Writer/director Fabrizio De Angelis and star Mark Gregory brought us THUNDER WARRIOR II (a.k.a. THUNDER II) two years later, in 1985, and it presumably takes place about that much later. Although Thunder went on an arrow/explosive/bulldozer/bazooka rampage, paralyzed a cop, destroyed some cop cars, leveled a couple buildings, and faked his death, he’s just casually back in town at a bar for some reason.
It’s exactly the kind of violent biker bar that’s in every movie like this, except for some reason a normal couple with a pre-teen son are there trying to eat dinner. The mom attempts to ignore the mob of drunk bikers loudly sexually harassing her, but the dad convinces her it’s time to leave, which kicks off a scuffle where the kid is about to be beat up until Thunder intervenes and takes on the entire gang almost by himself (he has a little help from a Native old timer who’s good with knives).
I want to point out that the bartender at this place really sucks. He watches the whole thing go down and makes no effort to keep things under control, not even a meek “Hey guys, cool it.” Then when the brawl starts he calls the police on Thunder. My Yelp review will not be forgiving.
And who is the cop who comes to check it out? None other than Rusty (Raimund Harmstorf). And who is Rusty? Well, he was called Barry in the first movie, he was the main bad cop, now for some reason Thunder calls him Rusty and no one ever corrects him and that’s Barry’s name now.
Rusty actually doesn’t recognize Thunder until he hears him call him Rusty. “Thunder? I thought you were dead.” I sort of get a kick out of how little of a deal is made out of “oh shit, that guy who waged war against all the white people two years ago and burned to death and became a folk hero is actually still alive.” Little shock is expressed. Zero questions are asked. I guess everybody is just very practical about this is the situation, let’s deal with it.
Rusty’s way of dealing with it, of course, is to arrest him for the fight, not the other stuff. But right when he gets him in a cell and is gonna billy club him the sheriff – still played by Bo Svenson, but renamed Roger according to IMDb? – calls him into his office to tell him the news: the governor has made Thunder a deputy. Cut to Thunder out of jail, in uniform, driving a squad car! Didn’t even have to get a ride home.
Ah ha, so that’s the twist in this one. The favorite victim of the cops is now a cop. A good one too – even Rusty has to commend him for busting a gang of bank robbers on his first day.
If this were a Clint Eastwood movie then maybe having to work with a Native American would teach this asshole that he had it all wrong about them. But Rusty has bigger worries than his own racism. He’s been conspiring with some of the local bikers to sell drugs, and now that there’s one competent/honest cop on the force his business is at risk. So he kills his biker partner, blames it on Thunder, and plants a big bag of cocaine in his locker.
Then it skips to after the trial. According to Sheriff Roger, Thunder was given five years on the drug charge because he “acted like a horse’s ass” in court by refusing to speak. In the crooked tradition of this racist county, Rusty gets to drive Thunder to the prison in a chain link cage on the back of a pickup truck.
Kinda like Don Johnson in BRAWL IN CELL BLOCK 99, the warden is practically licking his lips to start mistreating this new prisoner. He promises Rusty he’ll give Thunder “the special treatment.” This is one of my favorite scenes in the sequel because there’s this weird dynamic of the warden thinking he and Rusty are old friends and Rusty only half-assedly pretending to reciprocate. The warden has to tell Rusty not to call him “Hyena,” a nickname he doesn’t like, and Rusty can’t be bothered to stay and have a drink with him.
Anyway, this is a very impressive sequel to a FIRST BLOOD knockoff, because we’re not even at the halfway point and it’s already changed from outlaw drifter movie to cop movie to prison movie. The incarceration part is similar to UNDISPUTED II, minus the fighting circuit plot. It’s the usual stuff about the guards constantly abusing him and the other inmates starting to respect him for holding his head high.
When Thunder is put in the sweatbox for 2 weeks one of the screws says “Don’t worry about it, he’s only an Indian” and another one named Fred says, “That’s what I’m worried about, I got a quarter Indian blood in my pants.” (As I pointed out in the review of part I, these movies always have somebody who mentions some fraction of Native heritage to explain/justify their sympathy for Thunder.)
