Friday, June 03, 2016

069. Death Machines and 070. The Devil's Hand

Jump to The Devil’s Hand (1962)

069. Death Machines (1976)
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Writer: Joe Walders and Paul Kyriazi from a story by Joe Walders
From: Cult Cinema; Sci-Fi Invasion
Watch: archive.org

A trio of assassins, known as the Death Machines, are dispatched to kill members of a rival gang to shore up Madame Lee’s criminal control of the city.

From Paul Kyriazi, writer/director of Weapons of Death comes another, “This is pretty fun oh why would you do that?” film.

We open with three racially-segregated pairs of fighters sparring with weapons—a white pair, an Asian pair, and a black pair. Yes, they are racially segregated. Turns out they’re all involved in fights to the death with the white guy literally shooting his opponent. Not even five minutes in and we’re already at genius levels of what-the-hell?

All of this is a display for Madame Lee, whose wig I kept expecting to sprout eyes and shout, “Manamana!” She hires the Death Machines to become her personal assassins, but first they have to take out the assassins of the stereotypical Italian mobsters in her city.

This leads to a sequence of the Death Machines being the least subtle assassins ever, which is surprising considering one of their targets drives a car into the middle of a park, unrolls a blanket to reveal a rifle, and balances it on the hood of his car. No cover, no hiding, just pointing a rifle in a park at a jogger. The Death Machines trump this by driving up behind him and shooting him with a bazooka.

The movie goes to some strange places. I did start wondering if there were any good guys at all. Until the Death Machines attack a dojo run by a drug dealer (and kill everyone except Frank, who just loses a hand), it’s just zombie assassins versus the mob. Half-an-hour in, the homicide detectives show up, but they don’t stick around long.

They get the case, blow off the paperwork and training they’re supposed to do, catch the white Death Machine when the trio goes to the hospital to try to kill Frank, and get kicked off the case for not doing their job. Standard trope of “good” cops being stymied by all these pesky “rules” and “regulations” and “laws.” That message of, “we’re all better off if we just let cops be vigilantes,” is undercut a bit, though, by the Captain chewing them out for not doing the paperwork because that lack of paperwork left him completely in the dark about a mass murder case that he has to inform the public about. It’s almost like the Captain has a point and they’re terrible cops.

Don’t worry, the correct order reasserts itself. The “incompetent” cops who do their job end up getting beat up by the Death Machine. He escapes to a diner where the owner tries to make him come to Jesus and then a biker gang shows up. They give the owner grief, start picking on the Death Machine, and then the other two members of the trio show up. Bikers get a stomping and the trio leaves.

The trio’s next job is to sexually assault the daughter of a bank manager, pictures of which are used to try to blackmail him into quitting his job. The man making the threat soothes the bank manager by reassuring him that the girl wasn’t conscious for most of it. The banker still refuses so the man handcuffs him to a filing cabinet and leaves a bomb in the office. The explosion is reminiscent of the end of Twin Peaks.

Yeah. It’s a big, “Why is this in this movie?” They could have just kidnapped the daughter, taken pictures to imply that they could find and attack her, but instead the movie goes for rape. It doesn’t show it, but it makes a plot point rape. And then it doesn’t even do anything to the story! The banker isn’t moved and it never comes up again. The whole sequence could be cut and you’d never know.

Except for that scene, the movie is entertainingly bad. Frank returns to the movie after his nurse, who’s inexplicably interested in him, tracks him down to unload some exposition and force a love interest. They get together, decide to go on vacation, and, while driving, happen to pass the trio in another car and decide to track them.

That’s right, the pursuit of the killers hinges on a meet-cute.

Stare at it. Let it seep into your soul.
So Frank keeps making really stupid decisions that would make even Scooby and the Gang say, “Jinkies, you’re begging for death,” the cops show up at the last minute to do nothing of consequence, and the trio heads to the airport for a potential sequel that was never going to happen. Best part of that final sequence: they freeze on the Death Machines for at least a solid minute. No credits, no dialogue or sound collage of news reports about them, just that one picture and the entirety of the backing track.

