Pray for Death (1985)
Director: Gordon Hessler
Starring: Sho Kosugi, James Booth, Donna Kei Benz, Norman Burton, Kane Kosugi, Shane Kosugi & Matthew Constantine
Released by: Arrow Video
Reviewed by Mike Kenny
Longing for a better life for his family, Pray for Death finds Akira Saito (Sho Kosugi, Enter the Ninja) relocating with his wife and two children to achieve the American dream. When their new beginning is threatened by a gang of dangerous jewel thieves, Akira must rely on his deadly ninja skills to protect his loved ones. James Booth (Zulu), Donna Kei Benz (The Challenge), Norman Burton (The Towering Inferno), Kane Kosugi (Ninja sentai Kakurenjâ), Shane Kosugi (Nine Deaths of the Ninja) and Matthew Constantine (My Big Fat Greek Wedding) co-star.
Released at the height of ninja fever, Pray for Death hosts skilled martial artist Sho Kosugi as he powerfully kicks his way through the decay of urban America. After closing the door on his ninja roots that previously divided Akira and his late brother, the Japanese businessman happily agrees to relocate to Los Angeles to appease his American-born wife Aiko. Joined by their two sons, the Saito’s stake claim in a crumbling neighborhood where their new business was previously home to shady dealings. After a corrupt copper gets greedy and snatches a flashy Van Adda necklace for himself, mobster Mr. Newman and his associates grow understandably concerned. Convinced Akira and his family are responsible for stealing their merchandise, efforts, courtesy of Newman’s deadly enforcer Limehouse Willie (Booth who also provided the film’s screenplay), are made to fatally punish the new residents. Savagely running down his wife and child while, abducting his other son, Akira is forced to resurrect his roots as a ninja assassin to make the gang pay.
Admittedly going through the generic motions of most revenge tales and containing plenty of unintentionally hilarious performances from its thugs, Pray for Death is easily forgiven for what it lacks in originality, makes up for in action-packed combat. Relentlessly barbaric, Limehouse Willie never bats an eyelash when taking a crowbar to an elderly man before setting him ablaze while, paying a hospital visit to a recuperating Aiko only to shred her clothes off and brutally stab her to death. Widowed and determined to protect his children, the gloves are off as Akira crafts a new katana blade and dons a metallically intimidating getup to bring the fight to Newman and his baddies. Oddly enough, the towering Limehouse gives the ninja much too hard a time as he punctures his leg repeatedly amongst a warehouse of creepy mannequins. For as many ninja stars thrown, bloody fatalities are a plenty in this martial arts beatdown with slashed throats, snapped necks and for good measure, an exploding pickup truck permeating the runtime. In addition, as the Japanese ninja restores his dignity during the intense final battle with Limehouse, Akira unloads swift nun chucking skills on his skull before sending his wife’s murderer through a spinning wood saw. Intriguingly directed by Gordon Hessler, better known for helming such Vincent Price starrers as The Oblong Box and Cry of the Banshee, Pray for Death comes well recommended for ninja nuts who never tire of the sword-clashing excitement that was best served in the 80s.
Arrow Video presents Pray for Death with a 1080p transfer, sporting a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Boasting a clean picture with only fleeting instances of dust on display, natural grain is firmly intact with skin tones and color choices making fine leaps in high-definition. With the exception of reinstated uncut footage which is noticeably softer and at times grainier, black levels are acceptable with no crushing artifacts seen. Equipped with an LPCM 2.0 mix, the stereo presentation projects distinctly clear dialogue levels while, Peggy Abernathy’s reoccurring synth jam “Back to the Shadow” sounds especially solid. In addition to the Unrated (1:38:27) and R-rated (1:34:31) versions of the film, special features include, Sho and Tell Part One: Birth of a Ninja (19:05) featuring a newly shot sit-down with star Sho Kosugi, Sho Kosugi on Martial Art Forms (18:57) is a vintage interview with the leading man from 1985. Furthermore, a Sho Kosugi Trailer Gallery presenting Enter the Ninja (2:53), Revenge of the Ninja (1:41), Pray for Death (2:11) and Rage of Honor (1:35) are also included with a 23-page booklet featuring stills and an essay by James Oliver. Finally, a Reversible Cover Art displaying alternate imagery round out the supplements.
Destroying his American dream before it was ever realized, Pray for Death would appear paint by numbers but, this revenge-fueled opus slashes its way to greater ranks thanks to its stylized martial arts sequences and gritty violence. Arrow Video may bow its head in honor for preserving the film’s uncut presentation and supplying another batch of engaging supplemental content for one of the decade’s fast-kicking ninja highlights.
Available now from Arrow Video, Pray for Death can be purchased via MVDB2B.com,
Amazon.com and other fine retailers.