Robo-Warriors (1996)

Don’t worry, this isn’t a “No Retreat, No Surrender” sequel too

This might be the least sequel-y bunch of sequels we’ve ever covered. Five years ago, the ISCFC sort of tolerated 1989’s “Robot Jox”; then, presumably relating to a clause in a contract somewhere, we got two sequels, from the same company, also about giant fighting robots, that specifically didn’t mention their relatively famous forebear or anything that happened in it. That would be 1990’s “Crash and Burn” and 1993’s “Robot Wars”, and both of them were actually listed as “Robot Jox 2” in some less copyright-interested countries round the world, and were surprisingly decent! Okay, the standard was low, but still!

I’d quite like to know what brought this movie, which had the working title of “Robot Jox 3”, into existence. It’s nothing to do with the Full Moon, who produced the first three, although their regular guy Stuart Gordon (director of “Re-Animator” and one of the best HP Lovecraft adaptors) gets a “based on characters created by” credit, and Richard Band does the soundtrack.

As we continue on our early 2019 pledge to wrap up a lot of our review series, I know you were all clamouring for information on which was the best giant fighting robot movie (subcategory: Full Moon and adjacent companies) to which I can tell you…probably “Crash and Burn”. But wait! There’s a few hundred more words with vague jokes and low-quality information to come!

This is a “Premiere International Production”, which made me smile as it reminded me of “Prestige Worldwide” from “Step Brothers”. Sadly, this smile would be my last for the next 90 minutes – but enough about me! It’s 2035, and the Earth has been invaded by the Terridaxx, who look like the sort of thing a cheap episode of “Star Trek: The Next Generation” would try to pass off as aliens.

Anyway, they enslave us pretty quickly, but…and here’s where the first confusing thing happens. We start off with a group of human soldiers in the jungle, led by Ray Gibson (the great James Remar), attempting to find a giant fighting robot, which had been abandoned / lost there, to take on the Terridaxx. Not on the battlefield, but in an arena, as apparently we can get them to leave if we beat them at one-on-one fighting. The last one the humans create is the best, but for no reason we’re ever given, they leave it in the jungle, and by the time the humans find it, it’s overgrown and half-buried.

Then, we discover all that is a flashback, a story being told by an old man to his grandson, Zach (Kyle Howard, who’d go on to be a successful adult actor in stuff like “My Boys” and “Royal Pains”). Try and keep this timeline in your mind, I guess. Zach decides, after a brief search on the internet (the sweet innocent internet days of 1996) to just wander off into…a warzone?…to find Gibson and get him to help defeat the Terridaxx. Gibson hasn’t aged a day, and the jungle scene (when they get to it) with the robot in it is identical to when Gibson was there last.

Oh, it turns out the grandpa is also a highly trained giant robot engineer, so he and Zach help Gibson when he decides to help, and the aliens, despite being in total control of Earth and not needing to, agree to a one-on-one giant robot fight. Earth wins, the Terridaxx go home; the Terridaxx win, and…who cares, it’s not going to happen anyway. Probably something like the human race agreeing to slavery, or whatever.

This is really a kids’ movie with the vaguest hint of it being for adults. The hero is a kid, whose blind optimism for a better future (although just how bad the Terridaxx are is never really mentioned, can’t be any worse than the current President I’d have thought) is the push that all the adults need to get off their asses and repel the alien threat; he repairs the robot in a moment of need and provides tech support during the final battle. The issues are simplistic, and easily overcome.

I admire how low-budget movies ply their craft, sometimes. They get round this being the future but all the technology being suspiciously 1996-era by saying “the Terridaxx confiscated all our good stuff” (even if I’m not sure what good it would do them to get rid of future microwave ovens or whatever). My favourite, though, is the final battle, which doesn’t use stop-motion or animation or CGI or any of that good stuff – it looks back to Godzilla and just has a couple of guys dressed up in giant robot outfits. Now, the robots are basically immobile so…I’m really not sure why they’re fighting each other? They’re just stood toe to toe, blasting each other with their best weapons, and the fact that they’re giant chuffing robots seems secondary to the battle. Why not do it another way? Or show one of the robots dodging a few bullets every now and again?

