Puppet Master: Axis Termination (2017)

Puppet Master is back! After a break of five years since 2012’s “Axis Rising”, the WW2 setting of the previous movies continues. This also represents the first series to have made a new instalment since we’ve started covering them. But let’s talk Full Moon for a minute first!

After “Axis Rising”, apparently, Charles Band promised Full Moon’s fans that there would be a new Puppet Master movie every year. This, of course, didn’t happen. They’ve been too busy churning out new instalments in the “Evil Bong” franchise, I guess? Then, they decided to do an Indiegogo campaign for “Axis Termination”, which was apparently a success although if the news of its existence didn’t make it to me (I’m on their mailing list), I’m not sure how well it was advertised. Anyway, the $77,000 or so they raised allowed them to surpass their goals and bring back Six-Shooter, one of the more beloved of the puppets.

Now, a cruel, or realistic, person might say “perhaps if you can’t afford to make it, don’t” but clearly none of those people spoke to Charles Band before production. If you’re an extremely well-established movie company with a decent fanbase, how on earth do you need to raise money before the actual thing-that’s-supposed-to-make-profit release? The money that was raised for Six-Shooter, by the way, resulted in a grand total of ten seconds of screen time and basically no animation for his puppet. We were promised stop-motion, and there’s perhaps a few seconds of that, too – the low point for special effects comes when we’re treated to a long-shot of a few of the puppets, which is clearly just people in puppet costumes filmed from a distance (they move entirely unlike our friends normally do, for one). We were also promised puppet Torch, but they obviously couldn’t afford to animate him…er, “couldn’t find a place for him in the script”.

But I’m getting ahead of myself, a little. Full Moon being somewhat economical with the truth and acting like scumbag carnies (one of the reasons they were dropped from their major studio development deal back in the 90s, I’d have thought, from which they’ve been dying a slow death ever since) is old hat indeed. Let’s talk the result of their campaign.

Friend of ISCFC Jean Louise O’Sullivan, by far the best thing about the last chapter, does the Final Girl thing of being killed immediately at the beginning of the next – her boyfriend’s muscle-bound Army brother Brooks cradles her dying body and vows to look after her sack o’puppets. Almost immediately, the movie then pivots to be a black magic movie, as evil Nazi black magic guy Sturmbahnfurher Krabke and evil Nazi scientist Dr. Gerde Ernst try, for some reason, to find the formula for the serum that creates the puppets. They both have extremely deadly psychic powers, so quite why they’re so determined to master the puppets, when the little fellas are, to be fair, a bit limited, is a question the movie never answers.

In fact, the entire puppet cast is secondary to proceedings – the Nazi puppets Bombshell, Blitzkreig and Weremacht; good puppets Blade, Pinhead, Leech Woman, Tunneler, Jester and Six-Shooter (with the last two barely even making an appearance) could be removed and I’m not sure anything would be that different. The good guys have a black magic fellow too, “Russian” Dr Ivan Ivanov (who, even though they draw attention to his accent, sounds completely English throughout – fun fact, he’s also Peter Dinklage’s stunt double in “Game Of Thrones”) and the real conflict is between those two forces. The only two puppets who get anything close to any animation are Blade and Tunneler – a few of the others are just shown hanging on to people’s backs as they thrash about in pain.

What they’ve done is really camp things up. Out are the realistic-ish characters of the previous two instalments, in are wild overacting Nazis and weird colourful Russians and impossibly brave square-jawed American soldiers. They’ve also removed the central character of Andre Toulon, the guy who created the puppets – he shows up in footage borrowed from part 1, at the beginning of 2010’s “Axis of Evil”, and since then he’s been written out of the story, basically. Well, as much story as there’s actually been (all three movies could reasonably have been made into one good, action packed one). I know he’s supposed to be dead, but that never stopped anyone before, and it’s weird that his name never even comes up.

This camp element could be fun, and a few of the actors go for it, but it’s so amateurishly acted in the main, poorly made and leadenly directed by Charles Band (garishly lit interiors, no visual flair at all) that it ends up not being that enjoyable. I can see what they were going for but I genuinely expected more from a guy who’s been making movies for over 30 years. He must have developed some directing chops, right?

While my first hope is that this franchise is now done with forever, I’m aware enough to know that’s not going to happen. I at least hope we can wave goodbye to this setting, which is among the more pointless cul-de-sacs (culs-de-sac?) in horror franchise history and has never done anything remotely interesting (that wasn’t already done to much greater effect in part 3, also set during WW2 but with the benefit of a budget).

