1985 / Director. Gordon Hessler.
Review by Glenn Cochrane.
The 1980s were jam-packed with martial arts movies. Following the success of ENTER THE DRAGON in '73 Hollywood spend the next decade cashing-in on the phenomenon surrounding Bruce Lee. The majority of the films were cheap and tacky with the most notoriously bad ones being Cannon's NINJA trilogy. When I was a kid who spent most of his spare time raiding local video stores one of the most impressionable VHS covers was PRAY FOR DEATH. Its basic design with a masked ninja on the front always caught my attention and with the branding of an R18+ rating on the front I was also scared of it. I was too young to watch it and my mind conjured up the most bad-ass action film I could imagine. Some years later I finally watched it and tonight I watched it again. Being a product of the 80s the film's R rating has certainly depreciated, however, it still kicks a whole lot of ass. Its story centres around a Japanese family man who secretly moonlights as a master ninja. Looking for a fresh start he takes his family to live in America and not long after arriving he finds himself caught up with a local crime ring. They mistake him for a jewel thief and wage a personal war against him, killing his wife in the process. Naturally this incites his inner-ninja. After forging his own weapons and a hilariously gnarly outfit he soon emerges as a revenge-fuelled master of death. As hokey as PRAY FOR DEATH might be, it definitely remains one of the most underrated martial arts films of the era. The story is given a lot of attention and actual plot development takes precedent over the action sequences. The acting leaves a lot to be desired but is still a hell of a lot better than many of the competing movies of the time. The action is great and story is perfectly paced. There's even ninja kids branding nunchucks beating up bad guys... and you've got to give kudos to any movie that lets kids get punched in the face and run over by brutal henchmen. Most awesome! Sadly PRAY FOR DEATH was overshadowed by AMERICAN NINJA, which was a huge leading title on the home-rental market in the same year, but PRAY FOR DEATH is clearly the stronger movie. Its obscurity lends it an allure of notoriety and helps cement it as a cult classic b-movie. I put it on par with BLOODSPORT and CAGE as one of the best martial arts films of the 80s. Fantastic stuff.