Monday, September 15, 2014

DEATH PROMISE - DVD REVIEW


That’s one of the lyrics to Opus’ nutty theme song for Robert Warmflash’s DEATH PROMISE (1978), an almost indescribable low-budget action flick trying to capitalize on the popularity of the martial arts craze with another exploitation staple of the ‘70s – the vigilante film. 

Charles Bonet stars as Charlie Roman who, come to think of it, doesn’t do anything but train at the local dojo with his sparing partner Speedy (Speedy Leacock) and Shibata (Thompson Kao Kang), his teacher and owner of this lowly dojo.  In between his martial arts training, Charlie is also fighting an on-going battle with the “rich slumlords” that “go to ruthless extremes to evict the poor tenants” as some impromptu narration informs us in case we weren’t paying attention.  Along for the fight is Charlie’s hot-tempered Dad, Louie (Bob O’Connell – credited here as Rocky Crevice!) who, in between his best James Cagney impersonations, also gets to engage in some sloppy fightin’. 

It seems the Iguana Reality Corporation is trying to vacant their tenements in order to build new, more expensive buildings in their place.  Unfortunately for them, “the laws are all twisted to protect that sort – those welfare people”, so they have resorted to hiring cheap muscle in flared slacks and even cheaper dress shirts to continually harass their tenants, which includes everything from turning off their utilities to unleashing rats in their buildings.  The main players of this little “landlord syndicate” include E. Bartley (Vincent Van Lynn) Alden, a “financier” who calls the shots; Jackson (Abe Hendy), a ruthless criminal who “climbed to the top the hard way”; Mirsky (Thom Kendall), a “clothing manufacturer and ladies’ man”; Enstrom (David Kirk), a judge from the State Supreme Court; and Albano (Tony De Caprio), a labour unit president. 

When Louie is found dead after threatening Alden, Charlie vows revenge and, with the help of Shibata, travels to what is presumably the orient to train with renowned Master Ying (Anthony Lau), who turns out to be one of the most pitiful “sensei” imaginable.  Charlie’s “advanced training” is just more fighting with fellow student Sup Kim (Bill Louie), who skills are actually far more advanced than Master Ying’s.  Returning to NYC, Charlie is ready to “honour his father best by revenge”, but in a highly implausible turn of events, everything isn’t as it seems.

From L to R: Charles Bonet, Bob O'Connell & Speedy Leacock.
Throughout the ‘70s, cinema screens were flooded with all types of martial arts flicks as every small-time distributor imported anything and everything with even a passing resemblance to Robert Clouse’s ENTER THE DRAGON (1973).  Bruce Lee’s final film The GAME OF DEATH (1978) is referenced immediately as Charlie and Speedy are seen running through the streets of NYC in bright yellow tracksuits, similar to the one worn by Bruce Lee in that very film.  In a hilarious and sloppily edited scene, their run goes from Central Park to lower Manhattan and then the Bronx without even a hint of continuity.  Before Charlie even has a chance to cool down from his monumental jog through NYC, he gets into a punch-up with a couple of seedy looking characters ending with the clichéd, “Who sent you?”  With the help of his Dad Louie, the film continues this way as more and more of Alden’s henchmen try in vain to vacant these “rat-infested tenements”.  Louie is definitely the instigator of this uprising and “educates” both Charlie and Speedy on the shady complexities of “dummy corporations” and even shares some anecdotes from his boxing days when he fought Sugar Ray Robinson.  When he takes on Alden and neglects to accept a bribe (“You can take your polite bribe and shove it up your polite ass!”), he is killed and the film truly goes off on a tangent.  Charlie is “instructed” by Shibata to go the orient, which actually looks like a farm somewhere in upstate New York while Anthony Lau as Master Ying looks positively terrified in front of the camera.  He couldn’t deliver a line if his life depended on it, even his old-age make-up is thrift-store quality at best.  His dojo is also nothing more than an empty room with some spears and machetes hanging from the wall, which looks like some 5th rate porn set similar to that of Bill Milling’s kung-fu porn hybrid The VIXENS OF KUNG-FU (1975).  The only thing Charlie seemed to learn from Master Ying was an “old Japanese assassin trick” when taking care of Judge Enstrom.  Most of the other “death promises” are much of the same with exaggerated sound effects as everyone punches, kicks and hollers at each other.  The climatic “battle royale” is long, drawn out and entertaining as hell, which also holds a few, rather obvious surprises that will certainly get your head scratching nonetheless.

Master Ying supervises Charlie's "advanced training".

Director Robert Warmflash hasn’t really directed too much else and according to Code Red’s packaging served as a post-production supervisor on Abel Ferrara’s NEW ROSE HOTEL (1998).  He’s actually worked on many other films in the same capacity including James Toback’s TWO GIRLS AND A GUY (1997) and, in the last few years, has seemed to focus his attention on documentaries beginning with Leon Gast’s WHEN WE WERE KINGS (1996), Louie Psihoyos’ critically acclaimed The COVE (2009) and Joe Cross and Kurt Engfehr’s FAT, SICK AND NEARLY DEAD (2010).  “Star” Charles Bonet also appeared in Tommy Loo Chung’s The BLACK DRAGON REVENGES THE DEATH OF BRUCE LEE (1975) alongside headliner “Ron Van Clief”, but one of his more interesting credits is Joseph Ellison’s nasty but effective horror shocker DON’T GO IN THE HOUSE (1980).  Stunt co-ordinator and actor Bill Louie was yet another New York bit player that also turned up in Matthew Mallinson’s bargain-bin mainstay FIST OF FEAR, TOUCH OF DEATH (1980) and the NYC re-shoots for Ryuichi Takamori’s Sonny Chiba actioner KARATE KIBA, which was released in the US as The BODYGUARD (1976).  In a truly bizarre bit of casting, Thompson Kao Kang also starred in George Bange’s East-meets-West spaghetti western KUNG FU BROTHERS OF THE WILD WEST (1973) alongside William Berger and Donald O’Brian.  For those that are interested, it was released on VHS as The MASTER KILLERS in one of those big Wizard Video boxes.

Charles Bonet in action during one of the many sloppy street brawls.

Released by Code Red in a nice 16x9 transfer in its original 1.78:1 framing, DEATH PROMISE has probably never looked better and, to be honest, probably never will.  Preceded by a trailer for The KING OF KUNG FU (1978), the disc also includes trailers for DEVIL’S EXPRESS (1975 – by all means pick this up immediately!!!), The BLACK DRAGON REVENGES THE DEATH OF BRUCE LEE (1975), DEATH MACHINES (1976), CUT-THROATS NINE (1972), The UNDERTAKER (1988) and a trailer for DEATH PROMISE.  Any self-respecting exploitation junkie will love this.  That’s a promise!

1 comment:

  1. I used to have this on VHS in a really crappy pan-and-scan copy. I know I watched it at some point, but I barely remember a thing about it. Perhaps a revisit might be in order...

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