Deathcheaters (1976) – ripper car movies

Meet Steve and Rod - stuntmen, saboteurs, hellraisers!

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I will happily admit that ‘Ozploitation’ films are a guilty pleasure of mine, and 1976’s Deathcheaters is up there with the best of them.

First published in the Street Machine 2022 Yearbook

Steve (John Hargreaves) and Rod (Grant Page) become best mates during a military tour of Vietnam. Upon returning to civilian life, they settle back into domesticity with their respective loves – Steve with his spunky blonde partner, Julia (Margaret Gerard, director Brian Trenchard-Smith’s real-life spouse), and Rod with his beloved pooch, Bismark (Ziggy).

The two friends quickly become a sought-after stunt duo dubbed The Cunning Stunts, working in television and movies. This career helps the pair scratch their ‘action’ itches, but their experiences during the war have left them craving more thrills.

Their eagerness to assist with some local police operations brings Rod and Steve to the attention of government handler Culpepper (Noel Ferrier), who recruits the pair for a top-secret mission to the Philippines.

Combining both their combat experience and stunt skills, Steve and Rod proceed to make light work of recovering the required classified documentation from a heavily armed power station, before returning to Oz via a commandeered Australian Navy submarine as heroes to the cause.

This was the second collaboration between director Brian Trenchard-Smith and legendary Aussie stuntman Grant Page, following on from the famous The Man From Hong Kong in 1975 (Fanging Flick, SM, Aug ’21), and they would team up again for the 1978 documentary-style film Stunt Rock. As with The Man From Hong Kong, Deathcheaters feels like a showcase for Page’s stunt talents (Trenchard-Smith doubled as Page’s manager at the time), albeit wrapped around a workable storyline.

This is not a bad thing by any means, as the stunts come thick and fast. Page exploding through the trees and hammering along in a tyre-smoking, open-headered V8 dune buggy is awesome; his signature car-hit stunt goes off without a hitch (unlike his infamous attempt on The Don Lane Show a few years later); and the demolition derby jammed full of early Holdens will surely get snowflakes everywhere rattling their keyboards.

VERDICT: 4/5

I truly enjoyed Deathcheaters. It never takes itself seriously, the onscreen chemistry between Hargreaves and Page feels really natural (indicative of their off-screen mateship), and there’s fun-filled adventure full of raw stunt action, hot babes, cool cars and plenty of laughs. It all combines to create a vivid snapshot of 1970s Australiana that deserves to be remembered fondly.

BREAKDOWN

VEHICLES:

  • Custom ‘Buttercup’ dune buggy
  • 1966 HR Holden wagon
  • 1974 HJ Holden
  • 1964 Mercedes-Benz 600
  • 1962 EJ Holden speedway sedan
  • 1963 EJ Holden panel van
  • 1959 Wolseley 15/60
  • 1966 Toyota Crown utility

STARS:

  • John Hargreaves
  • Grant Page
  • Margaret Gerard
  • Ziggy the dog
  • Noel Ferrier
  • Judith Woodroffe
  • Annie Semler
  • Chris Haywood
  • Vincent Ball

DIRECTOR:

Brian Trenchard-Smith

ACTION:

Cool dune buggy action evolves into a high-speed street chase, with shopping centre antics and a demolition derby thrown in for good measure

PLOT:

Two Vietnam veterans carve out a living as stuntmen, but their special range of skills is sought for a top-secret federal government mission

AVAILABLE:

DVD, Netflix

COOL FLICK FACT:

The shopping centre chase scenes were filmed at the Warringah Mall in Sydney, which was later used again for action sequences in Trenchard-Smith’s 1983 flick BMX Bandits (above).

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