Believe it or not, before I was even a horror movie fan, I was a martial arts fan. My mom was a long time fan of the show Kung Fu. You know, the one starring the late David Carradine? She loved kung fu movies, too and while it was tough for me to convince her that sitting through a gory horror movie was a good idea when I was 8 years old, martial arts flew without incident. So before I’d even been acquainted with Jason Voorhees, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Gordon Liu and Sonny Chiba were my homeboys. Locally we had WLVI’s locally legendary horror show, The Creature Double Feature, which I watched but I went positively apeshit when I switched over to WSBK and saw their version of Black Belt Theater running whatever badly dubbed chop socky flick they’d dug out of the vault that day. The balance would eventually shift between horror and martial arts but a good kung fu flick is always a cherished thing to me.
As I came of age in the video trading days of the 90’s where a 1:1 swap of a VHS dupe would land all manner of exotic video esoterica in my mailbox, no book was more valuable to me than Michael J. Weldon’s book, The Psychotronic Video Guide. It was a massive, heavy tome the size of the Manhattan phone book and included an alphabetical list of horror movies, post-nukes, nudie-cuties, mondos and whatever other skeezy scumbag entertainment had ever found its way to VHS back in the day. Thanks to that book, I amassed a mighty collection of videotapes and discovered some genuine gold hidden in the low frequency piles of VHS dog shit that occupied the shelves of my local video rental store. Dr. Craig D. Reid’s ambitiously titled reference guid, The Ultimate Guide To Martial Arts Movies of the 1970’s reminds me of Weldon’s aforementioned sleazy video bible in a big way, the only exception being that its scope is focused strictly on martial arts movies.
Upon first inspection, this large format reference book appears to be dedicated to Asian martial arts movies and it’s not a faulty assumption to make. After all, the 1970’s is when kung fu movies came alive. Bruce Lee jammed onto the scene and revolutionized the way movies were made in Hong Kong overnight so every Asian country with an economy that could support a movie studio sprung to life and cranked out flick after flick of chop socky goodness (or badness, or good badness, for that matter). However, if it’s at all a martial arts movie, it’s covered here. This includes a generous review of the Dolemite sequel, The Human Tornado. Cover to cover, The Ultimate Guide is an A to Z set of reviews of martial arts movies from around the world. Some you’ve heard of many you have not. The reviews are exceedingly well written and concise and offer a bit of insight into the importance of these films even in a series of 400 to 500 word reviews. It’s actually quite amazing. What’s more, fans of actual martial arts will notice Reid’s familiarity with the various arts on display in the movie and this quality is something often left out of similar reference guides. Nowhere else would a review of The Human Tornado ever let you know that you’ll find some Tang Soo Do (sort of a Korean slant on Karate) in there. Most of the time they’re just going to zero in on that weird-ass workout machine sex scene or the ridiculous fight scenes where Moore makes a whole lot of weird ass noises.
This is the sort of book that you’re going to have next to the computer at all times when you want to buy a new disc. Open the book. Turn to a random page. Close your eyes and point. You will find that movie if the review makes it sound like the sort of thing you’d like to see. This being The Ultimate Guide, however, it’s not a love letter to martial arts through and through. This is a comprehensive listing of titles made in the 1970’s and Reid makes sure to let you know when a dog’s a dog. It is loaded with righteous, entertaining and thorough reviews that take into considerations trends of the times, casting, the actual martial arts and other nuances of martial arts cinema making this book worthy of its title, The Ultimate Guide To Martial Arts Movies of the 1970’s. It’s a mouth full, but god damn! This book may, in fact, be the final word on the topic.