Monday, May 25, 2009

Death Machines (Paul Kyriazi, 1976)

If you happen to find a little red Buddha statue languishing amongst the strands of spaghetti you have yet to consume with your mouth, then you, my friend, are about to come face-to-face with the death machines. Killers without remorse, these racially harmonious hit men in black undershirts are the future of murder. Taking their orders from the mysterious Madame Lee, the assassins in Death Machines, a film about kicking people in the face really, really hard, and recent amputees trying to come to grips with their love of cute nurses who look absolutely scrumptious in tartan vests, are extremely competent at what they do. Oh, sure, they'll forget to dispatch a witness here and there, but their effectiveness is second to none in the overcrowded field of homicide for hire. Whether employing the shrapnel-laden goodness of a rocket launcher or the blunt force of their fists, the tongueless trio are mean, lean killing machines. Now, so far I've pretty much painted a picture of a film that is basically about a trio of killers who kill people with a quiet efficiency. But is it any good? Hard to say. While I enjoyed the plethora of face kicking that takes place in this film, some of dramatic scenes seemed to be a tad off in terms of not sucking and there were a couple of moments where the pacing could have been tighter. That being said, the goofy charm of the fight sequences, the silly yet plausible premise, and the wicked synthesizer music that thunderously throbbed during all the scenes that featured Madame Lee and her mustachioed henchman were all inexplicably awesome.

Attempting to corner the apparently lucrative assassination market, the shadowy Madame Lee (Mari Honjo) trains a white man (Ron Marchini), a black man (Joshua Johnson), and an Asian man (Michael Chong) to be fiercely obedient killers with the goal of rubbing out all her competitors. In order to test her killers out in the real world, she offers her services to a local mob boss and helps him take care of a couple of the items on his "people I want murdered" list. Problems arise when a witness is left right handless yet very much alive after a rambunctious hit on a karate school instructor, as it brings a lot unwanted attention to the wordless assassins.

The lone survivor of this massacre, Frank (John Lowe), is determined to get revenge. A nurse (the name of the actress who played the nurse, like the majority of the supporting cast, is nowhere to be found in the credits) constantly makes goo goo eyes with Frank, but unfortunately (for the sake of his rarely touched penis) the sight of the racially diverse threesome violently crashing through the window of the karate school is all he can think about it at the moment.

There are a lot of cockamamie action scenes in Death Machines worth mentioning, but the one that stands out in my mind is the aforementioned tussle at the karate school. An epic and disorderly brouhaha involving swords, spears, and plenty of kicked faces, the sight of multiple martial arts students being cut down by the death machines was a gloriously over-the-top display. I'd say there were at least six pupils in white karate outfits being slain at any given moment. Seriously, they were going down like winged insects; it was strangely shocking and hilarious all at once. I liked the zany energy of this sequence, and the fact that one student is stabbed through a bookcase.

Ruling over the proceedings like a demented patriarch, Mari Honjo dominates with her icy stare and bold proclamations. The fact that everyone else in the film was laughably bad shouldn't take anything away from the amount of unbalanced vigour Mari brought to Madame Lee. Always accompanied by these sinister sounding synthesizer flourishes, Miss Honjo seems to relish in her evilness, and, in doing so, creates a memorable piece of villainy (the large mop of hair and thin eyebrows didn't hurt her appeal, either). I loved the look of annoyance she sports after being brushed by the white death machine on the stairs, and the smirking contest she engages in with her henchman.

Oh, and, of course, I was surprised when I found out that this was Mari Honjo's only film role of note. I mean, I figured she would have numerous acting roles to her credit, given how compelling she was a Madame Lee. But, alas, I'm forced to savour Death Machines as the only cinematic evidence of Mari Honjo's amazing onscreen presence.

video uploaded by brujaria


  1. This is the second time this movie has come to my attention this year! (I never knew I could use the word "this" so many times in one sentence.)

    I have it in my Netflix queue but still haven't gotten around to it...but after watching that amazing clip of Mari Honjo's skull-fuckingly awesome performance, I better get on it!

    Have you picked a John Larroquette film to watch yet?

    I highly suggest the delicious BLIND DATE to get your mouth an eye juices flowing....just a thought.

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  3. This is where this movie probably came to your attention: Love Train for the Tenebrous Empire"Skull-fuckingly awesome"

    Nicely put.

    The fact that Mari Honjo is nowhere to be found in trailer is quite flummoxing. I mean, she's hands down the best thing about the movie.

    Wow, John Larroquette does the moonwalk dance in Blind Date! I'll definitely add it to the list.

  4. Ah, yes...The Love Train! I don't know what I'd do without Kate's blog.

    Mr. Larroquette's skill of moonwalking at gunpoint is nothing short of inspiring!

    Larroquette doesn't get much better than that....except for that time when he played Murray on Steinberg and Son.

    Good times.

  5. I see you found the 80s movie thread on Match Cut.

    Columbia Freeze? Actually, kind of the opposite: Columbia Inferno. The J. Geils song was the theme to my hometown minor league hockey team, the Rochester Amerks (Amerks short for Americans).

    Oh, you saw the Family Guy South Park epi. I rewatched the "You Got F***** in the A**" episode the other night. I laughed.

    Speaking of laugh, the first paragraph of this review is gold.

  6. I also found out that Russ owns Voyage of the Rock Aliens on VHS.

    A junior hockey game between the Toronto Marlboros vs. the Sudbury Wolves at back in the 80s was the only time I ever set foot inside Maple Leaf Gardens.

    From certain angles, it looked like the singer from The Tea Party was on Jeopardy earlier this evening. In that, he kinda looked like a gothic stockbroker.

    I think may have seen bits of "You Got F'd in the A," as I distinctly recall seeing Stan being told that "it's on."

  7. Oh, my God!! Tonight's Jeopardy! That guy's name was Robert, and my other half said, "Hey, is that Robert Smith?"

    I've seen Russ's movie collection. You'd like it! He was nice enough to tape Urgh! for me a few years back when it was on Sundance.

  8. Alex also dropped the name of the 401 (an Ontario highway) in that particular episode.

    Aww, that was cool of him to tape Urgh! for you.

  9. I'm glad that you liked the karate school action scene in 'Death Machines'. We filmed that in only one day and night.

    The movie that inspired me to do this scene was Akira Kurasawa's 'Sanjuro', where Toshiro Mifune has to wipe out thirty samurai. At first they fight, and then they run as he cuts them down. I just did it with three swordsmen instead of one.

    I'm very happy to see the movie posted and talked about here.

    Paul Kyriazi - Writer/Director of 'Death Machines'