Death Machines (1976)

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Three martial arts experts become a trio of deadly assassins in this very cheap yet cult classic, the first of a collaboration between director Paul Kyriazi and Renbukai expert Ron Marchini.

Madame Lee is a notorious crime boss who decides to gain more power. In order for her to gain that power as the top crime boss in the city, she finds herself three martial arts experts. A series of matches gets her the trio who will become her “death machines”. She has this trio undergo an experiment in which they are injected with a serum. The serum makes them impervious to bullets and makes them very deadly fighters who begin to wipe out those who oppose Madame Lee.

While the police are baffled with the current wave of crimes done by the “death machines”, Madame Lee forces the trio to crash and destroy a local martial arts school. The entire school is massacred with the exception of Frank Thomas, who lost his hand in the deadly melee. When the “death machines” learn about Frank, they are sent to dispatch him, but the police use their smarts and eventually catch one of them, only for him to escape during interrogation. After recovering, despite only being one-handed, Frank wants revenge against the “death machines” as does the police. Will anyone be able to stop this trio?

In the wake of American martial arts films comes this very low-budget film that has a sense of cult value to it. Director Paul Kyriazi co-wrote the film with Joe Walders and gives the film the usual martial arts action film with a bit of a twist. The martial artists in this film are actually zombified killers under a notorious crime boss. The film would mark the first collaboration of Renbukai expert Ron Marchini, who produces and stars in the film, and director Kyriazi.

Those who may have thought being first billed means such would be the hero will be in shock as the top billed Marchini actually plays one of the “death machines” along with Michael Chong and Joshua Jackson. This casting proves to be interesting as it shows diversity with Marchini being Caucasian, Chong being Asian, and Jackson being African-American. However, they don’t need any acting skills necessary, just resorting to yelling and beating the bejesus and ultimately killing everyone they come across. Marchini is even given the pleasure of a solo action scene when he is caught by the police and escapes during interrogation, unleashing his skills.

Mari Honjo as Madame Lee is pretty laughable because it is such a bad performance that even her voice sounds like it’s been dubbed in the vein of those classic kung fu films during that era. Our hero of the film is actually played by John Lowe, who plays the one-handed Frank Thomas, who seeks revenge not only for the loss of his appendage, but the death of both his master and fellow students. The McGuffin of the film is a red Buddha statue, which apparently is the calling card of the Madame Lee and her “death machines”. However, by the third act, the film becomes very confusing as to who one will be rooting for because it just goes into left field out on nowhere.

The fight scenes borderline on the ridiculous at times. Marchini’s first fight against his test opponent shows some promise until for one reason or another, the scriptwriters decide to have Marchini use a gun to kill his opponent. Chong displays some decent style kicks for this subgenre of martial arts films while Jackson proves himself handy at times with weapons. Marchini’s scene as he escapes from interrogation along with the massacre of the karate school, in which the “King of Kata” Eric Lee, has a cameo as the teacher (originally, he was supposed to have played Death Machine #2 but had a schedule conflict), are the two only good highlights of the film. As for Lowe’s one-handed hero showing any sort of retaliation, it is just a clear of waste of time as he even gets beaten up even by an old drunken geezer in a bar fight.

Death Machines is a laughable martial arts action film with probably one of the worst villains in cinematic history and a very atrocious third act that just is flat out ridiculous. The film’s saving graces are the interrogation scene and the karate school massacre.

WFG RATING: D

A Crown International Pictures Ltd. production. Director: Paul Kyriazi. Producer: Ron Marchini. Writers: Joe Walders and Paul Kyriazi. Cinematography: Donald Rust. Editing: Mark Krigbaum.

Cast: Ron Marchini, Michael Chong, Joshua Jackson, Mari Honjo, John Lowe, Ron Ackerman, Chuck Katzanian, Gene Wisenor, Colleen Kinsley, Eric Lee.

 

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