Blind Fury (1989)
Wanna see the finest acting I’ve ever witnessed on set? Watch the pilot for Revenge, ABC’s The Count of Monte Cristo-inspired series which ran from 2011-2015. Man, the Hamptons look amazing, don’t they? Filthy rich and achingly gorgeous, the residents who live amongst that rarified air of the affluent seaside community have got it made. Look at them, sipping champagne on a yacht and enjoying their trust fund lifestyle. The ladies in particular look great. It must be summertime since they’re wearing skimpy dresses. As mastermind Vizzini once shouted “You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you?”
In fact, it’s cold. Very cold. Know why? Because they’re not in the Hamptons. They’re in Wilmington, North Carolina, on the water, in early March, and if you look in the background, you can see a tall guy in a grey suit with dark hair. That fellow is moi. I was an extra on the Revenge pilot and got to witness firsthand the magic of Hollywood, which consisted of convincing people the wind chill wasn’t brutal and we weren’t freezing our asses off. The guys had it a little better since we were wearing suits, but the ladies, hoo boy! Dresses for all. By the end of the three-day shoot, more than half the background extras had simply abandoned ship. It was comical. I was in a hotel, which pretty much cost as much as I was making per day to stay in Wilmington for the shoot, but hey! Hollywood, baby! The lead actress, Emily VanCamp, shivered as the PA’s wrapped a blanket around her while the crew readied a shot. The camera rolled, sound was called, and the blanket was yanked away just as the director yelled action. She steps forward and has to act as though everything is peachy. In fact, it’s downright warm around here. Cut! She goes right back to shaking and she’s back under the blanket. For me, my suit had been approved and I luckily was wearing a vest under my jacket, which added another thin layer for warmth. I hear a loud, vaguely Australian accent yelling in my direction. I turn, and there’s the pilot’s director, Philip Noyce. He tells me to lose “the waistcoat.” I smiled and nodded, he moved on. Next, I had to figure out what the fuck he was talking about. A waistcoat? Luckily, I figured out he meant my vest. Those damn Aussies and their kooky words. He probably thought my tie was a ChazzWazzer.
Wait, Philip Noyce? Since we’re lowly extras, we’re not exactly informed with whom we’ll be working with on set. I had to double check since I’d heard the name before and...yep, I just got a tiny bit of direction from the director of Patriot Games, Clear and Present Danger, Rabbit-Proof Fence, The Saint, The Quiet American, Salt, and Sliver. His excellent 1989 thriller Dead Calm was a breakthrough for both him and a little-known actress named Nicole Kidman. Hollywood came calling, and for his American debut, he brought considerable energy and verve to the raucous and immensely fun Rutger Hauer vehicle, Blind Fury (1989).
I don’t like to know much about films before I see them, but I had this inkling in the back of my mind. What does this remind me of? And then it hit me about midway. Zatoichi, The Blind Swordsman. In particular, 1967’s Zatoichi Challenged, whose plot served as the base upon which we get to see Rutger Hauer separate many a bad motherfucker from their limbs and, in one particular case, their torso. Actor-turned-producer Tim Matheson and producer Daniel Grodnick, (whose credits include the not-too-bad Without Warning, Terror Train, Man’s Best Friend, and Bobby) hired Charles Robert Carner to craft a screenplay based off of Ryozo Kasahara’s earlier script. Look, I’m not going to criticize the producers for doing whatever was necessary to bring this Americanized story to the screen, but you’ve gotta know what you’re in for if you hire the man who wrote Gymkata (1985). Granted, this script is much, much better. It definitely helps when you’ve got a talented and very willing cast along with a smart director to steer the ship of an admittedly silly premise.
I knew right away the deep lines in the opening were that of a katana sword as the camera pulls out to reveal the title. We’re dropped into the Vietnam War. It’s an absolute massacre, with dead bodies and demolished equipment strewn about the shores of a river captured in an amazing tracking shot. Our hero, Nick Parker (Hauer, playing another Nick like in Wanted: Dead or Alive), makes it clear right away that the “Blind” and “Fury” will refer to him and him alone. “I can’t see anything!” he shouts. He hears what is clearly a bird, and he calls out, “Frank?” Is his fellow soldier a bird? I’m not sure yet. He gets strewn up in an Ewok-style trap and taken back to a village, where his eyes are wrapped in leaves. The villagers, led by a wise man whose name isn’t listed on IMDB or Wikipedia, take pity on this poor blind foreigner and begin teaching him how to live without his eyes. It’s a great opening credits sequence, with a fine sound design emphasizing rice being shaken, the hiss of a snake, and a sword whistling through the air. Time passes and Rutger looks like a samurai version of Kenny Rogers. We figure he’s completed his training because he does a double slice of a melon in mid-air. Mission accomplished, bitches.
