• Death Promise (Vinegar Syndrome) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Vinegar Syndrome
    Released on: March 16th, 2021.
    Director: Robert Warmflash
    Cast: Charles Bonet, Speedy Leacock, Kao Kang, Tony Liu, Thompson Kao Kang, Bob O'Connell, Bill Louie
    Year: 1977
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    Death Promise – Movie Review:

    The one and only feature film directed by Robert Warmflash, 1977’s Death Promise is set in New York City. Here we meet a young karate student named Charley Ramon (Charles Bonet) who lives with his old man, a former boxer named Louis (Bob O'Connell), in a crummy, rundown Manhattan tenement building. The landlord who owns the place is in cahoots with a few others affiliated with the Iguana Realty Corp. and is trying to force the tenants out using every dirty trick in the book – they turn off the heat, the electricity and the water, the throw rats into the hallways and they even pay junkies to light fires outside – but Louis isn’t having any of this. He and Charley beat up anyone they see running around the place causing trouble.

    When the mobsters affiliated with Iguana realize that Louis isn’t leaving, they offer him ten grand to split but he tells them to shove it up their ass! From here on out, it’s on, and while Louis has started packing heat it isn’t enough to save him when he leaves the bar one night after hanging out with Charley and his dojo pal, Speedy (Speedy Leacock). They come home and find the old man dead on the kitchen floor. Instead of calling the cops, Charley squeals and splits. Speedy decides to call their sensei, Shibata (Thompson Kao Kang), an old friend of Louis’ who has a letter for Charley left to him by the old man. It tells him that if he gets killed, Charley is basically to avenge his death and take out the landlords responsible. Shibata knows that Charley isn’t ready, and so he puts him on a plane that takes him to a shed in someone’s backyard in Long Island where he learns how to breath, use ninja stars and nunchucks and befriend another martial artist named Sup (Bill Louie).

    Once Charley’s training is complete, he heads back from his training shed to Manhattan where he and Speedy, who lost his brother to the heroin sold by Junior Jackson (Abe Hendy), one of the landlords, set out to get revenge and set things right – but there’s a wonky twist to be dealt with before it’s all over, one that you won’t see coming unless you half way pay attention to the movie, massive logic gaps be damned!

    As fast paced as it is legitimately wonky, Death Promise puts entertainment front and center, never worrying about things like plot holes or even really any character development. The fight scenes are performed with enthusiasm but horribly blocked, but it really doesn’t matter when they movie is as much fun as this one is. Equal parts B-grade martial arts flick and Death Wish inspired revenge movie, the film makes good use of its seventies era New York City locations and even works in a still relevant message about the haves versus the have nots into its narrative. Who cares if there are obvious stock footage inserts and ridiculously melodramatic dialogue when the movie gives you ninja stars, nunchuck battles, arrows through the head, a seriously weird single scene of gratuitous nudity, a maniac with Dario Argento hair named Mike, a karate instructor in old age makeup, death by rats, a killer disco theme song and more amazing seventies fashions than you can shake a stick at!

    The acting? Let’s face it, these guys were cast for their fighting abilities rather than their acting talents, but Charles Bonet isn’t terrible in the lead. He’s got more charisma than, say, Chuck Norris and when it’s time to throw down he handles himself well. Speedy Leacock makes for a pretty likeable sidekick, and while he does a great job of kicking motherfuckers in the head, if he doesn’t show the most range you’ll ever seen on screen he handles the material that this film throws at him without any issues. Bob O'Connell makes for a perfectly enjoyable surly old man, he does cantankerous well and it’s fun to watch him stand up to the gangsters. It’s a shame he gets killed off as early in the movie as he does, but he’s pretty entertaining while he lasts. The rest of the cast are fine, the various actors cast as the various landlords aren’t going to win any awards, but they are entertaining – and that’s what this one is all about, it isn’t high art, but it’s super entertaining and a really good way to kill ninety-five-minutes in front of the TV if you’re into seventies exploitation/action/revenge pictures.

    Death Promise – Blu-ray Review:

    Death Promise arrives on Blu-ray from Vinegar Syndrome framed at 1.85.1 widescreen in an AVC encoded 1080p high definition transfer taken from a new 2k scan of the original 35mm negative. Taking up 23.6GBs of space on the 25GB disc, this transfer is a really strong one. Detail is impressive enough that you can easily make out which characters are wearing old age makeup! The gritty NYC locations look appropriately scuzzy, you can make out the dirt and grime on the walls in certain locations. Skin tones look lifelike and natural and color reproduction is really nice throughout. We get strong black levels as well. There is some print damage here and there – you’ll notice some during the opening credits and towards the end of the movie – but it’s minor and nothing to squabble about, as overall the picture is pretty clean. There are no noticeable issues with any noise reduction, edge enhancement of compression problems and the transfer looks very much like film from start to finish.

    Audio chores are handled by a 24-bit English language DTS-HD 1.0 Mono track. Optional subtitles are provided in English only. Audio quality is fine for the most part. You might pick up on some occasional sibilance or some minor hiss here and there but overall the track is mostly pretty clean. Dialogue is always easy to understand and follow and the levels are properly balanced. An English language Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono track is also included.

    The main extra on the disc is 9,000 Feet In 90 minutes, an interview with editor Jim Markovic that clocks in at sixteen-minutes in length. He speaks here about how he got his start editing television commercials, started his own company called Rainbow Productions, working with a lot of different independent film producers who used him to get specific ratings for their pictures, editing trailers and TV spots and how he came on board to work on Death Promise. He also covers his relationship with Robert Warmflash and how he came to direct this as his first feature, how it was tough putting the martial arts footage together as it wasn't blocked properly, the film's weird post-production schedule, where the different martial artists featured in the picture came from, dealing with the problems inherent in doing a non-union shoot in NYC, what's happened to some of the collaborators he worked with on the picture since it was finished and quite a bit more. It's an interesting interview and a welcome addition to the disc.

    Aside from that, the disc also includes the film’s original theatrical trailer (“LANDLORDS!”), a still gallery, menus and chapter selection. It also comes packaged with some nice reversible cover art (with the bad ass Neal Adams poster art preserved on the main side).

    Death Promise - The Final Word:

    Death Promise is a blast, a fast paced and gritty urban martial arts action/revenge picture that gives the audience exactly what it wants. Vinegar Syndrome’s Blu-ray release isn’t stacked with extras but the interview is quite interesting and the presentation of the feature itself is very nice. Highly recommended!

    Click on the images below for full sized Death Promise Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 1 Comment
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      This movie is INSANELY terrible. It borders on the surreal, and I'd have a hard time not believing it was intended to be an Andy Kaufman-esque anti-comedy.

      God help me, I almost want to buy it.