While it’s not as awful as “Axis Of Evil”, or “The Legacy” (which remains the most shameful pathetic rip-off of a movie we’ve covered at the ISCFC), it’s still bad. At least it’s short, scraping in at 74 minutes, with a decent amount of that being credits? Avoid, obviously, unless you’re a glutton for punishment.

Rating: thumbs down

PS – 2018 is set to bring us bizarre Puppet Master news – a reboot of the series, with no Full Moon involvement, called “Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich”, starring Thomas Lennon, Charlyne Yi, Mattias Hues, Barbara Crampton and Michael Pare, among others! I mention it because I’m not entirely convinced it’s not just a joke or a tax dodge or something, but if it is released this year, we’ll be there to cover it.

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Dr. Mordrid (1992)

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Full Moon Pictures once held the rights to make a movie based on “Dr. Strange”, the popular Marvel Comics character who’s in the cinema right now. Strange is the “Sorcerer Supreme”, gifted magic powers in order to protect the Earth; he wears a cape and has a powerful amulet. Sadly, nothing came of this, and the rights lapsed in 1991.

In unrelated news, Full Moon released this movie in 1992. Dr. Mordrid is given powers by the godlike Monitor in order, partly, to protect the Earth; he wears a cape and has a powerful amulet. One must salute their originality in bringing these visions to our screens.

It’s pretty strange seeing Jeffrey Combs, who’s played so many creepy villains and oddballs, as the lead. One gets the feeling that co-directors Charles and Albert Band (Albert being the Dad) would have liked Bruce Campbell, who’d have been perfect for the part, but he’d have been making “Army Of Darkness” at the time; Combs, with a decent haircut and an occasional smile, is a perfectly reasonable replacement. He lives in a massive apartment, walls covered in books, maps and arcane detritus; down the hall are a couple of colourful characters who might as well have “filler” stamped on their foreheads, and the smart “independent police consultant”, Samantha (Yvette Nipar). She consults with the police on black magic and cult stuff – a little surprised there’s a full time job for that, but whatever.

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The villain is B-movie mainstay Brian Thompson (who, along with Combs, seems to have been in all the different “Star Trek” iterations) as Kabal, who’s also a very powerful interdimensional sorcerer. There’s a long and complicated history between the two, but Kabal escapes from magic prison and rounds up some alchemical items in order to open a portal back to the weird floating city that both call home, which is another dimension or something. This will let out a bunch of demons, and then it’s “beyond an apocalypse”, but luckily Mordrid is on the case.

I liked, although was a bit confused, by the scene where Samantha goes to a lecture on “Criminal Justice And The Supernatural”, given by Mordrid. He gives the same speech anyone who’s seen an episode of “Ancient Aliens” will recognise – “can we say this crazy thing isn’t plausible?” and “you must expand your minds!” – followed by a lot of rubbish about the moon and how it affects stuff on Earth (mostly untrue). She’s evidently extremely impressed by this, though, and gets to know the reclusive Mordrid, at the same time as he’s trying to stop Kabal from taking over.

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Mordrid gets arrested, and while you might think he probably should have set up some spells to stop this stuff from happening, it leads reasonably onto the rest of the story. The creeping realisation comes, about halfway in, that this movie is really pretty good! Well, for Full Moon at least. Combs really gives it his all, attempting to convey his alien-ness while aiming for human at the same time, and one gets the feeling he appreciated the opportunity to lead a movie (perhaps angling for a franchise, as this would’ve made a great ongoing story, perhaps a TV series). He might be a little too earnest in places, like he didn’t quite believe what he had to say, but it’s a small criticism. Nipar’s great too, that tough-and-brilliant character whose love interest status was secondary to their character, that the 90s seemed to do so well. Thompson could have done this role in his sleep, but kudos to Jay Acovone as the cop who doesn’t believe a word of it, too. A cast, top to bottom, of people who can act, which – given the murky cinematic waters we usually swim in here – is by no means a given. And the effects are decent too, especially considering the budget, with the finale featuring two stop-motion dinosaur skeletons having a fight and not embarrassing themselves with it.

