The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Death Machines
The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #392: Death Machines
Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never had to fight anyone on a bridge for any reason, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number three hundred and ninety-two, I take a look at the low budget action flick Death Machines, which came out way back in 1976.
Death Machines, directed by Paul Kyriazi, is one strange action movie. It’s strange because, in many ways, it doesn’t come off as an actual action movie. It has action scenes in it, features three badass martial artists quite prominently, and at the beginning sort of plays like a James Bond movie. However, as it goes on and the story gets weirder and weirder while also ignoring the usual plot of the revenge story, Death Machines becomes an art film. Yes, an honest to God art film.
The movie stars Ron Marchini, Michael Chong, and Joshua Johnson as the Death Machines, three assassins who work for the mysterious Madame Lee (Mari Honjo). Madame Lee, in turn, works for an even more mysterious guy in a dark room who has created a drug that makes potential assassins more proficient at killing and easier to control. I’m guessing that Madam Lee’s boss, who we only see once, hopes that the Death Machines under Madame Lee’s direct control will show the assassination world that it’s possible to create a drug that makes assassins easy to control. The drug, proven successful, can then be manufactured and sold around the world to those with the money to buy it.
After Marchini, Chong, and Johnson’s white, Asian, and Black Death Machines are picked and injected, we see them in action taking out rival assassins in some major California town. The DM’s are quick, brutal, and relentless when given a target, and they use various weapons to do their jobs. We see them use martial arts, bulldozers, even a rocket launcher with deadly efficiency. The presence of the DMs in town pisses off Mr. Gioretti (Chuck Katzakian), the main assassin broker in the area. Who the hell are these Death Machine people, and why do they think they can move in on his territory?
So Gioretti meets with Madame Lee to find out what the hell is going on. The meeting is a bust for Gioretti, as he finds out that Lee doesn’t give a shit about his problems and is looking to put him out of business. After being presented with his henchman’s head in a basket, Gioretti kills Madame Lee’s waiter (he wanted to get even) and then agrees to hire her to take out targets his organization was hired to eliminate. The first target? A local martial arts school.
So the scene then shifts to this martial arts school, run by Eric Lee (of Ninja Busters fame), and Frank Thomas (John Lowe), a college student learning the martial arts for some reason. In the midst of a class chock full of students, the Death Machines blast in and proceed to kill everyone in sight (the DMs are told by Madame Lee’s henchman to leave no witnesses). Frank, scared shitless by what’s happening right in front of him, ends up losing a hand in the chaos. After beating, pummeling, and slicing up the students, the DMs leave, believing that they killed everyone. However, handless Frank is just handless and ends up being the sole survivor of the karate school massacre.
Now, in a “normal” action flick after experiencing something like the karate school massacre the Frank character would demand revenge and then find a way to get that revenge. Frank would team up with a friend or a cop or someone and find a way to take out the people responsible for taking his hand and changing his life. None of that really happens in Death Machines. Yes, Frank does sort of want revenge on the Death Machines, but he really doesn’t do anything to get that revenge. He doesn’t train himself to become a better and deadlier martial artist, he doesn’t team up with the cops or a heavily armed friend, he doesn’t embark on a one man search and destroy mission to take out the bad guys. Instead, Frank whines about his life, gets his ass kicked several times while miraculously surviving a second attempt on his life by the Death Machines, and then, in the midst of going after the DMs head on, just watches them. He doesn’t challenge them to a fight, doesn’t try to kill anyone, doesn’t plan on blowing up the DM headquarters. Frank is just some guy who went through a traumatic event, tries to deal with the aftermath of that event but fails miserably at it. How often do you see that kind of thing in an action movie?
On the cop side of things, the lead investigator, Lt. Forrester (Ron Ackerman) seems like the kind of guy who would get to the bottom of a massacre in a major city by a team of weird beard assassins. However, he doesn’t. Instead, Lt. Forrester deals with endless bullshit that impedes his investigation. His boss doesn’t give a flying crap about leads and evidence and all that stuff. Forrester’s boss wants him to take sensitivity classes because the police need to have better relations with the media and the community at large. Forrester isn’t against that kind of thing (he’s a grizzled badass “old school” cop but he isn’t a racist asshole) but he’s got shit to do, like finding out who the hell killed all of those karate school people. And when one of the DMs is captured and arrested, there’s no sense of urgency to find out who the hell the DM is or what the hell is going on. And when that DM escapes custody, kills and maims several cops and destroys a police car, again, there’s no real sense of urgency from any of the police to get to the bottom of anything. You’d think that someone besides Forrester and his partner would want to get shit done after getting their asses kicked.