Anyway, it’s very slight, as most cheap entertainments for kids were from that era. Are you desperate to see all four movies in the Robot Jox-verse? If so, have at it, if not, avoid.

Rating: thumbs down

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Puppet Master: The Littlest Reich (2018)

The Puppet Master series exasperated us over the late 2013 / early 2014 period, but the main takeaway was that Full Moon head honcho Charles Band tried, repeatedly, to make half a movie’s worth of plot stretch to feature length. This is literally the case with parts 4 and 5, which was going to be one cinema release, but when it was decided to release it straight to video, Band decided to split it into two movies to make more cash.

 

His penny-pinching tactics eventually caught up with him, and he went from having a major label distribution deal with decent budgets, to just hanging on at the outskirts of the micro-budget market, with hardcore fans and people who think a title like “Evil Bong” is intrinsically funny his only customers. Getting annoyed with Full Moon movies became boring a long time ago, but they’re still going, even if no-one’s really paying attention. “Puppet Master” is Band’s most abused franchise, stretching to 11 instalments (plus a “non-canon” entry where they took on Band’s other group of mini-things, the Demonic Toys). As well as the split movie mentioned above, there’s the ultimate scumbag’s trick, the clip movie – yes, part 8 of this least glorious of all franchises has about 5 minutes of new material in it

Which made the news that Fangoria Films were making a reboot of the series, with no Full Moon involvement, sort of good news. A proper budget! Actual actors! I heard Thomas Lennon, Charlyne Yi, Michael Pare and Mathias Hues were going to be in it, I started having the thought that…maybe this would be good? Add in sitcom “That Guy” Nelson Franklin and Full Moon veteran Barbara Crampton (who was actually in the first “Puppetmaster”, briefly, and was amazing as the star of “From Beyond”) and I was sold – the writer and co-directors seemed like new faces, but free of the “let’s do it for $10,000 in a week” impulses of Charles Band, I was ready for a winner.

 

I was not disappointed! This is easily the best “Puppet Master” movie, which is admittedly a low barrier to clear, but it’s funny, well-acted, actually quite frightening in places, transgressive, and liberally drenched in gore. It makes the puppets, who’ve long been cutesy figures of fun, into genuinely scary monsters, and left me really wanting more – a feeling that has yet to trouble with me any other Full Moon movies.

 

There’s a cold open with Udo Kier in it! He’s Andre Toulon, who’s been in most of the Puppet Master movies, as their initial creator, then a villain, then a sort of benevolent voice from beyond the grave. Here, he’s a full-on Nazi who escapes Germany with his inventions in tow when he sees the writing on the wall for Hitler and his lot. But we first see him in 1989, in a dive bar, when he butchers two women who make fun of his weird appearance and habits, and think he’s a creep. I mean, they were right, as he did murder them.

Thomas Lennon is Edgar Easton, a recent divorcee forced to move back in with his parents – the father seems to hate him, the mother is kinder. He works in a comic store but also draws a well-regarded strip, which has been on hiatus since the divorce. His employer at the comic book store, Markowitz (Nelson Franklin) and he have a fun, banter-filled relationship which actually sounds like how real nerdy friends talk to each other; and he meets a woman, too. The younger sister of one of his old high-school friends, Ashley (Jenny Pellicer), and they fall almost immediately into the sort of perfect romance that you get quite a lot of in movies, but sadly too little of in real life. But, the characters are good, and it’s enjoyable to watch them interact.

 

But this is a Puppet Master movie! It’s not just about well-observed characters and too-sudden romance! While cleaning out his old room, he finds a box of his deceased younger brother’s toys, including our old friend, Blade (who’s had a slight character redesign, but still looks good). He discovers it’s an original Toulon-created toy, and is worth a small fortune, and luckily there’s a convention coming up with a guided tour of Toulon’s old home (who was a well-regarded toymaker as well as being a famous murderer).

