Gary Daniels isn’t a name you hear tossed around the water cooler these days. Although the talented martial artist has starred in several action-packed direct-to-video “classics”, even the hardest of hardcore film fanatics aren’t overly familiar with the man’s less-than-incredible body of work. At their very best, Daniels’ low-budget endeavors are still several hundred light years away from the stuff Steven Seagal and Jean Claude Van-Damme are churning out these days. And while his recent efforts are largely considered to be the cinematic equivalent of a hard, dry bowel movement, I find them to be oddly enduring and totally satisfying. Feel free to toss my credibility into the nearest waste bin should the urge suddenly strike you. I won’t judge you.
Since Mr. Daniels is scheduled to return to the big screen in Sylvester Stallone’s 2010 action epic “The Expendables” this August, not to mention the forthcoming “Tekken” flick, I thought it was only fair to give the much-maligned action star the credit he rightfully deserves. Below you’ll find the cream of Gary Daniels’ admittedly wonky crop, arranged in a manner that’s both visually stimulating and incredibly informative. Well, as stimulating and informative as this sort of eccentric list can be. Do keep in mind, however, that these films are not intended for viewing by anyone who demonstrates a low tolerance for incoherence, goofy plotting, and wretched acting. You have been warned, my friend. You. Have. Been. Warned.
Honorable mentions include: Charla Driver’s “Deadly Target”, Richard Pepin’s “Firepower”, and Joseph Merhi’s “Riot”. Valiant efforts all around.
# 6. Spoiler (1998)
Director Jeff Burr’s melodramatic sci-fi actioner finds Daniels portraying an innocent man who finds himself incarcerated in a futuristic prison known as “The Icebox”, where he is subjected to an array of suitably futuristic tortures. His depressingly futile attempts to escape, combined with the plethora of weak performances, make for a surprisingly dark and dreary viewing experience. Daniels seems strangely miscast as the picture’s tormented hero, and the film suffers because of it. What’s more, there aren’t very many action sequences to found, and the movie tends to drag from time-to-time. It’s inclusion on this list is highly questionable, though it brilliantly illustrates why Gary Daniels excels in productions which feature action over acting. You can’t blame the guy for trying to expand his cinematic horizons.
# 5. Capital Punishment (1991)
If “Spoiler” was in desperate need of more martial arts madness, writer/director David Huey’s like-minded “innocent man clearing his soiled name” outing could stand a considerable boost in the ol’ story department. I’m all for an abundance of outrageous hand-to-hand confrontations, mind you, but it’s kind of nice having something to fall back on when the action is noticeably weak. The infrequency of such things like solid choreography and sound effects can be distracting, though, chances are, your senses will be too dazzled by the delirious amount of carnage crammed into the film’s slender 87 minutes. Regardless, the movie is a hoot, and should play well with those who like their action peppered with cream corn.
#4. Hawk’s Vengeance (1997)
Despite having to endure some extremely weak choreography and several metric tons of clunky dialogue, this weirdly appealing revenge flick finds Daniels exacting revenge on the notorious Chinese gang responsible for savagely murdering his brother. There’s nothing overly original or exciting here, though the picture’s absurdist approach to urban renewal is both completely disturbing and wholly enchanting. The finale is so over-the-top in its display of wanton violence that you may feel the compulsion to watch it more than once when nobody’s looking. If anyone has any complaints about this list, I’m sure this will be the one that causes the most trouble. I own a copy of “Hawk’s Vengeance”, and I’m not too proud to admit it.
#3. Recoil (1998)
Veteran genre director Art Camacho’s action-saturated effort is worthy of its place in the top three, and stands as one of the most entertaining films released during PM Entertainment’s reign as the undisputed kings of 90′s straight-to-video insanity. And while the explosive opening sequence — which involves a high-speed car chase, a lengthy shoot-out, and Gary Daniels chewing scenery with reckless abandon — isn’t overly indicative of things to come, it’s certainly worth the price of admission. Daniels, meanwhile, does his best with the material he’s given, which, to be fair, is pretty freaking stupid. Thankfully, his numerous fights are moderately tense and, more often than not, presented in slow motion, allowing you to easily overlook the script’s countless shortcomings. “Recoil” is a great place to start for the uninitiated.
#2. Fist of the North Star (1995)
I love “Fist of the North Star” more than anybody I know. I’m not familiar with the source material at all, which may explain why I possess the uncanny ability to consume the picture without succumbing to violent, full body seizures. The plot is beyond convoluted — a miscast Gary Daniels defends his mystic martial arts school against a power-hungry rival — and Peter Atkins’ script is as unfocused and misguided as anything you’re likely to find. Still, Tony Randel’s peculiar post-apocalyptic world is always amusing, as are the multiple malfunctioning performances from its ragtag cast of veteran character actors. I’m still waiting for the 2 Disc Special Edition, which will hopefully restore Clint Howard’s infamous death scene. Call me crazy, but watching Gary Daniels break a man in half sounds like an unholy amount of fun.
#1. Rage (1995)
Overflowing with extended fight sequences, outrageous martial arts mayhem, and unintentional comedy, Joseph Merhi’s thoroughly enjoyable direct-to-video masterpiece gives Daniels numerous opportunities to shine. When he’s not dangling from skyscrapers or escaping from secret government laboratories, he’s going toe-to-toe with bondage-obsessed suburbanites and a neverending stream of villainous henchmen. The pacing is breathless, the action is tight, and the dodgy production values never get in the way of the picture’s willingness to entertain. When nosy individuals ask me why, exactly, I’m a Gary Daniels fan, I immediately point to my well-worn copy of “Rage”. In fact, as soon as I’m finished with this goofy little list, I’m going to watch it again. Do yourself a favor: Add this to your Netflix queue post-haste. Even if you hate the damned thing, at least you can say you’ve seen it.