DEATH MACHINES (1976) Blu-ray/DVD combo
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Vinegar Syndrome

Vinegar Syndrome returns to the Crown International vaults for DEATH MACHINES on Blu-ray/DVD combo pack.

Eager to take over California's professional hit concession, Madame Lee (Mari Honjo) and her assistant Mr. Lu develop a racially-diverse trio of Death Machines – a gun-wielding white guy (producer Ron Marchini, OMEGA COP), a sword-wielding black guy (Joshua Johnson, THE WEAPONS OF DEATH), and an Asian high-kicker (Michael Chong, TO LIVE AND DIE IN L.A.) – as her assassination squad, and starts by having them eliminate the competition. Frustrated by his thwarted attempts to have martial arts teacher/narcotics trafficker Ho Lung (Eric Lee, BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA) and banking figurehead Nathan Adams (Gene Wisenor) rubbed out when his own hitmen turn up dead, mobster Gioretti (Chuck Katzakian, BOUND FOR GLORY) is forced to deal with Madame Lee. When the Death Machines take out Ho Lung in a massacre at his studio, they unfortunately leave a sole survivor in bartender Frank (John Lowe, OUTLAW FORCE) who loses his hand. While Frank struggles to move on with his life – with the encouragement of his love interest nurse (Mary Carole Frederickson) – police lieutenant Clay Forrester (Ron Ackerman) and his partner Jerry (Edward Blair) attempt to solve the case while having their balls busted by their apoplectic captain (Felix McGill) and a sycophantic colleague (George Neal, who gives the best performance). While the Death Machines are going after banker Adams, Madame Lee has realized that they are becoming impossible to control while Mr. Gioretti is plotting to renege on their business arrangement.

Lensed in Stockton, California in Techniscope with a degree of professional slickness by cinematographer Donald Rust, DEATH MACHINES is even more cockeyed than its eager-to-please mishmash of martial arts, gangsters, bikers, cops, fights, stunts, and pyrotechnics suggests. Although the acting is unbelievably stilted – Honjo is particularly and amusingly wooden and looks like she is going to topple over any second under the weight of her hairstyle – the film remains entertaining and diverting for its fights and ambitious yet economically-executed action set-pieces. The plotting is scattershot with the silent killers not particularly compelling characters – apart from a bit where it looks like Marchini's killer's programming is softened somewhat by kindness shown by a diner owner who is then terrorized by a biker gang – while Frank and his nurse (who does not even rate a character name) carry on a chaste, angst-ridden romance. The climax is rushed and thrown together with Frank not having proved himself a capable fighter during an earlier bar brawl and just as helpless against a sword-wielding Madame Lee, but it appears as if Kyriazi had a sequel in mind. Although DEATH MACHINES is director Paul Kyriazi's first-credited feature on IMDb, his first feature was actually THE TOURNAMENT, a budget-deprived action film about international warriors converging on medieval England for a fighting tournament. Lensed in black-and-white, the film may have looked amateurish but was aimed at mainstream distribution with 35mm Techniscope lensing (and processed by Technicolor even though it was in black and white) and post-production sound by Ryder Sound Services (who handled post-production for American International, New World, and Film Ventures among others as well as a number of television shows). While his next martial arts film THE WEAPONS OF DEATH (1981) was not released until video in 1984, NINJA BUSTERS (1984) was thought completely lost until a fine grain Fujicolor 35mm answer print was discovered by Exhumed Films' Harry Guerro, mastered in 4K and was released on Blu-ray by Garagehouse Pictures earlier this year.

Released theatrically by Crown International and on panned-and-scanned video by VCI, DEATH MACHINES has been popular enough to have remained available in various incarnations during the DVD days with Rhino's early panned-and-scanned fullscreen DVD, BCI's 1.78:1-cropped presentation, Mill Creek slapping a panned-and-scanned master in a couple of their boxed sets, before Code Red finally gave us a correctly-framed DVD edition with commentary from the director. We have not seen the Code Red DVD but Vinegar Syndrome's Blu-ray/DVD combo – derived from a new 4K restoration of the Techniscope (2.35:1) original camera negative – looks gorgeous with bold colors and crisp detail throughout along with a clean DTS-HD Master Audio 1.0 encoding of the mono track. (Eric Cotenas)