Movie Review: Pray For Death (Dir. Gordon Hessler, 1985)

When I first got cable back in the early 80s, I had no idea how much of an influence it would have on my life, especially the late night R-rated flicks. One among the many films I stumbled upon during those early years was Enter The Ninja. With it came my introduction to the incredibly skilled martial artist Sho Kosugi, who played the film’s bad guy. I liked him so much I even enjoyed watching Franco Nero kick his ass and kill him.

His next film (aptly named Revenge of the Ninja) catapulted Kosugi into cult movie stardom, racking up an impressive number of roles in American action films, a cameo in Rutger Hauer’s Blind Fury, and a five episode appearance in the short lived TV series The Master, where he returned to his bad guy roots to pose as the resident evil ninja and menace Lee Van Cleef .

With his film Pray For Death finally released on DVD via MGM’s MOD Program we now have what I call his ‘Holy Three’ on DVD: Enter, Revenge and Pray.

Pray For Death is essentially a carbon copy of  Revenge of the Ninja. In both films Kosugi plays a Japanese businessman who relocates his family to America for the sake of his job, but once there runs afoul of gangsters. In both movies his respective wives are killed, AND in both films Kosugi’s two sons play the roles of his onscreen kids, which end up surviving the bloody carnage father and gangster doll out among each other in both movies.

Pray For Death is notable for two things, it’s Kosugi’s last role in a movie where he plays a ninja, and it’s notorious for being his most violent and sadistic. Kosugi find’s himself going head to head wtih James Booth, who plays a gangster psychopath that enjoys beating old men to death, torturing Kosugi in front of his kid, and raping and killing Kosugi’s wife towards the end.

The final action scene between Kosugi and Booth is a memorable one, and surprisingly realistic. It has a lot of close quarters hitting (with weapons as well), pushing, shoving and violent man handling. Oh, sure, Kosugi gets in his trademark ninja licks, but it’s not staged like a martial arts fight would be. It’s grittier, rougher, and more barbaric. The location is another element that makes it unforgettable; in a warehouse, where their fight plays out over a couple of floors, one of which is filled with mannequins and a saw mill, where Booth meets a very grim demise.

Unfortunately, MGM’s DVD is not the uncut version of this film. For those who aren’t aware, Pray For Death’s violence was a victim of the MPAA. Curious as to what was cut? Go here and read all about it. Go here and read all about it.

The good news, on the other hand, is its original 2.35:1 aspect ratio has been restored, and the transfer MGM used is pretty much pristine. There is no trailer on this DVD. Yes, it would be ideal if MGM had released it uncut, but truth be told I’m okay with it as is. I watch Sho Kosugi movies for Sho and his action scenes, none of which have been severely mangled, only tidbits trimmed and shortened where flesh and blood were exposed and/or tortured.

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