This is what I wished Full Moon had done more of. 75 minutes with no lulls; a logical, coherent story with a nice helping of camp to it (check out Mordrid’s blue outfit, clearly a Prince ripoff, and marvel at how Combs kept a straight face while wearing it); and an interesting world to take part in. This could well be the best Full Moon movie of them all, with that “house style” working for them – it’s a toss-up between this, “Subspecies”, and “Dollman”, I think.

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Get yourself to www.fullmoonstreaming.com, drop a few $$ and enjoy this (and a few other excellent films too).

Rating: thumbs up

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Ragewar (aka Dungeonmaster) (1985)

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If you’ve ever seen the TV show “Mythbusters” you’ll remember the bit from the opening credits where co-host Adam Savage says “I reject your reality and substitute my own!” It may come as a surprise that he lifted that line from this movie, a rather obscure early effort from Full Moon Pictures (when they were still known as Empire); and the sad thing is that that bit of trivia is one of the more interesting things about “Ragewar”.

 

Actually, maybe the most interesting thing is the way that 2015’s biggest tech billionaires watched this movie for inspiration too. The star of this movie is Jeffrey Byron, playing computer programmer Paul Bradford – as we see him navigate a typical day in the life, he uses things which seem extremely similar to Google, Google Glass, the iWatch and Siri. I love the idea of Steve Jobs watching this movie and going “ah, that’s what I’ll do!” This is the X-CaliBR8 system, basically sentient, and he’s got a neural interface to communicate with it. Nice!

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Paul’s girlfriend Gwen (Leslie Wing) is a little dismayed at the link he has with his computer, but she accepts his offer of marriage and things seem to be going pretty well until they’re both, for absolutely no reason, beamed out of their apartment by evil wizard Mestema (Richard Moll, just before “Night Court” would make him a star). He’s the Devil, pretty much (according to Paul’s computer) and is so bored with his Satanic existence that every now and again he’ll take one of Earth’s champions and challenge them to a duel, and because Paul has invented X-CaliBR8, which is super-good, he’s decided that Paul is the guy. Armed only with his basically magic Siri-powered armband, will he be able to beat Mestema’s seven challenges and rescue his fiancé?

 

The body of the movie, the seven challenges, are actually different segments directed by seven different people – Dave Allen, Charles Band himself, John Carl Buechler, Steven Ford, Peter Manoogian, Ted Nicolaou, and Rosemarie Turk. One would think, in a 77-minute movie (actually 72, sans credits), that this would lead to an absolute crash-bang-wallop action-fest, with the foot never leaving the accelerator for one second. But this is Charles Band we’re talking about! He’s never met an idea he couldn’t stretch out to twice its optimal length, and everything just ends up being slow and sort of dull. Best guess – he had a ton of sets left over from the other movies he was involved with and just got his friends and Empire employees to direct tiny segments to pad out his episode-of-a-TV-show-length idea. There’s a serial killer segment, a “Cave Beast” segment, a zombie segment, and oddest of all, a W.A.S.P. segment.  Yes, the thoroughly awful 80s hair metal band put in an appearance, basically an excuse to fill three minutes of the movie with one of their songs.

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Because it bears repeating as often as possible, a movie this short shouldn’t have to resort to filler like that, even though it’s a criticism that can be levelled at so many of Empire / Full Moon’s movies. It feels half-finished, like the movie was made as a money-saving venture but even re-using old sets and in-house directors, they still managed to run out of money or time. If you watched it first when you were a kid, or really like old-school special effects, then you might find something to enjoy here as they throw everything at the screen and it’s a ton of colour. Maybe?

 

Aside from the above, it does have another problem. The segments are so short, and so lacking in suspense (there’s no way he’s going to fail challenge 3, for example, he’s making it all the way to the end) that it all feels insubstantial – plus, I think it looks ugly as heck, but it’s a sentiment not shared by many Full Moon fans. Anyway, there’s no development through the stories, no sense that Paul is getting better at taking on the challenges or that Mestema is getting increasingly frustrated with Paul’s success. If they’d just had three or four challenges, or turned a couple of the segments into tiny sketches – for instance, showing him fighting a room full of zombies for just ten seconds or so – it could have felt a lot more interesting. I wanted some development from the challenges, is all.

