Tag Robots

Mega Shark Vs Kolossus (2015)

Mega Shark Vs Kolossus (2015)

Nature’s deadliest creature against mankind’s deadliest weapon!

In search of a new energy source, Russia accidentally reawakens the Kolossus – a giant robot doomsday device from the Cold War – which goes on a destructive rampage. At the same time, a new Mega Shark appears, threatening global security.

 

The fourth instalment in the Mega Shark series (and that’s something I never thought I’d hear myself say) sees The Asylum return to their crazy nonsensical shenanigans, devising the most ludicrous films out of the most preposterous ideas and throwing them out there, knowing that their outlandish titles will always generate some buzz. Granted, the first Mega Shark Vs Giant Octopus did garner a lot of undeserved media attention when the trailer was released, only for people to realise how truly awful it actually was when the full film hit. It wasn’t just the silly concept, it was everything about the production. Despite critical scorn, The Asylum have gone on to make an ever-increasing number of these type of films ranging from Mega Python vs. Gatoroid to the Sharknado films.

With Mega Shark Vs Kolossus, it doesn’t look like The Asylum are going to change their ways any time soon. Cue the usual cardinal sins: ridiculously fast editing where scenes literally last no more than ten seconds before another cut hits; incidental music which attempts to make the film more exciting than it is; a couple of ‘famous faces’ who have been lured in to starring in such low budget nonsense (Illeana Douglas and Patrick Bachau this time around) where you see them and say “I remember their face but not their name” before going onto IMDB to find out; lots of scenes of military types standing around talking about the shark; lots of scenes of people looking into computer screens in small rooms (presumably the only set); lots of scenes of science-type character talking a lot of science fiction gobbledegook; ropey CGI graphics which don’t even appear to be at PlayStation One level yet; and plenty of camera shaking. I could go on but if you’ve seen one Asylum film, you’ve seen them all.

The major issue, and an obvious one, with Mega Shark Vs Kolossus is that it is clearly the unification of two separate films or ideas. Kolossus was obviously designed for its own film but Mega Shark got slapped in to add some name recognition to proceedings in the faint hope of selling more copies. It’s clear to see because the two monsters exist almost in their own little films for the majority of the running time, with Kolossus being reawakened with all manner of Soviet spies and mercenaries chasing it around and Mega Shark reacquainting itself with the American navy. It’s only in the final third where the two plots begin to crossover and even then the linking material is sketchy at best.

Mega Shark doesn’t actually get to tussle with Kolossus until the end of the film, though this is nothing new as the majority of these big ‘VS’ films rarely deliver until the finale (this goes all the way back to the early Godzilla films where the Big G would spend most of the film travelling to fight the monster-of-the-moment before engaging with it at the end). The fight is as pitiful as you’d expect given that one monster is organic, the other one is a robot with a big-ass laser beam weapon.

It’s a scant consolation prize for someone who has had to sit through the mind-numbingly painful scenes of the human cast emitting what seems to be dialogue from their mouths. But I thought dialogue was meant to develop characters and add something to the story, rather than just seemingly pass the time between these inane sequences of characters talking about the shark or Kolossus. They’re not engaging characters who you want to see prevail. You’ll not remember any of their names at the end. You’ll not see any of them develop as a character from the opening to the ending. They’re literally talking clichés, designed to act as a transition between the frames of footage. It’s awful filmmaking and that’s not a criticism of just Mega Shark Vs Kolossus but of The Asylum films as a whole. I know that few people go into these films hoping for an Oscar-winning performance but isn’t it funny how the most memorable monster movies are those with decent casts, decent scripts and identifiable characters who make the monstrous threat appear more realistic and more threatening (Tremors, Jaws, The Fly, King Kong, The Thing, Aliens, An American Werewolf in London, Predator, etc. – I could go on).

 

Like sitting and watching your best mate play a rubbish computer game for hours upon end, Mega Shark Vs Kolossus is a terrible way to pass the time. Best to hop onto Youtube, search for the best bit and watch it without having to endure the torment of the journey there. Please stop this franchise. Stop it right now!