20 years pass, and Parker has arrived in Miami, where his unique talents help him avoid dog shit and let him indulge in private wisecracks, like calling an alligator a “doggy.” Some local toughs try to prank him with some extra spicy hot sauce in his burrito, but they messed with the wrong hombre. He asks for "something more macho,” then beats the hell out of them without even letting on that he knows how to fight. It’s an amusing slapstick-style beat-down Which Hauer plays absolutely straight. Nick Parker is definitely going to be a quip machine in this movie.
Halfway across the country, Parker’s war buddy Frank Deveraux (I guess he wasn’t a bird after all), is being hung upside down from the rooftop of a casino. Frank is played by the amazing Terry O’Quinn, still years away from his Emmy-winning role on Lost and who had broken through with his stunning role in The Stepfather (1987) a couple years prior. Fantastic Texan actor Noble Willingham plays casino boss Claude MacCready, whose cartoonish henchmen include tough guy Slag (Raising Arizona’s Randall “Tex” Cobb) and the two bumbling Pike Brothers, Tector (Willow and Groundhog Day’s Rick Overton) and Lyle (The Wraith’s own psychotic asshole, Nick Cassavettes). I have to assume that Willingham’s character, who inexplicably doesn’t get his comeuppance at the end of this film, changed his name and ran for Congress as Zeke Bridges in The Distinguished Gentleman (1992), then had to change his name once again to run the Miami Dolphins in Ace Venture: Pet Detective (1994). That’s the only logical explanation.
In a slightly Breaking Bad-ish idea, Frank is a chemist, forced to manufacture designer drugs so MacCready can get out from underneath massive debt accrued by running a crappy, cheating casino. He sends his goon squad out to kidnap Frank's wife and son to make sure he keeps making the illicit substances. It just so happens Nick is already there, getting to know Frank’s ex-wife and his snide little prick of a son, Billy (Brandon Call). Meg Foster, she of the striking blue eyes, which came in handy when Cannon didn’t want to pay for expensive makeup on Masters of the Universe (1987), serves Nick tea as Slag busts in with two crooked cops, claiming they’re there for Billy. They don’t pay any mind to the random blind guy, but they should. It turns out his walking stick is really a sheath for an incredibly sharp sword. He lops off one of the cop’s hands and slashes everything else to ribbons. Cobb always looks great with a cigar in his mouth, and although this dude with the sword is displaying some Daredevil-style badassery, he isn’t about to spit that stogie out. Nick makes it clear that smoking’s bad by cutting the cigar in half. Being from Vegas, Slag knows when to hold ‘em and fold ‘em, throwing himself headfirst through a window. In the ensuing brawl, Foster got shot and we get the incredible sight of Hauer and Foster’s blue eyes meeting. It’s almost too much. Like, was there an eye color contest on set? She makes him promise to protect her son and bring him to Frank.
So, you guessed it. It’s gonna be a road movie/buddy comedy between a blind dude and a surrogate son who hates him. I have to admit, I wasn’t really impressed with Brandon Call’s acting in this. He’s supposed to be sickly, but all he does is wipe his nose and hyperventilate a little later; otherwise, it’s meaningless. Of course, he’d become infamous for being shot in both arms during a traffic dispute, but he ended up having a decent career as a child actor, with a huge role on Step by Step and very nearly nabbing the lead on The Wonder Years. Here, he doesn’t even know his mother’s been shot and although he’s resistant towards traveling with this guy he just met, it still feels implausible that he would willingly do it. Fortunately, any time he tries to fuck with Nick, he gets schooled pretty quick. He tries to feed Nick a rock, pretending it’s candy, and Nick hilariously pretends to swallow it, then spits it right back at him.
Their only moment of bonding comes when Nick explains how he lost his sight. Flashing back to Vietnam, Frank and Nick are on their last night of duty and get pegged to take down the Viet Cong’s artillery. Seriously, just the two of them? Frank screws up and Nick stupidly removes his helmet and rushes off to save him. Big explosion. Lights out. Didn’t we learn anything from Starship Troopers? Never remove your helmet! Yeah, I know the movie, which would be directed by Hauer’s best friend Paul Verhoeven, wouldn’t come out for another 8 years, but you’d think Paul might’ve passed on that info to Rutger. Some friend!
They stop at a gas station in Kansas, where Nick finally reveals the truth to Billy about his mother. Noyce wisely shoots the scene with a crane, which was obviously used throughout the shoot on that day, and we don’t hear what’s said, just Nick and Billy talking. I doubt Call could’ve handled the emotional complexity of the scene. Billy rushes off into the cornfields, with Nick hustling after him. Out of nowhere, Slag and a gang of redneck Kansans who have a shit ton of guns and ride in a pickup truck show up. I’d say they look a bit out of the ordinary, but this is Kansas, so I assume everyone is packing.
