Peter’s Retro Reviews: The Octagon (1980)

December 2, 2011

The Octagon (1980) Movie posterby Peter Nielsen

I’m not sure when I first saw this one, but I think it was in my mid-teens. We rented a lot of movies in those days, my best friend Michael and I, you know, the one who now lives in England. Some of the first ones we rented were actually on the Betamax-format. Remember those? That was before VHS flooded the market with rentable movies and opened up a whole new world to us.

Many of the ones we rented were violent and bloody action flicks. This was before movie-censorship kicked in, but that would come soon enough. We watched movies from most genres but, not surprisingly, with us being young boys, we kind of shunned away from romantic dramas and such. Instead we filled our minds with action, comedy, spaghetti westerns, sci-fi and tons of those fantastic dubbed kung-fu movies.

Michael’s dad, who (time permitting) used to watch most movies with us, is from Greece and for some reason watched a lot of Turkish movies… I tell you, you haven’t lived until you’ve seen a Turkish action flick were they all of a sudden burst out singing!! Yup, great stuff! But as long as it was a good action movie, we pretty much ate it up raw and Mr. Norris’ movies suited our taste perfectly.

Kyo (Richard Norton) showing off his skill with a pair of sais.

Kyo (Richard Norton) showing off his skill with a pair of sais.

And this brings me back to this week’s chosen movie, The Octagon, a movie featuring international terrorism, ninjas and Chuck Norris kicking butt. I could actually stop right here, ‘cause that last sentence basically contains all the information I need to go see this flick! I’ve stated it before in an earlier review (Breaker Breaker!) so it won’t come as a big surprise to you that I’m a big fan of Mr. Norris.

His character in this is Scott James who, at a young age, was adopted by a Japanese man and trained in the martial arts and the way of the ninja. So is his stepbrother Seikura, played by Tadashi Yamashita (Gymkata, American Ninja), but they have a falling out in their late teens and are now mortal enemies.

Seikura now runs a terrorist training-camp, teaching his students ninja-techniques. These students come from all over the world and are involved in international terror-attacks. Not much is seen of those attacks, but they’re mentioned. We won’t go too much into the details of the plot here because, frankly, at times it’s a bit confusing …

Inside the octagon.

Inside the octagon.

Scott is approached by a wealthy heiress, Justine, who has aided the terrorists in the past, either with money or information, but now wants out of it and needs help. She’s portrayed by Karen Carlson from the TV-miniseries Centennial.

Scott doesn’t trust her and refuses, so she then turns her charm on his friend A.J. who willingly agrees to help her. He’s kind of head-strong and rushes into things without thinking them through properly, which eventually gets him into deadly trouble. He’s a bit annoying actually! We see Art Hindle (Black Christmas, The Brood) in this role.

At one point Scott signs up as a mercenary in order to maybe find out where Seikura is hiding his training-camp. He’s quickly recognized, so that plan goes down the drain with no results at all. The man signing him up is the actor Tracey Walter in an un-credited role and this guy has had small parts in so many movies, it’s ridiculous.

How about Conan the Destroyer, Repo Man, Midnight Run, Batman and The Silence of the Lambs to name just a handful? Another actor who has a brief scene in The Octagon is Ernie Hudson who played Winston Zeddemore in Ghostbusters 1 and 2.

I dare you to pull my finger.

I dare you to pull my finger.

Scott also seeks advice and answers from his old friend (and colleague?) McCarn, who is played by Mr. Lee Van Cleef, an actor who doesn’t really need further introduction, but I’ll just throw a couple of titles your way, in case you don’t know… Escape from New York, High Noon and The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. McCarn is the head of some sort of anti-terrorist agency, but he doesn’t know exactly where Seikura is either.

Finally he teams up with one of Seikura’s former students, Aura, played by the beautiful Carol Bagdasarian, who has mostly worked in television. Aura is not your typical damsel in distress, but instead wreaks some serious havoc in the final showdown. She takes Scott to the hidden camp so he can rescue A.J. and finally face his stepbrother and put an end to this whole terrorist-training business.

Aura is damn persuasive isn't she?

Aura is damn persuasive isn't she?

To be honest, that final fight is kind of weak compared to the one preceding it, where Scott faces off against Seikura’s enforcer Kyo in a very well-choreographed and well- rehearsed fight inside the octagon. It was done with multiple cameras and without cuts, thus enabling Chuck Norris and Richard Norton (Mr. Nice Guy, Forced Vengeance) to do the whole scene in one sweep. It’s a spectacular scene between two martial artists doing what they do best.

And let me tell you, Mr. Norton’s skill with the Sai is un-be-lievable. There’s another scene earlier in the movie where he not only disarms one of the students, but also turns the student’s own sword against him. If you blink you’ll miss it! Hell, even if you don’t blink, you’ll still miss it! Super-fast!

Another cool thing about The Octagon is that whenever Scott gives voice to his thoughts, it’s done in an echoing whisper which is kind of effective and a nice touch. Some would argue that it’s annoying, but I disagree on that point. I will agree, though, that The Octagon is not the best movie ever made! No, sir! Not by a long shot! It is, however, a great way to spend roughly one hour and forty minutes.

So until next time, my friends…


The Octagon (1980) Trailer

Peter Nielsen Bio

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