 

 ☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker (1991)

He’s Home… But He’s Not Alone.

Young Derek is left traumatised when his father is killed by a mysterious Christmas present that was left for him on the doorstep in the middle of the night. The present was meant for Derek with a warning not to open until Christmas. It turns out that a local toymaker is making these deadly presents with the intention of killing children and Derek is next on his list.

 

Having long-abandoned the killer Santa theme, the Silent Night, Deadly Night series did what John Carpenter had originally envisioned for the Halloween franchise: making standalone horror films linked together with a particular holiday theme, in this case Christmas. Whilst this only lasted for two films once the traditional slasher stuff had finished in Silent Night, Deadly Night III: Better Watch Out!, it still provided a platform for some interesting non-traditional Christmas horror material. Horror producer and director Brian Yuzna, one of the men behind the Re-Animator films, was in the producer’s seat for this one and his knowledgeable touch is clear to see. There is a definitive Halloween III: Season of the Witch vibe to this sequel in which an evil businessman plans to murder children during one of the year’s biggest holidays. Whilst this isn’t on the same scale, there’s still a cruel and devilish tinge to the proceedings here. Like a gift that keeps on giving, the film contains plenty of bizarre ideas and moments which will leave you wide-eyed in amazement.

Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker is a solid horror flick which doesn’t take itself too seriously and would have probably been more successful standing on its own two feet instead of being tagged with the sequel moniker. It’s got an obvious second-rate budget which holds it back on numerous occasions but it’s got far more to do with the festive season than the bulk of the other sequels and manages to inject some mean-spirited fun into its running time. This is still not a film for the Christmas purists who will be enraged at the sight of a man dressed in a Santa suit kidnaping a small boy or toys coming to life killing people. But hey, people don’t take this stuff seriously, do they?

The interesting premise was never going to live up to potential so it’s to the films credit that it manages to come out as good as it does. Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker dangerously settles into a quasi-slasher formula during the middle portion of the film, as someone gets in possession of a killer toy and is promptly dispatched by said toy, but this is dropped for the finale. One can only wonder how much effective the kills would have been with a bigger budget (or whether they have been cut down). The standout sequence featuring the babysitter and her boyfriend being attacked by a multitude of toys in the bedroom is imaginatively realised. Robotic hands, snakes, army soldiers, tanks, and a remote-controlled car with circular saw add-ons launch an assault upon the unsuspecting couple. Considering all of the toys are actual props, the way in which the sequence is devised really gives you the illusion that these killing machines have life. The idea of a face-hugging Santa toy is a bit absurd, though the face change in ‘mood’ from happy Santa (with the toy playing festive music) to the maniac Santa (with the funeral march now the music of choice) is a nice touch).

Veteran actor Mickey Rooney is the evil toymaker, which is an ironic bit of casting given how vocal Rooney was in showing his hatred for the original when it was released amidst a storm of controversy in 1984. I guess he needed the money for his Christmas presents in 1991. Rooney is fantastic in the role, barking mad and frothing at the mouth in some scenes as he rages against his son, Pino. The rest of the cast is pretty forgettable, though two people from the previous sequel are brought back for very brief cameos, no doubt to add continuity to the series.

Anyone who figures out why Rooney’s character is called Joe Petto will then figure out the plot twist at the end of the film. Believe me, it was totally out of nowhere but I liked it. Films that take creative chances with the material and do something out of the ordinary always get bonus marks in my book, even if the execution isn’t so hot. Thankfully, whilst Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker‘s twist makes no sense in the slightest, the manner of its execution is staged well enough to get you to suspend your disbelief for a few moments.

