Death Machine (Stephen Norrington, 1994)
The best thing I can say about Death Machine is that it shows Stephen Norrington, whose second feature was Blade, learned a lot from his mistakes. Blade is a fun, fun movie that gets pretty much everything right that Death Machine gets wrong. A confused, muddled mess that came from some really good ideas.
Plot (I think, it’s a bit tough to tell): Chaank Armaments, whose iron-fisted founder recently died and left the company to his daughter, Hayden Cale (model and TV character actress Ely Pouget), has been experimenting with things that, shall we say, would violate the Geneva Convention, all top-secret, and all under the aegis of lunatic genius Jack Dante (Heaven’s Gate‘s Brad Dourif). Cale is horrified at the unethical nature of Dante’s work, and within ten minutes of meeting him, fires him and shuts down his entire wing of the operation…except that at the same time, a band of eco-terrorists named after horror film directors, headed by one Sam Raimi (El Maquinista‘s John Sharian), spurred on by a recent incident in which one of Dante’s failed experiments got loose and trashed a diner (we see this in the opening scene), break into Chaank’s headquarters and shut the place down in order to do as much damage as possible… leaving them, Cale, and her right-hand man Carpenter (the late William Hootkins, easily the best thing about this movie) trapped in the building with a very pissed-off Dante and the plaything he kept secret from everyone in the company, which he calls the Warbeast.
There’s just enough promise that shows through here for me to be able to hypothesize that at some point in its construction there was a really, really good movie here, but that the “good movie” bits got stripped out and left on the cutting-room floor—the character development that would have injected some real teeth into Dante’s obsession with Cale (he may be trying to kill her, but he’s still trying to get into her pants at the same time) or put some genuine warmth into the banter between Raimi and Yutani, one of the other ecoterrorists. Hell, ANY of Yutani that got left on the cutting-room floor needs to find its way into a director’s cut. The same goes for any scenes of Carpenter that disappeared; William Hootkins , who died in 2005, was a fearsome and far too underutilized actor who left his mark on every movie in which he had a part, however small (from Star Wars to Flash Gordon to even The Breed), and this is a movie that gave him a large enough part to exercise his considerable talent. Unfortunately, here it’s playing to a mostly empty room. I’d like to see the original cut of this to see if it’s really as good as I think it might have been. *
Full movie available on Youtube.