Solarbabies (1986)

There was a time, like probably 1986, where end of the world movies and rollerskating movies crossed paths to make one film. Mel Brooks was involved. And it went nowhere in our reality, but if we are to believe the theory of multiple Earths each with their own divergent timelines, there is one version of life where Solarbabies was a Star Wars sized hit and there would be a whole new slate of Italian ripoffs of end of the world rollerskating movies and not just the Roller Blade movies that Donald Jackson unleashed on an uncaring planetoid.

There’s no water in the future and there are orphanages and there’s a game that’s kind of like rugby on skates. A team of orphans — Jason (Jason Patric), Terra (Jami Gertz), Rabbit (Claude Brooks), Metron (James LeGros), Tug (Peter DeLuise) and Daniel (Lukas Haas) — have bonded over this game and when Daniel finds a glowing orb that might be the key to everyone having enough water, this family unit has to seek it out.

That’s because another orphan named Darstar (Adrian Pasdar) has stolen it and taken off for the desert with the Eco Protectorate e-Police in hot pursuit. Oh yeah — that orb is also called the Bodhi and is part of an alien who the government also wants to capture.

This movie leaves me with so many questions, like why did talented people like Charles Durning, Sarah Douglas and Alexei Sayle from The Young Ones end up in it? How do rollerskates work in the desert? How amazing is it that Mel Brooks lost $9 million dollars of his own money on this and had to fly out to the set to threaten to fire everyone when the cast fought with director Alan Johnson, who up until then was a choreographer and only directed one other movie, Brooks’ To Be Or Not to Be? Can you believe that this movie was delayed for weeks because of rain, even though it was lensed in a Spanish desert? And how absolutely wild is it that it has a theme song by Smokey Robinson, “Love Will Set You Free” that directly quotes Jesus throughout*?

Bad gut Grock — great name — was played by Richard Jordan, who had to have been sick of being in desert movies that bombed after this and Dune.

And you know, I loved this when it came out. I was that lone kid when Patric and Gertz got hot in The Lost Boys that kept saying, “But have you seen Solarbabies?”

*To be fair, every character in this movie is named for some religious figure and the Bodhi is at one point literally called the sphere of Longinus, which is a direct tie to the Spear of Destiny that pierced the side of Jesus and ended his life after being crucified.

Robot Wars (1993)

Charles Band is one to never keep a good robot down — not when he laid out several million bucks to create his first robot-verse romp in 1989. So the anime-inspired mechs that we know and love are back, along with an all-new, never-seen-before mech: the Lucasian-inspired AT-AT that is MRAS-2, which resembles a mechanized scorpion.

Now, if you read our reviews for the they’re-not-sequels Robot Jox and Crash and Burn (both reviewed this week, look for them), then you’re up to speed on the all-over-the-place timeline of the Band-verse that our poly-carbon alloy friends operate in. Adding to the confusion: In the overseas markets, courtesy of the U.S. home video promotional one-sheets touting the tagline: “First, there was Robot Jox . . . ,” this third installment of Band’s live action anime-mechs is known in the overseas markets as Robot Jox 2: Robot Wars. Yeah, we know. Crash and Burn was Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn in the overseas markets. So, why not suffix Robot Wars with a 3?

Oh, ye poor B&S reader. Why are you overthinking a movie with a giant scorpion robot?

And speaking of overthinking: While Robot Wars takes place eleven years after (in 2041) the events in Crash and Burn (set in the year 2030), this isn’t the future-continuation of that timeline. In fact, the world — instead of being devastated by a nuclear war as depicted in Robot Jox, and the world economic collapse due to man’s dependence on technology ballyhooed in Crash and Burn: now the North American continent was devastated by “the great toxic gas scare of 1993” that’s left large parts of the former United States a barren, desert wasteland. (You know, the same desert wasteland Parsifal, Bronx and Ratchet drove across on motorcycles to the Eurac-backed Big Apple, aka Arizona, U.S.A.) Oh, and let’s not forget the great robot ban of 2015 that decommissioned all the battlebots. (Uh, oh. Are we pinching from Damnation Alley, here? Remember that ’70s post-apoc’er had giant scorpions raised on radioactive fallout.)

And Band changed the sociopolitical backstory, yet again. Gone are the U.S.-led Common Market and the Russian-bred Confederation. And it seems the Independent Liberty Union foiled the tech-oppressive Unicom Corporation. Now, the New World Order is known as North Hemi, which assimilated the United States. The opposing side is the Eastern Alliance. And, at one time, the Hemis and the Alliancers had at it out with their now extinct 120-foot mechs we know and love, hence the great robot ban of 2015. (Uh, oh. Are we pinching from Francis Ford Coppola’s Battle Beyond the Sun? Remember that Corman-hatchet job of the superior Russian space epic Nebo Zovyot (1959) was rewritten by Frank, set in the year 1997 with a world divided into North and South Hemi governments.)

