Okay, so Bruce Lee redefined the idea of martial arts action films with 1971’s “Fists of Fury” and 1973 martial arts epic “Enter the Dragon”, capitalizing on the success of these films Hollywood continued to churn out boring western, touching melodrama, and lots of cop movies. Meanwhile those with much fewer dollar leapt onto the kung-fu genre and held on like a starving Pit Bull on an A-1 Sauce coated bunny.
The whole kung-fu phenomena petered out pretty quickly due largely to the over saturation of the market by Golden Harvest Films of Hong Kong dumping every single piece of celluloid in their vaults into second run and drive-in American theaters.
Aside from the even shorter life span of Blaxploitation films and their use of kung-fu elements, most of America would ignore a domestic kung fu film market. However, there were a few exceptions.
Crown International Pictures, the creators and distributors of Death Machines, are still around. And considering they are responsible for such uber-garbage as 9 Deaths of the Ninja and Sidehack (as featured on Mystery Science Theater 3000) is a feat in itself.
Death Machines displays everything wrong in American martial arts movies, and considering that this film was made in 1977, the genre hasn’t improved all that much. It is very easy to see how Death Machines led to America’s fascination with such action star luminaries as Jean Claude Van Damme and um... Don “The Dragon” Wilson.
I think both of them work the graveyard shift in a Hollywood Dunkin Donuts now, which is good news for film fans the world over.
Anyway, Death Machines is not a rip off of popular Hong Kong cinema, but a subtle blending of stunningly bad martial arts movie and incoherent mob drama with a hint of illiterate, unrealized revenge drama and a nauseating romantic tale of a one-armed “yellow belt” and the nurse who cares for him.
Sound like fun? Well, masturbating with a hand full of roofing nails sounds fun, but it doesn’t mean you should try it. So to save you the cinematic experience of Death Machines I will summarize it here.
We begin in a Japanese style garden where six men (two black, two white, and two asian) fight an extremely unimpressive martial arts battle while an asian woman with a mouth at least three sizes too small looks on approvingly. Three of the men die.
The three remaining are the Death Machines of the title. Why are they called Death Machines? I have no idea, and since they have no lines in the entire movie it isn’t made all that clear.
At the end of the fight sequence the Japanese woman sits in the dark while a guy with a mustache (also in the dark, and therefore, like the woman, completely obscured from view) offers us some expository dialogue as to the nature of the Death Machines. They are:
The greatest assassins ever
Ready to kill on his command
Need another test to make sure the first two claims are valid
Mustache guy (Who never reappears in the film) tells the Japanese woman to send the Death Machines after Mr. G, a local mobster, and his organization.
Mr. G., as it turns out, also has some people on his local hit list, a karate school instructor and a local banker. He sends his hit men out after these two targets while the Japanese woman sends the Death Machines out after the hit men hired by Mr. G..
Got all that?
Director Paul Kyriazi maintains the gripping realism of 70’s cheap action film making by ratcheting up the idiocy meter with each hit. A guy with a rifle attempting to shoot the banker is pummeled then thrown off the roof by the Death Machines, then another hit man attempting to shoot the banker (in another location) is blown to smithereens by the Death Machines and their trusty bazooka, yet another hit man, on the phone (in a phone booth remember them?) with Mr. G. is run over by the Death Machines in a Caterpillar Tractor.
In virtually any film these events could have been presented in an exciting manner. In this film what we get is absolutely inept direction. Kyriazi lingers on point-of-view long shots that, were the laws of physics not ignored completely for this film, alerted the hit targets to their oncoming demise.
What Kyriazi does do is have the characters not react to anything until it is in frame. So, the guy on the roof doesn’t hear the footsteps or see the men rushing him from 50 yards away until they are too close to avoid, the hit man stared through a scope while the Death Machines unload a bazooka from their trunk some 10 feet away, and he never notices, and the silliest of them all, the guy in the transparent phone booth FAILS TO SEE the oncoming Caterpillar Tractor until it runs him down.
It doesn’t help that the tractor is running at all of one mile per hour either.
