DEVIL'S EXPRESS (1975) Blu-ray
Director: Barry Rosen
Code Red Releasing

Code Red hops aboard the DEVIL'S EXPRESS with Warhawk Tanzania in this inept yet unique slice of New York exploitation.

Black martial arts master Luke (Warhawk Tanzania, BLACK FORCE) travels to Hong Kong with his street gang leader pupil Rodan (Wilfredo Roldan, VELVET SMOOTH). While Luke is meditating in seclusion, Rodan shirks his bodyguard duty to explore the local ruins and discovers a cave with an ancient wooden coffin. He removes a medallion from the coffin lid and unleashes a two-thousand year old demon that follows Luke and Rodan back to New York. When bodies start turning up mutilated in the subways, Lieutenant Allen (Larry Fleishman, JOHNNY GOT HIS GUN) believes that they are victims of the gang war between the blacks and the Chinese – that is, the Black Spades and the Red Dragons – while his learned new partner Sam (Stephen DeFazio) believes the culprits to be mutant cats and rats from the sewers. As the demon feeds off of the city's denizens, it may be up to Luke to challenge the monster head-on before it can attain invincibility.

Although hopelessly scattershot, DEVIL'S EXPRESS is immensely entertaining. Without the martial arts or gang war angles, it could have been a DEATH LINE/C.H.U.D.-esque monster movie. With all of these disparate elements, it would have been a Troma film had it been produced in the early 1980s (or at least a Troma pick-up). Tanzania is a rather underwhelming hero thanks to some lame fight choreography and coverage, as well his letting Rodan's cocaine dealing slide while arguing against using martial arts for gangland warfare. On the other hand, the film makes up for its so-so stalking/killing scenes and unexciting fights with memorable appearances from Brother Theodore as a raving Catholic priest, TV actress Sylvia Mann as a bag lady haranguing subway travelers with a rambling monologue about moral values, some comic relief from Allen's partner, and filmmaker David Durston (I DRINK YOUR BLOOD) has a cameo appearance as one of the subway victims. The soundtrack has some creepy cello cues and distorted/processed sounds for the horror scenes, as well as a grating love song for a padding montage with Luke and his wife, and a track for the fight scenes that sounds like a porn film library cue.

Released theatrically by Mahler Films, DEVIL'S EXPRESS came to VHS in the very early 1980s under its reissue title GANG WARS in limited quantities from Sun Video Corporation (the company that also released LAST HOUSE ON DEAD END STREET and THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK). Code Red's 2013 single-layer DVD featured a progressive, anamorphic widescreen (1.78:1) transfer from the original negative ably conveyed the funky décor, sunny New York exteriors, grainy underground, and the reds of the title card and occasional bloodshed. Code Red's 1080p24 MPEG-4 AVC 1.78:1 widescreen Blu-ray comes from a brand new 2016 2K scan of the negatives and is completely free of blemishes with the enhanced resolution revealing that the insert double for a jugular slashing is considerably younger than the actor he or she is standing in for (and also clean-shaven), the corpse double for Durston's subway victim also looks nothing like him, and make-up for "Tsikagi Iron Preist-Tanzania" looks particularly suspect (enough to wonder if its Warhawk Tanzania under the primitive prosthetics). The only extras for the film the DEVIL'S EXPRESS (0:30) trailer – the GANG WARS one without reference to the supernatural content from the DVD is not included here – and trailers for TOP OF THE HEAP, THIS IS A HIJACK!, BROTHERHOOD OF DEATH, DEVIL WOMAN, KING OF KUNG FU, and FORCE FOUR. Available directly from Ronin Flix with a limited edition slipcover and reversible cover. (Eric Cotenas)