Unmasking the Idol [1986]

Have you ever wondered what James Bond would be like if he was an asshole ninja with a pet karate baboon? What do you mean, you haven’t wondered that? I can pretty much guarantee that you are wondering that now. Thank goodness “Unmasking the Idol” exists to answer this question that’s now burning a hole in your rational brain! Yes, friends, that poster you’re viewing at Screen Right is a real poster, showing real stuff that really happens in “Unmasking the Idol.” Really. This movie is probably the greatest production that has ever borne the MGM logo.

I stumbled upon “Unmasking the Idol” in the listings for Impact: Action on Demand, a digital cable feature that totally justifies what I spend with Comcast on a monthly basis. The plot blurb read something like “a super agent and his karate kicking baboon sidekick must save the world from terrorists intent on starting WW3 with nuclear bombs.” Now, those are all thoughts that, independently of one another, make sense. I was pretty sure that “baboon” was a typo, or at very least an overstatement, and that “super agent” was just referring to a wise-cracking guy in a tux. I was entirely wrong. Unlike so many exploitation films, this one delivered on its promises, because not only WAS there a super agent AND a high-kicking karate baboon, there was A LOT of both, and those SOBs stopped the fuck out of World War III.

"Unmasking the Idol"
Our lead character is Duncan Jax (played by Ian Hunter, a name that is pretty action-tastic all on its own), a monster-truck-driving super-spy with a taste for adventure and cringeworthy mid-80s Orientalism. We are told through dialogue that he’s also “the greatest ninja in the world,” and we learn he’s a super-spy because he winds up in a casino macking on hot exotic babes within the first ten minutes of the film (but only after a helium-balloon escape and a conversation via wristwatch-videophone). Actor Ian Hunter’s only credits are for this film and its sequel, “Order of the Black Eagle,” a fact that is as sad as it is unsurprising. Hunter’s signature acting technique, undoubtedly developed because he knew he’d spend a lot of screen time with a ninja mask covering most of his face, centers around his bulging his eyes to indicate a variety of moods ranging from clever to seductive to dangerous. This only ever makes him look “crazy,” but I kind of love that. He comes across a little like a Steven Seagal-Michael Bolton hybrid acting in a silent film.

"Unmasking the Idol"
Let’s clarify: Duncan Jax is a James Bond-Steven Seagal-Michael Bolton hybrid acting in a silent film who works with a baboon in a karate gi, lives in a secret compound full of ninja babes, and is assisted by a cranky Asian guy who plays the Q role. Oh! And there’s the small matter of his arch-nemesis (a German-probably-Nazi terrorist who killed Jax’s parents) being named Goldtooth.
"Unmasking the Idol"
Goldtooth. Really.

"Unmasking the Idol"
Ernest Hemingway, the Lost Years

There’s a plot that ties all this together–trust me. Jax discovers that Goldtooth is working with Scarlet Leader, a mysterious ninja whose skills rival Jax’s own and whose interests include “feeding old people to piranhas.” They are plotting to steal a whole mess of gold that they’ll use to finance World War III. Casting a Japanese character and a German character as the nemeses in this film is undoubtedly a sly allusion to the Axis powers of WWII… or it’s just lazy post-“G.I. Joe” jingoism (or both; who knows?). Jax is tasked with taking his karate baboon and army of ninja babes to Devil’s Crown Island to thwart the baddies, with the reluctant help of various ill-sketched-yet-colorful characters, including The Whale, a guy who is definitely fat and who might be South American or Russian, depending on the scene you’re watching at that moment.

"Unmasking the Idol"
There are a couple of things about this movie that allow it to populate that magical, elusive plane of true “So Bad It’s Good”* cinema. First off, this movie isn’t jokey–it’s an adventure story in the tradition of Indiana Jones (itself envisioned in the tradition of black-and-white serial stories), or that of the aforementioned James Bond films. Hell, “Unmasking the Idol” even has a completely incredible warbled theme song over the opening credits that sings the praise of Duncan Jax! Secondly, the movie had a budget. Actual cash was dumped into this insane mess, so there are stunts and explosions and sets and everything. Actors wrestle with alligators, dangle from helicopters, and get kicked in the head by ninjas. Thirdly–and maybe MOST importantly–this film is NEVER BORING. Something is always happening, whether it’s in the form of awkward dialogue, monkey hijinx, or ludicrous action.
*I know, I know–I still struggle with this phrase, but the shoe is fitting so well here!

"Unmasking the Idol"
It shouldn’t surprise anyone to learn that director Worth Keeter is responsible for a number of “Power Rangers” episodes as well as such direct-to-video flicks as “Snapdragon” (starring a pre-Amanda-Lepore-ed Pam Anderson) and “L.A. Bounty” (Wings Hauser *and* Sybil Danning–digest that for a moment, won’t you?). I haven’t seen any of those movies, but I’m going to go out on a rickety limb her and claim that “Unmasking the Idol” is his masterpiece, and probably also the greatest film ever to be made on the sandy shores of the Carolinas. I’ll also assume at least one of two things regarding story-creator and producer Robert P. Eaton is true: he was eleven years old at the time he created the tale of Duncan Jax and/or this is a pseudonym for Robert Hamburger.

