02nd Jul2020

‘L.A. Wars’ Blu-ray Review (Vinegar Syndrome)

by Phil Wheat

Stars: Vince Murdocco, Mary E. Zilba, A.J. Stephans, Rodrigo Obregón, Johnny Venocur, David Jean Thomas | Written by Addison Randall, Tony Kandah | Directed by Tony Kandah, Martin Morris

L.A. Wars follows Jake Quinn (Vince Murdocco), a disgraced cop who yearns to re-join the LAPD but who makes his living working as a bouncer. But when a bloody turf war breaks out between Carlo Giovani’s established mob family and new thug on the block, Raul Guzman, Jake is called back into action and put deep undercover, getting a job as personal bodyguard to Carlo’s daughter, Carla. As the unlikely duo form a close and romantic bond, Raul senses that in order to take over the streets, he’ll need to do something that’ll force Carlo into his crosshairs, and proceeds to kidnap Carla. But what he didn’t count on was the vengeance of one man army, Jake Quinn…

Released as part of Vinegar Syndrome’ Archive line which, according to VS, celebrates “…forgotten cinematic oddities from the video store era” L.A. Wars was a total blind-buy for me – as all of the VSA releases have been so far (the only one I vaguely recall seeing here in the UK is Savage Dawn, gathering dust on the shelf of an old off-license in around 1993). But, having taken a chance on Massacre Video’s release of American Rampage and having LOVED it, L.A. Wars seems like an obvious must-buy for me.

And I wasn’t wrong!

First things first, where has L.A. Wars been all my life? Made in 1994 it would seem, to me, that this film was ripe for discovery back in the day when I spent hours hanging out at my local video store. After all L.A. Wars star Vince Murdocco, a former kickboxing champ turned actor, appeared in a ton of movies I did rent and/or buy at the time: Kickboxer 2, Ring of Fire 1 and 2, Private Wars, Magic Kid 2… He was – basically – one of PM Entertainment’s go-to guys and, as a fan of ALL their output, Murdocco was certainly a familiar face to me in the mid-90s. But L.A. Wars passed me by… Thank god then for this superb Blu-ray release from Vinegar Syndrome, which rescues the film from relative obscurity (there was apparently a DVD released by FlixHouse, of which this films co-director Tony Kandah is CEO, in 2014) with a new 2K scan from the only “surviving 16mm archival elements”.

Even though it was made independently, L.A. Wars plays out like yet another PM Entertainment action flick, but then probably because co-director Tony Kandah worked on a number of PM productions, as did co-writer Addison Randall and their experiences seemed to have rubbed off on this film – which features the same kind of in-your-face, over-the-top, seemingly filmed live on the streets of L.A., action. Complete with explosions, squibs galore, gratuitous sex scenes, and PLENTY of cardboard boxes to crash into (something of a mark of the time in low-budget action cinema it would seem). Which is a very long-winded way of me saying… I loved EVERYTHING about L.A. Wars. Everything!

In terms of this presentation of the film, the Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome looks superb – the 16mm print giving the film a grainy appearance but one that really shows this was shot on film but not to the detriment of the image quality. Extras include “Starting a War” – a fascinating and candid (if short) interview with producer/co-writer/co-director Tony Kandah; with Kandah talking about his childhood fascination with movies, working for PM Entertainment, putting together the funds for his own action movie, how the cast came together and more. Kandah even discusses his disappointments with L.A. War and how he’d do some things differently nowadays.

“Shoot First” is an interview with cinematographer Mark Morris, who discusses his experience working with Andy Sidaris, PM Entertainment and bring in co-director Martin Morris and editor Michael Haight on board L.A. Wars, and how his experience in action movies prior to the shooting of L.A. Wars gave him a good in to get the action needed on the meagre $160,000 budget they had.

The extras are rounded out by two 20ish minute audio interviews with Vince Murdocco and Rodrigo Obregón, clearly conducted during lockdown over Skype/Zoom/Teams etc. Both of which – mainly due to a lack of visuals – are a little dry but it’s still fascinating to hear Murdocco talks about his time on L.A. Wars and his career as a whole (the guy does NOT get enough credit compared to other PM Entertainment performers IMHO). And there’s the original trailer and a stills gallery featuring images from Kandah’s personal collection.

L.A. Wars is still available from Vinegar Syndrome and is ESSENTIAL viewing for action fans and 90s genre cinema; but be quick, the VSA release is limited to only 4000 copies!

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