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Reviews » Blu-ray Reviews » Killer Force (aka The Diamond Mercenaries) (Blu-ray)
Killer Force (aka The Diamond Mercenaries) (Blu-ray)
Scorpion Releasing // R // May 17, 2016 // Region A
List Price: $29.95 [Buy now and save at Amazon]
Review by Stuart Galbraith IV | posted August 8, 2016 | E-mail the Author
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Killer Force (1976), alternately known as The Diamond Mercenaries, is a colorful but derivative and fairly dumb action-thriller. Viewed as Euro-action/exploitation trash, the picture can be silly, over-the-top fun, but given its cast and director, the results are disappointing.

An Irish-Swiss-U.S. co-production made in South Africa, its story revolves around attempts to rob an ultra-high security diamond mining operation. It's reminiscent of Peter Hunt's exciting, underrated Gold (1974), with Roger Moore, set in a South African gold mine. But Killer Force has much inferior direction, writing, editing, music, and performances.

A Scorpion title licensed from MGM, Killer Force does have one thing going for it: a bright, super-sharp high-def transfer making this 40-year potboiler seem almost new.

Mike Bradley (Peter Fonda, bearded with permed hair) is the flippant head of security at the diamond fortress, which apparently is surrounded by desert terrain for miles on all sides. The suave, swaggering overall head of corporate security, Harry Webb (Telly Savalas), arrives unannounced with news that a man named Lewis (Hugh O'Brian) has assembled a band of mercenaries to steal diamonds stashed somewhere inside the perimeter, gems perhaps stolen from a suspected insider with the company codenamed "Santa Claus" (possibly dubbed "Father Christmas" in the British release version).

Mine administrator Nelson (Victor Melleney), whose daughter, Clare (Maud Adams), is a famous cover model and Mike's girlfriend, improbably persuades Mike to steal a diamond out of the complex to attract the attention and trust of Lewis, ahead of his big heist. Pointedly, Webb is kept out of the loop, as Nelson suspects he might be "Santa Claus."

(Spoilers) Mike's theft is discovered, and Lewis has fellow mercenary Major Chilton (Christopher Lee) murder Nelson and his prostitute-informant, forcing no-longer-undercover Mike to join the heist for real. (How did they know Mike was a mole?) Mike then reveals that he's "Santa Claus," a fact heretofore unknown to Lewis, and that he's been planning an even more ambitious caper for some time: a break-in at the complex's seemingly impregnable vaults. Webb, meanwhile, predictably becomes obsessed with capturing Mike - dead or alive.

British filmmaker Val Guest (1911-2006) directed Killer Force. Guest had close ties to Hammer Films, directing films for that studio in all genres, including comedies, before finding his niche with three excellent film adaptations of British television serials by Nigel Kneale: The Quatermass Xperiment (1955), Quatermass II (1957), and The Abominable Snowman (also 1957). Quatermass II is particularly good, a harrowing, enormously influential science fiction film whose incredible plot is made entirely believable thanks partly to Guest's fine direction.

He continued working for Hammer, but made his best film, The Day the Earth Caught Fire (1961), independently. Likewise oozing with verisimilitude, it remains one of the best and most prescient science fiction dramas ever. Two years later he directed the interesting 80,000 Suspects and eventually became one of at least six directors embroiled in the chaotic, mostly unfunny 007 spoof Casino Royale (1967), mainly helming those scenes involving Woody Allen and, to some extent, David Niven.

By the 1970s Guest's star had slipped to the point where he was reduced to supervising sex comedies just this side of softcore porn: Au Pair Girls (1972) and Confessions of a Window Cleaner (1974), the former actually fairly sprightly for such pictures and the latter shockingly successful, the top-grossing British film that year, in fact.

If Killer Force was an opportunity for Guest to restart his career, he didn't pounce at the opportunity. Generally flaccid, Killer Force exhibits none of the sense of realism that marked his best films, or the flair he often brought to his science fiction films' climaxes. Guest had a hand in the script, but may have been forced to work around the demands of some of the leading actors.

Telly Savalas swaggers about imposingly in alarming skin-tight polyester wardrobe. The success of his TV series, Kojak, solidified his star status in Europe, and the actor seemed reluctant to deviate from the cocky, confident, "Who loves ya, baby?" screen persona that got him there. Though top-billed, his interaction with the rest of the cast is limited, and he's probably onscreen for less than 20 minutes of its 102-minute running time.

One of the strangest things about Killer Force is just how badly it uses actor Christopher Lee. Hugh O'Brian, primarily a television actor famous as Wyatt Earp (in the 1955-61 series), was hardly a big box-office draw yet plays the gang's leader. There's Lee, with O.J. Simpson playing the O.J. Simpson part and, finally, two resoundingly colorless ciphers rounding out the gang.

Lee's third-banana role is puzzling. He was at the time a top star of horror films and a major supporting actor in A-list movies like The Three Musketeers (1973) and as Scaramanga in the big budget 007 film The Man with the Golden Gun (1974). And yet here he gets sixth billing playing a very minor role as O'Brian's humorless henchmen, a gentleman assassin. In the U.S. trailer, Lee's never even mentioned. Lee's co-star from Golden Gun, Maud Adams, in a larger role, gets fifth billing.

Killer Force's script is derivative (with elements going at least as far back as Rififi, 1955), at times illogical, and so perfunctory that two completely different outcomes to the caper were completed, which might as well have been decided with the flip of a coin, so little does it matter.

Video & Audio

For such a forgotten, minor film, the Blu-ray of Killer Force sure looks great. The bright desert scenes, much of it incorporating good aerial cinematography, are nicely shot, and the unusualness of the setting helps viewers through the film's slow spots. There are only minor signs of damage and wear and the image is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen. The 2.0 DTS-HD Master Audio (mono) is adequate and the disc is Region A encoded.

Extra Features

Supplements include alternate opening titles, trailers for the picture using both titles, and the arbitrary alternate ending.

Parting Thoughts

Worth seeing once if only for its cast, Killer Force is mildly Recommended for fans of this genre.

Stuart Galbraith IV is the Kyoto-based film historian largely absent from reviewing these days while he restores a 200-year-old Japanese farmhouse.

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