Two weeks, and a hundred flubbed takes later, here I am making a meal out of reviewing 1991’s The Master Demon. In the event that you can’t make out what I am saying, which is highly likely, a transcript follows, and the film itself is up on youtube in its entirety, or as I mention in the video available in all bad branches of C.E.X
Imagine Big Trouble in Little China had it been made by Renee Harmon rather than John Carpenter, and that might give you an idea of what to expect from The Master Demon.
While I should perhaps clarify that Ms. Harmon didn’t actually have anything to do with this film, The Master Demon is very reminiscent of her Executioner Part 2/Lady Street Fighter style of a ‘C’ bordering on a ‘D’ level action movie, complete with lead actors who otherwise tended to only get lower down the credits roles in regular movies, a fair amount of walking to and from rundown hotels and around Hollywood Boulevard, giving the film that sleazy low-budget LA feel, as well as action scenes that look as if they were filmed in the producers’ front room.
‘Confused’ might be the kindest way to describe the opening half of the film, and tellingly the filmmakers rely on voiceovers from two different characters, and a narrator, in order to try and make sense of what is going on. Here is what I could decipher… the film begins a few centuries ago, and in the midst of a battle to the death between good guy ‘The White Warrior’ and evil magician The Master Demon, who in a shorthand way of establishing his villainy is wearing red, and has part of his face all scarred and messed up (the make-up here is terrible). Anyway the White Warrior is fatally injured in the fight, but manages to sever the hand of the Master Demon, takes it to a Shaolin temple, where a monk locks the severed hand away in a box and puts a spell on it, a spell that dictates that the Master Demon will remain powerless until the hand is reunited with the rest of him. Cut to present day LA, where the current owner of the box uses magic to summon up one of the Master Demon’s disciples, played by a female bodybuilder. There is an blatant fem dom fetish at work in this film, with lots of scenes taken up by this extensively pumped up woman going around punching and beating up guys, then snapping their necks with her considerable biceps, all done in order to locate the box with the severed hand in it and restore the Master Demon to his former glory. Entering into the proceedings at this point is a wimpy, low-rent private eye called Cameron, who comes into ownership of the box, and as a result finds himself terrorised by both the female bodybuilder and the Master Demon’s severed hand which crawls around like in one of those old Amicus horror films.
Now, I know what you’re thinking “this doesn’t sound too much like Big Trouble in Little China”, and you’d have a point, but it does begin to reveal its John Carpenter influence at this point, as Cameron meets Tong Lee, a descendant of the White Warrior, who is a bit of a chip off the old block in the karate stakes. At which point the film becomes a buddy action movie with an American guy and an Asian guy teaming up to do battle against an evil Chinese magician who can fire lightning bolts from his hands, ah, now where have we seen that before? As with Big Trouble in Little China the film does get some mileage out of playing around with traditional racial roles, Tong Lee emerges as the real action hero of the piece, while Cameron becomes the bumbling, ineffectual comedy relief, who despite his claim to love to “kick back and kick ass”, tends to mainly favour the kicking back part of that claim. At one point the film even satirises Hollywood racism of old, when Cameron runs away from the female bodybuilder whilst wailing “feet don’t fail me now” like the black sidekick in an old Bob Hope film.
The film’s imitative qualities do ironically lend it some uniqueness, since the original box office failure of Big Trouble in Little China meant it didn’t spawn a great deal of rip-offs. It should be mentioned that The Master Demon was actually made in 1987, and only released in 1991, and given the production date you can’t help thinking that the makers of The Master Demon were anticipating Big Trouble in Little China to be a bigger success than it actually was. To add to the comparisons between the two films, at least two of the cast members here, Eric Lee and Gerald Okamura, did actually have secondary roles in Big Trouble in Little China. Also in the cast is Ava Cadell, who wasn’t in Big Trouble in Little China, but whose breasts you might recall from such Hollywood fare as Commando and the remake of Not of this Earth, as well as various 1970s British sex comedies and the early days of Page 3 of The Sun. Ava gets a larger than usual role from her Hollywood period here, playing Cameron’s secretary, who is also the love interest of a cop who is on the Master Demon’s tail, and for those reasons finds herself being kidnapped by the Master Demon. Not long after making the film Ava would reinvent herself as sex therapist Dr Ava Cadell, which is somewhat ironic given the utterly unsatisfactory sex life her character here has with her aged cop boyfriend. After their obligatory sex scene, which isn’t all that sexy, she gets woken up by his loud snoring, and you’re left with the impression that if ever there was a couple in dire need of Dr Cadell’s sex therapy and tips for spicing up your love life then it is these two. In keeping with the film’s fem dom theme, Ava’s character isn’t just a lover though, but also a fighter, and towards the end of the film gets to show off some karate moves on the bad guys, her ability to pull off said karate moves being only slightly hindered by her ample bosom. I hadn’t realised till watching this film, and doing some research into it, but it appears that Ava is actually a real life black belt in karate, something you should perhaps keep in mind before making cheap jokes about her ample bosom, or asking any awkward questions about her early appearances in John Lindsay films….nudge, nudge, wink, wink, know what I mean.
The Master Demon is, as I hope I’m conveying here, a whole lot of lively B-movie fun, I have a feeling that I’d have gotten even more out of if I was one of those gentlemen who enjoyed being bounced off the walls, and beaten into submission by female bodybuilders… you know who you are… but taken for what it is, a dopey little direct to video movie from the tail end of the VHS rental period with its opportunistic fingers in the action, horror and erotic thriller genres, The Master Demon is pretty hard to dislike. It’s the kind of film you’d expect to see on sale at CEX for 50p, in fact it is on sale at CEX for 50p. So I doubt you’d feel short changed by it at that price, and in the unlikely event that you do, you can always take it back and exchange it for a CEX voucher for the grand sum of 1p, valid for 100 years….don’t spend it all at once.