"Unmasking the Idol"
This baboon just kicked your ass, and now he’s flipping you off. F’reals.

None of you believe that this exists, I can feel it. You think I’m just making shit up, or that this is some Godfrey Ho-style microbudget junkgasm. Oh no, no-no-no, friends–this is ever so real. For those of you who are Comcast subscribers, dial up this bad boy today, or watch it online on their Fancast service. Those less fortunate folks will have to go down a less-traveled series of tubes, but in the mean time, check out the trailer–it’s in German, but that just makes it radder:

13 thoughts on “Unmasking the Idol [1986]”

  1. A modern “pulp” style adventure with bright-colored ninjas, a baboon and a title that sounds like a paranoid Christian documentary. That is so Eighties! Ninjas define the decade for me, the more absurdly colorful and more consistently beat on the better. To see a baboon beat them would be a great thing. Time Warner has nothing like this, alas, so I’ll have to look elsewhere.

  2. I *have* seen both SNAPDRAGON and LA BOUNTY, and yes, both are as minor fluffages beside UNMASKING.

    If I’m thinking of the same character isn’t the evil ninja a female played by “Shakti,” best known to American audiences as the long-nailed girl who crushes Tom Hanks’ hand in VOLUNTEERS??

  3. Man, what the hell is comcast and why don’t I have it. This looks rather great

    I aint told you in awhile TK, but you the rockinest! I was in a bad mood here at the office and your enthusiasm made my day a little brighter.

  4. It’s a shame Unmasking The Idol didn’t take off big time, as Duncan Jax would be a great name for a breakfast cereal.

  5. Ah, the 80s. Cocaine is, in fact, a hell of a drug.

    Odd that they went with a baboon instead of the more traditional chimp or orangutan. Aren’t baboons one of the more face-rippy primates?

  6. After hearing about this I had to go hunt down a copy as quickly as humanly possible, and let me tell everyone the Tenebrous does not lie! This movie is NUTS. Of all the zany elements (and there are plenty, even more than Kate details here), the one that intrigued me most was the filmmaker’s obvious and unexplained obsession with hot air balloons.

    Maybe because it rhymes with “baboon”?

    (BTW, Mr. Boon is played by Typhoon the Baboon, who rides in a balloon. Perhaps the script was written through a 2-day game of word-association?)

    Anyway, lovers of action trash and the cinematically kooky (to say nothing of martial-arts primates) should take the Empress’s advice. I’m glad *I* did!

  7. OK, I sincerely hope that some folks in addition to Vicar got to see this movie, because I just can’t get enough of it. Baron XIII has demanded that I seek out the rest of Typhoon the Baboon’s filmography, because he was incredibly impressed with his audacious performance in this flick.

    Samuel, I cracked up so hard at your incisive comment about the title. Holy wow–it DOES sound like something that Jack Chick would write! And yeah, I’d watch *that* movie too.

    Gene, I think you just may have hit on some serious trivia there! A quick IMDB also reveals that the singularly-named actress Shakti also appeared in “The Golden Child,” a movie that I’ve seen about forty times and never on purpose, mainly because it was on repeat on cable for a number of years in the 80s. Sweet memories…

    I am so glad I brightened your day, Erich! I just can’t get over how flippin’ weird and amazing this movie is. Why isn’t this on every “Best Bad Film” list on the internet?!

    Costuminatrix–I have a feeling Goombuns might be some sort of Jersey Shore derivative of sticky buns. I’ll have to give this some thought…

    DB–I am now wanting to design the Duncan Jax cereal box.

    Joan, Baron and I were commenting on the weird choice of primate as well! I’m surprised this wasn’t dedicated to, like, three stuntmen who were killed or maimed during the production of this movie…!

    Vicar, I am SO happy you got to see this! Whenever I need a lift, I just watch that German-language trailer. INSTANT smiles, man 🙂

  8. I am watching this as I write this, and Kate could not have put it any better. It’s insane … soooo insane.

    At times I had to stop and wonder if the campy weirdness was … intentional (a la “Killer Tomatoes”)… but it’s hard to tell.

    Oddly enough, I was searching to see who else had heard of this piece of psychotronic cinema when I found Kate’s hilarious review.

    She is totally right, btw.

  9. Awesome film. I think the next Jax film, “the order of the black eagle” is a little better, but the sheer ninja content on this one alone puts it up there w/ my favorite films of all time. The scene where the 80’s “street toughs” are harassing Boon, and Duncan instantly goes ninja on them is priceless and worth the cost of admission alone. If you were caught up the 80’s ninja craze like I was (at ten years old) this movie will make you weep tears of joy!

    Both films are available by streaming on Netflix instantly by the way.

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