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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Red Scorpion

May 16, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Red Scorpion

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #462: Red Scorpion

MAYhem: Week 3

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been tasked by a government to go undercover for any reason whatsoever, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and sixty-two, MAYhem continues with the great Red Scorpion starring Dolph Lundgren, which hit movie screens in the spring of 1989.

Red Scorpion

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Red Scorpion, directed by the immortal Joseph Zito, is an action movie that I’ve both loved and hated over the years. When I first saw it, back on home video and then multiple times on The Movie Channel, I didn’t really understand what it was about. Yes, Dolph Lundgren was running around Africa, killing people and blowing shit up and whatnot, but there was other stuff going on with the story that I didn’t really get. I didn’t understand who Lundgren was supposed to be in the movie, I didn’t understand why the bad guys weren’t, well, a unified force, and I didn’t get what the hell the whole “Dolph walks around Africa with a Bushman” thing was about. Why did this badass action movie chock full of insane stunt work and endless explosions suddenly become an “art” movie? I can remember renting Red Scorpion and fast forwarding through the middle part of the movie as the action parts of the movie were the most important thing. Now, watching it again several decades later and understanding, to a certain degree, some of the politics of the movie, I can say that I like it in a different way. If you’re wondering what I’m talking about in terms of the “politics” of the movie, basically, it was produced by future convicted felon and ultra-right wing diehard Jack Abramoff as anti-Communist propaganda and, while making the movie, there was all sorts of controversy concerning how it was essentially made in apartheid South Africa during a worldwide boycott of South Africa (the movie was originally going to be made in Swaziland but the government pulled the production’s filming permits and the producers had to scramble to find somewhere else in Africa to film). I’m shocked that no one has written a book about the movie’s production because it sounds like a real shitshow from every possible side. The fact that the movie is watchable at all is a testament to Zito as a director and Lundgren as a star.

The movie begins with Lundgren’s badass Spetsnaz (Russian Special Forces, or Soviet Special Forces) operator, Lt. Nikolai Rachenko, getting an assignment from General Vortek (T.P. McKenna) and, I guess, a part of the worldwide Communist military command. Vortek tasks Rachenko with infiltrating a joint Soviet/Cuban military base in the African country of Mombaka (a fake stand-in for, I assume, Angola) so he can somehow befriend Kallunda Kintash (Al White), a member of the anti-Communist rebellion created by Ango Sundata (Ruben Nthodi). If Rachenko can get on Kintash’s good side, he may be able to lead Rachenko to Sundata and kill him. And if Sundata can be eliminated, the rebellion can be crushed and Mombaka can become full on Communist. Rachenko doesn’t seem too keen on the mission (in fact, he doesn’t seem to be a big fan of the general or anyone else in the room), but he accepts it because he’s Spetsnaz and he believes in his country, etc. So Rachenko goes to Mombaka, posing as some sort of advisor.

The first night Rachenko is on the base, he goes to the base’s bar and starts trouble. He smacks people around and shoots the place up all while drunkenly singing the Soviet national anthem. It’s all a ruse, though, as it’s all part of Rachenko’s plan to get inside the base’s prison and befriend Kintash. Amazingly, Rachenko is put in the same cell as Kintash, and Rachenko’s plan starts to come together. Rachenko attacks the guards, knocking many of them out, and manages to escape the prison along with Kintash and the rude and crude but hilarious American journalist Dewey Ferguson (the great M. Emmet Walsh). Rachenko shows Kintash that he’s a deserter, that he’s on his side, and that he wants to help the local rebel cause by causing all sorts of destruction. There’s a massive truck and motorcycle chase through the desert, with crashes and explosions and some of the most insane stunts ever put on film (and Lundgren is apparently doing all of them or most of them. He’s jumping from trucks and motorcycles and shit, at speed). Rachenko, Kintash, and Ferguson eventually get away from their pursuers, but they end up having to travel on foot through the harsh desert sun.

So then some stuff happens, they find out that Kintash’s village has been destroyed (blown up and burned to the ground), and they try to come up with a different plan. How the hell are they going to get to the next local village and to Sundata? While hanging out a watering hole, Rachenko and company are found and attacked by a pack of Russians and Cubans. But then Sundata’s forces suddenly appear and take out the Cubans and Russians and rescue Rachenko, Kintash, and Ferguson. The plan really is working, man.

So then some more stuff happens, Rachenko actually meets, face-to-face with Sundata, and it looks like will only be a matter of time before Rachenko takes out the rebel leader. However, Sundata is smart enough not to trust Rachenko, and the Spetsnaz operator is eventually found out, beaten severely, and sent back to his superiors. Shit.