Kyriazi has apparently never heard of the modern film technique known as the Jump Cut. Pioneered somewhere around 1900 the Jump Cut allows film makers to erase unnecessary time by removing frames between one event and another. For example, Bob gets in a car, jump cut, car drives away. We didn’t see Bob fasten his seat belt, turn the key, adjust the radio, roll down the window, scratch his crotch, or back out of the driveway. We don’t need to, knowing he is driving is enough, and since these other bits don’t contribute in any way to the story, they are left on the cutting room floor.
What we get in Death Machines are long stretches of mundane and useless footage. For example, and this is only ONE example, Mr. G. arrives by small plane to deliver money to the leader of his hit squad. We see the hit man guy drive all the way to the air strip, get out of the car, walk to the trunk, take out a suitcase (this is already like two minutes of film), the plane glide down to the strip, roll past the car, throttle back, turn 290 degrees and head back towards the car, pass the car AGAIN, turn AGAIN, slowly come to a stop, and finally after what feels like ten million years, Mr. G. awkwardly climb out of the cockpit.
But, back to the story...
Mr G. meets with the Japanese lady (who has no name) and her associate, a Japanese guy (who also has no name) who inform him that from now on they will be supplying the hit men for all of Mr. G’s assassinations.
Meanwhile, Mr. G’s driver/bodyguard is having dinner (on Mr. G’s orders) in a set designed to look like an Italian restaurant of the variety featured in Lady and the Tramp complete with ethnically stereotypical Italian owner who finishes every word with “A”. For example, “You like-A that spaghetti Tony-A? I make-A it E-specially for-A You”
Well, the bodyguard is run down after retrieving a laughably large red Buddha statue from his plate of pasta. He’s run down IN THE RESTAURANT. The funniest bit is that everyone in the restaurant sees the headlights of the oncoming pickup truck outside the window and runs away screaming while the bodyguard simply sits there staring at his food.
Mr. G really needs to hire better people.
One of the Death Machines appears in the restaurant with a basket and we cut back to Mr. G and the mysterious unnamed Japanese guy eating dinner. The Japanese guy explains that he will offer proof of his hit-excellence, just then the Death Machine with the basket appears and places the basket down on the table.
It contains the hit man from the restaurant’s head.
Mr. G is so impressed he gives the names of the guys he wants killed, the karate school instructor (who is apparently selling drugs) and the bank manager. Why he wants the bank manager dead is anyone’s guess at this point.
We cut to the karate school where the instructor is teaching a class of adults something about Shaolin Kempo Karate. For what it’s worth, Shaolin Kempo Karate is a money making enterprise and teaches little of value in the realm of self defense (I say this as a Karate snob currently studying Hapkido), Here we get our first glimpse of the hero of this picture, a yellow belt at the Karate School, Frank (John Lowe) just before the Death Machines leap in through the window and kill everyone.
Here’s the scene setup, the Karate teacher asks the class who left him a gift of a red Buddha figure. Uh oh, we know that means DEATH in this movie. The Death Machines leap through the window (was the door locked?) and A SCHOOL FULL OF SELF DEFENSE STUDENTS is cut down like tall grass by a Weed Whacker.
See, Shaolin Kempo... waste of money.
Frank has a lucky streak though and doesn’t die, here merely gets his hand cut off,
which is in no way due to his prowess in Karate, but due to his passing out mid attack once he realizes he will have to masturbate left handed from now on.
The film switches to gritty police drama mode following the karate school attack as Lieutenant Forester and his assistant Jerry sift through about forty dead gi-clad bodies to determine who killed all these karate dudes and dudettes.
As is standard in all cop drama/action movies, Lieutenant Forester and Jerry don’t get along well with the other officers in the department, and have an especially bad relationship with their commander the hilariously named Captain Green. Why is it funny?
Captain Green, incidentally, was must have been made up by a novice production assistant or something because his normally African-American brown skin is nearly puke green, except for the areas around his eyes which are pink. He looks like a Bizarro Raccoon!
The scenes in the detectives office play like a low rent version of the old Barney Miller TV show, and had I not remembered the writing being better on Barney Miller, it’s possible that entire script pages from those tele plays ended up jammed into this script.
The scenes never, ever work.
Forester and Jerry talk briefly with Frank and he admits that he could identify the men who attacked his Karate school if he saw them. Frank then makes the single silliest pronouncement of the entire film, “if I see them first I’ll kill them all.”
