The Punisher 1989 Uncut (Arrow Recommends)

The Punisher 1989 Uncut (Arrow Recommends)
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"Arrow Recommends is a column that has my sorry ass advise older movies to your royal asses. I will be flexible in terms of genres i.e. I will cover whatever the bleep I want. For now, it will be the way to keep my voice on the site."

PLOT:  Frank Castle’s (Dolph Lundgren) war on organized crime in New York city (i.e. Sydney, Australia) weakens the Italians. That opens up the doors for the Yakusa (Japanese mob) to drop in and try to take over. Good old Mr. P. finds himself with even more baddies to wipe out. All good. All in a day’s work. Lock, load, PUNISH.

“Come on God, answer me. For years I'm asking why. Why are the innocent dead and the guilty alive? Where is justice? Where is punishment? Or have you already answered, have you already said to the world here is justice; here is punishment, here, in me.” – Frank Castle

LOWDOWN: After watching Netflix’s excellent take on THE PUNISHER, I got a bad case of the Castle-bug and started going back to the films to get my fix. I started off with PUNISHER WAR ZONE. I didn’t like it much when it first came out and I didn’t care for it today either. Ray Stevenson and some groovy violence aside the film was tonally off, oddly paced and just shoddily made. But hey, the f*ck I know! So after that bummer I decided to check out the unrated version of the first feature to ever take on the relentless vigilante: Mark Goldblatt’s 1989 The Punisher.

As an aside, fans of the film should really snag the Region Free (works on most players) Australian Blu-Ray by Umbrella ASAP. It contain three different cuts (Theatrical, Goldbaltt’s Work Print, Unrated cut), a Goldblatt audio commentary, a gag reel, an interview with Dolph…  the works! A MUST OWN for fans of the film. All right, am done pimping it! At ease soldiers.

Now, although I’ve always enjoyed the theatrical cut; this unrated version was slightly superior and resulted in a more fulfilling chow down. Before I get into the “how”; allow me to address the film on its own. THE PUNISHER 1989 came out before superheroes movies were a dime a dozen (this was actually the FIRST Marvel super hero feature flick ever released). And although it deviated from the source material in places (no skull emblem, Castle is an ex cop instead of a war veteran, he lives in the sewers instead of a warehouse), on other levels it was the most faithful. The Frank Castle we meet here has been at the killing game for a while (5 years to be exact) and he is at his most jaded and un-repenteful when it comes to bringing the pain to the scum of the earth. Dolph Lundgren’s imposing physical presence echoed the beast from the comics ideally and his low-key portrayal of a man who is completely dead inside and only has "kill" on the fritz was perfect. Lundgren went the less is more route in terms of his performance and I for one loved the raw and intense outcome.  

The liberties they took with the character (like him riding a Harley or living in the sewers, balls on the floor, having convos with a God that won’t answer him) brought further edge to the character, capturing the pitch-black soul of Castle from the comics. Action wise; the flick was a f*cking treat and a half!  The amount of artillery Frank went through to clean up crime was beyond excessive while the actions scenes were shot/cut beautifully and carried lots of impact.  Director Mark Goldblatt comes from an action editing background. The man has worked on The Terminator, Rambo II, Commando, T2, so he’s an expert in the field and it showed! Personally, my life was bettered by witnessing Dolph Lundgren shoot an arrow tied to a rope into a baddie leaning against a truck and then see him zip-line down that same rope while mowing down countless other baddies with a machine gun. Yeehaw! The same genius was applied to the hand-to-hand fights on hand. Intense, well choreographed and executed realistically. The stunt guys and Dolph actually went full contact on this shoot. So yeah, the fights were TOPS!

With a body count of about 100, The Punisher 1989 was a product of its time (when one man-army-movies ruled the screens) and thankfully them times went hand in hand with Frank Castle’s killing machine M.O.  No fire hydrant sneaking, earring under pillow-planting here (a la Punisher 2004). All problems were solved by a fist, a foot or by the end of a gun.  The way The Punisher should be. And this where this unrated version delivered the goods. Although unlike the work-print of the film (which sports a 15 minutes prologue before Frank became The Punisher), this cut didn’t contain substancial snipped out footage, it did expand on the length of the violence though and the result was a STRONGER period at the end of lots of ra-ta-tat or stab-stab sentences. With the violence taken further and the kills being more vicious - the flick worked better for me. Just a f*ckload of cherries on top! 

Add to all that loving a trippy 70’s like opening credit, a solid supporting cast (Louis Gossett Jr. at his best, Jeroen Krabbé doing slime-ball well, Nancy Everhard doing what she can with her meh role, Kim Miyori freaking the shite out of me), an engaging score by Dennis Dreith, awesome lines/dialogue exchanges (my fav... Jake: What the f*ck do you call 125 murders in 5 years?  The Punisher: Work in progress.), tid-bits of humor that worked (all about that red high heel shoe during the torture scene...wtf?), a short but sweet "partner is hurting and hunting down his pal" subplot and a gleefully un-PC streak that greased me oh so right and you get the most accomplished (IMO of course) of the PUNISHER movies thus far. They had the right idea. Kept the plot simple yet engaging and let the violence rip!

My qualms with this unrated version were pretty much the same as the theatrical cut. The flick’s Australian locations made for a poor New York substitute (still more accurate than the Tampa, Florida setting in the 2004 Punisher). That drunken wino (Shakes played by Barry Otto) that spoke in rhymes was no Micro and the casino scene which saw Castle mow down a slew of slot machines with an M.60 would have hit home fully if actual people got whacked. Such disdain for gambling. Sheesh! Moreover, lots of the Ozzie day players came off as piss poor Italian Mobsters (with over the top clichéd accents to boot) and Dolph’s mascara-made beard (which often framed his face like the Punisher skull) traveled a lot from scene to scene- but hey nothing to go cry to Mommy over. 

On the whole, I loved my re-visit of the 1989 THE PUNISHER. So much so, that I may take on the Work Print next. I also have the extended version of the 2004 THE PUNISHER with Thomas Jane on my hit-list (never saw it)– so let’s see if I wind up recommending that sucka or not. Till then remember; The guilty must be punished.



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