Ever seen or even heard of ‘Death Machine‘? … Nope, neither had I until about 7 days ago.
Now, I’m far from obsessive when it comes to watching movies, I’ve seen many in my lifetime but I also enjoy reading about them. Articles, reviews even brief comments on forums, so when something comes along that I have totally missed I get intrigued.
The first thing that hits you when you watch this 1994 movie directed by Stephen Norrington (Blade) is that it looks like IMDb and the internet in general might be lying to you! Every inch of it screams low budget, mid-80s VHS, its a spatial anomaly … a film made 10 years too late.
I have read that various ‘cuts’ of the movie exist and the one I watched came in at nearly 2 hours long. I wish I could tell you it was 2 hours well spent but it wasn’t, this is not a good film (In my humble opinion) BUT it has a few interesting moments and some appreciation worthy content … The first target of appreciation will be obvious when the cast list is glanced over and the name Brad Dourif comes into view …
I could talk, type and generally gush all day long about Dourif and how much I rate him as an actor … The guy is incapable of giving less than 100% even when everything around him is stinking up the screen. Here he is asked to unpack his psychotic skills once more and he completely elevates every scene he’s in to another level. If you love movies, science fiction, horror then you cannot fail to have been exposed to Brad Dourif at some point during your life and will not be the least bit surprised that he is utterly watchable in this, as he always is.
Also worthy of praise is the DEATH MACHINE itself. This is a large, metallic … dog … which at times is referred to as a War Beast (Frontline morale destroyer) due to its planned military uses. Its never seen in full but the thing is a massive, real practical effect and that alone instantly made me want to keep watching. When its on-screen it has weight, substance and a mildly unnerving presence … Its claws are insanely long razor sharp knifes and its head dominated by a huge set of teeth. We are asked to believe it can move very swiftly (of course that is never properly shown) and when you combine all that you are left with a computer controlled monstrosity that you would genuinely not like to be faced with and would be totally incapable of defending yourself against … its effective and brutal … Blood flows and characters you don’t care about are sliced, diced, stabbed and grabbed.
The rest of the cast range from competent to terrible, the sets are basic, the lighting poor and the story itself bland … Female lead (Ely Pouget) investigates dodgy big corporation involved in the ‘Hardman’ project, tries to shut it down and gets chased / hunted by the Robo-pooch for the rest of the movie. She is helped along the way by some eco-warriors who appear to have been removed from the world of Mad Max and placed into this. Rachel Weisz appears very briefly in what was actually her movie debut and there is some fun to be had from spotting familiar names that Norrington has slipped in, these include characters called : John Carpenter, Raimi, Yutani, Scott Ridley and more …
So why did I take the time to write this? … Because quite simply Death Machine briefly pulled me back to the days of walking to the local VHS rental shop with my Dad on a Saturday afternoon, endless shelves lined with big, black plastic cases that contained exciting adventures and great memories. The irony is Death Machine isn’t even a zero-budget, Sci-Fi / Horror movie from my 1980s youth, but it sure as hell feels like one … comfortingly and reassuringly bad.
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