From The Grindhouse Cinema Database
Bare Knuckles is the all-you-can-eat buffet of grindhouse cinema. In a taut 90 minutes, it serves up action, horror, sex and soul with nary a dull moment or unnecessary scene. It's as if the filmmakers didn't want a single thrill-seeking audience member to be let down; a mentality that exemplifies the intentions of the exploitation feature. It's not perfect, but it's damn entertaining and made with vim and vigor.
From moment one, Bare Knuckles treats us to a bloody back-alley brawl by garbage-can fire. The victor is Zack Kane, a local bounty hunter who is cleaning up the streets and making a quick buck doing it. After putting a beating on a low-level street punk, Kane sets his sights on a costumed serial killer known for preying on L.A.'s sex workers. In preparation, he spends long hours training like a prize fighter in the gym and working the speed bag until he nearly falls over.
Despite an almost surgical focus on the task at hand, Kane still finds time to woo the ladies and play a little jazz flute. He even maintains a fashion forward look, complete with tight curls, mustache and black leather jacket. Writer/director Don Edmonds has constructed an archetypal action hero; a physically infallible man incapable of losing a fight or boring a woman.
The polar opposite is Richard Devlin. He's a socially awkward rich kid with a rage problem and serious mommy issues. At night, he stalks the streets in a black cat costume, lurking on fire escapes and murdering sexually promiscuous women. The tone of the film changes considerably when Richard's on the screen, taking on the sinister mood embodied in flicks like I Dismember Mama and Naked Massacre. Shocking moments include the bizarre pool-side conversation between Richard and his mother (boasting the creepiest kiss in cinema history) and the blood-soaked massage parlor murder.
Richard's behavior and flair for the dramatic seem to be directly influenced by the giallo subgenre and one can guess that Edmonds wanted to appease the horror fan as much as the action crowd with this flick. Note the Italian influence in the black gloves, phallic murder weapon and animal costume, which were taken directly from the work of Dario Argento.
Another key element in the film's mood is the setting. Every scene drips with authenticity, depicting Los Angeles as it was in the 70's, replete with dive bars, seedy tenements and opulent swingers' parties. Thank Vic Caesar's funky score and Dean Cundey's naturalistic photography for heightening the mood and perfectly reflecting the hustle-and-bustle of the inner city.
In the end, Bare Knuckles' success hinges on how well it maintains cohesion despite its marriage of several unique ingredients and willingness to please (which can often result in disaster). It can momentarily have trouble shifting gears and gives way too little screen time to John Daniels (I guess Edmonds didn't consider the blaxploitation crowd), but it mostly succeeds through sheer tenacity. The conclusion perfectly reflects this attitude, boasting a citywide chase sequence that moves from aqueduct to train-top to bridge. It's a grueling battle, but exploitation film fans wouldn't have it any other way.
NOTE: A suitably faded and weather-beaten copy is currently available to stream from Netflix. It's definitely worth a look.
Reviewed by Mdeapo