Release Date(s)1976 (February 9, 2022)
Studio(s)Umbrella Entertainment (Ozploitation Classics #10)
- Film/Program Grade: B
- Video Grade: B
- Audio Grade: B-
- Extras Grade: B+
[Editor’s Note: This is a REGION-FREE Australian Blu-ray import.]
After The Man from Hong Kong failed to do major business at the box office worldwide, only turning a minor profit, director Brian Trenchard-Smith moved on to his next action extravaganza, Deathcheaters. This time around, he had less outside interference to deal with, had a very enjoyable shoot, and was mostly satisfied with the final product. It unfortunately wasn’t a major audience draw either, particularly in its home country of Australia, but it became a particular favorite of Ozploitation fans like Quentin Tarantino, and was highlighted in Mark Hartley’s excellent documentary about Australian filmmakers, Not Quite Hollywood.
Deathcheaters is, for all intents and purposes, a tongue-in-cheek romp. It’s almost an anti-action film in that it takes an enormous amount of screen time to get to the actual plot, and the heroes aren't typical heroes, nor are their superiors. It also has a mild romantic thread that’s peppered into the story just enough to make it convincing without spoiling the other elements. It helps that there are good performances with dynamite chemistry, not just between John Hargreaves and Margaret Trenchard-Smith (née Gerard), but also between Hargreaves and stunt man extraordinaire Grant Page. Because of this, Hargreaves purportedly had a great time making the film as he was accustomed to less action-oriented fare. Many might overlook it because of the amount of time that it takes to get to its plot, but the chief reason to see Deathcheaters is the interplay between the characters and the amazing stunt work, which the film is front-loaded with.
Steve (John Hargreaves) and Rodney (Grant Page) are a pair of legendary stunt men, game for whatever danger they can throw themselves into for the sake of entertainment. The two met years before in Vietnam and became inseparable, moving on in their civilian lives to working in movies and commercials for the thrill of real danger. While Rodney is a ladies man on the prowl, Steve has recently married the beautiful Julia (Margaret Trenchard-Smith), who doesn’t fully approve of Steve and Rodney’s reckless lifestyle, but loves and supports them nonetheless. One day, the two are kidnapped by secret government agents, led by the affluent Mr. Culpepper (Noel Ferrier), who wants to hire them for a top secret mission: sneak into a heavily-guarded building in the Philippines to retrieve important documents. Initially reluctant, they decide to give it a go.
Deathcheaters was shot by cinematographer John Seale on standard 16 mm film using Panavision R-200 cameras and T4 Cooke/Panavision Super Panazoom lenses, finished photochemically by blowing the negative up to 35 mm, and presented in the aspect ratio of 1.85:1. Umbrella Entertainment releases the film as #10 in its Ozploitation Classics line of titles, featuring a presentation that’s been “newly scanned in 4K from original vault materials” (likely an interpositive element). It showcases more damage at times than others, but it’s a very watchable transfer. Grain is predictably high and chunky due to the 35 mm blow-up, but even so, detail is strong in every shot. The color palette is decent, with reds and blues popping out more than anything else, and flesh tones that appear natural. Blacks aren’t that deep, which is inherent to the source, but contrast is good. Color molding, scratches, speckling, tears, and minor instability are prevalent, as is the loss in quality when it comes to the stock footage. Even so, this is still a fine upgrade.
Audio is included in English 2.0 mono DTS-HD Master Audio with optional English subtitles. It’s a mostly flat track, but offers decent support for the score. Dialogue exchanges are fine, but sound effects aren’t all that impressive. The film could really use a 5.1 remix.
The Blu-ray disc of Deathcheaters sits inside a clear amaray case with double-sided artwork featuring promotional stills of John Hargreaves and Grant Page on the front and back respectively, and an extended excerpt from Brian Trenchard-Smith’s book Adventures in the B-Movie Trade on the reverse. Also included is a 16-page mini-comic book adaptation of the film by Dark Oz Comics. Everything is housed within a slipcover featuring a version of the original theatrical poster artwork. The following extras are included on the disc itself:
- Audio Commentary with Brian Trenchard-Smith, Richard Brennan, and Margaret Trenchard-Smith
- Extended Not Quite Hollywood Interviews (Upscaled HD – 17:10)
- Audio Interview with Richard Brennan (HD – 9:38)
- Danger Freaks (Upscaled SD – 94:24)
- Brian Trenchard-Smith Trailer Reel (SD and HD – 40:55)
- Theatrical Trailer (HD – 3:19)
In the audio commentary, recorded in 2008 for the Region 4 Madman Entertainment Australian DVD release, Brian and Margaret Trenchard-Smith, as well executive producer Richard Brennan, recount their experiences making the film. It’s an entertaining listen as the three have a great rapport and enjoyed making the film together. Brian Trenchard-Smith provides plenty of detail about how many scenes were shot, and Richard Brennan often refers to a diary that he kept during the film for additional information. Next are three Extended Not Quite Hollywood Interviews with Brian Trenchard-Smith, Grant Page, and John Seale. After that is a new audio interview with Richard Brennan. In it, he briefly talks about the stunts in the film, accidents that occurred, and how much he enjoyed working with the cast and crew. The Trailer Reel features trailers for The Love Epidemic, The Man from Hong Kong, Death Cheaters, Stunt Rock, Turkey Shoot, BMX Bandits, Frog Dreaming (aka The Quest), Dead End Drive-In, Day of the Panther, Strike of the Panther, Out of the Body, Danger Freaks, Night of the Demons 2, Leprechaun 3, Leprechaun 4: In Space, Britannic, Megiddo: The Omega Code 2, Operation Wolverine (aka Seconds to Spare), Arctic Blast, The Cabin, Chemistry, Absolute Deception, and Drive Hard. Last is the theatrical trailer, presented in HD.
Deathcheaters is an enjoyable slice of action excess, and continues the legacy of the Ozploitation cycle than Brian Trenchard-Smith has become so abundantly known for. Umbrella’s overall package features the film in decent quality with a nice selection of bonus materials.
- Tim Salmons