Big James Iglehart, who had previously starred in SAVAGE! and BAMBOO GODS AND IRON MEN, wrapped up his shortlived exploitation-film career with yet another cheap action movie shot in the Philippines titled, originally, VENGEANCE IS MINE.
Well, cheap it is, yet it also appears to be one of Cirio Santiago’s most accomplished directing achievements. Clocking in at a whopping 110 minutes, VENGEANCE IS MINE offers several crowd-pleasing action sequences, cheesy gore, a coherent (if simple) plot, a good score by Jaime Mendoza-Nava, and a memorable shock ending that was cut from some earlier theatrical and video releases. It’s too long with a middle section that relies on repetitive violence to kill time, and VENGEANCE IS MINE would play much better if these scenes had been trimmed
Iglehart, Carmen Argenziano (THE HOT BOX), and Leon Isaac Kennedy (PENITENTIARY) are Vietnam vets planning to take over Los Angeles using the moolah they made smuggling overseas. Kennedy, who’s still in love with Iglehart’s wife (Jayne Kennedy, who was starring on THE NFL TODAY while this was in theaters; I can’t resist imagining Brent Musberger and Jimmy the Greek queuing up for a matinee of this), and Argenziano doublecross their old pal by slicing him and dumping him into the Pacific Ocean.
He washes up on a deserted island manned only by two Japanese soldiers (one of whom is Santiago repertory player Joe Mari Avellana with a Mifune topknot) who don’t know about the surrender in 1945. While Avellana trains Iglehart to be a samurai, Kennedy and Argenziano run roughshod over the L.A. rackets. Santiago and his editors crosscut between Iglehart’s more progressive learning and his former friends shooting random hoods in L.A. This stuff goes on forever and should have been shortened; however, it does provide a steady stream of squib work for the bloodthirsty viewer.
Eventually, Iglehart makes it home, where he finds gorgeous wife Jayne with bruises, courtesy of her real-life husband Leon, and goes to town with his twin swords, slicing, dicing, and creating hasty chores for the special effects crew in charge of building fake-looking headless corpses. Once James gets down to brass tacks and starts eliminating the anonymous hoods assigned to protect Argenziano and Kennedy, that’s when VENGEANCE IS MINE really starts cooking.
Let’s give Santiago his due in wanting to make a revenge movie with more meat to it than his usual fare. He isn’t entirely up to it—the stuff he probably considered arty just isn’t relevant to a tight action picture—but he still managed to complete one of his richer pictures. Shot on location with Manila posing as L.A., though a Century 21 sign in the background of one shot leads me to believe someone may have directed some reshoots in California. Film saw theatrical action stateside as DEATH FORCE and later as FIGHTING MAD with ads playing up Jayne Kennedy’s (clothed) layout in Playboy.