A recur­ring prob­lem in the faux-grind­house movies being made today is the dis­con­nect between form and con­tent. It’s pos­si­ble to get all the sur­face details right and still miss out on what tru­ly makes the films you love spe­cial. Most of the peo­ple behind the flicks that inspired faux-grind­house auteurs were try­ing to tell the best sto­ries they could tell, giv­ing it their heart and soul. Any mod­ern grind­house trib­ute that wants to tran­scend its ref­er­ences and tropes needs to be invest­ed with that same pas­sion for sto­ry­telling. If you can’t do that, you run the risk of reduc­ing what has inspired you to lit­tle more than a kitschy joke.

SamAv-posSadly, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf is the kind of faux-grind­house enter­prise that fre­quent­ly errs on the side on campi­ness. Presenting itself as a long-lost samurai/spaghetti-western/grindhouse opus, its tit­u­lar fig­ure (played by director/co-writer Kurando Mitsutake) is an arche­typ­al man on a revenge mis­sion. Years ago, his wife and daugh­ter were bru­tal­ly killed by Flesher (Domiziano Arcangeli).

The Blind Wolf emerges from his train­ing just in time for Flesher’s release from pris­on. Of course, the vil­lain is aware of the Blind Wolf and has paid off a vari­ety of col­or­ful assas­sins to kill him. The Blind Wolf forms an uneasy alliance with a mys­te­ri­ous Drifter (Jeffrey James Lippold) as he fights his way through the assas­sins’ ranks — but revenge is nev­er easy and the Blind Wolf has many hid­den dan­gers to face on the road ahead.

Mitsutake is obvi­ous­ly a devot­ed stu­dent of the films he is ref­er­enc­ing — the end cred­its namecheck Tomisaburo Wakayama, Shintaro Katsu and Bruno Corbucci — and Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf reflects his admi­ra­tion for those sources. To his cred­it, he gets a lot of the styl­is­tic tics of those film just right in a way many faux-grind­house films are too lazy to try for: the scope pho­tog­ra­phy looks great for a micro-bud­get indie and he chore­o­graphs the fight sce­nes with skill. It also boasts an excel­lent rock score by Dean Harada that evokes Morricone in an effec­tive way.

SamAv-bluUnfortunately, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf tends to under­cut its strengths with the same kind of Troma-inspired wack­i­ness that plagued Hobo With A Shotgun. For exam­ple, there’s a goofy title sequence with go-go girls, some zom­bies thrown in for no appar­ent rea­son and over­done, delib­er­ate­ly car­toon­ish splat­ter and cheap CGI. Most of the vil­lains are encour­aged to go way over the top, par­tic­u­lar­ly the unbear­ably ham­my Arcangeli. Worst of all, the flash­back to the hero’s fam­i­ly-loss tragedy has a dis­turbing sex­u­al vio­lence ele­ment that casts a shad­ow over the oth­er­wise light­heart­ed style of the rest of the film.

As a result, the tone of Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf is all over the map and sto­ry is often sub­ju­gat­ed to the set­pieces instead of both ele­ments being allowed to work togeth­er. This is a shame because the third act shows Mitsutake also wants the view­er to be emo­tion­al­ly invest­ed in his heroes, an aim that comes unrav­eled when the film crams in ele­ments designed for cheap laughs or shocks. If he’d trust­ed his sto­ry enough to try play­ing it straight, Samurai Avenger: The Blind Wolf could have worn its gen­re-mash­ing weird­ness like a badge of hon­or. Instead, Mitsutake tries too hard to be out­ra­geous and the final film is both too con­trived and too dis­joint­ed to sat­is­fy the way its inspi­ra­tions do.

SamAv-adBlu-Ray Notes: This film has recent­ly received a love­ly, ful­ly-load­ed blu-ray release from Synapse Films. The trans­fer does well by the film’s ’ scope-for­mat lens­ing, bring­ing in vivid col­ors and crisp details that belie its delib­er­ate­ly “print-dam­aged” appear­ance. It’s accom­pa­nied by a 5.1 loss­less stereo mix that makes good use of splat­tery sound effects and the rock score.

This disc also has tons of spe­cial fea­tures. A com­men­tary fea­tur­ing Mitsutake, pro­duc­er and editor/co-writer James Migdal goes deep into tech­ni­cal details, with lot of specifics on visu­al tech­niques, make­up effects and the many cin­e­mat­ic influ­ences the film touch­es upon. There’s also a 90-min­ute mak­ing-of doc­u­men­tary that includes inter­views with all key cast and crew plus tons of behind-the-sce­nes footage. There’s even a neat sec­tion on the musi­cal score.

Next up is a video short called “Sword Fight Choreography” that fea­tures action chore­o­g­ra­pher Peter Steeves demon­strat­ing basic sword tech­niques and basic chore­og­ra­phy for the fights. The cast stud­ied it as a guide dur­ing the shoot so it’s a par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy inclu­sion. A cou­ple of ani­mat­ed slideshows fol­low, one devot­ed to pro­duc­tion stills and the oth­er to char­ac­ter designs and sto­ry­boards drawn in a man­ga-esque style.

The final bonus items are a storyboard/scene com­par­ison for the open­ing sequence that shows just how close­ly the sto­ry­boards were fol­lowed, a ten-min­ute bloop­er reel and a trail­er that exploits the film’s wild imagery well. All in all, this disc is anoth­er fine exam­ple of Synapse giv­ing a lov­ing home video treat­ment to a lesser-known indie effort.