Mutant Species (1994)

There’s a thing in low-budget cinema, where producers will make the first five minutes of a movie as a sort of sizzle-reel, to entice distributors and secure funding for the rest of the production. This is fine, and normal. But there’s also the sort of people Mel Brooks introduced us to in “The Producers”, who make the first five minutes, get distributor funding, then go very cheap on the actual movie and pocket all that sweet cash.

I won’t spoil the surprise by telling you which side of things David A Prior was on, but I’ll take you through a few key scenes in the early running of “Mutant Species” and you can make up your own mind. The Army has some chemical that’s so dangerous they’re launching it in an unmanned cargo rocket into spac; of course, it crashes in the wilderness somewhere, and a group of soldiers are sent out to find it and burn the area so it’s as safe as possible.

The army guys are led by Hollinger (Leo Rossi, who’s a very busy actor still) and the two main underlings are Trotter (Ted Prior) and Jones (Jack Forcinito, making a return to the Prior-verse). Of course, Hollinger has been given alternate instructions by his superiors, and we see a small amount of liquid from the vial crawl into his body before he and his team burn the area. Hollinger slaughters his team with tears in his eyes, but Trotter and Jones escape.

To this point, it’s been superb. A little derivative, maybe, but tight, well-written, with an excellent central group of actors with good chemistry. But most of the rest of the movie feels like a throwback to the old David A Prior, with its being mostly set in the woods, and there’s even a military base which is just some tents. The mutant of the title becomes more mutated and less human; the two remaining soldiers become more desperate; the top military brass reveal all their evil secrets; you know, the same way dozens of cheap “Predator” ripoffs have done it. The monster, when we see him much later on, is a bit laughably cheap too, with silly wobbly arms that are way too low and a dog’s face.

But there’s good stuff too. Denise Crosby, who we’ve met at either end of her career (1986’s “Eliminators” and 2013’s “Invasion Roswell”), is the nice local lady who gets drawn into events, having rather implausibly decided to live off the grid; and Wilford Brimley (“Hard Target”) is the Army general who wears a Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses throughout his time on screen. And, for those of us who are deep in this life, there’s a tiny appearance from our favourite member of the Prior-verse, Doug “Pappy” Harter, as a truck driver.

It’s a bit slow, is the last two-thirds. You’ve seen it before, over and over again. So many times. It’s times like this I wish I hadn’t insulted Ted Prior on Facebook so I’d stand a chance of getting an interview with him about why this throwback was where it was in his filmography.

We’re on the final lap of this experiment, that almost killed the ISCFC. I think there’s 10 Prior movies left, and after this I promise we’ll do something funner. I’ve long since forgotten why I thought this would be a good idea. Do you need anything more about “Mutant Species”?

Rating: thumbs down


Youtube Film Club: Robowar (1989)


A low rent “Predator”. That’s really all you need to make a judgement on whether you should watch this movie or not, but if you’d like to hang around for a thousand words or so, I’ll make some jokes about the director, writer and star, talk robots and their annoying sounds, and perhaps inform you, from my many hours of experience, which is the nicest 80s jungle to visit.

Because I enjoyed “Strike Commando” so much, I decided to plunge right back in with another Mattei / Fragasso / Brown epic. Mattei has given us “Hell Of The Living Dead”, “Zombi 3” and “Rats: Nights Of Terror” (among many, many more); Fragasso wrote “Troll 2”, as well as a lot of Mattei’s other movies; and Reb Brown has screamed his way through many a low-budget gem, like “Yor: The Hunter From The Future”, the 1979 “Captain America” and “Space Mutiny”. Fun fact: Brown appeared to quit acting in the late 90s, but returned in 2012 with “Night Claws”, directed by the same guy who made the classic “Deadly Prey”, and also starring Sherrie Rose from “Summer Job”. That sounds amazing!


Rather than an alien, because they’re expensive to do special effects for, our creature is an escaped military robot. And by robot, I mean in the “R.O.T.O.R.” sense, of being a bloke in a mostly leather suit, with a dark-visored helmet on. We see the military guys trying to control him, with some of the finest technobabble known to humanity – and the way those tech guys deliver the lines, you can tell they’ve got absolutely no idea what they’re talking about. So the army needs a group of bad hombres, and they call on BAM.


Oh man, this is a fun bit. BAM stands for, wonderfully, “Big Ass Motherfuckers”, not “Bad-Ass Motherfuckers”, for some reason. And you know the team all have nicknames! I won’t bother you with the names of the cannon fodder, but the team’s medic goes by the name “Papa Doc”. Now, I don’t want to tell people how to do their business, but you need to be certain before you name a character after one of the 20th century’s more famous and violent despots – for our younger readers, that’s Francois “Papa Doc” Duvalier, who ruled Haiti from 1957 to 1971 and was responsible for the deaths of around 50,000 of his own people. Telling you Reb Brown’s is almost a let-down after that, but he’s great as well, going by the nickname “Killzone”. Yes!


The thing is, we’re never quite sure what the team’s mission is in the jungle. They’re clearly completely unaware that they’re supposed to be tracking a robot soldier, and while there’s a war of some sort raging where they are, they’re not supposed to get involved in that either – although they do, slaughtering bad guys right, left and centre. It’s a bit like a hike that just gets interrupted, maybe? Credence is given to this theory, as when they arrive via boat, they’re all in street clothes, which for Killzone means a bright pink cropped shirt which exposes some sweet toned abs.


Mattei had clearly watched “Predator”, but he’d taken some very odd lessons from it. The biggest was that, about every ten minutes, all the BAM should shoot fairly randomly into dense undergrowth, based on one of them seeing some movement – movement of what, we’re never informed. There’s a scene later on where they liberate a village from the bad guy soldiers, and they’re throwing grenades, firing millions of bullets and rocket launchers…and find a flimsy building full of dead children. They’re obviously blaming the bad guys for this, although why they wanted to kill a load of kids is never mentioned, but the film never considers for a second that the heavily armed guys who fire indiscriminately might be responsible for one or two of those.


The cannon fodder is cannon-foddered, dying like a bunch of idiots (although there’s a really cool visual when one of them gets punched by the robot and spits like a gallon of blood over the camera). Oh, and there’s the merest whisper of a romantic subplot, but that’s really because “Predator” had a feisty local woman in it, so “Robowar” has to have one too. And there’s the member of the BAM who’s got secret knowledge of the robot and how to beat it, but of course wants to save it and take it in.


I haven’t even discussed the robot yet! Omega-One is its name, and using the wrong weaponry for the situation is its game. You will leave the movie, much as my wife did, trying to replicate its “computer” speech – a mix of flat-out gibberish and garbled military commands, with a word that sounded like “re-heat” or “repeat” spoken maybe a thousand times. In other words, it’s an amazing amalgam of low-budget tricks – there’s even a “Robocop” style twist at the end.


If you watched “Predator” and wished there were more dead children, or that the Predator spoke more, then this could be the movie for you. Much like yesterday’s “Strike Commando”, it rips along, there’s lots to enjoy about it, and it’s another fine entry on anyone’s bad movie night rotation.


Rating: thumbs up