Thunder Warrior (1983)

Thunder Warrior is a Rambo rip-off, plain and simple. Ok, I have a confession to make. I will freely admit now that I didn't see Stallone's Rambo in its entirely until November, 2004. In fact, I didn't see the sequels until that same day, when I spent like eight hours straight watching all three in what can only be described as the biggest waste of eight hours in my entire life. Seriously, I could have been drinking, or chasing underage girls, or working or stuff, but instead I sat there all afternoon and evening watching some scruffy dude machinegun a wide variety of ethnic actors to death while grimacing and flexing his muscles.

Our movie's Rambo figure is "Thunder", a Native American brave, an honorable young man and well-muscled defender of his culture and ancestry. Thunder is played by 18-year old "Mark Gregory" (really Marco di Gregorio, the Americanized version of his name was added to increase the marketability of this disaster). He's really channeling Stallone here, from his long stringy hair to his Army fatigue jacket to his monotone line reads. And, yes, he's as white as vanilla ice cream so it's hard to buy him as a full-blood Navaho Indian, but it's not really something that detracts that much from the movie watching experience.


As our film opens, Thunder returns to his native Navaho lands after a stint away (maybe in the Army). But not all is well in his old home town. Thunder Warrior was filmed in and around the town of Page in northern Arizona, an area that was until just a few generations ago nearly 100% American Indian lands. As the population of the Southwest has blossomed since WWII, this part of Arizona has seen the racial demographics flip-flop. Now, whites usually outnumber the Indians in the towns, and this has caused a lot of social and economic tension. I saw this firsthand in my four years in Arizona, both with the dwindling Indian populations and the exploding Hispanic populations.

Anyway, while visiting an old man (a relative maybe?), Thunder learns of some illegal construction going on in a nearby Indian cemetery. This runs against a treaty that Thunder's grandfather signed with the US government a hundred years ago, a treaty that still hangs on the wall. Thunder is quietly enraged by this violation and his quest to make it right will be the driving force behind all his subsequent actions for the rest of the film.

Out now to this venerated cemetery, where a group of redneck construction workers is busy pissing on gravestones and generally acting stupid. The head redneck is played by quasi-living legend Antonio Sabato, who really, really looks Italian. Thunder enters the scene now, tosses some threats around and bops the rednecks. He then escapes, though the rednecks swear revenge on him. Keep this in mind.

Redneck Antonio.

Thunder then takes his tribe's old treaty and goes down to the Page police station to talk with the Sheriff about the desecration of the cemetery. The Sheriff is played by 39-year old Bo Svenson, one of the more storied b-movie actors out there, even to this day. The Sheriff sends him away, he's in no mood to deal with Thunder right now as he has a toothache. It should be noted that the Sheriff remains a sympathetic figure throughout this movie, a man who is fairly honest and realistic in his dealings with both Thunder and the larger Indian rights issue. It's only when Thunder later begins to shoot up his town and kill people that the Sheriff is out for his blood, and even then he's not at all comfortable with it.

The Sheriff.

However, Barry the Deputy Sheriff is definitely the film's villain, a racist bastard who treats Indians like dirt and is not above abusing them and even killing them. The guy playing him is German, so that should tell you something about him (like he enjoys poop sex, I've seen the videos on the internet, I know things...).

Deputy Barry.

Thunder goes to bank that's financing the construction and stages a one-man sit-in on the sidewalk outside. This can't last long, and soon he's threatened by Deputy Barry, who takes him to the county line and drops him off. Barry tells him he might get himself shot if he comes back to town.

A bit later, Thunder is walking along a road when he's ambushed by a jeep-full of rednecks, who beat him up pretty bad. These are the same rednecks we saw earlier, led by Antonio Sabato, and they nearly kill poor Thunder before leaving him bloody and bruised out in the desert. The look in Thunder's eyes tells you that this kid's at the breaking point.

Oh, now you've done it!

