The nutty theme song by Opus gets thing rolling right off the bat for Robert Warmflash’s DEATH PROMISE (1978), a lowly if highly-compelling urban action film, which not only capitalizes on the popularity of the then-still-ongoing global martial arts craze of the time, but also another staple exploitation subgenre of the seventies: the vigilante flick.
In-between his intense MA training sessions down at the local dojo, Charley Roman (Charles Bonet) simultaneously wages war against a number of wealthy slumlords in his dodgy New York City neighbourhood. It seems the predatory Iguana Realty Corporation is bent on evicting all the current residents from their seedy ghetto tenement properties in order to erect much-pricier buildings in their place. Unfortunately for said corrupt company, the laws are set-up to protect (quote) “those welfare people,” so the criminal capitalists resort to hiring cheap muscle in cheap dress-shirts and flared slacks to continually harass their tenants, which includes everything from shutting-off their utilities to unleashing rats inside the buildings. Assisting in the fight is our high-kicking hero’s sparring partner Speedy (Speedy Leacock), along with Charley’s hot-tempered father, Louie (Bob O’Connell) who, interspersed between doing his best Jimmy Cagney impersonations, also gets to engage in some sloppy street-fightin’.
When Louie is found dead after having threatened Alden (Vincent Van Lynn), one of the co-financiers of this little (quote) “landlord syndicate,” Charley vows revenge, and with the help of Shibata (Thompson Kao Kang), his teacher at the dojo, he travels to the orient to continue his MA studies under the world-renowned Master Ying (Anthony Lau). Following this (quote) “advanced training,” Charley returns to NYC to honour his murdered father’s memory. However, in a highly-implausible turn of events, everything isn’t as it seems…
Throughout the ’70s, cinema screens were flooded with all types of so-called ‘chop-socky’ movies as every small-time distributor imported anything and everything with even a passing resemblance to Robert Clouse’s smash hit ENTER THE DRAGON (1973). Bruce Lee’s final film, THE GAME OF DEATH (1978) is referenced immediately herein as Charley and Speedy are seen running through the streets of NYC in bright yellow tracksuits, similar to the one worn by Lee in that film. As Alden’s men desperately try in vain to forcibly vacate the (quote) “rat-infested tenements,” Louie educates both Charley and Speedy in the shady complexities of ‘dummy corporations’ and even shares some anecdotes from his boxing days, when one of his opponents had been no less than the legendary Sugar Ray Robinson! When Louie refuses to accept a pay-off (“You can take your polite bribe and shove it up your polite ass!”), his stubborn resolve to resist ‘The Man’ gets him killed. Even after visiting Master Ying, where Charlie learns a (quote) “old Japanese assassin trick,” most of his other special—as per the title—‘death promises’ simply seem like much the same punches and kicks seen earlier in the film, although the climactic battle is long, drawn-out and entertaining as hell!
Previously released in 2014 by Code Red, their DVD featured an excellent anamorphic transfer of the film, which was crisp, colourful and very robust given the scrappy nature of the film. Extras were limited to the film’s trailer along with several others for titles in CR’s catalogue. Featuring a new 2K scan taken from the film’s original camera negative, the film looks even better on Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray, with an excellent, textured film-like image. The DTS HD Master Audio 2.0 also sounds very crisp, clean and clear, which helps one better appreciate all the customary hyper-exaggerated sound effects heard during the numerous fight scenes. Optional English SDH subtitles are also provided. Unlike CR’s relatively bare-bones disc, VS have included 9000ft in 90 minutes (16m06s), a highly-informative on-camera interview with the film’s editor, Jim Marcovic. He discusses his early start in the business cutting commercials in the early ’70s, how he got involved with several independent producers, plus how DEATH PROMISE came about. He also talks at-length about the difficulty of cutting the film because of the poorly-blocked fight scenes (some of which had to be reshot as a result), the colourful cast members, as well as dealing with the tough, by-the-book NYC unions. The film’s very entertaining trailer and a nice still gallery (1m55s) of ad-mats and production photos finish-off the extras. Any self-respecting exploitation movie junkie will love this. That’s a promise! Order the Limited Edition Blu-ray here.