One reason the authorities can’t keep Thunder down is that his natural reaction to being ganged up on is to fight back long enough to escape. It happens when cops beat on him, and now it happens when prison guards do it. He steals a cop car and drives off. So the prison movie portion of the proceedings is dispensed with pretty quick. Now he’s in his more natural state of being a fugitive on the lam in the Arizona desert, where he finds Sheila (now called Sheena, I think, and played by a new one-time-only actor named Karen Reel) and Tom (William Rice), a Grizzly Adams looking lawyer who’s an outspoken crusader for the local Native community.
Rusty and a helicopter pilot fly around looking for Thunder, and they spot those three in a Jeep. Tom yells for Thunder to “Get down!” even though they’re in an an open Jeep taking shots from the sky. There is no down to get.
The Jeep ends up flipping and Thunder has to lift it off of Tom’s leg. There’s a closeup of a flexing bicep that… doesn’t appear to be his. But who knows. He ends up getting out of the situation with an unusual approach: lassoing the helicopter. (A nice reversal of the creeps in part 1 lassoing him.) So Rusty tells the pilot to pull up and they just carry him around on the rope, DARKMAN style. Some nice stuntwork and possibly a dummy shot or two. Obviously he’s tied to the rope, but we are to believe he’s holding on with his elbows bent and not even using his feet. Rusty keeps trying to get the pilot to smack him against a cliff, but eventually Thunder jumps off into water, and for some reason that sates Rusty’s bloodthirst. “Well, you did a good job. Let’s head home now.”
To his credit, the helicopter pilot later speaks out, saying “It was wrong, totally, and I’m ashamed to have been a part of it.”
Thunder gets back into town by carjacking a guy who’s on a date. Either he has some Indian grandparent, he respects the legend of Thunder, or he’s a really accommodating guy, because he just tells him to be careful with it. Once again Thunder breaks into a place to steal a bow and arrow. Actually, this time it’s a crossbow with explosive tipped arrows. I’m not sure if it’s the same trading post as the first one, but this time he crashes through the window on the way out instead of the way in. And he’s shirtless so it looks extra badass.
The ending is crazy. The sheriff tries to keep Rusty under control by locking him in a jail cell, but then he leaves him alone. Thunder finds him there, but chooses not to kill him. The next day (or sometime in daylight), the sheriff apologizes to Thunder, Sheena and Tom and tells them they’re free to go, but probly shouldn’t return to the county.
Then, as they drive off into the sunset, he targets the truck through his scope and fires a shot. The end. What the shit?
According to Wikipedia, the lawyer Tom was played by William “Bill” Rice, “a member of the avant-garde art scene in the East Village in New York City for many years.” He moved from Vermont to Manhattan in his 20s and died there in his 70s. Most of his IMDb filmography is filled with experimental and underground short films directed by people like Richard Kern, Beth B & Scott B, Amos Poe and Robert Frank. He’s an extra in the art gallery party scene in WILD STYLE. He stars in DECODER (1984), adapted from and co-starring William S. Burroughs. He’s in Jim Jarmusch’s COFFEE AND CIGARETTES. I think his only two IMDb credits that seem more mainstream than THUNDER WARRIOR II are parts as an undertaker in a 2005 comedy called ONE LAST THING…, and “Patient #1” on a 1996 episode of Chicago Hope.
I’m always fascinated by an eccentric character like this, spending most of his life knee-deep in out-there underground art and then randomly showing up in a crazy Italian drive-in movie filmed out in the Arizona desert. One problem: the guy in the movie doesn’t look at all like the artist guy we’re talking about here. I’m pretty sure there’s a different William Rice – or more likely an Italian actor credited as William Rice – whose work is being misattributed to the old Bohemian. And I bet the Chicago Hope extra is a third person using a similar name. Sometimes these things get mixed up on IMDb. (For my favorite b-movie/indie artist mixup to date, see my review of MARTIAL LAW II: UNDERCOVER and its exploration of the two Evan Luries.)
Oh well. Life is still interesting, despite this disappointment. And THUNDER WARRIOR II is a little crazier than its predecessor. I appreciate that.