Thursday, October 13, 2016

Gang Wars (1976)

The best thing about this wretched hybrid of crime, horror, and martial arts is the name of the leading actor, because it’s hard to top “Warhawk Tanzania.” Incompetently cowritten (with four other people!) and directed by Barry Rosen, the flick opens in China circa 200 B.C., with fanatics performing a deadly ritual near a deep pit. Cut to the present, where Luke (Tanzania) is a martial-arts master in New York City. His student, Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan), gets into a hassle with Chinese gangsters in Manhattan before traveling, with Luke, to Hong Kong for advanced kung-fu training. Rodan stumbles onto the pit from the ritual and accidentally releases a demon, which follows him and Luke back to New York and sets up housekeeping in the city’s subway system. If you’re already confused, join the club. The demon starts murdering folks in the subway, which causes police to suspect gangsters are responsible and eventually leads detectives to Luke and Rodan. None of this makes any more sense onscreen than it does on paper, and Gang Wars—also known as Devil’s Express, hence the above poster—has production values commensurate to its storytelling. Scenes smash together without transitions, repetitive funk grooves make fight sequences feel tedious, and the filmmakers periodically replace production sound with voiceover, which merely adds to the overall awkwardness. The demon bits are ridiculous, culminating with Tanzania kung-fu fighting some dude in a rubber suit, and the highlight—as far as horror goes—is a vignette of a fellow ripping off his own skin while the demon possessing him breaks free. Too infrequently, glimmers of droll weirdness poke through the sludge. NYC freakazoid Brother Theodore plays a priest in one scene, and, in the most enjoyable moment, a crazed bag lady (Sarah Nyrick) harangues strangers on the subway before she’s attacked by the demon. You may find yourself wishing the movie was about the bag lady.

Gang Wars: LAME

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