November 10, 2016

Movie Review: Death Force aka Vengeance is Mine

Death Force is one of those movies that you are really likely to stumble across on the shelves of a brick and mortar store like Best Buy or Target. It is one of those types of movies that seems destined to be forgotten, and for a the majority, it likely is forgotten, along with so many others. This is why we should be thankful for companies like Vinegar Syndrome who go out of their way to not only obtain the rights to films like this, but to go through restorations from the best elements they are able to find. The results here are quite good. The film does show its age and some of the scratches and marks may have been printed in the source. Still, any complaints are minor next to the solid and uncut presentation.

The film was directed by Filipino exploitation legend Cirio H. Santiago, who helmed the memorable blaxploitation outing TNT Jackson. Santiago co-wrote the story with Robert Waters, who spent most of his career as a production manager. The screenplay duties were handled by Howard R. Cohen (The Young Nurses, Deathstalker, The Barbarian Queen). The movie folds kung-fusploitation, blaxploitation, and revenge thriller all into entertaining mash. It is a movie that plays to those genres, but also seems to deal with everything a bit more seriously, lending more legitimate drama to the proceedings than one would expect.

The film is presented in its original uncut form, clocking in at 110 minutes, and under its original title, Vengeance is Mine. The cover art is the more well known alternate title, it has also been known as The Black Samurai and Fighting Mad. Now, I have not seen the more common cut version, which reportedly runs 89 minutes. Frankly, I was not aware of this film prior to the Vinegar Syndrome release. I will say that I initially thought 110 minutes was going to be excessive, but I think it is a good length, the film moves at a good clip and it goes through the plot elements well. It is a movie worth spending time with.

Death Force centers on Doug Russell (James Iglehart, Bamboo Gods and Iron Men). He is a Vietnam vet returning with his best friends, McGee (Leon Isaac) and Morelli (Carmen Argenziano). Doug is looking forward to seeing his wife, Maria (Jayne Kennedy), and their young son. Of course, McGee and Morelli have a different idea. They have some stolen gold and are bringing it back with the hopes of entering the drug trade. Doug is much too good to go with that plan. They cut his throat and dump him off a boat, leaving him for dead. Of course, as movies like this are wont to do, he is not quite dead.

This is where the film takes an interesting angle, something I do not believe I’ve ever seen before. Doug washes up on a beach of some uncharted island where he is found by a couple of stranded Japanese soldiers who have been there since World War II! Yes, you read that right. So, while we follow his friends entering criminal circles, including McGee trying to gain the affections of Doug’s wife, we watch Doug learn the ways of the samurai from the soldiers.

I am sure you can figure out where this is going. It does lead to the eventual return of Doug to his hometown and a bloody rampage and as he hunts down his former friends to repay them for their kindness.

Vengeance is Mine is a good film that has a good share of action and bloodshed paired with a nicely brooding plot. It does not really transcend the genre, but it does manage to feel a bit more serious and dramatic than other similar films from the time. Iglehart is a good lead, it is a shame that he had such a short film career, this being his last film. It may not be the best of its ilk, but it does follow through very well on its story, takes some odd turns, offers up some blood, and delivers a good hero. Also, this being the uncut version, delivers a solid and unexpected punch at its conclusion.

Credit to Vinegar Syndrome for giving this a solid release, likely better than anything that came before it. The film received a 2K restoration from a 35mm interpositive print. The result, while far from blemish free has solid colors and sound and looks really quite good.


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