The Death Machines are fascinating characters because we have no idea who they are. They’re just three guys we see at the beginning of the movie fighting to become Madam Lee’s assassins. And then we see them in action. One of them is captured and arrested after being shot in the head. That DM escapes police custody, goes to a diner in the middle of nowhere, is given a hamburger by the diner owner (it’s the Christian thing to do), and then has to fight off a group of asshole bikers because they think he’s a cop. The other two DMs show up, help out, and they all go back to DM HQ where they apparently decide to leave Madame Lee’s employ and go do something else. Outside of some screaming and grunting, the DMs never say a word. The final scene of the movie has the DMs buying plane tickets to some unknown destination. Where are they going, and what do they plan to do when they get there?
I’ll admit that this all sounds very confusing and sort of anti-action. It all seems so incredibly weird. But Kyriazi’s slick direction makes it all very watchable. Even with an obviously low budget he makes the most of every scene, every location, and every fight scene or stunt sequence. As a result, the movie looks like a big budget 1970’s Hollywood movie. It’s amazing in that regard.
The stoic performances of the Death Machines also helps out, as Marchini, Chong, and Johnson are terrifying. No one seems to be all that interested in stopping them, but then, who the hell could do it? Who is going to stop these guys? If a school full of martial artists can’t take them on, if the cops can’t find them, who is going to do it?
John Lowe also does a fine job as the wimpy Frank. He’s annoying because he isn’t doing what we expect to see in an action movie, but at the same time, you feel for him because the guy is clearly in over his head and is hopeless. By the end of the movie it’s kind of a good thing that he didn’t bother seeking revenge like a typical protagonist in an action movie. The poor bastard would have lasted less than five seconds up against the Death Machines.
Now, I’d imagine that since the movie is now over three decades old a sequel is never going to happen. People are older now, or dead, and who has $10 million to make a sequel to a movie that old? It would be damn cool to see, though. I’d love to know where the Death Machines went. I’d love to know what happened to Frank. I’d also like to know if there’s an internets investigator looking into the whole Death Machines program. I’d imagine someone is trying to figure out what the hell the Death Machines thing was really all about. And who the hell was that guy in the dark room, the mastermind of the whole thing?
Death Machines isn’t for everyone. Action movie fans may be put off by the direction it takes. However, if you’re looking for something different, something weird, something unique, Death Machines is the movie for you. I liked it.
See Death Machines. See it, see it, see it.
So what do we have here?
Dead bodies: At least 25.
Doobage: An awesome opening theme, multiple martial arts fights happening at the same time, gut slicing, stick to the gut, hidden gun hooey, a weird man in a dark room, topless women lounging by the pool, sniper hooey, man thrown off a roof, pipe smoking, rocket launcher hooey, phone booth attack, a big spaghetti dinner, a massive truck crash, an awkward dinner, a severed head in a wicker basket, waiter killing, a karate studio, window smashing, a full on massacre, arm removal, shelving unit attack, inadvertent electrocution via sword, a sad “look at all of the dead bodies” scene, a wicked punch to the face, attempted stabbing, a head shot, face slapping, job hating, shotgun attack, a human shield, some of the worst police shooting in movie history, building climbing, a vicious car crash, free food, biker assholes, a massive diner brawl, kidnapping, off screen rape (maybe), a red Buddha statue with dynamite, a dumbfounded and totally unorganized secretary, a cruel delay, an obvious gloved hand, fucking around with a faulty jukebox, pool cue to the face, a small bar brawl, window smashing, off screen sex, an impromptu road trip, exploding airplane, gunshots, sword attack, and a bizarre ending.
Kim Richards?: None.
Gratuitous: Guy parking in a “No Parking Allowed” parking spot, an obvious dummy, a private plane, talk of professionalism, a long story about spaghetti sauce, red Buddhas, Eric Lee, a guy who sort of looks like Sid Campbell, a cop not doing his goddamn job, cops smoking in the office, cop evaluations, tape recorder hooey, Miranda rights, talk of God, pamphlets about God, biker assholes, a Pennzoil oil can pyramid, a red Buddha statue with dynamite, photograph burning, a bar with a naked woman dancing in it for some reason, old guys arguing, 1970’s people walking to a car in love scene, telling off the captain, and a bizarre ending.