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Add on a really awful score from Charles’ brother Richard, who’s (dis)graced many a Full Moon movie’s soundtrack, a sort of limp non-ending, and you’ve got yourself a classic Charles Band movie. You might have heard of a movie made right at the end of Empire’s relationship with Paramount, called “Pulse Pounders”, which is an anthology movie featuring short sequels to their other properties – there’s a “Trancers” segment, an original HP Lovecraft adaptation, and a sequel to this. This movie really really doesn’t need a sequel…well, it didn’t need a first movie either, I suppose.

 

Oh, just to cement this movie’s bona fides as money-grabbing garbage, you may have noticed it got an alternate title (again, not uncommon for Full Moon / Empire). Advanced Dungeons & Dragons was at the peak of its popularity at the time, so Band and co just gave it a new name for its cinema run (such as it was). But they were forced to include a “this movie has nothing to do with TSR” (the creators of AD&D) disclaimer, which both makes me laugh at the pathetic nature of it all and compare it to those dirtbags at the Asylum.

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Rating: thumbs down

Terror Vision (1986)

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This particular review series has been dormant for so long that I forgot about it when I was writing about our long-dormant review series the other day! But, much like my dog keeps going back to the spot he found a cheese sandwich once, so the ISCFC will keep going back to Charles Band and Full Moon (although this was produced under his “Empire Pictures” name, when they were getting major studio distribution).

 

This is very much Charles Band and his crew – in this case, his dad Albert as producer, brother Richard as composer, and regular director Ted Nicolaou – in their classic mode.  What is “classic” Full Moon, I hear you ask? Well, there are a couple of criteria that need to be matched.

 

  • Strong cast, top to bottom (kids don’t count)
  • Monster of some sort, created using practical effects
  • Very light tone, a whisker away from being a full-blown comedy
  • Great use of sets for what I presume is a limited budget
  • The poster was designed first, the movie later

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When you think of 80s B-movies, chances are at least some of what you think about will be Full Moon-related. And you can watch em all for a low monthly price these days! Go to www.fullmoonstreaming.com and knock yourself out. But never mind that, on with the review!

 

The Putterman family are just your average, wholesome, good old fashioned American family. Mum and Dad (Mary Woronov and Gerrit Graham, B-movie royalty) are swingers and have decorated their home in spectacularly hideous 80s pornographic “art” fashion, complete with gaudy lighting, a massive indoor Jacuzzi, and so on. Daughter Suzy (Diane Franklin, “Better Off Dead”) is a punk with a boyfriend called OD (Jon Gries, super “That Guy” actor). Grandpa (Bert Remsen) is a survivalist who’s built a bomb shelter underneath the house, and happily watches gory horror movies with his grandson. You know, like all families!

 

Dad installs a satellite dish in the back yard – perhaps the fakest looking “outside” set ever – to get tons of bootleg TV, but it has an unfortunate extra bonus. On the far side of the galaxy is an alien race who’s figured out an easy way to get rid of their rubbish, and it’s to turn it into energy and just fire it out into the universe. Two problems manifest themselves, and the first is that a garbage monster was accidentally beamed away with the rest of it. Second, of course, is that a slight miscalculation leads the energy beam to find the Putterman’s satellite dish, and materialise in their back yard (it has the power to beam itself in and out of TVs, because of course it does).

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The Grampa and grandson see the alien first  – well, the satellite repair guy really sees it first, but he gets eaten immediately afterwards – and then it’s sort of a cat-and-mouse game, with time spent trying to convince the rest of the cast that the alien is real, including a Medusa-dressed local midnight movie TV host, and the swinging couple that the parents bring back. OD even briefly pacifies the alien, a nice touch. The alien garbage man who made the mistake even beams himself to Earth to try and help the humans, and his story arc is hilarious.

 

So, there’s lots of fun little touches in this movie (including the information that the director and production designer did a tour of swingers’ homes to get some visual ideas. I wish I could have seen those photos) and the central performances from Graham, Woronov and Gries are all hilarious. Band and co know how to make a tight, light monster movie, and if I’d seen this at the time I’d have loved it even more. But…there’s that problem again, where Full Moon seem unable to fill the middle part of their movies with anything particularly exciting. The swingers were given an enormous amount of screen time, considering their fate and how central they were to the plot, and it felt like Grampa chased that damn alien round the house for about three hours. The beginning – fantastic; the ending – stupid and very good fun; that middle bit – *shrug*.

