Before Cobra Kai
Most children of the ’80s know Martin Kove as Sensei John Kreese, the ruthless ex-Special Forces Veteran who mentored Johnny Lawrence and his gang of punks. But before presiding over the dominant dojo, Kove was busy making awesomely weird films that are often sadly overlooked. Today, to celebrate the day he fought his way free of the womb and karate chopped the delivering doctor, we’re going to take a look at three of my faves.
Death Race 2000 (1975)
In the dystopian future year 2000 (our dystopian past), the Annual Transcontinental Road Race has replaced “The Big Game” as our nation’s most popular sporting event. Unlike that NASCAR stuff or even Formula-1, the race isn’t won by merely arriving first at the finish line. Oh no. No, to score points, you’ve got to get some pedestrians under your wheels. Dick Dastardly and Muttley would be right at home.
Now, there have been some rules changes for the 2000 race, so pay attention.
“To recap those revisions, women are still worth 10 points, more than men in all age brackets, but teenagers now rack up 40 points and toddlers under twelve now rate a big 70 points. The big score: Anyone, any sex, over 75 years old has been upped to 100 points. As always, how fast you move determines how long you live.”
Oh, and if a player uses his hand in the face-off circle to get the puck to a teammate, he will be subject to a two-minute minor penalty. No, wait. That’s NHL 2013, not Death Race 2000. My mistake.
In any event, the big favorite this year (as in every year) is Frankenstein (David Carradine), but mark my words. The smart money is on Nero the Hero (Martin Kove). His lion-themed Fiat 850 Spider really roars. For the record, I’ve never bothered with Paul W. S. Anderson’s remake/prequel from 2008 or its sequels. I can’t imagine it having the biting satire or just plain wrong fun of the 1975 original.
White Line Fever (1975)
For most of my childhood, my father busted his hump driving a truck. His routes were close to home, and he never owned his own rig or had a chimpanzee sidekick, but CB culture was alive and well in our household throughout the ’70s and well into the ’80s. It is in that anti-authoritarian era that White Line Fever came rolling into theaters on eighteen wheels of vengeance.
Inspired by the gritty westerns and pseudo-westerns of legendary bad boy director Sam Peckinpah, Jonathan Kaplan and Ken Friedman penned a script about Carrol Jo Hummer (Jan-Michael Vincent), a Vietnam veteran returning home to take over the family trucking business, only to find the shipping company in the grip of syndicate goon Buck Wessler (played with sleazy relish by Peckinpah regular L.Q. Jones). Despite the utter absence of big rigs in Kaplan’s blaxploitation “vehicle” Truck Turner (1974), Columbia Pictures’ then vice-president of worldwide production was so smitten with its success that he quickly offered Kaplan the chance to bring his newest script to the big screen. The idea of replacing horses with trucks in a contemporary western went from being Peckinpah-esque to Peckinpah himself when Sam helmed Convoy (1978) just a few years later.
Martin Kove plays lead henchman Clem. As evidenced by the iconic status of Sensei John Kreese, Kove makes a great bully. He brings a meatheaded enthusiasm that almost makes you want to root for him. Clem is clearly a man who enjoys his work, and we enjoy watching him enjoy his work.
Blood Tide (1982)
When Neil Grice (an often shirtless Martin Kove) took a vacation to the Greek islands to find his missing sister, surely he didn’t expect to have a live cat thrown at him, witness a virgin sacrifice, or receive a kiss on the cheek from James Earl Jones. Yet, that is exactly what happens, though not necessarily in that order.
Deborah Shelton plays Neil’s sister, Madeline, an art historian who is busy uncovering older and older paintings in the village monastery. Despite the nuns’ imploring and begging, Madeline continues her work until the true nature of the island’s ancient religious rites lays revealed in all its tumescent glory. Yeah, we’re talking about sea monster penis.
This particular ageless sea monster has been unwittingly released from its prison by treasure hunter Frye (the sonorous James Earl Jones). This means the virgin sacrifices must resume stat, and it isn’t long before Madeline is at the top of the list. She also feels a reverse siren song of sorts from the beast and vacillates between uncontrollable lust and repulsion regarding it and her fate. In one memorable scene, she douses herself with designer perfume and runs into the sea to check her implants for leaks just like the Antediluvian girls used to do.
The whole notion of Miss USA 1970, Deborah Shelton, as a virgin historian is laughable. While this was still a couple years before her role as victim/seductress in Body Double, she had already done a trio of Greek softcore flicks that probably “helped” her land this role. There’s an awkward hint at incest late in the film that goes unexplained and only serves to make things even weirder.
Blood Tide has all the makings of a decent horror film in the Lovecraftian vein. There’s a remote island location, a sinister cult engaging in human sacrifice to an ageless creature with supernatural influence, a Shakespeare-quoting treasure hunter engaged in a bold interracial romance with an aerobic Valley Girl, bikinis, creepy old men, flying cats, and the Hebrew sirtaki. But, as you would learn from throwing eggs, flour, milk, butter, and sugar into a bowl and setting it on fire, ingredients are not enough to make a cake. You’ll just get a mess, much like this film.
Still, it’s worth watching since it’s not too often Martin Kove gets to play the lead protagonist, even if James Earl Jones does steal some of his “thunder” as the volatile treasure hunter Frye. Blood Tide is currently in the public domain, so it can be found just about anywhere free movies are offered, including the Internet Archive.
So, students take note. Martin Kove is more than just a one-dimensional villain. He brought depth to Sensei John Kreese that helped the role transcend mere antagonism and forged a truly memorable foe. I hope that you’ll take the time to enjoy some of his lesser known works. We bow deeply in respect to him here at WeirdFlix on his birthday. Many thanks and best wishes always.