Thursday, March 20, 2008

Death Machines

The Action Mutant…
says you better watch out….cause I’m a war machine!

Death Machines

review by Joe Burrows

The year was 1976. America was just coming back totally from the brink of Vietnam, Chevy Chase had left Saturday Night Live for that film career that panned out brilliantly and the country was immersed in the grip of Disco. And a film came along that united people by featuring a trio of highly diverse people acting as zombie-like killers. It is this latter ideal that brings the total vision of diversity to its zenith. In years past, zombies or zombie-esque individuals were always of one racial persuasion: pale. Never before this film had one seen a killer drone of the Afro-American kind, or any other kind for example. Look at any movie with zombie like characters before this and you will always see Mr. Smith and Mr. Jones ambling about the autumn mist, buck ass naked and wanting the taste of any human flesh (as there was no discrimination amongst the victims). But the film I am about to review managed to pull the public together and make them realize that a zombified killer can be any one of us. And that we all can be brought together by fear, as a band of multinational zombies will one day be our undoing but it will also be our greatest hour…

Ok, fuck it. Death Machines is no where near a life altering experience. It was a low budget, exploitation/action pic that anyone has hardly heard of since. And it’s also certifiably gleeful!

The Plot, as it was:
Ron Marchini, Michael Chong and Joshua Johnson are the Machines in question (cleverly labeled the White, Asian and Black Death Machine in the cast credits), three men that have been injected with a serum that turns them into unstoppable, zombie like killers. An Oriental madwoman (Mari Honjo), with the largest, helmeted beehive hairdo since Edna Turnblad, orders the men to kill area mobsters and just about anyone else that comes to mind. After the trio massacres a karate school and cuts off the main pupil Frank’s (John Lowe) hand, they continue their rampage with the pupil and a detective (Ron Ackerman) on their trail.

Don’t shoot me…I’m only the reviewer!:
When director/co-writer Paul Kyriazi conceived Death Machines, he must have with a healthy amount of mind altering substances. This is because very rarely have any other films been this ineptly made and/or this freakin’ insane! We’re talking an amazingly fun and cheesy first 1/3, a sluggish middle and a final act that completely runs off the rails and makes very little sense. Nothing is made to attempt telling a backstory or characterization to any of the DM3 (as I’ll call them); the mayhem just starts immediately and its all just so hilariously bad! Every performance is under or overplayed, with Honjo speaking as if she has just awoken from a nine year coma. We even get an Italian restaurant owner that-a talks-a like-a this-a all-a da time! The film fails at every conceivable aesthetic level…and yet, is such a train wreck that you can’t look away. Everything is a source of humor here, from the hero that can’t stop getting his ass handed to him in fights to the mobsters’ horrible suits to the deaths themselves! Its badness is indescribable and yet, so is its watchability. My only advice is to watch this movie and only then can its ridiculousness really be reveled in.

Body Count/Violence: 47. Though there is much death in Death Machines, the majority of it takes place in the karate school massacre sequence (31 of them, to be exact). In it, the DM3 bust into the school and slash at anyone that breathes with swords and staffs aplenty (concluding with chopping off poor Frank’s hand). The DM3 dispatch their foes in some creative ways, notably by chucking a guy off of a roof and onto a car, running over a mobster in a phone booth with a bulldozer (!), unsuspecting bazooka attacks and beheadings (shown after the fact). There’s also the requisite shooting (with the trio popping right back up after they’re shot), stabbing, exploding, barroom brawling and a timebomb sequence that seems to stretch on forever! Thankfully (for the viewer), subtlety is not one of the DM3’s strong suits.

Sexuality/Nudity: There are topless scenes in a strip club and by a poolside, as well as a woman disrobing to total back and frontal bareness. Though nothing is shown, the aftermath of the night between Frank and his love interest must be mentioned, as she has such a disappointed and emotionless look on her face “the morning after”. Frank just can’t get a break here!

Language/Dialogue: The occasional obscenity, though they’re few and far in between.

How bad was it?:
You can’t tell that this film was a critical darling? Not a positive review in the bunch but some critics and feedback hounds are more apt to point out how funny it is in its ineptness.

Did it make the studio’s day?:
Shot in Stockton, California for a meager $70,000 (and it shows!), Death Machines was released through Crown International Pictures in the U.S. in June of 1976. Though no box office records are know, it does have the distinction of being shot in Techniscope, which was more prevalent to Italian filmmakers in the 70s.

Film: */*****
Entertainment value: ****1/2/*****

Copyright 2008 The Action Mutant.

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