Monday, July 18, 2011

July 10 - Death Cheaters (1976)

The cover of my VHS copy of Death Cheaters

Death Cheaters (1976)
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Format: VHS (Syme Home Video)

Director Brian Trenchard-Smith is a cult favorite when it comes to Australian movies. In the early 80s he helmed a couple of Ozploitation classics in 1980's Stunt Rock and 1982's remarkably offbeat Turkey Shoot (known in the US as Escape 2000 and in the UK as Blood Camp Thatcher), before turning to more family-friendly fare like 1983's BMX Bandits (starring a teenaged Nicole Kidman) and 1986's Frog Dreaming. By the 90s he had made his way to Hollywood, only to be stuck with dreck like Night of the Demons 2 and Leprechaun 4: In Space.

But before taking on any of the aforementioned films, Trenchard-Smith directed, wrote (and had a cameo in) this 1976 Australian actioner. Essentially it's a series of stunt set-pieces - car chases, abseling down inner-city buildings, furniture-destroying fistfights, guy getting run over, explosions, hang gliding etc - strung together by a flimsy plot.

Mustachioed Steve (John Hargreaves, LONG WEEKEND) and Rod (Grant Page, ROAD GAMES) are two Vietnam vet stuntman buddies who are hired by a spy named Culpepper (Noel Ferrier, TURKEY SHOOT) to go on a covert mission to the Philippines. They have to steal some secret papers or something of that nature.

Before that they undergo training (more excuse for stunt set pieces) and then catch a ride in a submarine. When they get to "The Philippines" (actually filmed in Australia) the action is restricted to some cliffs and a factory/mill, as they battle hordes of baddies, with plenty of nice, big explosions.

Everything is played tongue-in-cheek, with the two leads kidding around like they're in some kind of stuntman buddy movie. It works for the most part, just don't expect too much in the way of plot. The biggest problem is the lull in action that occurs midway through, but aside from that there's enough action to keep things interesting.

There are some unintentional laughs to be had - look out for the hilariously outdated gym equipment and the 70s fashions (Rod's array of pirate-like puffy shirts in particular).

But of course the high point is the stunts. Much of the credit for that falls to Grant Page, an experienced stuntman with 56 films under his belt. He was stunt co-ordinator for the first and third Mad Max movies.

Trenchard-Smith went on to create much better fare than this, but Death Cheaters is worth a watch to see this Ozploitation legend's early work.

No comments: