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Film / Death Machine

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A 1994 low budget Sci-Fi Horror film by the director of Blade and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, Stephen Norrington, who also worked on special effects for Aliens and Split Second (1992).

The film concerns a near-future MegaCorp known as CHAANK Industries, which deals primarily with weapons. At the center of the story is a conflict between the new Chief executive Hayden Cale (played by Ely Pouget) and the resident genius mad scientist Jack Dante (Brad Dourif), with a group of pacifist humanitarian eco-warriors and other executives thrown into the mix. Then there is the titular death machine which closely resembles what a terminator based on Alien queen anatomy would look like. There are also child experiments, brain-wiped combat vets and combat exoskeletons all for good measure. Finally, the story itself plays out in the office of the corporation - a 50-something story skyscraper, providing a fittingly claustrophobic backdrop.

In a nutshell, what you would get if you take Die Hard, add some RoboCop and Terminator, throw in a dash of Alien, and mix it with some Sam Raimi-style humor on a low budget but with an eye for style.

Not to be confused with the 1976 martial arts flick Death Machines.

This film provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Cale. The only other major female character in the whole film is her secretary, and she disappears by the middle of the first act.
  • Action Survivor: Cale, again. Just an executive with jack in weapons knowledge, just spraying and praying and succeeding in fending off the Warbeast.
  • Attempted Rape: Dante wishes nothing more than to get in Cale's panties by any means necessary. Cale fights him off repeatedly, including nailing his hand to a shelf with his own knife.
  • Awesomeness by Analysis: In a comedic fashion. When death machine confronts two heavily armed protagonists ready to open fire on it, from its POV it assesses their threat level as being "00:000%" Once they start firing it promptly begins to reassess.
  • BFG: And how! Huge machine guns designed for the Hardman project, carrying an obscene amount of ammunition, but with no apparent way to reload so they have to be discarded as they run dry.
  • Big Labyrinthine Building: CHAANK Headquarters.
  • Bunny-Ears Lawyer: Jack Dante is one of the most horrifying man-children ever put on screen, but he's so good at creating the kind of weapons CHAANK wants that the more amoral executives try to tolerate him. The deconstruction lies in that by the point the movie starts he's screwed up a bit too much for his projects to still be considered practical. However, he's so unstable that everyone’s afraid to fire him. This leaves Cale (the Only Sane Employee) to make the call to bite the bullet and confront him, learning the hard way why nobody else had the guts to do so.
  • Bottomless Magazines: The guns seemingly go on shooting for minutes at a time.
  • Character Development: Hayden Cale gets to confront her own guilt over her past, but only in the UK DVD cut.
  • Cluster F-Bomb: Pretty much everyone swears at one point or another, but Scott Ridley loves this trope.
  • Combat Pragmatist: As an inexperienced fighter, Cale isn’t particularly concerned with the aesthetics of a fight as long as it gets her out of danger. In her fight with Dante, she is shown going for both his eyes and groin in an attempt to get him off her.
  • Cool, but Inefficient: The titular Death Machine, aka Frontline Morale Destroyer aka Warbeast - scary looking bipedal robot with Alien-esque spin-capable head and huge claws, designed to track by fear pheromones. Supposedly would be helpful in scaring the bejesus out of the troops on the front line. Either by way of being a prototype or simply bad design it has exposed hydraulic lines all over it, and can only track you if you are scared in the first place.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: Everyone at CHAANK. Except for Hayden Cale, obviously.
  • Cyberpunk: Evil Mega-Corporations, secret weapons projects, killer robots, the heroes are (in one way or another) trying to uncover the truth, a dark and stormy night. Yeah, fits all right.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: There is more to Cale than meets the eye, which Dante uses to try to convince her to give into his demands. Similarly, his drive to pursue Cale in the first place is shaped by his own upbringing as an orphan.
  • Deadly Closing Credits: In the last thirty seconds before cutting to the closing credits, Jack Dante is enclosed in an inescapable vault to be either torn to pieces by his Warbeast or blown up by the bomb he impulsively activated.
  • Death from Above: A minor character gets crushed when the Death Machine decided to jump down from the top of the building.
  • Determinator: Cale, Dante, and Yutani all seem to have an inability to quit in the face of impossible odds, although Dante is so partially because he’s delusional. Getting impaled through the leg, cutting out their own biomedical implant, getting shot in the shoulder, shot in the knee, stabbed through the hand, and just getting beaten up in general hardly slows anyone down though they are clearly in pain.
  • The Dog Bites Back: When Dante is trapped in the containment vault with an active bomb, the Warbeast he’s been terrorizing his coworkers with the whole movie, and no warbeast remote, it is implied he died.
  • Double Entendre: Jack Dante loves these: "I showed him my thing... and it killed him." And let’s not forget how much he wants to “interface” with Cale.
  • Dramatic Thunder: The weather during film's main events.
  • Elevator Action Sequence: Using an external maintenance elevator, Warbeast trying to get in, and desperately shooting the ropes to get the hell away ASAP.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Cale's drive to fire Dante (and subsequent Character Development in the extended version) stems from her inability to condone the horrors CHAANK has been diving into, even though she was previously an obedient corporate drone.
  • Everything's Better with Samurai: Yutani, the stoic who has a Japanese flag motif tattooed into his face and carved into his hair, quotes one of the founders of Buddhism, and generally has Asian-influenced mannerisms.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The CHAANK headquarters building.
  • Extended Disarming: Dante wears a black leather trench coat that conceals 8 handguns, a few knifes, brass knuckles, nunchaku, throwing stars... and a rubber chicken for good measure.
  • Five-Second Foreshadowing: An executive that Cale replaces has met a grizzly death from a Great white shark attack, according to the autopsy... inside the corporate headquarters. And his body had synthetic lubricant on it.
  • Freudian Excuse: Invoked by Cale, who speculates that Dante's insanity comes from being orphaned as a child.
  • Good Is Boring: Dante's outlook on things. "Entropy. You know? Order into chaos. Certainty into instability, growth into decay. Sometimes I just like to pile up my bricks so that I can just knock 'em down again, and that's the good bit." (picks up a pencil) "Look, this is order. Straight, true." (snaps pencil in half) "Wouldn't you think that's more interesting?"
  • Hand Cannon: Combined with More Dakka and Bottomless Magazines-One of the Hardman guns that fires explosive rounds. It is even painted in black and yellow OSHA stripe!
  • I Have You Now, My Pretty: Dante spends most of the film trying to achieve this with Cale. When he finally does, it doesn’t go as well as he’d planned.
  • Made of Indestructium: The titular warbeast that can survive missiles, explosives, and jumping some 70 stories onto a dude and hard asphalt and the final containment vault which is said to be nuke proof.
  • Mad Scientist: Jack Dante. A sex-obsessed stalker with a creepy crush on his company's (female) executive, tasked with creating war robots in his "vault", walls of which are plastered with pornography, action toys and monitors playing violent cartoons.
  • MegaCorp: CHAANK, of the Cyberpunk "absurdly inhumane" type.
  • Mechanical Monster: Warbeast. Skeletal Alien-esque abomination with huge teeth in permanent chomping mode, equally huge arms with Wolverine Claws, ludicrous durability, fear tracking and comically small feet.
  • More Dakka: Protagonists really let loose with that one when they get their hands on some weaponry not loaded with blanks.
  • Murderers Are Rapists: Jack Dante has committed sexual assault at least once by the events of the movie. His on-screen behavior towards Cale shows just how much of a sex-and-violence-junkie he is.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: The Warbeast is classified as a Frontline Morale Destroyer. That description alone could destroy morale.
  • Our Weapons Will Be Boxy in the Future: The Hardman project guns look like they were designed by a comic book artist of The '90s, huge, with warning OHSA striping all over, no sights, absurd ammo capacity but no visible magazine wells and a demented firing rate.
  • Police Are Useless: ...........Merciful God, yes. Remember that scene from that one Die Hard movie where John McClane's call is dismissed for no reason at all? Yeah, that happens. Not only that, but seemingly right after that useless desk sergeant (Who does some Reckless Gun Usage with a Colt Python) dismissed Raimi, another police officer shows up and begins threatening Raimi and Cale, apropos of nothing, and shoots Cale in the leg. Also apropos of nothing. ...What. The police also somehow deduced the guy who was murdered inside a building died from shark attack.
  • Powered Armor: A surprisingly realistic depiction, with an exoskeleton very similar looking to current prototypes such as HULC, although with addition of vision system that doubles as Cool Shades.
  • Product Placement: The film was co-produced by the JVC Victor Corporation, and all of the TV monitors and camcorders appearing in it are JVC products.
  • Psychopathic Manchild: Dante, played by Brad Dourif doing what he does best.
  • Psycho Prototype: The film opens with a roadside diner that looks like it's in a middle of a warzone, with everybody around and inside of it killed by a runaway Hardman. Comments by the recovery team indicate that it is a rather common occurrence with this project.
  • Robo Cam: Warbeast's POV, that also uses arcade game sound effects, directional arrows and big flashing messages for currently performed actions.
  • Robo Speak: A subversion. One of the eco-warriors donning a powered exoskeleton after a complimentary combat brain-wipe starts violently yelling out every word in a rigid drill sergeant-like tone, but coupled with RoboCop-like manner to move.
  • Sealed Evil in a Can: Dante's deadly invention becomes temporarily out of his reach when Cale terminates his employment and seals the "vault" housing the Mechanical Monster.
  • Shaky P.O.V. Cam: The Warbeast's Robo Cam looks like a demented music video.
  • Shout-Out: Numerous and obvious, such as character names (Jack Dante, Scott Ridley, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Weyland, Yutani) and direct quotes such as Raimi's "I'll be back" complete with Austrian accent, that leaves the other characters baffled. Also before opening fire on the Warbeast when they encounter it on the rooftop, Yutani growls out "Shoryuken!"
  • Stalker with a Crush: Jack Dante crushes on Cale, which manifests in his turning up uninvited in her office and doing a deep dive into whatever pieces of her life history he can find. She starts grossed out and becomes much more horrified as she learns just how far he’s willing to invade her personal information.
  • Super-Persistent Missile: Seeking missile, that found its target through a virtual rat maze of a utility hallway, having to make 90-degree turns along the way, all in Raimi Vision.
  • Super-Soldier: The Hardman project. Unfortunately, it's Awesome, but Impractical and has an unpleasant tendency to drive the recipients insane.
  • Techno Babble: "a quad matrix of googol-plactic memory co-processors"
  • The Juggernaut: Warbeast. Almost completely impervious to gunfire, falling from absurd heights and explosions.
  • There Is No Kill Like Overkill: In attempt to slow down the impending doom protagonists decide to trigger the fire alarm and close the blast doors all over the building. Anybody got a light? "Not me... But I do have a thermic detonator". Dante also seems to get quite the kick out of people being ripped to shreds by his robot.
  • Too Kinky to Torture: When Hayden Cale points a gun at Jack Dante, not only isn't he afraid, but he's aroused and says so.
  • Uncomfortable Elevator Moment: Involving Yutani stoically ripping off his own underwear via atomic wedgie to give Cale something to patch his wounds with.
  • Unusual Euphemism: "Holy donuts!", says the useless cop as he sees he will be crushed by several tons worth of psychotic robot. Also Lame Last Words.
  • Wearing a Flag on Your Head: Yutani has a Japanese flag tattooed on his face.