DEATH RING (1992) Reviews and overview of another Most Dangerous Game action thriller

 

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‘No rules. No mercy. No second chance.’

Death Ring is a 1992 American action thriller about an ex-Green Beret who is kidnapped and hunted by a crazed rich guy and his cohorts.

Directed by R.J. Kizer (co-director of Hell Comes to Frogtown; US footage for Godzilla 1985) from a screenplay by George Lebrun and a story by Lebrun and Mike Norris. Produced by Gary M. Bettman and Philip Steuer.

The movie stars Mike Norris, Billy Drago, Chad McQueen, Don Swayze, Isabel Glasser and Elizabeth Sung.

Plot:

When ex-Special Forces agent Matt Collins (Mike Norris) wins an extreme-athletics competition, he earns the title “the toughest man alive” — perfect fodder for perverse millionaire Danton Vachs (Billy Drago), whose annual secret manhunt held on Vachs’ private island attracts the most vicious killers in the world.

As the diabolical competition begins, Collins’ old Vietnam War buddy, ‘Skylord’ Harris (Chad McQueen) and survivalist John Blackwell (Don Swayze) must kill their attackers one by one… or be added to their fatal list of prey.

Review:

In yet another iteration of The Most Dangerous Game thriller formula of humans hunting other humans, we learn that nasty tycoon Danton Vachs (Billy Drago) maintains a tropical island off Mexico that he uses to hunt down carefully chosen kidnap victims; they are hunted down like trophies by the wealth, powerful and depraved for a $100,000 participation fee.

But Vachs’ elite clientele was disappointed in the most recent hunt. Under pressure to deliver better quarry, Vachs kidnaps extreme-sports champ/Vietnam veteran Matt Collins (Mike Norris), plus Collins’ lover (Isabel Glasser) as leverage, as Collins is to be let loose on the island with nothing but his wits to survive being hunted.

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Collins has secret allies during the ordeal. His helicopter-pilot Vietnam comrade (Chad McQueen) is on the trail and a hidden holdout (Patrick Swayze) from one of the earlier hunts joins Collins in the fray (though, amusingly, he warns Collins that as a pro survivalist, his metier is concealment and playing dead, not fighting).

During the era of direct-to-video schlock, Death Ring distinguished itself with the gimmick of casting main roles with actors related to superstars: Mike Norris (brother of Chuck), Chad McQueen (son of Steve) and Don Swayze (brother of Patrick). One wishes filmmaker Kizer had gone all the Goon Show way and perhaps included Olivier and Schwarzenegger – Fred Olivier and Neddie Schwarzenegger, well-known pipefitters.

Whatever their fateful surnames, the actors are acceptable in the much-retold premise. The villains are an even more colourful lot, including a retro-throwback full-blooded Indigenous American on the warpath. But the worst psychopathic hunter is a high-profile lawyer, and no one can argue much with that concept. McQueen’s subplot goes in a strange direction to include a cult of killer Satanists, seemingly walked in from another movie altogether.

Unfairly maligned in Vachs’ machinations, the civic-minded demoniacs helpfully send the good guy on his way. One envisions a whole B-movie universe of LA-area weirdos and topless beauties, just waiting to be plugged haphazardly into plotlines like this. Ah, such were the toys of straight-to-VHS-tape cinema.

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If one doesn’t get their hopes up very much, Death Ring is an acceptably trashy and dumb B-level diversion. A closing credit recommends the viewer to read! the novel! Buy! the soundtrack, and Eat! the popcorn, an obvious tip-off nobody meant this very seriously.

In 2021 a 2K Blu-ray restoration of Death Ring has been issued via Code Red. Disappointingly, it holds no behind-the-scenes extras or commentary. Pity; I would love to have heard an analysis by any given cult-film bloggers and author-historians – preferably using a clever pseudonym nobody would have thought of before, such as “Margaret Thatcher” or “Adele”.

Charles Cassady Jr., MOVIES and MANIA

Other reviews:

“A somewhat clever concept to make a movie starring relatives of better-known stars, Death Ring might have been a promising vehicle for Norris (whose previous films Born American and Survival Game underwhelmed), but unfortunately, the movie relies too much on build-up and dialogue to be the action-packed adventure it ought to have been. Drago is appropriately slimy as usual, but Swayze and McQueen don’t really add much.” The Action Elite

“Mike Norris certainly has a far more likeable presence and natural charisma than his father Chuck, whose macho presence tends to grate on screen. The perpetually over-the-top Billy Drago lets loose with typical regard – the guy always makes me think of a cartoon weasel – although Drago has at least found an outlet (a cheesy B movie) where his hammy theatrics are perfectly at home.” Moria

for my money (which admittedly is paltry) Death Ring is one the finest ‘Most Dangerous Game’ rip-offs out there. And a must for fans of STV movies, and Billy Drago completists everywhere (of which I am). For good solid storytelling, above-average production values and performances, Death Ring is one to ‘hunt’ down…” Straight-to-DVD Heaven

Choice dialogue:

Matt Collins: “First thing we do is kill all the lawyers.”

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Cast and characters:

Mike Norris … Matt Collins
Billy Drago … Danton Vachs
Chad McQueen … ‘Skylord’ Harris
Don Swayze … John Blackwell
Elizabeth Sung … Ms Ling (as Elizabeth Fong Sung)
Isabel Glasser … Lauren Sadler
Branscombe Richmond … Mr Cross
Kelly Bennett … Merlin, at Talismania
Víctor Quintero … Iceman
George Cheung … Mr Chen (as George Kee Cheung)
Henry Kingi … Apache
Donegan Smith … Temple
Tammy Stones … Cindy Macklin
Judy Peterson … Sparrow, Bar Waitress
Forbes Riley … Joan Tomlin, Newscaster (as Francine Forbes)
Carl Ciarfalio … Pax, Bar Bully
Joel Stoffer … Orin, Weasely Thug
Ron Howard George … Crowley, Bigger Thug
Vincent Lucchesi … Andy, Batting Cage
Lana Shields … Lisa, Tattoo Parlor
Leslie Jean De Beauvais … Diane, Tattoo Parlor (as Leslie Jean de Beauvais)
Ron Thompson … Needles, Tattooer
Dennis Lipscomb … Jessup (as Jessup)
Melanie Elam … Female Guard #1, Bambi
Taryn Swallow … Female Guard #2, Thumper

Filming locations:

Bronson Caves, Bronson Canyon, Griffith Park – 4730 Crystal Springs Drive, Los Angeles, California
El Monte, California
Lake View Terrace, Los Angeles, California
Malibu Creek State Park – 1925 Las Virgenes Road, Calabasas, California
Placerita Canyon Natural Area – 19152 Placerita Canyon Road, Newhall, California
Whiteman Airport – 12657 Osborne Street, Pacoima, Los Angeles, California

Filming dates:

Principal photography began on 29th September 1991.

More Most Dangerous Game movies

Trailer:

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