This movie, despite raising the specter of rape (and how’s that for a caveat?), is pretty fun. So many elements are hilariously bad because it’s clear that they’re present only because “these sorts of things happen in these movies.” For instance, every victim of the Death Machines is sent a red Buddha, but they get murdered so there’s no way for them to know what the statue means and the statue doesn’t act as a homing device for the Death Machines. They’re literally pointless.

There are no copyright marks on my print at all (maybe they were supposed to be in the closing credits that weren’t there), so I think it’s public domain. I’ve added a copy to the Internet Archive here that you can check out yourself.


070. The Devil’s Hand (1962)
Director: William J. Hole Jr.
Writer: Jo Heims
From: Cult Cinema; Chilling
Watch: archive.org, Rifftrax (buy), Rifftrax (Hulu stream)

Rick finds a doll that looks exactly like a woman who’s been appearing in his dreams. When he investigates further, he finds himself ensorceled and drawn into the machinations of an evil cult.

The movie opens with a nice, peppy, lounge instrumental which strikes the absolute wrong tone for a film about a man seduced into an evil cult. Or maybe it's exactly the right tone. “Hey, get with these sexy, swinging, Satanists. They've got groovy sacrifices and solid investment advice!” From the credits we cut to a park where Rick is meeting his fiancée Donna for lunch. She's feeding the ducks because he's twenty minutes late. He's smarmy and condescending about standing her up, and then he tells her that he quit his job. . . several days before.

This is sounding like the start of a Lifetime Original Movie.

Why was he late, they don't say. It couldn't have been the job he quit, but he has been having trouble sleeping because he's haunted by the specter of a beautiful dancing woman. That night, he wakes up from the nightmare and goes for a walk where he finds a shop with a doll in the window that looks exactly like the woman from his dreams.

The next day, he takes Donna there to show her the doll and the proprietor says Rick had ordered it to resemble Bianca Milan. When shown a picture, Rick identifies her as the woman, but insists he's never been to the store. Donna then finds her own doll, designed to look just like Donna, but the proprietor says it doesn't look like her and belongs to another customer. The couple leave, confused, and the proprietor puts a needle through Donna's doll, sending her to the hospital with a heart condition.

So there are elements of Voodoo without Voodoo ever being invoked. To speed things up, the proprietor is a high priest of Gamba, an evil devil-god, and Bianca, his girlfriend/second, has become infatuated with Rick and is using magic to make him fall in love with her. He does, joins the cult, and life immediately becomes The Great Gatsby even though it's 1962.

Various challenges arise—a cultist comes to Rick asking for help getting her soul back, but it's a test to prove his loyalty; Rick removes the needle from Donna's doll and has pangs of guilt over getting her involved; a journalist infiltrates the cult, but is found out and killed. These are all fine, but the problem is that they tend to arise and get resolved as quickly as I've described here. There's no sense of mounting tension or forces closing in on Rick, there are just things that come up and then sort themselves out.

Bianca finds out Rick cured Donna and so has Donna kidnapped to be the next sacrifice. When Donna's brought in to be killed, Rick rebels, saves Donna, and inadvertently starts a fire that kills all the cultists except Bianca. Rick flees with Donna while Bianca, superimposed on the film, holds his doll and laughs.

If the movie had been structured a little differently, it would have been more interesting. As it is, it feels a lot like a filmed version of a radio play. There's narration, the characters explain what they're looking at all the time, and there's very little going on visually. The movie's very perfunctory. That said, it's not awful. Overall, it's a competently-made product, but that doesn't inspire much enthusiasm.

I'm actually surprised I haven't seen this on more horror host shows. As far as I know, only Rifftrax has taken a stab at it, and it's certainly highly riffable. So I'd recommend it in that context: if you want to make fun of something with friends or with your kids, this is a good choice. For pure camp fun, though, it falls a bit short. Since it's PD, you can do what you like. I uploaded this to archive.org a while ago, but have replaced it with a sharper copy.

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