Yeah, okay yellow-belt man, just keep deluding yourself.
Forester and Jerry leave and we get the beginnings of the moronic love story aspect as The Nurse tries to comfort Frank with reassurances that he can wear a “cosmetic hand”.
These are easily the most cringe-worthy scenes in the film.
Okay, The Death Machines are sent to kill Frank while he convalesces in his hospital bed under the watchful eye of “Officer Kevin”.
The Death Machines arrive and sneak up on Officer Kevin, which isn’t too hard I guess, the white Death Machine leaps into Frank’s room and plunges a knife into the bed.
He fails to check whether anyone is in it.
As the Death Machines flee like little girly-men, Officer Kevin shoots the blonde one in the back.
He gets up.
Officer Kevin shoots him in the chest.
He gets up again.
This goes on two more times until Officer Kevin decides to aim him, and one bullet later, drops the blonde Death Machine like JFK.
Forester and Jerry return to the hospital where Frank thanks them for their clever ruse. Forster then mentions that their new plan is to move him to a new hospital under an assumed name.
Forester then casually (how he knows this is anyone’s guess) mentions that Frank’s boss at the bar wants him to come back to work.
Frank, in a funk of self-pity, admits that he’d be useful because every bar needs at least one freak.
Cut back to the mansion of evil where the Japanese woman enters her room to find the black Death Machine sitting there. This is the first time she speaks at length, which is not surprising consider she can’t deliver a single coherent line.
I think part of the problem is her mouth is at least three sizes too small, the other is she appears to have had extremely recent dental work and a few times I swear I saw cotton in her cheek.
I guess she has sex with the remaining Death Machines but it isn’t all that clear, especially because her dialogue comes out like, “margle... floop-piddle-paddle?.. Poffy slibble abby gloob!!?”
Back at police headquarters Officer Doyle, the asshole officer of the department, is about to question the still alive blonde Death Machine. How he survived a head shot no one will ever know, but he did, and now sits in the hospital like a goober.
Detective Forester and Jerry are none-too please about all of this.
Before you can say James Cameron, the blonde Death Machine snaps his handcuff chains and commences opening a six-pack of whoop-ass on the whole police department.
The whole thing plays like an NRA wedding. Cops are shooting cops all over the place yet no one can seem to hit the black tee-shirted blond guy flinging people around like rag dolls.
He escapes leaving an entire police station in chaos.
Now the film switches gears again and becomes um... well... confusing?
The blonde Death Machine, riding in a stolen police car, ends up at a diner where all the customers are really nice to him, offer him free meals, and helpful advice like “read the bible alot”.
Now, ask yourself this... Would I even talk to a guy who walks into a diner where I’m eating lunch if he is:
Wearing broken handcuffs
Has a head-wound
Is covered in hundreds of bleeding cuts?
No, you wouldn’t and neither would anyone else in the real world. But, since this is a shoddily made film, they do. Adding to the surreal turn this film has taken, a biker gang also enters the diner and STARTS MESSING WITH THE GUY IN THE CUFFS WITH THE HEAD WOUND AND HUNDREDS OF BLEEDING CUTS!!!!
Of course a fight breaks out but not before the other Death Machines track their blonde friend to the diner. Before you can even suppress that laughter yet another fight breaks out as the Death Machines stomp all over the entire diner and its occupants.
Strange as it sounds, this scene was lifted almost completely and placed into a terrible movie named “Universal Soldier” where Jean Claude Van Damme was playing the part of the blonde Death Machine. It ends the same way too.
The blonde Death Machine leaves with his friends.
Now we see the inside of a bank office where the manager receives the Japanese associate of the Japanese woman. He tells the manager to drop his job and split town. The manager refuses, of course. The Japanese guy has a basket, the same one that Mr. G’s driver’s head was in. Inside the basket is a laughably crude dynamite bomb.
The bank manager is handcuffed to his enormous file cabinet and the bomb is placed on a table just outside his reach.
This could have been a very suspenseful scene if it were not filmed by a complete idiot. See, the bomb has an analog clock fastened to the front as a timing mechanism. However, the clock has no numbers or other distinguishing marks on it, so we have no idea, as viewers how long the bomb has before it explodes. What we do get is a scene of the bank manager begging his secretary for the key to his file cabinet and finally... KABOOM!
