A Twitter gif of some over-the-top gore put me onto this obscure and “notorious” nasty and it rocketed to the top of my list. Brigade des moeurs or Bridge of Death or Death Brigade (as I’m going to refer to it going forward) is a little French thriller with some bold moments.
Hitting in the 80’s, instead of the 70’s as I thought it might have, Death Brigade does its heavy lifting at the start and end of the film. The film has little to recommend in the middle as the plot becomes stretched and there are fewer attempts to maintain the edgy and dark approach.
The film opens with an eye widening sequence involving unexpected nudity, followed up by a continuation of said nudity, be it with a more subdued tone before visiting a tastefully filmed adult film set. This is followed by a rather tense mid-film sequence involving a broken bottle and a young lady who has some information extracted forcibly. Lastly the climax sees some over the top violence against a posse of men looking to take down the leading villain, limbs come off and hatchets are buried… deep in craniums.
Each of these sequences feels unnecessary to the story as a whole and really feels added to increase the film’s notoriety. All are shot in a way that the more violent elements can be removed from the film if necessary as there is nothing pivotal to the plot. Makes you think that perhaps there are other moments that had nastier alternative takes and they didn’t make the cut for release.
The plot is simple, a cop, Thierry de Carbonnières, takes some vacation time whilst dealing with a troublesome case and exercises some vigilante justice. Very standard stuff, however, typical elements are jazzed up in an attempt to make things more controversial and gain headlines. Murdered prostitutes are actually Transsexual prostitutes. The seedy bars where the villain hangs out aren’t just seedy bars, they are gay bars. The damsel in distress isn’t just tied up and threatened, she is tied up and threatened in her underwear. So many simple tropes have a little extra spice added to make things stand out a little more than the other films that carry this routine story-line.
Performances are still quite good, and whilst de Carbonnières is a little lacklustre and the villain is ridiculously over the top the support cast has a much more interesting time. Confusingly there are three leading ladies who have relationships with de Carbonnières. De Carbonnières is somewhat lightweight and forgettable, if you were to compare his to Mel Gibson, who’s character of Max in Mad Max has a similar story arc, de Carbonnières really had little impact on the audience. Jean-Marc Maurel, however, plays like he is a villain in a cartoon with vastly over exaggerated facial expressions and delivery, he’s hard to watch at first and… doesn’t get easier as it goes on.
Thankfully these are offset by a collection of decent performances by the victimised females and background character actors. Lillemour Jonsson, Manault Didier and Gabrielle Forest are linked to de Carbonnières in differing ways and show him up. Olivia Dutron is also notable as de Carbonnières’s sister, however, you know that the female cast members are all on borrowed time as the villains whittle them down and push de Carbonnières to take the law into his own hands. Each one gives an honest performance and feels realistic. Additionally, Christian Barbier playing the commissioner approaches the role with a subdued temperament and gives us a likeable character amongst the horror.
French adult film star Brigitte Lahaie pops up in a smaller role and proves to give one of the film’s better performances. I’m not sure if she was trying to move on from adult work at the time or this was another tactic for notoriety, but it’s interesting to see her in a… clean role. She is good and the film certainly benefits from her presence.
The film is directed by Max Pécas, who has a lengthy directorial filmography, however, it consists of a lot of French softcore comedies, featuring a lot of the cast of Death Brigade. He does a decent job here and keeps the action tight and film moving. Pécas and his son, who also served as editor, wrote the script with Roger Le Taillanter.
Death Brigade does sell itself on grimy characters and their reckless disregard for human life. However, the film’s world feels pretty clean. The film doesn’t use the opportunity to peek into a dirty and sleazy Parisian underworld. The gay bar looks quite chic, the villian’s hideout is a functional motorcycle garage. The climax uses a new-ish, large factory with all manner of pipework and clean concrete stairs. These aren’t dank, damp ridden, abandoned hovels. In short, the gritty city doesn’t feel so gritty.
This isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. I’m sure there is a very tame version out there with violence trimmed out and that would be totally unremarkable and dull. The violence is needed to keep the film interesting, yet, really isn’t enough to make this any more than a thriller to find and experience once and certainly not one you will return to.
There really is only one poster with an abundance of differing title translations.
Brigade of Death is available from Amazon in the UK on Blu-ray as Todes Brigade imported from France. It’s not the cheapest.