Best lines: “They will do nicely,” “Hey! Business!,” “Hey! Get your ass back in bed!,” “Yeah? Blown up? Blown up? What do you mean, blown up?,” “And you better be here when I call and not out screwing around like last time, you hear?,” “The wine not to your liking, Mr. Gioretti?,” “Ah! Screw that human relations crap!,” “What do you want to be, a detective or a paper pusher?,” “The only thing I need right now is my right hand. And, say, what are you, a nurse or a psychiatrist?,” “Armored vests? Man, these guys are heavy!,” “What are you doing here?,” “A lot of beers and a cheeseburger!,” “Hey! Where’s my beer?,” “Hey! Who’s the Tarzan guy? Hey! Tarzan!,” “Perhaps we can continue with our work,” “Key!,” “Mr. Adams, you have the key in your desk!,” “Would you like to come over to the bar for some coffee? The waiter may not me too nice but the coffee is pretty good,” “Frank you got any change for the jukebox?,” and “Trade a life for a hand?”
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Things to Watch Out For This Week
–The Accountant: I missed this Ben Affleck action flick when it was in theatres. I wasn’t impressed by the trailers, but it got decent reviews so at least it has that going for it. Anyone out there see this? Is it any good? Is it Affleck trying to do a version of the Bourne movies?
–Max Steel: I also missed this when it was in theatres, although I’d suspect that most people reading this missed it, too. It didn’t play long in theatres, nor did it have much of an advertising campaign. I do remember the cartoon from back in the day, and the toys that went with it. I wasn’t a fan of either of those things, but the movie looked okay. Nothing special, but okay. Anyone out there see this? Anyone at all?
–The Harrow: I’m not entirely sure if this low budget flick is a horror movie or some sort of psychological thriller deal. The trailer is pretty creepy, and the idea of someone living in an abandoned slaughterhouse is pretty freaky. Very rentable. Curious to see what the heck is really going on with it.
–Cyborg X: This is apparently some sort of low budget sort of Terminator rip-off chock full of gore and nastiness. The great Danny Trejo is in it, although it appears as though he’s doing one of those “in it for five minutes as some sort of grizzled badass who gets killed while saving a family from a robot zombie” deals. That’s okay, though, as it’s always a treat to see Trejo in anything. And I do have to say that this looks quite good and not all that cheap. I mean, yeah, it’s a low budget movie, but it doesn’t look as low budget as it could have.
–31st Annual Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Midget Nationals Presented by General Tire: This is the indoor dirt midget auto racing event of the year and is shaping up to be just as badass as last year. There are apparently over 350 entries for 2017, which is insane, and it’ll be interesting to see who gets through each qualifying night and who ends up in the A-main Saturday night. The A-main will air live on MAVTV on Saturday night starting at 8:30pm EST, with the preliminary nights online via Racing Boys. You can also keep up on the goings on via the Chili Bowl’s official website. Chili Bowl! Chili Bowl! Chili Bowl!
–Dolph Lundgren has a new flick coming soon, an action movie called Larceny: Another week, and another new Dolph Lundgren movie. Who the hell does he think he is, Steven Seagal or Danny Trejo? Larceny apparently has Dolph as some sort of ex Black Ops/CIA operative turned professional thief who has to break into a prison in Mexico for some reason. Corbin Bernsen is in it, so the movie has that going for it, too. The trailer comes off as kind of low key, which makes it seem like it’s more of a thriller than a full on action movie. Regardless of what it ends up actually being, Larceny will be a definite must see whenever it comes out.
–Frank Grillo done with The Purge franchise?: Well, it sure seems that way. According to the fine folks over at Bloody Disgusting, Grillo isn’t all that interested in returning to The Purge franchise (he also doesn’t see a way to be a part of any further Captain America movies). I’m hoping that this is just Grillo’s way of saying he wants more money to do another one, because his turns as the hero in both The Purge: Anarchy and The Purge: Election Year were nothing short of refreshing. The man is an action hero now, and we desperately need them (Jason Statham was our last one with any major theatrical reach but that seems to be over now). And while I have no idea what the hell a fourth The Purge would be about, I want another one (Election Year was one of the best movies of 2016).
Grillo stars in the sequel to Skyline, which I’m guessing is coming out in 2017 at some point (the movie is called Beyond Skyline). I hated Skyline (check out my review here), but I’m willing to check out Beyond. I’m sure that, much like the first movie, the special effects will be outstanding. I just hope the story isn’t a massive disappointment.
Next Issue: Androgynym !
B-movies rule. Always remember that.
Ron Marchini– White Death Machine
Michael Chong– Asian Death Machine
Joshua Johnson– Black Death Machine
Mari Honjo– Madame Lee
Ron Ackerman– Lt. Forrester
John Lowe– Frank Thomas
Chuck Katzakian– Mr. Gioretti
Directed by Paul Kyriazi
Screenplay by Joe Walders and Paul Kyriazi, based on a story by Joe Walders
Distributed by Crown International Pictures and Vinegar Syndrome
Rated R for violence, language, and nudity
Runtime– 93 minutes
Buy it here