Blastfighter (1984)

Blastfighter is an early 1980s Italian action movie that steals its plot and theme from Rambo and Deliverance, infused with some unique Gallo-style crime thriller touches, and filmed on location in the hillbilly heaven of Northern Georgia. The international cast is directed by Lamberto Bava, son of the famous Mario Bava, who inherited his father's taste in exploitation and rip-off cinema, and features some fairly good acting performances by most of those involved. Nearly forgotten, and virtually impossible to find on DVD anywhere, Blastfighter remains a hidden gem for fans of this sort of thing (like me).

First a quick explanation of the film's title. The production was supposed to be a science fiction epic, but the money fell through and it couldn't be made, even though the name "Blastfighter" had already been copyrighted. The mind boggles at the thought of what the original sci-fi version of Blastfighter might have looked like, especially in light of Italy's long and embarrassing history of science fiction bombs (here, here, and oh my god here).

Otay, here we go...

Our movie's hero is ex-cop/ex-con Jake "Tiger" Sharp, he of the leather Member's Only jacket, tight jeans, feathered and blow-dried hair and Tom Selleck mustache. Tiger is played by 30-year old Michael Sopkiw, known mostly for a regrettably short career and for staring in some Italian shark movie I refuse to watch because sharks freak me out. You know Sopkiw makes glass jars for plants at some California factory now?

Tiger, looking a lot like Earl Hickey.

Right out of the state penitentiary in Atlanta, Georgia, Tiger is picked up by a former cop buddy in a long white Mercury Marquis coupe (one serious pimp mobile). It's never explicitly stated what their relationship was, but I suspect they were best friends, if not partners on patrol. They drive to a spot in downtown Atlanta where they park, overlooking a plaza in front of a tall office building.

That' the way he be rollin', yo. Don't be hatin'.

Tiger's buddy then reaches into the back seat and pulls out a super-powerful shotgun, an experimental design that he claims will be "standard issue" on the police force in a couple of years. It fires both shotgun shells, as well as regular bullets from a barrel underneath, as well as a variety of grenades from tear gas to high explosive to armor piercing. It's a prop gun for sure, based on a standard SPAS police shotgun with a variety of certainly fake doodads and widgets bolted on. He gives it to Tiger with a smile.

The shotgun, as seen later in the movie. It should be noted that only once or twice do we get a decent shot of the gun, and it's nearly two-thirds of the way in before we see it in full, suggesting that it doesn't hold up well to close scrutiny.

Why is he giving this weapon to Tiger, a just-released ex-con? Well to answer that we get the first of this film's several extended flashback sequences to explain Tiger's motivations. We zip back in time to when he was a beat cop and his partner was killed by a man who the corrupt District Attorney protected. He killed the man anyway and was sent to prison for eight years.

Tiger holds his dying partner. (Flashback!)

As it would have it, that very same District Attorney, who is now even bigger and more politically influential than he was eight years ago, and apparently even more of an asshole, is walking out of the office tower that Tiger and his buddy are staking out. It's a clear shot from here, using the shotgun's rifle barrel and awesomely awesome optical sight. Revenge is sweet, but Tiger declines the shot on the DA, the better part of a decade in prison has dulled his emotions and he's willing to let it go.

The DA is in his sights, but he lives another day.

Leaving his friend behind, Tiger takes the Mercury and the shotgun and his Wrangler jeans and drives up north to his old hometown of Clayton, Georgia. Clayton is a real place, by the way, a small dirt-poor inbred hellhole up in the Appalachian hills near the South Carolina border. Wikipedia tells me that Clayton nowadays (and I can't imagine it's changed much since 1984) is home to 2,000 people and 7,000 hound dogs and half the population is toothless and still thinks we are fighting the War of Northern Aggression.

Clayton, hee-haw! Won't they be pleased when Obama is president.

Tiger stops by a small general store downtown to buy some supplies and food. He instantly gets bad-eye'd by a group of loafing rednecks in the store, who seem to have nothing better to do that sit around and drink beer and pick their noses and mock new folks in town. They taunt and tease him as he walks away, asking if he's a cop or an ex-con due to his shuffling "I don't want any trouble" walk. To his credit, Tiger takes it stoically and drives off. Eight years in the hole tends to make your skin pretty thick to insults.

