(Welcome to The Best Movies You’ve Never Seen, a series that takes a look at slightly more obscure, under-the-radar, or simply under-appreciated movies. In this edition, we unsheathe a handful of good to great movies that feature unexpected scenes of swordplay.)

This week’s biggest new release in theaters is Pacific Rim Uprising, the sequel to 2013’s Pacific Rim. Director Guillermo del Toro and stars Idris Elba and Charlie Hunnam aren’t returning for the follow-up, but you’ll be happy to know the Jaeger with the big-ass sword is back for more. Why does a giant, Voltron-like mecha-suit in a sci-fi, future-set world use a weapon as old school as a sword against giant monsters? I’m not sure, but Voltron has one too so maybe it’s an homage? Regardless of the reason, there’s something oddly appealing about seeing a sword come into play where you least expect it.

It’s understood that there will be swords and swordplay in certain period films, pirate adventures, or fantasy epics, but it can be just as entertaining seeing them appear in films outside of those genres. There’s something almost anachronistic about the sudden arrival of a sword in films like Pulp Fiction, Demons, Attack the Block, or Lifeforce, but you know the drill. I’m not here to talk about the movies you know – I’m here to spread the word about the good to great to just plain fun movies most of you have never seen. So keep reading for a look at six movies that probably shouldn’t feature swords (or swordplay), but do anyway.

Death Force (1978)

Doug leaves the Vietnam war behind him and prepares to settle back into a normal life with his lovely wife, but the dream is shattered when his fellow soldiers and supposed friends double-cross and leave him for dead in the ocean. Luckily, he washes ashore on a remote island occupied by two Japanese soldiers, and after nursing Doug back to health – and teaching him how to use a samurai sword – they send the angry veteran back home for revenge.

Released more widely in truncated form, the uncut version played under the title Vengeance Is Mine, offering more detail and time spent on dramatic beats and genre elements. Exploitation director Cirio H. Santiago (The Muthers) made over a hundred features across half a century, and this is one of them. It’s easy enough to summarize – man seeks revenge for betrayal – but Santiago spends a surprising amount of time moving between Doug’s recovery and training on the island and his enemies growing in power and taking over Los Angeles. Again and again we leave Doug just long enough to see the villainous pair walk into a room, shoot everyone with Tommy Guns, make a wisecrack, and leave.

The sword action comes in two sections as the film’s first two acts see Doug slowly – and I do mean slowly – learning to master the weapon against both his Japanese teacher and flying coconuts before graduating to death-dealing. It’s in the final act that he puts those skills to use and begins tracking down and killing his two ex-friends and their entourages. Most of them get off easy with some mild stabbing, kicking, and karate chopping, but once he reaches his main targets, he plays fast and loose, dodging their guns and bullets before going the more traditional beheading route. It’s worth noting that you will not see the end coming, and by that I mean Santiago may not have either. It ends pretty damn abruptly.

Buy Death Force on DVD from Amazon or watch via Amazon streaming.

Blood Beat (1983)

A young couple looking to relax over the holidays heads to a remote cabin in the woods for a few days. You may think you know what happens next, but I promise you…you don’t.

The film makes little sense as far as I can tell, but that doesn’t stop it from being a memorable piece of regional horror from the early ’80s. Writer/director Fabrice A. Zaphiratos blends together elements from genre films as diverse as The Evil Dead and The House Where Evil Dwells, with a story involving possession, slasher-type killings, poltergeist-like mayhem, and a mystery as to what the hell is happening. That question is never really answered except with the eventual realization that one of these Wisconsinites has been possessed by the spirit of an undead Samurai warrior. Obviously.

That, of course, is where the film’s swordplay comes into its own, as what was previously POV shots of a killer stalking his prey becomes the reveal that a full-on ghostly samurai haunts these woods and has taken ownership of one of their bodies. It’s no great mystery as to who has become the killer, but the fun here rests in low-budget effects, bloody demises, and visuals that suggest an artist has “settled” for making a slasher film. Is it more oddly engaging than good? Probably, but sometimes that’s good enough.

Buy Blood Beat on Blu-ray from Amazon or watch via Amazon streaming.

Sword of Heaven (1985)

A meteorite falls from the sky and is quickly forged into a powerful sword by Japanese monks. A century later, the sword’s at risk of falling into the wrong hands, and the only man who can prevent that is… a Los Angeles detective named Tadashi (Tadashi Yamashita, Gymkata).

The sword’s actually already been acquired by a very bad dude, an ex-special forces (?) mercenary who’s been applying his skills towards violently criminal endeavors, and Dirk’s (Mel Novak, Game of Death) surrounded himself with like-minded villains. The rightful owner of the sword, a descendant of those opening scene monks, tasks Tadashi with the label of chosen one and sends him out in search of the weapon, and luckily the cop is up to the challenge. He loves martial arts, motorcycles, and doing good deeds, and he’ll need all three of those traits if he wants defeat these end level bosses. One highlight not related to the swordplay in any way is the character of Cain the killer pimp, who, in addition to being an all-around bad guy, is also prone to throwing nuns off cliffs.

I guess it’s irresponsible to suggest a sword’s appearance in a movie called Sword of Heaven is “unexpected,” but responsibility is overrated. The sword of the title is just one of the blades in use, but when it does enter the fray – complete with the occasional glowing effect – the result is entertaining enough. Tadashi comes into his own in the film’s final stretch, showing that he’s a sword master whether it comes from a cutlery store or the heavens above.

Sword of Heaven is not currently available.

Continue Reading The Best Sword Movies You Probably Haven’t Seen >>

Pages: 1 2Next page

Cool Posts From Around the Web: