Monday, February 12, 2024

"One Bite and He'll Leave You Flat-Chested" - Death Dimension (1971)

Let us turn our sights to perhaps the most action-packed film ever made, Al Adamson's Death Dimension (1971) starring the redoubtable Jim Kelly. Of course, when one thinks of action, one thinks of Al Adamson, a director with the uncanny ability to incorporate more chases per minute into a film than any other director.

Of course, some of your universe's critics fail to appreciate Death Dimension. For example, reviewer Wizard-8 writes, "This is an incredibly boring movie." Reviewer mhorg2018 writes, "Adamson can't direct, can't write, can't edit. Ed Wood was a better movie maker than this guy." And reviewer michaelRokeefe writes, "Poorly written and directed; you get the impression this flick was done on a budget that relied on a bounced check."

Read on for the truth about Death Dimension...

The film begins shockingly as a scalpel begins slicing into a woman’s forehead as light jazz music plays. The surgeon implants a black disc the size of a dime into the conscious woman’s head, and then we watch as he sutures the incision. As the woman (whose forehead now seems completely unblemished) gets off the table, the surgeon tells her something she no doubt already knows: “The microdot under your scalp contains all the information on my work here on the island. It must not fall into the wrong hands. Trust no one.”

The woman, Felicia, leaves just before the surgeon injects himself with something. Minutes later, the surgeon attends an experimental test of a freeze ray in which four men strapped to posts in what appears to be the southern California mountains are killed by a bomb that produces a great deal of snow.

The surgeon explains to the man running the test, “My invention is for weather control, to eliminate droughts in the world, meant to help man, not to harm him. How can I be happy?”

“That’s your problem,” says the villain (known fancifully as The Pig and played by Harold ‘Odd Job’ Sakata). “As for me, I couldn’t be more delighted.”

Unfortunately, the villain’s henchmen realize that the surgeon’s assistant Felicia is running away and the office was set on fire. As the villain harangues him, the doctor reveals he has already killed himself by injecting himself with poison. He dies unceremoniously.

Later, a man sneaking into the compound to ogle a woman lounging by a pool in a bikini is killed by a scarred bodyguard, who slices the man’s throat with his bare hands.

Elsewhere, policeman Jim Kelly teaches a karate class to a group of men. “There’s only one reason for this class, gentlemen. That’s to teach you how to survive in the street. The name of the game is to save your ass.” After class, Mr. Kelly is summoned to the police captain’s office, where the captain (played by a nonchalant George Lazenby) explains the man killed poolside earlier was investigating (not entirely competently, apparently) the mob boss Joe Santa Massino, aka The Pig. Mr. Kelly realizes from the death photos of the undercover man that the killer was left-handed as well as Haitian, due to the fact that the killer was wearing a ring on the little finger of his left hand. (Of course, Haitians are the only people capable of wearing rings in this fashion.) Also, The Pig has a successful freeze bomb that causes everything in its vicinity to approach a temperature of absolute zero. The captain assigns Mr. Kelly (a local police officer) to go to Reno to find the scientist’s daughter.

After having sex with his girlfriend and shirtlessly fighting off two attackers who invade his apartment, Mr. Kelly determines that The Pig already knows he has been assigned to the case. 

Mr. Kelly is then immediately involved in a relatively uneventful car chase which leads to an ambush. Mr. Kelly pulls out nunchucks (which he has apparently been carrying with him) and fends off his ambushers. After this scene (which those who do not consider themselves action film connoisseurs might consider “pointless”), Mr. Kelly catches a flight to Reno.

The next morning, Mr. Kelly arrives at The Pig’s compound, which also serves as a brothel. He chooses a prostitute from among the large selection, but when she is undressing he sneaks out of her room to find what is advertised as a jacuzzi party. Thrown out of the party, he leaves the compound, then sneaks to the real compound next door, climbing over the twelve-foot-high chain link fence and “serpentining” his way to the cover of the bushes. Unfortunately, he is noticed immediately as one of The Pig’s men yells, “Hey, black turkey!”

