The weapons of the future are alive.
When discussing the legendary B-movie producers that we all remember from the good ol’ days of trashy B-movies, everybody names the likes of Roger Corman, Lloyd Kaufman, Jim Wynorski, and (for the edgier crowd) John Waters. Somehow, though, it seems that Charles Band never quite reached the same level as these other guys. This is unfortunate, because Band’s Full Moon label churned out all kinds of low-budget dreck over the years, which is just waited to be rediscovered by a new generation. On this disc, we’ve got two of Band’s more fondly-remembered sci-fi efforts.
Crash and Burn
It’s the post-apocalyptic future. The hunky Tyson Keen (Paul Ganus) rides his motorcycle across the desert, doing odd jobs for the giant corporation that runs what’s left of the country. At a remote TV station, he and the quirky crew find themselves under siege by a robot who looks human. To save the day our hero must team up with plucky young Arren (Megan Ward, Dark Skies) to reenergize a giant robot out in the scrap yard, and have the two ‘bots battle it out.
It’s the post-apocalyptic future (but, you know, a different one). People travel from city to city not airplanes for some reason, but in giant, scorpion-shaped robots. When one of these robots is taken over by a power-mad general with his own agenda, it’s up to the heroic Captain Drake (Don Michael Paul, Half Past Dead) and journalist Leda (Barbara Crampton, Re-animator) to find the MEGA-1 robot buried underground, reenergize it, and save the day.
The cheesy B-movie is an interesting flavor of movie. It might not be quality in a classical cinema sense, but when you’re watching a “good” bad movie, you know it. Such is the case with Crash and Burn and Robot Wars. They are clunky, plot-holed, low-budget, and sleazy, but there is that intangible yet all-important fun aspect to them that can’t be beat.
Crash and Burn gets off to a slow start, as we’re introduced to this future world and the evil corporation/conspiracy running it. After the lengthy info-dumps are over, our giant-haired hero reaches the TV station, and the robot mayhem finally kicks in. It’s true that movie fans have seen it all before — the “killer robot that looks just like a human” is a lift from The Terminator and the “testing the blood to see who’s human and who isn’t” scene is straight out of Carpenter’s The Thing — but it’s played with just enough earnestness that you can’t help but go along with the ride. Having cult fave actors Megan Ward and Bill Moseley (The Devil’s Rejects) chewing the scenery throughout is another bonus. For the more base among us, know that the movie isn’t shy when it comes to buckets of gore and/or nudity.
But, hey, it’s all about the giant robot action, right? That’s what the movie promises, right? Well, I’m telling you right now that if you want giant robot action, then you’ve got…to wait until the last ten minutes of the movie. Still, the big guy is impressive once we see him, captured in always-awesome old school stop motion animation. Because it’s an older robot in need of repair, it’s easy to buy the sometimes herky-jerky motion the animation gives it. It lumbers around the way a giant robot should lumber around.
Robot Wars ups the effects ante with a lot more stop motion robot fighting, but somehow it just isn’t as much fun as the first. For one, the filmmakers are thinking a lot bigger, so instead of a small group of folks in one remote location, we’re following a bigger cast as they traverse the nightmarish future landscape, visiting numerous locales. I can’t fault the creators for wanting to go epic, but they bit off more than they can chew. We don’t get to know the characters as well as we do in Crash and Burn. Also the comedy is bigger and broader in Robot Wars. The humor isn’t character-based at all, but more goofy slapstick and groan-worthy one-liners. There’s a joke every couple of minutes in the flick, and not once did I laugh.
The low budget of Robot Wars reveals itself in some unfortunate ways. At one point, the characters are told they’re going to visit a tourist spot, in which an American town has been recreated to look exactly as it did in the late 20th Century. You know where this is going; for the next stretch of movie, the characters are running around 1993 Los Angeles in all their futuristic gear saying silly things like, “This is what the past looked like.” If only the actual comedy had been as funny as the unintentional comedy. The actual robot fighting is decent, with the big showdown being between a giant scorpion-shaped ‘bot and the heroic MEGA-1. It’s up to you if you want to sit through a lot of tedium before you get to that point.
The video and audio could be better. The full frame image is soft throughout, and the sound is middle-of-the-road, not really as immersive or booming as you’d expect giant robot fighting to be. Not only are there no extras, but the disc is so bare bones you don’t even get things like chapter titles. The only option on the menu screen is “Play” for each movie.
After the apocalypse, most of the world has been reduced to uninhabitable deserts, and yet everybody’s hair looks great.
Charles Band and his team deserve a lot more kudos than they currently get, in thanks for the years of cheese they brought to home video. These movies are fun, but the no-frills disc won’t be the tribute Band deserves.