Cyborg Cop 3 (1995)

Welcome back to the world of the “unquel”, where part of a numbered series of movies bears no relation to what’s gone on before it. The first two entries in the Cyborg Cop-verse, although they bore precious little relation to each other, starred the same man; part 3 has nothing in common with parts 1 and 2 at all. But! In terms of trashy 90s genre movies, the entire series has been a great deal of fun to watch, and they’re all available on Youtube (I think).

Starring in “Cyborg Cop 3” are ISCFC favourites Bryan Genesse (“Screwballs 2”) and Frank Zagarino, who we’ve already covered together in “Project Shadowchaser 2”. Evidently, they enjoyed working with each other (they appeared in four movies together) and they have an easy camaraderie – I would have totally enjoyed a series of movies of them wisecracking their way through cyborg-based shenanigans. But one is all we have!

So, our friends are Federal Marshalls – although their whole business operation seems more bounty hunter than legit federal agent – Saint (Zagarino) and Max (Genesse), doing their best to make this a late entry into the buddy-cop genre. They both kick ass, but only get themselves associated with the main storyline by accident. They eventually meet Evelyn, an investigative TV journalist, because they both pull up at the same gas station. She’s discovered a plot by Delta Tech to turn college students into super-powerful cyborgs, so they can go into nuclear meltdown places and clean up with no fear of injury or radiation poisoning. What I think is important to note that the cyborgs in the three volumes of this fine story bear no relation to each other at all, and the ones in part 3 seem significantly less good than the ones in part 2. Ah, who cares?

There are some curious choices in this movie, perhaps most notably the way it uses the cast. After establishing Saint and Max, it then goes to Evelyn’s story for a solid 15 minutes or so, and she’s sort of dull, comparatively. Director Yossi Wein is better known as a cinematographer, if you can call a guy who’s never made a film anyone sensible will have heard of, known in any way, and the flow of things in the early running is a bit weird. They’re by far the most entertaining thing about “Cyborg Cop 3”, and whenever they’re not on screen you’re a bit “hey, where are Max and Saint? Max and Saint should be here now” It’s not like they even set Evelyn up as a love interest, so there’s even less point to give so much of the movie to her.

There’s also a curious use of sets. Despite them having an office, and using Saint’s house (Max apparently lives in a hovel) for a few sitcom-like scenes, they have a base which is a slightly disused museum. Paintings and objets d’art all over the place, but whoever owns it is fine with a couple of marshalls bringing waifs and strays back to it. Then…they arrange to meet the villain in a junkyard, pretty much just because the film crew found one they could use and they couldn’t be bothered to write it organically into the movie. I admire them just going “ah, screw it, junkyards are cool”.

One would hope a cinematographer would know better how to film action, as well. There’s a crop duster chase scene which could have been brilliant, but in reality it just left you thinking “why doesn’t the guy behind just pull up and away from the stream of chemicals?” Although it does set up one of the dumbest endings in recent memory, and a use of miniatures almost as egregious as the models they used to blow up in “Cyborg Cop 2”.

Still, it’s a lot of fun. Genesse and Zagarino have gotten a pretty rough deal from other reviewers but I like them, and despite this being yet another movie where the lead characters are neither cops or cyborgs, you’ll be solidly entertained by it. Watching trash from the 90s, you find the odd idea that you wish had been developed, and these two guys kicking cyborg ass was one of them. We got 13 “Witchcraft” movies but not another in this series?

Rating: thumbs in the middle

Project Shadowchaser 4 (1996)

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So we come to the end of our first sci-fi franchise here at the ISCFC, and it’s a suitably odd one. Frank Zagarino’s hair is the only thing the four films have in common – his name is different in 1 and 4, and he has no name at all in parts 2 and 3; parts 1 and 2 are set in the “present day”, part 3 is set in the future, and part 4 starts 3000 years in the past.; he’s definitely an android in 1 and 3, is probably not an android in part 2 (at least through most of the film) and is an alien in part 4; and the name of the series is sort-of relevant in part 1 and then is completely meaningless for the rest of them. Following me so far? The only bit of continuity across the series is that no-one can shoot worth a damn, although that might be accidental.

But the perhaps equally weird thing about them is they’ve all been really enjoyable. Action-packed B-movies with decent casts and fairly decent budgets are a thing of the past, as I’ve sadly bemoaned in many other reviews – but we have all these to enjoy, so perhaps we shouldn’t be too upset.