Thunder returns to town (why?) and is caught by the cops. Deputy Barry takes another opportunity to rough up Thunder, pummeling him with his night stick and fists while shouting racial slurs at him. And at this point, Thunder simply cannot take any more of this crap. Showing fighting skills learned in the Army (presumably), he turns the tables and smacks around Barry and a few other cops before fleeing on foot.

Along the way, he runs through a sporting goods store and steals a bow and a quiver full of arrows (you know, both because Rambo had one and because all Indians are crack shots with bows...). Thunder then steals an old 1967 Ford pickup truck, which most conveniently has the keys in the ignition and a full tank of gas. He's now officially a fugitive from justice, and to be honest, he brought all this on himself. No one forced him to take this course of action and his later lionization as an everyman hero strikes me as more than a bit contrived.

Fleeing in the truck, cop cars in pursuit.

Anyway, now we have an insanely wild multiple car chase through the strangely deserted side streets of Page, Arizona. Seriously, this is like a bad episode of The Dukes of Hazzard, with cop cars flying over curbs, rolling down embankments, crashing into parked cars, and even flipping over after smacking into other cop cars. All the while, Thunder deeks and dodges his way through the cops and escapes town. Deputy Barry's brother (also a cop) is hurt in one of the crashes and seems to be paralyzed. This enrages Barry and for the rest of the movie he goes around swearing revenge on "that Injun" because of his brother.

Thunder drives out into the wilderness, abandons the truck and takes to hills. A group of policemen chase him into the mountainous scrublands, determined to bring him to justice. Ah, but Thunder is an Indian, so he logically has all those phenomenal tracking and evading skills that his forefathers had and is able to avoid capture. The cliche that all Indian braves are at ease in the wilderness and can track like a hawk is almost as insulting and laughable as the similar movie cliches that all Asians can kung-fu fight and all young black men like rap music.

Thunder drives out into the hills.

The cops stumble around, totally out of place in the red-rock deserts in their slacks and ties, and never come close to catching Thunder. At some point, Thunder saves one shaggy-haired deputy from going off a cliff. Remember this.

Thunder slips away from the mountains long enough to raid the construction site near the Indian graveyard. He ties up the workers (and a throw-away line suggests he "scalps" them?) and blows the place up with their own dynamite. This just looks like an excuse to explode stuff, as every good Italian action movie needs some stuff going boom. I'm sure it's in the Italian constitution or something.

Stuff going ka-blooey.

Seemingly out of ideas, Deputy Barry goes a little bonkers and sets fire to the Indian cemetery! His hope is to get back at Thunder with this overtly racist and certainly federally illegal display of vandalism and insensitivity. Oh, and remember that old Navaho man from the opening scene? Well, he wanders in and catches fire and dies. Really.

Deputy Barry then goes out alone into the woods to call out Thunder, taunting him with the fact that he just torched the cemetery and caused the old man's death. Not surprisingly, Thunder doesn't much care for this and thwacks two arrows into Barry, one in each arm. Most oddly, he let's Barry live (and at movie's end he's still alive, which might well be the most surprising thing about this entire film).

The Sheriff arrives now and calls in reinforcements, it's clear to him that Thunder is more than his small police force can handle alone. The next day we see about fifty assorted local cops, county cops, state cops and even deputized civilians all out wandering around the hills looking for Thunder. As well, a small Cessna plane and two helicopters (a Jet Ranger and a Robinson R44) prowl the sky. Despite all this, we know that Thunder is in zero danger of being caught by all these white folk.

Chopper, very dinky chopper.

While all this is going on, those rednecks from before (led by Antonio Sabato) decide to take matters into own hands. With Deputy Barry's tacit approval, they kidnap Thunder's girlfriend Sheila at the gas station she owns. Sheila, played by one-shot unknown actress Valeria Ross, is a pretty little white girl about 19 or so, I'd guess.


