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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Death Warrant

December 5, 2018 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Death Warrant Jean-Claude Van Damme

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #487: Death Warrant

Van Damme December: Week 1

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that wouldn’t go undercover in any prison in the world for any reason whatsoever, even if I was a badass martial artist, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number four hundred and eighty-seven, Van Damme December begins with Death Warrant, which was released to theaters in September of 1990.

Death Warrant

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Death Warrant, directed by Deran Sarafian, is an action movie that I’ve had a love-hate relationship with for years. I’ve always appreciated its overall weirdness as it’s a martial arts movie, an action movie, a “cop hunting a serial killer” movie, a prison movie, and a big motherufcking public corruption movie. I’ve also appreciated it as one of star Jean-Claude Van Damme’s earliest starring vehicles (it’s either his fourth or fifth starring vehicle. It depends on where you want to actually place Lionheart, as Death Warrant was made before Lionheart but was released after it). JCVD’s accent is pretty damn thick, so it’s hard to understand him sometimes, but you’re watching and you’re interested in the movie because of Van Damme’s charisma and screen presence. The hate comes from the movie’s advertising presence on TV. The commercial for Death Warrant was an annoying goddamn fixture on NWA/WCW wrestling on TBS back when the movie was theatrically released, and by fixture I mean it was on at every fucking commercial break. Every. Single. One. That sequence where Van Damme turns around, screaming, biceps bulging was involuntarily burned into my brain back in 1990. It was cool maybe the first ten times I saw it. It stopped being col from eleven times on.

Now, twenty-eight years later, I wish TV had more Van Damme movie commercials on it. I can’t even remember the last time I saw an actual Van Damme movie commercial on TV. I’m not counting The Expendables 2 here, as that isn’t a Van Damme movie (he’s in the movie, yes, but he’s just one of several big deal action stars in it). The only time we ever see JCVD on TV anymore is in a commercial hawking something, like snack chips (Tostitos) or Volvo trucks (that shit was like five years ago but people still remember it). That’s sad, and proof that there’s something seriously wrong with the world at large.

So, Death Warrant has Van Damme as Louis Burke, a badass Canadian Mountie who has some sort of working relationship with the Los Angeles Police Department. We first see Burke with the LAPD tracking down and arresting The Sandman (the immortal Patrick Kilpatrick), a vicious serial killer that murdered Burke’s partner. Several months after taking down the Sandman, Burke is asked by the governor of California to go undercover inside the notorious Harrison prison to investigate a series of bizarre murders inside the penitentiary. Working with state government big shots Tom Vogler (the great George Dickerson) and Ben Keane (Jack Bannon, who really looks like G. Gordon Liddy’s stunt double), along with a young lawyer Amanda Beckett (Cynthia Gibb), Burke goes inside the prison, posing as a career criminal. The only people who know about Burke’s mission/arrangement are Vogler, Keane, and Beckett (Beckett is set to visit Burke in prison every so often, posing as his wife).

Once inside the prison, Burke finds out that the place is filled with violent, racist gangs and run by a prison staff that enjoys torturing prisoners and generally being assholes. The top prison guard is Sgt. DeGraf (the great Art LaFleur) and he’s the meanest bastard in the joint. The guy likes to crack open peanuts when giving his “welcome to my prison” speech to new inmates and then beats the ones that try to pick up the peanut shells. Yes, he did say “don’t move,” but come on, the new prisoners just want to stay in a clean place. What the hell is wrong with wanting that?

Burke’s first friend is his cellmate Konefke (Conrad Dunn), a guy who demands oral sex from Burke since Burke is the new guy and that’s what apparently happens to some new guys in prison. Burke stops that shit quickly and makes Konefke fear him, which is the best way to get what you want and gain respect in prison. Burke also tries to befriend Hawkins (holy shit, that’s Robert Guillaume!), the lifer who tells all new prisoners their cell numbers and gives them their ID cards (Hawkins also gives them their toothbrushes). At first, Hawkins wants nothing to do with Burke, as he’s new, he’s white, and he just doesn’t need any hassles. Life in prison is already hard enough with getting involved with Burke. But then Burke saves Hawkins from certain death in the cafeteria, and suddenly Hawkins owes Burke a favor. Well, Burke believes that Hawkins owes him a favor. Hawkins doesn’t necessarily agree.

