Rambo is Back
When the First Blood movie debuted in 1982 and Sylvester Stallone made film and knife history with his survival knife by BLADE Magazine Cutlery Hall-Of-Fame® member Jimmy Lile, hardly anyone could have imagined that after 36 years and three sequels, John Rambo would return to combat.
However, in the fifth installment of the franchise, Last Blood, Rambo returns not to fight an overpowering military opponent but to save a young woman dear to him from a Mexican sex trafficking cartel.
The Knives of Last Blood
As with each Rambo flick, a new knife is an integral part of the star’s equipment, and this time it’s two new knives.
A veteran of over 25 years in the cutlery industry and a designer of many knives, he also has written four books on combat and tactical knives. His designs include the Boker Speedlock/Toplock, the Kalashnikov series and his Pohl Force Alpha models. In 2007 he founded Pohl Force to concentrate even more on combat knives.
In addition to providing tactical knives for special forces, Dietmar also has become a leading contact for the film industry.
From First Blood to Last Blood
In January 1983, First Blood debuted in Germany. The film and its iconic knife knife made such a strong impression on Dietmar that he knew he wanted to develop his own knives.
Now, nearly, four decades later, the circle closes and the dream has become reality. The man who at 16 was so strongly influenced by Stallone and his embodiment of Rambo was allowed to develop knives for “Sly” and the final part of the Rambo saga—Last Blood.
Pohl Meets Stallone
Pohl and Stallone first met when Dietmar visited the set of Expendables 3 and talked with Sly about his film knives, from Rambo and Cobra through to the Expendables series. In memory of the meeting Dietmar handed Stallone a Pohl Force Foxtrot One survival knife with a special engraving. The knife was to become the Pohl-Stallone link.
During the shooting of Escape Plan 3, Sly asked the movie’s props team to get the Pohl Force knife for use in the film. The movie’s weapons expert, Rock Galotti, a member of Stallone’s inner circle, was so impressed by the knife that he kept in touch with Dietmar after the shoot. When it came to choosing the knife for Last Blood, Sly relied on Rock’s expert advice.
Going in a Different Direction for Last Blood
From the first go it became clear Stallone wanted to go in a different direction than with the last two Rambo sequels.
The knives were to be much more tactically natured and adopt some of the technical aspects of the first Rambo models. Stallone also attached particular importance to size with blade lengths between 8 and 9 inches. Ergo, the actor sent pictures of himself with knives of a comparable size in his hand. The overall proportions simply had to be right.
“When I had all this information on the table, I knew Sly and I had the same ideas about the knives,” Dietmar recounted.
Stallone had also been involved with Dietmar’s earlier work and had expressed ideas about the movie’s bowie knife.
With a time window of only a few days, Dietmar designed both the tactical subhilt fighter (MK-9, aka “Movie Knife 9”) for the film’s final fight scene and the bowie (MK-8) Rambo uses at the movie’s outset. After the first drafts it was clear Dietmar was on the right track.
To make the proportions clearer for Stallone, Pohl sent pictures of his hand holding paper prototypes. The star’s comment, “Dietmar, we’re almost there … make the blade of the bowie a bit slimmer so that it comes across even deadlier,” signaled that the design of the MK-8 had been decided.
Design Features of the Last Blood Knives
As a special feature, Stallone asked for a red-stag handle. For a knife of this type, with a relatively large handle, this was already a challenge. To find stag in a reasonable quality and in such dimensions is not easy, but again Pohl endeavored to present a stag variant of the MK-8 on schedule.
The MK-9, which Sly nicknamed the “Heartstopper,” is an uncompromising tactical blade one would expect from Dietmar. The distinct design is reminiscent of the Pohl Force Alpha One, for example. In addition to the typical Pohl Force CNC-milled handle, the screws with the hole and slot for tightening set a technical accent.
The screws have become the hallmark of the German knife company. With the exception of some all-steel-construction models, there is actually no Pohl Force design without the screws.
Another notable design feature is the skull-crusher handle. In both models, the skull crusher protrudes from the handle butt and gives the knife an additional combat function.
The handle butt contains yet another Pohl specialty, a concealed lanyard hole. While on most knives the lanyard hole is drilled through the handle end and reinforced by a tube, both knives have the hole hidden under the scales.
Stallone gave Dietmar free reign for choosing the knives’ other materials and surfaces as long as they were non-glare.
Another Stallone requirement was leather sheaths. Just as Jimmy Lile was far ahead of his time with the First Blood Survival Knife in 1982 and used elaborately milled screwdrivers on the guard and matte/sandblasted surfaces, Dietmar did not shy from using high-tech materials such as titanium. Titanium is 40 percent lighter than steel and the sandblasting gives it an unusual anthracite appearance.
