Ghost Warrior is one of the more obscure early titles in the Empire Pictures catalog: it didn’t inspire the sequels or fandom of other early titles like Trancers and Ghoulies and it wasn’t as memorably weird as The Dungeonmaster so it tends to get lost in the shuffle. Perhaps this obscurity is due to the fact that the film isn’t as wild or overtly kitschy as its other early-Empire brethren.
The plot of Ghost Warrior is essentially Iceman rewritten for the drive-in, with a little samurai movie spice thrown in for an exotic thrill. Yoshimitsu (Hiroshi Fujioka) is a swordsman who is attacked by evil warriors and plunged into icy waters sometime during the 1500’s. Four hundred years later, he is discovered perfectly preserved in ice and taken to L.A., where unscrupulous scientist Dr. Richards (John Calvin) thaws him out. The samurai escapes and gets embroiled in colorful, oft-violent adventures. Kindly historian Chris Welles (Janet Julian) wants to rehabilitate him but Richards and his crew have other, potentially lethal plans for their troublesome discovery.
Despite its novel premise, Ghost Warrior is never as action-packed or outrageous as genre fans would expect. Tim Curnen’s script feels like a t.v. episode for a genre anthology that was gently extended to feature length, going for a purely plot-driven approach that mostly bypasses the culture-shock and ethical concerns his premise suggests. It also doles out the swordplay sparingly, missing the opportunities for the elaborate action choreography that might have perked the film up. A genre blend this interesting in concept shouldn’t feel so bland in execution.
Director Larry Carroll gives Ghost Warrior a competent but pedestrian treatment that enhances its television-style feel. Performances try their best with the light-on-character material they are given: Calvin keeps a stock villain role interesting by underplaying but Julian feels a bit miscast, seeming more like a college student than a scholar. Fujioka does the best work as the out-of-time, out-of-place samurai, giving his role a soulfulness and quiet intensity that anchors the film’s slender story.
In short, perhaps the reason that Ghost Warrior isn’t a cult fave is that it all too often feels like a missed opportunity, a rough draft for a memorable b-movie that could have been.
Blu-Ray Notes: Scream Factory recently released this title on blu-ray as part of a double-bill disc with The House Where Evil Dwells. The transfer looks pretty good, with an impressive color palette and a solid level of detail throughout. The 2.0 stereo mix is presented in a lossless form and offers a clean, nicely-balanced mix. The one extra for this title is a theatrical trailer.