The banjo player in the store is actually the same actor who played the Banjo Boy in 1971's Deliverance. Dedeldede-de-de!

Typical redneck in Clayton.

Tiger drives out to a ramshackle old cabin in the woods, down at the end of a rutted dirt road, back in the hollers, so to speak. It's never explicitly stated, but I assume this is the old Sharp family homestead, perhaps abandoned for years. We never learn what happened to the rest of the Sharp clan, which is odd as you'd think Tiger would have a lot of relatives in the area still. Perhaps he left to go to Atlanta because his folks died or moved away?

The abandoned old cabin, though the yard looks recently mowed.

We next see Tiger out in woods with his shotgun, not hunting anything, just scoping out deer (he either just really likes deer or is doing a wildlife survey for the Sierra Club). While he's out there, he sees a ten-point buck get shot by some hunters, and the vision of that brings forth another wicked flashback to when his partner got shot back in Atlanta.

Tiger out in the woods, practicing his wide stance and firm grip, essential skills learned in prison.

Tiger now has a confrontation with a group of local rednecks over the dying deer. It seems that they want to keep the animal alive for some reason (later), but Tiger tells them to put it out of its misery. When they refuse, he shoots the injured deer dead himself, sparking an angry testosterone-fueled gun-pointing curse-hurling Mexican stand-off. It ends peacefully, but the rednecks now have it in for Tiger, as they don't take kindly to some city boy telling them how to live their lives. The rest of the movie is one long continuation of this feud.

Tiger versus the rednecks.

Tiger decides then and there that he's going to be a pacifist to the end. The super-death mega-killer shotgun is anathema to that ideal, so he wraps it up and hides it under the floorboards of his cabin. Then to show us what a softy Tiger has become post-prison, he adopts a homeless baby deer! fucking adorable is that!

Tiger takes his baby deer into town to get a bottle and some milk (which he pays $1.69 for a quart, which is insane, I don't pay that much today). Shockingly, when Tiger goes to open his car door, he finds his pet deer dead, her throat cut and blood everywhere. Pissed beyond words, Tiger stomps right over to the gaggle of laughing rednecks who clearly did this and thumps them something fierce. The leader of this gang of rednecks is a man named Wally, who seems a bit more clean-cut than the others, he even has all his teeth. Wally is played by Stefano Mingardo (here billed as "Mike Miller"), who I just the other day reviewed as the thickly-accented Dutch Guy in Raiders of Atlantis.

Wally, sporting Paris Hilton shades.

Being honorable to a fault, Tiger takes responsibility for starting the fight and the damages incurred. He even goes to the local police station and pays the fine up front, earning him the respect of the sheriff. The lawman is a bit of a milquetoast and never really does anything to counter the rednecks' disruptive influence or protect the innocent. I guess this is more common in small rural towns than you might expect, not everyone can be Buford T. Pusser, after all.

The sheriff chats with Tiger.

Tiger then meets an old childhood friend named Tom, who happens to be sort of the town's informal leader due to him owning the local sawmill and having the most disposable income. Tom is played by mosterstud George Eastman, the legendary 42-year old Italian actor (watch him be deliciously evil in The New Barbarians)

Tom, he's frickin' tall.

Tom explains to Tiger that a man from Hong Kong came to town recently and set up shop. He is offering to buy animals for his "export business", which consists of grinding up the horns and other organs to make insanely valuable aphrodisiacs and traditional herbal medicines for Asian markets. The Asian man is paying top dollar for animals, more if they are alive for some reason, and the local rednecks are flush with cash. The problem, from Tiger's perspective is that all this over-hunting is wiping out the local stocks of deer and bears and rabbits and stray cats and before too long there won't be anything left out there in the woods. Tom understands, but he's of the opinion that for this dirt poor town of inbred losers, being paid well to do what they all love to do (kill things) is the best possible outcome. Tiger is not amused, back in his day they ate what they killed (how noble).

