TAPE RAIDER ALBERT PYUN TRIBUTE PART 3: RAVEN HAWK
RAVEN HAWK is yet another Albert Pyun movie only released on VHS in the States. The only one of this review trilogy to not include any cyborgs. According to IMDb, it was #3 of five Pyun releases in 1996 (the others being ADRENALIN: FEAR THE RUSH, NEMESIS 3: TIME LAPSE, OMEGA DOOM and NEMESIS 4: DEATH ANGEL), but was filmed in 1993. It was meant for theatrical, but ended up premiering on HBO. Written by Kevin Elders (writer of IRON EAGLE, director of SIMON SEZ, therefore a legend), it’s a very basic but pretty appealing revenge movie. It follows in the tradition of the THUNDER WARRIOR trilogy (itself inspired by the success of the BILLY JACK series) in trying to mine the thrill of a Native American hero standing up to racist white bullies and land stealers. But what makes it stand out is that the hero is played by bodybuilding champion Rachel McLish, who was in PUMPING IRON II: THE WOMEN and then stole the show in ACES: IRON EAGLE III.
In the prologue, Senator Stansfield (John de Lancie, Days of Our Lives, Star Trek: The Next Generation) – who’s on the phone talking in an evil voice while a naked lady lounges by the fire nearby – pressures his stooge Thorne (William Atherton, DIE HARD) to finish “negotiations” with the tribal council to approve a land deal to build a nuclear power plant. (In a dark touch, he says if they don’t do it now the Department of Transportation will build a freeway there. Either way, the Natives are fucked.)
There’s a whole conspiracy involving Sheriff Daggert (Ed Lauter, DEATH WISH 3, THE ARTIST) and this group of burly middle aged mercenaries including Rikker (Mitch Pileggi, SHOCKER) to make this power plant happen. They murder the tribal council elder couple in front of their young daughter Rhyia Shadowfeather (Karina Ybarra) and then tell the court that the little girl was “unstable” and killed them in “some kind of ritual that got out of control.”
McLish plays Rhyia 12 years later when she’s doing life in the Colorado Institute For Women. While being transferred from an asylum to a prison the van driver is too busy haranguing Rhyia to notice the cow in his way. He swerves off the road, rolls the van, and dies. She has to unlock her handcuffs and do a nice traditional slow-motion-run-from-exploding-vehicle. One of the classics.
So now she’s free, might as well track down the motherfuckers who assassinated her parents, framed her for murder, stole her people’s land, polluted the earth and just generally are not that great of people anyway, right? Right. When she walks into town the Sheriff immediately spots her and says, “Wow!” (on account of, I believe, a hubba hubba type reaction), but he doesn’t seem to recognize her, and then reads in the newspaper that she was killed in the crash.
She has two important items on the agenda for before killing some motherfuckers. #1, she visits the cemetery where her parents are buried – it’s the type they have in westerns, like THE QUICK AND THE DEAD. #2, she goes to a stable to get Dakota back. We know it’s him because the current owner says, “You bastard, you ain’t been nothin but trouble since the day I bought you off them damn Indians!” Dakota does the right thing and kicks him in the head, knocking him unconscious, then is perfectly calm and agreeable for Rhyia, who rides off into the desert on him.
She finds the power plant, breaks right in, and rides around until a Jeep and some motorcycles chase her off. So there’s a pretty good Donald Kaufman style technology vs. horse sequence where she uses her familiarity with the landscape and Dakota’s versatility to lead them into terrain that causes them to crash. Then they get mad and throw their helmet down and kick some dirt like a sore loser.
Rikker freaks out about the intruder, but they think it was a man. They never would’ve guessed it was Rhyia, because they believe “the Shadowfeather girl burnt up like a marshmallow.”
The first deserving sufferer of her wrath is Gordon Fowler (Michael Champion, PINK CADILLAC, THE SWORDSMAN), who gives private diving lessons and makes the mistake of accepting her request. She quickly knocks him off of his boat, dives in and hunts him with a knife like he’s a shark.
