Last night was an evening of crushing lows capped off by ridiculous highs courtesy of BCI/Eclipse’s DVD box, “Drive-In Classics Volume 4,” which I purchased due to its inclusion of Empire fave and truly guilty pleasure “Don’t Answer the Phone.” After getting thirty minutes into “Chain Gang Women,” hearing no less than three folksy songs about the travails of the working man, seeing plenty of footage of guys bitching about being on a chain gang, and catching a glimpse of precisely zero women, I decided to fast-forward through to the end of the movie, only to discover that the title of the flick should really be “Chain Gang; Women” with the latter term only applicable in that “two” does in fact qualify “woman” for a pluralization of that word. Tossing caution to the wind, I decided to pick up another alluringly-titled film: “Death Machines.” Oh baby, does “Death Machines” ever BRING IT!
The bounty of cheesy excellence begins right from the credits sequence, which reveals that headlining star Ron Marchini (apparently a student of Bruce Lee) also produced the film. I’m a sucker for action movie vanity projects (paging David Heavener!), and this is certainly one of the weirder ego vehicles I’ve seen. I’m trying to picture Mr. Marchini picking up this script, eyes widening as he reads, and slamming it down on the table: “YES! This is IT! The role of White Death Machine is the one I was BORN to play!” The credits roll over a painting of a metal pyramid with faces on each side, which opens to show a set of blade-like teeth and the words DEATH MACHINES. Yeah, that’s the sound of my heart skipping a beat–total cheese excellence, people.
The plot of the film concerns the inscrutable dragon lady Madame Lee, who is training a group of assassins who, through the application of some sort of mysterious Far Eastern drug, are impervious to harm. Actress Mari Honjo is an absolute scream–her accent is an amalgam of Fu Manchu movie pidgin and the Bishop from the end of “the Princess Bride” (“mawwiage…”), and her bug-eyed facial expressions demonstrate that she has acting range capable of displaying emotions from “manic” to “batshit.” And did I mention she wears THE draggiest geisha wig? Seriously–just check out this clip (accurately titled “Token Race Fight”) from the opening minutes of the movie:
That’s right, folks–when training assassins, be sure to pair them up according to their ethnicities! I’m a little suspicious of White Death Machine’s technique at the conclusion of this clip, but I suppose ultimately that it’s in character. These guys aren’t afraid to stray from martial arts tradition, as is evidenced by their addition of new kung fu techniques such as “bulldozer,” “pickup truck,” and “defenestration” in other scenes.
I was convinced that this was a post-“Terminator” rip-off, taking the theme of the unstoppable, black-clad assassin hell-bent on eliminating his target and even seeming to mimic a few scenes, such as the police-station bust-up. However, “Death Machines” pre-dates the first “Terminator” flick by eight years. Putting aside such small matters as the “sensible plotting,” “effective use of tension,” and “competent acting” of “Terminator,” this could be… No–never mind. That’s too stupid for me to even complete that sentence.
I’ve concentrated an awful lot on the bad guys, but I’ve made no mention of Our Hero, Frank Thomas, mediocre karate student and ONE-HANDED BARTENDER, whose mono-armed-ness is portrayed via the use of a single black ski glove. I can’t help but geek out all over again on the fact that Frank has a barroom brawl with an elderly guy dressed like a sea captain and LOSES, yet remains Humanity’s Only Hope against the Death Machines. No–f’reals.
“Death Machines” begs, pleads, and even demands to be seen in order to revel in its silly goodness. If you’re not already sold, PLEASE watch the trailer for lip-smacking trash-movie bliss: