Youtube Film Club: Prototype (1992)

Thank you for sticking with us for a few weeks while we did a bit of “housekeeping” – in other words, reviewing series that have been added to since we stopped reviewing them, once-lost-now-found movies from our favourite directors, that sort of thing. You, dear reader, are likely much less obsessive about these things than I, but hopefully you’ve been entertained and informed.

We love covering post-apocalyptic movies here, too, and given there are approximately an infinite number of them, we’ll never run out of review material. 1992’s “Prototype” is a peculiar one, though, for several reasons. It’s a welcome return for one of our favourite directors, Philip Roth (“Interceptor Force” 1 and 2, “Total Reality”, “Digital Man”, “Velocity Trap”) and a slightly less welcome return for “the extremely confusing plot”, and its twin brother, “the info-scroll at the beginning that doesn’t really explain anything”.

 

So, it’s the future, and I guess there’s been an extinction-level event of some sort. The remnants of humanity are hanging on, then some boffin creates “Omegas”, who are genetically altered humans. I think. They figure out how to reprogram themselves, and this period of history is known as “the time of the mad minds”.  Why? I don’t have the foggiest idea, my friends, because the Omegas don’t appear to do anything bad, either before or after they re-program themselves.

Then, again for reasons that are never revealed to us, humanity invents the Prototypes to hunt down the Omegas. Whereas the Omegas are just people, the Prototypes are a sort of garish rip-off of Robocop; it appears they’re successful, as the last one powers down, its mission complete, after killing off what it believes is the last Omega. Sadly for it, the Omega thing, whatever that thing is, is implanted in a little blonde girl who manages to escape the carnage.

 

Fast forward 20 years. There’s the adult version of the blonde girl, a scientist working in what I presume is the last military base on Earth, someone who might be a soldier or she might just be his assistant, a guy in a wheelchair with a really sweet mullet, a kid who’s maybe related to the guy in the wheelchair, and a guy with that cornrow / mullet combination who is, a later info-scroll tells us, a genetically engineered protector for the Omega. Not an Omega, who are also genetically engineered, just a super-strong fighter who’s there to protect her. If you’re feeling a little lost, join the club.

One of the comments from my wife while watching this movie was “is this sponsored by Marlboro?” Everyone smokes, all the time, to the point where you have to wonder how cigarettes are still being made in the post-apocalyptic world of 2077. But such trifles distract from the central question relating to “Prototype”, viz:

 

What the hell is going on?

 

The info-scroll definitely indicates that the Omegas are the bad guys, and the Prototypes have restored peace in some way, yet later on the final Omega, Chandra Kerkorian (Lane Lenhart) is the hero, and the organization behind the Prototypes are the bad guys. Wheelchair-mullet guy, Hawkins Coselow (Robert Tossberg), we discover, was once in the Army, so scientist lady asks him to step up to be put in the Prototype armour, which will allow him to walk again (they had a body on ice for this purpose, but the bonding process didn’t take).  He’s definitely a good guy, and is in love with Chandra, who seems completely indifferent to him, and indeed every other person in the cast. But then there’s a virtual reality sex thing where Hawkins goes through his fantasies with Chandra, although she might be taking part in some of them?

The movie sort of ambles along for an hour or so before they decide to put Hawkins in the suit and get on with the plot. It bears some similarities in its meandering please-get-to-the-point nature, as well as a post-apocalyptic setting, with British sci-fi movie “Hardware” (not much of a compliment). But it also has a kind of film noir feel to it, like the filmmakers were aiming for something they weren’t quite talented enough to pull off, which goes to the editing as well, which is extremely curious in places (presumably on purpose).

 

Even though I tried to find entertainment in “Prototype”, as I love a good post-apocalypse movie, I just couldn’t quite manage it. Whose side was anyone on? Who are we supposed to want to win? Are there any normal humans in this movie? What was this war all about?

 

Unless you’re a completist, either of Roth movies or post-apocalyptic ones, might be best to steer clear of this one. But, it’s up there for free, so you’ve only got your time to lose.

 

Rating: thumbs down

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Nemesis 5: The New Model (2017)

We’re nothing if not completists here at the ISCFC, and that’s what early 2019 is all about – wrapping up long-running review series, giving you, dear reader, the information you need to make an informed choice about the entire filmography of a certain director, or every sequel, prequel and spin-off of some franchise. Or entertaining you, at the very least, as only crazy people would care about some of these movies.

I was completely unaware of the existence of a fifth movie in the “Nemesis” series until yesterday, when I was aimlessly flicking through the movies available via my preferred streaming service. Who thought it would be a good idea? Presumably, the name cost someone money to obtain, so how far down the list of utterly forgotten 90s sci-fi properties did they have to get before they found a name they could afford? Were “Project: Shadowchaser” and “Cyborg Cop” too expensive?