And, um… she scalps him. That’s what we hear from Marshall Del Wilkes (John Enos III, POINT DOOM, MISSIONARY MAN), who Daggert doesn’t like snooping around and calls a “halfbreed.” He has permission from the Bureau of Indian Affairs to investigate, though Daggert thinks this was a boating accident. Wilkes claims that “Indians believe that if you scalp an enemy his evil spirit rises out of his body and never returns to haunt the planet.”
One part I liked that almost counts as a “just how badass is she?” is that a witness describes her to Wilkes as having a “body like it was sculpted from stone.”
Her second kill is my favorite. She finds Rice (Dick Warlock, The Shape in HALLOWEEN II) while he’s hanging off a bridge painting over cracks because “it’s tourist season, we’ll deal with it in the Fall.” When he realizes who she is he tries the “It’s obvious we’ve got some things to work out” approach as well as the “if it’s money you want” and the “I’m gonna kill you, you bitch!,” but somehow none of those work. She drops him and then stands on the bridge in a cool pose. I respect it.
As Wilkes investigates we hear about her days in the hospital, when she would “escape into this maniacal routine, this obsessive physical conditioning,” and it cuts from her as a kid doing sit-ups to her doing it as an adult Ms. Olympia contender. Sort of like CONAN THE BARBARIAN. Good shit.
We get Matt Clark (RETURN TO OZ) as an old friend of her dad’s who tries to help, and Vincent Klyn (CYBORG) as a sellout Native tracker who helps the hired killers find her. Battles ensue. One great part is when she’s doing a gymnast style handstand on a tree branch and swings down to attack a guy. Then shoots Thom Mathews (RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) with an arrow.
I’m no expert but I’m gonna assume this is not the most accurate or enlightened portrayal of an indigenous culture. The only time it’s specified which one it is specifically is when Pileggi’s character says “there’s no god damn way I’m gonna let two Shoshone scum stand between me and my money.” I looked it up and saw that she at least has Mexican ancestry. Same continent. Closer than Tom Laughlin and Mark Gregory, maybe. This informative Schlock Pit article on the movie claims she has Apache heritage.
The article also says that the movie was conceived by IRON EAGLE producer Ron Samuels as “a vanity vehicle for his new wife, McLish.” Traditionally that’s seen as a negative thing, when some producer makes a movie for his wife to star in, but fuck that – her being the star of the movie is the whole reason to watch it. The man was correct.
But Samuels and Pyun disagreed on the movie (Samuels wanted female Rambo, Pyun wanted An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge), Samuels locked him out of editing and hired Michael Schroeder (CYBORG 2) to do some reshoots.
Having yet another movie taken away from him was an important moment for Pyun though – it convinced him to stop doing work-for-hire and start his own production company.
IMDb trivia tells a story where Albert seems like the bad guy to me: “Originally, Rachel McLish agreed to be fully nude for the meditation scene. But the day of filming, she changed her mind. After an argument with director Albert Pyun, she agreed to be topless in a thong, but wouldn’t let them show her full breasts. Reportedly, this is one of the reasons why she wasn’t cast for another role until 15 years later.”
Who knows if that really stopped her career, but something did. The “15 years later” referenced is just some comedy short she’s not even a main character in. So unfortunately IRON EAGLE III and RAVEN HAWK were the only action movies we got out of her. Too bad. She’s really cool in both.
But other than that bad news this has been a successful trilogy of VHS-only Pyun joints, proving that he was always a better and more interesting director than I realized, or that he was willing to admit, back when he was kind enough to grace us with his comments here at outlawvern dot com. To me KNIGHTS is by far the best of the three, but HEATSEEKER has lots of cool stuff in it and RAVEN HAWK is a pretty capable execution of a specific type of cheap thrill I enjoy. So it has been a good time.
Thank you Albert.