I wasn’t expecting much from Deathcheaters to be honest, as like Stunt Rock (you can read our review here) it seemed like an attempt to showcase stuntman Grant Page’s death defying stunts and maybe a plot can come later – if at all. And it is that, but it’s also something more.
It features Page alongside John Hargraves (Malcolm) as two adrenalin junky stuntmen who get roped into a dangerous secret mission for the Australian government.
There is a moment early in the film that pretty much describes everything. Our heroes are working on an advertising gig in the sand dunes when they see a police pursuit with bank robbers shooting at the cops. When the police car is run off the road Page says “I don’t like seeing that,” “when we’re not involved,” finishes Hargraves and they zoom off in their dune buggy chasing and apprehending the criminals. When the police arrive they treat the duo like peers, before explaining there’s a bunch of people trapped in a bank vault with the oxygen rapidly running out. Our duo look at each other, shrug and then go and save the day. It’s total madness.
It’s hard not to be reminded of super hero films, really highlighting how ludicrous and unrealistic they are with police happily sitting back while some untrained vigilante does their job. Yet instead of someone who was bitten by a radioactive spider or descended from aliens, we have a couple of knockabout larrikin Aussies who will do anything in search of a rush. It’s basically a fizzy drink commercial stretched out to feature length – anyone remember the Solo Man?
In the extra features director Brian Trenchard-Smith (The Man From Hong Kong) calls ‘laughs and gasps,’ or his attempt at a G-Rated ‘boys own’ action film. It was made for the entirety of what he could raise: $150,000 – because apparently at the time it was felt Australia should be making serious films that reflect our culture, not action films.
Like many of Trenchard-Smith’s films they had to do more with less. There’s something really raw about Deathcheaters. It was made quickly – the stunts feel ridiculously dangerous, and there’s a real ‘can do’ attitude from everyone involved. It’s actually quite charming and impossible not to root for our dynamic duo of good old Aussie blokes. It’s also a real time capsule of the 1976 Australian film industry – but also Australia as a whole.
This is part of Umbrella’s Ozploitation Classics series, which as usual is brimming with extras, such as extended interviews with Trenchard-Smith, cinematographer John Seale (The English Patient) and Grant Page as part of Mark Hartley’s Not Quite Hollywood doco. There’s also a fascinating feature commentary with Trenchard-Smith, executive producer and actress Margaret Trenchard-Smith, where the raconteur director admits the film was created for the ‘kidult audience – ’ which might explain the accompanying comic.
My pick of the extras is the Trenchard-Smith feature length doco Dangerfreaks, which is an insight into the Australian stunt industry, initially starting with Page but also incorporating all manner lunatics and stunts. It’s definitely sensationalist and doesn’t go into too much depth as to their motivations – aside from with Page, who it quickly becomes clear is the star of this show. It’s actually pretty weird, almost like a recruiting tool to get kids into the stunt industry, as each stunt is broken down in the most sensational manner possible highlighting all of the risks that our hero Page overcomes. “It’s not that I’m not aware of the danger,” he offers at one point, “it’s actually the full awareness of how dangerous what I’m doing is, thats what gets me keyed up, that gets me going.” It’s kind’ve silly, totally amazing and the sensationalism really adds to the enjoyment.