• Kelly M. Hudson

Chopping Heads!

Doug (James Iglehart) and two of his buddies that he served with in Vietnam are finally going home. They’re shipping out in a few days back to the States. But before they leave, they have a plan that involves drugs and lots of money. They will return with a nice stake for their futures. Somewhere along the line, his friends decided to betray him, deeming Doug too “straight” to get with the action, so they stab him and dump him overboard, leaving him to die in the ocean. He somehow manages to float to a supposedly deserted island. There two Japanese soldiers, stragglers from WWII, find him and nurse him back to health. One of the soldiers knows the way of the Samurai and teaches him, training him in the art of fighting and using the sword. Meanwhile, back in L.A., his two Judas friends are taking over the criminal underworld, assassinating leaders and claiming all the power for themselves. This includes taking a run at Doug’s beautiful wife, Maria (Jayne Kennedy), who thinks Doug is dead. Eventually, Doug is found on the island by a passing patrol boat of soldiers and returns home. He comes to claim his wife and son. He comes to get his revenge.

Another exploitation classic by director Cirio H. Santiago, this one steps away from his usual formula of feminist revenge and falls into the normal tropes of male vengeance, a man done wrong who seeks restitution. Boy, is it a corker. The editing is swift and keeps the movie flowing, each scene sort of dissolving into the next like some sort of fever dream. It almost gives the film a feeling of constant montage, but long breaks for action and exposition cut it up so that it never quite achieves that totally surreal feel. The training sequences with Iglehart are humorous at first, as we see him fumble along, learning to use the sword and how to fight with it. But as the training gets more intense, the humor falls away. We have a grim man set on a grim mission. Juxtaposing this with the rise to power of his former comrades is a great move, as we see these main characters grow in very different ways. Two of them seek to find peace in their money and status, while Iglehart finds it in the way of the Samurai. When he gets back to the States, the action is pretty non-stop. He does not hesitate to chop and stab every hood he sees, carving a path to his traitorous former friends and hacking a way to freedom for his family. There’s a great sequence of chopped-off heads and subsequent spurting blood that is indicative of the joy Santiago takes in making these pictures. He knows what the audience wants and he gleefully delivers.

This movie won’t change the world. It’s pretty much just a typical, low-budget revenge piece, featuring a powerful black lead, a samurai sword, and lots of cracked heads and squirting blood. You know what you want from this film the moment you see the poster, and you get all that and more. As always, Santiago delivers.


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