though, just how many movies Trejo has coming out this year. It seems as though he has a new movie coming out every week.

- Gingerdead Man vs. Evil Bong: This team-up of Full Moon's two "big" current low budget franchises looks ridiculous, but that only makes me want to see it even more. Because, really, just how ridiculous is it? I can't wait to find out. I just hope that it doesn't turn out like Dollman Vs. Demonic Toys. The world doesn't need another low budget team-up movie like that.

- Freezer: Dylan McDermott stars in this thriller, which is being released by the fine folks at Anchor Bay. It looks well made and has an interesting premise (man trapped in freezer, has to figure out what the heck is going on and who put him there). I'm sort of surprised that this didn't get a small theatrical release. McDermott is still a name actor.

- Dead Weight: What's interesting, at least on the surface, about this low budget horror flick has the plot of a zombie movie, but if you look at the DVD cover/poster above it would seem as though Dead Weight is a slasher movie of some kind. And if you watch the trailer it doesn't appear to be either of those kinds of movies. It's something else, or at least appears to be something else. Regardless, I think it looks pretty decent, and that fact alone makes this worth a rental.


The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Douchebag of the Week


This week, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Douchebag of the Week goes to the ultra right wing media machine, for bringing up "Benghazi" and "the IRS" every time someone mentions New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and his ongoing scandals involving the George Washington Bridge and now Hurricane Sandy relief funds. According to the URWMM the "liberal media" hasn't talked about Benghazi or the IRS issue at all, and that the "liberal media" is in the midst of a massive cover-up operation to make it easier for Hillary Clinton to run for President by destroying Chris Christie.

First off, the "liberal media" talks about the Benghazi investigation at least once a week, and the IRS scandal is only a scandal in the minds of the URWMM (meaning there is no real scandal there), so the "they're trying to bury it" line is just bullshit. And second, the "liberal media" was very ready to get behind Chris Christie until this bridge scandal thing happened, and there's a good chance it will anyway even if it turns out that Christie knew what was going on. Because Hillary Clinton is divisive (she's a woman for God's sake! A woman!). And Bill Clinton had sex.

And, wait a second, why is the "liberal media" going to get behind the one person the URWMM was a victim of the "liberal media" back in 2008? Isn't it possible that she'll get trounced again by some primary candidate we don't know anything about at the moment? So what the hell are we talking about here? Meaningless speculative bullshit?

And where the hell were you guys when the "liberal media" lost its fucking mind over Gary Condit? Or John Edwards when he wasn't running for office anymore?


And then there's drug addict and Douchebag Hall of Famer Rush Limbaugh, for claiming that the size of the flag behind President Obama is "proof" that the president thinks he's a dictator. Check out the report at Media Matters. It's both hilariously ridiculous and insanely scary. Real people actually pay attention to this lunatic and believe what he says.

Jesus Christ, what the hell is wrong with people?

And finally there's movie director David O. Russell, for his recent comments regarding Jennifer Lawrence's commitment to The Hunger Games franchise. Russell's comments, that Lawrence is being treated "like a slave" by the franchise and the studio, were widely condemned for making light of real slavery, as they should have been, but what annoyed me even more was his "Lawrence looked at American Hustle as a vacation from The Hunger Games" remark, essentially saying that Hustle was a "real" movie whereas The Hunger Games is just a big scam to make money. We've seen this "the studios aren't making real movies anymore" stuff for nearly thirty years now and while it may be true that the major studios aren't as interested as they used to be in making smallish movies based on original scripts, where the fuck was Russell (and John Landis and Steven Spielberg) when other, smaller names were making the same claims? Hell, where were Landis and Spielberg when George Romero, in the late 1980's and early 1990's, openly complained about how he couldn't get a fair deal anymore?

I think I've about had it with this "big genre movies are not real movies" bullshit. Am I the only one who gets the impression that what Russell and Landis and Spielberg and Steven Soderbergh are really upset about is how movie studios simply don't give them money anymore to make whatever they want? Why didn't you guys change things for the better? And why do you despise the movie watching public so much?


