14th Nov2018

From VHS to VOD #7 – A Jeff Wincott Special!

by Phil Wheat

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Welcome back to our ongoing From VHS to VOD column – our guide through the strange and obscure – the odd, unseen and unreleased (well unreleased on disc formats) films available on streaming and on-demand services.

in the intro to our last installment I mentioned the explosion of obscure movies hitting Amazon Prime Video – available for streaming rather than purchase, some of which have been made available in the UK for the first time since VHS and a LOT that have been added to the service in their original uncut form! So with that in mind I thought over the next few columns I’d take you through a few of the films I have lined up in my “To Watch” list… Some of which I still haven’t seen!

So sit back and check out what weird and wonderful films I’ve discovered in this edition of From VHS to VOD – which is a Jeff Wincott (and director Damian Lee) special!

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Back in the early to mid-90s I was a avid reader of Impact magazine. I’d discovered it after seeing Jean Claude Van Damme on the cover and grabbing that particular issue to find out more about my new favourite action movie star. You see I loved JCVD’s films – as an action movie fan I’d rented the likes of Kickboxer and Bloodsport on-spec from the local video store (along with Cynthia Rothrock’s films) and found my new passion: action movies. But Impact became more than just a magazine, it became my bible. I watched and rented pretty much every film they wrote about… Which leads me to Jeff Wincott.

Wincott had been performing in movies since the late 70s, even appearing in classic slasher Prom Night, but it wasn’t until the early 90s when he became something of a action star. His first action role was alongside Cynthia Rothrock in Martial Law 2 and from there his action career exploded – taking the lead in over a dozen action movies in the 90s. Including the three I’m talking about here: Fatal Combat (aka No Exit), The Donor and Street Law.

FATAL COMBAT

Originally released in 1996 in the UK as No Exit, Fatal Combat was one of the few Jeff Wincott movies to pass me by… until it hit Amazon Prime Video, that is. Directed by Damian Lee, who helmed the likes of Food of the Gods 2, Abaraxas: Guardian of the Universe and Ski School, Fatal Combat was the third of four collaborations between Wincott and Lee and – like the rest of the films the duo made – had more to it than a standard by-the-numbers action movie. Which was, honestly, something that marked a LOT of Jeff Wincott films out from the DTV action flick crowd – most of Wincott’s films had an engrossing story and/or characters than were much more three-dimensional than others of its ilk.

Fatal Combat sees Wincott star as John Stoneman, a master martial artist and professor who, following an attack on his wife that makes the news, is kidnapped by a psychotic billionaire who runs a bizarre fighting ring where combatants must either win or die. But John Stoneman refuses to kill any man… until his wife’s life is put on the line. So yeah, this is a “forced to fight” flick but one that, thanks to the extra depth to Wincott’s martial arts master come professor, has more emotional depth to it and thus the entire film is more engaging. That’s not to stay it skrimps on action, far from it, but the action is not the only draw here – for a change!

Watch Fatal Combat now on Amazon Prime Video.

THE DONOR

The Donor was another collaboration between director Damian Lee and Jeff Wincott, originally released the same year as Fatal Combat. This time round Wincott played Billy Castle, a man on a mountain vacation with two friends who goes home with a woman he’s never met. He wakes up to find that one of his kidneys has been surgically removed and spends the rest of the film trying to find out who did it.

Unlike the other three films from Lee and Wincott, The Donor is set strictly in the realm of the horror/thriller genre. Unfortunately for the pair this film came hot on the heels of Miguel Ferrer-starring The Harvest, which had become something of a DTV hit and told the exact same organ-harvesting story. Speaking of horror, The Donor also starred Michelle Johnson – who’s probably known to genre fans for appearing in Waxwork. Johnson would go on to star alongside Jeff Wincott in When the Bullet Hits the Bone – the fourth and final Jeff Wincott-starring film from director Damian Lee.

The Donor is easily the weakest of Wincott and Lee’s collaborations, forgoing any action and focusing on Wincott’s acting ability. Sadly Wincott’s character is written, in the early going, as an unlikeable asshole which makes it very hard to sympathise with him. And the story, only the second feature film script from husband and wife team Neal and Tippi Dobrofsky (who got their start on sleazy 90s crime drama Silk Stalkings), is no better. The film spends most of its time trying to weave a complex red-herring filled “whodunnit” plot that, ultimately, is let down by an illogical conclusion and is complicated merely because it can be, not because it makes sense to the overall story.

Watch The Donor on Amazon Prime Video now.

STREET LAW

The first film from the combination of director Damian Lee and actor Jeff Wincott is also the one of the three listed here that I have still yet to watch. The film sees Wincott play a martial arts-trained lawyer who is forced to fight in illicit matches after he is framed for a crime, is dismissed from his firm, and all his assets are tied up, including his clothing and furniture after he is evicted from his apartment…

So essentially the blueprint for the later Fatal Combat then? It would seem that way according to reviews… Oh, and total sidebar, but Street Law was also the first of four films that would also feature Douglas O’Keefe in a role – he’d go on to appear in all the Lee/Wincott films and later TV shows such as Dark Angel, 24 and 2003′s Tarzan.

Watch Street Law on Amazon Prime Video now.
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You can watch  more Jeff Wincott films on Amazon Prime, including: Mission of Justice, Martial Law 2, and Deadly Bet. And make sure to check out previous installments of From VHS to VOD right here.

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