 

If it’s not the sight of a robot dry-humping a woman whilst shouting “I love you mommy” or the street kid wearing rocket-propelled skates, it’s the manner in which Silent Night, Deadly Night 5: The Toy Maker goes about its business with the minimal fuss that will have you smiling afterwards. It’s never going to become a seasonal classic but for a fourth sequel it holds up far better than it has any right to and will provide a different alternative to the usual Christmas-themed horror suspects at that time of the year.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Target Earth (1954)

Target Earth (1954)

You’ll be paralyzed with fear!

A young woman who attempted to take her life with an overdose of sleeping pills wakes up the next day to find that the city in which she lives, Chicago, is deserted. The streets are empty. Cars won’t start. Electricity is off. And there are people lying dead all around. She encounters three other survivors who have no idea what is going on and decided to stick together in order to get out of the city. But their plans are thrown into disarray when they come across the reason why Chicago is deserted – killer robots from outer space have landed and commenced an invasion of Earth.

 

Made on a shoestring budget in the midst of the “alien invasion” films of the 50s, Target Earth is a film where the premise is actually a lot scarier and more effective than the eventual execution. Who wouldn’t be more than a little concerned and afraid to wake up one day and suddenly find that everyone in your town or city was gone? And even worse at the fact there are killer robots roaming the streets hunting down human survivors. It’s a scarier thought than it is realised in this middling sci-fi film. But I can’t go too hard on it. After all, this was a decade in which anything and everything from outer space decided to land and have a go, with varying quality and budgets. It will have worked back in the 50s, not in the 2010s.

Target Earth starts with great mystery – the eerie shots of a deserted Chicago will have you thinking of the likes of later films The Omega Man, Day of the Dead, 28 Days Later, I Am Legend and many more. Clearly some inspiration has been drawn from Target Earth in this respect. As the young woman, Nora, explores the city and eventually finds fellow survivors Frank, Vicki and Jim, the film keeps up its level of mystery. We know something has happened. We know something is loose in the city. But we’re not quite sure of what. Being out in the streets, we get the feeling that they are only one block away from finding out. So the film manages to keep its audience on edge, makes guesses about what has happened.

Unfortunately the whole film then crashes into the wall once the alien invaders are revealed to be killer robots and the first robot is first shown. More about that later but it’s at this point where the film sheds its mystery and paranoia. The characters then settle down into a hotel to wait it out for a bit and see what happens. And that’s pretty much where they spend the rest of the film. No searching the streets. No attempting to piece together what has happened. They just take refuge in the hotel, encounter a murderer and then the robot appears again. If one major criticism can be levelled at Target Earth is that it’s just too sparse. Hardly anything happens, though when it does it offers promise that the film could have been a whole lot better with a bit more action or problem-solving.

A secondary plot thread runs alongside the main one from the half-way mark, featuring a bunch of scientists and army guys trying to figure out how to stop the robots and conducting tests and experiments. It’s dull, adds little to the narrative and is only included to pad out the running time (and provide a suitably convenient ending for the film). Like most of these 50s sci-fi films, these scenes are so uninvolving and distracting, taking you out of the fantasy elements of the monsters and aliens and transplanting you into boring melodrama.

The budget would only stretch to building one robot and so you’ve got to suspend your disbelief and assume that this is just one of a massive invasion force. At its first appearance, the robot looks rather laughable – well basically any appearance, let alone the first. But there’s something unsettling about it – with no real ‘face’ to speak of, little in the way of clanking when it moves and a single-minded determination to hunt down the survivors. The robot is really only in two scenes but makes an impression in them both. I guess the film tries anything to keep itself away from showing us the robot. The addition of the scared Otis, who panics, cries doom and then inevitably is the first on-screen casualty, and then later the killer, Davis, who adds a cartoony villain presence and meets a fitting end, serve as nothing more than temporary stop-gaps to pad out the human-human conflict.

In the mid 60s, long-time horror director Terence Fisher would make a very similar-themed film in The Earth Dies Screaming which featured a post-apocalyptic England being overrun by killer robots. It’s the better film of the two but there are so many similarities between the two, it’s obvious that whoever wrote it had seen Target Earth.

