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Retro Review: DEATH DIMENSION (1978)

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DEATH DIMENSION
aka FREEZE BOMB
aka THE KILL FACTOR
(US/Italy - 1978)

Directed by Al Adamson. Written by Harry Hope. Cast: Jim Kelly, George Lazenby, Harold "Odd Job" Sakata, Terry Moore, Bob Minor, Patch McKenzie, Aldo Ray, Myron Bruce Lee, April Sommers. Linda Lawrence, T.E. Foreman, Frank Scarpitto, Madame Sally Conforte. (R, 88 mins)

With the fateful inevitability of a foretold prophecy of doom, a collaboration between Al Adamson and Dick Randall simply had to happen at some point, and we got just that with 1978's DEATH DIMENSION. It did reteam Adamson with producer Harry Hope (THE DOOMSDAY MACHINE), who bankrolled his teen sex comedy SUNSET COVE the same year, but DEATH DIMENSION's co-producer was the infamous Randall, best known for bad-movie classics like 1973's FRANKENSTEIN'S CASTLE OF FREAKS (featuring one "Boris Lugosi" as "Ook, the Neanderthal Man"), 1980's CHALLENGE OF THE TIGER, 1983's PIECES, and 1984's other killer Santa movie DON'T OPEN TILL CHRISTMAS. Randall's company, Spectacular Film Productions, was quite busy throughout the '70s and '80s, setting up shop at various times in places like Italy, Hong Kong, Spain, and the UK and moving around like a shell company perpetually trying to stay one step ahead of the posse. At the time of DEATH DIMENSION, Spectacular and Randall were based in Italy, though he didn't bring along any Italians or even any of his usual actors (how are Brad Harris and Edmund Purdom not in this?). Other than some Italian financing, DEATH DIMENSION is a standard-issue Adamson exploitationer shot in his frequent stomping grounds of Los Angeles, Palm Springs, and Reno. It even includes a visit to the Mustang Ranch, along with a cameo by its madame, Sally Conforte, probably throwing in a few bucks toward the budget (or perhaps supplying other services) in exchange for promotional consideration along the lines of Colonel Sanders popping up in a KFC in HELL'S BLOODY DEVILS.






1980 re-release poster, with title font
apparently doodled by a bored
high-schooler during study hall
Included on Severin's sprawling new 14-disc, 32-movie Adamson box set (because physical media is dead), DEATH DIMENSION stars Jim Kelly, just five years removed from his breakout turn alongside Bruce Lee and John Saxon in 1973's classic ENTER THE DRAGON. Kelly was an unknown at the time, but he had a loose, likable screen presence ("Bullshit, Mr. Han Man!") and could kick ass onscreen, so he became the first black martial-arts star when Warner Bros. immediately rewarded him with his own movie, reuniting him with ENTER THE DRAGON director Robert Clouse for 1974's BLACK BELT JONES. Later the same year, they teamed him with Jim Brown and Fred Williamson on the insane THREE THE HARD WAY. After supporting roles in Clouse's Joe Don Baker actioner GOLDEN NEEDLES in 1974 (a busy year for Kelly) and the 1975 western TAKE A HARD RIDE (again with Brown and Williamson), Kelly's big-studio career ended with Warner Bros' little-loved 1976 kung-fu comedy HOT POTATO. When that flopped, he found himself sucked into the Adamson orbit, starring in 1976's BLACK SAMURAI. It wasn't quite the same as what Kelly had grown accustomed to in just a short time, but he and Adamson reunited for the ridiculous DEATH DIMENSION. Kelly is Lt. I.J. Ash, an L.A. cop who ends up on the trail of ill-tempered Reno megalomaniac Joe "The Pig" Santamassino (Harold Sakata, who was so identified with his iconic turn as ultimate Bond villain henchman Oddjob in 1964's GOLDFINGER that he was just now going by Harold "Odd Job" Sakata). The Pig is very much Adamson's version of a Bond supervillain, except that he appears to live in an ordinary average ranch-style house with distinctly 1970s wood-paneled walls. And his plan is a doozy: hijack the blueprints for constructing a "freeze bomb" that a scientist (T.E. Foreman) has benevolently invented in the name of controlling the weather to eliminate droughts. But it also has the ability to reduce the temperature of large areas to absolute zero, and The Pig intends to sell the patent to the highest bidder to be used in warfare or terrorist attacks. Ash sums it up best when he tells his boss Capt. Gallagher (one-and-done 007 George Lazenby), "That's heavy stuff."


