Release Date(s)1988/1989 (October 31, 2023)
Studio(s)Danetan Pty. Ltd./Mandemar Group/TVM Studios/Virgo Films (Umbrella Entertainment/Vinegar Syndrome)
- Film/Program Grade: C+
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B
- Extras Grade: D+
The 1980s had no shortage of action movies as it was one of the most popular video rental-friendly genres there was. Schwarzenegger was laying criminals to waste in films like Commando and Raw Deal while Chuck Norris was high-kicking adversaries in films like The Octagon and An Eye for an Eye. It was a time when anyone with an impressive physique could be the star of their own action story. Enter Edward Stazak, an Australian martial artist who headlined two films shot back-to-back: Day of the Panther and Strike of the Panther.
In Day of the Panther, Jason Blade (Stazak) attempts to infiltrate a drug ring and learn more about the death of his partner. He meets and falls in love with Julia (Paris Jefferson), the niece of his mentor William (John Stanton), and is able to defeat the man who killed Linda, Jim Baxter (James Richards). In Strike of the Panther, Baxter escapes from prison to exact his revenge on Jason, who is meanwhile having relationship issues with Julia. Baxter soon kidnaps Julia and lures Jason into his trap of a myriad of martial artists who are waiting to take him on, as well as an unknown set of high explosives that will kill them all should anything go wrong.
Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man from Hong Kong, Stunt Rock) was brought in at the last minute to direct these two films, which would share direct continuity with each other. Attempting to keep the costs down and allow the producers to make as much of a profit as possible, he cut as many corners as he could, which he was taken to task for by certain critics at the time.
To be fair, both of these films are far from masterpieces, nor are they exceptional genre films. They’re cookie-cutter action films with entertaining moments, but their biggest attraction is just how steeped they are in the 1980s style. Despite being located in Perth, Australia, they reek of the decade they were shot in, right down to montages, a synthesizer-driven score, and inexplicable Flashdance style dance moves. While Stazak’s moves are impressive, he’s not much of an actor. He looks like he’s smiling most of the time which, at certain times, seems out of place.
The films are mostly identical in terms of tone, but the advantage that Strike has over Day is in its final act. While the opening 13 minutes retells the events of the previous film (as well as recycling the aforementioned montage footage), the gauntlet of martial arts fighters that Jason has to battle his way through to get to Julia is more fun than anything in the previous film. All of them are carrying everything from baseball bats to blow torches to machetes. They’re also wearing hockey masks, which US distributors took full advantage of for the film’s VHS artwork, making it look more like a Friday the 13th clone than an action movie.
Still, there’s plenty of charm to be had in both Day of the Panther and Strike of the Panther. It’s not that common for films with low budgets to have such strong continuity, not to mention fairly well-shot and edited with surprising moments of filmmaking skill as well. Nothing about them is particularly groundbreaking or original, but watching Jason Blade kick ass and save the day is what 80s action movies are all about, and you can’t really ask for much more than that.
Umbrella Entertainment (via Vinegar Syndrome) brings both films to Blu-ray from 4K scans of 35 mm interpositive elements. According to director Brian Trenchard-Smith, the films were shot on 16 mm and blown up to 35 mm, but a widescreen mask was likely added, and was the basis for these transfers. I previously reviewed Umbrella’s Australian Blu-ray, and this appears to be an exact copy of that release as far as the disc’s contents are concerned.
As these films were meant for home video (meaning a 1.33:1 aspect ratio), many shots appear too tight at times with actors appearing too large in the frame or having the tops of their heads cut off to varying degrees. It’s distracting at first, but once you get used to it, you tend to forget about it altogether. The transfers themselves are pleasantly film-like, though do contain leftover damage including scratches, speckling, and changeover cues, as well as clumpy grain due to the 35 mm blow up. Still, detail is sharp and colors are strong, particularly in Strike of the Panther when lighting gels are put to good use. Blacks aren’t thoroughly deep but they’re solid, and contrast and brightness levels are never a major issue. Both films are identical in quality.
Audio is presented for both films in English 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio with no subtitle options. While there’s little in the way of panning, dynamics, or ambience, dialogue is clear and discernible. Each film’s synth-driven score is given the most clarity, though sound effects are given the least, sounding a bit too thin at times. However, the tracks are free of any leftover damage.
The only disc-based extras include the US VHS trailers for both films. Exclusive to this release is a 24-page insert booklet containing extensive photos, posters, and liner notes by Brian Trenchard-Smith himself. The disc sits in a clear amaray case with double-sided artwork, featuring new artwork on the front and rear, and the original Turkish poster for Day of the Panther under the title Panther on one side and the US VHS artwork for Strike of the Panther under the title Fists of Blood on the other. Also available is a slipcase version limited to 2,000 units on Vinegar Syndrome’s website.
While Day of the Panther and Strike of the Panther are not likely to set the world on fire, it’s nice to see more of Brian Trenchard-Smith’s work on Blu-ray, especially in the US. For those who might’ve missed out on Umbrella Entertainment’s previous release, this should more than suffice.
- Tim Salmons