The 13th Floor

Fantasia Film Fest: SAVAGE DOG is a Wild Action Flick for People Who Miss Cannon Films

Do you ever feel like popping in an old VHS copy of REVENGE OF THE NINJA, MISSING IN ACTION 2, or even DEATH WISH 3? Have you ever canceled all your plans for the day because INVASION USA just came on television and you were not about to miss seeing it for the seventh time? Do you get excited when you see that classic 1980s Cannon logo come up on the screen?  If you said yes to any of these questions, then you need to see SAVAGE DOG right now.

For those of you who don’t know what a 1980s Cannon action film is, exactly, I’ll give a quick explanation: Cannon Films got its start in the late-60s with a few forgettable B-titles. In the 70s, they started getting into horror films with a few classics like THE BLOOD ON SATAN’S CLAW and CRUCIBLE OF HORROR. They also had a few T&A comedy hits with THE HAPPY HOOKER and GAS PUMP GIRLS. However, it wasn’t until the ’80s that they really found their niche with some grade-A action films like ENTER THE NINJA and DELTA FORCE. Let’s just say that without Cannon Films, Chuck Norris wouldn’t be the badass meme he is today. We also wouldn’t have training montages.

SAVAGE DOG is a tribute to Cannon action days, whether it is intended to be or not. Set in Indochina in 1959, Martin Tillman (Scott Adkins) is an ex-IRA soldier who finds himself a prisoner in the most dangerous labor camp in the world. There he is forced to fight other inmates in a high-stakes fighting tournament. After winning his freedom, he travels to a town (which seems to be right down the road from the prison) where he takes a job as a bouncer in a bar run by an American ex-pat played by Keith David. He also falls in love with a local woman. However, he is drawn back into the world of underground fighting which eventually leads to his friend getting killed and his love interest getting hurt. This, in turn, sets him in motion to fight his way up the ladder of bad guys just as we knew he was going to do before the movie even started.

All the classic Cannon action movie tropes are here. There’s a big boss with a British accent who has a flair for sociopathy and enjoys cigars and white suits. There is a collection of bad guys from a wide assortment of nefarious backgrounds, including one runaway Nazi. There are fights, both fist and gun, as well as gratuitous gore. And you better believe there is a fucking training montage in the middle!

Now, just for clarification, this is a good movie in the same way most Cannon action films were good. It is not a good movie by any other measurement. It is filled with filmmaking mistakes and continuity errors like a bad guy whose tattoo washes off in one shot then reappears in the next. There are lighting errors like a camera that automatically readjusts for a lighting change when an actor moves in front of a back light. Also, Martin Tillman is a horrible name for an action movie character.

Despite the many flaws of this film, it was still completely enjoyable, and besides its throwback qualities, there are a few things it does right. The fight scenes are amazing, eliminating the flourishing moves usually associated with the typical action film and replacing them with something far more brutal and realistic. There are also a few fights that take place in water, because water plus fighting equals more awesome.

There are a lot of things wrong with this film, but that’s what makes it perfect for what it is. Did I mention the fucking montage? Unlike most movies that try to imitate the genre and turn out to be bad parodies attempting to be funny, SAVAGE DOG is not trying to be funny or a parody, nor is it trying to tap into to nostalgia by parading a bunch of classic action stars across the screen in hopes of sparking a few memories. Director Jesse V. Johnson is known for a long string of stock action films that attempt to recreate the classic action genre, most of which have fallen just short of that goal, but this time I think he got it right.

They have not yet annouced the distribution plans for SAVAGE DOG but keep checking for more details on SAVAGE DOG.