 

Markowitz and Ashley decide to accompany him, because of course, so the main table is now set. We’ve got a bunch of people bringing their old toys to a hotel, so you know there’s going to be some puppet-based mayhem. And mayhem there is! The puppets begin disappearing and people start turning up dead, and they do not spare the blood.

When I mentioned “transgressive” earlier, I really meant it. An early death scene involves a puppet flying up a pregnant woman’s vagina, then tearing out of her stomach and stealing the foetus from inside her; and it becomes clear that the puppets preferred murder victims are those who don’t correspond to Nazi ideas of ideal people – a lesbian couple, a black guy, and a Jewish couple, are among their early victims. There’s an amazing scene later where Markowitz, who’s a fairly observant Jew, takes a Hitler-looking doll and throws it in a lit oven, saying “see how you like it”. Limbs get chopped off, innocent children die and the corridors of the hotel are covered with bodies. There’s also a fair bit of sex and nudity, well, more than you’d expect from a movie with Thomas Lennon in it I guess.

 

Michael Pare turns up as the cop, Barbara Crampton is the tour guide, being one of the cops who killed Toulon back in 1989, Charlyne Yi is a hotel employee who strikes up a flirtatious friendship with Markowitz, and Mathias Hues is a random German tourist who gets his spinal cord replaced by a puppet and turned into a puppet himself. By a distance, the best cast any Puppet Master has had.

 

For us Full Moon-heads, a bit of puppet talk. Pinhead, Blade and Tunneler are the three main puppets from the original series to make an appearance here – there’s also Kaiser, who looks a bit like one of the Nazi puppets from the more recent movies, and Happy Amphibian, who replaces Jester. One of the models has six arms in tribute to Six-Shooter, who doesn’t make an appearance, but Torch does (who’s not been in the “classic” movies since part 5). Oh, and talking references to earlier movies, one of the characters drives a van with “Bodega Bay” on the side, the name of the hotel from multiple previous movies.

So, it’s a gore-drenched masterpiece, in terms of Puppet Master movies, anyway, but there’s some criticism too. Ashley’s character feels like she was waiting around for Edgar to come back into town, and the beginning of their relationship is horribly under-written (although they work extremely well together as characters). The three of them being so excited about going to a fairly niche convention about a Nazi murderer is a bit unlikely, too. It feels like Barbara Crampton’s police officer had a bigger role left on the cutting room floor, although it’s nice to see one Full Moon alum in this. It feels like there’s a few too many people with significant roles in it, and it could have stood with being a bit longer, or having a few of those actors trimmed. But, again, this is still so much better than every previous Puppet Master movie that I can’t even begin to tell you how much fun I had watching this.

 

The writer, S Craig Zahler, is already something of a genre superstar, having written “Bone Tomahawk”, “Brawl in Cell Block 11” and the soon-to-be-released “Dragged Across Concrete”. He must have been a fan of these movies growing up, but like any half-sensible human, figured he could have written better, and did. The two directors have their upbringing in low-budget horror, but I’m interested to see what they do in future.

 

I hope there are more of these movies, and the hilariously perfunctory “to be continued” scene indicates there might be. There are some excellent images and ideas, and I hope it was enough of a success that we get more. Although that will no-doubt encourage Charles Band to knock out more in his “original universe”.

A quick word before we say goodbye, dear reader: one of the more mainstream reviews of this movie said it robbed the puppets of what made them special. Comparing this unfavourably to any of the Full Moon movies? What had that reviewer seen? Special? Did he see part 8? Okay, they don’t have a ton of personality, but I’ll take this over 80 incident-free Full Moon minutes any day of the week.

Rating: thumbs up

Ghoulies (1984)

“Ghoulies” is one of the many 80s-based horror franchises I never bothered with at the time, but for some reason have decided to visit for a movie review site in 2018. And it was with sinking heart I noticed it was a Full Moon movie, produced by our old friend Charles Band. I wasn’t planning this (honest).

