In terms of having the greatest film career slide of all time you’d have thought Eric Roberts had everything going for him. For starters his sister is Hollywood A-lister Julia Roberts, and he got Golden Globe nominations for his early starring roles in King of the Gypsies (1978 – best actor debut) and Star 80 (1983 – best actor). But by the time Roberts took the lead role in the martial arts flick Best of the Best (1989) you can see it has all gone wrong. Why Roberts was cast as a member of a fictional US karate team when he couldn’t fight his way out of a paper bag is a mystery in itself. Best of the Best has a tediously moralistic plot that is so predictable you could set your watch by it, and Roberts also displays his not so unique ability to over act (particularly in the hospital scene with his injured five year-old son). And Julia’s big brother also boasts a haircut that is even worse than his inability to fake the fight and exercise routines depicted throughout the flick…
Let’s skip Best of the Best 2 and a whole slew of other junk and move onto Ninja Creed AKA Royal Kill (2009). Despite the fact that Roberts refrains from any martial arts antics in this utter train wreck of a movie, he somehow manages to make his barnet look even worse than in Best of the Best. Having sat through the movie on DVD I can concur with the Washington Post’s verdict: “deliriously bad film-making… Royal Kill needs to be seen to be believed, but don’t see it, under any circumstances”. And Roberts followed this up with among other things Shartopus (2010), in which he appears to be drunk rather than acting….
All that said, Eric Roberts looks like a rank outsider in the movie career slide stakes when compared to muscleman Richard Harrison. After a bit part in South Pacific (1958), Harrison discovered the best way to get his career going was to marry the daughter of B-movie boss James H. Nicholson (of American International Pictures). For much of the sixties, Harrison found himself in Italy making an assortment of spaghetti westerns, spy flicks and sword and sandal movies. In the seventies and eighties Harrison went from being a B-movie star to having his name used to sell grade-Z flicks. He worked with virtual everyone who was considered to be no one in the film industry – ranging from the notorious Jess Franco and sleazy Joe D’Amato, to the utterly fabulous Godfrey Ho.
Godfrey Ho was the William Burroughs of martial arts films. As deftly as Billy Burroughs applied the cut-up technique to text, Ho utilised it to splice together unrelated celluloid elements. Working with producer Joseph Lai, Ho took footage from other films and more or less randomly intercut this material with his recurring motif of ninja fight scenes (usually featuring Richard Harrison) to create new movies. This is the situationist method of detournement deployed on an industrial scale, and it leaves more carefully wrought exercises in subversion – such as René Viénet’s Can Dialectics Break Bricks? (1973) – looking like tedious Hollywood bollocks by way of comparison.
Ho and Harrison’s masterpiece is Scorpion Thunderbolt (1988), which is basically two films mashed down into one. The earlier material comes from Name (1985), an unreleased Hong Kong horror flick about a woman who is half-human and half-reptile – she commits gory murders under the influence of a snake charmer and a witch (who has groovy erotic dance moves and really long finger nail extensions). Meanwhile a gang controlled by the same enchantress is attempting to assassinate Richard Harrison because he’s unknowingly in possession of a ring that poses a threat to the semi-nude sorceress’s occult omnipotence.
The early scenes set the tone for the whole of Scorpion Thunderbolt. In one of these sequences, Harrison drives past a hitchhiker. He changes his mind about not wanting to give the nubile young woman a lift after getting a flash of her tits. Once inside Harrison’s car, the horny wanton tells our man she’s an actress. After a bit of banter this dangerous seductress takes our hero to a sex cinema, where he dogs her as film of the ‘actress’ in a porn vehicle is projected behind them. However, what makes this episode particularly insane is that Jean Michel Jarre’s Oxygene is used on the soundtrack (presumably without anybody actually bothering to pay for the rights). The ‘actress’ attempts to kill Harrison during sex but bites a suicide pill when he foils her attack.
The plot of Scorpion Thunderbolt doesn’t matter much. It is enough to say it veers from the comic capers of badly dubbed cops investigating the snake murders to brutality and bloodshed, and back again. It is these startling shifts in tone and imagery that make Scorpion Thunderbolt a post-modern schlock classic. Unfortunately Hollywood and its fans failed to recognise that Ho’s pictures left Jeff Koons looking like a rank amateur when it came to transforming eighties post-modern tropes into high art: and as a consequence once these flicks were released in the USA on video, they did so much damage to Harrison’s reputation as an actor that by the mid-nineties he’d retired from making movies. So there you have it – a no contest – Harrison easily beats Eric Roberts to claim the title of greatest movie career slide of all time!
And while you’re at it don’t forget to check – www.stewarthomesociety.org – you know it makes (no) sense!