If Anyone Can Hide from the Grim Reaper, It’s the “Deathcheaters” on Blu-ray from Umbrella Entertainment!
Vietnam War brothers-in-arms Steve Hall and Rodney Cann banded together well after the fighting was over and channeled all their pent up energy into being adrenaline junky stuntmen for movies, television series, and commercials as a living and as a lifestyle. When the two Australians are duped and setup into a high speed chase and a daring rescue mission by one of their country’s own clandestine government agencies in a ploy to test Steve and Rod’s daredevil abilities, they pass the qualifying assessments and are offered an espionage job by agency head under the pseudonym of Mr. Culpepper who has no other incentive to provide other than the job to be the most challenging, death-defying operation to gorge on by two extreme sport enthusiasts. Unable to resist, the stuntmen embark to a secret base on a remote island of the Philippines where they’ll dodge bullets, explosions, and over 100 guards to fight their way in and out to obtain classified documents for their country.
“Deathcheaters” became the third viewing adventure involving the actor-director combination of stuntman Grant Page and director Brian Trenchard-Smith that falls right in between “The Man from Hong Kong” and “Stunt Rock” and clearly delineates an understanding that Grant Page was a genuine fascination for Trenchard-Smith who sought to take the daring stuntman out of solely stunt role and puree him into a leading man role, showcasing Page’s hang-gliding, dune buggy, and skyscraper falls, for the director’s second feature film released in 1976. And, then, there’s John Hargreaves who we will dive into his there-but-not there presence later on. “Deathcheaters” is an ozploitation action-comedy that fulfilled two of Trenchard-Smith’s obsessions – stuntmen and spy films – from a story by the director and penned to script by Michael Cove and is produced by Trenchard productions alongside a conglomerate of production companies, including “Mad Max’s” Roadshow Entertainment (a subsidiary of Village Roadshow), D.L. Taffner (“Ghost Stories”), Nine Network Australia, and the Australian Film Commission.
Undoubtedly, “Deathcheaters” stars Grant Page as the relationship unattached and cocky Rodney Cann whose only other interest besides bedding the single ladies is his enamored basset hound, Bismark. Cann’s best friend, Steve Hall, is newly hitched to Julia who more-or-less disapproves of her husband’s risky vocation. “Long Weekend’s” John Hargreaves plays the cheeky Steve Hall with sarcastic charm, matching his complement stunt partner and while Hargreaves has the chops to pull of the persona, the late Sydney born actor is well behind the curve when matched up with Grant Page. Page is a stuntman playing a stuntman while Hargreaves is an actor portraying to be a stuntman and, unquestionably, that delta shows pretty radically when Page is driving the dune buggy, is descending rapidly from a tall building, or scaling a rock cliff without a harness and Hargreaves is relatively stationary. Hargreaves has his moments but is greatly overshadowed by the veteran Page. Before she was Brian Trenchard-Smith’s wife, “Stunt Rock’s” Margaret Gerard was John Hargreaves on screen romance who is vocal but wishy-washy on her husband’s exploits, even on the highly dangerous, international espionage mission assigned by the enigmatic Mr. Culpepper (Noel Ferrier, “Turkey Shoot”). “Deathcheaters” round out with Judith Woodroffe, Drew Forsythe, Annie Semler, and Vincent Ball.
“Deathcheasters’ falls on the heels of the martial arts success of “The Man from Hong Kong” and is another stunt celebratory film from the ozploitation director with a penchant for large explosions and need-for-speed car chases. All the stunts were perfectly poised in design and well executed. Trenchard-Smith isn’t at all afraid to have the camera right in the middle of the action, strapping the 16mm camera to whatever plausible to place the audience in the action with the heroes. As much as Trenchard-Smith goes full throttle with a tour de force, the same tricks become a little stale after, unfortunately, having previously watched “Stunt Rock” and “The Man from Hong Kong” that also featured self-set wet-gel fires, hang gliding, free falling, and among others aerobatic and dangerous acts that are seemingly in Page’s limited bag of showstopping routines. There’s rarely anything new in “Deathcheaters” that warrant an awe response and that can be cliched, tiresome, and overall detrimental to the experience unless you’ve never seen a Trenchard-Smith film. If you’re one of those people never to have popped in one of his films, don’t expect “Deathcheaters” to be gritty, tough-as-nails, spitfire. Many of Trenchard-Smith’s earlier films, including “Deathcheaters,” sells solely on the witty, clean banter and a knack for the implied something really terrible happened to the bad guys with nothing ostentatiously explicit in the demise category. “Deathcheaters” can be wholesome, light, and aromatic of a repartee trashcan, but you get some great stunt work, explosions, and a car chase from this 1970’s Australian picture.
Like “The Man from Hong Kong” and “Stunt Work,” “Deathcheaters” too receives the Ozploitation Classics Blu-ray honor bestowed upon it from Umbrella Entertainment as spine number 10. Newly scanned in high definition 4K for the first time, John Seale’s cinematic vision has never looked better in this region free release, presented in standard widescreen 1.85:1 aspect ratio. The original vault materials held up nice enough to warrant a clear picture with only a few, brief blemishes. The super 16mm shot film, blown up to 35mm, often still feels ever so lightly flat in contour definition and in color; yet all the scenes look naturally aboriginal from the masters. The English language DTS-HD master audio 2.0 mono is a naturally lossy single speaker audio mix that doesn’t exact full representation of the action on screen though robust in fidelity. Dialogue perceives feebler during exterior scenes as capturing dialogue competes with the elements due to poor boom placement or just inferior equipment. Like the other releases, bonus features are nicely packed with a newly extended interviews with Brian Trenchard-Smith, Grant Page, and John Seale from the Not Quite Hollywood documentary, a new audio only interview Remembering “Deathcheaters” with executive producer Richard Brennan, new liner notes from Trenchard-Smith, a 2008 commentary with the director, executive producer, and leading lady Margaret Gerard (listed as Margaret Trenchard-Smith), Trenchard-Smith trailer reel, theatrical trailer, and a Trenchard-Smith directed bonus feature in “Dangerfreaks – The Ultimate Documentary.” The clear snapper case is housed inside a cardboard slipcover and inside the snapper’s liner is a 16-page comic book adaptation from Dark Oz, much like Umbrella accompanied with “Stunt Rock.” “Deathcheaters” shows its age but still pulls out all the stops with amazing stunt choreography and gave way to Grant Page being solidified lead man material, even with his corny one-liners, and simultaneously building upon Brian Trenchard-Smith’s early career in a niche field of being obsessed with overachieving, arrogant, and unafraid stuntmen.