Movie Review: Death Machine

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Death Machine (1994)
Directed by Steven Norrington
Starring Brad Dourif, Ely Pouget, William Hootkins, John Sharian, Martin McDougall, Andreas Wisniewski, Richard Brake

Okay folks, here’s one title that the Sci-Fi vs Horror people can fight over. You have some people trapped in a huge corporate office building that are basically being stalked by a demented weapons designer and his latest toy. This toy, called the WarBeast, is a huge mechanical killing machine, with long razor sharp claws, a mouth with huge metal teeth, and can track its target by their fear! Is it Sci-Fi or horror? You decide. But no matter which path you go, director Norrington gives us a nice view of both worlds, nicely intertwined together making one hell of a movie!

Though the ‘monster’ is a robot, it is still one deranged creation and is as scary as some demons from some netherworld. Especially if it’s chasing you down the corridor. And since it’s running off a program, there will be no begging or pleading with it for your life. When it finds you…you’re done.

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But even more scarier than the WarBeast, is the creator, Jack Dante. I’m not sure if anybody could have given this character the same craziness and eccentricities that cult star Brad Dourif brings to the role, but what he does here is just a joy to watch. Once again, Dourif throws himself into this role, giving us yet another great performance by this very underrated actor. Anytime he is on screen, he’ll grab your attention completely. You never know what he’s going to come up with. Even when just giving a little speech, he captures the audience’s attention. And of course, anytime Dourif is giving any kind of speech, it’s a treat.

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The rest of the cast does more than a decent job trying to keep up with Dourif. Ely Pouget plays the main lead, the new boss taking over the difficult job of changing the public opinion of just what their company is really doing, or what she thinks they are doing. John Sharian plays one of the rebels who has broken into the corporate building to sabotage the company. Genre fans might recognize him from his other roles in The Machinist (2004), the werewolf movie Romasanta (2004), not to mention small parts in many other films. Another genre favorite is William Hootkins, with roles in Richard Stanley’s Hardware (1990) and Dust Devil (1992), and even back to the original Star Wars (1977), Hootkins’ performance is always there.

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This was Norrington first feature film, which he not only directed but also wrote as well. I liked that while this is obviously a futuristic setting, it still has its feet planted in reality. There is a bit of advance technology but we’re not talking Star Trek type of gear, giving it a nice cyberpunk kind of feeling to it. When he named most of the characters after either directors like Raimi, Carpenter, or Dante, or even a couple names Yutani & Weyland from the Alien series, he was obviously giving a little shout out to a few people, or just to show he’s a genre fan. He would go one to direct the first Blade movie in 1998, but only do two more features, the last being The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen (2003), which I actually kind of enjoyed. After that, he seemed to move back into special effects and make up side of the business. A shame too since he did give us a few entertaining films.

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But as entertaining and bat-shit crazy Dourif is, the real star of the film is the WarBeast. This is like nothing we’ve ever seen before onscreen. Sure there are plenty of killer robots in cinema but this huge monstrosity redefines the word intimidating. They edit the scenes with it so well, giving us just enough glimpses to see this beast to know that it’s not one to mess with.

When seeking out this film, make sure you pick up an uncut version, especially one in the original 2.35:1 aspect ratio because the full frame version cuts off a lot of stuff from the sides. Plus the American release was cut. In fact, there are several different cuts out there, so do a little research beforehand. You’ll have to get an import since I don’t believe an uncut version has been released here in the states just yet. Who knows, maybe someday Shout Factory or Severin will release it here in the states and give it a nice presentation with plenty of extras. We can hope, can’t we?

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