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Still, if you see Charles Band’s name attached to anything before about 1997, you can watch it, safe in the knowledge you’ll get some good cheap gory fun.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Delirium magazine #4

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Those of you who’ve read any of our old reviews will know we have a huge soft spot for Charles Band and Full Moon films. While we don’t always love their stuff, they’ve been out there for 30 years, making fun, independent horror and sci-fi movies, giving opportunities to up-and-coming filmmakers and causing people who like continuity some terrible headaches.

They also have their own in-house magazine, “Delirium”. If you like the stuff we cover here, chances are you’ll be interested in at least one of their articles, and issue 4 has some fun stuff. I was chiefly bothered with the interview with Tim Thomerson, one of our favourite B-movie actors and a long-time collaborator of Band’s. He’s been in the “Trancers” movies, “Metalstorm”, “Dollman” and many many others, and the interview was about what you’d expect – full of self-effacing humour and cool stories. Damn, has he got a good memory! Unless he’s the world’s best interview preparer.

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There’s also a really interesting interview with the current boss of Something Weird video, Lisa Petrucci (who took over from her sadly late husband Mike Vraney), plus a chat to director Frank Henenlotter, who’s the silent partner at Something Weird. They’ve released some of the best stuff, I only have a few of their DVDs but they’re real treats, full of special features.

On top of other filmmaker interviews, Charles Band pops up for his back-page editorial, and it’s hard not to love the guy, as he talks about recording commentaries for some of his movies, and is just full of enthusiasm for them, even now.

I can’t let this little review go without mentioning they’re masters of the kind word – as they talk about some of the films of David DeCoteau and Fred Olen Ray, for example, I was going “I don’t remember these fun, great little movies they’re talking about. What I remember is a load of cheap boring trash” – so be careful if you read this and want to rush out and grab an armful of their product. By all means load up on the classics, and buy yourself a few Puppet Master dolls too, but check back with us before dipping your toe any deeper in the Full Moon waters. Or just get their streaming package, which is insanely good value.

Visit http://www.fullmoonstreaming.com to get access to an amazing amount of movies for $6.99 a month.

The Dead Hate The Living! (2000)

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You’ve got to get excited about a film with an exclamation point in the title! It promises excitement, adventure, and really wild things! Additionally, this one promises the dead, hating the living!

I was completely fooled by the opening of this film – a stew of rubbish special effects, a doctor who appears to be a little too much into corpses, and a remarkably unpleasant sex scene where a reanimated corpse eats and then has sex with the doctor – because it’s a film within a film. Boo! Saying that, the genre of “horror films set on the set of horror films” is surprisingly large – off the top of my head, “Return To Horror High”, “Shadow Of The Vampire”, “Terror Firmer”, and “Mute Witness”, but there’s loads more.

The film this bears the most resemblance to, at least initially, is Troma’s modern classic “Terror Firmer”, released the year before. The crew is an independent, low-budget one, and damn proud of it, breaking into an abandoned hospital to make what appears to be soft-core zombie porn. It’s a family affair – a brother (the director) and two sisters (star of the first scene, and snooty older sister who is paying for everything); the special effects guy is the brother’s best friend from school. Their conversations throw  references to other horror films around casually, too, although none of them seem to have a clue about the zombies that end up attacking them.

This film hinges on a decision which is a long way beyond stupid, and I need to break it down. While filming, they discover the mad scientist’s lair we were shown in a video flashback at the beginning, a Rob Zombie crossed with Christoph Waltz lookalike who’s managed to create zombies…then stuck himself in a large, ornate, upright coffin. So, an unspecified time later, they find his corpse, and, after a bit of debate, decide to use it in the film. This, of course, activates the coffin, which not only brings Christoph Zombie back to life, but opens a portal to a zombie dimension.

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Let’s look at the possibilities. First up, you can phone the police, and then local TV. They turn up and you say “we’re independent filmmakers, but even we don’t want to disrespect a corpse. By the way, follow us on Twitter for information on when the film comes out”, then the local TV station will probably do a follow-up when the film comes out – you might even get some national publicity.

Or, do you use the corpse in your film? Even ignoring that the family of the dead person would sue you, I’m pretty sure messing with a corpse is illegal in some way, so your film would be evidence of a crime and would be impounded, rendering all the time and money you’d spent on it pointless. Or you can choose not to tell people about the corpse, which means he’s just a prop and your garbage zombie film gets ignored like all the other garbage zombie films.

