Exploitation movies filmed in the Philippines are really in a league of their own when it comes to ‘sploitation flicks. Schlock filmmakers the world over flocked to the islands in the 70s and 80s, lured by dirt-cheap expenses and the lack of any kind of production oversight or regulation whatsoever. You could do basically whatever you wanted, and the results were some of the cheapest, nastiest, weirdest and sleaziest movies ever put to celluloid. Which brings us rather neatly to Raw Force, also known under the much better and more descriptive title Kung-Fu Cannibals. It’s regarded as one of the poster children of the genre, embodying the low production values and maximum sleaze that these kinds of movies were known for. There’s violence, copious nudity, terrible effects, nonsensical writing and everything else you’d expect from a film of this heritage, all packed into a brisk hour and twenty-six minute running time. So naturally, Raw Force is prettymuch made for bad movie nights with friends and snarky reviews on blogs and youtube channels.
Our story begins with a criminal ne’er-do-well who may in fact be Adolf Hitler selling captive women to a tribe of islanders in exchange for rocks spray-painted green precious jade. The tribe lives on the Island of Warriors, a fabled burial ground for evil martial artists, whom the tribe are said to be able to bring back from the dead as flesh-eating zombies through cannibalistic rituals. It turns out that they actually can do this, by the way, but it’s not as impressive as it sounds. Nothing in these movies ever is. This fiendish scheme is stumbled upon by a tour group which just so happens to include a trio of American martial artists and a statuesque blonde L.A SWAT officer named Cookie. The gang, such as it is, don’t so much set out to foil the plot so much as run around the periphery of it, frequently getting distracted by sexy hijinx.
On paper, it’s not hard at all to see how Raw Force came to be. Martial arts movies, sexploitation, jungle cannibal flicks and zombies were all popular at the time, and Raw Force throws them all into a pot to create an unwieldy Frankenstein monster of a film. One minute we’re on a boat going from one uncomfortable and occasionally comedic sex scene to another and then before you can say “Tinto Brass” a gang of bizarrely dressed goons show up to start beating the crap out of people and unconvincingly set the boat on fire. Not long after that, they’re on the island being chased around by zombies wearing costumes probably stolen from the martial arts movie filming in the next valley over. If you get distracted for too long you’re liable to feel like somebody switched the discs and put on a different movie without your noticing.
This mostly comes from the budgetary limitations, which become the most apparent towards the end when the film is forced (practically at gunpoint) to live up to the zombie/cannibal elements it promised early on. It’s obvious that there isn’t anyone with any great skill at makeup or gore effects on the production, so don’t expect any Cannibal Holocaust action. In fact the entire cannibal factor is basically a side note, obviously tacked on so that the film could claim one of the many niches it’s trying to fill.
But to the film’s credit, it pulls off some of its other elements…..well, maybe not “well”, but “somewhat competently” might be a good way of putting it. Rey Malonzo shows up as the ship’s martial artist cook to add some more convincing kung-fu and a shot of Brucesploitation to the mix, and b-movie workhorse Cameron Mitchell headlines as the grouchy captain. And hey, when you pay for Cameron Mitchell, you get Cameron Mitchell. He runs around, shouting things that only occasionally make sense and discharging firearms with wild abandon just like you’d expect him to. How much of any of it was in the script is anyone’s guess.
There is, perhaps, something to be said for the almost commendable audacity it takes to try and blend as many exploitation sub-genres as Raw Force does. Audacity or perhaps lunacy. Martial arts, sex comedies and zombie movies don’t generally have much overlap, but Raw Force nevertheless tries to fit all of them and more into one compact package. Of course, it fails at doing so, resulting in jarring shifts from segment to segment. And even if you’re being charitable, it doesn’t exactly excel at any of the things it tries to pull off. If you’re looking for bizarre 80s genre fusions, you really should be watching Ninja: The Domination. But still, even if the film flies too close to the sun, it makes for an impressive sight as it tumbles flaming back to earth.
Raw Force is the kind of movie you watch around the middle of a bad movie marathon, when your buzz is starting to set in and the pizza is just starting to get cold. It’s somewhat higher end when it comes to Filipino exploitation fare, but doesn’t hold up when compared to its brethren from Italy, Australia or Asia, which generally rate higher on the “batshit insane” scale. Make no mistake, this movie is no Yor, or even a Samurai Cop. There’s nothing baffling about it. It doesn’t feel like one of those movies made by someone who doesn’t know what a movie is, although it frequently feels like the filmmakers had a tenuous grasp on how human conversation works. But it’s dopey and sleazy and silly enough to have fun with under the right circumstances, or in the right company.
You should watch it if:
–You’re surrounded by friends, greasy food and alcohol.
-You want to watch one example of Filipino exploitation movies just to get an idea of what they’re about.
-You run a bad movie Youtube channel and are running low on targets.
You should avoid it if:
-You have no idea who Cameron Mitchell is, and therefore his presence holds no appeal for you. You monster.
-You’re alone and sober on a Tuesday night.