Sadly, all that is left of the once ubiquitous war machine mega-robots is the MRAS-2 scorpion-styled robot, now reduced to being tourist attraction that transports civilians across the wasteland — but still carries a full weapons complement, complete with a laser-tipped tail. Ah, but this isn’t just another wasteland tour: Wa-Lee, an Eastern Alliance dignitary is on board, on his way to negotiate a trade agreement with the North Hemis to manufacture a new line of “mini-megs” for the Eastern Alliance. (Although Danny Kamekona is the only actor from the franchise to act in two of the three Robo flicks, he’s a different character in each.)

That trade agreement is jeopardized when it is discovered the terrorist-based Centros, desert bandits who attack North Hemi transports, are now backed by Eastern Alliance sympathizers. As the story develops, it’s learned that Wa-Lee, and Drake, our Plissken-styled MRAS-2 pilot (Don Michael Paul; he’s since written and directed sequels in the Jarhead, Sniper, Tremors, and Death Race franchises) were once friends, but now enemies. Their animosity boils over when Wa-Lee, with the support of the Centros, hijacks the MRAS-2 and holds its passengers hostage. And with that, Drake faces his fears and climbs back into the cockpit of a reactivated MEGA-1 for some battlebot action. Oh, and a pretty cool, double-turret laser tank (right off the cover of David Drake’s 1979 paperback Hammer’s Slammers) shows up. However, also showing up along the yellow-plotted road is the Bogie and Bacall-styled romantic bickering between Don Michael Paul’s Han Solo-esque scoundrel and Barbara Crampton’s (Re-Animator) Leia-inspired archeologist who helps him resurrect the thought lost MegaRobot — that digs itself out of its subterranean grave in an impressively executed effect.

Yeah, but just a little too late with the effects there, Chuck.

Charles Band was really onto something special with Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox. Then he fumbled the ball with his two they’re-not-sequels and got ass-smoked by Toho Studios’ hell-of-a-lot-more fun, GUNHED (1989). And team Band (Charles produced while pop Albert directed) most likely realized that fact, as their fourth not-a-sequel, Battle Jox — featuring giant dinosaur-styled robots — was cancelled. (Thank the Lords of Kobol for saving us from that feldercarb. In what logic-verse would man build dinobots, except for some lame-ass toyline for kids 9 and under.)

Dave Allen and Jim Danforth really knocked it out of the park with the newly-added Scorpion robot. Double for the special effects team of Greg Aronowitz and Rob Sherwood who designed the robot cockpits. The plate work is also top notch in depicting the rocking of the passenger cabin/cockpit against the landscapes as the scorpion walks. (The VHS has a great documentary vignette — void from the later DVD presses — that explains/demonstrates the plate processes of the film.) It’s when the proceedings get outside of the cockpit — with the Paul-Crampton romancing, Lisa Rinna’s journalist investigating the nefarious goings in the metropolis of Crystal Vista (aka old Los Angeles), and the sociopolitical rambling — that it all goes to feldercarb. Is the third act here, yet? Can we please just get to the robot battle we came for in the first place?

While you’ll notice the Full Moon prop and costume department raiding throughout the film (that looks like leftovers from Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn to me; reviews coming for both, look for them), the proceedings are of the oh-so Buck Rogers plastic-verse variety to the point you’re wondering when a (bitchy-Season 1) Erin Grey or (pudgy-Season 2) Gil Gerard will show up. But we’re grateful for iconic Asian actors Danny Kamekona and Yugi Okimoto bringing their A-Game and selling the silliness with gusto. (They both appeared together in The Karate Kid Part II (1986); along with Don Michael Paul, they also appeared in Aloha Summer (1988).)

As with its sister films, VHS copies are bountiful in the online marketplace, with the first DVDs issued in 2007 as part of the Full Moon Classics: Volume Two disc set, and then the Full Moon Features: The Archive Collection, with 17 other Full Moon titles. Robot Wars is also double-featured with Crash and Burn on a Shout! Factory DVD issued in 2011. Blu-ray’ers can pick the Full Moon single-movie version issued in 2017. Question is: When are we going to get a three-pack set proper — complete with the VHS documentaries restored?

You can enjoy Robot Wars as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi.

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

Crash and Burn (1990)

This sequel-but-its-not-a-sequel to Robot Jox — marketed in the overseas markets as Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn — unlike its predecessor, foregone a U.S. theatrical release and went straight-to-video. As with Roger Corman creating Forbidden World and Space Raiders for the sole purpose of not so much to tell a compelling story, but to maximize his $5 million dollar investment in Battle Beyond the Stars by recycling that dopey Star Wars cash-in’s sets and special effects, Crash and Burn recycles the impressive Dave Allen and Ron Cobb stop-motion animated robots from Robot Jox. Just don’t hit the big red streaming button with the expectations of another anime-mech battle of the robots: at its core, Crash and Burn slaps a sci-fi coat of paint on the plot of Friday the 13th, with that film’s supernatural, woodsy killer, replaced by a James Cameron-inspired, unstoppable, synthetic desert killer.

Why is the tagline “The Weapons of the Future are Alive” in grey-against-red: you can’t read it. Why not go with a black typeset-against-orange?