Cut to the Karate school where Frank and the Nurse, who has become his love interest, pass the time by staring at forty or so chalk outlines on the floor. They then proceed to the bar where Frank has taken up his old duties as.. um... janitor? Barback? Punching bag?
A really tired looking nude girl dances slowly in a bar so tiny only Frank, the Nurse, and three or four extras can fit in the set. A fight breaks out, of course, and Frank is wailed on by two old men. No really, these guys are ancient, and the kick the ever-loving shit out of Frank. Adding insult (you’re ugly) to injury (you have no right hand) the old men do it in front of Frank’s girlfriend.
Poor Frank doesn’t even land a punch.
They drive off and are passed at a traffic light by... The Death Machines! Now considering Frank just had his ass handed to him by a pair of octogenarians, what chance do you think he will have against the Death Machines?
Well, don’t worry, Paul Kyriazi doesn’t even pretend to give us a super-Frank. Instead we watch as he drops off The Nurse, so she can call the cops, then sets off after the Death Machines.
He parks approximately ten feet from them, but they don’t notice because Paul Kyriazi is a terrible director, just as Mr. G (remember him!) lands in his plane, taxis past the Death Machines, turns, taxis back past the Death Machines again, turns, and comes to a stop.
Mr. G hands off a suitcase full of money to pay for the two hits, gets back in his plane, and taxis away from the Death Machines as they pull a bazooka from their trunk, turns, and gets blown into a million pieces.
The Death Machines depart with Frank in hot pursuit. By hot pursuit I mean tailing v-e-r-y s-l-o-w-l-y behind. The Death Machines arrive at the manor house and enter.
Frank watches the men enter then runs towards the door. Careful viewers will notice that his missing hand has been replaced by a black glove. But that’s nowhere near as important as the strange shift in the space-time continuum we get as Frank desperately tries to get to the house, which originally appears about 50 yards directly in front of him is not 250 yards ahead, then 10 yard ahead, then 500 yards ahead.
Just what in the Hell is going on here anyway? Oh right, terrible editing...
Cut to the interior as the Death Machines tromp up the stairs and elbow the Japanese Lady out of the way. She has a distinct look of disgust on her face, which not surprisingly, is the only look she has.
She says, “garble mumble flinkle poop!” and her little Japanese accomplice takes out a tiny .22 caliber pistol. We are led to believe that he is going upstairs to “put the Death Machines down.”
Consider this, so far we have seen several of the Death Machines shot but much higher caliber weapons than that .22 yet they never even wince. NOW we are expected to believe, and he is expected to sell the idea, that such a little pea shooter can do anything other than really piss off the Death Machines.
Of course, he fails miserably and they kill him.
Frank finally overcomes the rift in the space-time continuum and enters the house. He climbs the stairs and is attacked by the Japanese Woman now wielding a sword. He falls down the steps and runs screaming from the house.
Detective Forester shoots her and she dies.
Cut to the Death Machines in the airport, notice the ludicrous bow tie on the Black Death Machine...
This is where I usually say “Roll credits... stuff face in food processor” or something to that effect. Well, there are no credits just an extremely long still shot of the Death Machines.
There is just so much wrong with this movie. Aside from the bad acting, directing, fight choreography, cinematography, script, and complete inability to focus on a single plot line for more than ten minutes, Death Machines has exactly one twenty second loop of terrible synthesizer music, which I will try to capture here in phonetics.
Wooo-weeeeeeeee... weeeeee woooo-woooo weeeee woooo-woooo weeeee woooo-woooo-wooo-wooo-wooo weeee wooo-wooo-wooo... repeat ad nauseum.
The film presented by Rhino DVD contains 4 sets of chapter stops and the trailer.
A word about the trailer here... IT’S AWFUL and seems to advertise a completely different science fiction movie about ROBOT assassins. What the hell they were thinking when that was produced I have no idea. Perhaps they looked at the finished product and realized it was a pooch of a movie.
This is a film that makes me long for the insane kinetic stupidity of a Godfrey Ho ninja flick.