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Death Ring (1992)

Director:R.J. Kizer (Hell Comes to Frogtown)

Matt Collins (Mike Norris) is a US special forces Vietnam vet who now competes in cross-country endurance races (to the tune of bad rock music) to satisfy his adrenaline junkie urges. Girlfriend Lauren (Isabel Glasser) is generally happy with her over-achieving GI Joe. For instance, when Lauren is approached by a thug in a bar, Matty steps in and efficiently snaps the bloke's fingers. Matt also has a lovable pilot friend in 'Skylord' Harris (Chad McQueen) and is good at baseball, but he also whines about having no money, pisses off home after getting a root from rich girl Lauren, and complains about not being able to use his lethal combat skills in battle back in Nam. Hmm, sounds like 'high maintenance' to me.

Things turn foul when Danton Vachs (Billy Drago) sees Matt on TV winning the latest Survial of the Fittest race and arranges to have him and Lauren abducted (in broad daylight) to his remote island estate. Awaiting them is a retinue of high-paying, ethnically diverse customers eager to get in touch with their inner caveman: Mr Chen, Iceman, Apache, Temple ("Hunting is how I like to relax"), and the disgruntled Mr Cross, who first gets his hand skewered with a dinner fork, and is then kicked to death for bitching to Vachs about a previous hunting expedition. That's certainly a novel approach to handling negative customer feedback...Vodaphone should look into it. After each hunter is assigned a weapon at random (garrott, blade, spear, ninja stars) Matt is given a four-hour head start, and the chase begins.

Director R.J. Kizer brought us Hell Comes to Frogtown. He also edited Battle Beyond the Stars and Galaxy of Terror, not to mention supervising ADR sessions for the likes of Inception, Alien Resurrection and Showgirls. Death Ring blatantly shoplifts its utterly predictable plot from The Most Dangerous Game. That being the case, it fulfills its 1990s direct-to-video action flick obligations quite well. The violence (courtesy of Todd Masters) is bloody and impactful, although some of it is done offscreen, including two decaptiations (!) and a boobytrap that impales one antagonist on wooden spikes.

Other highlights to look out for are two pairs of breasts (Glasser and Tammy Stones), henchwomen called Bambi and Thumper, Billy Drago's hair, guards dressed in easy-to-see white pyjamas a'la John Woo movies, said guards who're so inept they can't even hit a low-flying helicopter with machine guns, Matt running away after being attacked and leaving useful weapons behind, Don Swayze as a whimpy survivalist, hunters so fucking competitive that they kill each other, some lame attempts at humour ("The Iceman has melted"), Lauren tied spread eagled to a dining table, a fairly convincing samauri sword confrontation, and the end credits joke: "Read the paperback novel. Listen to the soundtrack album. Eat the popcorn."

Death Ring is available on DVD in the UK and the US. According to Melon Farmers, it was cut on UK VHS to remove shots of martial arts weapons. The UK DVD (87:03 PAL) is uncut and our tape looks OK. IMDB says the Portugese release at 87 mins was a cut version, but this is probably nothing more than a PAL timing issue, since 87 mins PAL equates to the IMDB-listed duration of 90 mins.

(This review first appeared in SPRAK! #7 volume 2 in March 2011.)