delta force commando mark in foregroundDELTA FORCE COMMANDO (1987) – Balladeer’s Blog’s salute to cult icon Mark Gregory continues, with two movies that proved he could be just as dynamic as the villain as he was playing the hero, like in his other action flicks. Previously, I’ve reviewed Mark’s two movies in which he played the post-apocalypse/ dystopian biker Trash in 1990: The Bronx Warriors and Escape from the Bronx, plus his Thunder Warrior trilogy of Rambo knockoffs, and even his quasi-peplum Adam and Eve vs the Cannibals in which, as Adam, he fought dinosaurs, cavemen and green-skinned cannibals.

mark g picBecause Italian filmmakers were always Enzo-on-the-spot with cash-in imitations of mainstream movie hits, it was inevitable that they would produce flicks coat-tailing on the popularity of Delta Force. Mark Gregory’s screen presence in Delta Force Commando reminded me of what a shame it is that he walked away from his acting career in 1989, just when he was at the peak of his game and his earnings. If only he’d signed up with Cannon films then.

I’ve long felt that if Mark had held on into the 90s, he might have turned up as either heroes or villains in movies made by Quentin Tarantino or Robert Rodriguez, and, in the 21st Century, as a player in one of the Expendables movies. Again, as either a good guy or a bad guy.

mark gregory in dfcHell, in Delta Force Commando, Mr. Gregory spices up the schlock as the main villain, even though his character is never even given a name! Hey, that’s Italian exploitation cinema for ya!

Villain X, as I’ll call Mark’s character (at right), has a much shorter haircut than usual and dresses like a Miami Vice or Scarface ’83 gangster in his first several scenes.

Villain X, who has scarring on the lower left side of his face, speaking of the Pacino movie, leads a covert mark aiming weaponteam of communist commandos from Nicaragua in a daring raid on a military base in Puerto Rico. Villain X and his team succeed in making off with a nuclear bomb despite a few firefights, one of which kills the pregnant wife of Delta Force member Lieutenant Tony Turner (Brett Baxter Clark).

Enraged, Tony, the leading hero of the film, drags a reluctant Captain Samuel Beck (THE Fred Williamson) into helping him try to thwart the Nicaraguans’ mission. Thanks to Villain X’s skill and leadership, the communist squad succeeds in escaping with the nuke in spite of a few fatalities on their team. Mark almost kills Tony and Sam during the battle, to top things off.

Since this is a Mark Gregory-centric review, I will note that we get several scenes without Villain X, who shows up again later in the film for even more action. Delta Force Colonel Keitel (Bo Svenson) is assigned by Washington D.C. to lead a mission to recover the nuclear explosive before the Nicaraguans can unleash it back in their country. 

mark and fred on posterWhen Keitel’s pencil-pushing superiors stall the mission for unspecified reasons, Tony Turner goes full John McClane, hijacking a fighter aircraft piloted by the still-reluctant Captain Beck, and sets off to get revenge on Villain X for killing his wife … oh, and to recover the stolen nuke, too.

The middle part of Delta Force Commando is full of unrealistic action scenes in which Turner and Beck wipe out dozens of Nicaraguans while exchanging very lame banter. After commandeering assorted land and air vehicles while fighting their way across Nicaragua (really Brazil), our heroes catch up with Villain X and his troops at a bridge.

mark feeling scarsMark is now dressed in a muscle shirt and rallies his forces against the attacking Turner and Beck in their commandeered helicopter. Amid the action, we learn that Villain X and company belong to a communist movement which feels the Marxist Nicaraguan government of the time is not far enough to the left, so they plan to unleash the stolen nuke on the U.S. backed anti-government Contras, just to show how serious they are.

mark wild eyedNaturally, there will be untold numbers of collateral victims in the resulting explosion, but Villain X and his troops, including his butt-kicking woman Maria (Divana Maria Brandao), care only about their cause. The wild-eyed Mark eventually shoots down Turner and Beck’s helicopter and mistakenly thinks they died in the resulting crash landing.