"Yeah Jim, I know you were in ENTER THE DRAGON.
I was James Bond, for Christ's sake! And yet, here we are." 
The scientist has stored the information on a tiny microchip and implanted it just under the skin on the forehead of his assistant Felicia (Patch McKenzie), who finds herself targeted by The Pig and his chief henchman Tatoupu (Bob Minor). The Pig tries to broker a deal with Verde (Aldo Ray), a representative from a foreign country with interests in the freeze bomb, and they end up holding Felicia prisoner, with The Pig pulling out a giant, ugly-ass snapping turtle and threatening to have it "bite your tit off!" and even mocking her by shouting "You're going to be flat-chested!" Ash spends his spare time at his karate dojo and relaxing at home with orange juice and malt liquor, but his pursuit of The Pig gets personal when Tatoupu kills his wife (April Sommers), leading to his teaming up with kung-fu cop Li (the debut and farewell of martial-arts non-sensation "Myron Bruce Lee") to rescue Felicia, stop The Pig, and make sure he doesn't detonate...the Freeze Bomb!


FREEZE BOMB was actually an alternate title when the film was re-released in 1980, and it underwent yet another title change when it hit VHS as THE KILL FACTOR. Under any name, it's reasonably entertaining junk so long as expectations are tempered. It's Al Adamson, so you've got choppy editing; jaw-dropping continuity errors (watch when Ash and Li are battling bad guys on two separate speedboats, and one speedboat suddenly vanishes and they're both together on one); inept fight sequences where you can see guys huffing for breath and waiting for a cue to attack Ash; Ash's arrival in Reno beginning with an establishing shot that looks like it came from 1965, followed by travelogue footage of Kelly wandering around the strip, with onlookers gawking at him before he ducks into a casino and plays a few pulls on a slot machine; McKenzie walking around downtown L.A. with Adamson and cinematographer Gary Graver employing a trippy kaleidoscopic lens filter for no reason at all; a dubbed Sakata's vein-popping overacting, whether he's petting his turtles or demanding a massage from his girlfriend (Linda Lawrence) and yelling "Soothe me, Sheila!"; and of course, that absolutely pointless detour to the Mustang Ranch, where Ash walks in, exchanges pleasantries with Madame Sally, gets a girl, ducks away while she's undressing, walks down a hallway, pops into a room where a guy's in a jacuzzi with several women, gets kicked out, then heads to the Reno strip. Why was he there? Who was he looking for? There's no point to this entire sequence other than promoting the Mustang Ranch. With the presence of Sakata and Lazenby in the cast, it's obvious this is intended as a tongue-in-cheek Blaxploitation 007, and the climax involving a helicopter vs. cable car at the Palm Springs Aerial Tramway has an unmistakably "Bond on a tight budget" feel that's scored by inappropriate jazz piano and ends with the same aircraft explosion stock footage that Adamson recycled multiple times during this period, including at the end of 1976's BLACK HEAT. Kelly next starred in the 1978 Hong Kong kung-fu actioner THE TATTOO CONNECTION and appeared in 1982's ONE DOWN, TWO TO GO, with his old buddies Jim Brown and Fred Williamson. He then left movies and continued practicing martial arts in addition to becoming a tennis pro on the senior circuit. He appeared in a 2006 Nike commercial with Lebron James, made a one-off return to movies with a cameo in the 2009 YouTube-inspired AFRO NINJA, and in his later years, was a regular presence at fan conventions. Kelly died of cancer in 2013 at the age of 67.


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