Let’s make a list of all the other different franchises and individual movies Charles Band has had a hand in in, that feature miniature creatures as the main villains:

I got bored of looking through his filmography at this point, so there are almost certainly more. No-one seems aware of why, but at some point even the most casual observer must think “why so many? Is there really that much of a desire, even among Full Moon’s hardcore fans (pity the poor souls) for tiny creature movies?” Even now, when the budgets are almost non-existent and the return on investment must be microscopic, he’s still knocking out “Puppet Master” sequels.

ASIDE: This movie predates “Gremlins”, so even though Band can be accused of many things, plagiarism (in this instance) isn’t one of them.

Anyway. We’ve got a movie to cover. We start off with a Satanic ritual where a baby is about to be sliced up by a guy with glowing green eyes. He’s got some followers that appear willing until the baby is brought out, and then one lady shouts “no! You said no babies!” and hands the tyke off to Jack Nance, who runs away to keep him safe.

Now, right away, you might think it’s curious to be into Satan but to draw the line at sacrifice, but what do I know? Well, I’d know to get better followers who didn’t immediately wuss out on me, but whatever. Sadly, we leave this little section and jump forward to the present day, where that baby, now an adult man called Jonathan, is taking over possession of his father’s old house, alongside his girlfriend Rebecca. Jack Nance, who for some reason stands mute when Rebecca questions him about why he’s wandered up behind them, is sort of vaguely around as well, although he pretty much disappears at this point up to the last five minutes of the movie.

All this felt a little lazy to me. How long has the Dad been dead? The state of the house would indicate decades, so why didn’t Jonathan take possession of it before now? Why didn’t he introduce his girlfriend to the man who’d brought him up, or at the very least show her a picture of him?

While cleaning the house, he notices a few of his Dad’s old demonic things, and while throwing perhaps the most 80s party ever (non-John Hughes division), decides on what seems like a whim to do a ritual which they think fails, but actually wakes up…the Ghoulies.

When I reviewed “Subspecies” (which is by far the best series Full Moon ever had a hand in), I commented that, considering they’re the titular creatures, they don’t have a lot to do with the movement of the plot. Much is the same here, as the Ghoulies don’t really show up til halfway, then just become the familiars of Jonathan til the final conflagration. Also, they’re a really naff special effect, little rubber creatures with absolutely no articulation at all.

Jonathan gradually gets taken over by the same desires his Dad did, and although you might think, at some point growing up, Jack Nance would have told him what happened, or warned him away from the dark arts, you would not think the same way as the person who wrote the script. He gets worse, eventually his Dad is resurrected, and much like “Hideous!”, it then becomes a Bad vs. Worse battle in which it’s impossible to give a damn about either side. Oh, and there’s a genuinely crappy non-ending which renders the already fairly slow second half completely irrelevant.

Full Moon, I know, used to sell movies to distributors based on a poster, or a title, or a synopsis, and once again I presume those same distributors were less than thrilled to receive something which didn’t deliver on that central promise at all. That Full Moon had a sweet deal with Paramount which they lost due to sleazy tricks like this, and led to a long slow reduction in budgets, talent and fun, should only be a positive for people who’ve never had to sit through any of their later stuff.

My main criticism is how little thought went into any of it. It’s full of holes when there’s no need for them, not funny or scary or gory. The acting is surprisingly great, with a lot of 80s stars in fun roles – Scott Thompson (whose character has a gay subtext which I’m guessing was done by the actors going into business for themselves), Ralph Seymour and Michael Des Barres all do the best with what they have. And it’s the screen debut for one Mariska Hargitay, long before her twenty-year run in the “Law and Order” family of shows.

The best thing about this movie, and they’re treated like an afterthought 😦

There are three more. I feel ill and I really am not looking forward to three more of these damn movies, but I hear part 2 is “Troll 2” levels of bad, so fingers crossed.

Rating: thumbs down

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.

Creepozoids (1987)

Wow, this was bad. And not just compared to normal, big-budget action-horror movies; even compared to the sort of garbage we normally cover at the ISCFC, this stinks. It’s yet another effort from Full Moon Pictures, who we’ve covered repeatedly over the last five-and-a-bit years, and their house director David DeCoteau, who achieved internet notoriety a few years ago when the trailer for “A Talking Cat?!” was noticed by a few big comedy websites.

