Death Machines (1976): A Third Look

Thanks to Mill Creek box sets, we’ve enjoyed this Ron Marchini flick three times: November 28, 2020, courtesy of Herbert P. Caine for our Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion box set blowout, on August 5, 2020, courtesy of Sam the Bossman for our Mill Creek Savage Cinema round up, and again on February 5, 2021, for its inclusion on the B-Movie Blast set.

Since today (and tomorrow) is “Ron Marchini Week” (yes, a two-day week), we’re bringing Death Machines back one more time — to honor Ron’s all too short, eleven-movie career — with another take by B&S About Movies self-proclaimed uber fan and Marchini authority: moi. (Really, Sam said I can have the title, he’s already made the tee-shirts!) So, now it’s a battle of wills: who loves this film more: Herbert Death Machine, Sam Death Machine, or R.D. Death Machine? And Becca, the “B” in B&S, is our overlord. Hail, Madam Pacino, for she is the Queen of the Death Machine.

If only this sophomore follow up to Ron Marchini’s Murder in the Orient actually had the Zardoz-cum-Rollerball superintelligent machine of teeth thingy. My guess is that Rollerball was on the way and Roger Corman had Death Race 2000, his knockoff of that film, in the marketplace. Only the incisors-ridden pyramid of the cover does not spout any cool Lord Zardoz lines like “The Penis is Evil.” And Ron has no cool, knee-high red boots, skimpy speedos, or bullets belts on his bare chest. There’s no death cycles or post-apoc cars — which you think you’re getting because of the post-apoc poster dupe. I was expecting — to put this in a modern context — some Alien vs. Predator pyramid of death, with an ancient Mayan or Aztec pyramid, deep in the Philippine jungles with martial arts masters trapped inside a booby-trapped monolith, fighting their way out, with spiked walls and ceilings at every turn.

Well, guess what? We’ve been Def-Con’d. For this movie doesn’t make a lick of common sense — or any sense. Or anything that rises above boredom. Not even the great Ron Marchini is saving it with his kung-fu grips. Ugh. Thanks, Crown International.

So, Madame Lee has gathered, i.e., kidnapped, three multi-racial, martial arts masters: White Death Machine (Ron Marchini, aka John Travis of the one-two punch of Omega Cop and Karate Cop), Asian Death Match (Michael Chong of Charles Bronson’s Kinjite: Forbidden Subjects), and Black Death Machine (Joshua Johnson of The Weapons of Death) after she injects them with a mysterious formula that makes them her mindless, karate fighting soldiers. Her plan: to take over the underworld with her bullet-impervious warriors.

One things is for sure: there’s action ‘o plenty. We get a karate school vs. Death Machines blow out. We get sword fights. We get electrocutions. Death by cars (but not apoc cars). There’s a motorcycle gang (but not apoc bikes). And we think the plot concerns the student body of a karate school being wiped out (and I wish I could tell you why Ms. Lee ordered it), and the lone-survivor wants revenge for the Death Machines amputating his hand. And there’s a cop, Lt. Forrester, on the case, but what that “case” is, we guess to destroy the Death Machine warriors, is anyone’s guess.

Blame this ALL on our friends at Crown International Pictures: they got an evil martial arts movie and decided to tweak it into a sci-fi film. Oh, and we are not anywhere exotic. Just ol’ Stockton, California. So much Paul Kyriazi’s “passion project,” he who gave us the awesome Ninja Busters (1984). Now, if you know your Ron Marchini trivia — and you don’t because I am authority at B&S, remember — Paul Kyriazi and Ron fared much better with joint work in Omega Cop (1990).

If you’re a Kyriazi completist as much as you’re a Marchini one, the rest of his writing and directing credits are: The Tournament (1972), the aforementioned The Weapons of Death (1981), One Way Out (1987), and Forbidden Power (2018). And get this: prior to making his debut with the 12th century samurai adventure The Tournament, Paul worked for NASA in their press department filming space launches. So, the next time you watch late ’60s and early ’70s Mercury and Apollo shots, Paul’s eye is behind that camera.

You can get a copy on the numerous Mill Creek sets we’ve mentioned. You can stream it on Amazon Prime or get the Blu-ray at Vinegar Syndrome. A 4k restore of its original Techniscope camera negative, the VS Blu features all-new interviews with its director and actors. But hey, there’s a copy on You Tube to enjoy.

And Does Ron Marchini fair better with his third movie, Dragon’s Quest? Well . . . well, let’s just say that’s a tale and a half, and we’re reviewing as part of our Ron Marchini (two day) tribute, so strap in.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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