The final THUNDER WARRIOR movie came out in 1988, only a year after the second one. THUNDER WARRIOR III starts out seeming like it’s gonna be the NEXT KARATE KID or the BEST OF THE BEST 3 or the RED SCORPION 2 of the series, in that there’s a sort of white supremacist paramilitary type group set up as the villains. A guy named Colonel Ross is putting them through training drills and yelling something about “That’s why those yellow-asses at the Pentagon relieved me of my command!”
But these guys will pretty much just act the same as all the other racist hicks in town.
Thunder is still living peacefully near the desert, which I took to mean that there have been no recriminations for all the destruction and assaults on police officers and escaping prison and all that. And that the sheriff failed to kill him in that weird last shot of part II. But IMDb says he’s in Las Cruces, New Mexico, so I guess he’s supposed to have moved.
We first see him teaching a kid how to bow hunt. I assumed he had a son now, but then the kid calls him “Thunder.” The two of them encounter two colts that the boy calls “beautiful,” and Thunder explains that he’s not going to catch them because he doesn’t believe in capturing an animal that was born free. He’s very respectful of animals, so you can imagine he doesn’t appreciate that the militia men drive up in Jeeps and shoot both of the horses dead.
I get why he’s pissed, but Thunder makes what I would argue is a poor decision: he immediately runs down and attacks the large group of heavily armed men in motor vehicles. And I suppose he’s proven he can handle being outnumbered like that, but he shouldn’t be pulling this shit when there’s a little kid with him! The immediate result is that they knock him flat on his ass and leave him laying for dead with the horses while they chase the kid. And the kid doesn’t have the common sense to run back off the road where he came from – he stays on the road, perpetually slightly ahead of the cars like a victim stays ahead of Jason.
They don’t kill the kid, but they shoot up the trailer park where the Native Americans live, set everything on fire and drag Thunder from the back of one of their Jeeps. They don’t know it, but the Colonel is flying over in a helicopter he calls “Cobra 1.” When the pilot spots the mayhem he says “Oh shit Colonel, what are we gonna do? Those guys are goin ape shit!”
The Colonel’s solution: “Head back. Let’s get out of here!”
A real profile in courage.
So what about the sheriff – will he do anything? The one played by Bo Svenson, named Sheriff Bill and then Sheriff Roger, seemed to be starting to understand Thunder a little better, other than when he possibly shot him in that A NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET style not-acknowledged-in-the-sequel ending. This one seems like he could be the same character, but he’s called Sheriff Jeff now and played by John Phillip Law (BARBARELLA). Since some of the character names changed between 1 and 2, and Thunder’s fiancee Sheila was recast and renamed Sheena (and now played by a third actress with no other credits, Ingrid Lawrence), only the change of locations convinces me this is meant to be a new character.
At any rate, he’s a sheriff with a similar personality to the previous one, and he and Thunder are very familiar with each other. This time the nice little unnecessary detail is that the deputies are painting the station when he shows up.
“Hey you guys, take it easy with that color, huh?” he says.
“Don’t worry, Jeff. When we’re finished it’ll be the prettiest jailhouse in the whole county. You can count on it!”
I like to think that he’s been hounding them about how important it is to make the place prettier. Using that word.
Anyway, Thunder shows up to tell the sheriff that the locals shot two horses, chased a little kid and burned down a neighborhood. Some of which is illegal. In the grand tradition of Sheriff Bill/Roger, Sheriff Jeff doesn’t believe Thunder, calls those guys his friends, says they’re “upstanding” and “highly respectable” and “not just ordinary assholes, they happen to be this town’s most notable and outstanding citizens.” Says he needs evidence and proof. “Even if what you say is true, you’re barking up the wrong tree.”
Well, Thunder’s been through this shit before, he knows just to make his demands clear. He wants them to pay $56,000 in damages. “I’ve never been more serious.”
Sheriff Jeff turns out to be a little more of a good guy than he was letting on, even though I think he should be harsher to these guys. To his credit he does go to the bar where they hang out, notify them of Thunder’s demand and recommend that they pay it.