Burke’s first few weeks in prison, outside of the odd skirmish every now and then, are generally uneventful. Burke keeps asking people questions, keeps sneaking around looking for information on who may be responsible for all of the prisoner deaths. He also meets every so often with Beckett, asking Beckett to look for things for him on the outside. The investigation does, eventually, lead somewhere, and the reality of what’s going on inside the prison is pretty messed up.
Now, when the bad guys figure out that Burke is hot on their trail, bad shit starts happening to people in Burke’s orbit. Konefke is strangled to death. Mayerson, a guy that Burke met in the infirmary (and played by the always brilliant Larry Hankin, good old Kokolovitch from Armed and Dangerous), is burned alive. And Burke himself is beaten severely and placed in solitary. The only good thing that happens to Burke at this point in the movie is he’s allowed a conjugal visit with his “wife” Beckett, and they actually go through with it. Burke and Beckett have quite the adversarial relationship up until this point. She thinks he’s an asshole, and he isn’t impressed with her lack of experience. But then they bang off screen. I did not see that coming. I mean, Beckett is sexually assaulted by one of the prison guards, openly fondled while being searched for contraband. I didn’t think she’d want anyone touching her after experiencing that.

The worst thing to happen to Burke inside Harrison? The Sandman is transferred to the prison, and once the serial killer finds out that Burke is in there, he confronts Burke, beats the crap out of him, and then tells everyone that Burke is a cop. A cop in prison? Prisoners hate cops. Burke is fucked! Or is he?

Well, no, Burke isn’t fucked. Burke is, after all, Jean-Claude Van Damme and Death Warrant is his movie, so you know that at some point he’s going to overcome all of the bullshit and kick some ass. It does take Burke longer than expected to reach that point, though. Burke goes through some terrible, messed up stuff. He may be working undercover inside a horrible place, but, damn, should it be as bad as it is? Really?

Every aspect of the Harrison prison set is amazing to look at. The cells are scary, and that boiler room area that figures into the end of the movie would make Freddy Krueger envious. The way the prisoners can look down at Burke and the Sandman as they have their final fight is terrifying. I mean, think about being stuck down below, fighting a total psycho, while an army of slightly less psycho psychos are right above you. How the hell are you going to get out of that situation alive when you’re not Jean-Claude Van Damme?

The opening sequence in the, I guess, abandoned building/apartment thing where Burke tracks the Sandman to is also pretty creepy. No one in his or her right mind would go in there.

The soundtrack is a bit strange. What the hell is that upbeat music all about when Burke comes back to Los Angeles? And the rest of the movie’s music is sorely lacking. There doesn’t appear to be much of a theme at play here, which is what a movie like Death Warrant needs. It’s the only real bad part of the movie.

There aren’t that many fights in the movie. The action we do get is generally excellent, but I was expecting a few more one-on-one fights. What I was surprised by was how Patrick Kilpatrick’s the Sandman came off as a real threat to Van Damme’s Burke. I’m not saying that Kilpatrick isn’t a tough guy and couldn’t hold his own in a brawl if he needed to, but he isn’t Jean-Claude Van Damme. Should he really be able to wipe the floor with him? Well, whether or not you think he should be able to, the Sandman just goddamn does it. That’s what I forgot about the movie. The Sandman could take out Burke in the right situation. He really was that dangerous.

Van Damme does a good job as Burke. He kicks ass when he has to, he’s vulnerable when he has to be (like when he’s thrown in solitary confinement. The guy is sitting there on the cold floor, butt naked and covered in big fucking chains. That’s gotta suck). His still mega thick accent is an impediment to a good chunk of his dialogue, but then he doesn’t have any major speech moments so he comes out of the movie okay. Is it me, or are there moments where it seems that Van Damme’s Burke is a little too pretty to be in prison?

The great Robert Guillaume does a fantastic job as Hawkins, the lifer that ends up helping Burke survive and find out what the hell is really going on in the prison. Guillaume really sells his “one dead eye” characteristic, and always classes up every scene he’s in simply by being in it. Guillaume also has one of the best lines in the movie, when he tells Art LaFleur’s Sgt. DeGraf to go fuck himself. It’s a moment that will make you stand up and cheer.

Cynthia Gibb does a decent job as Amanda Beckett, the young female lawyer tasked with portraying Burke’s wife while he’s in prison. She’s smart, resourceful, and she puts up with tons of shit in order to just do her job. That scene where Beckett is fondled/assaulted by the prison guard is harrowing stuff, especially when she strips down, as ordered by the guard, and gives him one of the biggest “fuck you” looks in action movie history. I’m still not convinced, though, that she would willingly have sex with Burke in the conjugal visit trailer. Yes, they have a little chemistry but is it enough chemistry to lead to bumping uglies? Again, I’m not totally convinced. Her scenes with Joshua John Miller’s computer hacker character Douglas Tisdale would likely not happen in a movie today.

