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Martial Arts and 70s Exploitation Collide in ‘Death Promise’

Evil landlords get their due in a slice of 70s action/revenge, a killer stalks campus in an 80s slasher, and Robert Patrick turns evil in a 90s thriller.
Death Promise
Vinegar Syndrome
By  · Published on May 3rd, 2021

Vinegar Syndrome remains one of the great indie home video labels, and each month they bring forgotten genre gems and old favorites back to life on Blu-ray. Their latest releases include Last Gasp (1995), Rush Week (1989), and Death Promise (1977). Keep reading for our look at all three titles.

Death Promise (1977)

Death PromiseLandlords and corporations are the absolute worst. Charley learns this the hard way when a group of developers pressure residents of his building to leave through threats, violence, and harassment. They cross a line, though, when they kill his father sending Charley on a mission of revenge that starts with learning advanced kung fu from a young man in old man makeup.

This memorable piece of exploitation was the one and done directorial effort of Robert Warmflash, and delivers some real low budget fun on a very real low budget. From an opening sequence that includes narration explaining how crappy life in rundown tenement buildings could be to later voiceovers featuring Charley promising his dad he’ll secure revenge, it’s a silly movie played straight that could very well have been an influence on everything from The Karate Kid (1984) to Kill Bill: Volume 1 (2003).

There are a handful of smaller highlights here from death by rats to fun dialogue from scumbags, but the action in the third act deserves your love. Like everything else here it’s produced on a tiny budget, but there’s clear skill on display amid the choppy choreography. There’s also a hell of a lot of yelling too — guttural martial arts grunts and noises — that makes for some entertainingly loud fight scenes.

Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray features a new 2K restoration of the film.

Rush Week (1989)

Rush WeekIt’s rush week, and you know what that means — chaos on campus! For one college, though, those fun and games involve an unsolved series of disappearances and murders. One student, a young journalist, starts digging into the events while also falling for the president of one of the rowdier fraternities. Too bad for her he might just be the masked killer murdering co-eds with an ax.

Stuntman Bob Bralver made his name doing action on films like The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes (1969), Death Race 2000 (1975), and Star Trek: The Motion Picture (1979), but he also dabbled in directing. His biggest hit on that front was 1990’s Lambada, but that dance flick doesn’t include a hooded killer, Animal House-like shenanigans, and a pretty okay reveal at the end. Is it surprising? Kind of, but it’s helped by the film’s effort to make two other characters more and more suspicious.

The downside here to this late 80s slasher is a real lack of bloodletting. Most of the kills are completely bloodless and off screen making for a slasher that struggles to stand out from a pack of college campus-set genre fare. The lack of gore, humor, and wit means it can’t touch the likes of Black Christmas (1974), Pieces (1982), or The Prowler (1981), but genre fans should still find enough here to warrant a watch.

Vinegar Syndrome brings this slasher to disc with a new 2K restoration.

Last Gasp (1995)

Last GaspLeslie Chase is a businessman whose latest real estate venture in Mexico has hit a snag — a tribe of native peoples living in the jungle nearby are causing trouble for the project and costing him time and money. What’s a wealthy white guy to do but pay to have the entire tribe slaughtered? Unfortunately for him, the last surviving member passes his spirit into Leslie, and soon the possessed developer is killing people and sullying his own good name in the process.

Robert Patrick made seven features through 1990 and well over eighty films since, but it was 1991’s Terminator 2: Judgment Day that put him on the map. Last Gasp, though, offers him more of a lead role than he typically gets even if he is once again playing a villain. Joanna Pacula shares co-lead duties with him with a capable but somewhat engaging character, but villains are always more fun and Patrick offers a very physical performance.

The cultural aspect is a bit iffy here as Patrick takes on the persona of the native warrior complete with war paint and “primitive” menace, and it’s a safe bet a quarter century later we wouldn’t see this particular plot made quite this way. Still, on its own merits, the film manages some minor bloodletting and suspense alongside its 90s straight to video quota of nudity and sex. Director Scott McGinnis and writer Pierce Milestone didn’t make much else, but they do pretty well blending generic horrors with a tale of supernatural revenge. It kind of goes out with something of a whimper, but it’s a solid enough diversion.

Vinegar Syndrome’s new Blu-ray brings the film to disc with a new 4K restoration.

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Rob Hunter has been writing for Film School Rejects since before you were born, which is weird seeing as he's so damn young. He's our Chief Film Critic and Associate Editor and lists 'Broadcast News' as his favorite film of all time. Feel free to say hi if you see him on Twitter @FakeRobHunter.