The Nineteen Eighties was the golden age of action movies. It seemed liked every week there was a new testosterone fueled shoot’em up playing on movie screens. Stars like Stallone and Schwarzenegger ruled over the genre for most of the decade.
In Nineteen Eighty Eight a film was made that had a up and coming star, a Director with a proven track record and the backing of a major studio. It had all the elements of a sure fire success but somehow it all went wrong . This is the story of that film…
This is RED SCORPION!
(if you already know this story…watch it here!)
In the mid eighties when Dolph Lundgren was picked out of the Five Thousand men who auditioned for the role of the almost super human Russian Boxer Ivan Drago in Rocky 4. It was assumed that he’d been marked for stardom, but Lundgren was never able to the right role. His first staring role as He-Man in the highly anticipated Masters of the Universe ( also known as the movie that sank Cannon Pictures ) wasn’t the blockbuster that it was expected to be. Although when he was cast as the lead in Red Scorpion a year later it seemed like a sure thing.
The film tells the story of Nikolai Rachenko a Lieutenant in the Soviet Spetsnaz special forces. Who’s called upon by a General named Vortek to assassinate the leader of a rebel army in a small Communist African nation. When Nikolai fails in his mission and is spared by the man he was sent to kill, Vortek betrays him by striping him of his rank and ordering his execution.
After making his escape and wandering through the blazing heat of the African dessert, Nikolai collapses after being stung by several large scorpions. He awakens to find that hes been taken in by tribe of Bushmen and healed by the tribes chief Gao ( played by a real life Ninety Five year old Bushman chief named Rogopstaan , who only appeared in the film if his tribe was given the parts of the Bushman tribe ).
Gao teaches Nikolai how to live off the land and even inducts him into his tribe by preforming a ceremony on him that leaves him with a scorpion shaped brand which is known as the ” mark of the Warrior”
General Vortek continued obsession with destroying the rebel forces leads him back in to conflict with Nikolai, who has shaken off the soviet Indoctrination but not the training. He uses his Spetsnaz skills to drive his former masters from his newly adopted homeland.
The production of the film stared off great. The films producer Jack Abramoff conceived the story , Hired experienced director Joseph Zito , raised the funds to shoot the film and signed an agreement with Warner Brothers to distribute it.
The cast and crew set up shop in the African country of Swaziland. Sets were built , locations were found and shooting was about to get under way. When Suddenly the government of Swaziland reversed their decision to let the film shoot there. Leaving the cast and crew living in hotels in Johannesburg , South Africa for three months while another location was found.
Finally new shooting locations were found in the country of Namibia. Unfortunately Namibia was under the rule of the Apartheid Government of South Africa at the time and shooting there broke the International boycott against South Africa. Which caused Warner Brothers to back out of the distribution deal.
All of this caused the budget to sky rocket for eight to sixteen million dollars and brought about a huge amount of negative publicity.
Producer Jack Abramoff spoke out against the film saying it was more violent and profane than he intended. Even though the story was his idea , he was the one who hired the guy who made Friday the 13th part 4 and Invasion U.S.A to direct it and he produced it . I’m not sure what kind of movie he thought he was making.
Shortly thereafter Abramoff started the “Committee for Traditional Jewish Values in Entertainment” . Years later he would go to prison for his part in the Indian Casino Lobbying scandal .
Despite all the political controversy Red Scorpion is a highly entertaining eighties action movie. With great stunts , a stellar cast and a ridiculous amount of explosions.
If you’ve never given it a chance ….