Tom and Tiger discuss the new way of the world.

Time passes, nothing changes. Tiger comes home one day to find that the rednecks have hung a dead skunk on his door, which is not nice. Pissed, and losing control of his pacifism, Tiger goes to bust up the Asian man's shop. This he does with raging fury, booting the man out in the street and taking a shovel to his shop, smashing all his jars of pickled organs (ick). His destruction is stopped by a group of rednecks who burst in and get into a wicked fist fight with Tiger. All that is broken up with the arrival of Tom, the town's unofficial leader, and he and Tiger pretty much tell each other that any good feelings they might have had are gone now.

Tiger swings for the fences.

Ok, more time passes. A teenage girl now comes to town, looking for Tiger's cabin. Her name is Connie and she's a bit of a mystery, clearly a big city girl out here in the sticks, asking about the local black sheep and getting the rednecks all worked up (they haven't seen a girl with all her fingers and toes in a long time). Connie is played by first-time actress Valentina Forte (here credited as "Valerie Blake"), an illegally-young Italian girl with huge hair, average boobs, and acid-washed jeans.


Connie goes to Tiger's cabin while he's out and sets up shop. It's like she just decided to move in, without asking, and when Tiger comes home he's not at all pleased to have this strange girl in his house. Tiger is as antisocial as they come, and he just wants to be left alone, preferring the company of trees and squirrels. For what it's worth, in an interview Michael Sopkiw stated that Valentine Forte had some of the worst body odor he had ever smelled, so maybe his on-screen scowls and grimaces weren't so much "acting" as "surviving".

Connie at his cabin, sleeping in his bed while he takes the couch. Been there, buddy.

Tiger eventually has had enough and hauls Connie and her stuff out to his Mercury Marquis and tosses her in. Against her will, he's bringing her back to town to put her on a bus out of there. But, what's this? The brake lines are cut! Bastardly rednecks! They race down the curvy mountain road, picking up speed as Tiger fights to keep the out-of-control car on the road while Connie freaks out. Picking the right moment, they bail out of the car as it careens off the road and smashes into a tree down at the bottom of a ravine. As with all movie car crashes since the dawn of time, the Mercury explodes in a crazy-huge rolling fireball.

Roaring down the hill.

The rednecks in town who cut his brake lines observe the sooty cloud of smoke and rush out to see their handywork. Whooping and hollering like the drunken fools they are, they stumble down the embankment to the burning wreck, backslapping and laughing all the way. But Tiger and Connie aren't in the wreck, of course, and they take the opportunity to push the rednecks' old Chevy pickup truck down the hill! The truck slams into the burning wreck of Tiger's Mercury, bursting into a roaring fireball as the rednecks scatter. Tiger and Connie then flee into the woods. I should note that Tiger never takes this matter to the police, he just handles it on his own, eye for an eye, car for truck.

Burning truck.

As they walk back to his cabin, some conversations follow and Tiger finds out that Connie is his daughter! He last saw her before he went to jail when she was just eight (making her 16ish now), and that's his excuse for not recognizing her before. Of course, that's crap, what parent can't recognize their own child, no matter how many years have passed? And it also means that Connie never came to visit Tiger in jail at any point in the last eight years, which needs some explaining. Connie says she came here to reconnect with her dad, maybe do some arts and crafts with him and stuff.

Connie is pissed, Tiger doesn't seem too excited to see her.

Connie's boyfriend (maybe?) Peter and that cop from before (who gave Tiger that shotgun) come to visit now (unsure how they know each other). Pete is a Forest Ranger and his concern for trees and his not-quite-of-age girlfriend is commendable, but he's a bit too twitchy for me. Tiger is more concerned with the cop, who he has a love-hate thing going with for some unknown reason (one of many hanging threads this movie has). The cop asks about his fancy shotgun, and doesn't seem too upset that Tiger packed it away.

Peter and Connie and the cop.

