Editor, U.S. ; Dallas, Texas (@HatefulJosh)

Arrow Video continues its assault on pocketbooks on both sides of the Atlantic with its latest releases. We've taken a look at three of their recent Blu-ray discs for you. First up is Gordon Hessler's early '80s ninja classic, Pray for Death starring Sho Kosugi, then is the never before available on digital home video VHS shelf mainstay The Mutilator, directed by Buddy Cooper, finally we turn to director William Girdler for AIP era Pam Grier vehicle Sheba, Baby. All three are a lot of fun and deserve a spin, check out the details below!

Pray for Death

  • Gordon Hessler
  • James Booth
  • Shô Kosugi
  • James Booth
  • Donna Kei Benz
  • Norman Burton

The Mutilator

  • Buddy Cooper
  • John Douglass
  • Buddy Cooper
  • Matt Mitler
  • Ruth Martinez
  • Bill Hitchcock
  • Connie Rogers

'Sheba, Baby'

  • William Girdler
  • William Girdler (story)
  • David Sheldon (story)
  • William Girdler (screenplay)
  • David Sheldon (screenplay)
  • Pam Grier
  • Austin Stoker
  • D'Urville Martin
  • Rudy Challenger

A ninja leaves his life in the shadows to start anew in the land of opportunity in Gordon Hessler’s Pray for Death. As you may be able to tell from the film’s title, it doesn’t go so well. When Akira Saito (Kosugi Sho) lands in a questionable neighborhood in Houston, Texas and specifically in a dilapidated house that had been used as storage for the local mob, he finds himself and his family in some deep trouble. Akira and his wife Aiko (Donna Benz) and two young boys Takeshi and Tomoya (Kane and Shane Kosugi) get tangled up in some very mean-spirited gangland warfare that ends up costing the Saito family dearly. Akira has no choice but to go back into the shadows of his ninja past, and by the end, Limehouse Willie (writer/co-star James Booth) and his cronies will Pray for Death!

This film marked one of Kosugi Sho’s finest leading roles in an American film production after years of work as an extra before landing major supporting roles in Cannon’s original Ninja trilogy opposite Franco Nero in Enter the Ninja, then Revenge of the Ninja, and finally the wackadoo denouement Ninja III: The Domination. Pray for Death gave Kosugi the opportunity to stretch his dramatic muscles a bit more than in previous films as he doesn’t actually perform martial arts for large sections of the run time. It is truly one of his finest moments.

Director Gordon Hessler had long been a house talent with AIP before taking on this Pray for Death for Transworld Entertainment, but it was almost like he was born to the genre. Combining Kosugi’s effective fight choreography with James Booth’s wonderfully over the top writing and some top notch special effects and set pieces, Pray for Death became an instant home video classic in the heyday of the VHS rental market in the 1980’s.

Ninja films had been one of the staples of Japanese cinema since at least the 1960’s, but the Japanese ideal for a ninja is notably different from what American ninja films became. Japanese ninjas worked in the shadows and were largely seen as assassins who worked as soldiers of fortune, only interested in creating chaos or getting paid. Not terribly savory characters, but with films like the Cannon Ninja trilogy, the American ninja series, and this Ninja series, the characters forsook the shadows for ridiculous flashy costumes and in Kosugi’s case, a massive medieval style metal helmet. Far from discreet, the new ninjas were large and in charge and didn’t care who knew it.

Pray for Death was cut to receive an R rating for theatrical release and for years the only home video releases in the US were using this same version of the film, including a fairly recent Fox MOD DVD release. Arrow Video has stepped up their game in including the noticeably gorier and nastier uncut version that has been available on overseas home video for a while. The added footage definitely adds a grittier tone to the film, which is already pretty nasty, but the practical effects utilized in these scenes of violence definitely deserve to be seen.

Thanks to Arrow Video, we now have what is the definitive version of this delightfully over the top movie. Pray for Death does exactly what it sets out to do, and that is to entertain with really awful bad guys, really upstanding good guys, and a whole lot of ninja action. If you ever made ninja stars out of your notebook paper as a kid in school, you’re going to love it!

The Disc:

Arrow Video’s presentation of Pray for Death is superb on all fronts. The image quality on this disc is spectacular; bring an astonishing amount of fine detail and clarity to an image that I was not expecting. Not only is the image clear, the colors are natural, there’s a decent amount of shadow detail, and remarkably little print damage. The only places in which the film falters are in the unrated inserts, which were sourced from a 35mm print from Germany. These inserts are quite noticeably darker and grainier, often leaving the image muddled. However, these scenes are often brief, so it doesn’t take away from the overall appearance of the film, and I’d rather have them this way than not at all. However, if the image bothers you, the R-rated version is also available on the disc without the inserts.

Pray for Death scored a major coup in the extras when it announced the inclusion of a career spanning interview with star Kosugi Sho. Kosugi hasn’t done many (any?) interviews for home video, so this one is very impressive on two fronts. Kosugi talks about his early life and decision to come to America after he had trouble finding his niche at home in Japan. He also talks about years trying to break into the movie business for he finally landed a role opposite Franco Nero in Enter the Ninja. The conversation covers a broad range of topics from his work to his children Kane and Shane, and more. The great thing is that this is only the beginning as the interview continues on Arrow Video’s upcoming release of Rage of Honor Blu-ray. Also included is a rare TV appearance contemporaneous to the release of Pray for Death in which Kosugi goes on a martial arts themed program to talk about his career and martial arts forms associated with the ninja. It is great oddball stuff, a neat little time capsule of the ‘80s martial arts phenomenon.

Pray for Death is more fun than it deserves to be, and the unrated inserts provide an edge to this release of the film over others. Definitely recommended!

Screen Anarchy logo
Do you feel this content is inappropriate or infringes upon your rights? Click here to report it, or see our DMCA policy.
arrow videoBlu-raymutilatorpam grierpray for deathsheba babysho kosugi

More about Pray for Death

More about Sheba, Baby

Around the Internet