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

 

 

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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

Omega Doom (1996)

That Hauer picture is from a different movie

That Hauer picture is from a different movie

If there’s a movie you don’t want to be reminded of, it’s “Nemesis 4”. Boy oh boy, does that movie suck, although surprisingly suckiness is not the primary reminder here. We’re talking location, and if you remember Nemesis 4 (pray you don’t) then you’ll remember the large, bombed out town square, the one side street and the numerous rubble-strewn buildings. I imagine Eastern Europe was lousy with such places in the 1990s (although they do look very very similar), and low-budget auteurs like our friend Albert Pyun took advantage.

 

Oh yes, that’s the slightly more important link. In 1996, Pyun made both this and “Nemesis 4”, so best guess is he shot them both at the same time in the same location (I bet he begged Rutger Hauer to show up in the other one too). So, thanks to my punishment-gluttony, we’ve got another 90s post-apocalyptic Pyun-helmed robot B-movie to enjoy!

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Hauer is Omega Doom, although he’s never referred to by that name in the course of the movie. There’s a voiceover at the beginning, the classic scumbag’s trick when your movie doesn’t make sense and you need to explain it – this is a war between robots (yes, they’re called robots throughout, no-one says “cyborg”) and humans, and the robots win. The last human soldier shoots Hauer, and it wipes his memory and evil directives, so he becomes a nameless wanderer.

 

In the meantime, the robots have split into factions and are feuding with each other over…god knows. What do robots need, exactly? They drink water every now and again, but I get the feeling that’s just because they had a bar set and couldn’t think of anything else to do with it. So, there’s the Droids (who look like yer average post-apocalyptic people) and the Roms (who all look like Carrie-Anne Moss from “The Matrix”), a bartender, a bloke who keeps getting his head kicked off (called “The Head”) and Hauer.

No, that's a great effect :)

No, that’s a great effect 🙂

Basically, it’s a retelling of “Yojimbo” / “A Fistful Of Dollars”, where an unnamed stranger walks into town, plays both sides off against each other, leaves the few good people unscathed and walks off into the sunset. As soon as this (not particularly original) thought had settled in my head, I became annoyed, because both those movies are masterpieces of cinema, and this is some pile of garbage made by one of the worst regularly working directors in history. It did nothing interesting or original with the central idea, either, and in fact making all the characters robots made it significantly stupider. There’s not a single human being in this movie, despite their motivation to find the MacGuffin (a cache of weapons) being a rumour that some humans survived and are starting an army.

 

It’s also not terribly exciting. My wife turned to me at about the halfway point and went “shouldn’t there be some fighting?” – given our last Pyun review, “Knights”, was nothing but fighting for the last half-hour, I wish he’d balance his movies a bit better. Because his plan is screamingly obvious, even to someone who’s never seen “A Fistful Of Dollars”, too much of the movie is just waiting around for him to wrap up his plan and bugger off.

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So you’ve got a movie with no-one to cheer for, which is ugly, boring and full of plot holes. Is there anything to recommend? Well, there’s Rutger Hauer. He’s one of my favourite actors, and has been in some of the greatest genre movies ever (including sleeper classic “The Salute Of The Jugger”), and while he’s sleepwalking through most of this, he’s always fun to watch. And there are a couple of decent supporting performances too, such as Tina Cote as the Rom leader, and Jahi Zuri as one of the Droids, a fine and OTT turn.

 

I know this will come as no surprise to anyone, and I could have saved myself 90 minutes, but I don’t recommend this movie. Unless you’re a reviewer trying to entertain people by writing about it, steer clear. In fact, go watch “The Salute Of The Jugger” again! That movie is amazing! As a “one last thing” idea, the original idea was for this movie to be set at Euro-Disney, and the gangs of robots would have been the animatronic Disney workers, left running for centuries after the apocalypse. Now that might have been interesting.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Knights (1993)

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Our series on Donald Farmer’s movies will continue – we’re currently keeping our fingers crossed that our efforts to track down a copy of his unreleased-on-video-or-DVD “Space Kid” will come to fruition, and then we can carry on. But in the meantime, ISCFC readers need to know what long-forgotten movies are good or not, so we’ve got work to do.

 

And this brings us back to another ISCFC “favourite”, Albert Pyun. After losing our minds with annoyance at “The Sword And The Sorceror”, we’ve left him alone for a bit, but here we are. It’s got a typical Pyun story behind it, too. After making the surprisingly boring “Cyborg”, Pyun clearly wanted to make a sequel, but the producers decided to go with something people might actually enjoy watching, hiring Elias Koteas and Angelina Jolie. Our Albert wasn’t to be deterred though, and decided to make a couple of cyborg movies anyway, just with different names, which is why we have this and 1996’s “Omega Doom” to enjoy.