As you’d expect, General Vortek isn’t pleased with Rachenko’s inability to take out Sundata and tells him that he’s no longer Spetsnaz. Then a Cuban torturer (Mendez, as played by Alex Colon) shows up and starts pushing long fucking needles into Rachenko’s chest and arms (this scene will make you goddamn cringe). It’s at this point that Rachenko finds out that he’s going to be executed and, well, he’s not putting up with that shit. He destroys Mendez and manages to break out of his cell and escape into the desert. He’s hurt now, though, and without supplies (or shoes), and apparently without a country. What the hell is he going to do now?

It’s at this point in the movie that Rachenko meets Gao (Regopstaan), a bushman that may have been following him earlier in the movie (he was because we, the audience, some him, but Rachenko thought that Gao was a hallucination at one point). Rachenko and Gao become friends, and Gao teaches Rachenko how to be a hunter in the Mombaka desert. Rachenko is also put through a disturbing ritual where he has to drink scorpion venom and is given a scorpion burn tattoo on his chest. He’s become a member of the tribe.

Now, while all of that is going on, a monster Soviet helicopter is flying all over Mombaka, spraying deadly chemical agents on people and animals and acting as a sort of advance team for a band of flamethrower wielding soldiers who burn down villages. The helicopter also participates in a raid on Sundata’s village, seriously wounding Sundata in the process. Those bastards!

Rachenko eventually finds the rebels, swears allegiance to them and the anti-Communist cause, and then leads them in an attack on the joint Soviet-Cuban military base. The Soviets and Cubans clearly don’t stand a chance.

The final assault on the joint military base is a thing of action movie beauty. There are so many massive explosions that it’s damn near impossible to count them all. There are little ones, big ones, and then even bigger ones (and I’m still talking about the massive explosions here. There are other smaller explosions here, too). How the hell did they pull off so many explosions without killing someone or causing massive hearing loss for everyone? And that’s on top of the truck crashes, the gun battles, and the hand-to-hand brawls peppered throughout the base set. How the hell did Zito and company pull this stuff off? And why doesn’t anyone try doing that kind of thing today? Sure, movies today can try to do something similar via CGI, but that’s not the same as seeing “real” explosions. There is nothing quite like a “real” explosion in an action movie.

The first big action sequence, the escape from the base, is also a thing of beauty. I can’t stress enough how great this whole sequence is and how insane it is with star Lundgren doing most of his own stunts. I’m just going to assume that he was “young and dumb” at the time because, shit, in shape or not, the stuff he does is super dangerous. It’s amazing to think that he didn’t get crippled while jumping from moving vehicle to moving vehicle.

Now, the slow middle part, where Rachenko and Gao bond, is more interesting to me now because I understand what the hell is going on. I’m also taken aback by how freaking beautiful the desert landscapes are here. Joao Fernandes does a terrific job as the movie’s director of photography. What he manages to get in the camera is, at times, breathtaking. How many low budget 1980’s action movies can you say that about?

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The performances are all quite good. Lundgren does a fine job as Rachenko. He’s awesome in the movie’s big action scenes, as you’d expect him to be, but he’s also quite good in his character’s quite moments. He’s doing the man’s man stoic thing, yes, but there’s a softness and subtle intelligence on display, too. And Lundgren’s opening scene, where he shows utter contempt for several Communist military officials, is brilliant. At first, it doesn’t look like Lundgren is doing anything but blankly staring at these people. You have to look in his eyes. He hates these goddamn people. Lundgren has always been a better actor than he’s given credit for.

M. Emmet Walsh is hilarious as American journalist Dewey Ferguson. He’s sleazy, he can’t stop swearing, and he’s so anti-Communist and anti-Russian that there are moments where you think Ferguson could take Rachenko in a fight. Ferguson gets so pissed off that he might be able to knock out man mountain Rachenko. Walsh also knows how to swear. It’s too bad Zito, who worked with Walsh on the Chuck Norris vehicle Missing in Action (check out my review of that movie here), didn’t get to do a sort of spin-off featuring Ferguson as a war correspondent all over the world. It would have been a hoot to see him in Iraq or something, swearing up a storm.

Al White, a pop culture icon due to his performance as one of the “Jive Dudes” in Airplane!, does a great job as Kallunda Kintash. He’s a fighter, a good family man, and he just wants to live in peace, but he’s stuck in a world that’s just awful. He’s duped by Rachenko, sure, but at the same time you can’t blame him for wanting to see the good in people. Ruben Nthodi, as rebel leader Sundata, is a little more cunning but he’s also a guy who just wants to live in peace. You can’t help but like him.