To make sense of this new, its-not-a-sequel Band-verse: Let’s assume that the post-fifty years-after-the-nuclear war new order created by the two, new world superpowers from the Robot Jox timeline — the Common Market and the Confederation — suffered an economic collapse. That, coupled with the world ravaged by the greenhouse effect and an out-of-control sun creating “Thermal Storms,” allowed for the rise of the powerful Unicom Corporation controlling the world’s marketplace. Blaming the economic instability and collapse on the world’s technological dependency, Unicom banned all human usage of computers and robots. (In this new-verse, the mech-robots were develop for mining operations.)

While we have a pinch of The Terminator here, you’ll also notice an Orwellian pinch of the influential, “ancient future” novel, 1984, with scattered pockets of citizenry operating the “Independent Liberty Union,” a loose resistance movement in authoritarian opposition. One of the last free-speech strongholds against the corporate rule is a battered, over-the-air Public Access television station housed in an abandoned industrial facility, operated by Union sympathizer Lathan Hooks (Ralph Waite of TV’s The Waltons), a one time media executive who moonlights as a revolutionary. And, in a pinch from Alien — if you remember that the Weyland-Yutani Corporation infiltrated the Nostromo’s human crew with a cyborg to harvest alien eggs — Unicom manages to plant Quinn (a great Bill Mosley of Dead Air), a Sythnoid-cyborg operative (he’s the station’s Chief Engineer) among the station’s staff to kill Hooks and shutdown the station.

Keep your eyes open for the great work by a familiar cast of characters actors: John David Chandler of Drag Racer is a scruffy-creepy gas station owner; ubiquitous TV and film character actor Jack McGee (Brad Pitt’s Moneyball) is a slobbering talk show host; Megan Ward of Encino Man is Waite’s granddaughter and studio engineer; a perfectly-stoic-for-the-role Paul Ganus is very good in an early role (and one of his few leading-man roles) as Tyson Keen, a Unicom fuel courier who takes up the with TV station-based rebels after his departure is waylaid by a thermal storm.

For a Charles Band production-edict patched together by producer David DeCoteau (Sorority Babes in the Slimeball Bowl-O-Rama) with a script by J.S Cardone (The Slayer, Outside Ozona), the production quality is high (courtesy of Band’s inventive repurposing of a rusted processing plant that reminds of Ravagers similar against-the-budget architectural redeployment). In addition, the acting on all quarters is solid, Band’s direction is tight and suspenseful, and Cardone crafted an interesting “ancient future” by way of convincing techno-speak and a well-fleshed sociopolitical backstory for a nicely-layered twist to its Alien-cum-Terminator-cum-Friday the 13th plotting. And while the Dave Allen 120-foot robot we came for doesn’t show up until the last throes of the third act, Cardone and Band earn bonus points for — instead of putting the words “July 2030” on the screen to advance the plot, they made a sensible, creative choice to have John Davis Chandler’s character swat a fly that lands on a dated calendar. And, instead of a text scroll or voiceovers (the bane of my screenwriting existence), they have Ganus’s Unicom courier watch Waite’s newscast on a television in the gas station to get us up-to-speed as to “the future” of Crash and Burn. (And since this is all in the Full Moon family: Ted Nicolaou, the director of the studio’s Bad Channels, The Dungeonmaster, Subspecies, TerrorVision and The Dungeonmaster, serves as the editor, here.)

All in all, Crash and Burn isn’t a bad Full Moon flick; it’s one that rates right up there with their vampire variant Subspecies as one of the studio’s best. Well, okay the sci-fi’ers Arena and, especially, the space westerns Oblivion and its even better sequel, Oblivion 2: Backlash, are pretty cool shots from the Full Moon canons, too.

There’s a couple alternatives to owning your own copy of Crash and Burn. Of course, used VHS tapes are bountiful in the online marketplace, with the first DVD version released in 2000 by Full Moon. Then, under the “Charles Band DVD Collection” box set, it was reissued in 2006 with other Full Moon titles. The most recent reissue is a 2011 double-feature DVD with the third, loose sequel, Robot Wars.

You can enjoy Crash and Burn as a free with-ads-stream on Tubi. And look for our reviews of Robot Jox and Robot Wars, this week.

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

Robot Jox (1989)

Editor’s Note: We’re going tech crazy these two weeks, with another “Post-Apoc Week” blowout this week, along with an “Ancient Future Week” to follow, next week. Robot Jox — and its two pseudo-“sequels,” Crash and Burn and Robot Wars — has that “. . . years after the war . . . the catastrophe” expostional preamble trope we know and love, but unlike the ’70 post-apoc classics Ravagers and No Blade of Grass (from our last apoc blowout), Charles Band’s VHS-loved trio are front-loaded with tech. So consider Band’s robotic-computer baloney as a silicone slice of metal-tasting appetizers for the more present day, “Ancient Future Week” of films running from April 11 to the 17. Download and enjoy!

Before Michael Bay turned Hasbro’s Transformers into a film franchise, there was Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox, itself inspired by that toyline-cum-cartoon series and the mid-’80s imported Japanese amine series Robotech. Yeah, in the ’80s it was all about combat mech, with giant robots kicking their mech-on-mech carbon-alloy carcasses across the terra firma. All of us ex-Dungeon & Dragons geeks enamored with all thing Lucasian wanted a live-action version of our tabletop BattleTech game brought to life. Gordon inspired us to head into our cobwebby attics and dank basements to pull out our old Rock ‘Em Sock ‘Em Robots game.

