The Film: 4/5
Professional mercenary Frank Ryan (Brian Thompson) has seen his share of intense action under fire in some of the world’s hottest hot spots. Now he’s being sent on the strangest mission of his career as the mysterious Thomas (George Kennedy) wants him to infiltrate the Mediterranean nation of Cypra with a team of specially-trained soldiers to rescue Rallis (Jose Ferrer), an imprisoned rebel leader whose freedom is crucial to the revolution to overthrow the country’s military dictatorship presided over by Michael Bartos (Oliver Reed). There is a catch; since the reigning junta is extra cautious about who they allow inside Cypra’s borders, Ryan must travel there posing as a world-renowned fashion designer (who, in the words of the late George Carlin, happens to be gay) and the soldiers under his command has to all be women masquerading as his personal cadre of models. After recruiting six lethal ladies from all over the world (and usually from a maximum security gulag), Ryan’s next order of business is to train them in every conceivable form of combat while transforming them into convincing supermodels. If this unorthodox commando unit doesn’t break down completely amidst an orgy of catfights and knife fights, they might have what it takes to free Rallis and bring Bartos’ insidious rule to a fiery end.
Ladies and gentlemen, I give you Hired to Kill, a deliriously bat shit fiesta of hammy acting, deafening explosions, and baby-oiled female flesh suntanned to perverted perfection. Personally I expect no less from Nico Mastorakis, the gonzo Greek filmmaker who dared to raise the bar on lowball exploitation cinema throughout the 1970’s and 80’s and deliver to his appreciative audiences nothing but the best in brain-fried entertainment. Hired is the director’s riff on the exotic adventures of decades past where an ensemble cast is put together to storm the stronghold of a special guest star villain and blow everything all to Hell. The main difference between those films and Mastorakis’ is that most of the cast is comprised of beautiful women trained to play vapid airhead models while remaining capable of garroting you in your sleep. It’s the same territory Andy Sidaris mined to make his glorious tropical action romps for years, the cinematic equivalent of a greasy take-out buffet that gives the unsuspecting viewer everything they could possibly want out of a movie in exchange for a few precious brain cells and an hour-and-a-half of their time.
Mastorakis co-directed Hired with Peter Rader, the future screenwriter of Waterworld who had previously directed the Mastorakis-produced horror film Grandmother’s House, from a screenplay Mastorakis co-wrote with a pair of his usual scribes, Fred C. Perry and Kirk Ellis. No cliché is left unused in this extraordinarily derivative but frequently funny and surprising yarn, and it has a damn fine anti-hero and the ideal actor to play him in the form of Frank Ryan and Brian Thompson, respectively. Thompson, best known as the sunken-eyed psycho gang leader in the unintentionally hilarious Sylvester Stallone flick Cobra, clearly enjoys playing Ryan since the role doesn’t require him to be amusing or a charmer, just an emotionless soldier of fortune with a political ideology steeped in cynicism that doesn’t exactly jibe with the “America Fuck Yeah” ethos that powered many a macho exploitation epic during the 1980’s. Although this hardly makes for a compelling lead character, Thompson makes Ryan a likable enough presence that you want him to survive and lead his team to victory even though he’s a racist, homophobic, and misogynistic bastard who talks to his female subordinates like they’re annoying children and makes love to leading lady Michelle Moffett (Deathstalker IV) with less passion than a high school wrestling match.
The actresses chosen to play Ryan’s sexy squad of secret supermodel spies are fun to watch but are present purely to be exploited as shapely action figures for cheesecake titillation and they pale in comparison to Hired to Kill’s slumming guest stars: Oliver Reed (bringing enough whiskey-soaked ham to the party to feed all of the starving children in Ireland) and his rakish handlebar mustache, George “Shoot my scenes at the director’s house in one morning or go to Hell” Kennedy, and Jose Ferrer. Hell, Ferrer doesn’t even show up until the very end and then he does little but read his lines with enough inflection to sound vaguely interested and then get rescued by the Babe Brigade. Reed does what he can with facial hair that looks like it was shaved off of a baboon’s ass and a goofy accent that would defeat the most gifted soap opera actor, but his shining moment in Hired comes when he gets an unexpected smooch from Thompson as part of our noble hero’s cover identity as a gay (but not too gay – that would require a more talented actor) fashion maven.
