Review: Pray for Death

Blu-ray: Pray for Death (1985)

PrayForDeathBluI loved ninjas when I was a kid! Everything about them was cool from the famous black outfits, the over the top acrobatics, the martial arts and the weapons, in particular the iconic throwing star or shuriken. It’s fair to say that I wanted to be a ninja when I was young and remember sneaking around the house even tucking my socks in-between my toes pretending to be one of the deadly assassins!

It seems that I wasn’t the only one who loved all things ninja as there were a spate of action movies in the 80’s which I lapped up from my local video shop. American Ninja, Sakura Killers and even the camp as Christmas Ninja Terminator were regularly played in my house.

Another one of the ninja movies I often watched was Pray for Death starring Sho Kosugi, so I was really pleased to have the opportunity to watch it again after all these years.

Kosugi is a ninja haunted by his past and as a result decided to hang up his nunchucks and focus on his family. An opportunity comes along for him to move to America with his wife and 2 sons (his real life children, Kane and Shane) and start their own business.

Unfortunately the American Dream isn’t everything that they hoped for as their new business is in a rough neighbourhood surrounded by bullies, drunks and all sorts of scumbags. Their new place is being used to store illegal goods and when some jewels go missing the local gangsters come knocking.

Kosugi approaches the police but they are corrupt except for kindly Lieutenant Anderson played by Norman Burton. Although there isn’t much he can do for Kosugi he does his best Columbo impression even saying the famous line, “just one more thing“.

James Booth plays the evil henchman Limehouse Willie and he positively revels in this role. He thinks nothing of kidnapping and beating up elderly people and children. He relishes the chance to inflict pain upon Kosugi, casually throwing around racial slurs and torturing his family literally and figuratively. This is the kind of man that would jump at the chance of murdering a child in his sleep! He really is deliciously diabolical and comes across as the bogeyman rather than a gangland criminal. Booth is credited with writing the movie which probably explains why he gets all the best scenes.

The climax of the movie is very enjoyable where Kosugi goes full blown ninja and it reminded me of the final scene in Commando where Schwarzenegger storms the compound full of bad guys, but instead of machine guns and rocket launchers we get somersaults and throwing stars.

The face off between Kosugi and Booth is also good fun with chainsaws, blocks of wood, scythes and anything that comes to hand being used in the showdown. Despite Kosugis ninja credentials Booth more than matches him with the smackdown mixing eastern martial arts and western brute force.

The action throughout is decent but there are moments which seem a little creaky especially where you can clearly see the stuntmen doing most of the work.

Watching Pray for Death now is a strange experience compared to watching it as a child. Essentially it’s Death Wish with a bit of martial arts thrown in and with a lot of the violence being quite nasty and grim. Even as a kid I thought it was violent but it seems to shock me more now than it did then. Juxtaposed to the violence is a scene where Kosugi’s son foils the bad guys by tricking out his bike with various gadgets almost copying Data from The Goonies. I loved this bit when I was younger but watching it now it seems to be in stark contrast to the viciousness of the rest of the movie. Saying all that this version of the movie is still censored and features a number of cuts.

Pray for Death is a decent revenge thriller and once again kudos to 101 Films for bringing it back to a mainstream audience who similarly to me may not have seen it in ages.

If Pray for Death has whet your appetite for more Sho Kosugi then check out my review for Black Eagle here, which is also available from 101 Films. Or if you fancy a more modern Ninja movie then I highly recommend you check out Ninja: Shadow of a Tear, starring the incredible Scott Adkins alongside Kane Kosugi.

Review by Chris (co-host of 60 Minutes With and The Same Coin) from a disc kindly supplied by 101 Films.