In Films That Time Forgot, The A.V. Club digs up trashy, obscure movies and looks for memorable moments in films that few people remember.
Film: Devil Dynamite (1987)
Director: Godfrey Ho (as “Joe Livingstone”)
Also known as: Devil’s Dynamite, according to the box, the posters, and the IMDB. But the title card very clearly says Devil Dynamite. Also supposedly screened in China as Robocop Vs. Vampires.
Plot: After a decade in prison, Steve Cox, “the gambling king,” is released. He promptly seeks revenge on Madame Mary, the former lover who betrayed him, sent him to jail, and told her new partners about the fortune in gold he buried somewhere. Unfortunately for him, Mary has many criminal allies, including a Westerner named Ronald who’s protecting his smuggling business with an enslaved Taoist priest who controls an army of hopping vampires.
And unfortunately for the entire criminal underworld, plus their vampire servants, there’s a Robocop-like tin-suited “Shadow Warrior” running around getting in the way of their nefarious schemes. Sort of. Like other Godfrey Ho films, Devil Dynamite was stitched together from at least two Hong Kong action films—one about multiple criminal factions seeking a buried treasure, and another about a resurrected cop who fights supernatural horrors. The English dub links the plots together by claiming Ronald is working with Madame Mary, but the stories barely intersect onscreen. Like Blood Of Ghastly Horror, this is the kind of film where viewers can’t let their attention wander for a minute, because of the genre shifts or editing flubs where a man will be fighting vampires one second, and lying in a different part of the room being vampire-dogpiled in the next shot.
Key scenes: After the vampire servants are damaged in a dust-up with the Shadow Warrior, the Taoist starts them healing via the simple process of martial-arts acupuncture… with sparklers. Among other things, the scene displays his tendency to do absolutely everything via combat poses, gestures, and grunts of supreme effort, whether he’s subduing a vampire that’s briefly escaped its controlling spell, or just moving things around on his work table:
When a pack of ninjas fight the hopping vampires and get slaughtered, they turn into a pack of undead hopping ninjas. They move on to threaten some children who are playing tag, with one little girl blindfolded and one little boy pretending to be a vampire. Fortunately, the Shadow Warrior intervenes to save the kids from the vamp-ninjas with a curt, simple battle plan: “I’ll take care of them, you run away.” The little boy hides, but the little girl magically vanishes in a puff of smoke. Later, the boy flirts with the magic-girl by insta-donning vampire makeup and chasing her again, but he’s caught by a vampire who can apparently change his appearance and talk, at least for brief intervals. Luckily, the Warrior intervenes again, this time with a tiny flashing light, which is apparently vampire Kryptonite:
Meanwhile, Fox’s men capture Steve Cox and torture him for information about where his gold is buried. When that doesn’t work, they offer to kill Madame Mary’s fiancé, Louie, so Cox can have Mary to himself again. When Cox blanches at the idea of murdering a man who’s never done anything but protect and love Mary, his torturer flips the script and threatens to kill Louie unless Cox gives up the gold. Cox gives in and takes the criminals to the gold, but persuades them to turn on each other, and he reclaims the gold, then commands one of his lackeys, “Take half the gold. Start a new business with it. But nothing illegal.”
Later, Madame Mary is marrying her boyfriend Louie. Alex, secretly the Shadow Warrior, calls them up in the middle of the ceremony to complain that their vampire lackeys killed his best friend. Amazingly, they take the phone call:
After that, Alex goes back to fighting vampires, after a lengthy ritual preparation with a second Taoist priest, who telekinetically decorates his shrine with spell-streamers as if preparing for a party, then beefs Alex up by painting him with spells and, um, throwing dolls into his limbs and torso, where they disappear, causing him to do some robot moves. This plays out later during the climatic battle, where Alex does more robot moves, including the moonwalk, to finally defeat his enemies.
Having fought the vampires to a standstill, Alex’s new Taoist partner attacks Ronald, nabs and destroys the voodoo doll he was using to control the first Taoist, and destroys it. This causes the first Taoist to barf up some dimly seen nastiness straight out of Alien, and then come to his senses:
Back in the criminal-underworld plotline, Steve Cox crashes Mary’s wedding, kidnaps and kills her, and runs off to a mountainside house, which burns down while he confronts the baffled, innocent Louie.
Can easily be distinguished by: It’s the film that’s so focused on its multi-sided fight between underworld figures that a silver-suited techno-magical warrior who fights vampires counts as a minor subplot. It’s also the film where when a one-eyed torturer is handed a knife and ordered, “Do unto yourself what others want to do unto you! Cut your balls off!” He apparently becomes confused, because he stabs out his other eye instead.
Sign that it was made in 1987: The apathetic dubbing, which sometimes sounds as though a few people are watching the screen and just shouting any lines that come to mind based on what’s happening onscreen. It’s particularly egregious during the fight scenes, which just sound like one guy grunting enthusiastically for five minutes straight. There’s even a moment when the English-language actor overdubbing Madame Mary jumps in too soon, starting a line while the character is blowing smoke out of her mouth. The editors left it in:
Timeless message: Don’t betray your lover simultaneously to the police, another criminal syndicate, a mesmerized Taoist, and a horde of vampires. Things will just get messy.
Memorable quotes: When the Shadow Warrior noses around the Taoist’s temple in his civilian identity, asking for information about ghosts and vampires, the Taoist shrugs him off, claiming he lives a secular life and has never encountered such things. Then the Taoist goes back inside to confer with Ronald, who asks, “Will he be back?” “Maybe.” “Right, then kill him. He’s that damned futuristic warrior.”
When Robo-Alex proves Ronald right by returning and attacking the vampires, Alex’s doomed buddy Tony abruptly shows up to help, shoving an item into his hands and yelling, “Take this!” “What is it?” “An anti-sorcery mirror! Use it!” “Okay, if you say so!” The object has disappeared by the next shot, and it never comes up again.
Finally, Cox drops some uncomfortable truth on Louie, regarding his dead wife: “She was the queen of the underworld!” “No way! Bullshit! She never mentioned any vampires to me, or illegal deals, ever!” “Of course she didn’t tell you about it. You’re a cop, aren’t you? I’m sorry.” With that out-of-nowhere truth revealed, Cox is free to shove Louie through a balcony railing to safety and burn to death, abruptly ending a story packed full of abrupt endings.