Which brings us to this, a movie which barely makes it to 70 minutes, and that’s with a solid 6 minutes of credits at the end, a long info-dump at the beginning and several entirely static scenes where someone gives a monologue about information that was already covered in the info-dump.

While I recommend you go and read the reviews of parts 1 to 4 (click HERE to go to our sci-fi franchise review page), I’ll give you a potted history. The first movie deals with what appears to be a turf war between the LAPD and an organisation called the Red Army Hammerheads, but is actually the Hammerheads trying to stop the takeover of society by a robotics company, who are creating duplicates of powerful people and killing off the originals. Freedom fighters – good guys, LAPD – bad guys. Then, part 2 takes place 70 years afterwards – the hero of part 1 was killed offscreen just after that movie ended, and humanity is screwed.

Alex (Sue Price), a bodybuilder and non-actor, is sent back in time to 1988 to as she’s got super-DNA which will help to defeat the robots, and her mother doesn’t want her to fall into the hands of the baddies. She hangs out somewhere in Africa and has future bounty hunters and cyborgs chase her, which takes up the entirety of parts 2 and 3. Then, in part 4, she’s back in the future, when the war is over, or at a truce or something, and is a killer for hire, and she also has a bunch of cybernetic implants now because why not?

I’ll give part 5 the faintest praise imaginable – they tried to square the circle of a series where none of the sequels were really related to what had gone before (except 2 and 3, as 3 was created largely from offcuts during the production of 2). The long Star Wars-esque scroll at the beginning attempts, using “er, time travel”, to make them all part of the same whole, and as much as anyone can be bothered about the continuity of a bargain-basement B-movie series whose last instalment was 21 years ago and never gave a damn about its own continuity before, they make it work.

My question of “who would make this?” was answered when I checked IMDB, and discovered the director’s name was Dustin Ferguson. Mr Ferguson, who’s directed an eye-watering 60 movies and shorts in the last ten years, makes his living from no-budget horror production and distribution, filling the lower ranks of Netflix searches with cheap, ugly garbage. But, and this is slightly more germane to us because I’m beyond tired of modern no-budget horror movies now, he also creates very cheap sequels to long-dormant franchises, either those which never filed their copyright claims properly, such as “Night Of The Living Dead”, “The Legend of Boggy Creek”, and “Silent Night, Bloody Night”; or modern remakes that no-one cared about, such as “Sleepaway Camp 2”, “Camp Blood” parts 4 and 5, and a couple of movies with “Amityville” in the title to beat that long-dead horse some more. Plus, he does terrible-looking original movies that just try their hardest to look like more famous franchises, such as “Robo-Woman” (Robocop), “House Of Pain” (The Purge) and “Horndogs Beach Party” (which I just wanted to mention because it had such a ludicrous name).

Then this. I have no idea why this happened. No-one in the world was crying out for a continuation of the franchise, were they? Best guess is, Ferguson met Albert Pyun (director of parts 1-4 and one of those awful lazy directors whose work we keep stumbling across here) at some event and plucked “Nemesis” out of thin air as a project he’d like to work on. Pyun agreed to hand over the name in return for a cut of the profits and an Executive Producer credit, and $20,000 later, here we are.

800 words in and I’ve not even mentioned the movie yet! Can you tell I’m trying to put it off? Ari Frost is first seen as a young girl in the far future, where the Red Army Hammerheads have won and turned the world into, er, even more of a dystopia than it was before. No explanation is given as to why they’re the bad guys, except it was 2017 when this movie was made and people don’t even think of criticising the police any more. She meets the now elderly Alex (Sue Price, making her first appearance in front of a camera since Nemesis 4), who trains her and tells her all about the past. As Alex is too old and breaking down now, they decide to send Ari back in time to 2077 to stop the Hammerheads from taking over the world’s media, although to call this plan somewhat undercooked would be giving it significantly too much credit.

So she goes back, gets involved with…some guys?…and runs around the wilderness, a few vacant lots and some ugly interiors, for about an hour. Slap on a miserable non-ending and you’ve got yourselves a movie!

Let’s discuss sound. If there’s any two bits of advice I could give to low-budget filmmakers, it would be to invest more in lighting and sound. Stop paying women to take their clothes off and get a decent microphone, my friends, because the sound here is just abysmal. A solid half the lines are basically inaudible, and if you turn the sound up loud enough to hear it, the background music wrecks your speakers. There’s just no excuse for this pitiful display nowadays.

Not even a little powder to take the shine off his face? Seriously?

Lighting is sort of dealt with here by having a ton of day-for-night shots with a heavy colour filter over them, which honestly isn’t the worst idea in the world. But, it’s one of those effects which ought to be used a little more sparingly, perhaps?