Looking back over DeCoteau’s oeuvre, I…well, like most other people who write about this stuff, I’ve been accused of being a wannabe director. Not particularly, honestly, but if I was offered the career he’s had, I’d definitely have turned it down. Would I want to be known as the man who made “The Brotherhood”, the “1313” series, “The Great Halloween Puppy Adventure” and a bunch of movies with “Christmas” in the title that are so bad Hallmark Channel wouldn’t touch them with a ten-foot barge pole?

I could go on (“please don’t”, I hear you cry) but let’s discuss “Creepozoids”. We’re in the post-apocalyptic situation of 1998, although the only evidence of this comes in the text info-dump right at the beginning. Humans most dodge gangs of mutants, apparently, and while it might have been fun to see some humans fighting some mutants, DeCoteau isn’t here to entertain! What we see is a few empty streets and a very small amount of the acid rain that’s a constant companion of the nuclear future. Five soldiers – among them “legendary” scream queen Linnea Quigley and Kim McCamy – desert from the army, although I thought society had fallen apart, and try and eke out a living.

ASIDE: As every other review of this movie has mentioned, McKamy, under the name Ashlyn Gere, would go on to a long career in porn, winning a number of awards while still doing bits of mainstream acting (she’d appear in a few episodes of “The X Files”, for instance). Evidently, there are people who watch porn the same way I watch old horror movies, as there’s a lot of interest in this because it was filmed before McKamy had breast implants. I feel vaguely sleazy just from knowing that information, but there you go. McKamy actually refused to go nude for this movie (good for her) but Quigley obliged, because you can’t have a B-movie without exploiting at least one woman.

The series of ideas they ripped off become apparent around now. There’s “Mad Max”, “Dawn Of The Dead”, a little “Day Of The Dead”, “It’s Alive” and “Alien”, and not a lot you could call original. But again, original isn’t that interesting to Full Moon; although, if you look at the computer diary one of the characters finds, it appears computer game “Fallout 3” might have lifted a little of their aesthetic.

The five of them find refuge in an oddly unguarded, well-stocked scientific base, and they discover that the experiments within related to…er…something to do with making it so humans don’t need to eat any more. Perhaps they ought to have aimed for nuclear weapons that don’t leave the planet an irradiated dump after you use them, but I’m no science-guy so what do I know? Anyway, the scientists inside all died, and there are some giant monsters, the creepozoids of the title (I presume, it’s never really mentioned. Plus, they don’t creep because they’re enormous).

For a movie which clocks in at 72 minutes with a lot of credits, it’s almost unbearably slow. If I wanted to see five unappealing actors stood around for an hour, I’d stop writing reviews of B-movies and see a doctor; and you can add to that the criticism that the women in “Creepozoids” do basically nothing. While the men go off and sacrifice themselves bravely, the women stay behind and wring their hands! This happens over and over again and is just stupid.

Talking of stupid, that’s the illness most of the cast dies of. At about minute 50, you discover they’ve had lazer pistols this entire time (!) and just haven’t bothered using them – add that to the “let’s keep going down this dark corridor no-one returns from” sort of behaviour and you’ll spend a good portion of the time, well, the time you’re not just sat bored and wishing you’d picked something else, shouting at the screen.

It’s just lazy and stupid, top to bottom. I’m mostly annoyed that this cobbled-together bit of z-grade garbage was considered worth making or releasing. There’s no development of the post-apocalyptic idea at all, there’s no drama, barely any action and some of the special effects (the giant rat, particularly) would be embarrassing if they were done by a group of broke school students. There are no supporting cast members, at all (the only person other than the main five in the entire thing is the base’s chief scientist, credited as “Woman” and on screen for two minutes at the beginning – she dies in a stupid way too) and nothing worth looking at.

I’m just looking at the VHS cover to this now. “Shake with terror – at the birth of the creepozoid baby!” I mean, if it had been released in the 1950s, that line would still have sounded cheesy, but even though it looks sort of gross for a minute, it’s just another monster that gets killed then mysteriously revives just before the credits roll (thank heavens they never made a sequel).

