Following on the heels of Stunt Rock, Deathcheaters is Umbrella Video’s next release in its collection of films directed by Aussie B-movie legend Brian Trenchard-Smith and starring Grant Page. Trenchard-Smith continues his wonderful, breezy Aussie vibe here with the kind of film you just don’t see anymore. Made for $157,000 in 1976, it offers a fascinating glimpse into a long-gone era of underground filmmaking.
Like Stunt Rock, Deathcheaters follows stuntmen performing stunt action with a story to justify the visual badassery. Page and co-star John Hargreaves are ex-Vietnam commandos who also perform adrenaline-spiking stunts for fun and profit. This leads to a job infiltrating a dangerous island fortress of notorious Filipino racketeers to secure confidential documents, with a sidequest of total compound destruction.
It’s the type of plot that exists to let Page and Hargreaves do cool stunts, such as climbing (or buggying) over sand dunes or flying hang-gliders. It’s all pretty insane and seemingly dangerous. It was actually intended as a TV pilot, and it’s a shame that Deathcheaters didn’t blow up the box office because it would have totally ruled as a TV series. As an Australian man, I feel robbed by the fact my childhood wasn’t spent watching repeats of this hit 1970s TV series, and the film makes me nostalgic for something that never was.
There’s nothing highbrow here. Trenchard-Smith is also not a genius behind the camera. But he delivers entertaining work in a laid-back auteur style that is distinctly his. I do wish more directors (and the Australian film industry at large) would embrace his philosophy that “any idea is worth a shot” on display here and in the rest of his filmography. I’m glad Umbrella has gone to the trouble to remaster and preserve his work for collectors. Indeed, the set is hard to beat for fans. A new 16-page comic-book adaptation (similar to the one created for Stunt Rock) is included, as well as new liner notes and interview features, a director’s commentary and a stunt documentary. It’s a generous offering that fits wonderfully as part of Umbrella’s Ozploitation line. The remastered Blu-ray looks fantastic, too, and fans of the film likely will be surprised at how it scrubs up so well. Once again, Umbrella has delivered a definitive set for fans of classic Ozploitation. Lets hope they keep churning them out.