I’d like to break down one scene, and that’s where our rag-tag group of freedom fighters go to a bar. Now, there’s a Nebraska licence plate in one scene, so I noticed the posters on the wall and a quick Google later, discovered this is a real place called the Zoo Bar, in Lincoln, Nebraska, a fun-looking dive bar by all accounts. But that’s not important! So, they turn up, and the bar’s owner is persuaded by his girlfriend to rat them out to the Hammerheads. The patrons of the bar go from uninterested barflies to gun-toting maniacs, and our heroes are forced to slaughter them all. Minutes later, the same “busy bar” background noise is playing, as who cares about making an effort to make your movie good, right? And there’s a bunch of people sat round as if there wasn’t just a huge massacre ten feet away from them.

The “climax” is them facing a Nebula robot, which you may remember from Nemesis 2. It’s supposed to be this near-invincible killing machine, but a couple of people who look like they’ve never held a gun before are able to defeat it quite easily – perhaps a metaphor for the amount of effort “Nemesis 5” made. Oh, and there’s a few hand-to-hand fights featuring Ari, and even though she’s not a fighter in the slightest, they make her do it. Did no-one realise it looked terrible? Could you not cut around it, or just not have a fight scene if none of your actors were capable? Oh, and the guns are cheap plastic kids toys, in case you were expecting anything better.

So, factor in the long opening and closing credits, the tedious monologues, and the sub-Youtube level drone footage, and the amount of actual movie in this movie is somewhere around 30 minutes. Why do people insist on doing this? Actually, I think 75% or so of low budget genre movies are just excuses for guys who look like me (schlubby, late 20s to early 40s, metal fans) to hang out with attractive women for a few weeks, with the finished product being incidental.

I’m annoyed I spent any time with it, although I imagine the people who made it have turned a profit from us small handful of people who remember the Nemesis series enough to check out a new one. Shame on all of us, really, but please, dear reader, avoid this like the plague.

Rating: thumbs down then into the eye sockets of the people who made this movie

2019: After The Fall Of New York (1983)

Welcome to our newest feature here at the ISCFC – “movies with the current year in the title”. There are two gems, both starring a fellow by the name of George Eastman, for the current year, and we’ll be covering them both.

 

If anyone’s interested, we could also review movies set in 2019? That covers stuff like the Ethan Hawke vampire movie “Daybreakers” (even released in a few places as “2019 – Year of Extinction”); all-time classics “The Running Man” and “Blade Runner”; ISCFC favourite “Steel Frontier”; ISCFC non-favourite “Heatseeker”; and Ewan MacGregor movie “The Island”, among others.

 

Today’s choice, though, is one of the huge number of post-apocalyptic movies made in Italy – check out THIS LIST which isn’t even all of them. It might fairly be said, when you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all, and when it comes to this movie it might fairly be said that you’ve seen it multiple times.

It’s most similar to “Escape From New York”, but there’s elements of “Mad Max”, “Death Race 2000” and even a little “Buck Rogers” to go with dozens of scenes that look lifted from sci-fi classics of the time. The situation is, there’s been a nuclear war between the Euraks (Europe / Africa / Asia) and the Pan-American Alliance (North and South America, basically) and the Euraks won. The nuclear war has left all the women sterile – this being a movie made by masculine men, no mention is made of the state of their reproductive parts. Somewhere inside New York is the one remaining fertile woman, and the Alliance wants her.

 

They send definitely-not-Snake-Plissken Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw), by bribing him with…a place on a space-ship to Alpha Centauri, where there’s a livable planet, apparently. We’re first introduced to Parsifal when he wins a sort of Death-Race-style race, and is awarded a bunch of tokens which allow him to freely murder up to 5 people, and a woman. I’m not sure the sexual politics in this are going to be the strongest, dear reader.

He gets a couple of sidekicks for the mission – the strongest man in the Alliance, who just looks like a fairly solidly-built middle-aged guy, and a chap with a metal arm who was abused by the Euraks, who has an encyclopaedic knowledge of the city of New York. Remember that. Encyclopaedic knowledge. So off these three guys pop into the heavily guarded city of New York to retrieve the last fertile woman.

 

Literally thirty seconds into the city, Mr Knows The City is panicking and asking Parsifal which way to go, and no-one comments on it or asks “why the hell are you here?” so, I guess just enjoy him tearing a few throats out with his metal arm. They run around, encounter a few gangs, then I guess the boss of the Euraks becomes aware of them. The Eurak boss has what I assume is meant to be the original “Guernica” by Pablo Picasso in his office, and seems aware of what it means, so perhaps there’s meant to be more nuance in the original script? Who knows.

 

If you really like people running around disused warehouses and so on, then there’s a lot to enjoy about the second half of this movie – otherwise, not so much. Parsifal finds a girlfriend, who he thinks is the fertile lady but isn’t, there’s an occasional double-cross or two, and a curiously bleak atmosphere overlaying proceedings. I like the sexily evil female second-in-command of the Euraks (Anna Kanakis), who does a lot with her screentime.