Of course, Mr. Kelly takes care of all The Pig’s goons without a scratch. He is soon joined by his friend Li, who also has no problem beating up dozens of henchmen (who, perhaps oddly, wear stockings over their heads, despite being employed by The Pig at his compound). They find out The Pig is actually at Lake Tahoe, so they ride a boat to a wooded shore, where they must beat up still more of The Pig’s hundreds of henchmen. This leads somewhat confusingly to a boat chase across Lake Tahoe.

The chase ends with all the henchmen in the water. Li quips, “That’s the first bath they’ve taken all month.” He then adds, less humorously, “We could be busted for pollution.”

“At least we found out The Pig’s in LA, huh?” Mr. Kelly says (the audience is unaware of how this information was gleaned, or indeed of why Mr. Kelly and Li initiated the boat chase in the first place).

The filmmakers cut to Los Angeles, where The Pig and his associates ride in a limousine while The Pig calls LA “the armpit of the world.” He reveals they are in LA to chase Felicia. A henchman indicates that the scientist’s daughter, Joan Mason, has been taken care of, arousing the audience’s suspicions when the next scene shows Felicia entering Joan Mason’s home in Los Angeles. “I’m so glad you found me,” Joan says. However, Felicia quickly realizes Joan is an imposter because she explains her tan as the result of spending time in Palm Springs rather than at the beach. Felicia leaves the house as soon as she can.

Later, Felicia escapes from The Pig’s scarred bodyguard and wanders the seedy streets of Los Angeles at night, leading to surreal visuals of nighttime traffic as seen through the multifaceted eyes of a fly, for no apparent reason.

The next day, Mr. Kelly’s girlfriend is killed by the scarred Haitian bodyguard when she takes a shower. Mr. Kelly and the captain realizes the bodyguard and The Pig are in Los Angeles due to the wound that killed his girlfriend. “It’s a lousy break,” the captain says, though they were already aware The Pig came to LA, so it is barely a break.

There follows another car chase, as Mr. Kelly is shot at in the hospital parking lot. He gives chase and the villains lead him into the desert. Mr. Kelly takes care of them by jumping on top of their car, then jumping off just as the car flies over a cliff.

Meanwhile, The Pig holds a meeting in his Los Angeles headquarters (which appears to be a brothel with a similar layout to the one outside Reno) with the great Aldo Ray as Mr. Verde, a casual-wear enthusiast who is purchasing the freeze bomb from The Pig on behalf of an unnamed foreign nation. (Amusingly, in a Bond-like quirk, The Pig strokes a turtle throughout the meeting. Additionally, one of The Pig’s girls reads Mad Magazine throughout the meeting.) The results of the meeting are ambiguous, though The Pig tells Mr. Ray his country will get the bomb eventually.

That night, Felicia finally calls the police, resulting in Mr. Kelly being assigned to pick her up from a fleabag hotel. Unfortunately, The Pig’s men arrive at the hotel and kidnap her just as Mr. Kelly arrives. They deliver her to The Pig’s brothel (notably, they get in their car at nighttime and arrive in broad daylight). 

Meanwhile, in a dramatic scene between powerhouse actors Harold ‘Odd Job’ Sakata and Aldo Ray, the freeze bomb business deal is discussed again. “I gotta have something,” says Mr. Ray, “some proof.”

“All I want to see is that money,” says The Pig.

“Mr. Santo Massino, do you want me to be carrying 50 million dollars around like it was a…a…a sack of potatoes?”

“My friend, money talks, bullshit walks.”

“We shouldn’t conduct business like this,” says Mr. Ray, frustrated.

“I conduct business this way,” replies The Pig. 

“I’m sorry to see our dealings degenerate to this level.”

“All I want is the money,” The Pig repeats. “When I see it—“

“Now, wait a minute! You want me to be carrying 50 million dollars on me? You know I’m not! I think you’re stalling. I don’t think you have Dr. Mason’s bomb at all!”

“I have the test. It’s a successful test.”