 

Like many a 50s science fiction flick, Target Earth saw its best days many decades ago but that doesn’t mean to say that there isn’t some merit still lurking around. Though the story is a little threadbare and is pushed about as far as it can go without a bigger budget, there is still enjoyment to be had in a “pretty much nothing exciting happens” sort of way.

 

 ★★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Iron Invader (2011)

Iron Invader (2011)

One man’s junk is another town’s nightmare

A Russian satellite infected with some form of space bacteria crash lands in the small American town of Redeemer. Two local brothers take the scrap metal to a local junk dealer who plans to use the material to finish off his seventeen foot tall ‘Golem’ that he has been building for the town’s centenary. The Golem comes to life when it is exposed to the bacteria and it proceeds to wreak havoc around town, sapping its victims of their life.

 

Ted Hughes’ The Iron Man gets a big aggressive Sy-Fy makeover in this middling offering which is about on par for the channel’s usual produce. Fresh out of flesh-and-blood monsters, the writing team have come up with an unusual and rather unique threat in the form of the metal monster but saddle it in an enclosure of lame genre clichés. But hey, those of you familiar enough with Sy-Fy Originals should know by now that their name is not a seal of quality – more so a death certificate.

It would be pretty easy to substitute the iron monster for any other creature: a dragon, a snake, a tiger, a crocodile, etc. The plot runs exactly the same way that any other creature-on-the-loose film does which is a shame as the concept, though slightly off-beat, could have worked properly had it been given more of a free reign instead of having to stick to type. But there’s not really much to the wafer-thin plot anyway – all bases are covered within the opening fifteen minutes and then it’s just waiting for the Golem to start doing it’s intergalactic robot thing. The trouble with Iron Invader is that it’s played too straight. Right from the moment the Golem comes to life and starts plodding around town, this film needed a healthy dose of tongue-in-cheek. The film knows how over-the-top it is yet never really plays upon this in the script.

The Golem looks like a low budget Transformer though the special effects to bring it to life aren’t too shabby, certainly better than they deserved to be. I guess it is easier to animate metal than it is flesh and so the monster looks shiny, smooth and inorganic but I guess that’s the idea – it is just a cobbled together bunch of metal and the animators don’t have to bring to life flesh, blood and spontaneous movements of an animal. Apart from it is look, the monster isn’t well-thought out. No consideration is given to how it moves, why it’s got eyes and why it has an uncanny ability to sneak up on people despite being huge and metallic. The script points out how big it is so why doesn’t it leave footprints in the mud or cause minor tremors when it’s pounding down the road? It kills people by grabbing hold of them and draining their life which is kind of weird the first time but gets repetitive very quickly as the same thing happens over and over again.

Nicole de Boer is the token ‘name’ in this, more famous for her role as Ezra Dax in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. She plays a biology teacher who not only provides the token knowledge and explanation scenes for the existence of the creature but also the love interest. Coincidentally, her character was a childhood sweetheart with one of the brothers but left town marrying someone else. Now she’s back and looking down the barrel of a divorce. What do you reckon the odds are that facing nightmarish scenario like facing a giant metal monster will allow her to reconcile with her sweetheart and make everything perfect by the end of the film? De Boer is way too lovely to be relegated to Sy-Fy junk like this and is way better than the material on display.

 

Iron Invader is marginally better than its Sy-Fy counterparts but that’s more down to the fact that a giant Transformer-wannabe is the star of the show here, not a giant snake or crocodile. It came from the scrap yard and it should be sent back there pronto.

 

 ★★★☆☆☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Earth Dies Screaming, The (1964)

The Earth Dies Screaming (1964)

Who… Or What Were They… Who Tried To Wipe All Living Creatures Off The Face Of This Earth?

An astronaut returns to Earth to find that it has been ravaged by some unknown force, killing virtually everyone. No one knows what has happened and a small group of survivors in an English village band together to find out more. When they see a couple of men in space suits walking through their village, they assume that it is the Air Force and they are here to help. What they find is more terrifying than they could have ever imagine – these ‘men’ are actually killer robots.

