TERRIBLE? or JUST TERRIBLE?: "Enter the Ninja" dir. Menahem Golan, 1981

Aficionados of the Menahem Golan filmography will already be asking "Why Enter the Ninja?"  It's true: with a filmmaking history rife with incredible Terrible movies (and probably even more that are Just Terrible), it's difficult to justify why I would chose this particular film over numerous others for the next entry in this ongoing "side-project" of ECSTATIC.  After all, Golan is the man who brought us Superman IV: The Quest for Peace, Death Wish IV: The Crackdown, and Breakin' II: Electric Boogaloo.  And what of the third in the Ninja flick series that Enter the Ninja began, you ask?  Ninja III: The Domination??  All I can say is that those will have to wait for future "Terrible or Just Terrible" judgement, as well as the inexplicably strange directorial effort that proceeded Enter the Ninja, Golan's 1980 future-set musical The Apple ("the future" being 1994).

So here's my justification: Enter the Ninja is maybe not the most deliciously Terrible movie of Golan's long career (and I do mean long--according to IMBD he'll be bringing us Allan Quartermain and the Jewel of the East in 2013), but it is the genesis of the "Ninja" trilogy, which included Revenge of the Ninja (1983) and the aforementioned Ninja III (1984), and then spawned five films in the American Ninja series that featured Michael Dudikoff (at least in 3 of the entries) playing a role similar to that of Franco Nero in the original.  Yes, this is the one that started the Ninja craze and cinema cycle of the early 80's, a re-tooling of the Ninjas in the late 60's Bond entry You Only Live Twice. Yet, the Ninja craze was seemingly forgotten by the time this era of arsenal-inspiring movies culminated in the appearance of the Rambo knife, circa 1985.  To be certain, if you were around 10 to 13 years old when you saw Enter the Ninja for the first time, you were most likely begging your parents to arm you with deadly ninja throwing stars by Christmas.  

And, the tropes and plot devices used in Enter the Ninja are just clever enough to captivate and surprise your average 10-year old, as with the opening sequence which throws us right into the bloody Ninja action.  Former Django star Franco Nero as Cole (the "White Ninja") hacks and slashes his way through an army of red and black ninjas, ultimately reaching the threshold of the ninja complex, where he beheads the Master.  But, wait!  The scene that follows shows this not to be an actual siege, but the final test of the White Ninja. As the red and black Ninjas (graphically slaughtered only moments before) gather in a ceremony honoring the American with his Ninja-hood, they are followed in by the Master, also unscathed and holding a replica of his own head under his arm(!). After this truly preposterous reveal, and a rather lengthy display of ancient finger-based ritual (think "here's the church, here's the steeple" done by a ninja), we are introduced to the lazy set-up of the film that introduces Cole's former military pal Frank (a convincing "James Caan-on-a-bender" turn by Alex Courtney) and his shotgun slinging wife Mary Ann (Susan George).  George's opening scene in the film is an almost disturbing inversion of her appearance in Sam Peckinah's Straw Dogs only ten years earlier: Cole decides to revisit his best friend by breaching the perimeter of their property (?) only to be greeted by Mary Ann holding a shotgun, which he then takes from her while performing a weird combination of macho disarmament and perv-y groping.  Ultimately, Frank's increasing alcoholism combined with the unceasing allure of Cole's mustache result in Mary Ann making a visit to the White Ninja's bedroom under the cover of night.

From there we enter a plot that revolves entirely around Cole helping Frank and Mary Ann save their plantation from evil property baron Venarius (Christopher George), a beautifully campy entry in a long lineage of gay villains.  Venarius is reminiscent of Javier Bardem in Skyfall, if his hobby was training junior high girls in synchronized swimming.  At one point, after receiving information about how Cole has defeated his men, Venarius can only turn to his half-submerged aquatic cast of young ladies and ask in exasperation: "Are you ready for my supreme creation?"  (Sadly, footage of the finished production does not show up as a post-credits extra).

Venarius also has a penchant for dressing his minions in white suits, a true hallmark of Enter the Ninja (seriously, the white suit budget in this movie might have been larger than the Ninja suit budget).  As the film progresses, Christopher George's performance transforms into a weird variation on Veruca Salt from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, as he continually exclaims "Where's my ninja? I want my ninja!" Venarius eventually transports Cole's nemesis from Japan (martial arts icon Sho Kosugi, whose presence as an actor provides the only connecting thread across the Ninja trilogy), with the finale involving a battle between the White and Black ninja, and good ol' American cultural appropriation as the victor.  Throw in a henchman with a stainless steel hook for a hand, some "wah-wah-wah-waaaaaah" trombone to let the audience know where the funny parts are, and a ridiculously contrived showdown in a Philipino cockfighting arena, and you have the exceptionally Terrible Enter the Ninja.