Friday, September 5, 2014

Death Machines (1976)

          This one falls squarely within so-bad-it’s-good territory, because the combination of an idiotic storyline, ludicrously overlong action scenes, and some truly heinous performances make Death Machines unintentionally amusing. Featuring an arbitrary combination of cops, criminals, martial artists, and vigilantes, Death Machines feels like it was made from a checklist of signifiers that had filled grindhouses in the past. Forget characterization, logic, and motivation—Death Machines has mayhem, stereotypes, and tacky synth music. Let the good times roll! Cowriter-director Paul Kyriazi’s silly narrative revolves around Madame Lee (Mari Monjo), an Asian crime boss based in America. For no discernible reason, she brainwashes three dudes—one Asian, one black, and one white—into becoming murderous automatons. Then she orders the dudes to attack gunmen in the employ of Mr. Gioretti (Chuck Katsakian), a Mafia leader, in order to demonstrate the superiority of her “death machines.”
          Gioretti and Lee strike a deal of some kind, resulting in a wave of absurd murders—for instance, the “death machines” break into a martial-arts academy and kill everyone present, instead of just waiting until closing time so they can kill their target, the academy’s proprietor. Once the crime spree begins, diligent cop Lt. Forrester (Ron Ackerman) tries to identify the murderers with the help of Frank (John Lowe), the lone survivor of the attack on the martial-arts academy. Eventually, the police capture the white “death machine” (Ron Marchini), but he goes into full Terminator mode by annihilating half the police force during an escape from police headquarters. Oh, and there’s a love story, too, because Frank falls for his nurse while recovering from injuries sustained in the attack, which means the flick screeches to a halt for 20 minutes of sappy stuff that’s ridiculously inconsistent with the rest of the movie.
          And yet that’s not the highlight. Without question, the “best” scene in Death Machines involves the white killer trying to eat a burger in a diner—while sporting bloody wounds and handcuffs following his escape from the cops—even as the diner’s owner tries to talk to him about Jesus. The poor guy’s only reprieve from preaching happens when a gang of bikers shows up to start a brawl. Death Machines is a terrible movie, with clumsy cinematography and a litany of clichés compounding the innate stupidity of the narrative, but the picture almost anticipates that special brand of comic-book nihilism that John Carpenter hit with campy movies including They Live (1988). So, while others should steer clear, aficionados of crap cinema will find much to enjoy.

Death Machines: FUNKY

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