SUBURBAN GRINDHOUSE MEMORIES No. 82:
A DOUBLE DOSE OF CHUCK
By Nick Cato
Obviously influenced by the then lucrative slasher film genre, action movie hot shot Chuck Norris (who had four successful martial arts-oriented films prior) returned in SILENT RAGE (1982), where he plays a sheriff up against an axe-murdering lunatic who, after some experimental medical procedures, gains the ability to self-heal ala Wolverine (and despite this being 18 years before the first X-MEN film, we comic geeks in the crowd let everyone around us know the similarities … but more on that later).
The (now defunct) Amboy Twin Cinema featured SILENT RAGE on its opening weekend in a double feature with Norris’s 1978 hit GOOD GUYS WEAR BLACK, which I was more excited to see, as I wasn’t able to attend any screenings during its initial release. And for the sake of this column, GGWB will be our focus here.
When GGWB hit American theaters in 1978, the TV commercials had this young film geek psyched. Scenes of Chuck Norris kicking some guy through the windshield of a car had made me excited for a non horror or sci-fi film for the first time I could remember. Unfortunately, I was at the end of the fourth grade at the time, and couldn’t con anyone to take me to see it, including my dad who was a big action movie fan. I was puzzled (and annoyed), as the film was rated PG, but for whatever reason he just wasn’t into it, nor were a couple of my older cousins. I chalked it up as a loss but continued to drool over the commercial, as well as the newspaper ads that showed Chuck in mirrored sunglasses looking as cool as cool gets (the reflection in the glasses showed the aforementioned kick-through-the-windshield scene).
While I try my best to write this column from memory, I had to revisit GGWB as I had only seen it twice: at this double feature and again in the late 80s on cable TV. And after only two viewings I simply couldn’t fully recall the convoluted plot, and still am not sure I do (!), but in a nutshell:
In 1973, a group of CIA assassins known as the Black Tigers were sent into Vietnam to retrieve a bunch of POW’s. Headed by John T. Booker (Norris), half the group is killed. It turns out they’d been set up by an American senator (!) in a treaty signed with a negotiator from Vietnam. I’m still not sure I fully understand exactly WHY an American senator sold out his own men, but suffice it to say Booker and five other members of his 10-man team make it back to America.
GGWB then flashes forward to the present (which would be 1982), and Booker is now living in L.A., making a living as a professor at UCLA and spending his free time at the track racing cars. In retrospect I’m surprised this film hasn’t become some kind of NASCAR cult classic, especially when we see Booker also owns a slick black Porsche.
A reporter named Margaret (the lovely Anne Archer) comes into his life, and informs him members of the Black Tigers are being killed all these years later. Booker continually questions how she knows so much, and the audience believes she is either the one killing them or in league with the killer(s). Either way, it doesn’t stop Booker from doing a little under-the-sheets Kung-Fu and eventually falling head over heels for her, although she ends up being a casualty of the Black Tiger assassination scheme.
The Amboy Twin was kind of quiet for GGWB, as the action scenes are well spread apart. I found it funny that Booker, each time he went to tell a member of his old squad what was going on, just happened to be there the moment said member is shot in the chest from an unseen assailant. One sequence finds Booker warning one of his guys at a ski slope, and the second his buddy tells him he’ll meet him at the bottom of the mountain, he does a small ramp jump and is shot in mid air! The gunman runs off and jumps on a motorcycle, but Booker employs his karate skills to take the sucker out.
When we finally get to the Kung-Fu-kick-through-the-windshield scene I had been dying to see for five years, I enjoyed it, but thought it all ended a bit too quickly. While I enjoyed the film well enough, you’d think there’d be a lot more action in light of the fun trailer. The opening scenes in Vietnam are very darkly shot, and upon my recent viewing I barely saw a thing that was going on. It’s even darker than I remember it looking on the big screen.
My two friends didn’t care for the film, but I liked it well enough—I thought it was a bit intense how Margaret is killed for a PG-rated film: she gets on a plane the Black Tiger assassin thought Booker was on, and as Booker watches the plane fly off, it explodes into a semi-believable looking fireball (hey, this was before CGI, folks). The finale features Booker taking out the man responsible for killing his squad by driving him off a pier after he disguises himself as a limo driver! Kind of anti-climatic, and we all knew that was Chuck under that hat and sunglasses.
Weirdest of all, Booker appears in a black shirt early in the film, before his love-making scene with Margaret. For most of the film, he wears a very uncomfortable looking white turtle neck under a too-tight brown corduroy outfit. I’ll assume the producers realized GOOD GUYS WEAR TURTLE NECKS just didn’t sound as cool…
I was happy to have finally seen GGWB, and was hoping the pace of SILENT RAGE would be better.
I guess being a horror fan, it was only natural I enjoyed RAGE much more than the opening feature. And for whatever reason, the crowd came alive, right from the opening scene of our killer murdering two people with an axe! Norris shows up as Sheriff Dan Stevens and helps take down the killer who we quickly find out is mentally ill. Whenever I write these columns, I notice almost any film with an axe murder usually draws cheers from the crowd. Go figure. And it’s safe to say Chuck enjoyed playing a law official as he returned as WALKER, TEXAS RANGER in the 1993 TV series of the same name.
But back to the madness: the crowd laughed when we discovered killer John Kirby (played by Brian Libby, who had been in Norris’s 1980 hit THE OCTAGON and then went on to much bigger roles) had been brought to an institution and handed over to doctors who were working on genetic experiments. Silly, silly stuff, but as mentioned earlier, this makes Kirby go on a more berserk killing spree, the highlight of which finds one of the doctors trying to kill Kirby by injecting him with acid! Of course, Kirby takes the syringe and uses it against the doctor instead.
In the final battle between Kirby and Sheriff Stevens, Stevens delivers some serious kicks to the psycho’s noggin, eventually causing him to fall down a well. Stevens and love interest Alison leave, sure John has been killed, but remember folks … this here is a horror film-inspired action flick. Needless to say, the final shot is of John splashing up from the bottom of the well.
While I enjoyed this blast of genre-mashing, I’m glad there wasn’t a sequel.
A buddy of mine had yelled (during the first scene of John returning to the institute when we thought he had been killed), “What, did they turn him into, Wolverine?” which caused me and my other buddy to laugh, but the people in front of us to turn around and give puzzled looks. “He’s like a character in the X-Men comics,” my buddy said to one older guy, who in return said, “Who gives a shit?”
That’s New York for you folks.
And that was my first time experiencing Chuck Norris on the big screen. A five-year wait fulfilled and a fun time at an action/horror hybrid.
I truly miss double features…
© Copyright 2017 by Nick Cato