Big Bot Double Feature: Robot Wars & Crash And Burn

robot wars posterSeveral years back I was in the enviable position of being on Shout Factory’s PR list thanks to working at ToyFare. Because of that, I got a lot of interesting DVD sets, some of which I haven’t even watched yet. The Giant Robot Action Pack featuring Robot Wars and Crash and Burn is one such selection that I decided to finally watch over the weekend and I was surprised at the results.

I’ve actually tried to watch Robot Wars — directed by Albert Band and released in 1993 — a few times, but never really made it through for various reasons. This time, I was set to watch the film and actually succeeded. A kind of sequel to Stuart Gordon’s Robot Jox — which is also getting the Shout Factory treatment — this movie takes place in a future world where one scorpion-like robot carries people from a protected city to one that was abandoned and preserved in 1993. After terrorists take over the robot, it’s up to our brash hero, his co-pilot, a reporter and an archaeologist to find another robot and save the day.

Though the title is pretty misleading — two robots fighting does not a war make — I had a lot of fun with this film. The stop motion on the robots looks better to my eye than the bad CGI that would be used today and the characters, while broad and oftentimes goofy, are charming and fun to watch (it wasn’t until this latest viewing that I realized the reporter is actually Lisa Rinna in an early role).

While this is far from the best giant robot movie I’ve ever seen, I appreciate that everyone involved seemed to be doing their best and trying to create something fun and interesting. Full Moon would sometimes swipe heavily from other projects, but this felt pretty original to me. That might not sound like the most thrilling endorsement, but it went pretty far for a low budget 90s sci-fi action film. It helps that my experience with huge robots doesn’t extend much past loving Transformers as a kid and loving Pacific Rim.

crash and burn posterThe other film on the set — Crash And Burn — is another kinda-sorta-not-really sequel to Robot Jox (they were marketed as such overseas, but share nothing in the way of continuity). This one actually really surprised me because it was such a mix of genres and movies that I love.

It starts off with a guy on a futuristic motorcycle traveling through the desert to visit a factory-turned-TV studio run by a rebellious old man who rails against the corporation that runs everything (and also employs the motorcycle driver). Once there, we meet an eclectic cast of characters that includes Bill Moseley, the old man’s granddaughter played by Dark Skies‘ Megan Ward, blowhard talk show host and a pair of women who…are there for some reason. Soon, an important character is murdered and the search is on to find out what happened. It just so happens to involve killer (human sized) robots and a huge robot outside that doesn’t work (BUT IT WILL!).

So, with this one movie you’ve got the seclusion of the desert with the post-apocalyptic nuclear wasteland-type set up mixed with the group-of-stranded-strangers motif (because there’s a radiation storm of some kind) plus the whodunnit mystery (though it’s pretty clear who the killer is if you pay attention to footwear), the someone-isn’t-who-they-seem thing AND THE ROBOTS.

Let’s jump into SPOILER TERRITORY for this graph because I don’t want to ruin an old movie I do actually want you to check out. I tried to paint with broad strokes above, but here’s the deal. If you happen to notice the murderer’s ridiculous boots and then wait about five minutes until you see the cast together once again, you’ll know who the murderer is. Of course, it’s not revealed until AFTER they do a take on the test from The Thing that doesn’t quite go as planned. But once the killer is revealed, it’s a damn delight to watch him go absolutely bonkers, knock off a few randos and then have a big fight at the end that eventually involves the big robot.

All in all, it’s a perfectly crazy movie. While I appreciated Robot Wars for being better than I expected, Crash And Burn actually surprised me by being more aware of what it was and playing with the audience before finally giving them what they wanted in ways they might not have known that they wanted it. I can’t think of another movie I’ve watched recently where I had little-to-no expectations and yet was so pleasantly surprised.

Mini Monsters: Ghoulies 1 and 2

Hey gang, hope everyone had a good Easter and/or Passover. I spent my weekend in New England with the wife’s family which kept me from keeping you all abreast (heehee) of my search for the mini monster movie I remember from my childhood. Well, it wasn’t the Troll flicks and, unfortunately it wasn’t the first two Ghoulie movies either. But, like with Troll, I had a pretty good time watching them anyway.

I really didn’t pay much attention to the first Ghoulies (1985) which has a dude inheriting a house from his crazy Druidic family (or something, we get a flashback in the first few minutes that supposedly explains everything). The house comes with these little monsters who start terrorizing his party guests, one of which is Mariska Hargitay for you Law and Order fans. Like I said, Ghoulies was pretty much on as background noise while I didn’t something else, so once I realized it wasn’t the movie I was thinking of, I kind of zoned out.

BUT

I did watch Ghoulies II (1987). In fact, I couldn’t take my eyes off of it (unlike some other older movies, it actually looked really good on my HDTV upconverted from a regular ol’ DVD). This sequel finds the Ghoulies terrorizing a traveling circus. Unlike 1, I actually made notes for the second Ghoulies offering and here they are for your reading pleasure.

– i dig the monsters (rat, cat, crocodile, creature from the lagoon, bat/bird)

-the cat ghoulie looks awesome, did it do what i think it did to that girl?

Sasha Jenson’s in this! (Buffy, Dazed, H4)

-“He don’t go nowhere without his TUNES!”

-The kid has a ninja star!

-there’s another HOUR? [it felt like I’d been watching this movie for a while at this point, after which it actually picked up]

-haha, the Ghoulies spray adhesive Gak

-they stab the dude and then wrapped him up like a mummy without taking the knife out? hmm [it looked like they took the knife out, wrapped the guy and then stabbed him again]

-rat ghoulie high five!

-I forgot that Phil Fondacaro was in Troll too (dude can emote) [seriously, Phil is the best actor in the bunch, which is a bigger compliment that it might sound]

-Ha, he pulls the hanky out of the old man’s hand to cover his face after dying

-this movie looks really good upconverted on the HD tv

-oh man, the circus folk are gonne kick the ghoulies’ asses! (kid, firebreather, strongman, turbin guy with a gun) [they form a team! but it doesn’t last long]

-haha, the dude won’t stop selling tickets [while people are getting murdered inside one of the attractions]

-the people LOVE seeing these jerks tortured [in theory they think it’s all part of the act, but not a single person in the fairly large crowd looks upset or ill-at-ease with watching a person get tortured by tiny monsters]

-even the stop motion looks pretty good

-cat vs rat ghoulie in the shooting game is awesome [once the Ghoulies leave their home attraction for most of the movie, the filmmakers really have fun with the setting]

-ghoulie in the water – nice touch, i think the green one is my favorite

-bumper car and ride tampering scenes are awesome

-the business owner guy looks SO familiar, but I haven’t seen any of his other projects, unless I remember VIPER better than i thought I did

TOILET SCENE!!!!!! – yowch!

-why don’t they just turn the ride back on to get the book down? Oh well it gives the pretty girl something to do [the flying Ghoulie drops the book they need high up in a ride seat]

-woah, that’s a big mini monster

Well, if those random thoughts didn’t convince you to check the movie out, I don’t know what will, except for this: go see Ghoulies II, it’ll be worth your hour and a half. Plus, 1 and 2 are on the same DVD, so you get more bang for your buck.

Anyone else seen Ghoulies 1, 2, Goes to College or 4? Or do you have any suggestions for what my mystery movie is. It has a small monster terrorizing a family in a house and there’s a ball bouncing down the stairs scene. That’s all I got.