Released from prison after serving eight years for killing the hitman who murdered his wife, ex-cop “Tiger” Sharp's first thought is to assassinate the corrupt District Attorney behind the crime. But after former colleague advises Tiger to think things over a bit, whilst also incongruously supplying him with an experimental, state-of-the-art, multi-function gun, Tiger instead returns to his old home in rural Georgia, complete with blind, mutant banjo player.
His peace is soon disturbed by the some of the local rednecks who are systematically killing the area's wildlife population to make into Chinese medicine. Their no-good leader, Wally, turns out to be the younger brother of Tom, with whom Tiger has a history. He was responsible for injuring Tom, leaving him with a limp that has kept him in the small town. It may have been a blessing in disguise, however, since Tom has subsequently built up a successful logging business.
Tom and Tiger
Out of mutual respect, the two men agree to disagree over the slaughter, though Tom also makes it clear what will happen if push comes to shove:
“You want a war?”
“Nope – you just tell your brother to leave the animals alone and I'll leave them alone.”
“Tiger – if something happens between you and my brother you know whose side I'm going to have to be on.”
And, with Wally and his idiot gang foolishly escalating the conflict, going beyond the point of no return by raping and murdering Tiger's daughter Connie, who had shown up wanting to bond with the father she has never known, this is exactly what happens...
Connie and Tiger
Though obviously drawing inspiration from both Deliverance and First Blood, this 1984 actioner from John Old Jr. / Lamberto Bava, Blastfighter seeks to be a bit more than hicksploitation through also throwing in touches of science-fiction, in the form of Tiger's experimental super-weapon; giallo, through a traumatic flashback scenes incorporating a black gloved killer that seems to pay hommage to his father's Blood and Black Lace and mentor Argento's Tenebre in equal measure; (super)cop on the edge poliziotteschi; western style a man's gotta do what a man's gotta do attitudes and settlings of accounts, and post-mondo / cannibal survivalism.
If the giallo and poliziotto elements are perhaps misplaced, its worth thinking about the western one in relation to Deliverance and First Blood themselves, as respectively a film in which the redneck is the equivalent of the unknowable Native American other and a film in which the hero is coded as the Indian against the white man, and what they thus highlight about the increasingly confused boundaries of Hollywood cinema around this time. If, that is, both films have certain western qualities, these are also those of the post-spaghetti western with its very different worldview.
Special make-up effects, rather than mondo / cannibal no-effects
As far as the mondo and cannibal filone are concerned, meanwhile, I say post here because in its pro-ecological message and avoidance of actual animal slaughter – thought apparently a deer suffered a seizure and died during the production – Blastfighter distinguishes itself from these earlier cycles, whose own logical end point, Cannibal Holocaust, he had worked on as assistant director.
If Bava seems to be atoning for this involvement here, his experiences on Deodato's film would seem to have also stood him in good stead, insofar as he works well with the rugged locations and up to the kinds of filmmaking challenges they pose – challenges very different, we might note, from the characteristically studio-based and more heavily resource-constrained films made by his father.
Michael Sopkiw makes for an agreeable lead, capable of being troubled and taciturn without turning the viewer off from caring about his character, whilst Valentina Forte is appropriately everyday attractive and sympathetic as the ill-fated Connie.
Though bad guys are written as a bunch of backwoods redneck clichés for the most part, being all 4x4s, plaid shirts and retrograde attitudes, the filmmakers also succeed in conveying something of their limited world through this, including the hostility it breeds towards those who are different from them and the desperate self-destructiveness that all too often result as they attempt to (im)prove their worth in abiding by outmoded doctrines of rugged and macho individualism.
It further helps here that the various Italian performers hiding behind Anglo-sounding pseudonyms also look and feel the part rather than standing out like sore thumbs; besides the always useful Luigi Montifiore / George Eastman we've also got the likes of Ottaviano Dell'Acqua as one of Wally's gang and Michele Soavi, credited as Michael Saroyan – and also performing second unit duties – as Connie's doomed forest ranger boyfriend.
The Deerhunter hunter
Nicely shot by Lawrence Bannon / Gianlorenzo Battaglia and scored by the Barrymore / De Angelis brothers with a combination of suitably mauldin Country & Western and energetic pumping action themes, Blastfighter is simply a good, unpretentious little filone film that accomplishes all it sets out to do in delivering action thrills, with plenty of things and bad guys exploding, and its messages, however rudimentary this may be to the (non-filone) cognoscenti.