 

The Curse of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula sent the name of Hammer sky-rocketing to the top of the horror genre and the man sitting in the director’s chair for both, Terence Fisher, was hot property. But after making a few more Hammer horrors, Fisher and the studio fell out over creative differences and he briefly left for a rival studio that persuaded him to helm a trio of science fiction films for them. At Planet Film, Fisher clearly found himself a little out of his comfort zone. Horror he was able to handle with ease – science fiction seemed a bit of a task. And without the other creative geniuses behind the original Hammer films (the talented writers, composers, producers and actors), it wasn’t a case of Fisher being found out (since he was a good director) but more a case of him being isolated without help. The Earth Dies Screaming was the first of the three films he made – the others being the fantastic Island of Terror and the underrated Night of the Big Heat – and whilst I have extremely fond memories of it as a kid (and scary memories too), upon further viewing as a mature adult, it’s nowhere near as good as you’d like it to be.

It’s was always going to take something special to live up to a title such as The Earth Dies Screaming so it’s no surprise that this doesn’t even come close. I’m not quite sure whether the idea to shoot in black and white was for budgetary reasons or whether it was designed to be more of a throwback to early 50s sci-fi films but whatever the reason, it is for the best as it looks and feels a lot older than its 1964 release. The biggest issue facing The Earth Dies Screaming is that it doesn’t go anywhere. From the apocalyptic opening scenes of trains crashing and planes falling out of the sky, everything gets rather low-key and very quickly. The group of survivors do what the English do best and hole up inside a pub to figure out what is going on and pretty much stay there for the next forty minutes. The robots turn up. Some of the dead humans begin to rise as zombies. And that’s about it.

With only a short running time of just over an hour, the story ends no further forward than it was when it started. We have no idea what caused nearly everyone to die, no idea what the robots were, what they wanted, why they reanimate the dead and so on. There’s no resolution to proceedings. There’s no closure. I’m not sure whether there is any film missing, whether they ran out of money and had to end when they did or whether they planned to do a sequel. It’s a highly unsatisfying ending which renders the rest of the film almost worthless.

Terence Fisher tries to keep the suspense up to compensate but after the promising opening and first appearance of the robots, the film loses steam quickly. There are too many inconsistencies with the way the robots and the zombies work for them to come off as serious threats – for convenience sake it seems the robots only occasionally attack people. The robots knew where the survivors were all holed up from the start so for them to just ignore the pub completely is a bit silly.

The robots remind me of the Cybermen from Doctor Who – back when the Cybermen were in their prime and bad ass, not those mindless drones in the new version. These robots apparently pre-date the Cybermen but I’m not one to argue that case. They’re too slow to be menacing and seem to have a lot of trouble walking (I’m not surprised with those gigantic moon boots they wear) and the script must take liberties in some scenes in order for them to appear more deadly than they are by having the characters react extremely slowly or just have them stand there in fear. The zombies are just as bad. Their purpose in the film is not explained and flimsy at best – for all intents and purposes, I think they were just put in as replacements for the robots in some scenes because it would have been too expensive or too fiddly to film those cumbersome robots walking up the stairs in the pub. Take them out of the film and the script would have run almost the same.

Willard Parker is the token American hero, no doubt cast to appeal to the US market. But he’s devoid of any charisma or charm and is a pretty unlikable lead it has to be said. Thankfully there are a few decent character actors propping up the supporting cast with Dennis Price as the shifty Taggart and Thorley Walters in his trademark role of a bumbling fool.

 

The famous line “they don’t make them like this anymore” completely sums up The Earth Dies Screaming. It had everything you wanted from a 60s B-movie: robot alien invaders, zombies, a remote village, group of survivors banding together, etc. This rating is probably an extra mark higher than it should be given that it scared me to death when I was a kid. Its effect has worn off considerably over the ages and now looks like the tepid 50s/60s sci-fi horror effort that it really is.