This film sets us off on the wrong foot, by showing the spaceship from part 3 flying towards a planet which isn’t Earth (it’s probably Mars, which is the vicinity of that film). Then we get a completely different spaceship landing on Earth, “2960 years ago”, and multiple Frank Zagarinos decamp from it to have a friendly interaction with a tribe of people. They have two halves of the “Orion’s Key” of the film’s title, which I guess is partly so they can identify each other after millennia. It’s a bit jarring seeing Frank be a good guy, and when lightning strikes this meeting of old friends, causing Frank’s ascending ship to be damaged, I still thought it might be an android-based trap.

Present day! Husband and wife team Michael and Corinne Kavanaugh are doing some archaeology in Africa, and find half of Orion’s Key. Actually, Corinne finds it, as Michael is off at the nearest city visiting their son, who is in a coma in hospital and is sort of an annoying subplot, allowing the baddies to have leverage over them and keeping them separated for a fair chunk of time.

Anyway, Corinne informs their investor, Professor Morton, and as she’s emailing him a scan of the thing she found, Frank wakes up from his cryogenic-ish state under the Earth (his ship crashed after the lightning strike). He’s called Sirius in this one, for those of you keeping score. And that’s the main chunk of the film, as the Kavanaughs try to stay alive with Morton’s goons after them, and Sirius after Morton’s goons. They think, reasonably, that Sirius is a bad guy, and he doesn’t get a chance to actually explain himself to them til near the end of the movie.

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Considering how much I enjoyed this, the script is the weak link. Morton’s guys reveal their true evil colours too easily, and the wife remains sceptical about the key for far too long, considering what she’s seen. She’s also the worst trash-talker ever – when she comes to insult Morton late in the film, she goes off on some medical insult which ends with “your heart will be labelled as human faeces”! Also, if you compare the moment when Sirius reveals himself and helps the heroes, to a film with a similar plot such as “Terminator 2”, it comes way too late. Basically, we don’t watch B-movie sci-fi action for the intense family drama, if you know what I mean? What I mean is we want to see aliens doing cool alien fighting things. Although…I can’t think of too many films where a married couple are the main protagonists and carry the dramatic load fairly evenly, so that at least is an interesting bit of writing.

Although I’m sure the opening sequence is horrifically inaccurate, this film does a pretty decent job of portraying Africa. It was filmed on location in South Africa, and it shows hospitals, internet access, and modern life on top of the tribal plot which is at the heart of the film. Well done, movie! Also, well done for predating “District 9” by over a decade and having a sci-fi movie take place in an unusual location. Seeing Sirius stalk Orion’s Key over the plain, passing by a few ostriches, is a quietly brilliant little visual moment.

I’ve enjoyed this series, and despite them not really being a series, I’d recommend them to anyone with a love for this genre. Frank Zagarino is weirdly under-used in parts 3 and 4, which is a shame as he’s the best thing about them; there’s definitely the sense of some hasty last-minute editing to a few of them to knock partially unfinished films into some sort of releasable shape. Specifically relating to part 4, the ending is perhaps inadvertently super-creepy, and the air of it being a bit tossed off extends to them being unable to spell the title of the film the same on the opening and closing credits.

Rating: thumbs up

Project Shadowchaser 3 (1995)

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The “Project Shadowchaser” films are weird, because if you saw them without the titles, you’d never guess they were part of the same series. Their main linking element appears to be Frank Zagarino’s hair (magnificent that it is), but in terms of content, he plays the first two films very differently and is barely in the third one at all. It looks like the fourth one, which goes by a completely different title (“Orion’s Key”) and may be more difficult for me to source, is completely different again.

A Russian ore-mining spaceship is seen in chaos, as its crew are fighting assailant / assailants unknown. But we don’t have time to care about them, as we’re thrown 25 years into the future and the crew of Comstat 5, a communication base orbiting Mars. These scenes bear more than a passing resemblance to the establishing scenes in “Aliens”, and the crew, multi-ethnic and gender, are surprisingly well introduced – the problem with so many B-movies is you get the feeling the dialogue could come from any character, but this lot all have separate characters.

It’s 48 hours before their relief ship shows up! Ain’t it always the case? While they’re waiting around, the films kicks into gear with the sudden arrival of…the mining ship from 25 years ago, a ghost ship long thought lost, and it’s on a collision course. I don’t know if it’s the sort of films I’ve been watching recently, but the fact the crew don’t immediately fall apart and even show some basic competence is a refreshing change. Sadly, they don’t succeed in getting out of the way, so have to go exploring the gigantic “Pandora” to ensure their survival until they’re relieved.