And then there’s Regopstaan, the local Bushman who appears, in his first and only movie, as Gao. He’s funny and charismatic and really isn’t acting. He’s just sort of in the movie. And that’s okay. His performance works.

On the bad guy side of things T.P. McKenna is a piece of shit as General Vortek. He just seems like your “typical” Russian bad guy in a 1980’s action movie at first, but when he starts using chemical weapons on people you hate him that much more. I think you’ll dig the way he dies, although I would have preferred to see his head explode. I think that would have been very appropriate, considering what he does in the movie.

Carmen Argenziano is brilliantly awful as Colonel Zayas. He actually matches General Vortek in the arrogance race, and he’s so full of himself you wish someone would just smack him across the face. His prison cell meeting with the captured and chained up Rachenko is a fine example of the Zayas character. I love the way he dies, too. Alex Colon knows how to bring on the sadism as torturer Mendez.

The now late but always great Brion James shows up as the Soviet henchman Sgt. Krasnov and does his usual excellent job, but where the hell does he go? Does he appear in the final assault and I just missed it? Did his character disappear because the producers were saving him for a sequel? What the hell is going on here?

Now, the one thing I still don’t get is the relationship between the Soviets and the Russians. Why don’t they trust one another? They’re working together, yes, but why do they appear so distrustful? Shouldn’t they be a unified force against the capitalist pigs and whatnot? Could it be that the movie is trying to tell us that the Communist forces, while dangerous, are not as unified as they would have everyone believe and are on their way out? If anyone out there has any insight into this aspect of the story, drop me a line and tell me what I’m missing. I’d love to know.

And what’s going on with the ending? Is it me or does the movie seem like it’s missing a scene where the rebel forces have to muster up the courage to continue fighting? I doubt that Rachenko’s sudden “Let’s kick some ass” line, while cool and all, is good enough to rally the team.

Red Scorpion is still a worthwhile action flick some thirty years later. It has plenty of explosions and stunt work and everything else you need to have a classic. And, to a certain degree, Red Scorpion is a classic. If you’re a fan of 1980’s action and Dolph Lundgren, be sure to check it out. And be sure to pick up the Blu-ray/DVD of the movie put out by Synapse Films. I think it’s still in print. It’s a great home video package.

See Red Scorpion. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: 151 (thanks, Joe Bob)

Explosions: Multiple small, big, and even bigger ones.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A big meeting in Moscow, explaining the plot, some serious target practice, a vodka bath, a very one-sided bar fight, machine gun hooey, a tape recorder that no one seems to know how to use, lit cigar to the chest, a prison cell beatdown, fuel can to the head, truck stealing, big ass truck mayhem, shotgun hooey, multiple exploding motorcycles, grenade hooey, an insane series of stunts, tank hooey, exploding truck, a walking in the desert interlude, an explanation of what you can do in America that you can’t do in Soviet Russia, off screen village burning, a Bushman hallucination, a gigantic killer Russian helicopter, watering hole hooey, exploding sand mound, bullet to the head, off screen dead body policing, more jail cell hooey, head smashing, attempted knife attack, machine gun butt to the gut, some serious metal needle torture, serious chain removal, another desert interlude, serious scorpions, people listening to the radio, a chemical weapons attack, bushman hooey, bug eating, sandal making, exploding village, exploding buildings, grenade launcher hooey, attempted child killing, more explosions, slow motion hut explosion, attempted wart hog hunting, a tribal ceremony, a burn tattoo, a dead goat, spear hooey, a massive attack on a military base, more explosions and gunfights than you can count, shotgun hooey, exploding guard tower, a Soviet flag that falls, exploding tank, machete through the chest, wound fixing, attempted grenade attack, bloody arm removal, exploding Soviet general, exploding Soviet helicopter, and a happy ending.

Kim Richards?: Considering that the Soviets are laying waste to entire villages, I would think it had to happen at some point. So I’ll just say yes here.

Gratuitous: Dolph Lundgren, Dolph Lundgren once again playing a giant Russian, target practice, a badass machine gun that can destroy just about anything, Little Richard on the soundtrack, Dolph Lundgren pretending to be drunk, Communists fucking around in a bar, some random guy getting a tattoo on his hand, a Dolph Lundgren mega burp, people speaking Russian, Dolph Lundgren drunk singing the Soviet national anthem, Brion James, Brion James slapping Dolph Lundgren across the face, M. Emmet Walsh, anti-Communism, big ass truck mayhem, M. Emmet Walsh hanging out the window of a truck and firing a shotgun, Dolph Lundgren doing a series of insane stunts, M. Emmet Walsh swearing, M. Emmet Walsh talking beautifully into his tape recorder, kids with guns, Dolph Lundgren chewing gum, attempted band aid, Dolph Lundgren being tortured, Dolph Lundgren hanging out with an African bushman in the desert, Dolph Lundgren being poisoned as part of a tribal ceremony of some sort, blue rain, a full on military base assault with multiple explosions, Dolph Lundgren with a shotgun, Dolph Lundgren dead lifting a disabled truck out of a massive hole, bloody arm removal, and Dolph Lundgren saying “Fucking A!”