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We’re in a typical post-apocalyptic situation – well, I say we are, it’s never really touched on by the movie. Cyborgs and their human slaves raid settlements in order to kidnap people, take them back to their base and drain their blood. The cyborgs have figured out that doing this allows them to live longer, or something, which is actually a pretty cool if impractical idea, given the number of humans this one band of cyborgs gets through in the course of the movie. So, in the middle of a weird fight where the screen is full of dust and you can’t see anything – although we do get a brief cameo from ISCFC Hall of Famer Tim Thomerson, who must have owed Pyun a favour – we meet our hero Nea (kickboxer and her era’s Gina Carano / Ronda Rousey, Kathy Long) and the guy who helps her out, good cyborg Gabriel (Kris Kristofferson).

 

There’s really not a lot more to talk about in terms of plot. The cyborgs are about to invade some town somewhere, and Gabriel was programmed to put a stop to them. There’s an evil creator guy, but he’s only on screen for a few minutes and is clearly there to set up the sequel which never came; and a potentially fascinating subplot where the evil cyborgs say “are we alive?” and start discussing their programming, only to have that entire idea dropped like a hot potato, like a better writer / director had wandered onto the set and filmed that segment. Other than that, it’s the standard hero’s journey, where Nea is trained by Gabriel to take on the big bad.

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That big bad is chief cyborg Job (Lance Henriksen). Henriksen realises how silly this all is and gives it his overacting all, so that’s another mark in this movie’s favour; his henchman is 90s action movie mainstay Gary Daniels, and he’s a little more problematic. Basically, all Job’s lieutenants dress the same, and sort of look the same too (big white guys with stupid hair, and masks covering their faces) so I was under the impression Daniels was killed three or four times. Although one person who couldn’t be accused of looking the same is Kristofferson’s stunt double, who looks a good thirty years younger and has a completely different hairstyle.

 

Our most common complaint about Pyun is his lack of willingness to film transitions, to show how one scene connects to the next. That’s not a problem here, because pretty much nothing happens. Basically the entire second half of the movie is Nea fighting cyborgs and their human lackeys – while some extended fight scenes work due to escalation of the action or through bravura editing / filming techniques, this is just watching an admittedly skilled fighter dispatching hundreds of guys in one of three or so fairly similar ways. There comes a point where you’re begging them to get on with it, to have something else happen, and if Long was a complete non-actor, I’d understand, but she’s really not that bad so some variety would’ve been nice.

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It’s not the worst Pyun movie we’ve ever seen – that’s the three “Nemesis” sequels, in a tie – and it’s always nice to see a woman who looks like she can fight, with an athletic build rather than an impossibly skinny one, but too little happens to make it worth your while.

 

Rating: thumbs down

Land Of Doom (1986)

Don't know who they are, but they're not in this movie

Don’t know who they are, but they’re not in this movie

If you’re a bandit leader in a post apocalyptic situation, I’d probably recommend not indiscriminately slaughtering everyone you come across. Villagers, that poor mass of cannon fodder, do useful stuff like keeping infrastructure in good repair and growing the food that you steal. At some point they’re all going to be dead and neither you nor any of your goons will have learned any of the important life skills like planting crops and sewing those lovely leather outfits you future-people seem to enjoy so much.

 

And if you’re a remotely discerning movie viewer, I’d definitely recommend not watching this tedious garbage. Boom! Nailed it! Star of this particular delight is Deborah Rennard as “Harmony”, a striking blonde who survives the slaughter of her village and decides to…actually, I’m not sure what she’s doing. Probably trying to kill the guy who did it, but it’s really never made clear. She’s a badass, described on IMDB as a feminist but really just angry…and who can blame her? Every man who meets her wants to kill her or rape her, which might have at least something to do with her being the only woman in the entire movie (certainly the only one who doesn’t get immediately shot).

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All men bar one, that is – Anderson (Garrick Dowhen, looking like a low-rent Thomas Gibson), who’s also after the warlord Slater. She finds him bleeding in a cave, and he says he’s been there for days, indicating he’s close to death. But no! He’s fine, he just needed some motivation to get up and get going, it would seem. So, the two of them wander through the wilderness for a bit, before having a confrontation with Slater, and then setting up a sequel which most definitely never came thanks to one of the stupidest “we ran out of money, will this do?” non-endings it’s been my displeasure to watch. The actors at least tried, the filmmakers just gave up really quickly.

 

That’s really it. If you like seeing normal bikes with sort of cardboard armour glued to them riding round Turkey, then this might be the movie for you; otherwise, almost certainly not. The sole moderately interesting thing is the location – the cave villages of Turkey, one of the more unusual places to live on Earth. But when you’ve had enough of looking at them, and realise no-one’s going to drop in a weird out of place reference to how great Islam is (like the even-more-terrible-than-this “Turkish Star Wars”), then there’s really nothing remotely interesting about “Land Of Doom”. Okay, if you’re really trying to find entertainment, there’s a bunch of guys who dress like Jawas (talking of Star Wars), and a closing theme devoted to our star, called “Harmony’s Land of Doom”, which is awful-ly good fun.