The action comes fast and furious in the jam-packed finale that finds Ryan and his deadly doll squad fending off attacks from disposable henchmen and Reed’s pissed-off baddie raining down fire from a helicopter. Mastorakis and Rader’s stunt team really earn their money here, especially the guys who agreed to be set on fire for a few seconds of screen time. The directors cram the first two acts with one montage after another of the women modeling the latest revealing swimwear and learning how to be battlefield badasses, expertly assembled by editor Barry Zetlin, a former student of Roger Corman who went from making a movie out of Galaxy of Terror to cutting low-rent Z-movies for Tim Kincaid and horror sequels like Friday the 13th Part VII: The New Blood and Ghoulies II. The entire package is shot in spectacular retina-scarring color by cinematographer Andreas Bellis, who started out with the grindhouse masterpiece Thriller: A Cruel Picture (released in the U.S. as They Call Her One Eye) before moving on to work on several Mastorakis productions, and set to the Jerry Goldsmith-lite compositions of Jerry Grant.
As part of their ongoing effort to bring every Nico Mastorakis film to Blu-ray in top form (I am assuming), Arrow Video presents Hired to Kill in what is no doubt the best home presentation it has and will ever receive. The centerpiece of this presentation is a crisp and bright high-definition transfer sourced from a new 4K scan and restoration of a 35mm interpositive and it boasts a fine-tuned grain structure that remains consistent from first frame to last, vivid colors looking their sharpest and pleasurable, and authentic skin tones and details. Print damage is virtually nonexistent. The Blu-ray comes with two English audio options both sourced and conformed from Mastorakis’ original tape masters and both terrific when your home viewing requirements are taken into account: the DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track packs a punch in the action sequences and allows for the militaristic score and explosive sound effects to really shine during the busy third act without overwhelming the dialogue and creating distortion, but the uncompressed 2.0 stereo mix accomplishes the task if you’re watching without the benefit of additional speakers and subwoofers. English subtitles have also been provided.
Arrow has assembled a very nice (and about as thorough as conceivably possible) selection of bonus features that starts off with an audio commentary with editor Barry Zetlin moderated by Red Shirt Pictures’ Michael Felsher. Although the conversation occasionally covers his involvement with the production of Hired to Kill, and his stories of working out of a hotel room near the Greek filming locations are worth a listen, the commentary sticks primarily to a broad overview of Zetlin’s career in film editing. Felsher is never shy of an intelligent question and Zetlin always has some interesting anecdotes and observations at the ready.
Mastorakis is the subject of the interview featurette “Hired to Direct” (27 minutes) and the director wisely uses the time to chart the development of Hired to Kill from script to screen and the pitfalls and upsides of shooting a glossy Hollywood-style action drama for less than what one usually costs. “Undercover Mercenary” (17 minutes), a Red Shirt production, turns its attention to star Thompson and the veteran actor makes for an excellent interviewee as he briefly discusses the origins of his career before making the jump to working with Mastorakis (his father-in-law at the time) on Hired to Kill.
The disc-based extras conclude with a full-motion gallery of production stills (7 minutes) set to music from the film and the original theatrical trailer (3 minutes). You can also find the original screenplay, titled Freedom or Death, available as a BD/DVD-ROM extra. Included with this release is a collector’s booklet featuring a new essay on Hired to Kill written by James Oliver (illustrated with color stills from the film) and information about the transfer, a reversible cover sleeve with new artwork by Graham Humphreys and the original poster image on opposite sides, and a DVD copy containing a standard-definition presentation of the film and the accompanying supplements.
If you’re in the mood for a colorful, politically incorrect action flick with fire in its belly and low-fat yogurt for a brain, Nico Mastorakis’ utterly gonzo Hired to Kill should do quite nicely. If not, then damn your hide for daring to have actual standards. Once again Arrow Video has given one of Mastorakis’ pulpiest B-movies a dandy Blu-ray presentation with its standout being the exquisite high-definition transfer. Action junkies need only apply.