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  • Writer's pictureGabe Powers

Death Squad Blu-ray Review 




Mondo Macabro

Blu-ray Release: April 9, 2024

Video: 1.85:1/1080p/Color

Audio: French and English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono

Subtitles: English

Run Time: 96:59

Director: Max Pécas


Following the murder of multiple prostitutes, Detective Gérard Lattuada (Thierry de Carbonnières) finds himself exploring the darkest underbelly of Paris for answers, leading him on a journey of sex, violence, and brutal revenge.


When we talk about so-called ‘Eurocrime’ movies, we’re almost always referring to the hundreds of Italian poliziotteschi released during the ‘70s and early ‘80s. French filmmakers, on the other hand, tend to be tagged as the innovators of film noir and post-’50s French crime cinema is remembered for the restrained, ultra-cool of Jean-Pierre Melville’s neo-noir or the international appeal of Luc Besson’s work. But there was overlap between the raucous violence of the poliziotteschi and the exploitation side of French crime films over the decades, from French-Italian co-productions, like Henri Verneuil’s The Sicilian Clan (French: Le clan des Siciliens, 1969), and especially the stunt-filled extravaganzas of Jean-Paul Belmondo, such as Henri Verneuil’s Fear Over the City (French: Peur sur la ville, 1975) and Georges Lautner’s The Professional (French: Le Professionnel, 1981). Oozing from the darkest corners of France’s poliziotteschi-adjacent, video era output was Max Pécas’ Death Squad (French: Brigade des mœurs; aka: Vice Squad and Brigade of Death, 1985).



Like the most notorious of the crime all'italiana, Death Squad takes the leering hero-cop fascism of Dirty Harry (1971) and The French Connection (1971), cleanses it of social context, and punches it up with waves of sex, violence, and misogyny. And Death Squad is a remarkable exercise in sleaze, rivaling the majority of its Italian counterparts and almost surpassing Lucio Fulci’s solitary poliziotteschi bloodbath Contraband (Italian: Luca il Contrabbandiere; aka: The Smuggler, 1980)*. The savagely exploitative spectacle includes the brutal shotgun murder of multiple trans sexworkers, a pregnant woman shot through the belly, a severed hand, a knife in the eye, and a hatchet to the face. The case leads police to a pornographer’s studio, a swingers club, and a different swingers party. The hero-cop also interrogates a heroin-addled suspect with the threat of overdose and the bad guy interrogates his victim with a broken wine bottle to the crotch. 


The performances are pretty good (arguably, main villain aside, too understated for such an over-the-top film), but the plot is derivative to the point that it often depends on the audience’s familiarity with similar films to make sense of the story. As a mediocre-at-best action director, Pécas is heavily dependent on a handful of genuinely impressive stunts and the stomach-turning bloodshed for thrills, meaning that your mileage will vary. From a moral standpoint, the film is trapped between being surprisingly non-judgmental and even supportive of those with ‘alternative lifestyles’ and making a spectacle of shocking behavior and violence visited upon queer people and sexworkers. Assuming viewers are able to handle the transgressive elements, it is interesting to note the differences between this French version of crime exploitation, the hyper-masculinity of the Italian variant, and the general nihilism seen from similar American counterparts. 




Pécas was no stranger to controversial crime movies. His second feature as solo director was the 1961 French-German co-produced nudie spy movie Daniella by Night (French: De quoi tu te mêles Daniela?) starring Elke Sommer. He also made a French-Italian sex-action hybrid called The Black Hand (French: La main noire, 1968) and the randy murder mystery The Erotic Touch (French: La baie du désir, 1964), but, as you might guess based on those titles, he was best-known for his work in softcore during the Golden Age of Pornography. His most famous work includes I Am Frigid... Why? (French: Je suis frigide... pourquoi?, 1972), House of 1000 Pleasures (French: Club privé pour couples avertis, 1974), and Felicia (1975).


* There are significant similarities to Fulci’s even more brutal The New York Ripper (Italian: Lo squartatore di New York, 1982), mainly the live sex shows, the broken bottle to the crotch, and lead cop’s relationship with a blonde prostitute – though, unlike Fulci’s killer, who tortures the prostitute while on the phone with the detective, the psychopathic villain in this movie actually threatens the detective’s girlfriend (fiance?) over the phone during a separate torture sequence. Other obvious references include a sequence where Detective Lattuada goes undercover at a leather bar, clearly inspired by William Friedkin’s Cruising (1980). His cover is blown because he’s already friends with some of the bar’s patrons, harkening back to the unusual lack of judgment on the part of the filmmakers.



Video

It doesn’t appear that Death Squad had a stateside home video release on any format or under any title before Mondo Macabro got their hands on it. DVDs were released in France and Germany (the German disc included the porno inserts as an extra). Germany’s FilmArt also produced the first Blu-ray of the film in 2020. As they’ve been doing with a number of releases recently, Mondo Macabro initially put out their version as a limited edition 4K UHD with this standard edition retail Blu-ray included. Both versions were made using the same 4K remaster, though.


Given the purposeful flatness of a lot of cinematographer Jean-Claude Couty’s photography, I can see how a UHD’s HDR upgrade could make a difference, but, otherwise, this 1080p version is a nice, clean representation of a rough, occasionally stylish, and ultimately grubby thriller. While there are some signs of machine noise, grain is mostly natural and, more importantly, the uneven details aren’t oversharpened. Again, HDR might have boosted some shots, especially the darker ones, but the most dynamic, smokey, backlit action sequences look great. Colors skew a bit cool, which stylistically fits the neo-noir movies that likely inspired Pécas and Couty.



Audio

Death Squad comes fitted with French and English dub options, both in uncompressed DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 mono sound. Unlike their Italian counterparts, the French tended to shoot with synced sound, so the French option is the original language track. It’s also the superior mix, featuring clean dialogue, consistent volume levels, and decent incidental effects. The English dub is squeezed and muffled in comparison, though I appreciate that the dub cast committing to French accents (for authenticity, I suppose). Composers Léo Carrier and Jean-Paul Daine’s music is a bit repetitive on account of there not being a lot of it recorded, but there are some really likable synth riffs and the repeating harmonica melody gives the proceedings a cool spaghetti western twang. The music is a bit low on either track, but obviously better on the superior French dub.



Extras

  • Shock Cop (33:51, HD) – In the first of three interviews taken from the French Le Chat qui Fume Blu-ray, star Thierry de Carbonnières chats about his schooling and early life, the ins-and-outs of stunts (including some he did on his own), learning to shoot a gun for the role, and working with Pécas and the cast, and shares some behind-the-scenes anecdotes.

  • Beautiful, Blond & Tanned (22:11, HD) – Actress Olivia Dutrontiful also looks back on training and early life, before discussing some of her screen work, relationships with actors and filmmakers, working on multiple Max Pécas movies, what she thinks her appeal is as an actress, typecasting, and the very loose on-set feel of making Death Squad

  • Photographer of Morals (24:20, HD) – The Le Chat qui Fume interviews are wrapped up with cinematographer Jean-Claude Couty’s memories of his early career, and working as cinematographer, editor, and sometimes assistant director on various films for a number of filmmakers.

  • Theatrical trailer

  • Mondo Macabro trailer reel



The images on this page are taken from the BD and sized for the page. Larger versions can be viewed by clicking the images. Note that there will be some JPG compression.

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