Like this . . . only bigger. Make it happen, Mr. Allen.

The man that Charles Band hired to flesh out Stuart Gordon’s live-action mech concept for Empire International Pictures was Nebula and Hugo Award-winning science fiction writer Joe Haldeman. If you grew up loving sci-fi in the pre-Lucasian epoch, you read Haldeman’s best-seller The Forever War (1974). If you were a Trekkie, you read his novel-continuations of the Starship Enterprise’s missions with Planet of Judgement (1977) and World Without End (1979). (Gordon previously worked with Haldeman in producing a failed, four-part TV miniseries based on The Forever War.) To say we were stoked when the news hit the pages of Starlog that Joe Haldeman was bringing, somewhat, our beloved Battletech and Robotech to the big screen, is an understatement. After what George Lucas and his main effects man, John Dykstra, accomplished with Star Wars — and the AT-ATs in Empire — we knew this would be epic.

Oh, how naive we wee lads were: welcome to the not-so-epic, Buck Rogers-inspired plastic-verse fail of . . .

Let’s face it: Empire Pictures’ “low budget” of $7 million was no match for Lucas’s self-bankrolled $20 million for the adventures of Luke Skywalker. And the man creatively hamstrung to bring our dreams of Japanese-styled anime mecha to the big screen was the offspring of model animator gods Ray Harryhausen and Jim Danforth: David Allen.

Allen was a name QWERTY’d often in our pages of Famous Monsters and Starlog, courtesy of his stop-motion work in Sam Raimi’s The Evil Dead inspiration, Equinox (1970), and the Galaxina-precursor-porn-comedy Flesh Gordon (1974). (Of course, we wee lads watched Equinox on UHF-TV; Flesh Gordon had to wait until the midnight movie and home video ’80s arrived.) Together, Allen and Jim Danforth also provided the models for The Crater Lake Monster (1977), while Allen worked on the animated aliens (the best part of the movie) for Laserblast (1978). Also working on the film was Ron Cobb, whose work we knew from Dark Star (1974), Star Wars (1977), and Alien (1979).

So, out on a dry lake bed in the Mojave Desert, Allen and Cobb set off to create an “ancient future” world set fifty years after a nuclear war devastated the Earth. Out of the ashes, a new world emerged with two, new world superpowers: the Common Market, composed of the old U.S.A. and Japan, and the Confederation, composed of Russia and Europe. (Hey, I thought the EURACS fused Asia, Europe, and Africa into a “super continent” in 2019? Parsifal, save us!)

To save what’s left of the Earth, the two nations forged a treaty banning warfare. But, as in the now ancient future of the year 2018 in Rollerball, the peaceful-want not citizens and government officials are restless: they need action and entertainment. And since the same old territorial pissings between the governments still rages and, since no lessons were learned from our past, nuclear faux pas and man still fails at diplomatic unity over land and resources, they do what the Romans do: toss two men into the Colosseum for gladiatorial combat. May the best country win. (Somewhere, in the frames, is a reported adaptation of Homer’s The Iliad. Okay.) Only the men (and women) representing their countries in the ring are “RoboJox,” mech-pilots encased in 120-foot weaponized robots. And just like in Rollerball: these jocks are futuristic football stars. Sadly, while man has grown to the point of the ability to construct eleven-story robots, society is still as sexist and racist as it ever was. Yeah, women are harassed for being mech-pilots . . . how dare females invade our he-man world.

Unlike its two sequels-but-they’re-not-sequels, Crash and Burn, aka Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn (1990), and Robot Wars, aka Robot Jox 2: Robot Wars (1993) (don’t worry: we’re going to sort that all out in those coming reviews), we laid down our $3.25 to see Robot Jox in our town’s empty duplex cinema. The film barely made over a million dollars against its seven million budget. Curiosity got the best of us, however, and we rented the two direct-to-video-not-sequels, full well knowing we were getting a Corman stock footage rehash of the Battle Beyond the Stars-into-Forbidden World-into-Space Raiders variety: for when you spent seven million bucks on effects, it pays to recycle.

Now, you know that musicians who were kids-teens like us that grew up to form successful bands and came to sample dialog from our mutually-favorite films, is kind of our jam at B&S About Movies. So, as with Rob Zombie utilizing dialog from The Undertaker and his Pals (1966) and My Life with the Thrill Kill Cult creating a new audience for The Brotherhood of Satan (1971), Trent Reznor sampled bits from Robot Jox in “The Becoming” on the Nine Inch Nail’s The Downward Spiral (1994).

You know how it is down at the ol’ road house, Dalton: opinions vary. You can still give me Robot Jox over the mechanized Godzilla-hornswoggle that is Pacific Rim (and Transformers) any day of the week, and twice on Sundays, because, well, a bigger studio and bigger budget doesn’t always mean better. There’s a reason why cult film retrospectives honor and distributors like Shout! Factory digitally preserve Robot Jox: its “ancient future” is by far, the more enjoyable film.

You can get in on the fun with a free-with-ads stream of Robot Jox on Tubi.

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

Matango (1963)

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Mark Rochester’s bio says, “Librarian. Mad about movies, traveling, books and film soundtracks. Perfect night – Watching The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes with Ornella Muti.”