That’s the biggest problem, I’d say, but there are others. The first 45 minutes of the film is unbearably slow, and you end up just watching people make a film. This seems to be a recurring problem with Full Moon (see reviews passim), and the sad thing is that being students of horror such as they are, they really ought to have a better idea how the great horrors are paced. The first 15 minutes of the film have you believing that the more timid of the two sisters is going to be the star, but she just sort of wanders off about halfway through, barely to be seen again, and the central relationship feels like it was written by a single teenager who thinks that’s how adult relationships go. Perhaps most annoyingly of all, when the main bad guy is directing his minions, he says “Kill them all…slowly”. Literally every single person who gets killed from that point is offed quickly. Your cool-sounding lines need to be backed up!

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As the best possible review line about this film has already been taken (“the living hate The Dead Hate The Living”, which I’ll never be able to top) I’d best think of something positive to say. The sad thing is, this film has a heck of a lot to like about it! The central friendship is believable and well done, and the actual zombies, when they turn up, look great. The last half hour of the film is full of excitement too, and there’s a lot of good Full Moon comedy, but it’s too little, too late.

Rating: thumbs down

Robot Wars (1993)

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Sadly for this film, a few years after its release the British game show of the same name came along and ruined most internet searches for it. In fact, if you look at this film on IMDB the thumbnail picture is from that game show. Perhaps someone at IMDB doesn’t like Full Moon very much, which would explain several of their films having synopses which don’t match the finished product at all.

It’s also not a sequel to “Robot Jox”, despite the poster you can see above. Curiously, along with other non-sequel “Crash and Burn”, with the slightest tweaking it could have been made into one, but never mind that! We have a film to discuss. Don Michael Paul, the man with too many first names, is Drake, the pilot of what appears to be the last surviving mega-robot, which is related to the great toxic waste problem of the past in some way. It’s a scorpion-looking thing, and is now used to take tourists to and from Crystal Vista, a perfectly preserved town circa 1993. Drake is the super-cool one and his co-pilot Stumpy is the loveable but tough veteran.

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The reason they need a heavily armed mega-robot to ferry passengers around is the still continuing guerrilla war. Our good guys are part of “North Hemi”, but there’s also the “Centros” and “Eastern Alliance”. The Eastern Alliance is sort of friendly but the Centros are using the weapons they bought from the Easterns to attack North Hemi…

 
It cannot be said enough – Don Michael Paul is absolutely awful in this. He’s still acting now, and he also writes screenplays, but for whatever reason he seems to be taking part in a “who’s the biggest overactor?” contest here. His cockiness comes across as near-psychopathy, and he’s like the sleaziest pickup artist imaginable (bordering on flat-out harassment) when he meets investigative journalist Leda; when he’s talking with his boss about the terrorist attacks from the Centros, he’s ANGRY and DOESN’T HAVE TIME FOR YOUR GARBAGE. Watching him, you wonder what they were aiming for – well, it wasn’t “good”, that’s for sure.

You’ll recognise some of the other faces in this. The two main reps of the Eastern Alliance are Danny Kamekona and Yuji Okumoto, names you won’t recognise but faces you will. Basically, if you saw a film with Oriental baddies in it from between 1985 and 2000, chances are it was one of those guys. Leda is Barbara Crampton, a Full Moon repertory player; and Leda’s friend Annie is Lisa Rinna, now much better known as a soap actress and reality TV star. She’s a beautiful woman with a unique look in this, but if you see her now she appears to have been replaced by a skinny plastic mannequin of herself. It’s sad, but it seems US soaps are littered with women who have been told surgery is the only way to keep working, and they all start to look alike.

The film progresses merrily to its crescendo, which is a fight between the hijacked scorpion-robot and the missing-believed-scrapped ultimate mega-robot, and there’s some fun to be had. The miniature effects are great, as before; they managed to spell “hydraulic” right this time; there are a few fairly subtle poetry references dropped into the script, and the middle bit isn’t anywhere near as boring as most Full Moon films. The idea of them being tourists in a 1993 theme park is a refreshing way of avoiding having to decorate too many sets, too.

