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The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1 Austin Trunick Main

"The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980 - 1984" Book Review

Written by ZigZag

Published by BearManor Media

Cannon Film Guide Volume 1 Large

Written by Austin Trunick
2020, 528 pages, Reference
Book released on June 20th, 2020

Review:

To fans of ‘80s cheese, there’s something special about seeing a movie open with the familiar arrow logo of Cannon Films. The scrappy studio produced more than two hundred features over a fourteen year period from 1980 to 1994. They touched upon just about every genre, including comedy (The Last American Virgin), fantasy (Hercules), horror (New Year’s Evil), thrillers (10 to Midnight), and even a disastrous musical (The Apple). What the studio is best known for however, is their over-the-top action movies that include ninja movies (Enter the Ninja), the Missing in Action trilogy with Chuck Norris and a whole slew of Charles Bronson vehicles, including three bombastic Death Wish sequels.

Author Austin Trunick takes a look at the studio’s incredible history in his new book The Cannon Film Guide: Volume 1 1980-1984. In what promises to be a three-volume set, this first book focuses on the men behind the company and their early successes and misfires. We are introduced to producers/cousins Menahem Golan and Yoram Globus, who began their career in Israel with a string of hits that encouraged them to find success in America. In 1980, they purchased the struggling independent studio Cannon Films and set about making a name for themselves in Hollywood.

Trunick takes a deep dive into the catalog and provides a detailed analysis of the films of this era arranged chronologically by release date. The volume is filled with thorough and frequently hilarious plot synopses, analysis, production stories and more than a dozen revealing interviews with members of the casts and crews, with each movie receiving its own chapter. The pages dedicated to Enter the Ninja open with an overview of ancient Japanese culture and the history of ninjitsu. The film sparked renewed interest in the ninja, introducing the modern world to a new level of badass warrior. Despite the implausible casting of blue-eyed Italian star Franco Nero (Django) in the title role, the movie was a success, thanks largely to its exciting fight scenes and the screen presence of co-star Sho Kusogi (Rage of Honor), who would reach international fame with a series of ninja movies over the next decade. Kusogi returned for two unrelated sequels, Revenge of the Ninja and Ninja III: The Domination, each of which raised the stakes for batshit entertainment.

In 1984, Golan and Globus were quick to jump on the popular new form of street dance in Los Angeles called breakdancing and released Breakin’ to great success. Knowing they had a hit and eager to extend their run, a sequel was quickly greenlit and the gloriously bonkers Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo hit theatres a mere four months later! Cannon Films also found success in a long lasting relationship with actor Charles Bronson, beginning with Death Wish II, a follow up to his career-defining picture that made him a household name. When covering the later sequels (Death Wish 3 and Death Wish 4: The Crackdown), the author states in his preface that if a film launches a franchise that starts before 1984 but carries on after, the entire series will be covered within the same chapter to provide context and avoid redundancy.

As entertaining as the plot breakdowns are, the real gold comes in the behind-the-scenes production stories that appear throughout. We learn of the producers’ frequent financial risks as they gamble on unproven material only to be rewarded with a string of box office hits. More entertaining are the challenges faced on set due to difficult actors or directors or poor scripts resulting in seismic misfires. The Apple is an early misstep for the company, directed by Golan himself. The infamous sci/fi-comedy-musical stars Catherine Mary Stewart (Night of the Comet) in her first role. Stewart recounts her experiences in a new interview with the author and admits the film holds a special place in her heart.

Some productions were doomed from the start with demanding personalities meddling off camera. Two juicy examples of bad behavior include Brooke Shields’ (Alice, Sweet Alice) domineering mother/manager on the set of Sahara, second guessing the director and producers at every turn. The biggest display of turmoil came with the very public fight between Golan and Globus and director John Derek on his erotic bomb Bolero, starring his wife Bo Derek. The couple sued Cannon Films over creative control in the time leading up to the release date.

One of the better stories tells of the director of Exterminator 2 being replaced during the editing process once filming was complete. A new director, William Sachs, was brought onboard to reshoot half the picture with the added challenges of filming in Los Angeles – doubling for the earlier material shot in New York – and, most critically, the lead actor was unavailable for the new scenes. Sachs appears here in a candid interview discussing his workarounds to these problems. On the opposite end of the spectrum, director Sam Firstenberg has nothing but positive things to say about his experience working with the studio on the cult classics Revenge of the Ninja and Breakin’ 2: Electric Boogaloo.

The Cannon Film Guide Volume 1: 1980-1984 provides thoughtful coverage, warts and all, to a bygone era of filmmaking. Austin Trunick’s enthusiasm for these films is infectious and highly entertaining. The majority of the information and interviews is positive, but he is quick to point out the shortcomings too. Each chapter begins with a film title, release date, credits to the director, writer and cast and offers a sample of dialogue from the promotional trailer. An exhaustive selection of black and white production stills, poster art and vintage VHS covers appear throughout – the latter will make you want to dust off your VCR and pop in a videotape loaded with sheer gold. As of this writing, Trunick is hard at work on Volume 2, covering the studio’s most prolific era (1985-1987), scheduled for release some time in 2021.

Grades:

Overall: 4.5 Star Rating Cover
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About The Author
ZigZag
Author: ZigZag
Staff Writer
ZigZag's favorite genres include horror (foreign and domestic), Asian cinema and pornography (foreign and domestic). His ability to seek out and enjoy shot on video (SOV) horror movies is unmatched. His love of films with a budget under $100,000 is unapologetic.
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