The early 80s was an era where American filmmakers were going crazy making martial arts films and this is one example of potential, but ultimately more a “so bad it’s good” effort.

When her brother Arthur drowns after overdosing on drugs, Mary Ann Lovitt, nicknamed “Lovely”, searches for answers. Infiltrating the high school where Arthur attended, Lovely instantly makes friends with class president Michael, who knows about the drug situation and yet, he is the only one willing to do something. When Michael refuses to give in to an offer to keep quiet, he is rescued by Lovely but still ends up in the hospital.

When Lovely learns that high school quarterback Mantis Managian is involved in the drug trade, Lovely goes in as a cheerleader. She soon learns there is a bigger game in town and Mantis is just one of a few major pawns in the game. However, it doesn’t take away that some happiness has come back in the form of old boyfriend Javelin Scott, who has come back to town to perform his music. As Lovely gets closer to the ones responsible for her brother’s death, she discovers something shocking. Can she outwit the ones responsible for Arthur’s death or will she be next?

The martial arts genre has been around for well over a century but thanks to the 1970s classic kung fu era, American filmmakers from Hollywood and mostly low-budget filmmakers began churning out genre films like no tomorrow during the 1970s and 1980s. This low budget film tackles the drug market and has a karate kicking heroine in the titular role.

Despite the cheap ultra low-budget of the film, the filmmakers do get an A for effort here. Lucinda Dooling gets kudos for her role as karate kicking cheerleader “Lovely”, who seeks answers by doing her own undercover vigilante work, even while in high school. She is introduced at a high school dance and immediately finds her first target after the opening credits run. Lovely likes to get into fights in order to get answers and of course, there comes a time when since this is high school, we see Lovely take on some mean girls both in the locker room and at a party.

With a film made in this era, one should think “exploitation” but surprisingly, it’s actually pretty tame compared to another film released the same year, Firecracker. Instead, the film at times feels like an anti-drug PSA as we see Lovely fight her way through the typical bumbling henchmen. In this case, they are Gomorrah and Marko, played by the iconic Irwin Keyes and Pee Wee’s Big Adventure’s Judd Omen. We even get a musical number in the film courtesy of Javelin Scott, played by Australian actor and musician Mark Holden.

The fight scenes are what to expect in an American cheap flick, where it’s our female kicking her way and at times, using judo throws. A highlight is Susan Mechsner’s Susie, who is not only the cheerleading coach, but Lovely’s martial arts teacher. At first, she doesn’t want to get involved, but eventually finds herself having to help her student. There is also a bit during the last action scene where Lovely gets help from Susie and all her karate classmates against the drug dealing army, led by two veterans of the biz, Mel Novak and Richard Herd. One has to also appreciate Richard O. Ragland’s score, which is clearly influenced by a certain secret agent. Just ignore the boom mic that appears on and off screen during the film.

Lovely But Deadly is a cheap martial arts film that serves as a sort of anti-drug PSA. Lucinda Dooley gets some kudos for her role as a high kicking high schooler. Despite the technical gaffe, this may be appreciated (and laughed at) from martial arts film fans as a rarity of sorts.


An Elm Tree Productions film. Director: David Sheldon. Producers: Doro Vlado Hreljanovic and David Sheldon. Writers: Patricia Joyce and David Sheldon; story by Lawrence D. Foldes. Cinematography: Robert Roth. Editing: Richard Brummer.

Cast: Lucinda Dooling, John Randolph, Mel Novak, Marie Windsor, Mark Holden, Susan Mechsner, Michael O’Leary, Rick Moser, Mary Beth McDonough, Richard Herd, Pamela Bryant, Irwin Keyes, Judd Omen.