Death Machine (1994) — Who let the madman build a killer robot?

“This just in: There is a psycho death bot on the loose.”

Justin’s rating: It’s like Die Hard and Terminator met and said, “Hey, let’s make a baby together!”

Justin’s review: Here’s something I don’t think most of us think about — movie directors are often just as much fanboys and fangirls as we are. They geek out over the same flicks and have the same role models. The only difference is that they sometimes get to make movies, too.

This was definitely the case for Stephen Norrington, who rose up through the ranks in the film industry with his animatronic work on Return to Oz, Hardware, and Aliens. When you saw a chestburster doing its thing in the latter, chances are that it was Norrington pulling its wires and strings. Even as he made all these things, he was a huge fan of James Cameron, Sam Raimi, and Ridley Scott — and this fandom shines bright and bold in the weirdness that is Death Machine.

Death Machine was Norrington’s first effort, and he was obviously bound and determined to pay homage to his favorite films — just with a much lower budget. You don’t have to go far in it, either, to experience references to his idols, including naming key characters John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Yutani, Weyland, and Scott Ridley. You may think this is eye-rollingly unprofessional, but I adore his naked fandom.

Really, I thought this was going to be nothing more than a slasher movie with robots, but I got so, so much more out of the process. Death Machine’s first half-hour is a confusing mess, I’ll admit. I didn’t even have a clue who was supposed to be the main character or what was going on. But before long, the plot and its characters snapped into place, and it was a great ride from there on out.

All of the action here takes place at Chaank Corporation, an organization that prides itself on building tools of war. On the day that its supersoldier project goes a bit haywire, newly promoted CEO Hayden Cale (Ely Pouget) starts investigating Chaank’s questionable business practices and secret projects. This leads her to the lair of Jack Dante (Brad Dourif, the voice of Child’s Play Chucky), the resident mad inventor who’s just a wee bit romantically obsessed with his new boss.

Oh, and did I mention that he built a crazy robot called “WarBeast” that looks like a metallic T-Rex and can track people based on their fear pheromones? That may come up in this movie once or twice.

Rebuffed by Cale and the company, Dante sets the WarBeast loose in the halls one night. This also happens to be the exact same time that a small freedom fighting group of punks break in to steal from Chaank. So yeah, it’s like if the terrorists in Die Hard took over Nakatomi Plaza and then realized they were locked in with the queen xenomorph from Aliens. Obviously, you think I’m making this up, but nope, that’s how nerdy Death Machine is.

Outmatched by a killer bot and its delusional creator, Cale and her newfound punk friends turn to another one of the company’s creations for help. They use software to turn one of the punks into a supersoldier without fear, thus negating the WarBeast’s tracking ability.

Death Machine is most definitely a wonderful discovery that is a whole lot more fun to watch than you’d first think. I mean, don’t expect Avatar-levels of budget, but it doesn’t do too shabby. It’s funny, quotable, and has all of those aforementioned nods to Raimi, Carpenter, Cameron, and Scott that make finding the homages a side activity. It’s just such a shame that Norrington went from this to League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. He might have done better sticking to his geeky roots.

Didja notice?

  • Tactical soldiers often take time to take off their helmets and wax philosophical before taking down a rogue cyborg
  • He was punching a wall? OH NO. Tell the news camera more, hysterical witness!
  • Why does every low-budget cyberpunk movie think that all they need is the word “hacker,” a room with eight CRT monitors strung together, and a guy with a punk hairdo?
  • Yes, it does make sense that an executive got killed by a “shark.” At work. In a skyrise.
  • I don’t think you really thought through the project name “Hard Man”
  • Every corporate mad inventor deserves their own hideout with a “KEEP OUT” sign on it like they’re six years old.
  • Ooh those are some spiffy wireframe graphics for the heist!
  • This first-person perspective for the bot gets old quickly.
  • Oh man, remember those split ergonomic keyboards? This film does!
  • I really like the quick, Sam Raimiesque montages
  • “We’re the good guys” [sets off bomb]
  • Just so many references to Aliens here, guys.
  • The sucker punch in the elevator is pretty awesome
  • That is one creative way to rip out your own underwear
  • The big fat corporation guy was, believe it or not, Porkins from Star Wars: A New Hope
  • “We’re just a caring, humane attack squad.”
  • And now we’ve got supersoldiers! This movie has everything.
  • A big personality needs a big disc
  • That giant gun arm does not seem very practical for close quarters combat
  • The soldier shouting “QUIET!” was a pretty funny moment
  • The smiley face!
  • “The needs of the many outweight the needs of the few” Star Trek reference

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