Is it any good, though? I mean, some movies are sort of derivative of genre classics, and others are just straight-up ripoffs; it wouldn’t surprise me if this wasn’t released somewhere in the world as an unofficial sequel to “Escape From New York”. I’ve seen more than my fair share of Italian-made post-apocalyptic movies, and I keep hoping one of them will try and do something different, use the building blocks in a more interesting way, but none of them do. They’re all Trumpian in their sexual politics, they all have that same washed-out colour palette, they all have the same sort of anti-hero…I guess if you only watch one of them every two years or so, it ceases to be a problem, or think of it as, say, a retelling of the same story, and it might not be too bad.

 

I’m sorry I can’t be any more decisive about this one. It’s…tolerable?

 

HOW WELL DOES IT PREDICT THE PRESENT? Well, if it had been set in certain areas of St Louis, I’d have called it not bleak enough (satire?) but it does appear like we dodged a nuclear annihilarion bullet, preferring the slow annihilation of environmental collapse and fascism.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle

 

2019: Barbarians of the Future (1983)

I try not to be over-dramatic when writing these reviews. But this…wow, this film is bad.

You may have discovered this film under one of its alternate titles – “Warriors of the Wasteland” is its proper English language title, but that doesn’t fit in with our current review series. Later-in-the-movie dialogue reveals to us 2019 is 10 years after a nuclear holocaust which finished off most life on Earth. Small groups of people survive, and we’re greeted by one of those groups of people, shortly before they’re attacked by the Templars.

The Templars are all dressed in white, and seem to favour the beach-buggy as a mode of transport. This isn’t the first post-apocalyptic film to heavily feature buggies, so I was wondering if these films are all made by the same company, the head of which has a brother who owns a buggy hire firm? Perhaps we’re supposed to believe that in the 10 years since the apocalypse, tastes have shifted dramatically from cars that protect you, and have space to store things in, and have drifted towards flimsy death traps.

As well as the Templars, we meet Scorpion, played by an Italian guy who’s been given an English name on the credits, because an American leading man is important to the people who’d be likely to stump up cash for this baffling film. He slaughters a different group of scavengers, mercy kills the last person left over from the Templar’s massacre, and then heads off to mess with the Templars themselves.

Oh, there’s a sideplot with a cute kid, who fixes Scorpion’s car and helps him out at the end, but we can safely ignore him. He doesn’t die, can’t act and serves no purpose other than presumably to be a relative of one of the financial backers of this film. But Scorpion’s car is worth mentioning, the sweetest ride in the film, full of unnecessary features and a giant plastic dome on top that makes it look like some hot-rod version of the Popemobile.

One of the occupants of the van who get rescued by Scorpion in a dull fight scene is Alma, who’s…the love interest? Sort of? Played by Anna Kanakis, who judging by her photos on IMDB is still a strikingly beautiful woman and has aged a great deal better than this film has, she’s…well, I’m trying to think of a way to describe her, but I give up. She doesn’t drive the plot, or do much of anything else (but more on that later). Scorpion does sort-of pressure her into having sex with him inside a see-through luminous green tent, though.

There’s trouble in the Templar camp, as the boss (named One) and his lieutenant argue over the best way to dispatch Scorpion. There’s something a bit fishy about these fellas, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it at the moment. Was it the fancy matching uniforms, all pristine in the middle of a no-more-washing-powder apocalypse? Or something else? Well, it’s something else, but you’ve got a paragraph more of my garbage before we get to that.

Scorpion needs a hand with a band of baddies, and luckily gets it from Fred Williamson, who plays another mercenary just wandering the wasteland. Fred Williamson is a badass. He’s almost more than 100% man, just a force of nature who dominates this film (despite not being, let’s face it, the world’s greatest actor). To prove my point, here’s a photo of him from the 70s in a sweet suit. Have you ever been a tenth as awesome as this man? Of course not.

I doff my cap to his magnificence

I doff my cap to his magnificence

Scorpion, Williamson and Alma disover a whole other group of wanderers, who’ve found a signal which indicates civilisation is alive, well, and only ten miles away. Ten miles? They’re waiting for their vehicles to get fixed before making the last drive, rather than, I don’t know, sending one guy on a bike to make the 20 minute journey and get help. While they’re walking into the camp, we get another gem of dialogue explaining why this group are being nice to them – “they believe in something called God”. Now, it’s been ten years since the bombs dropped, and in that ten years we’re supposed to believe that adults have completely forgotten about religion to the point where “something called God” is a thing that a person might say. Dear me.

In the camp Williamson has shockingly easy sex (luckily this is one of those free love Christian groups) with the only other black person in the film, and Scorpion heads off, leaving everyone else behind. He’s captured almost immediately, and…I really can’t quite believe this. The Templars are a gay doomsday cult, who are trying to kill everyone off so humanity is no more, hate religion, and initiate Scorpion by raping him. Yes, that happened.

