Death Promise (1977) — Best buds learn about friendship while murdering murderers

“I’m going home. I’ll keep my promise.”

Justin’s rating: Hi-keeba!

Justin’s review: Typically, your average revenge film starts with some stomach-churning tragedy and culminate in a grim act of vengeance. The darker the start and end, the better for viewers, it seems.

This is, not in any way, shape, or form, Death Promise. Instead, this is one of the most likable, upbeat, and downright affable “revenge” movies ever made. Here, you’re in for ruthless moments of ENCOURAGEMENT, sweaty MAN-HUGS, and sinister AFFIRMATIONS OF LOVE. It’s like Mister Rogers was contractually obligated to make a revenge flick and couldn’t bring himself to have anyone be actually mean to each other.

It’s the best.

When a bunch of skeezy business-types try to do everything in their power — including tossing boxes of rats through the door — to get tenants of a city apartment building to move out, the tenants find the courage and WARM FUZZY FRIENDSHIP to stand up to The Man and fight back. This is helped by a pair of best buds — Charley and Speedy — who also happen to be martial arts masters.

The tenants’ stubborn refusal to leave leads to the murder of an older boxer. His son Charley is understandably perturbed and makes a DEATH PROMISE to get back at the bad guys. But before he does that, he’s got to go away to Kung Fu summer camp and get 60% more amazing than he already is. Once that’s accomplished, it’s time to systematically work through a revengin’ list until the Final Boss is downed.

While not a good bet for anyone who wants an old-fashioned revenge story, Death Promise is nevertheless genuinely entertaining. Every scene is plastered wall-to-wall with eye-scratching ’70s aesthetic while featuring something ridiculous going on. There are random buildings erupting into fireballs, a faceless evil dude stroking a cat like he’s in James Bond, dorky martial arts battles, guys with oversized bows, incredibly early versions of car phones, and that fly-catching-chopstick move that Karate Kid ripped off years later.

In all of the best ways, Death Promise reminds me of the dorky masterpiece Black Belt Jones. Both feature urban martial arts heroes throwing their goofy all into fighting The Man. Both are movies that you’re simultaneously laughing at and cheering on, if that makes any sense. And both serve as sober reminders that fashion and interior decoration of the 1970s were always the real enemy.

Didja notice?

  • What a funky opening theme
  • Fight scene in the narrowest hallway ever
  • Remember station wagons and how they were longer than aircraft carriers?
  • Some people are hired to dump rats into buildings. It’s a living.
  • Oh the hideous outfits! Why, ’70s, why?
  • Evil guy stroking a cat!
  • Kung Fu headquarters has giant feather dusters on the wall
  • Training montage!
  • Good kung fu masters love to abruptly slap their students to the floor
  • Good advice on how to invest your blood money!
  • Wanna kill a guy? Tie him up behind an archery target and hope that someone comes along to do the dirty deed
  • Death by rat-bag
  • The faces these guys make during the final fights

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