Best lines: “Lt, Rachenko,” “Are you out of your mind? No, just out of bullets,” “That’s my goddamn tape recorder!,” “Okay! I’m getting those back! Do you hear me? You savvy what I’m saying, jackoff? Commie pig! Porko!,” “King fucking Kong,” “What the hell are you looking at, Russkie?,” “Perhaps a private execution?,” “What in goddamn hell?,” “Enough of this shit!,” “Fucking A!,” “You sonofabitch!,” “Are you out of your fucking mind? He’s a Russian!,” “What I wouldn’t do for a bacon cheeseburger right now,” “Do all Americans swear as much as you do?,” “You murdering bastards,” “Looks like the killing machine is breaking down. Don’t worry about it, man. Everything breaks down in Africa,” “Your name, comrade,” “He is with us! A deserter!,” “This… is the rebel army?,” “I am the one who is grateful, sir,” “Do you have a band aid?,” “Look, look, look! What do we have here?,” “General, I am giving you my best,” “You are no longer Spetsnaz,” “We Cubans are a very proud people,” “Don’t say impossible to me, sergeant! Don’t say impossible! Say yes, sir!,” “Most of them will never know what happened to them,” “I’m sorry,” “Some hunter you’ve become,” “Blue rain,” “The evil ones have been here,” “Un-fucking-believable!,” “I see you have earned the mark of a hunter,” “Let’s kick some ass!,” “I thought you might need some help!,” “Drop it, advisor!,” “You lied to me, general,” “Nikolai, you were Spetsnaz. I still am Spetsnaz. But I am no longer one of you,” and “You did it, man! You did it! Fucking A!”

Rating: 8.5/10.0

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

BlackPanther

Black Panther: In the midst of the events of The Avengers: Infinity War, I’d imagine that demand for Black Panther on home video will only grow. Because how else are you going to celebrate Wakanda and everything it represents? It’s not like Infinity War allows you to. Anyway, I liked Black Panther, clearly not as much as others, but I thought it was pretty good (I don’t think it’s the best Marvel movie, but I will say that it’s another fine example of Marvel knowing what it’s doing when making these superhero movies. They haven’t really had a dud yet). I do think it’s weird, though, that Disney and Marvel didn’t try to push back the home video release of Black Panther since the movie is still in theatres and still raking in money. Is it really important to get all of those cardboard displays out to Walmart? Why not leave them in a warehouse until, you know, August or something? Again, it’s a good movie, and if you’re a Marvel movie fan, it’s a must see, like all of the others.

TheReturnofSwampThing

The Return of Swamp Thing: This particular home video edition is from the fine folks at MVD as part of its MVD Rewind collection, so it’s chock full of cool special features. Just having the movie on home video again is cool enough, at least to me. I love this movie. Directed by the great Jim Wynorski, it’s a B-movie classic and one of the best superhero sequels ever made. It isn’t scary like the Wes Craven original, but then it doesn’t really try to be scary. It’s more interested in being awesome. I’m still not a fan of the very beginning of the movie, but once the CCR song kicks in and the opening credits start, it’s a classic through and through. And I still firmly believe that the kids, Omar and Daryl, should have gotten their own spinoff movie or TV show. I know that would have been awesome, too.

TheManor

The Manor: This is some sort of weird beard low budget horror flick about… well, I guess, cultists and ghosts and monsters and stuff. Big Sexy Kevin Nash is in it for some reason, and the monster that you see in the trailer looks kind of freaky. I just can’t tell if this movie is meant to be scary or just weird. I’m thinking weird but, hey, it could be anything. Rentable, just to see what the heck is really going on with it.

Bent

Bent: Where the heck did this movie come from? Karl Urban stars in this, I guess, low budget thriller about a cop turned private investigator who gets caught up in some sort of massive government conspiracy. Sofia Vergara is in it for some reason, as are Andy Garcia and Vincent Spano. It’s interesting how the trailer suggests that Vergara is naked in the movie, as her character takes a shower with Urban’s character. I’d imagine that if that kind of thing did happen we’d know about it and the movie would have received a full on theatrical release (think back to all of the hoopla surrounding Halley Berry’s topless scene in Swordfish. That kind of thing would have definitely happened here). Anyway, I think this looks halfway decent and, yeah, I want to see it. Anyone out there see this? Anyone at all?

