Friday, June 17, 2011

June 16 - Paul Kyriazi double feature

Paul Kyriazi's directorial output amounted to five movies in a 14-year period and none of them are easy to find. Luckily I happen to own two of them on VHS. It's Double Feature time!

The cover of my VHS copy of Death Machines

Death Machines (1976)
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Format: VHS (K-Tel)

I always know I'm onto a low-budget gem when I check IMDB and find that most of the actors in a movie have only a couple more credits to their name. That's the case with Death Machines, the debut effort from director Paul Kyriazi.

The Death Machines (who, according to the back of my VHS "are the ultimate exterminators") are three superhuman hitmen who use martial arts, guns and more to do the bidding of their evil mistress, a giant-haired Oriental dragon lady (played by Mari Honjo - check out to read the real-life story of her disappearance). She's in turn taking orders from a shady guy who never shows his face, but that has no bearing on the plot.

The Death Machines are the imaginatively-named White Death Machine (Ron Marchini, NINJA WARRIORS), Asian Death Machine (Michael Chong, TO LIVE AND DIE IN LA) and Black Death Machine (Joshua Johnson, THE WEAPONS OF DEATH).

These three cool dudes, who are impervious to bullets, start off by knocking off the hitmen of a rival ganglord. They hurl one hitman off a roof, blow up the next one with a bazooka(!) and then take out a guy in a phone booth with a bulldozer(!).

Then they massacre a whole dojo full of ineffectua karate students, but one of the students survives, albeit minus one of his hands. This one-handed dude (John Lowe) vows revenge, accompanied by a hot nurse from the hospital he ended up in (played by some mystery, uncredited girl).

The rival crime kingpin, Mr Gioretti (Chuck Katzakian), joins forces with the dragon lady, who orders her Death Machines to kill our hero and his new love. How can a one-handed karate student possibly defeat three undead ninjas?

The plot is nonsensical and full of holes, but never predictable or boring. As a straight action movie there's not much to recommend about Death Machines, but as a cheesefest full of unintentional laughs, it's a goldmine.

The music and fashions are so cringingly 70s, especially Katzakian's super-snazzy suits. The fight scenes are mostly slow-paced and uninspiring, but how can you complain when weapons like bazookas and a bulldozer are thrown into the mix?

Cheesy highlights include:
- A hilarious scene in a police station where White Death Machine takes on a bunch of cops, who end up accidentally shooting each other instead of him.
- The Death Machines take out bikers in a restaurant with a knee-slapping country song playing.
- The lack of chemistry between our hero and his love interest. Their sex scene consists of a silhouetted kiss, then her lying in bed with a look of disgust on her face.

My only gripe is the lack of gore, but at least there's some brief nudity to add to the sleaze factor.

Death Machines is highly recommended for fans of cheesy 70s martial arts action flicks. It's fun from start to finish.

Previews on my VHS: Junkman, Alone in the Dark, The Raiders of Atlantis (aka Atlantis Interceptors, which I reviewed last month).

The cover of my VHS copy of Omega Cop

Omega Cop (1990)
Director: Paul Kyriazi
Format: VHS (Triumph)

Death Machines was Paul Kyriazi's first feature. This is his last (he's still alive according to IMDB, so I guess he could make a return to directing, but after an absence of 21 years that's pretty unlikely).

Omega Cop reunites Kyriazi with two of his stars from Death Machines - Ron Marchini, who played the White Death Machine, and Chuck Katzakian, who played crime boss Mr Gioretti. Marchini is the star, which marks a big change of pace from his silent Death Machines role.

Omega Cop starts with narration by Adam West(!) about the greenhouse effect. Sorry, but I've seen far too much Family Guy to take West seriously. His narration is meant to be heartfelt and scene-setting, but I keep expecting him to say something like "I love this job more than I love taffy ... and I'm a man who enjoys his taffy."

This movie is set in a world which has, in the words of ol' Mayor West, "gone to pot". Solar flares kill anyone who doesn't get undercover in time and drive others crazy if they're burnt. Huh? I'm no scientist but that seems to lack logic. Bah, who needs logic in a b-movie action flick, right?