Matango is a Japanese horror flick from Ishiro Honda, director of Godzilla, based on the short story The Voice in the Night by English writer and bodybuilder William Hope Hodgson.

Rumored to be the inspiration for the American sit-com Gilligan’s Island that ran from 1964-67, Matango, also known as Attack of the Mushroom People has people turning into mushrooms on a mysterious island. Sounds great, doesn’t it?  

Well, it did to me, anyway, and I was buzzing with anticipation when I settled down to watch it, late at night, with, for effect, a cup of Heinz Mushroom Soup with double croutons.  However, twenty minutes into the film and I was having second thoughts – about the film, that is, not those extra croutons.  Our small cast, led by Akira Kubo (Son of Godzilla), have not yet got their yacht wrecked on the eerie, deserted island, the setting for most of the film, we have had a strange musical number on board the yacht, and it is all a bit slow and… dull. Even after Kubo and co start exploring the island it is another twenty minutes before we see a mushroom man, creeping about the boat at night, attacking the crew, in what is one of the best moments in the film. Bafflingly, the next morning almost everyone is in denial over seeing anything, and carry on as if nothing has happened. Maybe it was all a dream? Too much sake – or mushrooms?

Much of the rest of the film is spent watching the shipwrecked group struggling to survive on the island, fighting one another, mostly for the attractive Mami, played by Kumi Mizuno (Invasion of Astro-Monster), and slowly starving to death, unable to eat the dangerous mutative Matango mushrooms that seem to grow everywhere on the island lest they morph into “mushroom people.” There are a couple of clunky flashback sequences that pop up as the group looks for food – one is used to squeeze in another musical number, and the other a “risque” dance sequence.

The film is colorful, but rarely atmospheric.  The mushroom people effects, though good for the time, are now hopelessly amusing – not a good thing for “horror” movie. But there are some unforgettable moments – like the scenes in the jungle with the exotic-looking mushrooms blooming and mushroom people wobbling about, and the ominous sequence near the start when the crew find another wrecked boat completely covered in fungus. Although this all sounds a bit wacky, and “creature-feature” tacky, Ishiro Honda intended Matango as a serious movie warning of the way the Japanese people were changing after the war, and striving for things that would ultimately change and destroy them. Unfortunately, it is now easy to overlook this subtle message today and see it as a cheap monster movie.

Sensation Seekers (1927)

According to film historian Anthony Slide, Florence Lois Weber “was the American cinema’s first genuine auteur, a filmmaker involved in all aspects of production and one who utilized the motion picture to put across her own ideas and philosophies.” She’s also been called the most important female director in the history of American film. It’s amazing that she was making movies in a time when women were still battling for the right to vote.

This is the story of a small town girl turned Long Island jazz baby Egypt Hagen (Billie Dove) who can’t be tamed, not even by the minister who seeks to save her. The dancing scenes are filled with passion matched only by the spectacle close of a shipwreck.

Kino Lorber has released Sensation Seekers and A Chapter In Her Life on blu ray, with 2K restorations by Universal Pictures and commentary on this film by Shelley Stamp, who wrote Lois Weber in Early Hollywood.

This is a recommended purchase, as its an opportunity to see the start of Hollywood and learn the story of an important female artist whose story has not been told nearly enough.

Empire of Ash III (1989)

You’ve seen Empire of Ash. And hey, doesn’t Empire of Ash II seems like exactly the same movie? That’s because it is. So Empire of Ash III is really the second movie just to confuse you. I can make things even more puzzling for you. This movie is also known as Maniac Warriors, just like the first Empire of Ash, so you may have no idea what movie you’re in store for.

Lucas (William Smith) and Danielle are back in this movie, which is all about an attempt to stop the blood harvesting of the ruling elite, who have all become monsters thanks to a nuclear war and have sent the Warriors, led by Baalca, to steal blood from women by using needles. Sure, alright, sounds like a plan, I guess.

This is a movie so brazen that it thanks Conan in its credits and has this tagline: “Mad Max Paved the Last Road…The Last Of The Warriors Destroyed It.”

This was directed by Michael Mazo and Lloyd A. Simandl, who also made the first film together. They decided to throw more nudity in this one and William Smith to test the theory that if breasts and William Smith make any movie better, sweater meat and Mr. Smith teaming up may win this movie an Oscar. It didn’t, but you have to admire that kind of Canuck-spa.


Future Justice (2014)

There’s nothing like a theme week — in this case, another “Apoc Week” — to expose us to a filmmaker that we’ve never heard of, well, at least not moi. Now, you know all about the B&S love for all things SOV, especially when it comes to the resumes of ’80s direct-to-video purveyors Dennis Devine and Brett Piper. (Why else do you think we dedicated an entire Drive-In Friday feature to both of their careers?) And with the advent of digital technologies, we now have a new guard of shot-on-digital filmmakers that are just as prolific as Dennis and Brett. And one of those filmmakers is Providence, Rhode Island-based writer and director Richard Griffin. During his now 20-year career, Griffin’s produced 29 feature films and 13 shorts in the horror genre. He’s the kind of filmmaker who can pinch out three films in a year without breaking a sweat. And, from what I can see, he’s never not been able to secure worldwide distribution for his product. I bet, if I go to Walmart right now, I’d find a couple of his films in the Wallyworld impulse-buy barrels in the electronics’ aisle.