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Of course, that’s not all. The sexism is truly staggering – Drake’s pursuit of Leda (who’s charmingly described as having some “amazing sweater puppies”) would get him fired for sexual harassment from any job, and she’s treated as a prize to be awarded for job competence, not as a person with feelings of her own. The timescale of the film seems cock-eyed, as well, with Drake basically quitting his job, only to turn up at a high-level party for the Eastern diplomats in the next scene, without a care in the world. It feels some establishment of their relationship is missing too, as Leda is used as bait to get Drake back into the film…but the problem comes from him only having met her twice and her showing basically zero interest in him to that point. How much would you risk for a faint chance of sex with someone you’d met for the first time earlier that day? Given the film, minus credits, barely scrapes 70 minutes, they had plenty of time to add some stuff in there.

Here ends the curious case of the three giant robot movies from Full Moon. I think I’d give the nod to “Crash and Burn” as the best of the three, but there’s not a lot in it, and provided you’re in the right frame of mind with the right group of friends, you’ll find something to enjoy in all of them. With this one, you even get to enjoy the directorial stylings of the father of the Band brothers, Albert, making a rare foray into the director’s chair.

Rating: thumbs down

Youtube Film Club – Robot Jox (1989)

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Before I get to 40, I’m catching up on all the films I really ought to have watched when I was a teenager. After posting a review of “Arena”, this was suggested to me, and as it’s free to watch on Youtube, I felt it would be rude not to. Looks like we can’t stay away from director Stuart Gordon, either – the ISCFC has previously covered “Space Truckers” and “Fortress”.

A nuclear war has killed or poisoned great swathes of humanity, and we’ve all sort of decided to have no more nukes, no more armies, and no more wars. Any territorial disputes will now be handled by one-on-one giant robot combat, which is televised, has betting, etc. The pilots of these robots are superstars, the “robot jox” of the title, as the future is too cool to spell it “jocks”, evidently. The best of the “American” pilots is Achilles, who’s one win away from retirement; and the best “Russian” is Alexander, who is really quite evil.

During his last fight, Achilles accidentally kills hundreds of spectators watching from the bleachers, and this sends him into a downward spiral, at the same time as a group of genetically engineered “genjox” are being trained to pilot the robots. Chief among these is Athena, who is introduced when Achilles suggests that rather than give a sperm sample to help produce the next generation of genjox, he could leave a deposit right at the source (charming). Oh, and there’s a mole in the good guys’ side, but who could it be? Will Achilles eventually step up and save Alaska from falling into Russkie hands?

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The production of this film sounds like it had a few setbacks. The scriptwriter was Joe Haldeman, author of one of my favourite sci-fi novels, “The Forever War”, and his description of the finished product was “it’s as if I’d had a child who started out well and then sustained brain damage.” Because the robots are very obviously ripoffs of the Transformers toy line, there was a struggle between making a film for kids or adults, and it would appear the kids’ side, led by Gordon, won out.

There are interesting ideas which pop up all over the place, though, and there’s plenty to like. Pregnancy is very important in the nuclear-devastated world they live in, and there are posters all over the place encouraging women to do their bit. The idea of a world so disgusted by traditional war that they resort to an idea like this is worth exploring too, even if it’s a bit of a silly idea and impractical in a world where there are still competing and incompatible ideologies. The cast is strong, and the miniature special effect work still looks great now, which couldn’t be said for the CGI of the period. The plot, while rather silly, is decently paced, and giant robot fighting is a heck of a lot of fun. Athena is not your typical leading lady – skinny, black, short hair, remains fully clothed – but Achilles lusts after her anyway, which I quite liked.

The problems start if you think about it for more than ten seconds. The mole in the organisation is so obvious they might as well have a neon “baddie” sign floating over their heads, and Achilles’ “I quit – I spiral downwards – events force me to return” arc feels completely tossed off. And things get really, really shambolic towards the end, in the final robot fight, where things happen because it would make a cool visual, not because it would make any sense. Also, If you can figure out if the good guys’ “secret weapon” worked or not, you’re a better man than I. Lastly, it suffered from release delays – made in 1987, while the Cold War was still a thing, due to bankruptcies it didn’t get released until November 1990, by which time the USSR was crumbling and the idea of the world being destroyed by two big armies duking it out had started to look a little ridiculous.

All in all, it’s not a great film. If you have fond memories of it, I’d suggest it’s from you being a kid and not from this being any good. For fun, you can imagine this as a prequel to “Pacific Rim”, though, which it bears a fairly strong resemblance to. I’ll leave you with the film’s message of peace, the “crash and burn” symbol of the film, which looks for all the world like they’ve got ports to connect a TV to an old computer console on their hands:

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Rating: thumbs down (sorry, picture above)