BADass SINema Unearthed - Blu-ray Review
- Published Date
- by Loron Hays
Drive-in flicks are as badass as they are clueless. I will argue to the death that it definitely takes talent to successfully pull off the B-movie. If you listen carefully to director Paul Kyriazi, it sounds like the cast and crew he assembled for Death Machines knew enough about action films to be dangerous. They knew they liked 1974’s The Yakuza with Robert Mitchum; they also knew they didn’t have the money for his fess. The best they could do was ratchet up the action and pray for luck with a movie about three assassins souped-up on a special killing serum. Well, they did what they set out to do and this is why we are STILL talking about this low budget 1976 drive-in movie.
Death Machines is a confusing action flick, one that manages to mix some half-assed kung fu with elements of sci-fi. It is hilariously choreographed with one high-flying kick to the head after another (complete with squeals), but misses the mark with one too many side stories. It starts out with an animated logo and some cheesy synths, but quickly goes off into cloud cuckoo land as we watch three death machines – one Asian, one African, and one Caucasian – fight their targets with passable martial arts.
Starring Ron Marchini, Michael Chong, and Joshua Jackson as the three death machines with abs of steel, the film also features a hilariously disturbing performance by Mari Honjo as Madame Lee, the angry Oriental Dragon Lady who sends them on their assassination mission. The rest of the cast – involving an entire karate class, a dysfunctional police force (with their sergeant apparently in “black face” due to the lightness of his skin pigmentation and the darkness of the makeup used on him), and a squad of clueless killers – are pretty forgettable and only exist to fill slots in the story.
Most cinema cultists know of Death Machines. That’s due to the action sequences, of which there are a number. Remember, they needed to amp up the action sequences in order to make an impact? Three men taking out an entire class of karate kickers is impressive; another featuring one of the death machines going solo after being handcuffed by the police and breaking out of the station is an awkward AND freaky sequence of hand-to-hand combat as officers shoot officers while this Death Machine uses bystanders as shields.
The filmmakers pull off a number of good stunts, too. The style is simple and straightforward, but two scenes stand apart from the rest; they are above average examples of the genre’s effective use of violence on a shoestring budget. One features a man being launched out of a window and landing on his car – which happens to be getting ticketed right before his head bursts open upon its hood - and the street reaction is stirring. The other involves a target eating his fresh spaghetti - after discovering a red buddha statue in it (the calling card of the death machines) - at an Italian restaurant by a large window. It is dark outside and there is not movement on the street. Suddenly, a bulldozer’s headlights break the pitch black as it rams through the window, chasing the man through the building and out into the street for a deadly showdown.
Presented on blu-ray thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, Death Machines is a solid artifact from the 1970s drive-in era of genre filmmaking. It has been remastered and restored in 4k from its original Techniscope camera negative. The film is also a solid reminder that, yes, you should always bring a gun to a knife fight.
MPAA Rating: Not rated.
Runtime: 93 mins
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Writer: Joe Walders, Paul Kyriazi
Cast: Ronald L. Marchini, Michael Chong, Joshua Johnson
Genre: Action | Thriller
Tagline: The Ultimate Exterminators
Theatrical Distributor: Crown International Pictures
Official Site: http://www.crownintlpictures.com/dgtitles.html
Release Date: June, 1976
DVD/Blu-ray Release Date: November 29, 2016
Synopsis: Madame Lu has created three ‘Death Machines’, a trio of martial arts experts who have been injected with a special serum, turning them into mindless zombies, capable only of murder, at Lu’s command. Tasked with eliminating her enemies, the Death Machines go on a blood soaked rampage, killing anyone in their path. After they massacre an entire dojo, leaving only one survivor, the Death Machines and Madame Lu herself become the targets of his vengeance...
Home Video Distributor: Vinegar Syndrome
Available on Blu-ray - November 29, 2016
Screen Formats: 2.35:1
Subtitles: English SDH
Audio: English: DTS-HD Master Audio Mono
Discs: Blu-ray Disc; Two-disc set (BD+DVD)
Region Encoding: Region A, B
Presented on blu-ray thanks to Vinegar Syndrome, Death Machines looks better than expected. It has been remastered and restored in 4k from its original Techniscope camera negative. The results are all about saturated goodness. The lighting – which is exemplary – is defined with a crispness that has previously gone unseen. Lines are thick. Colors are deep and reds pop with a flair that is all about 70s cinema. Skin tones are good, too. Black levels are consistent and offer a better look at the defined shadows. The 2.35:1 presentation is backed by a solid DTS-HD mono track.
Director Paul Kyriazi provides a good commentary that is both entertaining and informative for fans of the flick.
Armed with NEW interviews from the cast and the film’s director, Vinegar Syndrome keeps us entertained. There’s a good director’s introduction which can be toggled on and off. There are also enough new interviews to keep things current when discussing its place in the drive-in history. A DVD copy is included along with reversible cover art.
- Director introduction
- Video interview with actor Michael Chong
- Audio interview with actor Joshua Johnson
- Trims / outtakes
- Original theatrical trailer
- Teaser trailer