Villain X recognized Tony Turner as the Delta Force man he clashed with back in Puerto Rico and assumes that even more Delta Force operatives will be attacking his soldiers very soon. Maria vows to hold off any reinforcements so that Mark can reach his chosen detonation location and set off the nuke.

maria and markTurner and Beck finish off the remaining members of Villain X’s team, including Maria, so Tony and Mark have each killed the other’s woman. But at least Maria was an active combatant.

SPOILERS: With guns blazing, Turner and Beck fight their way to Villain X’s new position and start a firefight with his reinforcements. Mark sets the nuke to explode and then he and Tony engage in the Boss Fight, first with guns and ultimately hand to hand. Tony gets revenge on Mark, Bo Svenson’s Delta Force team shows up to save the surrounded Turner and Beck, and naturally Nicaragua does not fall victim to a nuclear explosion.

Delta Force Commando is typical of the “bang bang, boom boom, punch punch” action flicks of the 80s, with much more gunfire, explosions and martial arts fights than dialogue. It’s nothing special and I wouldn’t have bothered reviewing it if not for Mark Gregory and Fred Williamson being in the cast.

ten zan the ultimate missionTEN ZAN: THE ULTIMATE MISSION (1988) – This oddball action movie from the 80s occupies a very odd footnote in international cinema. This co-production of Italian film companies and the dictatorial North Korean government came about when the totalitarian Kim family had their people seek out Italian director Ferdinando Baldi at the Cannes Film Festival.

The deranged Kims have a history of trying to make North Korea’s film industry become a major player on the international market, even resorting to abducting citizens of other countries, like during the making of Pulgasari. (My review of that strange kaiju movie and its real-life victims is HERE.) The North Korean government felt out Baldi’s willingness to be the director for a joint Italian-North Korean production that would be allowed to film in many normally off-limits areas in the North. 

Originally, the joint project was going to be a film about Ten Zan Mountain during the Battle of Iwo Jima, but the North Korean government refused to support a film that might depict the U.S. military in a positive or even non-derogatory way. Ultimately, an agreement was reached to just do a typical guns-blazing, fists flying 1980s movie like the Sly Stallone Rambo series or Missing in Action and other Chuck Norris films. As long as the villains were fictional and the heroes were not tied to any specific country. 

kim dynasty scumTo be brief, Ferdinando, his cast and crew traveled to North Korea, where, on the plus side, they did indeed get to film in typically restricted areas of the country, but on the minus side, had to deal with Kim’s cronies meddling and shaping the finished product. Fortunately, the resulting movie, Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission, is NOT a propagandistic valentine to the Kim line of dictators, but it IS a weird mishmash of story elements with some good action scenes and some absurdly awkward action scenes.

Since my point here is to review the movie and Mark Gregory’s role in it, suffice it to say that one source for the full story behind the making of Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission is the book North Korean Cinema – A History by Johannes Schonherr. Ironically, though, Johannes’ chapter on this film mistakes Mark Gregory for Romano Kristoff, even in a few photos.

ten zan ultimate mission another posterMark (at left), with short hair once again, plays the main action villain Jason (no last name given), but because 1988 and 1989 were the years when Mark Gregory was riding reasonably high in his niche of the Italian film industry, he got above the title billing with Frank Zagarino, one of the two heroes in the story. My fellow fans of bad and fringe cinema will be familiar with the way a “big” or at least cult name will be used to sell a movie, even though that name figure may have a fairly small role.

At any rate, Schonherr seems to have erred by assuming that Mark’s above the title credit meant he was Zagarino’s action sidekick Ricky, who was really played by Romano Kristoff. As stated above, Mark Gregory actually portrayed the villain named Jason.

ten zan title screenThe story: Evil mad scientists in a fictional Asian country have been covertly abducting victims and using them as human guinea pigs for genetic experimentation. Rumors abound among international intelligence agencies that – after countless dead test subjects – the villains have perfected their process and are on the verge of creating a master race (the script openly uses those words, but no nation in particular is designated as the villains’ homeland).

