Mike Hammer (Armand Assante) is a private eye in New York City, and though he has trouble keeping his exotic fish alive in their tank, he has no trouble professionally - until now, when he hears of the death of a good friend he was Army buddies with in the Vietnam War. This man had only one arm thanks to his injury in the conflict, and had been shot at home by an unknown assailant who crept in through the front door of his apartment and put a bullet in his gut, but the police have nothing to go on as the motive is difficult to work out. Hammer thinks he can do a better job than the cops, and soon makes this case his business in tribute to his fallen friend, but on questioning his wife, all he gets is that he was undergoing sex therapy...
Waidaminnit, sex therapy in a Mickey Spillane adaptation? What kind of woolly liberal thinking was this, real men in his books didn't need anything like that to get their motor revved unless they were some kind of pervert or sumthin', so what was going on here? It was just one of a handful of updates to the author’s 1947 novel added by screenwriter Larry Cohen, who was all set to helm the movie himself until he was unceremoniously removed from the director's position and replaced with TV director Richard T. Heffron, who was relied upon by the producers to get the job done efficiently and on time, though the more stylish and offbeat Cohen might have come up with something more striking had he had his way.
As it was, what you ended up with looked like a television pilot that someone had sneaked a bunch of X-rated sex and violence into, and if it wasn't quite as extreme as cinema could get, then Cohen's exploitation fingerprints were notably all over the results even if he had been fired before he could really stamp his authority upon the affair. There had been a previous version of this, the first Hammer novel, back in 1953 - in 3D no less - but understandably that had to tone down the more lurid plot elements, something the film world was less bothered with now the seventies excesses had defined adult filmmaking from then on, but here the character of Hammer still felt like a man out of step with the times.
That was until the final act, where the nascent eighties action movie tropes really began to establish themselves, that image of the lone hero against improbable odds wielding nothing but a selection of firearms racing to popularity in this decade much as the Western heroes of old had caught the imagination of the largely male-dominated audience. It was they this appealed to, pandered to you might say, casting a leading lady in Barbara Carrera who was not averse to doffing her togs, here playing the shady psychotherapist Dr Charlotte Bennett who runs her own swanky retreat where the patients are invited to shag their way to happiness, apparently quite often in orgies (played out by porn stars), as witnessed by a bemused Hammer. The sex was all very well, yet with this milieu the violence had to follow.
Thus the orgy is intercut with shots of the twins from the same year's camp favourite Sorceress murdered by the resident psychopath in the most undignified fashion - another indication of the eighties was the presence of a psycho killer in the ranks, played by Judson Scott as a man whose mind has been deliberately warped by Charlotte's designs to create an assassin, as backed by sinister Communist forces, just to make it even more of its time. Assante handled this pretty well, maybe not the most obvious Hammer though you could argue the character's era had passed; that said, Spillane would return to him periodically, including after this movie had been released. Laurene Landon was on spirited form as his ever-loyal secretary Velda, and Alan King an unlikely gangster villain was a fairly successful choice, though most of this was evidently straining to be of its own decade and leaving the conventions of when the novel was penned behind, using the brand recognition to piggyback onto its contemporary setting, which may be why there was never a sequel: it had the right idea, but something more original to the eighties was needed. Music by Bill Conti (dig the cop show theme).