 

 ★★★★★★★☆☆☆ 

 

 

Screamers 2: The Hunting (2009)

Screamers 2: The Hunting (2009)

The Perfect Weapon Is Now The Ultimate Killing Machine

A distress signal is received from Sirius 6B, previously thought to have become a lost colony after the screamers wiped out the human population, and a team is sent to investigate and retrieve any survivors. The team only has a small window in which to conduct any rescue as a meteor storm is heading to destroy the planet. When they arrive, they find that the screamers have evolved into something much more sinister and much more deadly.

 

The current trend for random sequels to long-forgotten films continues with Screamers 2: The Hunting. The original Screamers is something of a minor cult classic featuring Peter Weller and a host of spherical killer machines. It didn’t do that well when it got released and has long been consigned to the vaults. I didn’t think it was that good in all honesty – there was a good film waiting to come out but it was too talky and dragged too much to be consistently entertaining. It had a decent enough plot to carry the film and was helped by a strong performance by Peter Weller. This is exactly the opposite – it’s a lot faster paced, has more action, more gore and is generally more exciting but features less talented actors, a half-assed story and as many clichés as you can shake a stick at.

Screamers 2: The Hunting sticks rigidly to the classic Aliens formula about a group of soldiers being sent to a remote planet where they’re all killed off. If you’ve seen one ‘group of people getting picked off by something deadly’ feature then you’ve seen them all unfortunately. You’ll know who is going to live and die – the token expendable black guy makes an appearance here! Two crew members decide to have sex for no other reason than to provide the film with its token love scene. There are characters that do silly things to further the plot. There are other characters that hide secrets from everyone else which is a tad annoying given that the secrets always make things worse at the wrong moment.

I’ll at least give the film credit for trying to stick as close to the original as possible in terms of continuation. This feels more like a proper follow-up which builds on the original as opposed to a shameless sequel that literally remakes the original with a lower budget. It has the same vibe as the original and uses similar settings and sets. Clearly we get the sense that this is still the same planet. The screamers, in their original form, look as unique and deadly as always. They whiz through the ground in packs to attack and then fly through the air, slicing and dicing their victims until they’ve been shredded to pieces.

Needless to say this leads to plenty of gore and dismemberment – I’m actually quite pleased by the amount of blood on display here. The first part of the film continues along the same lines as the original with the soldiers and screamers doing battle numerous times, resulting in lots of fire fights and explosions. It’s all too routine for my liking. The new version of the screamers taking human form seems to be that good old chestnut of writers taking an easy (and cheaper) route by having their screen menace played by humans instead of costly special effects. The change between small spherical objects into tall humans seems a little far fetched and the film doesn’t do a good job of explaining the miraculous change in physics. The human screamers tend to stay in this form a lot of the time but when they do reveal themselves, at least the make-up effects are convincing enough. I believe there was little CGI, if any, used in these close-ups of the mandibles and mechanical jaws opening. The film shifts from action to more horror-orientated when the human screamers are revealed too which makes a nice change of pace.

Lance Henriksen is given a token cameo role here as the man who designed the screamers and is locked away in his little laboratory on the planet. He really needed a bigger role here and he really needed to appear a lot earlier in the film (it’s about an hour in when he makes his first appearance). He adds his usual screen presence but the words ‘phone-in’ comes to mind when I think of his performance. The character is simply there to explain the plot to the audience and provide the back story and answers to a lot of questions. Peter Weller made the first film but at least he was in the main role. Henriksen could have made this film if he’d have been given a more meaty part. Gina Holden acts with her looks (which are very good by the way) but fails to really get to grips with supposedly portraying a soldier

Greg Bryk plays the token slime ball character that makes things a lot worse for the soldiers by reactivating the screamers. It’s not worth really mentioning anyone else because you could edit footage of any secondary character from this type of movie with another film and still not be any the wiser. To be fair, no one gets a good chance to display any sort of talent as their characters are so poorly written and the dialogue is pretty banal. But at least give it a shot, guys! We like to see someone trying.