NASCAR and Indycar thoughts

If you missed the 28th Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl midget nationals this past Saturday night on MAV TV, well, you missed an awesome goddamn race. 2013 USAC National Midget champion and 2012 Indy 500 starter Bryan Clauson picked up his first career Golden Driller trophy, holding off a hard charging Kevin Swindell who I really thought was going to pull a fifth consecutive win right out of his ass on the last restart. Clauson seemed to always get the right jump on the restarts and he could pull away, but Swindell, who had to run one of the B-Mains to make the race and started 14th, also seemed to get a good jump on the restarts. I figured that Swindell would somehow get the best of Clauson, dig deep into turn one, get hooked up, and then pass Clauson on the backstretch. That never happened. Clauson, in the end, was just too strong and Swindell had to settle for second. Not a bad finish for the four time winner, especially considering what happened to his teammate and father Sammy (hit Kyle Larson, ended up driving through the infield to avoid any further collisions, got a lap down and never recovered).

Tim McCreadie, who won the race in 2006, came out of nowhere to finish 6th, He was like 18th at one point and then, suddenly, with like fifteen laps to go he's right up front and in the thick of things. Christopher Bell finished third, which is about right. He started up front and was fast but he never seemed to have enough speed or momentum to catch Clauson or really anyone for that matter. It seemed as though the only thing Bell could do was block people from passing him. And I felt sorry for 2008 winner Damion Gardner. He was fast but he left early after a wreck. And what the heck happened to Rico Abreu? He was fast, hooked up, and then suddenly he wasn't.

MAV TV put on a good show, and Dave Despain did a great job hosting from his table near the pits. I have no idea why MAV TV didn't create a special mug for Despain to use (you know, one with the Chili Bowl logo on it, or maybe a Lucas Oil sticker), and was it me or where the race announcers doing the play-by-play from inside a studio? Were they even at the track? There was too much down time on the show, which I wish was done for TV purposes, to show pit area interviews and video packages on the drivers and whatnot, but it was mostly done because that's what short track racing in general is all about, dirt or asphalt. Why did the A-main start after 11, especially since the broadcast was scheduled for three hours, from 8:30 to 11:30? Were hot dogs not selling well enough?

MAV TV is set to do some dirt late model racing later this year (East Bay in Florida is going to have a national broadcast during Speed Weeks in February), although hopefully that changes. I want to see some sprint cars, more midgets, maybe even a USAC Silver Crown race. That would be dang cool. And hopefully MAV TV decides to air the Chili Bowl live again in 2015. It really is a great show from top to bottom.

Over in NASCAR, the big news is Gene Haas, co-owner of Tony Stewart's NASCAR operation, wants to create an American Formula 1 team. I have no idea where Haas is getting the money to do this, and with sponsorship money in general being, at best, lean, it's not like there's some deep pocketed entity out there just hankering to spend a billion dollars to get involved in F1. I guess we'll just have to wait and see if this turns into anything real or if it's just talk. The last time someone tried to put together an American F1 team it failed miserably.

And speaking of F-1, will the recent indictment of F-1 kingpin Bernie Ecclestone will the series experience further changes in the next year or so? As I understand the situation, Bernie is still technically in charge of F-1 and still essentially owns the business, but if this bribery thing grows bigger and bigger will he have to give up the show? And if that happens who takes over?


And now, a final moment of Sho Kosugi


Well, I think that'll be about it for this issue. B-movies rule, always remember that.

If there's anything you want to see reviewed here in this column, feel free to offer a comment below or send me an e-mail. I'm always on the lookout for new stuff to watch.

And don't forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

Pray for Death

Sho Kosugi- Akira Saito
James Booth- Limehouse
Donna K. Benz- Aiko Saito
Norman Burton- Lt. Anderson
Kane Kosugi- Takeshi Saito
Shane Kosugi- Tomoya Saito
Mathew Faison- Sgt. Joe Daley
Parley Baer- Sam Green
Robert Ito- Kaga
Michael Constantine- Mr. Newman

Directed by Gordon Hessler
Screenplay by James Booth

Distributed by Trans World Entertainment and MGM Home Video

Rated R for violence and language
Runtime- 92 minutes

Buy it here


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