Stuntmen. Saboteurs. Hellraisers! With a tagline like that who in their right mind wouldn’t want a Deathcheaters DVD for a Christmas present? That’s exactly what I thought when I gave this to my ladyfriend for Christmas and subsequently forced her to watch it that night. I know what you are thinking, ladies. Yes, I am a real catch.
Australia, 1976, Brian Trenchard-Smith
The film starts with a medieval showdown in Australian bushland, a forgotten period in Australian history. In this film within a film Australia’s favourite stunt guy, Grant Page, is set on fire. It happens in the first three minutes, so straight away I knew Deathcheaters was going to be worthwhile and worth the $14.95 I spent on my ladyfriend.
John Hargreaves (Long Weekend) and Grant Page (the one who splits his pants in The Man from Hong Kong) respectively play the handsome Steve and the not so handsome Rod. They are stuntmen. Actually they are commandos turned stuntmen soon to be freelance crime-fighters. With those credentials on their CVs these two are pretty much the coolest fucking dudes ever. Want proof? Watch this:
Hopefully one day BTS will release his Deathcheaters director’s cut where Hargreaves stands on Page’s shoulders for the duration of the movie.
Joining BTS’ crew is John Seale. Acting as camera operator on The Man from Hong Kong, Seale is given his first gig as DOP and he does impressive work. The opening titles where Grant Page rockets over sand dunes in a jeep/truck is filmed superbly. It reminded me of what Tarantino said in Not Quite Hollywood, “They (Aussies) manage to shoot cars with this fetishistic lens that just makes you want to jerk off.” I didn’t jerk off like he did, but the half man/half chin is right. I love the way cars were shot back then.
On the subject of cars, during the filming of a commercial, a high-speed police pursuit distracts Steve and Rod. Like any professional stuntperson should do, Steve and Rod quit the commercial and chase the car. The car chase concludes at a shopping mall. BTS uses a shopping mall in an action set piece once again in BMX Bandits. Unfortunately, action and a leg of lamb have never been used the same way in a BTS film. As seen here:
Once Rod and Steve capture the crooks. The police arrive, namely Roger Ward (Mad Max, Turkey Shoot), and he sends the cheeky lads onto their next assignment. People are trapped in a Sydney high-rise and they desperately need air. So why are Steve and Rod assigned the job and not actual emergency workers? Because they’re fucking stuntmen that’s why. Keep up.
Alas there is a logical explanation. Steve and Rod were set up. The car chase that put the general public at risk and the high-rise antics were a ruse. In fact it was just a test. Culpepper, a pompous ASIO honcho, played by Noel Ferrier, wants to recruit the confused duo for a dangerous operation – this is how ASIO recruits all their people. Steve and Rod’s new mission: break into a heavily-guarded base in the Philippines to recover documents. Or something. Like the film itself, Culpepper states that the mission involves “Unmistakeable danger. Plus a lot fun.” And these silly guys:
The first act in Deathcheaters flies by. The third act is explosive. The second act isn’t as much fun. Not a lot happens that drives the story forward. They talk. They train. They are briefed by Culpepper. His babbling scenes are probably the film’s weakest moments. Though he does have some good lines. Including this one, “Oh you’ve meet Gloria (his secretary) – it’s all downhill from here.”
Don’t be put off, there are still some very entertaining moments in the second act. Steve’s wife, Margaret Gerard (BTS’ wife), isn’t happy with Steve’s continual “reckless derring-do.” But Steve, through a Vietnam flashback, explains to her that danger is the only way he can get turned on. Meanwhile Rod sleazes onto ladies, forgetting their names, while his basset hound looks on disapprovingly. Rod (Grant Page) also wears some amazingly-ridiculous outfits.
Page starred in BTS’ rock/stunt/wizard film Stunt Rock and has a storied stunt career. But of all the stunts he has performed, this is probably my favourite: he strolls right onto your PC screen and talks to you. If you don’t click on anything Page just stays there, constantly looking off to the right as if to say, “I can do this all bloody day, mate.”
Admittedly, Deathcheaters is not BTS’ best film. It doesn’t quite live up to its amazing title. That said, it would be impossible to top the martial-arts masterpiece The Man from Hong Kong, which was released a year prior. Deathcheaters is still a fun watch and John Hargreaves and Grant Page make a delightful duo. The first thirty minutes alone is worthy of a spot on your shelf.
Availability: Madman released Deathcheaters in a two-disc pack, for a fairly reasonable price. It is coupled with the entertaining stunt-doco Dangerfreaks. One of the great things about the pack is the inside picture of Grant Page. He has huge grin while his body is up in flames. If by chance you can’t find it on DVD, just come over to my house, my ladyfriend has a copy.