 

Screamers 2: The Hunting takes liberties with the likes of Aliens and The Terminator to conjure up a ‘best of’ feature, containing as much as the writers could get away with stealing and re-imagining. It’s not a bad sequel in all honesty and was entertaining enough for me not to keep clock watching. But we’ve been there and done it so many times that I feel like I’m repeating myself in these reviews.

 

 ★★★★★☆☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Class of 1999 (1990)

Class of 1999 (1990)

The ultimate teaching machine… out of control.

In 1999, the school system has almost collapsed. Rival gangs of youths control the classes. Order and control has been replaced by weapons fire and anarchy. Crime is on the increase and society is on the verge of breakdown. Faced with this crisis, a school enlists the help of a shady corporation to provide it with ‘tactical education units’ – android teachers with zero tolerance on disobedience. However the androids soon break free from their original programming and take their version of discipline to the extreme.

 

There is a good sci-fi film trying to emerge from this cheap, cheesy and cheerful romp. Class of 1999 is a wild cross between The Terminator, Westworld and The Warriors and its ultra trashy, dumber than a bag of rocks, full of dodgy special effects and campy as a drag queen convention…..but its perfect entertainment. Class of 1999 looks like it belongs back in the early 80s, let alone the early 90s, with its dazzling array of haircuts, clothes and music and it’s ‘futuristic’ vision of 1999 can only have come from that era of chronic fashion design and outrageous hairstyles. At the bottom of it, Class of 1999 has got plenty of heart and ambition. I’m always prepared to give a film its due. Not every film can have £100m budgets and teams of world class effects designers on board. Some films have to be the poor relation. But if they try their hardest to be as successful on the creative front, then it doesn’t matter how much the film costs.

This is not a film about to go into social commentary overdrive. Despite the futuristic setting about the school system breaking down and need for authoritarianism, there are no underlying messages here and no political subtexts. It’s just an excuse to get the androids into the mix and blowing stuff up and that it does perfectly. The special effects aren’t too bad given the obvious low budget and can be quite impressive at times. The androids look as good as they have any right to be despite some dodgy plastic parts and some less-than-convincing stop motion sequences when they start to lose their human skin. One of them has a kick ass flamethrower attachment to put on her arm which is used to good effect. The only problem I had is that in android form, the special effects are rather clunky and awkward and a far cry from the ‘smooth’ movements of their human counterparts. Knowing how the special effects would have turned out, the script should have had the androids walk like that in human form as well to maintain the illusion. The androids do get a lot to do but the main joy comes in the last twenty minutes when all of the teenagers decide to stop their petty in-fighting and team up to take on the androids. Cue all manner of explosions and mayhem in a rather exciting finale. It’s like Mad Max decided to take on The Terminator with the cyber-punk teenagers decked out in their bright-leggings, leather jackets and punk hair travel in their pimped-up Road Warrior-style cars to take on the three androids guarding the school.

Quite how they managed to hook Malcom McDowell and Stacy Keach into the film is anyone’s guess but they add a real touch of class and authenticity to proceedings. McDowell has a limited role as the school principal but it’s Keach who steals the show as the slightly mad albino scientist in charge of the androids, complete with the greatest white 80s mullet you’re ever going to see and matching contact lenses.

The android teachers are excellent. Each of them has their own quirk and it’s quite fun seeing them act, knowing that they’re just robots underneath. In particular, John P. Ryan as a pipe-smoking history teacher displays the stereotypical menace of an old-fashioned teacher coupled with an even more sinister robotic nature. Watch out for Pam Grier too as the aforementioned ‘flamethrower’ android. The teenage cast are wasted here because the adults are so entertaining. You actually want to see these androids knock a bit of sense into some of them. Besides which, it is these damned gun-toting, chain smoking, drug dealing teenagers that have caused the school system to go into meltdown. Most of them deserve a bit of a lashing although this isn’t of the old style cane variety – this is Terminator-style elimination.