(Night Trap - Only on Sega CD)
Noyce has a fluid, dynamic style, with a subjective camera rushing through the high reeds of the field. This was one of the first major productions for cinematographer Don Burgess. The Oscar-nominated DP would go on to have a huge career, replacing Dean Cundey as Robert Zemeckis’ main cameraman on Forrest Gump, Contact, What Lies Beneath, Cast Away, and Flight. He’d also shoot giant films, like Spider-Man, Terminator 3, Aquaman, and most interestingly, he was the DP for the cult Sega CD game Night Trap. The camera work is great and the editing by David A. Simmons, who edited Robert Altman’s Popeye before settling into a mainly TV-based career, is clear and concise.
These rednecks get taken out pretty quickly. One of them carries a bag of popcorn for some reason, and Hauer tricks them into shooting one another. He nabs a scarecrow and causes Slag to empty his shotgun before supposedly slashing him across the chest. He and Billy miss the bus and they head on down the road, unaware that Slag was wearing Kevlar. He sits up and laughs maniacally. Since this film is technically a studio picture, Interscope Pictures, whose big screen hits include Revenge of the Nerds, Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, and Cocktail, it’s understandable that the villains would be a little cartoony and not represent a great deal of menace in the film, but since the film’s premise is already pretty wild, they tend to veer into the Looney Tunes category more often than not.
MacCready demands someone take down this sightless sword slayer. He suggest Bruce Lee, to which his number two, the bushy eyebrowed Cobb (Charles Cooper, best known as Korrd in the unfortunate Star Trek V) replies that Bruce Lee is dead. MacCready angrily suggests his brother. Personally, I don’t see why MacCready doesn’t try and rig the game like his poker and roulette tables downstairs. Just give Frank a finger or something and say it’s from his kid. That could work.
It’s ironic that as Nick and Billy make their way to Reno, they don’t really even know what’s going on. It’s never questioned why these guys are after them, but Nick continues to protect Billy despite obvious questions raised. They bond, of course, with a particularly amusing moment when Nick slices a giant wasp in half. They arrive at Frank’s apartment, which has his name on it for some reason, and a cocktail waitress named Annie answers the door. Annie is played by Lisa Blount, a fine actress whose roles include the alluring but very dangerous Nurse Lisa in Dead & Buried, as well parts in An Officer and a Gentleman and Prince of Darkness. She’d even win an Oscar for producing the short film The Accountant (2001) before unexpectedly succumbing to an undiagnosed blood disorder. The (likely) inbred duo of Lyle and Tector ambush the boys and throw them in their van. Rutger is a handsome cat and he often has to contort his face throughout the film in order convincingly play blind, but yeesh... When he gets beaned in the head with a pistol, he spins around with a goofy look on his face.
Annie’s very uncomfortable as Lyle pricks himself with the sword and asks her to lick the wound. He tosses the blade out the window and as Nick and Billy free themselves, Billy begins counting so they can retrieve the sword later. A nice little touch occurs when Billy tries to get Nick’s knife and he ends up tickling him instead. Hauer plays the character so well and with such a lightness of touch that he doesn’t even seem bothered by his blindness, which is obviously the point. In an amusing twist, the brothers get shoved out of the van, steal a car from two old ladies, but nearly get capped when one of the grannies pulls out a damn hand cannon that rivals the Joker’s at the end of Batman '89.
Annie’s glasses get smashed as Nick finds his sword. She can’t drive without her glasses. Can you guess what’s going to happen next? OK, Nick is practically superhuman, I’ll give him that. To go back to Daredevil, he can basically do anything, but let’s not go that far. Parker is still a man. An extraordinary man, but a man nevertheless. The fact that Billy can’t at least try to drive isn’t even discussed. No sir, this visually impaired warrior is taking it to the streets. There’s a big chase scene and a decent car flip as the brothers wipe out while Hauer always has that little grin on his face.
Annie’s friend keeps Billy in her trailer while Nick infiltrates the casino. The depth of his abilities feels endless as he not only listens to the secret codes being tapped into the private elevators, but he somehow can’t lose at Roulette by listening to the spinner and the ball. The casino manager comes over and tries to use a device to cheat him, but he hilariously slashes his coat pocket (or was it a waistcoat, Philip?), revealing the device before busting the wheel open to show even more dirty tricks. He starts a riot and makes his way to the elevator, where he takes down two big gun-toting guys before interrogating Cobb. Called a “walking chop-o-matic,” he’s got no patience for lame insults, so he chops both of Cobb’s huge eyebrows off. Nick knows his stuff: “I suggest aspirin for the headache.” The man is pretty much unstoppable. We get a nice reunion scene between Nick and Frank; two fine character actors playing off each other beautifully. Frank destroys most of the drugs and they escape. One hilarious bit arrives when Frank and Nick are running, and Nick cuts off the door knob to slow the bad guys down. O’Quinn’s shocked reaction says it all.
