Making a Toothy Debut with Death Machine (1994)

June 24, 2020 | By

That is does…

Before I get to the Editor’s Blog, thanks for your patience as it took a while to start posting reviews this month. I decided to overhaul three sites, with focusing on film reviews & podcasts, Big Head Amusements on filmmaking and detailing my work using vintage analogue video gear + custom video services (digital transfers, visualizations of audio using vintage test scopes and colorizers, and digital-to-analogue effects processing), and a former online C.V. into a site to showcase voice work.

The last is still under construction, but the others are getting close to being reorganized, and the site servers also needed to have hosting updates. For the record, though, I hate the latest Word Press update, which adds more steps to previously simple maneuvers, and for whatever reason, strips the code for a clean line between text and graphics ( ) in both new and old posts.

So, after all this mucking around is a review of Stephen Norrington’s Death Machine (1994). A friend passed on the VHS tape after I saw the sneak preview of Blade (1998), Norrington’s breakthrough film within a very sparse career as director.

The tape was pushed on me as another ‘You should see this. The first two-thirds are slow, but the last half hour is fucking incredible,’ and in most cases my friend knew my tastes, and what I would generally embrace as part of my own batch of must-have cult films.

At the time, I didn’t care for the first segments – they were slow – but that finale was and still is insane, and shows Norrington’s fine work in practical visual effects. Death Machine is a mash-up of other plot elements from bigger budgeted productions (and yes, I go through them in the review), but none of that seems to matter; like The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997) was really just a movie about dinosaurs eating people (plus one blatant Godzilla rampage riff), Norrington’s opus is the mangling of humans when a killer robot controlled by bonkers Brad Dourif is on the loose in a corporate headquarters. Ely Pouget really carries the film through some rough dialogue and juvenile humour, and she provides a necessary grounding to Dourif’s weirdest performance on film.

That preview screening of Blade is still a highpoint at a time when Yonge & St. Clair still had great cinemas in walking distance from the subway, collections of affordable apartments, and fine restaurants murdered in later years by developers. Blade premiered at The Hyland (wholly eradicated), and had the best sound system in the city alongside The Eglington (now an events venue), The York Cinemas (soon an ignominiously transformed gym & yoga place, then razed for another condo banality), The Uptown (closed for bullshit reasons, ripped open, and now the site of condo banality and a Rogers shop, the latter ‘preserving’ the original ‘façade’ of the former live theatre and single screen cinema), and The University (the façade remained bolted to steel girders for years when original condo plans went bust in the 1990s, after which the façade was repurposed for a now-gone Pottery Barn, and the adjoining land used for one of Toronto’s best examples of ugly 1990s urban architecture).

I can accept movie theatres being threatened by a lethal pandemic, but glass condos, a Shopper’s Drug Mart, and yoga seems inane, but there you go. If Blade should become available in a 4K DCP, just go, because one aspect The Hyland embellished was the sound of the film mix, and big pounding bass for dance music, Mark Isham’s synth score, and action sound effects.

As for Death Machine, I’d also go because it’s weirdly fun, and every now & then slow spots are either counterbalanced with moist sleaze (Dourif) or a nasty mangling – hints of the carnage in the finale.


An Alienesque moment in DEATH MACHINE (1994), and perhaps the loudest, most gloriously bass-ramming sequence in the film.


As for the return of cinemas during this wretched pandemic, the industry is clearly going through its own turmoil where allowable audience sizes in venues permitted to open are barely (if at all) profitable.

Every city’s lost businesses with character and diversity, each offering opportunities of escapism, fun, social engagements, and relaxing that can’t be equally replaced or easily rebuilt once gone.

When things do return in careful steps and this insidious bug is tempered by a vaccine, cherish and support the businesses and social activities which have special meaning to you, because the last 3 months have been terrible, and what lies ahead for possibly another year will not be comforting.

We’ll have some wiggle room as we flutter between the categorized phases and follow-up waves, but the hidden emotional and psychological scars of this pandemic will eventually manifest, and people and governments will need to be supportive in every manner.

The sting will linger for a long time.

Coming next: Severin dishes out more restored uncut Jess Franco with the really solid Sadean Cries of Pleasure (1982), and Night of Open Sex (1983), or what Francophilian Stephen Thrower calls an example of the director’s “tone collages.” It is, and it’s nuts.

Also in the works is a review of Cult Epics’ latest elegant book, Women of the Sun: Bunny Yeager in Mexico, of which details can be found at the label’s website and original Kickstarter page.


Mark R. Hasan, Editor

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