Art LaFleur is a complete piece of shit as Sgt. DeGraf. He’s mean and nasty simply because he can be, and I’d imagine he’d act the exact same way if he ran a minimum security “country club” prison somewhere. He gets off on being a prick. His racism is disturbing. Still, LaFleur, as always, does a great job and, much like Guillaume, he classes up the movie simply by being in it.

Patrick Kilpatrick is terrifying as the Sandman. As I said, he’s a credible threat to Van Damme’s Burke and there are moments where it looks like he might actually best Burke. We know he won’t because JCVD is the star of the movie but, again, there are moments where it looks like he could totally destroy Burke.

Abdul Salaam El Razzac is hilarious as Priest, the lifer that seemingly runs a portion of the prison despite being a prisoner. Priest is surrounded by men who “look like women” and has access to a cordless phone. He’s running an outside crime business from inside the prison? That’s what it seems like. I think you’ll love how his character helps Burke solve the big mystery at the heart of the story.

And then there’s Conrad Dunn as Konefke, Burke’s cellmate and attempted tough guy. It’s hilarious watching Konefke try to get Burke to blow him and then act like he wasn’t trying to get Burke to do that when Burke kicks his ass. That prison alcohol he creates is pretty gnarly, too. It looks like flat soda.

Larry Hankin can do no wrong. He’s always good no matter the movie or the part. The way his character dies is messed up, though. Who the hell wants to set Kokolovitch on fire? Who? Al Leong can do no wrong, either. He’s in the movie briefly, like usual, and he kicks ass while getting his own ass kicked (like usual). Be on the lookout for him.

Death Warrant is a pretty good action flick and a solid effort for star Van Damme. The prison set is fantastic and the main villains are great. Could the script use some work? Definitely. And elements of the movie could play better than they do. Still, Death Warrant is an entertaining action flick and that’s what’s most important. It isn’t Van Damme’s best effort, but it’s far from his worst.

See Death Warrant. See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Almost 10.

Explosions: Multiple, big and small. Not too big, though. Van Damme doesn’t blow up the prison.

Nudity?: Yes. Briefly.

Doobage: Running water, random street violence, a dead naked woman, a nasty looking old doll, chest slashing, revolver hooey, weird goddamn music, a hellhole state prison, cell assignments, the threat of gay prison sex, blatant racism, a dead eye, prison booze, laundry room brawling, attempted mop handle vs. swinging chain fight, prison pot, prison ammo making, multiple drag queens, a major urine threat, pizza eating, a really loud filing cabinet, arm cutting, blood dripping, “innocent” sexual harassment, strangulation, multiple beatings, cigarette smoking, gasoline spraying, a guy is burned alive, sexual harassment, fondling, off screen sex, exploding door, more beatings, knife play, a paper riot, electrocution, door opening, attempted shotgun hooey, another exploding door, serious face kicking, serious door smashing, hand weight used as a weapon, knee to the balls, exploding kneecap, Molotov cocktail hooey, bullet to the back, axe to the gut, gigantic wrench throwing, attempted table saw to the eye, SWAT team hooey, a lightbulb used as a knife, slow motion jump kick that sends a guy into a furnace, slow motion side kick, metal spike to the back of the head, and a big kiss.

Kim Richards?: None.

Gratuitous: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Jean-Claude Van Damme beating up street thugs, Patrick Kilpatrick, George Dickerson, Cynthia Gibb, Art LaFleur, the big hooha intake speech, peanut eating, blatant prisoner abuse, Robert Guillaume, Robert Guillaume distributing towels and toothbrushes to people, a “real estate” discussion, a guy with tattoos on his face of the names of the people he’s killed, Jean-Claude Van Damme mopping the floor, Al Leong, skin mag letters, the “black” section of the prison, Larry Hankin, a douchebag teen computer hacker who “innocently” sexually harasses a female lawyer, a nail file, Jean-Claude Van Damme butt naked and chained up in solitary confinement, a cockroach, a conjugal visit, a midget prisoner, lock cutting, a beeper, Jean-Claude Van Damme yelling “Come on!,” SWAT team hooey, and a killer that just won’t die (until he does, obviously).

