1980 - 104m.
Like many kids from my generation, I discovered Chuck Norris in the action section at my video store. I was in full Norris-mode in the mid 80s as he became a star in movies like Missing in Action and The Delta Force and the young teenager in me was looking for a hero. As I became older, I kind of forgot about ol' Chuck until I revisited Forced Vengeance a few years ago and remembered how much he kicked ass. For one reason or another, I have not seen Norris' early flicks so it was a pleasure to pick up The Octagon on Blu-ray to see how he fared against an army of ninjas. It's funny that this one slipped through the cracks for me as I was ninja crazy, loved action movies, and watched everything like this that I could get my hands on. Maybe my video store didn't carry it.
Norris stars as Scott James, a former martial arts champ who has given up fighting and isn't really up to much. After taking in a dance performance (?) with his friend A.J. (Art Hindle - Black Christmas), Scott macks on the main dancer and takes her on a date. Later, when they arrive back at her pad, he gets more action than he bargained for when he has to take on a group of ninjas who have just finished killing everyone in the girl's family and end up killing her as well. The next day, Scott is bummed out so he goes for a drive and runs into a woman named Justine (Karen Carlson - The Student Nurses) on the side of the road who has car trouble and is inexplicably wearing a fur coat. Scott helps her out and ends up spending some time with her but he gets cold feet when she asks him to help her kill his estranged half brother Seikura (Tadashi Yamashita). Soon, AJ takes an interest in Justine as well and decides to take care of Seikura himself. Scott knows that this will not end well so he goes after AJ and the movie concludes with a final confrontation at the terrorist/ninja academy known as The Octagon.
This is vintage Norris and has all the elements you would expect from an 80s martial arts action flick. There are fights spaced out at regular intervals, a mission of revenge, tested loyalties, and a score that you have heard a million times. This is great as it is so familiar but it also offers nothing new to the genre for someone watching this for the first time today. That being said, this movie was released before the 80s ninja craze and it should be noted that it is one of the first American movies to showcase these mysterious and deadly figures. Knowing what was to come from Norris, this is slower paced and also has a very dated whispering voiceover that is a bit grating. I wanted more to Scott's story so I could get behind what he was trying to accomplish rather that him just getting involved due to circumstance. For most of the movie, the character of Scott is just not into it and it is only when AJ gets himself into trouble that Scott decides to come to the rescue and the movie picks up considerably. The fights are good but quite short aside from a standout scene featuring Chuck against a main ninja played by Richard Norton (who also plays the blonde henchman who Chuck beats up in the mercenary audition scene). I would never turn down a movie featuring Chuck Norris taking on a ninja compound though and even with its flaws, this is still a pretty solid entry in the subgenre.
The script (co-written by Leigh Chapman - Dirty Mary Crazy Larry) is a little too convoluted for its own good but if you just focus on the martial arts and Norris' soothing line deliveries, it is an easy way to spend an hour and a half. Carol Bagdasarian is great as a terrorist defector who helps Scott and gives the movie some spunk. Lee Van Cleef has a supporting role as (what else?) a mercenary, Ernie Hudson shows up in a quick scene, and Tracy Walter (Repo Man) makes a brief appearance. Norris fans may also recognize Brian Libby as the tall guy at the terrorist camp. Libby was the revived killer who wreaked havoc in Silent Rage. (Josh Pasnak, 7/19/15)
Directed By: Eric Karson.
Written By: Leigh Chapman.
Starring: Chuck Norris, Karen Carlson, Lee Van Cleef, Art Hindle.