When this first attempt to bring Frank Castle, aka The Punisher, to the big screen hit theaters in 1989, practically nobody noticed. Comics weren’t the ripe source material for big-budget feature films that they are today. The film’s star, Dolph Lundgren, had been the villain in the ultra successful Rocky IV (1985) and that the film had a solid supporting cast for the time, including Louis Gossett Jr., but this first version of The Punisher story was filmed in Australia on a shoestring budget, came out dark and gritty, and didn’t even get a U.S. theatrical release due to some legal troubles.
But, the violent little movie became a cult darling once it hit cable and VHS, like so many others.
The titular character didn’t include his trademark skull logo for this one, though it did appear in the pommel of Castle’s knives and in the shadow of his beard. The film shows Frank as a near-mute recluse, living in the sewers of a city infested with gangsters and hoods, pretty much just brooding and waiting to go take out bad guys. When the plot shifts to the kidnapped kids of some high level mobsters, he shows he does have a heart left in there, even if it is a dark one.
But, we really could have done without the weird homeless sidekick constantly spouting Shakespeare.
We never see how Frank gets ahold of all the guns he uses, which he seems to just casually leave behind when they’re empty, along with his endless supply of custom skull daggers, which he uses as a kind of calling card. We could assume he took them off some arms dealer he killed and just has a cache in his subterranean lair somewhere off screen.
Nerd Note: Fans who bought the movie on VHS saw stills on the back of the package from a prologue showing how Castle became The Punisher, a piece of the movie audiences never got to see. It was filmed, but cut from the movie before it was released, but not before the stills got to the printer.
So let’s take a look at the odd and varied arsenal used by Dolph Lundgren as Frank Castle.
The Punisher (1989)
M60 Machine Gun with Underslung Grenade Launcher
Each film incarnation of The Punisher has a signature firearm, and while later versions opted for handguns, the 1989 Punisher went the way of Rambo, upping the ante by having Castle carry an M60 machine gun with what is supposed to be a grenade launcher mounted underneath.
He mostly uses it to destroy an illegal casino full of Yakuza gangsters.
The grenade launcher is actually a Defense Technologies 37mm Gas Gun, standing in for a 40mm grenade launcher of some kind. Since the rig was a custom build for the movie, it makes sense that it wouldn’t be a real grenade launcher.
Though he fires the launcher a number of times, we never see him reload it.
Modified Desert Eagle
It seems Castle was supposed to have a different signature firearm, a specially modified Desert Eagle that included an AMD-65 handguard reversed underneath an extended barrel.
It gives the gun an insanely long profile. The pistol was featured in a promotional photo that was used for the film’s poster and soundtrack cover in foreign markets, but it’s hardly seen at all in the movie, probably because a number of scenes were trimmed at some point.
Smith & Wesson Model 10
While escaping from the torture rack table after being grilled by the Yakuza, Frank gets a hold of one of the guard’s S&W Model 10 revolvers and uses it to set himself and his partner free.
When sneaking into the abandoned amusement park, which eventually turns out to be a trap, Castle carries a Franchi SPAS-12 shotgun, a popular firearm in movies throughout the 80s and 90s, though not many were actually available on the market.
The shotgun was unique in that it could function as a semi-automatic shotgun as well as a pump-action shotgun with the flip of a switch. This allowed it to fire full-loads in a combat capacity, or lower-powered or less-than-lethal rounds that may not generate enough pressure to cycle the semi-auto action. It was primarily designed for police and military applications but experienced frequent malfunctions and was soon phased out for more reliable models like the box magazine fed SPAS-18.
Cut Down High Standard K-100 Shotgun
Castle fires what appears to be a High Standard K-100 pump-action shotgun fitted with a pistol grip and a sawed-off barrel when he assaults the shipping yard near the beginning of the film.
And yes, in the background that is a bad guy he pinned to a van with an arrow…which he then used to zip-line to the ground. It was the 80s, after all.
Castle briefly carries an M1928 Thompson submachine gun while breaking the kidnapped children out of the dungeon where they were being held, though he loses it quickly and never fires it.
When Frank briefly teams up with mobster Gianna Franco (Jeroen Krabbé) to assault the Yakuza stronghold for the movie’s climactic battle, he carries a Colt Commando carbine chambered in 5.56 NATO with a small suppressor attached to the muzzle.
Castle was often depicted in Marvel comics carrying a similar firearm, as Castle was originally a Vietnam veteran. He was also often illustrated with 1911 pistols.