I have to admit, after looking at over his resume, with retro-inducing titles such as Raving Maniacs (2005), Beyond the Dunwich Horror (2008), Atomic Brain Invasion (2010), Frankenstein’s Hungry Dead (2013), Seven Dorms of Death (2015), and Flesh for the Inferno (2015), I’m diggin’ the Griffin-vibes. I’ll have to see how many of his films I can exhume from the net’s digital coffers for a weekend of couch-grazing. And, as you can see, Richard Griffin loves his horror flicks. But how does he fair in the sci-fi genre?

Let’s fire up that retro-VCR for his lone — so far — sci-fi adventure, Future Justice.

We dig the ’80s retro-VHS cover art.

So, since we are in a digitally-based retro-land, the tentpoles on Future Justice are, of course, the earth-based, ’80s Italian ripoffs of Mad Max and Escape from New York, with a smidgen of George Romero’s The Night of the Living Dead and soupçon of that other Carpenter film (that J.C keeps remaking to lesser and lesser effect, i.e., the utterly shitty Ghosts of Mars), Assault of Precinct 13. And Carpenter’s pre-Assault film comes to play: Dark Star (more on that later). And keepin’ that Carpenter vibe going: you’ll see a touch of Luc Besson’s blatantly plagiarist Plissken romp, Lockout. And since we’ve got a maniacal ex-military man hellbent on ruling the Earth, we’ve got a little of Kevin Costner’s The Postman. But since we are in low-budget land: I’ll take the retro-vibes back a bit further . . . with Invisible Invaders, the 1959 John Agar-starring film that everyone seems to forget inspired George Romero’s zombie romp, which plays a sci-fi angle (of alien spirits possessing dead humans) in lieu of Romero’s later horror angle. And instead of Costner’s apoc-romp, we’ll evoke the cheaper, 1984 Canadian apoc’er Def-Con 4, with that film’s Earth-fallen astronauts besieged by a self-appointed, maniacal ruler run amok in the woods of Nova Scotia.

Now, if you’ve seen Lockout — or any of the countless “space prison” flicks released over the years in the wake of David Fincher Alien 3 (another of this film’s influences; also Fincher’s Pitch Black with its Riddick character comes to play) — then you’re up to speed in the Griffin-verse as we meet the solar system’s most infamous criminal: Python Diamond (screenwriter Nathaniel Silva). After serving out his five-year cryo-sentence on the prison moon of Titan, he’s now ready for transfer back to Earth to complete his sentence. And in mid-transport . . . the five-man military police crew in charge of our reluctant hero loses contact with Earth . . . and comes to discover a nuclear war has devastated the planet.

Of course, with these space marines, Semper Fidelis isn’t their motto: they need Python Diamond on their team — and they’ll see to it his faux-Plissken-ness gets a Hauk-esque full pardon for helping out. And, with that, our Magnificent Six fight their way through the anarchy and come to defend a group of scientists in a warehouse bunker laid siege by the Earth’s now crazed, radiated survivors. Oops, they’ve just lead the paramilitary crazies right to the very scientists trying to save the Earth.

I know, I know. Where’s the logic with these “space prison films” shipping the Earth’s malcontents to the Saturn’s moon to freeze them, then defrost them and ship them back? Hey, don’t blame Griffin: he’s homaging the films that came up with the ol’ prison freezing snafu in the first place. (And don’t get me started on my disdain for Demolition Man and its prison-freeze tomfoolery, which is only matched by my acid-refluxin’ for Starship Troopers . . . and upchuckin’ for Carpenter’s Escape from L.A., but I digress.)

Look, are these apocalyptic proceedings a wee bit plastic and cardboard in appearance? Is the thespin’ wooden to manically over the top? Is the embattled group of outsiders battling against overwhelming odds in a cramped space a bit trope-laden? Of course it is. And you’d be remiss to expect otherwise. However, my jam on this film is that it looks awesome during its time in space, as the in-space set (that’s where the Dark Star comparison comes in) is pretty impressive, considering the film’s reported $20,000 budget. And the CGI, while obvious, is equally against-the-budget impressive than most of the CGI fails of today’s indie streamers. The costumes — especially the black-clad military gear of our space cops — looks good, too (dig the insignias). And the soundtrack by Daniel Hildreth is pretty fine and oh, so very Carpenter-esque evoking.

Is this all as good as Steve Barkett’s and Chip Mayer’s respective, somewhat similar astronaut-returns-to-a-nuked-Earth apoc-romps The Aftermath (1982) and Survivor (1987)? Eh, depends on how far your nostalgia miles may vary.

Not the U.S.S Dark Star, but still impressive, none the less.

Then, after those first 12 minutes are over and everything falls to Earth . . . everything falls apart (at least for moi), as we end up with just a whole lot running around an old warehouse and make-piece paramilitary dolts in fatigues and hockey gear. Granted, kudos are given for Griffin securing a pretty impressive, out-of-commission warehouse — that makes me think of the past inventiveness of Sergio Martino using an abandon yogurt factory for his Eurac headquarters for his not Plissken-romp, 2019: After the Fall of New York. Truth is: Future Justice, if under the thumb of Martino, would have worked great as the further adventures of Parsifal sequel.