They arrive to find Annie’s friend dead and the two of them kidnapped by MacCready, who demands Frank bring him the drugs at his private ski loft. As they ride up the lift, Frank mixes up some bathtub napalm, consisting of gasoline and detergent, a recipe cut from the UK release of the film. The goons are waiting and there’s a gloriously gratuitous shooting scene where the fellas destroy the lift. “It’s got more holes than my daddy’s rubber!” I’m certain Noyce encouraged a ton of improv from his actors. A lot of the dialogue here isn’t exactly polished, but it’s at least original. Of course, Nick and Frank are nowhere to be found when it’s inspected.
I had been hoping we’d get some kind of blackout scene where the blind samurai would use his skills in the dark to eliminate his enemies, and this movie didn’t disappoint. He’s surrounded, but Frank cuts the power and even throws his napalm into the mix. Everyone is taken out, including Cobb, who receives a bloodless disemboweling courtesy of Parker’s blade.
We get to our final showdown. The mulleted drug buyer has wisely said “screw it” and takes off, so MacCready nods for Slag to do something. We assume it’s to take out the buyer, but instead, a newcomer arrives out of left field to challenge Nick. The amazing martial arts actor Sho Kosugi, looking a little older since his run in Cannon’s Ninja trilogy, but no less dangerous. There’s a decent final battle and the movie is smart to bring in this up-until-now unseen character as Slag has proven he’s no match for Nick’s prowess. A live light falls into a hot tub and the warriors fight over it, with Kosugi taking the plunge, literally. Nick gets tagged by Slag, but he cuts him in half, leading to a truly terrible, Darth Maul-type cliff fall where his torso and legs separate midway down. There have been some amazing falls in movies: Die Hard, The Game, Cliffhanger, even the deleted scene of Saruman’s death in The Return of the King, but like RoboCop, Turtles III, and even my beloved Lady in White, this fall is pretty awful.
Frank, Billy, Annie and Nick are all boarding a bus headed for San Francisco and-wait, what? What the fuck is going on? I had to rewatch this to make sure I didn’t miss something. MacCready and Frank struggle for control of the gun while Nick does his thing with The Assassin and Slag. The very last shot we see is of Frank and MacCready on the ground, fighting. That’s it. Literally. We never see MacCready get killed, arrested, or at least disarmed and cornered. I’m not sure if perhaps the footage was lost (there’s no information online about it) or they just presume that the audience figures it's over.
Anyways, Nick, like a drifter who was born to walk alone, abandons his friends and even finds that he can shed tears, a feat he’d informed Billy earlier that would be impossible. It’s an interesting bit of writing when Billy starts yelling that he “hates” Nick and doesn’t want him to go. It’s at least a little better than him bawling his eyes out. Only bullshit I call is that the kid runs a couple blocks away, and yet the bus comes after him. No way a bus driver would be willing to do that. Hell, no. That driver would’ve said, “You get your stupid-ass kid back here or I’m leaving without you!”
Blind Fury has deservedly gained cult status not only for the presence of Hauer (whose amazing career I covered in my Wanted: Dead or Alive piece), but also the bonkers concept and bravura execution. The movie was a box office bomb, grossing less than 3 million on a 10-million-dollar budget. Oof. Glad Noyce was able to bounce back, although Hauer’s days as an action hero were pretty much numbered. The film has plenty of great action, but since it has an R-rating, it’s a problematic situation since I’m sure kids, especially young boys, would love this movie but weren't be able to see it.
Check out the dueling posters. One features a smiling, sunglasses-wearing Rutger Hauer swinging his sword while guns fly all around him. The tagline is “He may be blind, but he don’t need no dog,” which is apparently one of the lines that sold the movie.
There’s a much more dramatic poster which maintains a comedic tone but much more subtly. The image from afar looks like your standard white guy ninja deal, but the description reads: Nick Parker is quick as a snake, strong as a bull...not to mention blind as a bat. It also says: An Action Comedy that is out of sight. The film’s tongue is firmly in-cheek, but it doesn’t seem to have helped. Since the film has enough goofiness, the only possible solution would’ve been to go the opposite direction and be as dark and brooding as possible, but the film wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable. It’s a ludicrous movie, but Hauer is cool as hell and who can resist lame dialogue like this: “You're a walking advertisement for hiring the handicapped!”