Deathcheaters (1976)
By: Paul Ryan on July 3, 2009  | 
Madman (Australia). Region 4, PAL. 1.78:1 (16:9 enhanced). English DD 2.0. 92 minutes
The Movie
Cover Art
Director: Brian Trenchard-Smith
Starring: Grant Page, John Hargreaves, Margaret Gerard, Noel Ferrier
Screenplay: Michael Cove
Country: Australia
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Rod (Grant Page), and Steve (John Hargreaves) are best mates, former Vietnam War commandos, and partners in a stunt business named - badoom-ching – Cunning Stunts. Danger is their bread and butter, be it getting set on fire in the middle of medieval battle scenes, participating in demolition derbies, or taking fake bullet hits for the cameras. Duped into performing some heroic deeds by ASIO big-shot Culpepper (Noel Ferrier), the pair are offered an especially dangerous gig: raid a Filipino power plant in the interests of national security…

Light-hearted and light-headed, Deathcheaters is extremely dated, but still good, silly fun. Made by Brian Trenchard-Smith following the success of his action epic The Man From Hong Kong, crazy stunts are the name of the game here, and they are plentiful. There's abseiling down the Sydney Hilton, hanging one-handed off a high bridge, hang-gliding, car-chases, actually being hit by cars, and so on. Real-life stuntman Page performs these himself (and actually doubles for Hargreaves at times), and Trenchard-Smith's direction squeezes maximum tension from all the death-defying spectacle. The story, such as it is, is flimsy as they get, but dotted with amusing lines and some surprising political satire.

Sporting some especially horrific seventies fashion – the worst offender being Page's lilac pirate shirt – the two leads make for an engaging pair. Sure, you won't strain too many brain cells working out which actor went to NIDA and which one is an actual stuntman, but Hargreaves and Page have an easy, likable charisma. Supporting turns from veterans Noel Ferrier and Ralph Cotterill (channelling Sydney Greenstreet) are knowingly droll. Drew Forsythe memorably hams it up as a manic, Erich Von Stroheim-inspired director. As the token love interests, Margaret Gerard (aka, Mrs Trenchard-Smith), and Judith Woodroffe are funny and sweet.

Many of the film's little touches - from an ASIO gathering at a lawn bowls club, to Hargreaves bringing down a pair of robbers with a leg of lamb – are sublimely silly, and uniquely Australian, making Deathcheaters essential viewing for Ozpolitation completists.
Not exactly what you would call a marvel of film preservation, but Deathcheaters looks about as good as it ever will in this anamorphic transfer. There's a fair bit of grain, not to mention some odd ghosting on small items, but considering this has been out of circulation for a long time, that's a relatively minor complaint.
Likewise, the audio has its share of pops and clicks (and one noticeable dropout at a reel change), but is still listenable enough. Given the truly horrible theme song ("Fly high! Reach for the sky! Death Cheater!!!!"), that isn't always a pleasurable thing, but technically at least, this is gets the job done.
Extra Features
Commentary Track with Brian Trenchard-Smith, Margaret Gerard and Richard Brennan: The director, his leading lady (both on-and-off-screen), and executive producer get together for an amiable, entertaining commentary track. Overflowing with anecdotes, trivia, and warm recollections of the late Hargreaves, this is a very rewarding listen. Recorded last year, the mention of co-star Reg Evans (who died in the February 2009 Victorian bushfires) is now especially poignant.

Bonus Film – Danger Freaks (1989, 90:24m, 4x3, Dolby 2.0): Not strictly a film, per se, this is a feature-film edit of Trenchard-Smith's 1975 TV series Danger Freaks, which follows Grant Page – and other top Aussie stunt performers – undertaking all manner of wild stunts. The narration (by veteran actor Nick Tate) is obviously recorded more recently (along with the very 80s music and video titles), as it makes reference to Page's work on the Mad Max films, but otherwise ties together all the footage quite well. More than just a collection of stunts, this foregrounds the performers themselves, from professional stuntmen like Page, Max Aspin (The Chain Reaction) and Peter Armstrong (Stone), to veteran Smokey Dawson, and medieval re-enactors The Ancient and Medieval Martial Arts Society. Footage of vintage stunts (and fatal mishaps) from the twenties and thirties are included, along with a shrink who offers some analysis into the mindset of the stunt performer. Short of seeing the actual series, this is a fascinating, fun, and surprisingly thorough look at the profession. It's a terrific addition to the main feature, and it would be great to see the full series on DVD some time as well.

Whilst Deathcheaters was rated G on both its cinema and video release, it now carries an M15+ certification from the OFLC, which is explained by it being bundled with this - more violent - feature.

Danger Freaks Trailer (1.51m): Slapped together for home video (and looking it) this trailer still manages to be reasonably exciting, despite the tinny synth soundtrack and dodgy video titles.

Stills Gallery: Fourteen assorted stills, including various examples of poster art, and Page's book Anatomy of a Stuntman. More interesting than usual for this sort of thing.

Bonus Madman Trailers: Trailers for Trenchard-Smith's Dead End Drive-In and Stunt Rock, and not-as-relevant trailers for recent Aussie thriller Restraint and Brit comedy Scenes of a Sexual Nature.
The Verdict
Daft, cheerful and action packed, Deathcheaters is the kind of Aussie movie they sure don't make anymore. Personal taste will perhaps dictate whether that's a good thing. Nevertheless, it comes on a lovingly presented DVD with the excellent addition of Trenchard-Smith's Danger Freaks to sweeten the deal.
Movie Score
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