Wednesday, June 08, 2016

Unmasking The Idol

Definitely one of the strangest action movies of the 1980s, UNMASKING THE IDOL is a surprisingly fun 007 takeoff filmed in North Carolina and South Carolina. Director Worth Keeter got his start behind the camera making cheap action movies for local producer Earl Owensby, such as WOLFMAN, CHAIN GANG, and ROTTWEILER: DOGS OF HELL (in 3D!). The cast is made up of unknowns — most likely locals from the Shelby, North Carolina area — and it’s unlikely UNMASKING THE IDOL played at many theaters above the Mason-Dixon Line. Somebody must have paid to see it, because Keeter directed a sequel, THE ORDER OF THE BLACK EAGLE, a year later.

Ian Hunter, whose screen acting resume starts with IDOL and ends with BLACK EAGLE, stars as the balding Duncan Jax, a British ninja (!) who gambles, romances exotic women, enjoys weapons and electronic gadgetry, and works as a spy for a man named Star (Charles K. Bibby). If that isn’t cool enough for you, Jax has a pet baboon named Boon that wears a ninja costume (!) and kung fus bad guys. You haven’t lived until you’ve seen this boss little monkey dropkicking bad guys.

The plot by Phil Behrens and producer Robert Eaton is a bit hazy, but it has something to do with Jax invading Devil’s Crowd Island, the most highly protected fortress in the world (it isn’t), and rescuing a cache of gold belonging to the Scarlet Leader, an evil masked red ninja who rules from a throne room surrounded by a pool stocked with piranha. Cool, right? I doubt Keeter was all that concerned with the story — at one point, Jax finds the man who killed his parents, but the film never reveals the where, when, why, and how of their deaths, and Jax doesn’t really seem to care any more than Keeter does.

The title means nothing — probably was intended to fool people into thinking they were buying a ticket to a ROMANCING THE STONE sequel. Acting and dialogue are deliciously bad (the double entendres are so bad, even Roger Moore would refuse to say them), but Keeter plays the scenes with wry humor and an entertaining pace. The movie has some really cool comic-book stunts and setpieces, albeit constructed on a low budget, and a hilariously bad main title sequence based on the James Bond openings. Keeter eventually moved to television, helming many episodes of the various POWER RANGERS series.

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