Best lines: “I think he’s inside,” “What’s the problem?,” “Time to go to sleep and join your old partner!,” “I’m the Sandman! You can’t stop me!,” “You’re under arrest,” “Is there a problem, Detective Burke?,” “Louis. You’re getting wet,” “He said don’t move,” “Rules can make the difference between your life and your death,” “Take it easy, I was just jerking you around, you don’t have to have a hairball about it,” “I know. Always the nigger’s fault,” “What’s the matter with you? Can’t you see that this is a black table?,” “Tell the kids daddy loves them,” “Let me tell you something, boy, I don’t owe you jack shit,” “He thinks he’s too good for me, Priest,” “What is this? Goddamn medical waste,” “Shit, we’re missing Star Trek. Do you want to watch Star Trek?,” “I just hate to see a good man go to waste,” “It’s a hit list?,” “Burke, there’s something else. Your name’s next on the list,” “What are you doing in my prison?,” “What did you say to Burke?,” “Your husband is waiting,” “You look like hell. So do you,” “It’s a human heart,” “Bring me a dream, Burke. Bring me a dream,” “Why don’t you tell her, Tom? Why don’t you tell her how you’re murdering for her?,” “Hey, Burke! Sandman’s coming to see ya!,” “Great! Now we have all of the assholes in the same room,” “You’re just in time for surgery, doc,” “I know you’re in here, Burke. You want to know why? I can smell the nigger,” “Kiss your black ass goodbye. Go fuck yourself, you pudgy bastard,” “This is the part I love,” “Welcome to hell!,” and “You can’t kill me, Burke. I’m the Sandman!”

Rating: 7.5/10.0

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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: The Facebook Page!

Please check out and “like” The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Facebook page, which is here. There’s stuff there now! Midnight trailers! 3 AM Joe Bob! And more!

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Things to Watch Out For This Week

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Death Kiss: I saw this low budget action flick starring Robert “Bronzi” Kovacs, a guy that really, really, really looks like Charles Bronson a few months ago and loved it (check out my full review of the movie here). Is it perfect? No. But writer/director Rene Perez does a good job making Kovacs look great and, well, that’s all you really need for this kind of movie. I’m hoping that it’s the first in a series of Death Kiss low budget revenge movies where Kovacs brings more Bronson-like justice to the world. It’s what the world of B-movie cinema needs.

SnowflakeDVD

Snowflake: This weirdbeard action/horror/fantasy flick comes to us from the fine folks at Artsploitation and, well, I don’t know what to make of it. It looks and sounds insane. It apparently takes place in a Berlin of the future and involves two dudes who somehow get trapped in a world created by a dentist’s screenplay. And while in that world the two dudes have to fight off monsters and whatnot. Are you as intrigued as I am? I don’t know if I have time to check this out right now, but this German movie sure as heck sounds like it deserves our attention. I mean, it’s weird as hell sounding, right? That can be a good thing. Maybe.

MissionImpossibleFallout

Mission: Impossible: Fallout: This is the sixth movie in the mega franchise starring Tom Cruise, Ving Rhames, and Simon Pegg and, I have to admit, that it looks pretty good. I still haven’t seen the fourth or fifth Mission Impossible movies, so I should probably make an effort to see those before seeing Fallout, but the stunts look insane here in Fallout, and the big hooha fight with Henry Cavill in the bathroom looks pretty brutal. Is Cavill playing the bad guy in this movie?

Now, how many times did you all see the trailer for this movie over the spring and summer? I think I saw it damn near every time I went to the movies.

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Do you like Cult TV?

KolchakNSDVD

The 1970’s TV thriller Kolchak: The Night Stalker is first up! Check out what I think about the show with the links below!

Issue #1
Issue #2
Issue #3
Issue #4

… and coming soon: Street Hawk!

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B-Movie News

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Martial arts badass Paul Mormando will be engaged in Justified Vengeance this December!: As per a story in Variety (check it out here), martial arts badass Paul Mormando’s next cinematic effort will be the vigilante flick Justified Vengeance, set to start filming in New York City this month (December). Directed by his wife and frequent collaborator Ana Mormando, Justified Vengeance is set to have Mormando’s character, a single father, go after street gangs after his daughter is murdered. Expect to see gunplay, fighting, and Paul Mormando showing the world once again he is someone you don’t want to mess with.