ItsAliveTrilogy

It’s Alive Trilogy: The fine folks at Shout! Factory/Scream Factory are behind this boxed set of the killer mutant baby movies from the great Larry Cohen. As far as I can tell, Cohen provides a commentary track for each movie, and, well, you know that the sound and picture for each movie will be superb. When has Scream Factory ever put out a terrible looking or sounding home video release? If you’re a horror movie nerd or a Larry Cohen fan this set is an absolute must have. Definitely want to get this. Any It’s Alive fans out there?

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B-Movie News

EscapePlan2

The Escape Plan sequels will be going direct-to-video: When it was announced that the awesome Sylvester Stallone/Ahnold Schwarzenegger high tech prison movie Escape Plan would be getting two sequels, I was suspicious of what, exactly, we were getting. Would these sequels be real deal sequels with Stallone and Ahnold in them, kicking ass and taking names in some other high tech prison or some such? Or would these sequels be direct-to-video affairs that would show up unannounced at Walmart, much to the shock of everyone not paying attention? Now we know. Ahnold isn’t in either of the sequels (I’m assuming Dave “Batista” Bautista is taking Ahnold’s spot “star” wise), and both movies are going direct-to-video.

Now, is that a good thing? I think it is. Would I rather have seen big sequels with actual theatrical releases? Absolutely. But I’m okay with direct-to-video sequels, especially if Stallone is in them. Of course, I’m not sure how much Stallone is in them, if his Ray Breslin character is the star of the show, or if he’s in it for like five minutes. I’m still going to want to see them.

The first sequel, Hades, hits home video in June (June 29th), with the second sequel, The Devil’s Station coming later. A trailer for Hades has finally been released and I have to say that it looks pretty damn awesome. Why the heck isn’t this getting even a token theatrical release? Check out that car chase sequence. It looks like it cost a fortune, low budget movie speaking. And it looks like Stallone, at least in Hades, is in the movie for more than five minutes. And that’s damn cool.

Who else is excited about this movie? Any other Escape Plan fans out there?

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Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!

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Next Issue: MAYhem continues with Bulletproof starring Gary Busey!

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Interviews

david j. moore
Jino Kang
Vladimir Kulich
Paul Mormando
Shahin Sean Solimon
Michael Matteo Rossi
Tyrone Magnus
Hector Barron
Jeffrey Orgill
Michael Baumgarten
R. Marcos Taylor
Don “The Dragon” Wilson
Paul Kyriazi
Eric Jacobus
Juju Chan
Luke LaFontaine
Marco Siedlemann
Sam Firstenberg
Amariah Olson
Alexander Nevsky
Mathias Hues
Kristanna Loken
Steve Mitchell
Albert Pyun
Brad Thornton
Mathieu Ratthe
Damien Power
Kelsey Carlisle
Mike Dwyer
Nicholas Bushman
Brahim Achabbakhe
Etcetera
Richard LeMay
Andrew David Barker
Cynthia Rothrock
Leslie Simpson
C. Courtney Joyner
Shahin Sean Solimon (2)
Eric Miller
Alexander Nevsky (2)
Christopher Lawrence Chapman
James Mark
Casper Van Dien
Chris Mark
James E. Wilson
Barry Hunt
Vincent J. Roth
Mathew Ziff
Brandon Tyler Russell
Barry Hunt (2)
Lobsang Tenzin
Dylan Reynolds
Paul Kyriazi(2)
Lincoln Bevers
Nassasin Nuri
Hannah Janssen
Harry Mok
Daniel Roebuck
Sage Croft
Stephen van Vuuren
Cheryl Wheeler Sanders

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. 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.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Red Scorpion

Dolph Lundgren– Lt. Nikolai Rachenko
M. Emmet Walsh– Dewey Ferguson
Al White– Kallunda Kintash
T.P. McKenna– General Vortek
Carmen Argenziano– Col. Zayas
Alex Colon– Mendez
Brion James– Sgt. Krasnov
Ruben Nthodi– Ango Sundata
Regopstaan– Gao

Directed by Joseph Zito
Screenplay by Arne Olsen, based on a story by Robert Abramoff, Jack Abramoff, and Arne Olsen

Distributed by Shapiro-Glickenhaus Entertainment, SGE Home Video, Starmaker Entertainment, 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment, and Synapse Films

Unrated (there is also an R rated version, but, truthfully, I have no idea what the differences between the two are)
Runtime– 105 minutes

Buy it here