That night, while they all sit around the porch talking, the rednecks show unthinkable tactical planning and roll flaming 55 gallon drums of gasoline down the hill at them! What the hell!? This is one of those things that looks cool on screen, but if you really think about it, it's really stupid. Would these brain-addled rednecks really do this? And look at all that dry, tinderbox underbrush, surely such a thing would result in a raging out-of-control forest fire of biblical proportions.

Flaming death!

The fires destroy Pete's vehicle and presumably Tiger's cabin (though we don't see the structure burn, maybe they couldn't get permits to set it on fire). Without a place to stay, they all decide to go out camping after this. While in the woods, Tiger makes his decision, he's sure now that he's never going to know any peace as long as he's still living here. Tiger determines that he has to leave town to remove his harmful presence from them all. He leaves them and walks into town, going to the local sheriff to ask for a loaner car to leave town. All he wants is to get away from here before anyone else gets hurt because of him.

Tiger with the sheriff.

Tiger then makes his peace with Tom, coming to visit him at his sawmill. These two old adversaries make uneasy friends but they both try and part on somewhat good terms. Tiger tells him that he doesn't want them to end up like two old stags, fighting over something senseless until one of them dies, which is a good speech. Tiger's conciliatory attitude here is refreshing, Michael Sopkiw really is a pretty good actor if given a limited number of things to do and at times he really gives his character life and vibrancy uncommon in crappy b-movies.

Tiger and Tom have one final chat.

Sadly, things get totally out of hand when the rednecks ambush Connie, Pete and the cop while Tiger is in town. Wally the redneck leader tries to get frisky with Connie after they smack around the two men. They hold her down and are busy trying to get her clothes off (we don't see anything graphic, but the poor girl is being abused). The cop tries to intervene and Wally ends up wrestling with him over a rifle, which goes off and kills the cop. Wally is in it deep now, sure that killing a police officer will get him in serious trouble. To stay out of jail, he decides to kill off the witnesses to his first murder. Peter goes down hard, a bullet through his heart, and Connie is next in his sights. But she's a runner and gets loose, fleeing through the thick woods as the rednecks chase her, firing like mad as the soundtrack hammers us with a techno beat.

Peter shot!

Tiger is coming back with a borrowed car (a clunky old Gran Torino) to take them back to town when he hears gunshots. Running into the woods, he meets Connie and they run for dear life, the rednecks hot on their tails. Tiger is unarmed save a hunting knife, so they have to keep running if they are to stay alive. They make it back to the car, but just as they are about to jump in, the vehicle is riddled with bullets from a gaggle of rednecks that appear on the ridgeline. And, of course, the car exploded like it was full of gasoline drums.

Bang! A lot.

Back on the run then, Tiger and Connie play a deadly game of hide and seek through the heavily forested hills and hollows of North Georgia. Now, you'd think that the rednecks, being from these here parts, would have an equal advantage of knowing every inch of backwoods, but it doesn't seem that way. Tiger appears to know his way around better, despite being gone for the last eight years, and the rednecks are always two steps behind. And yes, at this point our movie begins to fairly reek of Rambo, but that's not really so bad, that movie was really a genre-defining moment in action cinema in a lot of ways.


When they stop to rest, Connie takes the inopportune moment to bring up Tiger's ex-wife (her mom). We flashback with Tiger to the day that the same man who shot his partner came to his house looking for him. Tiger wasn't home and the killer found his wife and stabbed her to death in their bathtub. The flashback continues to when Tiger confronted the killer, who was inexpiably being protected by the District Attorney (gay lovers, it seems). When the killer taunted Tiger with "You have no proof!", Tiger just pulled a gun and shot him dead. This explains why Tiger ended up in jail for eight years and why he was about to shoot the District Attorney dead once he got out.

Tiger makes his choice. (Flashback!)

Anyway, back to the chase. A new threat arrives in the shape of a helicopter flown by none other than Tom the woodchopper. The helicopter is a Hughes 500D, just like TC's in Magnum P.I. and is painted with identical rainbow stripes (I'm a ham for that show, which has aged quite well in my opinion, though I live in perpetual fear of a memory-crushing big-budget Hollywood remake). At first I had the wild thought that the identical paint scheme was too much to be coincidence, but a little hunting on the internet told me that that particular multi-colored paint scheme was actually a factory option and was probably more common than you might imagine.

