Blood Hands (1990)

As a premise, the home invasion unfurls a plethora of narrative possibilities. Filmmakers might set the stage for a kid-friendly slapstick opus (HOME ALONE), an exercise in sadistic aggression with social commentary (FUNNY GAMES), or a rumination on the dynamic between manhood and brutality (STRAW DOGS). It’s used primarily in horror and thriller films as of late, but the device is somewhat underutilized in the action genre. In Teddy Page’s 1990 film, BLOOD HANDS, a home invasion is used as the impetus to hurl its central character into a protracted feud with a gang of boozing, kickboxing jerks.

Up until finding the lifeless bodies of his mother and father at home, Steve Callahan (Donahue) was having a pretty good day. His girlfriend, Tracy (Landson) professed her love, it was his birthday, and while sparring at his kickboxing school, his coach and prospective father-in-law nodded in something that resembled approval. A giant wet blanket comes in the form of his violated home and pummeled parents left for dead. What kind of animals would do this to such gentle people? Wolves or bears are good guesses, but the most likely culprits are humans.

The leader of the guilty party is champion kickboxer James Clavel (Hourani). After a drunken celebration with his homeboys which accidentally left a convenience store owner dead, the crew stumbled upon the Callahan home to get fresh water for an overheated car radiator. As luck would have it, Diane Callahan just happens to be Clavel’s ex-squeeze, and even though she’s moved on to a new marriage, his old feelings come rushing back with such force that he ended up breaking her neck in a jealous rage. When doting husband Edward (Nicholson) returned home with a birthday cake for his son, the gang greeted him with a fatal beating. The lesson here? Drinking and driving can lead to death, even if you’re not in the car and especially when you fail to monitor the temperature gauge on the thermostat.

The only clue left behind at the scene of the crime, not to mention the biggest one the cops overlook, is a championship kickboxing medallion torn from the neck of Clavel’s buddy, George (Moss). Tracy brings it to Steve and begs him to take it to the police instead of trying to chase clues on his own. While the medallion gives Steve a solid lead on the perpetrators, they’re also on the hunt to recover it, and the respective pursuits lead to more trouble than Steve bargained for. All the while, Tracy begs for her love to quit this path of vengeance; he’s no murderer and she doesn’t want to see his hands “stained with blood.” However, seeking justice requires you to occasionally get your hands dirty. Sometimes you need to get your hands stained … with BLOOD.

Director Teddy Page’s other blood-based film, BLOOD CHASE, also dealt with both protagonists and antagonists pursuing the same objective while alternately pursuing each other. There’s something similar going on in this film, but it’s more streamlined and easier to follow. Is the inciting incident believable? That depends on how much stock you place in the ability of cheap beer to cause homicidal behavior. So while the story’s not perfect, or even that logical, it’s engaging to watch unfold.

As in all his films, Page keeps the action flowing almost non-stop and everyone is up for the task. Based on their martial arts training, Hourani, Donahue, and Jerry Beyer, as henchman, Diego, are the best-equipped to execute the fight choreography but the efforts of non-fighters like Nick Nicholson, Jim Gaines, and Jim Moss are also admirable. What really stuck out for me were the awesomely cheesy sound effects. Plenty of whooshes and the repeated thwack of baseball bats hitting heads of lettuce are up for consumption, and they’re synced up reasonably well with the on-screen strikes. Some people hate that stuff, but in a movie of this grade I think it’s an absolute necessity. Last, I really dug that Page went with a “mini-boss” style of climax that saw Donahue fighting a mix of random dudes before tangling with Clavel. Pair all that with some grisly deaths and I’m heading into the closing credits as a very happy camper.

This is yet another notch in the belt for a group of actors that includes Nicholson, Moss, and Gaines, among many others. One or more of these guys made appearances in pretty much every Filipino kick-puncher film from 1985 to around 1995. Conspicuous by his absence is Mike Monty, but he had five film credits to his name in 1990 alone, including two BLACK COBRA sequels, so you can appreciate that he wanted some time away from the film set. In keeping with the Rat Pack, the Frat Pack, and the Brat Pack, this collective of mostly American actors adventuring in the Filipino action film industry during this era really begs for a unifying nickname: the Expat Pack. (Hopefully it sticks because I had several thousand t-shirts printed with plans for a limited edition series of Trapper Keepers and lunchboxes).

Looking at the VHS cover, you might be disappointed to observe that while there is blood on our star, it’s on his face and chest. Conspicuously absent from his hands? Blood! So what gives? The fucking movie isn’t called CHEST BLOOD AND DENIM (awesome title, btw). Fear not, though — I’m happy to report that BLOOD HANDS is that rare b-grade action film that delivers on what its title promises and its box art fails to convey: actual blood on actual hands.

One of the quirks we often encounter in watching these movies is the appearance of film posters from other properties in which the film company holds stake. In SHOWDOWN, some characters walk by a BREATHING FIRE poster in a movie theater (the distribution and/or production of both films involved Imperial Entertainment). In the climax of the PM Entertainment joint, RAGE, Gary Daniels tosses a half-dozen motherfuckers among the shelves at a mall video store and the walls are plastered in posters of PM Entertainment flicks. Something similar happens in BLOOD HANDS. Keep in mind that this was filmed in the Philippines, which apparently allowed the filmmakers to flout any semblance of licensing or copyright protocol and slap a poster of the Van Damme classic KICKBOXER on the wall during a scene where Steve visits the office of a film producer. A bit egregious, but they covered themselves legally using the “absurd superimposed handlebar mustache” loophole.

From what I’ve seen, this is probably Donahue’s most concerted effort at doing a straight martial arts film and the results are solid. The plot is hardly original and the script is practically non-existent, but if you like your kickboxing with a heaping side of strange acting and kooky dialogue, BLOOD HANDS fits the bill. While it doesn’t reach the heights of the previously reviewed PAROLE VIOLATORS, it’s still a fun romp and a good starting point to observe how Donahue’s early exploits in fight-heavy Filipino actioners paved the way for his batshit-crazy stunt antics in his later films.

This content was previously posted at Fist of B-List

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