Justified Vengeance will also apparently star Freedom Williams (he appeared in Mormando’s last movie, Bound by Debt) and Marc John Jeffries. More cast will likely be announced soon. Below, check out an exclusive image from the production.

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See? If Paul Mormando wants the table next, it’s a good idea to give it to him. You just don’t want to mess with this guy.

I will definitely keep everyone aware of what’s going on with this movie as more information becomes available. Justified Vengeance. Yeah!

LondonHasFallenBanning

Angel Has Fallen set to be released August 23rd, 2019!: The third movie in the … Has Fallen franchise is set to be released in August if 2019, as per this story over at Action Flix. Franchise star Gerard Butler will return as Secret Service agent and badass Mike Banning, and it looks like he will be the focus of the terrorist bastards this time around. And it will all take place on Air Force One. Goddamn, that sounds awesome, doesn’t it?

Morgan Freeman is also set to return (will he be the President?), and it looks like Jada Pinkett Smith, Lance Redick, and Piper Perabo will also appear. That’s quite the cast, but then the previous two … Has Fallen movies had killer casts, too (no word on whether or not Lawrence O’Donnell will appear again, although it would make sense if he did). Olympus Has Fallen is a great action flick, and London Has Fallen is a terrific sequel (I am still in awe of the “one take, no cuts” sequence towards the end of that movie). What sort of innovative sequence will we see this time around?

And will this be the last … Has Fallen movie? As long as Angel Has Fallen makes money, I hope there’s a fourth Mike Banning adventure. I have no idea what a fourth movie would entail (what the hell can fall next? Earth? The moon?), but I will be there for it. I love these movies. I wish Hollywood would make more like them.

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Check out my Widow’s Point set visit report!

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Read it here!

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Who is the Douchebag of the Week? Go here and find out!

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Next Issue: Van Damme December continues with Lionheart!

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Interviews

david j. moore
Jino Kang
Vladimir Kulich
Paul Mormando
Michael Matteo Rossi
Tyrone Magnus
Hector Barron
Jeffrey Orgill
Michael Baumgarten
R. Marcos Taylor
Don “The Dragon” Wilson
Paul Kyriazi
Eric Jacobus
Juju Chan
Luke LaFontaine
Marco Siedlemann
Sam Firstenberg
Amariah Olson
Alexander Nevsky
Mathias Hues
Kristanna Loken
Steve Mitchell
Albert Pyun
Brad Thornton
Mathieu Ratthe
Damien Power
Kelsey Carlisle
Mike Dwyer
Nicholas Bushman
Brahim Achabbakhe
Etcetera
Richard LeMay
Andrew David Barker
Cynthia Rothrock
Leslie Simpson
C. Courtney Joyner
Eric Miller
Alexander Nevsky (2)
Christopher Lawrence Chapman
James Mark
Casper Van Dien
Chris Mark
James E. Wilson
Barry Hunt
Vincent J. Roth
Mathew Ziff
Brandon Tyler Russell
Barry Hunt (2)
Lobsang Tenzin
Dylan Reynolds
Paul Kyriazi(2)
Lincoln Bevers
Nassasin Nuri
Hannah Janssen
Harry Mok
Daniel Roebuck
Sage Croft
Stephen van Vuuren
Cheryl Wheeler Sanders
Eric Jacobus (2)
David William No
Nicholas Verdi
Luke LaFontaine (2)
Roger Yuan
Dominik Starck
Tamas Nadas
Tyler Savage
Robert McGinley
Tim Gouran
Billy Ray Brewton
Leo Scherman
Harley Di Nardo
Jino Kang(2)
Alexander Nevsky (3)
Steve Latshaw
Rick Hurst
Douglas Burke
Jeff Farley

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Follow me on Twitter!

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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Death Warrant

Jean-Claude Van Damme– Louis Burke
Robert Guillaume– Hawkins
Cynthia Gibb– Amanda Beckett
Art LaFleur– Sgt. DeGraf
Patrick Kilpatrick– The Sandman
George Dickerson– Tom Vogler
Joshua John Miller– Douglas Tisdale
Conrad Dunn– Konefke
Jack Bannon– Ben Keane
Abdul Salaam El Razzac– Priest
Al Leong– Bruce
Larry Hankin– Mayerson

Directed by Deran Sarafian
Screenplay by David S. Goyer

Distributed by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, MGM/UA Home Entertainment, Warner Home Video, MGM Home Entertainment, and 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment

Rated R for graphic violence, language, brief nudity, and drug use.
Runtime– 89 minutes

Buy it here