Tough to Kill (1979)

An elite fighting force charged with blowing up a dam that is surely a suicide mission! Twenty men against an army in hostile territory with no one to depend on except each other! And one of them has a million dollar price on his head! But money means nothing when it’s your brother in arms, right? Damn right! Except when it’s a million dollars! What are you, freaking stupid?

One man has infiltrated the commando squad and will stop at nothing to collect the bounty on his fellow soldier! But when three other guys on the mission find out, all hell breaks loose! Surely, they’ll frag this traitorous money-hungry scum sucker! Of course they will, but only after getting the information on where to collect the million bucks! What sort of world do we live in when a guy can’t trust his fellow mercenary?

When I look back on my life, there’s a lot of ass kicking I did that stands out. Two tours in the Devil’s Paradise, a tough Chicago cop usually on suspsension, Pan-Indonesian Kickfighting Champion 1983-1987, and high school football hero are just a sampling of the ways I found to get paid, made, and laid. But it was my time in Rhodesia during the 1970s fighting for something or other with a bunch of death-dealing degenerates that I was most at peace. You always knew where you stood with your fellow mercs. They’d cut your throat for a bottle of whiskey and you’d do the same. It was that sort of camaraderie that you can’t get working behind a desk in an office somewhere.

This is why the mercenary movie is my favorite kind of war movie. It mixes the “misfits on an impossible mission” World War II movie with the “emotionally damaged killing machines” Vietnam movie and strips away all the redeeming value of both of those movies, giving you balls to the wall nihilistic violence, which is of course the best kind of violence!

Martin (Luc Merenda of Gambling City and A Man Called Magnum) is the new guy who joins the band of mercs in order to capture Leon and collect the million dollars. Donald O’Brien (Zombie Holocaust) plays Hagerty, the commanding officer. Hagerty is also scheming to get Leon which is why he puts up with Leon’s bad attitude.

Leon is a good example of all that’s fine and true of mercs. He forces a native to climb into a giant pot of raw sewage and then swings his machete over the top of it so that the poor dude in the poop has to completely submerge himself to avoid being decapitated. He also intentionally drips hot wax on Polansky’s pet rabbit while Polansky is playing piano at the local bar!

Some of your war movies might have dudes who express their individuality by having some sort of pet. Big deal. So you keep a gerbil in your footlocker. That just makes you squirrelly in my book. Tough To Kill knows how us mercs really think because I nodded knowingly when Polansky kept his rabbit in his front pocket and took it on the suicide mission! And this film is so expertly constructed that the rabbit plays a vital part in a serious plot twist!

As directed by Joe D’Amato (Beyond the Darkness, 2020 Texas Gladiators), Tough To Kill is one of those scuzzy movies where there’s always something cool happening. For instance, we learn that Hagerty is called Ex-Lax because he likes to make people crap their pants. And how does he do that? He plays chicken with hang grenades! He was even running around in his underwear as part of a trap to kill one of his own men! I’ll bet war movies like Saving Private Ryan didn’t have anything close to that!

Tough To Kill also features characters who aren’t remotely likable. There’s a racist streak that runs through the movie that’s both casual and virulent, but D’Amato manages a twist ending that sees them get what they deserve, so go ahead and watch guilt free!

The budget is naturally limited to camoflauge outfits for the soldiers and a couple of explosions, one of which is a plane blowing up off-screen. Stelvio Cipriani’s throbbing score, which was probably more appropriate for a horror movie, only served to underscore the sleaziness of the off-kilter garbage we were watching. This movie even featured Martin shooting a heyena! Just like the mercs it glorifies, Tough To Kill is a pointless killing machine of entertainment!

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