Whenever I’ve told people about the film RAW FORCE, I tend to mention its alternate title: KUNG FU CANNIBALS. “Oh, that’s a much better title” they usually say. Sure, it does a far better job of grabbing your attention, but I disagree that it’s a better name than “Raw Force.” “Kung Fu Cannibals” doesn’t sum up a film where awkward sex is interrupted by a neo-nazi busting the door down and dousing the room with gasoline. It doesn’t represent a film where the heroes are led by a feisty cruise ship owner with a thick Jersey accent. And it certainly doesn’t prepare you for a story where the villain is an Asian Hitler look-a-like who uses a haunted island to operate his slave trading ring. The name RAW FORCE does. It cuts right to the heart of this supernatural, kung fu, sexploitation comedy and sums it up in the only two words that are able to do this psychotic Grindhouse flick justice. It’s primal and in your face, firing straight from the id.
I first discovered RAW FORCE thanks to one of those bargain DVD packs with 20 movies for $10. Every single film in that collection was ripped from a third-generation VHS copy that retained all the flickers and audio/visual decay that comes from copying a tape again and again. I was in high school, fresh off of discovering Tarantino, and looking to satisfy my craving for exploitation. I wanted blood and flesh and no film in that box set understood my teenage desires better than RAW FORCE.
Everything in this film feels as though it came from the minds of a couple of sixteen year-old boys. I can picture myself at that age walking through the woods with my friends as we talk about “how awesome” it would be if there was a movie with kung fu zombies controlled by Hitler. It’s essentially mandated that every woman on screen get naked at some point. And corny jokes are constantly shouted from off screen, because nothing compliments gory martial arts better than cheeky puns.
Perhaps some explanation is in order. RAW FORCE is about a co-ed group of students from the Burbank Karate Studio who decide to take an island cruise in order to visit the infamous Warrior’s Island. They ignore warnings that outsiders visiting those shores will invoke “the wrath of Buddha” and go ahead anyway. However, the cartoonishly evil Mr. Speer (yes, the Hitler guy) catches wind of their plans, and not wanting his slave-ring to be exposed, sics his henchmen on them.
The skeevy sexploitation mixed with the out-of-place sitcom sense of humor makes RAW FORCE feel like a soft-core XXX parody of GILLIGAN’S ISLAND. Is it offensive? Of course it is. It rebels against just about every notion of good taste. But it has such good-hearted fun doing so that it’s hard to take the moral high ground. It’s seductive, like a huckster luring young boys to Pleasure Island.
But thus is the nature of exploitation cinema. A part of us feels guilty enjoying it, but it speaks to us on that primal level. We get a pang of excitement from a dancing stripper intercut with a bar brawl. We crave images of decapitated zombies and frisky sex and burning Nazis. It’s why Mondo exists. It’s why grindhouses existed. It’s the allure of taboo, the primitive lust, the pure unfiltered force.
When I think about this film I can only picture the images from that murky, water-damaged VHS rip I bought years ago. It’s as though the movie itself is covered in a layer of grime and dirt. And that’s how it should be, because RAW FORCE is a film that belongs in a basement, lying dormant for years in a cardboard box. It should be unearthed, a true hidden treasure in the form of a cassette with a piece of peeling masking tape bearing that ominous title. Discovering RAW FORCE is like finding porn in the woods. It’s weird and exciting and for the love of God, don’t let your parents find out.