Anyway, Marchini is John Travis, a cop who loses his three partners during a shoot out at a place where kidnapped women are being auctioned off. He escapes and saves one of the slave women (Meg Thayer, SATURDAY THE 14TH STRIKES BACK), then saves another chick (Jennifer Jostyn, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES), the daughter of a trader who gets murdered by another gang of scumbags.

With two sassy chicks now in tow, Travis tries unsuccessfully to get back into police headquarters, but his boss (West) is worried they might be infected. So it's off to find the crime boss, Wraith (Katzakian).

But wait, first he has to go get his hat(!) from a group of baddies and... surprise, surprise, rescue another girl. Travis sure is the chivalrous type! He's captured by Wraith's gang, who for some reason take him alive. He escapes and re-unites with his harem of rescued babes, but predictably the baddies snatch up two of the chicks while he's away getting supplies.

So it's up to our knight in tight pants (with the other girl in tow) to do what he does best - rescue the girlies - and take down Wraith. After kicking ass on a few dozen baddies first, naturally.

With a movie like this, it's all about the action and there's a good amount of it here. Like in Death Machines, the fight scenes are wooden and slow, but there's enough punching, kicking, shooting and falling from high places to keep things interesting. That is, when Travis isn't running - there's way too much screen-time taken up with him chasing down people.

The original music by Cecil Ramirez and Ralph Stover (whose only other credits are two more Kyriazi flicks, including the sequel to this, KARATE COP), is hilariously bad and derivative. There's a Beach Boys rip off riff that plays during driving scenes (and the end credits), Leone-esque western music that cues during any kind of stand-off or showdown, the odd bit of Japanese flute to remind us that this is a martial arts flick, and other assorted generic synth music.

The acting is pretty damn bad, but bad enough to add to the cheese value. The worst perpetrator is Katzakian, who grumbles and mumbles while trying to act menacing, and Thayer is easy on the eyes but as wooden as a tree. Marchini's no leading man or action star, but he does a passable job. The best of the actors is Jostyn - it's easy to see why she's had the most successful career out of this cast.

Rugged 50s/60s leading man Stuart Whitman (NIGHT OF THE LEPUS) has a cameo as a doctor who finds out sunscreen isn't a bad thing. Adam West is only onscreen for a short time at the start and end. I'd say that's a shame, but as I mentioned earlier, Family Guy has reduced him to a caricature, so no real loss. Plus, he gets to go out with a bang.

And sorry lads, but there's no nudity here. For a movie about women slaves, it sure could have done with some gratuitous nekkidness. Travis doesn't get anything more than a peck on the cheek from any of his three damsels in distress. How's that for gratitude!

So, to summarise: Bad acting, bad music and action that makes up for its low quality with quantity = a cheesy good time!

Previews on my VHS: Four Weddings and a Funeral, We're Talking Serious Money, Philadelphia, Morning Glory, Warlock, Gunmen, Time Runner, Laser Mission, Wolf, All Tied Up.


Karl Brezdin said...

Of these two, I've only seen Death Machines and I really dug it for the overall cheese factor. Also, the guitar and synth-driven score was pretty dope. I'd like to track down Kyriazi's Weapons of Death, it apparently has Eric Lee and Gerald Okamura in it, amongst others.

fletchanator said...

I enjoyed both Death Machines and Omega Cop. I'd love to get hold of Kyriazi's three other movies. They all sound good cheesy fun.

Paul Kyriazi said...

Thanks guys for the review and comments. Great to see those two movies of mine getting some attention. It was a mirecle that Death Machines was even made and that Crown International picked it up. They added that bad music. I was not happy about that. They also made a cool sci-fi looking poster to cash in on the popularity of 'Rollerball' and 'Death Race 2000', but it didn't work. The Sci-fi' fans were disappointed and the martial arts fans didn't come much until they fixed the poster to show karate action. It opened in 50 theaters in Los Angeles alone and moved around the country ranking #17 at the time. Thank for posting this. Yes, I'm still here making full cast audio-books from my novels with my movie star heros of the '60s such as Rod Taylor, Robert Culp & David Hedison. I'm also the creator of 'How to Live the James Bond Lifestyle' now on kindle. Get ready for Skyfall.