The helo comes in for a peek.

From the air, Tom is able to spot Tiger and Connie hiding behind some rocks and direct the rednecks towards them. Gunfire rains down on their position, forcing them to take cover and it doesn't look good. Connie eventually goes down, a bullet in her lower leg! Taking a cue from Rambo, Tiger performs in-field battle trauma surgery on her leg, using just his hunting knife and his many biceps. Not sure why this scene was necessary, other than to show us some fake blood and to kill of five minutes. Soon, Connie takes another bullet, this one in the chest, and dies painfully.

Connie dies. I should note that the very few reviews of this movie out there all say that Connie was "raped and killed" by the rednecks, thus setting off Tiger's bloodlust, but clearly she never was raped, never even had one article of clothing off, so I wonder if some of these sites were just recycling what other sites before them wrote.

With his daughter dying in his arms, any semblance of logic or reason inside Tiger's heart goes poof. From here on out, til the last frame of the movie, Tiger becomes a one-man hurricane of vengeance and no one is safe from his wrath. But first he has to get a gun, or two, or three. The quickest way is to just stab to death a few rednecks and take their guns, which he does with Stallone-like ease. Leaping up out of leaf-covered hidey-holes, or from behind trees in swinging leaps, he slashes and gashes a number of rednecks, who seem incapable of defending themselves.

Redneck reinforcements arrive, Tom's men from his sawmill mostly.

Meanwhile, Tom has landed the helicopter and picked up his brother Wally. From the air, Wally hunts Tiger, taking shots with his hunting rifle. Tiger, exposed on a ridgeline, fakes being hit to lure the helicopter in closer, then leaps up and takes a shot. The bullet smacks into Wally's leg, forcing Tom to pull out, leaving Tiger to run off again. Tom lands and Wally's leg is patched up, he's now more pissed than ever. Tom warns his brother that Tiger won't rest until he's killed him, so he better kill him first.

Tom and Wally yell at each other, they never really get along in this movie, but blood is thick in these parts.

Avoiding several dozen rednecks along the way, Tiger gets his super shotgun from his cabin, yanking up the floorboards to retrieve it. He straps on the ammo belt, the camera lovingly caressing the many different rounds as he loads the chamber. Tiger declares a one man holy war on the rednecks, determined to kill as many as possible in as short a timeframe as possible. Armed with his shotgun o'death, it's actually pretty easy for him. The rednecks hunt him with equal ferocity, fully aware that they have to kill him off to protect their own skins from the law.

"Because he's the hero that Clayton, Georgia deserves, but not the one it needs right now... and so we'll hunt him... because he can take it... because he's not a hero... he's a silent guardian, a watchful protector... a Blastfighter..."

Tiger kills many rednecks in a wicked night fight, smashing and rending trucks and jeeps with grenades, and cutting down any who stumble from the wrecks. Finally ending his vendetta, Tiger kills Wally by blowing up his jeep with a high explosive grenade shell, leaving the man a smoking, charred corpse. With that, it seems that Tiger's rage has runneth out and he's content to let the surviving rednecks scamper away.

A jeep and a Chevy step-side blowing up. The number of vehicles destroyed in this movie is impressive, like half a season of The Dukes of Hazard condensed into one two-hour movie.

Tiger then smashes his shotgun against a tree (!), content to take his last angry feelings out on what he's apparently decided is a representative of the evils of man (or something). But he should have held on to it for a bit longer as he now has a one-on-one showdown with Tom. No movie with George Eastman in it can end without him having a final battle with the hero, it's in the Italian constitution. For some inexplicable reason, they both agree to a duel of sorts, with each ejecting all their bullets except one and agreeing to walk away regardless of what happens. Of course, Tom cheats, but Tiger still gets the upper hand and wounds him. But, being the better man, Tiger lets Tom live and he walks away (thankfully not to a sequel).

Final duel.

The End.

Written in September 2008 by Nathan Decker.

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