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I don’t imagine Deborah Rennard gives two hoots about us mocking her old movie, though (perhaps Garrick Dowhen might, as he never acted again). Mostly retired since 1997, she’s married to two-time Oscar winner Paul Haggis, who wrote “Million Dollar Baby”, “Crash”, a couple of recent James Bond movies, and was the creator of “Due South”, one of my favourite TV shows.

 

I would recommend looking elsewhere for your cheesy 1980s post-apocalyptic fun. Check this list out, I reckon a good 90% of them are more entertaining than this.

 

Rating: thumbs down

 

Cherry 2000 (1988)

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This review thanks to a request / dare from regular reader Dave.

What we have here is a fascinating, funny movie with a great visual style…that completely fails to answer its own central mystery. It feels like some explanation was edited out deliberately to keep us in the dark, and that particular problem will become apparent in a paragraph or so. But what it does have is one of the greatest B-movie casts ever assembled, with three ISCFC Hall of Famers (should we ever do one) gracing the screen.

It’s 2017! The lead drives a weird car with two wheels at the front and one at the back (literally all the other cars in the movie are perfectly normal, though)! Something bad has clearly happened to the world, but LA still largely functions, and Sam Treadwell (TV stalwart David Andrews) works at a huge recycling centre, where endless queues of people bring in metal, cables and suchlike in return for large boxes of something or other. Food, maybe? There’s a fun bit of world-building here, as Sam and his friends go to a bar where lawyers act as pimps for prostitutes, negotiating insanely complicated one-night contracts – the main lawyer is Larry Fishburne, before the early 90s would make him famous (also, this movie was filmed in 1985 but not released til 1988).

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

CHERRY 2000, Pamela Gidley, David Andrews, 1987, (c) Orion

Anyway, Sam goes home at the end of a hard day to his beautiful and somewhat vacant wife, only for it to turn out she’s a robot, a “Cherry 2000” model. While they’re about to have sex on the kitchen floor, the water from an overflowing sink causes her to have a complete meltdown (a rather substantial design flaw, when you think about it), which leaves Sam alone and distraught, especially when he realise she can’t be fixed. He even goes to a robot mechanic, who offers him a variety of other robot women, but he’s all about the Cherry.

What he still has is her (apparently very rare and valuable) personality chip, a tiny CD-looking thing, and armed only with that and a knowledge of where replacement Cherry 2000 models can be found  – the no-mans-land of Zone 7 – he sets off for the Wild West town of Glory Hole to find himself a Tracker to take him into this forbidden area. Melanie Griffith is E Johnson, the best tracker of the lot, but because Sam, along with pretty much every man in the world, is a touch on the sexist side, he tries to find a “better” one and ends up with Brion James, who just takes him into an alley and tries to jump him.

He eventually hires E to take him to Zone 7, which brings him into conflict with Lester (Tim Thomerson), a psychopath who cheers his gang up with sports-coach-cum-New-Age platitudes. Lester’s girlfriend / hostess / assistant is, coincidentally enough, Sam’s ex-girlfriend, and their whole section is funny and odd and promises much. Anyway, Sam and E have to fight their way through all sorts of problems, all sorts of people, and when they reach their goal they have to fight their way back. There are some pretty fantastic set-pieces, like when they’re caught with a giant car magnet and start shooting and throwing grenades at their captors as they’re being swung across a large canyon, and if you can’t tell the ending then I would like to show you a new game called three-card monte.

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To create some very slight tension as to what that big old problem is, I’ll tell you the good stuff. It’s got an amazing visual style, with three very distinct areas – the city and its postapocalyptic, claustrophobic look; Glory Hole, like a techno-Wild West; and Lester’s place, what looks like a 1950s view of the future (along with a submerged-in-sand Las Vegas). Either they had an amazing location scout or this was a higher-budget movie than I expected. It’s also got a fantastic cast, leaving aside a not-terribly-great pair of central performances. Brion James, Tim Thomerson and Robert Z’Dar are all B-movie royalty, and have a fine time here, even if Z’Dar barely says a word and James is ditched after only a few minutes on screen. The two non-Griffith women in the movie, Pamela Gidley as Cherry and Cameron Milzer as Elaine, Sam’s ex, are excellent too.

But it’s not all amazing sets, great guest performances and an exciting, fast-paced script! That script, by the way, is the first screen credit from Michael Almereyda, who’d go on to make the amazing “Another Girl, Another Planet” in 1992 using only the Fisher Price PXL200 kids’ movie camera (it recorded onto normal audio cassettes) and is still writing and directing today. It’s got a huge great gulf at its centre, and that gulf is women.