 

A definitive trash can classic if ever there was one, Class of 1999 has an extremely dated view of the future (or the past as it’s been over ten years!) but wears it’s low budget heart on it’s sleeve, served up with an extra large helping of cheese.

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆ 

 

 

Chopping Mall (1986)

Chopping Mall (1986)

Chopping Mall – Where they slash their prices – and their customers!

Two teenagers who work for a furniture store at the local mall decide to sneak their friends in after hours for a massive party. They don’t plan ahead very well because it just happens to be the night a new security system is implemented in the mall with the introduction of three robot security guards. A couple of bolts of electricity short-circuit the computer system and the robots go crazy, killing their human technicians and anyone else who is in the mall after hours.

 

I’d be hard pressed to think of a better example of an 80s horror film than Chopping Mall. With it’s gory front cover, a classic tag line and featuring the requisite amount of dumb, appallingly acted teenagers who drink, have sex and then are hacked to pieces, it’s the ultimate in cheese. It’s got guilty pleasure slapped all over it with its none-too-serious tone and plenty of in-jokes and cameos. Think a weird cross between Short Circuit and Friday the 13th and you’ll be right at home with Chopping Mall. It’s a slasher in all but the presence of a knife-wielding maniac and the malfunctioning robots more than make up for that.

Director Jim Wynorksi has made countless low budget horror flicks over his career and this has to rank up with his best work which, sadly enough, is not exactly something to write home about. At a slender seventy-six minutes long, he makes the most of the time he has to keep the film moving quickly and there are no dull spells or drawn out scenes. He keeps things ticking away nicely from as soon as the robots go crazy right until the end credits. This was made in the 80s after all so, predictably, you’ll be able to spot which character is going to die and in what order. The characters are those from the book of slasher lore: slutty females designed to bare their breasts, nerds designed to explain everything, jocks are there to act all Alpha Male and virginal females are there to survive. I’d be hard pressed to name any of the actors involved in this and it’s safe to say that they’re simply filling the roles of stereotype to perfection. Like the majority of these 80s flicks, I’d be amazed to find out that any of them forged successful movie careers as they’re all abysmal, not being able to emote when one of their friends has been incinerated or fumbling around making out as if they’ve never done it before.

Thankfully there’s a group of eight teenagers in the mall plus various janitors and technicians so there’s a field of targets for the robots to kill and the body count ends up high. The front cover does promise gore but there’s little to be hard here. Apart from an awesome head explosion which must have engulfed the majority of the make-up effects budget, the deaths are not bloody. Sadly enough despite the film being called Chopping Mall, no one actually gets chopped up.

The robots look like rejects from Short Circuit with bits of the old school Cylons from Battlestar Galactica and Robocop thrown in for good measure. Come to think of it, you could imagine ‘Johnny 5′ going on a killing spree if there was ever an X-rated version. Being low budget and this being the 80s when futuristic objects looked ridiculously over-the-top, these robots aren’t able to do an awful lot. You won’t see them moving up and down the escalators. Their laser weapons look like they wouldn’t hurt a fly and they couldn’t hit a barn door with them. Their sound effects have been swiped from War of the Worlds and the visual effects for the laser beams look like a cheap 80s computer game gone wrong. Not only that but they’re called ‘killbots’ for crying out loud! What did their creators think was going to happen? The robots would make tea for everyone or doing the cleaning? Hell no – they’re going to turn into psychotic killing machines, patrolling the corridors of the mall looking for the next kill. The setting is used to great effect as well and takes a page out of the Dawn of the Dead book by getting some great footage of the different locations in the mall that they shot the film inside.

 

Chopping Mall ticks all the boxes as far as 80s horrors go. Hugely entertaining from start to finish and with a distinctive story to set it apart from other teen fodder flicks, it never outstays it’s welcome. Don’t take it seriously, sit back and enjoy one of the hidden gems of 80s low budget film making!

 

 ★★★★★★☆☆☆☆