I directed this movie. Here's my commentary.
Paul Kyriazi | Los Angeles,, CA. United States | 12/18/2006
(3 out of 5 stars)
"It was 1974 when I met Ron Marchini, a champion karate tournament fighter. He had starred in a movie in the Philippines and was now looking to produce and star in one in America. He had seen my first feature "The Tournament" and decided to take a chance on me to direct his movie. Ron is a true movie fan. We watched many movies together at that time, to learn and to encourage ourselves for the task at hand. Ron and I came up with a story that had three hitmen, one white, one black, and one Asian, working for a Japanese Yakuza woman. That would take care of three markets, as the black exploitation films were all the rage then. We also included a cop, a love, and revenge story.
We then added some bizarre action scenes, such as the three killers coming into a karate dojo with samurai swords and wiping everyone out. This was inspired from Kurasawa's "Sanjuro". Also an escape from a police department by Marchini using karate. On his way outside he steals a police car and crashes it into another car. I was driving the other car, as I didn't want to risk someone else. Another scene had a banker handcuffed to a cabinet as a time bomb ticks off in front of him. He struggles for 2 minutes to try to get to it to turn it off, but it explodes. We also had a small bar room brawl, a scene with the three killers fighting bikers in a cafe, and finally, using a bazooka, the killers blow up a real piper cub airplane.
Mixed in with all those big scenes were minor action scenes of Mafia hti man being kill by the three killers who were about to shoot someone, such as throwing one off a tall building and landing on his own car that is being ticketed by a meter maid. Ron came up with a small about of money. We shot in 35mm Techniscope that shot half frame, saving film, and developed at technicolor, giving us a wide scope screen. This would help "fool" audiences and distributors that the budget was bigger than we had. Too bad the wide screen is not used on the DVD.
We had a six week schedule and decided to use Ron's home town of Stockton, California to shoot in, as he was a businessman. So the town was wide open to us with full police co-operation. Casting was done all in the town using a local casting agent that had a list of actors and extras from other movies that had shot in town. The exception was for the Asian killer and black killer, Mike Chong and Joshua Johnson.
The original Asian killer was to be Kung Fu kata champion Eric Lee. He had been on many covers of "Inside Kung Fu" magazine and that would have helped our selling cause. But wouldn't you know it, Sam Peckinpah invited him to work on "Killer Elite" shooting at the exact same time. So Eric took the smaller part in "Death Machines" of the karate instructor who's dojo is raided by the killers. Mike Chong replaced him in the larger part. Later Eric starred for me in my movies "Weapons of Death" (1980) and "NinjaBusters" (1984).
The big choice for us was what to do about the many bullet hits and explosions in the movie. To do squib effects you must hire a licensed "powder man", as they are called in Hollywood. He would be $250 a day, plus the explosive materials. Finally Ron, and I figured out a schedule with the effects scenes all together, to save money, and hired Hollywood effects man Dick Albains. He had just finished the now cult favorite "Trilogy of Terror" where the Zuni doll chased Karen Black around her apartment. In fact, Ron and I had seen that when we were doing script work.
So now we had realistic bullet hits and could actually blow up a Piper Cub airplane, that we bought minus the engine. A duplicate was flown and then we pulled the other one by car and just before it lifted off, it was blown up. Even though it was an ambitious project, thanks to the actors being local and showing up on time, good weather, and no accidents, we finished on schedule.
We started the editing on our own, but Ron got anxious about being able to sell the movie, so we took it to Crown International Pictures and showed them about 70% of the movie, including the airplane being bazooka and blowing up. The president of Crown wanted the film immediately. But this meant turning it over to him at once for their editors to finish.
At that particular time, the Sci-If movies "Rollerball" and "Death Race 2000" were big hits, so Crown decided they wanted to present "Death Machines" as a Sci-If movie. Crown asked us to shoot a new scene to tack onto the beginning. Well, Ron and I were game to do it. Anything to get our picture in to the theaters. So they gave us this scene where this mastermind man told the dragon lady that a special hypnotic drug would make her men killers on demand, "Death Machines", as it were. Once that was added to the movie, Crown made posters of a tower building with teeth, with people falling off of it giving it a sci-fi look. On the tower were the words, "The Killers Of The Future Are Ready Now." Similar ads were made for the newspapers.
