Some of my fondest childhood memories are of watching ninja movies with my little brother. We couldn’t get enough of those masked assassins, and we devoured every title we could find. Over the course of our “ninja phase”, we probably watched well over 30 titles. But even so, one actor’s name quickly stood out: Sho Kosugi. For us, he was the real deal, and we had no problems believing he was truly a ninja. Come to find out, Kosugi really IS a ninja and has studied many forms of the art. As such, his films are classified by some (myself included) as classics of the martial arts genre. PRAY FOR DEATH is one of these iconic titles, and I enjoyed it as much today as I did when I was a kid.
If you are not familiar with PRAY FOR DEATH, here is the plot synopsis courtesy of Arrow Video and MVD Distribution:
In Pray for Death, martial arts legend Sho Kosugi (Enter the Ninja, Ninja 3: The Domination) stars as a family man driven to exact vigilante justice – ninja style! Japanese Restauranteur Akira (Kosugi) has taken his wife and two boys to the United States in search of a better life. But their slice of the American Dream is quickly soured when they fall foul of a group of vicious jewelry thieves. Unfortunately for the bad guys, they didn’t count on Akira being a secret black ninja. The samurai sword of vengeance falls swift and hard in this classic slice of ’80s ninja action from director Gordon Hessler (Scream and Scream Again, The Golden Voyage of Sinbad), culminating in an action-packed showdown with a bodycount worthy of Commando.
When looking at films like this, you have to remember: these paved the way for modern-day classics, such as CROUCHING TIGER, HIDDEN DRAGON, IRON MONKEY, and HOUSE OF FLYING DAGGERS. As such, some of the action may seem a bit relaxed when compared to these recent hits. This is by no means a negative for me, but I feel I have to warn you in advance; some folks expect modern-day action in older films.
PRAY FOR DEATH is shot very well and looks great onscreen. The Blu-ray transfer looks amazing, and the picture is a testament to HD quality. Likewise, the sound is top-notch. You can’t ask for much more from an 80s-film update.
The acting in PRAY FOR DEATH is good for a film of this nature. Some action films have wooden performers who either overact to the point of hilarity or cannot act to save their lives. This film boasts a nice cast, particularly Kosugi himself, who I always found to be a fairly credible actor.
But the action is the biggest winner for me in this movie. Chocked full of martial arts mayhem, there’s a lot to enjoy. The fight scenes are fun, and so is the gore. I had forgotten just how much carnage we get, but I was pleasantly surprised. The special effects look good, and there’s quite a few of them.
Arrow and MVD have another hit on their hands with PRAY FOR DEATH, and I highly recommend it. Existing fans of the 80s ninja-craze will be nostalgic, while newcomers will find plenty to enjoy here as well. The film is available now, so make a note to grab it.