When you discover that Sam, and lots of other people, have robot wives, the first thought that came to mind was “ah, so women have mostly died out, for some reason”. It sort of explains things, but then you see the wider world and women are everywhere! And it’s not like they’re all radiation-scarred or whatever (Griffith herself is testament to that), so one would hope there’d be a reason why so many men would choose robots without much in the way of brain power over real living women. If there is one, it was either mentioned in passing at the beginning, while I wasn’t listening, or edited out. It could have been an interesting feminist statement about the way society treats women, but it ended up just being the story of a guy who wanted a compliant, dull, sex-slave/housekeeper who finally realised by the end that he’d prefer a real woman. In fact, poor Cherry, resurrected in a new body, is just tricked and abandoned at the end because “she’s just a robot”, which seems unnecessarily cruel to someone who’s “loved” him as she has. It’s all rather confusing.

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Trying not to get sucked into the rabbit hole of understanding this movie, it doesn’t even make sense on its own terms. Firstly, there are no male robots, and the subject never even comes up, as if that would be the stupidest thing you could possibly imagine.  Sam’s decision, after having a rather fun-seeming human girlfriend, to get married to a robot, is also never explored.

But if you don’t think about any of that, then you’ll have a really good time. The sense of humour is strong and it’s pitched at just the right level; it looks fantastic; and it races along at a fair old clip. I can see why the movie company had a tough time marketing it, as it’s a pretty odd little mix of styles, and it would have never been a hit, but we still get to enjoy it.

Rating: thumbs up

Hardware (1990)

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As I move towards 500 reviews here at the ISCFC, I’m taking a break from the normal run of our reviews to do some requests from friends and readers, culminating in number 500, which will be something special from my youth. Okay, this one in particular is no different to the normal rubbish we do, but thanks anyway to my friend Val for suggesting it.

 

There’s a well-known “scam” in low-budget movie circles, most often (allegedly) practiced by names you’ll have heard on here before like Fred Olen Ray and Jim Wynorski. To sell distribution or home video rights to a movie, they’ll make a teaser, usually the first five minutes or so, and then when they’ve attracted money they’ll go ahead and make the rest of the film. So what’s the scam, I hear you ask? That teaser is often completely different to the finished movie, so that first five minutes will look big-budget and exciting and the rest of the film will be…not quite so big budget or exciting, allowing the filmmakers to pocket the difference. The perfect example is Ray’s “The Tomb”, which starts off as an Indiana Jones-style adventure before having 80 minutes or so of people standing round talking on the phone.

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I’m not 100% sure that “Hardware” is one of those movies, with its Weinstein Brothers involvement (the reason the two leads are American, despite it being British-made), but there’s a definite substantial difference between the opening sequence and what comes after. A scavenger is out in the post-apocalyptic desert, and finds the remains of a robot which finds its way into the hands of Dylan McDermott, a slightly cleverer scavenger. He sells most of it to a junk dealer before giving the head to his girlfriend, an artist of sorts, and she – in perhaps the least subtle of this film’s many unsubtle messages – spray-paints it with the flag of the USA before putting it in her latest sculpture.

 

A substantial part of the movie is building that post-apocalyptic world, and they do a fine job of it. Everything is broken and filthy, the radiation from “the big one” is affecting more and more people, and voluntary sterilisation programs are in full effect. A red filter has been put on everything, which grates after a while (perhaps the effect they were going for, as I would not like to live like that), too.

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So the robot head is a military prototype (M.A.R.K. 13 – also a bible verse talking about “No flesh shall be spared”) which can regenerate and repair itself, and as it wakes up it takes an interest in the woman it’s sharing a house with, handily killing her creepy neighbour, and so on, before going after McDermott and anyone else who wanders in. A good 90% of the movie takes place in her apartment, all junk-filled walls and flashing red lights, plus nightmare images on the TV and computer screens (inspired, apparently, by art-noise band Psychic TV).

 

It feels a bit like some wildly OTT melding of “Terminator” and “Alien”, only with a rather reduced scale. If it had been made maybe 5 years earlier, the punk aesthetic it had would have fit with movies like “Repo Man” and it might have worked better, the weirdly disjointed story an artistic choice rather than the necessity of budget. I think it’s more an interesting film than it is a great one, and my main problem with it is the way it seems to keep ending – there’s a big crescendo, and it feels like it’s wrapping up, but there’s half an hour to go…then it happens again, and again. It needed more stuff happening, which I think is at least partly a result of its inspiration being a short comic strip in the greatest comic of all time, “2000AD”.

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Give it a go, I say. You might get a headache from the flashing lights but the awesome soundtrack choices will soothe you (Ministry, Motorhead and Public Image Ltd are all used), and you don’t get too many post-apocalyptic British sci-fi killer robot movies.

 

Rating: thumbs in the middle