Professor Larson (Charles Borromel), a scientist who works for the multinational group called Final Solution Research (!) , hires two mercenaries – Lou (Frank Zagarino) and Ricky (Romano Kristoff) to lead a commando mission against the evil scientists and destroy their jungle headquarters and their perverted technology.

To back up a bit, we meet Mark Gregory’s Jason first, as he oversees a villainous raid on a hapless village in order to secure additional human guinea pigs for his superiors. After a massive slaughter, only two young women from the village survive. Mark is dubbed by someone putting on a German accent, and is memorably self-assured and cruel.

maviThe military vehicles and weaponry look fairly good (but certainly not blockbuster level) and this movie always gets extra points from me for the meta reason of knowing we viewers are seeing several North Korean locations normally unseen by the world at large.

The mercenaries Lou and Ricky survive several attempts by the bad guys to kill them off as they make their way to their ultimate destination. Along the way they link up with the third member of their team – a female commando named Mavi (Kim Follett). There’s also a scene aboard a train in which Mark Gregory shows up in typically badass fashion to try warning the mercenaries away from proceeding with their mission. 

sabrina sianiOne of “Jason’s” co-commanders among the villains is the blonde Glenda, played by yet another icon of Italian exploitation flicks, Sabrina Siani. The two have a complicated history, as we learn in their shared scenes throughout the movie. 

Unlike Delta Force Commando, in which Mark’s villainous character appeared only at the beginning and then the final third of the story, in Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission he and his troops show up repeatedly all the way from start to finish. His Jason is a fanatical devotee of his unseen superiors and is thoroughly hateable as he commits assorted atrocities throughout the film.

Typical of these action-oriented stories, it’s largely just gunfights, fistfights, martial arts duels and clashes of military hardware. Lou and Ricky have half-decent chemistry and banter pleasantly enough. Lou, as the top star, becomes the love interest for their female comrade Mavi.

SPOILERS: Our heroes fight their way all the way to the villains’ headquarters, “played by” the real-life Pohyong Buddhist Temple. They are shocked to discover that the top man in the master race organization is really Professor Larson.

Many reviews claim it’s ludicrous that Larson would have been involved with hiring our three heroes to raid his true organization’s headquarters. I’m a bit more generous about that. Given the conventions of spy/ action/ pulp villain storytelling, it seems reasonable that Larson’s service at FSR was really just part of his cover identity.

mark gregory as jasonTo maintain that cover, he would naturally have to pretend to go along with his orders to hire personnel for the raid, but it would also give him the advantage of knowing what was going on at all times. For instance, it explains how Mark Gregory’s Jason knew exactly when to surreptitiously approach the good guys during the train scene. And Larson only hired three people, comically enough, but apparently just didn’t count on those three being good enough at their jobs to make it all the way to their targets.

After our heroes kill Professor Larson and countless troops at the villains’ administrative headquarters, they learn they must quickly reach the bad guys’ backup laboratory to destroy the master race technology before Jason and his troops can get there and make off with the bio-agents.

We get a competently rendered shoot ’em up finale, as Lou, Ricky and Mavi succeed in killing off all of Jason’s operatives as well as mortally wounding Jason himself. Mark Gregory goes out in a Cagneyesque scene in which he drags his wounded body to a device that lets him blow up all of the master race tech and research notes.

mark as jason in tztumI don’t know if he did it to keep all of it out of the hands of the people who just beat him (and who wanted it destroyed anyway) or because he had a dying revelation that such information is too dangerous for anyone to possess. Anyway, with the story over, Ricky goes his separate way, while Lou and Mavi go off together.

Once again, I’ll point out that Ten Zan: The Ultimate Mission is a B-film at best, but its odd production background and the presence of the late Mark Gregory in his second and last villainous role made it a must-watch for me.




Filed under Bad and weird movies


  1. Thanks for these interesting reviews! I do not believe that I had even heard of these films before now! 😔

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