Wow, Full Moon wasted a lot of good will in the 80s and 90s.

Rating: thumbs down

Eliminators (1986)

220px-Eliminatorsposter

This never happens

If you spent any time in a VHS rental shops when they were still a thing, chances are you’ll have seen this video on the shelf. Chances are also that you wouldn’t have bothered renting it because it was a cheap looking knock-off of a hundred other, better movies, but now all you need to do is go to Youtube and there you are (well, you did, it appears Full Moon got wise and had it taken down).

You don’t get too many mad scientists any more, which I think is a shame. Much like “Cthulhu Mansion”, we’re treated to a turn from a great old English actor – this time, Roy Dotrice, star of stage and screen, as Abbott Reeves. Along with sidekick Dr Takada, he’s built something we come to know as Mandroid out of a crashed pilot and all sorts of high-tech bits and pieces, and he looks like the bargain-basement offspring of Robocop and Terminator (see below). Anyway, they’ve also figured out time travel, which really ought to be the headline of their endeavour, and send Mandroid back to the Roman era to grab some artifacts.

eliminators098

Reeves wants Mandroid disassembled, but Takada isn’t down with that and helps Mandroid escape. Now, here’s where there’s a bit of a join visible in the script, like two imperfect rewrites welded together. He’s killing Reeves’ henchmen all over the place (a lot of henchmen for a reclusive scientist, but whatever) and decides to kill Reeves then and there – a good plan. Takada talks him out of it, dying in the process, and Mandroid just leaves. If you’ve ever seen a film before, you’ll know there’s another confrontation coming, and he’ll never be this unprotected again. So why leave him? Well, apart from “because that would make the film ten minutes long”.

The film feels an awful lot like a TV pilot, for an A-Team-esque show, just with robots. Mandroid goes to find the scientist who created some of his parts; then the two of them, on their way to find and confront Reeves, meet Han Solo-esque riverboat captain Harry Fontana; then with far too little time left in the film, they meet Takada’s son, a supernaturally gifted martial artist. And it’s these four who become the team…the main face you’ll recognise is scientist Nora Hunter, played by Denise Crosby. She’d go straight from this film to “Star Trek: The Next Generation” but the entire cast is pretty strong.

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The surprising thing about this film is it’s really quite good. Denise Crosby is a strong leading woman, and the plotline is well-done. It doesn’t mess about too much, Mandroid’s robot kit looks pretty good for a low-budget action film, and there’s some nice dialogue. One of Fontana’s riverboat rivals has him at gunpoint and says “I’ll give you til the count of five”, to which he replies “that could take all day”.

This is a perfect Sunday afternoon matinee type of film. Aside from a few seconds of Crosby side-boob, there’s nothing too violent or unpleasant about any of it (the IMDB-listed rating is PG). Just a good action adventure film, with a time-travelling robot in it. It feels like the producers went “what’s famous at the moment?” and came up with a list – Terminator (1984), Romancing The Stone (1984), Jackie Chan (Police Story and Meals On Wheels were big hits at the time), Back To The Future (1985), Commando (1985) and probably a few others, threw them in the blender and out came this. No bad thing, necessarily – if you’re going to steal, might as well do it from the best.

As the end credits rolled, I realised I’d been watching a Full Moon film, which explains the level of competence, the decent acting, and the relatively high budget (back when they had major-studio money behind them). Director Charles Manoogian also did “Demonic Toys”, and producer Charles Band is of course well known to us, being a first ballot ISCFC Hall of Famer. Well, he might have to explain why the fascination with miniature creatures before we let him in, but you know.

Rating: thumbs up

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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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Mandroid (1993)

This never happens

This never happens

Another Full Moon review! They were the kings of the 1980s video shop, with major distribution for their low-budget shockers meaning they were absolutely everywhere. Check out our Full Moon tag to read our other reviews, and go to www.fullmoonstreaming.com for surprisingly good, cheap and comprehensive access to pretty much their entire back catalogue. Hey, if I had to struggle through “Puppet Master 8”, you lot can as well!

