Movies From the Black Lagoon: Death Machines

Movies From the Black Lagoon
Death Machines - 1976,Rated R
By Tom Doty

Three robotic assassins employ kung-fu and weapons of mass destruction to carry out their assignments for the mysterious Madame Lee in this chop-sockey effort from the swinging seventies. By 1976 the Kung-Fu cycle of films was on its way out but this lack luster effort earns points for being one of the few independent American martial arts films to grace screens.
The movie opens with Madame Lee touring her backyard to observe her three killers, or Death Machines, going through their paces against a trio of unfortunate opponents. Each kills their sparring partner, as this was their last training session. The most hilarious kill goes to the Death Machine who kicks his opponent in the unmentionables before pulling a small caliber pistol out of his karate pants and putting the poor sap out of his misery. Lee pronounces them ready for work and the games afoot. At this point one should mention that the death machines are just guys though the futuristic opening credits try hard to make you think otherwise.
Madame Lee reports to her boss. He's a mysterious dude who sits in a darkened room puffing on stogies. He orders her to initiate their plan and promptly disappears for the rest of the film. The plan centers on a mob kingpin named Mr. G. Apparently he has it out for a martial arts instructor named Ho Lung. To this end he has engaged the services of George. It's George's job to rub guys out for Mr. G. but the Death Machines have other ideas. Apparently their plan is to target the hired killers that are sent against Lung.
They do so in spectacular fashion. First they toss a-would-be sniper off a sky scrapper. Next they disrupt a plan to shoot Lung while he jogs through a park by blowing up the gunman with a bazooka. Before you start thinking that the Death Machines are righteous dudes we learn that they are only flexing their muscles so Mr. G will hire them to do the jobs.
Mr. G. needs some convincing that he should drop George and go with Madam Lee. It helps that the Death Machines flatten George with a bulldozer but Sir G is still skeptical. Lee invites the G-man to dinner .She serves him his driver's head on a platter but this only infuriates G. who responds by killing the waiter. Eventually they settle on a price (which is great news for the kitchen staff) and the Machines go to work.
Their attack on Mr. Lung's dojo is a highlight. His students turn out to be about as tough as your grandma's sewing circle. They flee in terror before even sizing up the death Machines. This makes it harder on the Machines who must now do their killing on the run. They manage to kill everyone present except for one guy (who does lose an arm so it's still pretty impressive).
Madame Lee orders her men to go to the hospital and slay the one armed survivor. They actually botch the job but we do see one of the team finally utter a noise. He screams like a banshee (and passes out) when a bullet grazes his forehead. He's taken into custody, which leads to the best fight in the movie as he kung-fu's an entire police station to escape. The follow up fight at a biker-infested diner is nowhere near as good.
This all leads to a showdown between the Death machines and the survivor form the karate school massacre which is nowhere near as good as the frenzied action which preceded it.
This one is a lot of fun. It is well shot and looks good but that's about it. All other production values are sub par with the actors, writers, and fight choreographers phoning in their jobs. That said this is a laugh a minute train wreck that boast one of the best B-Movie villains-Madame Lee. She is hilarious. Lee rocks a wig big enough to smuggle Dolly Parton in and sports a set of swollen cheeks that make you think she shot her scenes between root canal appointments. The film moves pretty fast except for a lame love story that develops in the third act between the one armed survivor and a perky nurse. It does pick up a bit when he tries to defend her honor in a go-go bar but he promptly gets his head handed to him from a drunken senior citizen.
This one is a bargain as it's included in the 'Drive-In Cult Classics: Volume 4" collection. The set includes 8 films on four DVDs and retains for under twenty dollars. The quality of the films is not bad (technically) and each entry is goofy enough to hold your attention long enough to forget your troubles for ninety minutes.
Best Line: " Maybe by the time I get used to you, you'll get used to yourself."

Tom Doty occasionally emerges from the Lagoon to check his e-mail and to read to children every Wednesday at 10:30am at Borders in Hagerstown. If you'd like to get a message to him, write to: