Devil’s Express (1976)

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In his second and final film, the excellently named Warhawk Tanzania must deal with gangsters and a demonic presence in New York City’s subways.

Luke Curtis is a martial arts instructor based in New York City. Teaching Cris, a local detective in martial arts, Luke constantly reminds Cris that he’s not interested in joining the police force. However, Luke’s other top student, Roldan, is someone who is always finding himself getting into some sort of trouble and as a result, Luke is hoping that Roldan doesn’t ruin their upcoming trip to Hong Kong for a competition. While in Hong Kong, Roldan finds an abandoned cave and discovers a strange amulet. Roldan decides to take the amulet, not knowing that he has just brought a demon who wants the amulet back.

Upon their return to New York, a wave of murders begin to pop up in the local subway. Meanwhile, Roldan involves himself with a local gang, the Black Spades, much to the chagrin of Luke. The Black Spades’ arch rivals are the Red Dragons. When Roldan and the Spades fight the Dragons, one of the Dragons notices the amulet and runs. Soon, Roldan himself becomes a victim of the murders in the subways. Vowing revenge, Luke learns the dark secret of what is in that subway and discovers that he may be the only one capable of defeating the demonic presence in the subway to save New York City.

This strange hybrid that meshes Blaxploitation, horror, and martial arts action film took five screenwriters, including the film’s director Barry Rosen, to write. It seems unclear why it would take this many scripters, but the film does bring something different to the fold with its meshing of three definitive film genres. Despite its low budget, the meshing of genres combined with the look of 1970’s New York City actually makes this a watchable effort.

One just has to love the name Warhawk Tanzania”, who just happens to be the lead actor of the film. After making the film Black Force (aka Force Four), this would be Tanzania’s final film. He brings the typical Blaxploitation urban hero to the mix as martial arts teacher Luke with this jive talkin’ style of dialogue and one cannot forget his final outfit, a gold like outfit of suspenders and bellbottoms in a one-piece. Wilfredo Roldan is the trouble making student whose actions not only start a gang war, but brings worse trouble in the form of the demonic presence that takes over the subways and killing innocent people. From his introduction scene, you know this is someone who is going to cause some serious trouble and does just that while Larry Fleischman plays the detective who while being annoyed at his new partner, finds a reliable ally at times in Luke.

The martial arts sequences are akin to the likes of films such as Kill or be Killed and Death Promise, both made the following year and the credit here goes to Master Frank Ruiz, the founder of the Nisei Goju style of Karate. Tanzania looks great when he throws spinning kicks and Roldan, who is the current Head of said Nisei Goju, looks quite good when he fights as well. The gang fight between the Spades and Dragons is a fun watch, even when it abruptly ends. The finale, in which Tanzania takes on the demonic presence, who takes various forms, is quite laughable at times but is appropriate for this being a “martial horror” film.

Devil’s Express marks a typical Blaxploitation-esque performance from Warhawk Tanzania in his final film. The film is a cult classic that meshes martial arts and horror in quite an interesting manner. The film is also known as Gang Wars.

WFG RATING: B-

A Mahler Films production. Director: Barry Rosen. Producers: Steve Madoff and Niki Patton. Writers: Barry Rosen, Niki Patton, Pascual Vaquer, CeOtis Robinson, and Bobbi Sapperstein. Cinematography: Paul Glickman. Editing: Keith Robinson.

Cast: Warhawk Tanzania, Larry Fleishman, Wilfredo Roldan, Thomas D. Anglin, Stephen DeFazio, Aki Aleong, David Durston, CeOtis Robison, Sarah Nyrick, Brother Theodore, John Robert Yates.

 

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