Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion: Robo Vampire (1988)

Have you ever wondered what a hybrid of John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China (1986; a bigger hit in the Pacific Rim territories than in the U.S.) and Paul Verhoeven’s Robocop (1987) would look like?

Welcome to this Pacific Rim exploitation oddity that out-cheaps the crowned King we hail that is Cirio H. Santiago (Demon of Paradise, Fighting Mad, Firecracker, The Sisterhood, Stryker, Wheels of Fire) and his crowned prince, Jun Gallardo (Desert Warrior).

Robo Vampire is one of the 150 films from the joint ouvre of director Joe Livingstone and screenwriter Willie Palmer, aka Godfrey Ho; he, the master of B-movie Hong Kong action disasters, he, the master of the “cut-and-paste” technique with a finesse and skill that leads one to wonder how in the hell he got a job teaching filmmaking — to others — at Hong Kong Polytech. But, as with Roger Corman, during his 25 years of making genre films in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and the Philippines, Ho’s mostly Z-grade movies never lost a dime.

And like Corman and Santiago before him, Ho was a stock footage recycling fetishist that not only cannibalized his own films, but the films of others. Not content with endlessly patching one of his own movies into another to create a “new” movie (or two or three), he’d purchase unfinished and unreleased Asian, Chinese, Filipino, and Thai films, then add Caucasian actors to appeal to the Euro and American home video markets, and, through dubbing and voice-overs, assemble a “plot” with the barest of coherence — you know, like when Niels Rasmussen took William Chang’s Calamity of Snakes and churned out The Serpent Warriors as “John Howard” (nope, again: not the John Howard of Spine fame).

In the case of Robo Vampire, it all begins with Ho’s 1987 action film, Devil’s Dynamite, which, after the “success” of Robo Vampire, became, Robo Vampire 2: Devil’s Dynamite (1990). But, if you’re keeping track, Robo Vampire itself features footage from Devil’s Dynamite. So it’s the same film . . . but it’s a sequel . . . and it’s not. And it’s confusing as hell to figure which is the chicken and which is the friggin’ egg . . . or if we have three films or two films — with one film simply retitled to make it look like three films.

Anyway, Devil’s Dynamite is a straight forward good guys vs. bad drug gang movie that owes it debt to John Carpenter: It concerns a top secret agent, aka “The Shadow Warrior,” sent to stop a drug smuggling operation in The Golden Triangle. But a drug lord burnt a voodoo doll and chanted a spell in a crypt that revived a hoard of bloodthirsty, hoping vampires (yes, they hop like bunny rabbits)* that shoot flesh-eating smoke n’ sparks from their hands to defend the operation. And apparently, the once long-sleeping vampires are the stuff of legend, as kids at a birthday party play a sick version of pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey — with the blindfolded birthday girl being chased by a kid pretending he’s one of the hoping vampires.

Then Verhoeven had to go and make Robocop.

So Devil’s Dynamite is recut into a story about Tom Wilde, a murdered narcotics agent given a second chance via an experiment that transforms him into a cyborg. His mission: rescue Sophie, a beautiful undercover agent (from the first film) kidnapped by the evil drug lord, Mr. Young, and his hoard of hoping, somersaulting-and-back flipping vampires.

Then Robo Vampire had to go and make bank.

So, Robo Vampire and Devil’s Dynamite are recut again — with a whole new “Robo Cop” costume (because the other cheapo suit probably fell apart in the first film) — as Robo Vampire 2: Devil’s Dynamite. At least that’s what we think is going on here. So it goes in the world of the cheap-jack Indonesian cinema we love at B&S About Movies.

You can watch Robo Vampire and Robo Vampire 2: Devil’s Dynamite on You Tube and have your own copy of Robo Vampire as part of the Mill Creek Sci-Fi Invasion Box Set. Wait . . . what’s this? Godfrey’s oeuvre — well, 36 of them, including Robo Vampire — have been digitized for TubiTV? How many films can you watch with the words “Ninja,” “Snake,” “Dragon,” and “Thunderbolt” in them? When it’s Godfrey Ho . . A LOT!

* We can take a poke at Willie Palmer, aka Godfrey Ho, and joke about bunny vampires; however, those vamp-rabbits aren’t from cinematic ineptitude: they’re from Chinese legend: the Qing Dynasty legends of the Jiangshi (meaning “hard or “stiff”), which first appeared in print 1789 through the literary visions of writer Ji Xiaolan. Director Yeung Kung-Leung was the first to bring the Jiangshi to the big screen with 1936’s Midnight Vampire.

About the Author: You can learn more about the writings of R.D Francis on Facebook. He also writes for B&S About Movies.

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