That’s not saying the rest of the not-spaceship bound Future Justice is awful, as the film would play nicely on the SyFy Channel or even work wonders in filling up a two-hour block on the national cable channel Comet. I was just left so impressed by Richard Griffin’s inventiveness with his interior spaceship designs, I just wished this was retooled to remain on the spaceship or ended up on a space station-cum-prison. In the end: Griffin does a good job in stretching the most out of his budget and seamlessly mixing practical effects with CGI. If you’re burnt out your re-watches of the apoc-romps of old and you need a new film to watch, you’ve done worse on the scorched plains of the post-apoc terra firmas.

You can watch Future Justice as a free-with-ads stream on Tubi. We’ve also found an authorized upload — just released on February 14th — courtesy of my You Tube rabbit holin’ on Sci-Fi Central‘s web-channel. There’s a lot of interesting stuff to stream on that Australian-based page, so check ’em out. The DVD release of Future Justice also includes the 2010 short Mutants of the Apocalypse, which apparently served as the test film in creating Future Justice, as well as commentary tracks from the director, cinematographer, and some of the cast.

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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EXPLORING: The Future Worlds of Dardano Sacchetti

EDITOR’S NOTE: The crew at the new magazine It Came From Hollywood asked if we’d be interested in running an interview with Dardano Sacchetti and my answer was, “Why are you even asking this question?” Thanks for sending this!

The name Dardano Sacchetti needs little introduction to fans of the 80’s post-apocalyptic movies that followed in the wake of Mad Max (1980) and Escape from New York (1981). In a very short time, Sacchetti wrote a number of action pictures set in a not-so-distant future rife with nuclear fallout, demented overlords, and bands of mutated survivors. 1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982) is probably the one fans are most familiar with, featuring such genre luminaries as Fred Williamson, Vic Morrow, Luigi Montefiori (better known as George Eastman) and Christopher Connelly as well as serving as the first film appearance for fan-favorite Marco di Gregorio (Mark Gregory). 

With the launch of the magazine It Came From Hollywood, Sacchetti agreed to an epic, two-part interview. Rather than rehashing the titles he has talked about in various print and screen interviews, It Came from Hollywood explores how he worked all those years in the world of Italian cinema, quickly learning that on-screen credits aren’t always correct, and then diving into a number of films for which he has rarely commented. What follows is an excerpt from our interview, covering the less than bright future of our world as created from Sacchetti’s typewriter.

Releasing in Spring 2021, It Came From Hollywood will be available from Amazon in print and digital editions. You can keep up with the mag’s Facebook page and website.

Without further ado, the future worlds of Dardano Sacchetti.

1990: The Bronx Warriors (1982)

Although the film was partially shot in New York City, do you know how much of it was shot in Rome?

Producer Fabrizio De Angelis’s technique was simple: shoot a week in America with a very small crew. Sometimes it was only the director, the camera operator, and an actor. There was a lot of material to steal, that is, to shoot without permits. (The famous scene of the zombies on the bridge in Zombie was shot at four in the morning with the bridge closed.) Then the film was completed in Italy, paying close attention to the locations and the costumes. Usually there was always a baseball bat, a university or fan cap, some posters, etc. The rest was all an illusion, but it worked.

Did you have much contact with director Enzo G. Castellari after you delivered the script for any rewrites?

Whenever Italian directors ask for changes or rewrites on set while filming, it is because they either have little ideas to add or they take suggestions from the actors for a few lines, but more often it is for production problems. It happened that you came in the morning to shoot a scene with a horse, and you found yourself without a horse.

Did Fabrizio De Angelis give you guidelines for the movie he wanted, or did he just ask you to write about gangs in a future New York City?

For horror films, of which he didn’t understand anything, he gave me maximum freedom. He just invented the titles that were in fashion. For all other films he told me, “Dardano, make it like Rambo, or something like that.”

Actor Marco di Gregorio’s (Mark Gregory) career was made up mainly of appearances in films you wrote. To this day he is a mystery to fans. Did you ever have the opportunity to meet him?

Marco di Gregorio was a boy who belonged to the same gym as Castellari, who noticed him and used him first in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. He was a good guy, unable to act and with a serious defect in that he did not know how to run. He had agility. He had a nice physique, a nice face and he cost nothing. I think I met him once in production just to say hello, but I don’t think he even understood who I was or what I was doing.

Fred Williamson is another actor who has starred in many films that you have written. Have you ever met him?

Never met, but we became friends on Facebook a few years ago.

Why didn’t you have anything to do with the sequel, Escape from the Bronx (1983)? 

There was a quarrel with De Angelis and Castellari. I couldn’t tolerate them.

Exterminators of the Year 3000 (1983)

How did you meet the producer Camillo Teti?

You know, I don’t remember, but maybe Dario Argento has something to do with it because I think he was a producer of a couple of Argento’s films, and he looked for me.

How did Exterminators of the Year 3000 come about?