There’s a lot of violence in this film. There’s no real need for it, and judging by the poor quality mannequins they couldn’t really afford it – several heads explode, one or two people get thrown under cars, people fall of cliffs, that sort of thing. But the greatest death of all is saved for One, who is on the run after having all his henchmen killed off in increasingly brutal fashion by our male heroes. How does One get his, I hear you ask? Well, Scorpio has a drill attached to the front of his car, which he uses to anally penetrate and kill One. Hurrah!

It’s hard to say who ought to be more offended by this film. Women are seen as barely objects, and despite both our brave heroes having sexual partners who’d presumably like to see them remain in one piece, they do nothing – the kid with a slingshot does more than them. But really, it’s gay people who should be hating on this film. They’re referred to as “queers”, they all hate God, rape honest straight men and are trying to kill humanity. It’s not even subtext, it’s just right out there, front and centre. Whoever made this film was either the world’s dumbest person or a misogynist homophobe (or more likely both).

It’s certainly never boring, and provided you can laugh at its appalling gender / sexual politics, you’ll have a decent time. And it’ll cost you nothing other than bringing you 86 minutes closer to your own death, so enjoy!

Warriors of the Wasteland on IMDB

 

Rating: thumbs down?

Future Hunters (1986)

This movie represents the emergence from the background of our subconscious and the “hey, I recognise that name”-ing of director Cirio Santiago, one of the most prolific directors of the Filipino genre film boom of the mid-70s to mid-90s (as shown in “Machete Maidens Unleashed”, a wonderful documentary). Just roll a few of these titles of his movies round your mind, and just imagine the thrills contained within, and the video store shelves that bent under the weight of them:

TNT Jackson; She Devils In Chains; Vampire Hookers; Death Force; Hell Hole; Stryker; Caged Fury; Final Mission; Naked Vengeance; The Devastator; Eye of the Eagle; Equalizer 2000; Demon of Paradise; The Expendables (not that one); Dune Warriors; Raiders of the Sun; Fire Hawk; Kill Zone; Angelfist; One Man Army, and Bloodfist 2050 (the only one we’ve reviewed so far).

There are many more. A few of them are obvious attempts to cash in on trends – TNT Jackson is blaxploitation, Dune Warriors looks like Dune, etc. – but most of them are just “which Western actors do we have in town this week, and what half-finished script is lying around?”

Which brings us to “Future Hunters”. The main western actors in question are Robert Patrick (who appears to have gotten his start in this part of the world) and the great Richard Norton, whose survival I was immediately worried about when I discovered he wasn’t first-billed. This feels like a much less fun version of the end of “Blazing Saddles”, where the stars break through a bunch of different film sets – it starts off in a post-apocalypse Mad Max style, before turning into an Indiana Jones thing, going through a martial arts section, jungle war movie, Far Eastern travelogue, even throwing in modern Hitler enthusiasts and a friendly army of midgets.

It is, in other words, a movie that’s more fun to describe than it is to watch. But I watched it, so here goes.

Right from the beginning, you know someone realised how odd this all was because we get a two-minute voiceover explaining the world we’re in – 2024, where humanity is virtually extinct thanks to nuclear war. Someone has figured out that the Spear of Longinus, aka the Spear of Destiny, aka the thing that pierced the side of Christ while he was on the cross, has the ability to turn back time, so Matthew (Norton) is described as humanity’s last hope, as he needs to go back and stop the apocalypse from happening. Quite why he’s being chased across the desert by a bunch of bad lads is never adequately explained, but anyway, he gets to a derelict building of some sort and grabs hold of the spear-head, just as the bad guys start shelling the place.

1989! Michelle (Linda Carol) and Slade (Robert Patrick) are at the same ruined building, she looking at the carvings and paintings for her university thesis, he sat around bored. A bunch of criminals attack them for no reason, and Slade is immediately knocked unconscious, showing just the sort of character he’ll be for most of the movie – luckily, out of the ruins wanders Matthew, who saves the couple, shoves the spear into one of the criminals, turning him to dust, then gets shot himself. Sorry, Richard Norton fans!

From this point on, it’s the two of them arguing about whether the spear is real or not, then a bunch of criminals, sent by modern day Hitler wannabe Fielding (Ed Crick) and led by a guy who looks like a blond ape poured into a suit, Bauer (Bob Schott), chasing them across the world. They get just enough information to convince them of the rightness of their mission and eventually Slade grows a backbone, although for a former Marine, he gets his ass kicked by randos way too often.

Aside from the odd bit of bad film fun, like one scene where the two dubbed characters voices change completely half-way through, like the voice guys just wandered outside for a cigarette but they couldn’t be bothered to wait for them to get back, or the chase scene that starts in the dead of night but finishes, minutes later, in broad daylight; it’s honestly a little bit boring. Too many locations, too little sense, and the gradual evolution of Michelle from interesting lead character to damsel in distress is pretty crappy. There’s even a scene where the bad guys tear her dress open as there’s no way they’re making it through an entire movie without degrading a woman.