 

The more Full Moon movies one sees, the more their “house style” becomes apparent. It’s a mix of:

  • That slight straight-to-video softness of the image
  • Eastern European location / actors
  • A vague, mild “gothic” undertone
  • Awful music, from Richard Band or someone trying (for some reason) to sound like him
  • Slightly unreal colour scheme and lighting

 

Once you’ve watched a couple of Full Moon’s movies…this leads you, on occasion, to have major movie déjà vu – you see some people who look a bit like normal actors, but not quite as good or attractive, milling about some old knackered Transylvanian castle and you’re all “I’ve seen this before, right?” But it turns out not, that seen-it-before feeling doesn’t let up the longer you go into this one. And before we get going – “Mandroid”? Doesn’t “Android” cover the whole human / robot thing? I wouldn’t bake a bannoffee pie and call it “banoffeefee”. Also, Marvel Comics had “Mandroid” way back in the early 70s, but clearly weren’t as bothered about copyrighting everything to death back then.

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So the gist of everything is, deep in post-communist Russia, in a science station built way back and mostly just staffed by two old man scientists (Zimmer and Drago) and their assistants (Zanna – beautiful; Benjamin – sort of dull), a big discovery has been made. Superconn is the world’s most amazing element, harvested from weird veiny mushrooms, and it can cure all diseases and is the world’s cleanest fuel. Not bad! As an aside, they’ve also invented Mandroid, a big ol’ robot controlled by someone wearing a proto-VR headset (the controller has to move their arms and legs to move Mandroid’s, too, which causes problems obviously). Zimmer wants to give everything to the Americans, to help the world, and Drago wants to control it all and…you know, I’m not sure. Generic world-ruling nonsense? Making billions? Ah, who cares. Can’t help but feel this personality clash should’ve been dealt with before this crucial juncture, but whatever.

 

Into this ticking time bomb comes Wade, a US Government scientist, and Joe, the local CIA agent. Drago tries to steal Mandroid and a batch of Superconn, escapes with the robot but spills a batch of toxic mushroom-goo all over himself, giving him a standard Full Moon deformed face – and from then on it’s Drago and his creepy local helper vs Zimmer and his little gang. Wade and Zanna fall in love, obviously, and Benjamin…well, Benjamin gets knocked into the radioactive test-chamber during Drago’s escape and…slowly turns invisible!

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ASIDE: This movie has a sequel, “Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight”, with mostly the same cast and released the same year (presumably made back to back, another Full Moon tradition). Benjamin’s involvement in this movie is basically nil, and the longer it went on the more even the stupidest viewer could notice they were prepping him for his own movie. I guess if I can find a cheap copy, I’ll review that too? I’m not exactly full of anticipatory excitement.

 

There are tons of dead ends and red herrings in “Mandroid”. The biggest one is when Zimmer announces he sneakily made a better version of Superconn, and you’re all “okay, he’s going to build an even more powerful Mandroid and there’s going to be fighting!” Nope, sorry. It’s merely the MacGuffin that gets Drago to try and kill them all so he can possess it. There’s a shocking twist of one of them being a double agent…but it doesn’t go anywhere.

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The problem is, fighting and cool stuff like that involves special effects, and they cost money. If you’re just going to have Mandroid walk about a bit, then all you need is that bloody servo sound effect that has plagued many a movie – from filmmakers who don’t trust that their audience will remember the thing they’re looking at is a robot from one scene to the next. So what you’re left with is little more than a haunted house story, featuring a bloke in a robot suit. There comes a point where, if you want to make genre films like Full Moon clearly do, cutting back more and more just becomes self-defeating.

 

With a few exceptions, Full Moon are the background noise to the Video Shop era. They’re session musicians who kept trying to write their own material. They’re a cheap Ford Focus. I’m sure you can dream up a few analogies of your own. This is so painfully average with such little care put into its creation that I’m more annoyed than I would if it had just sucked.
Rating: thumbs down