Eliminators (1986)

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This never happens

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: thumbs up

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Alien Hunter (2003)

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James Spader was one of the first “movie stars” to realise that TV was not only a more sensible and dependable way of making money, but kept your name out there for movie producers. “Boston Legal” and now “The Blacklist” are hugely entertaining even if, occasionally, you get the feeling that he’s coasting a bit, but just before he made the switch to TV, he pumped out a few lower-budget films like this. Or his movie career was on the skids so he decided to resort to TV. Who knows?

One of my favourite things in movies is when a college professor’s lecture is used to give an incredibly basic introduction to the plot of a movie, even though in the context of what he’s doing he really ought to be saying something a bit cleverer. Spader is Professor Julian Rome, and as he’s telling us all about languages and communication, he gets this email from one of his students:
SUBJECT: Sex
MESSAGE: I want you right now

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So he’s a bit of a bad lad, is the impression we get (when we discover he lost his NASA job thanks to a scandal involving a student, this is confirmed). Anyway, he’s dispatched to the South Pole due to his expertise in cryptography, or something (honestly, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me) to analyse a signal that is being transmitted from a mysterious something hidden in the Antarctic ice…

The base he uses is part of some experiment in hydroponic farming, so he’s surrounded by other scientists, including the student he lost his career over, Kate, and an assortment of stereotypes, including character actors extraordinaire Roy Dotrice and John Lynch (plus former 100m Olympic champion Carl Lewis). So there’s this going on, then the ice surrounding the “thing” starts to thaw. Can Julian crack the code? And did the women scientists really have to wear one-piece bikinis to do their experiments in?

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For a movie set in an Antarctic base, with aliens in it, this tries its hardest to be as unlike “The Thing” as possible.. It’s kind of “The Abyss”, with a smidge of “Alien”, then “The Thing” comes more to the fore at the end. But, even though it wears its influences on its sleeve, it’s really quite good! Julian’s transformation from sleazy douchebag to hero is well-handled, and that’s helped by having an actor as good as James Spader in the role. He’s great, and John Lynch plays a fine villain too (I’m not spoiling anything, he’s as obvious a villain as you’ve ever seen).

It’s tense, and although they do what I call “the House ending” twice (main character hears a snippet of conversation which triggers the real solution in his brain) it’s an interesting twist on a bunch of well-used sci-fi and horror tropes. There’s a plot hole or two, and the title is completely inappropriate (no-one hunts the alien, and the alien doesn’t really hunt anyone) but I’d definitely recommend it. For a SyFy Channel movie, which it turns out this is, it’s bloody fantastic.

Rating: thumbs up

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