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This is when those characters come into play. Renko drags Snake along with his plan to steal the special ore on board the Pandora and get rich; Rea (played by genre film favourite Musetta Vander) wants to know what happened to her Dad, the captain of the mining ship, which is admittedly a fairly hefty coincidence; Lennox and Dee want to kick some ass; and Kody the maintenance guy is falling in love with Rea. So you’ve got lots of different motivations and these all come up against…well, it’s kept secret until 54 minutes into the film, and he doesn’t get fully on the screen until 1:12, but Frank Zagarino is back as Android, this time a part of the crew of the mining vessel who became infected with a virus.

It’s not the most original film you’ll ever see, that’s for sure. There’s elements of films like “The Thing”, “Aliens”, and “The Terminator” in here, but if you think of those plots as classic sci-fi baseline ideas, then this film uses them well. There’s plenty of tension, there’s the worry over whether Max the cute little terrier will survive, and there’s the debate over whether Zagarino actually has any dialogue in this movie. If you’re at all a fan of sci-fi, then you’re definitely going to find something to enjoy about this film – plenty of “That Guy” actors, plenty of tension, looks like its budget was a lot higher than it undoubtedly was, and so on.

I guess I’ll leave my grand madness-inducing attempt to tie these films together until after I’ve seen part 4. Wish me luck!

Rating: thumbs up

Okay, it's not from this film, but damn do I love this image

Okay, it’s not from this film, but damn do I love this image

Project Shadowchaser 2 (1994)

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Do you remember the first “Project Shadowchaser” film? Well, the producers of this are sure hoping you don’t, because they’ve decided to sort-of remake it, only in a slightly different location.

My theory – the company that made the first film wasn’t interested in doing a sequel, or in doing much of anything with part 1 (still yet to be released on DVD), so the actual filmmakers decided to make their own “sequel”, (see the name on the VHS cover above) but with a number of glaring similarities to the first – Zagarino has a female sidekick with short blonde hair; there’s a helicopter rescue at the end which is almost spoiled by a thought-to-be-dead villain; and excessive use of air-ducts. They decided not to make ol’ Frank an android in this one, though, and have a slightly cleverer plot. Then, about three-quarters of the way through filming, they managed to get the rights to the “Project Shadowchaser” name, which led to some last-minute rewrites. Zagarino’s character name is never mentioned, and he displays no signs of anything you could call android-y behaviour until 59 minutes in. His voice is completely different, and he’s far more…animated in this one than he was in part 1. An example, you ask? Well, this is what he wears when he mows down a Christmas party in full swing:

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I kind-of want that picture in HD and to turn it into a poster, but I think it’s unlikely. Anyway, Android (how he’s listed on the credits) and his chums infiltrate a nuclear research place, take over the weapons and threaten to blow up Washington unless…here’s where I’m a bit vague on the details. I think it’s all a cover for the theft of something from the secret lab’s storage vault, which they’re pretending is all about getting a few of their friends out of prison, but ultimately it doesn’t matter. I guarantee not one of you will read this review and be disappointed at the lack of fine plot details. About my rubbish writing style, maybe.

Luckily for humanity, the lab has Frank (Bryan Genesse), a kickass martial artist / former baseball pro who’s working as a maintenance man; along with his beautiful but hard-ass boss and her unhappy teenage son, they’re all that stands between Android and…doing whatever he needs to do (I’m sure he had a good reason). Also luckily, and in keeping with the first, everyone in this film is a rotten shot. Bullets are sprayed liberally in any and every direction and most of the time hit no-one at all, and don’t even appear to be aimed at anyone, really. Also, my notes have the line “everyone in this film is scum”, indicating a fair few people that it’s difficult to root for. And with there being a kid in it, you know he’s going to survive, which makes any scenes of peril featuring him boring – as, in fact, are 99.9% of all scenes featuring kids in peril in films.

I feel a bit silly writing a new review for something so similar to its predecessor, but there are some fun moments. Frank is fighting one of Android’s minions, and he gets set on fire BUT CONTINUES TO FIGHT, surely one of the most badass things captured on film. Android, to prove he’s serious about whatever it is he’s up to, takes control of some surface-to-air missiles and blows up a passenger aircraft which is flying overhead, killing hundreds (which feels like footage from another film, as it’s a lot of money to burn on a set which is on screen for maybe a minute).

Ultimately, of course, it’s designed to be a fast-paced sci-fi action film. Despite the sci-fi element being so small as to be effectively invisible (it’s only the lip service paid to Android’s non-human nature that differentiates this from a thousand Die Hard clones), it’s plenty of fun. Zagarino and Genesse clearly worked well together, as they did a few other films with each other, and their fights are probably the best thing about this. If you weren’t immediately put off by the name, you’ll probably want to stick around and watch it all.

Rating: thumbs up