It’s also too long, clocking in at around 100 minutes. If you’re going to do a cheapo exploitation movie, there’s very little need to have it above 80 minutes, or at the very outside 90. It’s not like they make any more profit if it’s longer, either, so I’m not sure why it was padded so much. The endless battle scene in the last third, which isn’t even all that well directed, could have been half the length and no-one would have minded.

It does have some pleasant lapses in logic which bring it from being terrible to merely puzzling. Like, why don’t the bad guys just kill our couple, rather than tying them up and giving them chances to escape? They’re not needed in the least. Or why do the bad guys keep giving them chances? Is the lead Nazi like one of those serial killers who keeps giving the cops clues as he’s secretly desperate to be caught?

Too little Richard Norton and too much bickering couple. Too much change and too little fun.

Rating: thumbs down

Deathlands: Homeward Bound (2003)

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“Deathlands” is a little bit similar to this year’s “Dead 7”, not in the sense of having loads of 90s boy band stars in it, but in taking your traditional low-budget post-apocalyptic movie and spinning it in an interesting direction. “Dead 7” went the Western route, and “Deathlands” has gone for a medieval flavour to proceedings. As a very early Sci-Fi Channel movie, it’s also surprisingly good, but hey! Stick around for the next 700 words or so, I’ll try and be entertaining.

 

It turns out that “Deathlands” is a series of books which I’d never heard of until last night. Starting in 1988, they now stretch to a staggering 125 volumes (!), with a spin-off series clocking in at 75. So that’s 7 books a year for almost 30 years (not all written by the same guy, I ought to add), but I guess they just never really made the leap to the UK? They do appear, from my limited research, to be slightly right-wing fantasies of a world which was ravaged by the Cold War suddenly heating up – Russia starting things, naturally – but the odd thing is, by 1988 change was coming, rapidly, with great swathes of nuclear disarmament on both sides and the eventual collapse of the Soviet Union a few years later. Yet the book series just merrily carried on (although as of November 2015, it’s done, with its publisher being shut down).

 

The series has a group of central characters, and the movie was (again, apparently) pretty good at portraying them. The hero is Ryan Cawdor (Vincent Spano), who’s the youngest son of a “royal” family – turns out, when he was in his early teens, his brother was having an affair with his stepmother, and the two of them murdered the rest of the family and took over, with only Ryan and his sister escaping. The movie’s set 20 years after those events. There’s Krysty (Jenya Lano), his monogamous life partner – one of the things I read emphasised this bit strongly, which indicates it’s a big thing in the books. She’s a badass redhead, who’s half-mutant; there’s also a full mutant, Jak (Nathan Carter), an albino with glowing red eyes. The whole mutant thing isn’t really dealt with in the movie at all, but is the sort of seemingly unnecessary world-building you see often in failed pilots that are re-configured into TV movies. Rounding out the crew is JB Dix, the fedora-wearing weapons expert who…nah, got nothing. I’m sure he has a personality, though. Oh, he doesn’t trust Jak, I guess?

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Ryan and his crew drive into a small village, which is part of the “Ville” (the name of all these new future areas of governance) controlled by Harvey, Ryan’s older brother. This appears to be by accident, although you’d think Ryan would remember the area – anyway, they meet Ryan’s secret nephew Nathan, who tells them how evil Harvey (Alan C Peterson) and Lady Rachel (Traci Lords) are. Ryan decides it’s about time to show his brother a thing or two, and we’re on for some rip-roaring good times.

 

There’s a cool scene in the throne room, as our heroes pretend to be traders to get access to Harvey’s “castle”. It feels a little Game Of Thrones-y, as Harvey and Rachel’s creepy son Jabez kisses his mother full on the lips and fondles her breast before trying to grope Krysty, then getting one of the servants killed. He’s a winner! Anyway, they figure out who the mysterious travellers are fairly quickly, and then they’re locked up, with escapes, offers of sex from super-evil stepmothers, friendships, and a surprisingly fun, fast-paced story.

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They found some good sets, or just an abandoned town somewhere in Eastern Europe, and the film looks a lot more expensive than it no doubt is. There’s a red filter over a bunch of scenes to show the result of the nuclear war, and in one scene the moon seems rather closer than it is at the moemtn, which indicates someone tried at some world-building. There’s a few nice touches too, like how the dinner plates and mugs at the banquet are random, cheap plastic, rather than a never-would’ve-survived full dinner service. The cast are all excellent, too, with special credit going to Jenya Lano, who’s way too good to be in movies like this – she stopped acting in 2005 and it’s a shame.