The film was born as a catastrophe and it was a catastrophe because of Teti, director Giuliano Carnimeo, and me too.  It simply shouldn’t have been made.

The biggest surprise was when Tommy’s secret was revealed. Was that always the challenge with these films, inventing new surprises to keep the audience entertained?

I always try to include surprises in all my scripts. In my scriptwriting courses I explain that every scene is a small film. It must have a beginning, an end, and a central idea. I have never written transition scenes. There was a director, Giorgio Capitani, who said, and he was right, that my scripts were a series of crucial scenes, and it is true.

The heroine’s name is Trash, the same name as the hero in 1990: The Bronx Warriors. Was it just a coincidence or at any point was this script conceived as a possible third installment of the Bronx films?

I always reused names in my scripts. It is a little cunning way to prove, if anyone would like to steal, that I am the creator of the character.

2073, Rome AD: New Gladiators (1984)

With 2073, Rome AD: New Gladiators, it appears that you are commenting on how large corporations only seek profits and ratings, at the expense of their workforce, as well as a comment on the situation at the time of the collapse of the Italian film industry when television took over?

It was a great movie, which Americans later copied with Arnold Schwarzenegger’s The Running Man (1987). It was very anticipatory of the future, but Fulci made it a mess. He had signed two contracts for two different productions, Blastfighter and this one, The New Gladiators. He was convinced he could fool the producers by doing one after the other. Fulci had to give up Blastfighter, but when it came to making The New Gladiators, the atmosphere had turned negative. Fulci’s name at that moment was no longer sought by foreign buyers. The budget was cut in half and the story was about the future fight against the domination of TV. The film’s advertising partially transformed the film into a mediocre thriller, losing sight of the central nucleus of the idea. But I was already pissed off because without any fault I had lost a contract and the good relationship I had with a producer. There was the clamorous quarrel between me and Fulci, that led to ten years of coldness between us.

Blastfighter (1984)

Was this script an original script you wrote or was it a job of doctoring an existing script?

It was an original story of mine that Fulci wanted to make. Blastfighter was the only apocalyptic movie I wrote that I liked a lot, but Fulci made a mess of it and it was diverted to Lamberto Bava. Then the story changed completely. There was no longer anything similar to my original story, but the title remained because the film had been sold with that title.

There is a lot of speculation that the original script was a science fiction story similar to Mad Max but set in the woods.

That is a mistake. The location was a desert covered in a huge cloud of sand and fog. There were two cities that were a cluster of car carcasses piled on top of one another, that moved slowly in the desert. The car-city was like a sort of western village and in the center there was a saloon. The most valuable thing were the batteries because there was more energy.

So, Blastfighter ‘s original concept was a post-apocalyptic desert world, and cities were literally made up of thousands of cars stacked on top of each other, with an entire city inside, and these gigantic traveling cities moved slowly across the desert. This is a fantastic concept!

Exactly. In my opinion it was a spectacular idea, a very strong one that maybe I will take up again. The only one who came close to capturing a similar spirit of the film is the Canadian director David Cronenberg with Crash (1997). I say that meaning, Crash has absolutely nothing to do with my original story to Blastfighter, but the overall atmosphere of “a place of death where life is remembered” is the same, even if developed with different visions.

You were credited as Frank Costa on the finished film, but in the print of the movie I saw, that credit doesn’t appear. 

Frankly, I don’t know. Frank Costa was a pseudonym invented by producer Amati. Another time he made me say I was John Gould or something, for Cannibal Apocalypse (1980). They were little cheats, like when they gave Italian actors American names to fool both Italian viewers and U.S. buyers.

Hands of Steel (1986)

Was Hands of Steel a script revision or original screenplay?

It was a script revision born to become something else.

Was this the only time you and Elisa wrote under the name of Elisabeth Parker, Jr.?

No, we used it other times too.

The poster for the film gives away the film’s biggest surprise.

The director did not believe in the film, which was written in a completely different way.

In a video interview, Luigi Montefiori has condemned the senseless helicopter accident that killed co-star Claudio Cassinelli during filming. Do you recall this tragedy?

I don’t know what Montefiori said, but it’s the truth that Cassinelli didn’t need to be on board.

Sins of the Fleshapoids (1965)

John Waters claimed that this movie showed him what an underground movie was, so we have Mike Kuchar to thank. This is the first film he made without his twin brother George, financed from his day job as a photo retoucher. It actually paid off well enough that he was able to become a filmmaker.

A million years in the post-nuclear war future, androids called Fleshapods fulfill every desire human beings have, making them even lazier than now. Two of them, Xar and Melenka, have decided to fall in love and woe be to any human who gets in their way. Also, there’s a prince and a princess who have fallen out of love just as our heroes discover that robots certainly can find romance.

Keep in mind that all of this futuristic magic is being told inside an apartment, with a soundtrack of slowed down records predating the chopped and screwed aesthetic, with word balloons appearing on screen for some of the dialogue. Space pilots with football helmets, nude princesses with Christmas ornaments, male on male longing, snack food that somehow makes its way to a million years from now, neon everything and the gaudiest make up this side of a drag show.

The end of the world has never looked so fabulous.

You can watch this on Daily Motion.