“You tested the bomb, I know that. But we also know a couple of other things.” (Here, Mr. Ray helpfully summarizes the film’s plot for audience members who are confused or forgetful.) “We know that Dr. Mason is dead. We also know that his formula was hidden someplace. But that didn’t bother us as long as you delivered. But you have not delivered and my people are getting impatient.”

The Pig promises to bring the plans to Mr. Ray, but he wants to see the money. Therefore, The Pig leaves the negotiations and goes to another room in the brothel where he can torture Felicia into revealing the location of the plans for the freeze bomb using the age-old torture device of the live snapping turtle.

The Pig quips, “One bite and he’ll leave you flat-chested. Talk!”

Fortunately for all involved, the plot moves forward again when Felicia makes a phone call. Even though she is tied to a chair and unconscious due, understandably, to fear of turtles, Felicia wakes up, edges over to a desk, and dials the operator on a dial phone using a pen in her mouth. She reaches the captain and tells him she is in Palm Springs.

In a surprising twist, it takes only a few minutes for the captain to drive from Los Angeles to Palm Springs. He enters The Pig’s brothel unnoticed and unties Felicia. Of course, this is only a ploy, as the captain is working for The Pig. He convinces her to tell him about the microdot implanted in her forehead, which gives The Pig everything he wants.

Coincidentally, Mr. Kelly drives up to the brothel in time to see the captain’s car. Mr. Kelly knew something was fishy because The Pig knew the police’s every move, and the captain was the only logical traitor. So Mr. Kelly and his friend Li break into the unguarded brothel. They apprehend Aldo Ray just as The Pig uses a big knife to extract the microdot from under Felicia’s skin.

Seconds later, Mr. Kelly breaks into the room, which leads The Pig and his henchman to run, which in turns leads to a car chase with Mr. Kelly driving after the villains’ car.

Meanwhile, Li attacks the captain by stalking him, dexterously making his way along the brothel’s tile roof.

The captain finds himself thrown into a swimming pool and electrocuted by the business end of an extension cord.

The action climaxes on the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway as The Pig and his bodyguard commandeer one tram and Mr. Kelly is forced to use a helicopter that coincidentally lands in the parking lot at the necessary moment (it might be the case that this is a police helicopter; if so, it is one without police markings). In one of the highest production value sequences of Al Adamson’s career, we witness a shootout between the helicopter and the aerial tram.

Once the villains reach the top of the mountain, Mr. Kelly fights the bodyguard, the only character in the film that presents a physical challenge. Within moments, however, Mr. Kelly is able to punch the man so that he pinwheels his arms and then jumps off a cliff.

When he catches up to The Pig, Mr. Kelly also appears to be in trouble, as he is head-butted and pushed into a rock. After dodging an airplane from which villains toss dynamite, however, Mr. Kelly manages to shoot the plane down after it lands, The Pig climbs aboard, and it takes off again.

The film ends with a freeze-frame as Mr. Kelly jump-kicks into the air.

As is clear from the summary above, Death Dimension is breathlessly paced, with foot chases leading to car chases and boat chases and helicopter chases. The boat chase itself is a marvel, in that there is no reason in the story for either group of characters to get on a boat, but as is typical with an Adamson movie the excitement of the moment more than makes up for any plot questions the audience might have. The film has no plot holes whatsoever, as all is explained by the presence of the traitorous George Lazenby, who is aided by the unwitting character of Felicia calling him on the phone at crucial moments in the narrative.

Of course, Death Dimension's best attribute is its seasoned cast full of charismatic stars: Jim Kelly, George Lazenby (occasionally disguising his Australian accent), Harold 'Odd Job' Sakata, and especially the great Aldo Ray in a performance that could have been flat and one-note but which touches on at least two notes, maybe three. One could argue this is Al Adamson's finest film (or at least his finest non-horror film), and the main reason, in addition to the blistering pace and exciting chases, is the flawless cast of professionals that bring the characters of I.J. Ash (Jim Kelly), The Pig (Harold 'Odd Job' Sakata), and the others, who may or may not have names, to life. Without a doubt, Death Dimension is one of the high points of action cinema.