 

Of course, no review of a SyFy Channel movie would be complete without a few “huh?” moments. One scene involves someone dying, and getting shoved through the bars of a cell window into the castle moat…but if the bars were big enough to fit a body through, then you could escape through them, surely? And perhaps the oddest bit is a throwaway line which is just worrying. Passing by several people who’ve been hung, presumably as a warning to any potential wrongdoers, Jak says “look at that strange fruit”, a reference to the poem / Billie Holliday song, about the lynching of black people. Is it just being used by someone who doesn’t understand the depth of meaning of the reference (like the crappy movie where Plymouth Rock is sucked up by a hurricane and literally lands on a black guy)? It indicates that there are very few black people working on these sorts of movies, because I can’t believe that line would have made it out of the first draft if there had been.

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Anyway, small criticisms aside, it’s excellent for SyFy and would’ve made a fine TV series (this definitely feels like a pilot), with an enormous amount of material to draw from. I imagine fans of the books probably don’t love it, but I can’t imagine there are too many sensible fans of the books, so never mind them.

 

Rating: thumbs up

 

 

Android Apocalypse (2006)

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SyFy’s ungodly 2006 mix of “Wedlock”, “Enemy Mine” and…er…anything that’s ever had human-looking androids in it is quite surprising in its goodness. Okay, it doesn’t make a lick of sense if you think about it, but I think we can all agree that we rarely watch this sort of movie to think too much. It’s got a pro wrestler in a small part, plus a star of the 90s and some splendidly bizarre acting from its supporting cast. Let’s get into it!

 

Post-apocalypse! I think it’s environmental, but they sort of handwave it away. Humanity now lives in a few remaining domed cities, one of them being Phoenix, Arizona, and the first thing we see is a trio of androids rescue a wealthy woman’s son, after he just goes for a wander in the wasteland. It turns out that we created a bunch of Probes (mining robots), but made the mistake of giving them tons of really good weapons and enough intelligence to become sort-of sentient and rebel. So they’re patrolling the wilderness picking off any human without the sense they were born with, but the androids can kick a little butt and come home with the kid. Main android is DeeCee, and he’s played by Joey Lawrence, 90s sitcom star (“Blossom”); there’s also TeeDee (pro wrestler Chris Jericho) and Tranc, who not only doesn’t follow the android naming protocol, but gets to wear shorts and kind-of impractically long hair (Armenian-American actor Anne Bedian).

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At the same time, Jute (Scott Bairstow, for whom this was his last ever role) is losing his job at the shovelling plant. Seriously, the poor fella looks like he’s just got to shovel things into a fire-y tube all day long, so if I did that job and they replaced me with an android I’d be delighted. But he’s not, and this fuels his anti-android feeling – by the way, if you’re thinking this is some racial allegory, it’s not that smart. This does raise a quite important question, however – what point is there, with a fairly small non-mobile human population, having unemployed people? Democracy seems to exist, sort of, so it’s not like they’re just after a tiny handful of wealthy humans and androids to serve their purposes. Use androids for stuff humans can’t do, why don’t you?

 

Jute gets into a bar brawl with TeeDee and eventually “kills” him, which leads to the arrest of him and his wife Rachel (Amy Matysio). DeeCee is a prototype, and his emotions get the better of him, so he’s sent off to Terminus, a combined re-programming centre / prison out in the wilderness, and of course the two men are handcuffed together on the transport there. So you’ve got Jute first fighting with, then learning to respect, DeeCee, then getting captured, escaping, discovering the big evil plot, and saving the day.

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The guy who’s in charge of building and maintaining the androids is the most obvious villain in (non-superhero) movie history. An absolutely splendid performance, complete with super-villain costume, he’s Varrta (Troy Skog) and he’s magnificent, another one for the Overacting Villain Hall of Fame. He’s sick of humanity, despite being human, and is building a new generation of Probes to beat the other Probes up, but also to kill all the remaining humans and take over, because no supervillain plot is complete without something like that. There’s also a subplot with him inventing an exact replica of human brain fluid, as that’s the thing that’s been holding his work back apparently? There’s another hefty logical problem, with the various androids…Varrta says DeeCee is his greatest creation but flawed (he just wants emotionless robots to rule over, it seems) but both Tranc and the rather doughy male android who’s helping her track down DeeCee and Jute also show emotions, lots of them, to the stage you’re wondering if the director remembered they were supposed to be androids too. If anything, DeeCee is the least emotional of the main androids we see.

 

The movie switches between Terminus, Phoenix and the desert, but respect to the person who found the sets for them to use. Terminus is a giant chemical plant, which is fairly standard, but it also looks like it’s still in use, so it adds a little authenticity; there’s also some great abandoned buildings out in the desert. It’s a cool looking film.

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Add in a strong final fight, as our heroes take on the forces of Terminus (after being almost rescued by Rachel, and it was nice to see her do something) and you’ve got a completely entertaining SyFy movie. It’s a long way from being original, but it figured out what it wanted to do, found a bunch of decent actors and some good locations and just did it. Okay, Scott Bairstow just grimaces and punches people, but given he’d not worked since 2003 and this was his last performance, he’d probably already mentally checked out of the movie business.