The rednecks torch her gas station (why?) and rough her up some before they toss her in the back of their jeep and head off to the hills to lure Thunder out. Along the way they stop at some shed or something and retrieve a stash of weapons, an M-16 rifle and a shoulder-fired bazooka with a bag of rockets! The bazooka defies my attempts to identify it, and it might be a fake prop gun. I won't bother asking where they got these weapons from.

They take the poor girl out to the foothills of the mountains and tell her to scream for her man. She doesn't and so they tear her shirt open, thus finally (finally!) justifying our movie's R rating. Up to this point, all the violence has been PG-13 and I kept wondering why the adult rating was placed on this. Ah, but now I see, two seconds of bouncy teenage booby is enough to mentally scar anyone in the theater under the age of 17! We can't let the youth of our fair nation see perky nipples! Guys being shot with arrows and mangled by bazookas? Sure, they can see that, but by God no boobies!

The Supreme Court compels you to look away!

Anyway, most amazingly, Thunder is in the immediate vicinity for some unknown reason (and it really does make zero sense that he'd be down here in the flatlands for no reason when he was just cornered up in the mountains not two scenes ago). Thunder jumps in, beats the hell out of Antonio Sabato and kills the other two rednecks with arrows and saves his woman.

Now armed with the bazooka, and royally pissed because his girlfriend's boobies were exposed to the world, Thunder is now a very dangerous man. Thunder apparently is fully trained in all US military small arms and support weapons because he can work the bazooka like a pro. Some backstory would have been nice at some point, maybe letting us know that Thunder just came home from the Army or something. His first shot with the bazooka kills two deputized ranchers on horses, but they won't be the last victims of his rage.

Thunder with the bazooka. And check that warpaint on his cheeks.

He then stalks the Sheriff from above. He fires a few rounds at the command area, blowing up a car and the radio tent, before fading back into the woods and escaping. The Sheriff is understandably ticked off and orders everyone to shoot to kill the bastard (which is what they were all doing already, but whatever).

Thunder then steals a road construction bulldozer from an Arizona Transportation Depot! Good lord, this kid can do anything! Bouncing along the highway, he heads for the town of Page to exact his revenge (and to nearly duplicate every scene of Rambo...). In here we get a few scenes of him bouncing along the road in his dozer, showing us some of the gorgeous landscape of northern Arizona, one of my favorite places.


The cops see his plan and set up a road block. Thunder raises the scoop to deflect the bullets as he crashes through, his bazooka blasting a cop car to tatters as he barrels by. The cops chose not to take advantage of the bulldozer's open cab to shoot him to death as he drives past them, however.

He then crashes through the police station! The dozer keeps chugging through the building, coming out on the other side in a cloud of dust and smoke. Thunder then drives down the road to that bank that he sat in front of before. He slams the bulldozer right into the lobby, coming to a stop inside the building amidst shattered paneling and crushed masonry. He then gets out, loads up the bazooka and for some reason starts dispassionately firing rounds into the walls! Soon a nice raging fire is presumably burning up innocent civilians' hard earned money (hope that bank's FDIC insured!).

Thunder in the bank. Ok, see that Master Card sticker there in the background center frame? Well, maybe I'm just overly picky but I've noticed that throughout this movie the Master Card sticker is seen everywhere--the bank, the gas station, the sporting goods store, everywhere and always in center frame. Is this a sign that Master Card was a financial sponsor?

The cops arrive now and surround the bank. Now, remember that deputy from before, the one that Thunder saved from falling off a cliff? Well that deputy says he's going in alone and tells the rest of the cops to wait. Inside, the deputy tells a less-than-surprised Thunder that his "grandfather was Navaho" and therefore he feels some sort of kindred spirit with Thunder. And then he lets him escape! Thunder, the man who just killed a dozen men and demolished half the town! And we are supposed to think of this deputy as some sort of hero? That's like some white dude burning my house down and I let him off because he's, you know, white like me.

The pre-closing credits stinger shows Thunder and his girl riding in the back of a truck through the storied Monument Valley. Cue swoony music. Cue sequels.

The end.

Written in March 2008 by Nathan Decker.

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