Wednesday, 11 June 2014

"Pray for Death" (1985) is the worst film I've ever seen - watch it for ten minutes, and you'll be praying for death yourself

I actually set Pray for Death to record on Sky Plus when it appeared on the schedules two or three years ago. I have no idea why. Perhaps I thought it might turn out to be a little-known action movie classic. When I played it back a few nights later, I quickly realised that it was a screaming turkey of a film, but instead of immediately deleting it and going to bed, I kept on watching.

At first I was mesmerised by the sheer stupidity of the plot. For some odd reason, an up-market Japanese family (secret top-level Ninja dad, glamorous wife and two cute kids) decide to emigrate from their civilised, prosperous homeland in order to open a Japanese restaurant in a seedy part of Los Angeles (as you do). There's a stolen necklace hidden under the floorboards (I cannot for the life of me remember why). Crooks double-cross the mob by stealing the necklace and not handing it over. The mob suspect that the the Ninja restaurant-owner has found the necklace. Mayhem ensues. The Ninja dresses up in really silly clothes, forges a sword and gets well mystical (cue woman singing emetic power ballad: "There's a spirit deep within you/That must remain concealed", "The heart of a warrior/Must forget the past"' etc.)

Now, I'm not really a fan of bad films. I'll happily watch mediocre rubbish to pass the
time, especially if it's made by second or third-rate talents doing their best, but I don't usually enjoy sitting around sniggering in a superior fashion at sheer, mind-boggling cinematic ineptness. But in this instance, I just couldn't stop. I wasn't rolling aound laughing at the terrible plot, the dreadful dialogue, the amateurish chop-socky fight sequences, the disgusting killing of one of the Japanese kids to create some spurious "motivation" for Ninja-man, the ghastly, overpowering 1980s soundtrack - I simply couldn't believe that a group of sentient adults could spend several weeks producing such abject garbage without at some stage downing tools in shame and going off to do something useful with their lives, like selling insurance.

But what really held my attention, what I simply couldn't grasp, was the mind-numbingly dreadful performance of the once-promising British actor James Booth (who was terrific as Private Henry Hook in Zulu) as the chief thug, Limehouse Willie, who, despite his monicker, is supposed to be an American gangster. Despite being nothing more than a dumb enforcer, and despite driving around in a semi-truck, Limehouse Willie owns a ship the size of the QE2 where he holds joyless "parties" which seem to consist of him sitting in a dentist's chair sneering into the middle distance while moronic bimbos coil themselves unsexily about him. He ponces about in an Oliver Twisty pimp cap and his American accent is a reverse version of Dick Van Dyke's notorious attempt at Cockney in Mary Poppins: Booth seems to be convinced that Americans pronounce "bastard" as "bastid". His American dialogue is peppered - bizarrely - with things only an Englishman would say, such as, leering at some under-dressed girls: "You've got some form there, I tell you." This actor once demonstrated genuine promise: what the hell happened?

There's a mob boss who whispers impeccably grammatical sentences in the punctilious, sibillant manner of a roaringly gay Oxford don. The Ninja - whose facial expression at moments of heightened emotion resembles that of a gentleman straining at his stool - capers around Los Angeles in full Ninja gear without anyone apparently noticing... every scene is jam-packed with this sort of nonsense.

I have no idea whether Roger Ebert ever reviewed Pray for Death - but if he did, I'd love to read it.

I wanted to share this dreadful film with you when I first saw it, but couldn't find it online. I forgot all about it, but there was an item on the news about last night's premier of the digitally remastered version of Zulu, produced to coincide with its 50th anniversary, and I thought of James Booth, and one mental connection led to another and I searched again for Pray for Death on YouTube - and this time found it. I don't really expect any of my sensitive, cultivated readers to waste 92 minutes of their precious lives watching this frightful nonsense, but if you find yourself at a (very) loose end, here's the whole damned, awful thing:


  1. This is a gold embossed invitation for me.

    I love bad movies...I especially love bad, I don't know, genre movies.

  2. I note that to-morrow night [13th June] Sky Premiere is running a film entitled "Any Day Now". The Radio Times says " A touching 1970-set saga about a gay couple's struggle to retain custody of a Down's Syndrome teenager". The RT gives it 3-stars [if the producers had thrown in a bunch of zombies or vampires and given it a post-apocalyptic setting they would probably have given it 5.] It stars revolting Scottish actor Allan Cummings and was awarded the 2013 "The Audience Award for Best Men's Feature" at the Long Island Gay and Lesbian Film Festival. I caught 10-minutes once of "Milk" with Sean "Chickenlips" Penn [many Oscars but did not make back its production costs] and thought that was the low-point in commercial cinema, but this one promises to be a worse bummer. Just thought I'd mention it in case you were looking for some light entertainment.