 

Kudos to director Paul Ziller, who’s very familiar to us at the ISCFC. He did “Bloodfist 4” way back in the 90s, but starting with 2004’s “Snakehead Terror”, became one of SyFy’s go-to directors, directing a good dozen of their original movies up to 2012’s “Ghost Storm” (so it’s perhaps best he stopped). But this is solid, entertaining and if it gets repeated, definitely worth your time.

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Rating: thumbs up

Terminal Virus (1995)

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Perhaps you can help me, dear reader – I need a new term for a film where the first thing you see is boobs. Boobception maybe? If you have any ideas, please let me know. What boobceptions always are, is classy entertainment, and that’s certainly the case here, where the boobs in question belong to a young lady being chased through an arid landscape by a filthy lunatic. Yes, it’s more of that 90s post-apocalyptic action we’ve come to know and love, with its brown landscapes, rags-for-clothes, shoddily patched up cars, and so on.

 

This, at least, tries to put a fresh spin on the situation. 23 years ago, a great war of some sort ended with a chemical weapon of unusual hideousness – a virus that means any time men and women have sex, they both die. This has led to forced celibacy, and the entirety of humanity appears to be represented by a camp of guys and then, relatively nearby, a camp of women. Rather shockingly, the potential rapist and the woman involved are both killed by their respective communities, so you can tell the stakes are very high; but on their way back from killing the guy, the group of men (led by all-time great movie villain Richard Lynch, as “Calloway”) happen upon a perfectly preserved pre-war “outpost”. This outpost is small neat houses, and a few low buildings, and for absolutely no reason at all, Calloway and his men break the fence down and kill everyone.

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However, one person was away from the base, catching snakes; he’s Joe Knight (Bryan Genesse, “Screwballs 2”, “The Circuit”). With his dying breath, Joe’s Dad tells him to go down into the basement, which is a huge scientific complex, and there he finds a cure for the virus! His big plan is to find a man and a woman, give them the antidote and persuade them to have sex, they won’t die, everyone will be impressed and peace will reign. He has a friend in this mission – McCabe (James “husband of Barbara Streisand” Brolin), a wisecracking nomad who we first meet escaping from a Calloway-led execution. They kidnap a woman from outside the female camp, and for some reason which was presumably explained in a piece of dialogue I didn’t listen to, McCabe can’t have sex with her – luckily, one of Calloway’s goons is captured trying to break in, so he’s chained to the lovely lady and they’re both plied with champagne and romantic music.

 

As you may have guessed, it goes a bit silly around this point. For a bleak future with tons of murder, it’s awfully light-hearted! Perhaps Brolin turned up and went “hey guys, I’ve written a load of jokes, can I put them in the movie?” and no-one had the heart / guts to tell him no. While he’s not an A-lister, he’s a bit too big a name to be in trash like this so his influence could have been large.

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So, aside from Brolin, you’ve got Genesse as a naïve type (he’s one of the only children born after the virus, and despite being 32 at the time of filming and looking every day of it, plays a man of 20) and plenty of strong support. It’s a weird thing to say about a cheesy low-budget 90s movie I’d never even heard of until I picked it up for this review, but there are no super weak links in the cast.

 

But there are plenty of weak links. First up is just kidnapping a woman to procreate with, “Seven Brides For Seven Brothers” style. It’s really very oddly done, and her falling in love with Genesse, while inevitable, is just the crappy icing on the awful cake. There’s the sheer number of double-crosses and “hey, can you unlock these handcuffs so I can use the toilet – whoops, I’m running off” scenes that make you want to slap several of the main characters too.

 

Worst of all, I think, is the big fight, as the women (who, it turns out, were amenable to a decent argument and didn’t need to be fought with) take on the men who are trying to blow up the laboratory and ensure the serum is destroyed for ever. Actually, why is Richard Lynch so desperate to never have sex again? Does he like ruling over a gang of rough-looking guys that much? Anyway, the fight is almost unbearable, going on for ever. In a movie that’s only just over 70 minutes long, having one fight scene go on for what feels like 20 minutes is a no-no. And if you’re really willing to go deep, hundreds of guys die in that scene and not a single woman, yet there’s still dozens of guys alive to be captured at the end. You never see more than…ten men with Lynch, but at least 50 of them get offed in that battle. Genesse, as we fans of trash know, has legit martial arts skills, but fights like an idiot until the very last scene, when suddenly he busts out a bunch of sweet roundhouse kicks. What?

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It’s very short for a “proper” B movie, so I wonder if they ran out of money. That explains the extreme length of the gunfight, as they used every bit of footage they had, and the way the last scene feels a bit tacked on. Or perhaps it’s just why director Dan Golden is now better known as a stills photographer (didn’t realise there was a career in that, in the movies); or we could look at how this is the sole credit for two of its three writers. Ah, I don’t know. Brolin is fun if a little too over the top with the wisecracks, Genesse is fine, it’s sort of a cool idea, just executed pretty poorly.

 

Rating: thumbs down