FROM PANEL TO FPS: The Punisher ’89


If fate means anything, I don’t think I could have been fated for a better week for my WAYNE GALE VARIETY HOUR cohost MATT RISNES to loan me a copy of THE PUNISHER ’89 starring DOLPH LUNGREN and LOU GOSSETT, JR. (I know I promised PUNSHER: WAR ZONE this week, and I have watched it, but speaking from both a chronological and a ‘saving the bests for last’ view, I had to delay to bring you my thoughts on PUNISHER ’89 for specific reasons.)

See: SAN DIEGO COMIC-CON INTERNATIONAL 2013 is going on AS I TYPE, and COMIC-CON is a thing that both horrifies and delights me. Would I ever attend COMIC-CON? No. Lest an act of God got one of my comics published by a major publisher or one of my properties were made into a film, I am content to be half a continent away from COMIC-CON.


Is there a time I would have ever attended COMIC-CON? Sure! Back in the early 90’s when I was a COMICS BUYER GUIDE subscriber I would have KILLED to go to COMIC-CON! Why? Cause back then COMIC-CON was still actually about COMICS, and the infamous HALL ‘H’ was filled with people clamoring to know more about CHRIS CLAREMONT’s plans for the X-MEN than they were to see cast of X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST (coming Summer 2014!) show off a few stills from that film. COMIC-CON is not the place for me, and where not a friend was nearly killed by a stampeding herd of TWILIGHT fans a few years back setting my social crowd anxiety level to: HIGH ALERT.


I think the most important reason I wouldn’t want to attend COMIC-CON nowadays is NERD RAGE! The NERD RAGE I’m already seeing spilling onto the internet this week cause Harrison Ford wouldn’t answer stupid questions, or because the KICK-ASS 2 panel wasn’t everything people hoped it would be. NERD RAGE is a powerful source of angst these days, and I for one have had enough of it. It prevented me from enjoying MAN OF STEEL the first time. After that I just threw my hands up and said ‘Let it go, Danno.’ And I have.

All that said, let’s travel back in time… As I established in my last review for PUNISHER ’04, The Punisher was my gateway comic and every attempt at a film about FRANK CASTLE aka THE PUNISHER had left me cold and filled with NERD RAGE, starting in 1988 when Marvel sold the right to Frank and a shitty film was born. (one I would not see until 1991 when it was finally released Direct-To-Video here in the good old US of A.) The “shitty Punisher film” was assessment back then. But was/is it a shitty film, or was it’s lack of THE PUNISHER wearing his trademarked skull, and the absence of his sidekick MICROCHIP, instead replaced by BARRY OTTO a drunk ex-Shakespearian actor named SHAKE that…well…caused NERD RAGE to boil over inside me? Well, it’s twenty-two years later and time to take another look at Dolph as Frank in THE PUNISHER ’89.

See, back in ’89 there was no PUNISHER panel at SDCC where Dolph, Lou, and director MARK GOLDBLATT were contractually obligated by the studio to come in and sell their film. There was no telling what THE PUNISHER was to be. And after watching it once, I remember it purely as a STINKER.

Now, while THE PUNISHER ‘89  is no PUNISHER: WAR ZONE, it is certainly not the stinker it is remembered by me (and thousands more by) as. In fact, watching THE PUNISHER ’89 I was taken aback by what a…viewable…film THE PUNISHER is. Sure it’s opening psychedelic/Ed Woodian stock footage opening doesn’t help, but once the story gets rolling it is, at its core, a pure PUNISHER film.


Ok, so Frank’s shampoo-simple origin of being the lone survivor-turned vigilante after surviving a mob shoot-out in Central Park is scrapped for Frank being a high-profile cop whose family (and presumably Frank) is killed by a mob car bomb, it certainly sets up Frank’s Punishing ways in a quick 30 second montage (as opposed to THE PUNISHER ‘04’s 40 minute opening), it also outsmarts it’s 2004 and 2008’s remakes by having Frank Castle presumed DEAD and THE PUNISHER a crime-lord myth, despite his killing of 125 mobsters in the five years since Franks ‘death’.

So the film opens with Frank killing off all the head mob bosses of New York (as played by Syndey, Australia) except for Gianno Frano, with only officer LOU GOSSETT, JR believing in both the PUNISHER and the fact that FRANK CASTLE is said Punisher. It’s later revealed Officer LOU had problems with booze and gambling and only his partner Frank believed enough in LOU to reform, which he did…to lead a one-man PUNISHER task force.


Anyway, the Mafia at its wit ends, Franco makes plans to take over but is challenged by The Yakuza. This is textbook PUNISHER. In fact one of the early issues of THE PUNISHER I read had Frank talking the Yakuza, long before Quentin Tarantino made it cool in KILL BILL v1.


The Yakuza is led by Lady Tanaka and her deaf/mute adopted white daughter/Yakuza-in-training played by Zoshka Mizak (her only film credit).


The Yakuza kidnap all of the remaining Mob Bosses children, with the “promise” they’ll trade them for cash, but are really selling them into international slavery. In a story that could be straight out of an early PUNISHER comic, Frank’s (sometimes) iambic-pentameter spouting sidekick SHAKES informs Frank of this development, and while The Punisher could initially care less, the memory of his own children’s death forces him into action. For this he steals a public bus, politely lets off a last-stop drunk and then sets about the task of killing all the Yakuza he can.

OF COURSE, the son of Head Mob Boss Whatever His Name Is (he’s no EVIL TRAVOLTA), gets re-kidnapped while Frank frees all the other kids. But Franks promises to come back for little TIMMY or what his name is.

And OF COURSE Frank has to team up with the kidnapped boys dad, Evil Mob Boss Gianno Franco, to do so. The Punisher promises Franco he’ll kill Franco once their mission is accomplished, but this rolls off Franco’s back like an Evil Mob Duck. So invade the Yakuza HQ they do! LOU GOSSETT also teams up with his “deceased” partner Frank Castle and lots of Yakuza are killed, including their leader, as Franco’ son is saved. Franco uses this opportunity to turn the table on THE PUNISHER, but Franco gets his. Despite his rage, Franco’s son gets what THE PUNISHER did and promises the Punisher not to follow in the footsteps of sin. After that THE PUNISHER disappears and…THE END!

So was THE PUISHER ’89 a great film? NO!!! But it was a very 80s action film, if not made about six years too to hit its target audience. No, a great PUNISHER would not roll around until WAR ZONE (which I PROMISE TO GET TO NEXT TIME!!!), but PUNISHER ’89 was a noble first attempt to make a film based on one of their easier to adapt properties until Bryan Singer turned that all around a decade later with X-MEN. So, if you have the chance, turn off your NERD RAGE and give Dolph Lungren’s PUNISHER a chance.


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