For the MK-9’s handle material OD green canvas Micarta® was the choice. It is another link between the knives from First Blood and Last Blood. Matte surfaces and a green handle, though as a cord wrap instead of Micarta, also characterize Lile’s First Blood knife. A brown leather sheath completes the package.
Just in case, Dietmar also worked up a prototype with black G-10 scales. However, only the OD green canvas Micarta gave the Heartstopper the right tactical charisma.
The MK-8 provided the option of the stag and G-10, as well as “noble” ebony. Sly approved the project and the next challenge presented itself: prototype construction.
A 14-Day Deadline?
Both knives had to be finished in different versions, as well as pure prop knives with cut-off blades, all within 14 working days. Only prototype construction with a high CNC component was considered. CAD drawings from Dietmar’s hand sketches of the knives, clamping fixtures for the CNC systems, etc., all had to be designed and/or created.
The award-winning Lionsteel of Maniago, Italy, was Dietmar’s choice for the manufacturer. Gianni Pauletta, Dietmar’s long-time friend and business partner, immediately offered his support. Even so, the project remained a race against time. In the final week of prototype construction, Dietmar and his assistant, yours truly, joined the Lionsteel team to discuss final details on site.
Thanks to the invaluable help of Lionsteel, Dietmar and I completed the project and traveled to the Last Blood set in Sofia, Bulgaria, to present the knives to Sly and the prop team.
Presenting the Knives to Stallone
Stallone invited the Pohl Force team and the film’s prop master to his motorhome. The protective hard case with the prototypes and prop knives was opened. Sly clearly liked what he was seeing, reacting with a, “Boy—German engineering!”
He was particularly interested in the titanium for the guards and the CNC-milled structures of the MK-9 handle. It was clear these were not just two new knife designs, but represented an unbroken link to the Rambo bloodline.
Stallone was obviously pleased.
“Dietmar,” he began, “I like all of your prototypes. Decide which one to use in the movie.”
As you might guess, Dietmar was speechless. “Wow! What an honor!” the German maker recalled of his initial reaction. “I could hardly believe what I was hearing. I had to ask if he really meant it.”
Meant it Stallone did—and it was time to choose. It was clear that the Heartstopper must have the OD green canvas Micarta handle and brown leather sheath. When it came to the MK-8, however, the choice was not so obvious.
Black G-10 fit the knife’s tactical character and stag enhanced the unusual optics, but the final choice was the noble ebony. Though a brown leather sheath would be a good match for the wooden formwork, the prop master suggested the black sheath to go with Rambo’s attire at the film’s outset.
Choices finalized, Dietmar, Sly and the new Rambo knives were photographed in front of the motorhome.
Getting the Knives Ready for the Camera
From there, the knives and prop knives had to be modified for filming, which started the following day. All had received sharp blades for the presentation, blades that needed to be reworked.
In addition, some knives had to be equipped with the proper scales. Dietmar and I reworked the edges while the prop shop made the rubber prop knives, which are always used when fast action scenes occur and there is a risk of accidents. Authentically painted, it’s hard to tell the difference between them and the real knives, even close up.
When Sly circulated the first photos of the knives a few days later, the phones at Pohl Force headquarters rang non-stop.
A few weeks after the start of filming, the movie crew moved to Tenerife on the Canary Islands. The Spanish islands are often used in major Hollywood productions, and in this case moviegoers were to believe they were seeing Mexico.
The Pohl Force Team was there to provide on-location consultation. On the set during the second day of filming, a paparazzo from the British newspaper Daily Mail photographed Dietmar presenting a Pohl Knives Force One folder to Stallone.
In May, Last Blood was re-shot in Sofia and the Pohl Force Team was there. Among other perks, Dietmar and I were allowed to take photos and videos on the sets. Sly also showed Dietmar some film shots in which the knives are used.
As a special gift Dietmar presented Sly with the first handmade Heartstopper prototype. It’s likely the knife also was used on the film set.
For the Fans: Collectibles
Andy will build 100 handmade knives per model for Pohl Force. Based on approximate exchange rates at press time, the respective list prices for the custom MK-8 and MK-9 are $1,943 and $2,197.
For every 300 pieces per model, the CNC-manufactured version is available for the collector. The CNC-manufactured version has the standard Pohl Force Logo laser engraved on the front side and the serial number 001 of 300 to 300 of 300 on the obverse side of the blade. The custom version has only POHL deep engraved on the front side and a number above the logo. Both designs have official registered patents in Europe and are patent pending in the USA.
Galco Gunleather supplies the sheaths for the two knives. Galco also supplied Lile Knives with the leather sheaths for the second Rambo film.
The Dream is a Reality
After over 36 years, the circle has closed. The first day after seeing First Blood at the cinema, a 16-year-old Dietmar had taken a round file to his KA-BAR combat knife to give it a Lile-like sawback, and set the dream in motion.
Today, the dream is reality.