Six months later it was released in 50 theaters in the LA area. It ranked #14 in Variety's weekly top grossing chart. Still the movie didn't do as well as expected because the sci-fi fans felt gypped that it wasn't science fiction and lots of the action fans didn't go because they thought it was sci-fi. The theater owners complained. So Crown had to make a new ad for the newspapers showing the karate killers faces
Even though proud and excited to see the audiences cheering and yelling during the action scenes in the theater, I got some disappointing surprises. Crown had hired a low budget effects company. They put in the sword swishes for the big dojo fight scene (the 3 killers used samurai swords), but they didn't put in body sword hits, so to me, it sounded like they were missing with their swords. This movie was made before samurai movies became main stream, so the sound effects editor didn't know about this. Also the body falls were not loud enough. Still people have told me what a strong scene that dojo raid is.
Another problem with the movie was with the Afro-American police captain who has a sign on his door reading "Captain Green". Well, his makeup under the fluorescent lights turned him green on film, and he gives a long speech with his name sign in full view. I figured they would correct his face color in the timing of the final print using the right filter. But they didn't and audiences would yell out "Look! Captain Green IS green."
The real disappointing part of the movie was the music. Crown used a low budget company to do the music. It ended up being an irritating, repetitive, electronic score. Many people have mention how much the music hurt the movie. On my next movie, I made sure to take it all the way to the end using full sound effects and closely edited music from a good library.
I was happy to get a fairly good review in the LA Times on "Death Machines", saying "Director Paul Kyriazi captures a dusty petty ambience." Seeing the movie recently, I think that is was great for the budget, and at the time it was released. I think if I could cut the "Death Machines" down to 70 minutes, it would really be a wild ride. But of course, 70 minutes does not make a feature film.
Because "Death Machines" played everywhere in many theaters in the big cities, I used that as a springboard to my next feature and others. I guess the best part was being able to 'do it right' on the next picture with Ron Marchini, "Omega Cop". Still on a low budget, but able to make better use of the money through better scripting and scheduling.
It is disappointing that the current DVD release is not in wide screen and made from the 16mm print. I don't know why they did that. But still Ron and I were lucky that Crown picked up the movie and released it so fast. Still, I cringe at the thought that no matter how the movie is formatted in the future, Captain Green's face will always be green.
A. Doshi | Marina Del Rey, CA United States | 09/12/2002
(5 out of 5 stars)
"The story is simple. A yakuza type woman takes control of all the gangland killings in her town using three kung fu killers. But the plot throws so many exploitable characters and situations into it, it plays like a fun mix of "Pulp Fiction" and a Road Runner cartoon.There are cops, gangsters, karate teachers, lovers, bikers, and bartenders. The action sequences are varied and bizarre like the one where the three killers whip out a karate school full of students. Or when one of the killers fights his way out of a police station. Or the three of them take on bikers in a roadside cafe.
There is a hero. A guy who gets his hand cut off in the karate school and goes after the killers. There is even a psycho style ending. Too bad this obviously lower budget film didn't have any stars in it. If it had Travolta and Willis we could have had "Pulp Fiction" 20 years sooner."
Low budget with lots of Action!
Dread Pirate / Author MM | Locust Grove, Virginia USA | 04/17/2005
(4 out of 5 stars)
"I stumbled upon this movie quite by accident. Being an avid web log reader, I was surfing and came across a weblog titled FeatureFilmDirector. (xanga.com/FeaureFilmDirector) I read an entry about the making of this movie called Death Machines. The owner of the web log claimed to the Director of this movie as well as several others. Never trusting anything I read on the net, I came to Amazon and found the movie was available on DVD and ordered it. After reading the weblog entry on the making of Death Machines I knew what "parts" to look for. It was really a fun experience having the inside scoop on the movie and then being able to see the feature come alive. True to his word, this name appeared as Director of the film in the credits.
I found the movie a fun "step back in time." After reading the Directors accounts and stories of how certain things had to be done as well as the actual budget of the film... I think it is a great testament to low budget films!