Of course they deny it, act offended, brag about being tax payers and having “grand daddies” that founded this town. (After Thunder’s grand daddies’ grand daddies had already been there).
They say no, so you can imagine what Thunder does. He expresses his disappointment through the medium of rampage. This time returning director Fabrizio De Angelis creates scenes of sunny small town faux-innocence to be shattered by the angry avenger. Wacky upbeat music plays while one of the rednecks cleans his beloved pink car, then Thunder shows up with a bat and starts smashing all the windows and lights. The man blubbers and screams “Not the car!”
The ringleader Keller also cries and screams “No!” while Thunder smashes up sale items in his store. He warns him he has 48 hours to pay and then sets the place on fire. Kinda acting like a mafia enforcer.
So here’s the sheriff again (or for the first time) in the middle of all this, knowing that Thunder is right, but not wanting to rock the boat to much with all the racist assholes in town, and then having an obligation to go after Thunder when he’s systematically assaulting and threatening these guys. And also he knows he’s dealing with a bunch of yahoos on his force that more likely than not will do some stupid shit. When the posse goes looking for Thunder in the desert, the Sheriff has a good line:
“If you got an itchy trigger finger then stick it up your nose. I want a prisoner, not a trophy for my office wall.”
While they’re out walking around Thunder lights their squad cars on fire, so they have to walk back to town from the middle of nowhere. Honestly they take it surprisingly well. They have every right to be more pissed about it than they are.
As I expected from the VHS cover, Thunder ends up on a motorcycle, zipping around and catching air and stuff. This time the battle is in daylight and in a little more suburban part of town where the rich people live. There’s a crazy part where some cops searching for Thunder walk into a backyard where a lady is laying out by her pool. Her husband comes out with a gun and chases off the cops, acting like they were trying to steal his wife. And they don’t blow his fucking head off or arrest him or even say “Hey, cool it, buddy!” They act like he has a point. White privilege is real.
The bad guys know that too and try to use it against Thunder – they go to his house and shoot at it until it somehow explodes and then say “Okay, that’s enough! Cease fire! Cease fire!” Their plan is to say that they went to pay him the damages and he started shooting at them.
During his quest for vengeance, Thunder burns down a guy’s gas station. The villains of part 1 did that to Sheila, so this could be an understated sign of Thunder having gone too far, becoming what he once fought against, trapped in an endless cycle of lassoing and dragging and blowing up gas stations. But it’s probly more likely they just said “remember when we blew up a gas station? We should do that again” and didn’t really think about it. (They are doing things differently though – I noticed a couple miniature models in this one.)
The climax takes place at “the fundraiser for the shopping center.” I don’t really get it, but the rich guys are having a picnic or something to raise money to build a shopping center? Some old guy with a cane ends up running with the box of money (with a little American flag attached to it) and hiding inside a coffin. Thunder is ready to stab him when the sheriff shows up and gives him the better idea of just taking the money.
“I don’t want any more trouble from any of you. Now get the hell out of here and start rebuilding that village.”
So he goes and gives the cash to one of the elders, who says “Thunder is a true Brave. May the great spirit protect him.” A tear rolls out of a little boy’s eye as Thunder and Sheila drive off in a pickup truck. This is an ending that could’ve easily set up a Thunder IV, but it also works as an ending. Thunder is still out there somewhere, traveling from small Native American desert town to small Native American desert town, starting new wars with new bullying racist local workers, earning the respect of new sheriffs (or the same actor with a different name), and making new wary truces as he leaves again.
I’m not saying this is a great trilogy, but I am saying that it is three movies that I watched. And somebody else might do it. And it would be cool if they were beautifully transferred in hi-def. I’m sending out the Vinegar Syndrome signal as we speak, even if I’d rather have them do the SNAKE EATER trilogy.
VERN has a new action-horror novel out called WORM ON A HOOK! He has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the film criticism books Seagalogy: A Study of the Ass-Kicking Films of Steven Seagal and Yippee Ki-Yay Moviegoer!: Writings on Bruce Willis, Badass Cinema and Other Important Topics as well as the crime novel Niketown.