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.

Halloween Scene: Texas Chainsaw (2013)

Texas Chainsaw When I got a press email about review copies of Texas Chainsaw DVDs being available for review, I almost didn’t respond. I get several of those a day and only reply back to ones I’m really interested in reviewing. First off, I only have so much time and don’t want to spend time watching things I don’t think I’ll like. Sure, I’ll probably miss out on some unexpected greatness doing this, but it leads into the second reason which is that I do feel a real responsibility to write a prompt, timely review when a company goes out of its way to send me a review copy. I don’t want to be that guy who asks for free stuff, but never fulfills his part of the agreement by actually reviewing the material.

Anyway, I gave Texas Chainsaw a watch and didn’t fall in love with it, but it definitely has some interesting idea kernels in there that kind of burrowed their way into my brain. Unlike the 2003 remake or its 2006 prequel The Beginning which worked with a new universe based on the original Tobe Hooper film, this version of the story is supposed to be a direct sequel to the original 1974 film. To let you know this, the film picks right up with a montage that pretty succinctly sums up that film and then moves right into a scene of the local sherif trying to get the Sawyers out of the house. Just as things look like they might end peacefully, in rolls Burt Hartman with his redneck posse, their own guns and a few Molotov cocktails. Soon enough, there’s a firefight and the whole house goes up in flames. Nearly every Sawyer dies except for a little girl who gets saved and goes off to live with another family.

Cut to today (or some mysterious time) when Heather (Alexandra Daddario) discovers that she’s inherited a house in Texas that belonged to her birth grandmother. What she doesn’t yet know, but soon discovers after travelling to the house with her friends, is that she’s actually a Sawyer and her cousin Leatherface is living in the basement. Leatherface winds up getting out and making short work of her friends. Heather gets away to the cops where she informs the hunky young deputy of what’s going on, but it turns out said deputy (played by Clint’s son Scott Eastwood) is actually the son of now-Mayor Hartman! Burt and his buddy try to go for some off the books justice against Leatherface which doesn’t work out too well for them.

Many of the problems with the film stem from basic writing and production choices. First off, the timing is all kinds of crazy. They make a big deal of saying the date of the events of the original, but then firmly set this movie in 2012. That’s tricky if you know that the original took place in the 70s and are then curious why Heather isn’t in her 30s or 40s as she was supposedly a baby in the events following the first film. I’ll be honest, this didn’t bother me much until I read Brian Collins’ review over on Horror Movie A Day and really realized how sloppy that made things. I was also really confused as to who all those extra people hanging around the Hewitt house were in the beginning. It’s great that they gave cameos to some of the original cast members — Gunnar Hansen (OG Leatherface), Bill Mosely (from TCM 2), Marilyn Burns (Sally) and even Grandpa himself John Dugan — but it added an extra layer of confusion for me. If they’re such a tight nit family, where were they before? How’d they hear about the troubles so quickly?

The script — which I assume was written and re-written several times by many different people — also suffers from some really corny bits. For absolutely no reason, Heather’s best friend Nikki (Tania Raymond) is constantly after Heather’s boyfriend Ryan (Trey Songz). Heather winds up never finding out about any of this and the only purpose seems to be to make you not like either of them and also get them out of the house for a bit, but it just comes off as rote, typical slasher stuff. Another problem that arose from this relationship is that Nikki gets Ryan out to the barn with the idea that something monstrous has happened, but it’s before they discover that someone is actually murdering their friends and acquaintances so it just comes off as overly meta.

My biggest problem with the movie involves pretty significant spoilers, so skip this paragraph if you want to stay pure. A huge part of the movie revolves around Heather discovering that she’s part of this murderous, psychotic, cannibalistic Sawyer family. One of the idea kernels that I was most intrigued by was how Heather would deal with the idea of being related to those folks. Is this an examination of nature versus nurture? Will Heather turn out to be evil because it’s in her DNA? Will she fight it and stay good? Those were the questions that started appearing in my bead Pop Up Video style. There’s a weird turn where Heather realizes she’s related to Leatherface and also finds out what happened to the rest of the Sawyers (also that she is one) and then instantly teams up with Leatherface. Who, I will remind you, is a man who killed her friends with a chainsaw (he cut one dude in half at the waist in a pretty great gore scene), tried very hard to kill her before seeing a particular birthmark and also sews human faces onto his own face (another pretty great scene, by the way). You get kind of caught up with this as the mayor is trying to kill Leatherface, but when he and Heather get back home and she tries to dab his face — the face he’s wearing on his face — you come back to your senses and none of it washes. I completely understand being adopted and how that can mess with your head, but if I found out that my birth parents were psychotic murderers, I’m 99.9% certain I wouldn’t instantly switch to their side. I also wouldn’t throw him a chainsaw and say, ugh, “Do your thing, cuz,” especially after he almost killed me with the same weapon.

And yet, the movie does a lot of things I like. It’s slick looking, though not as much as the remake. Nothing can really capture the look of the original, so I don’t have as much of a problem with it this time around. I also appreciate how much went into the gore scenes which all seemed to be at least mostly practical. In addition to those there are some legit creepy moments that got me a little twitchy like one where Heather’s looking at a picture of a relative and the reflection ghosts over her own face and the whole thing looked really great and weird and scary. I also liked how they played with some of the conventions associated with this franchise. There’s no dinner scene for one thing. And while it does include a hitchhiker who’s not exactly a good dude, they still do something different and fairly important with him, so it feels more earned.

And yet, there’s still so much goofiness and badness. I really wish they hadn’t used the same actors for the sherif and soon-to-be mayor in the past and present. They look exactly the same and it gets distracting. Same goes for naming the lawman Sheriff Hooper. I get it, you want to pay homage to the original’s director, but when you’re already dealing with so many elements that put horror fans out of the drama, don’t add another one like that.

While the movie itself comes up short, there’s a lot to love on this DVD. The special features are plentiful on this one and sure to please whether you really like this movie on its own or you’re just a fan of the original. Most of the features fall into either retrospective and practical sections. While all of the retro stuff features current footage from this film there are constantly references back to the original film and how this one was trying to pay homage to it in various ways. Take the one called “The Old Homestead” for instance. It’s about the house from the original movie which the crew scanned both in real life (the building is a restaurant somewhere) and the film and did their best to recreate it. Now, I noticed some of the more horrific elements were supposed to be homages, but my memory stinks, so I didn’t realize how far they went to recreate the scene. The coolest aspect of this featurette though was seeing the actors from the original who were in that scene I didn’t like at the very beginning come in and basically relive their experience as if they were transported back to 1974. You get even more from the original gang in “Texas Chainsaw Legacy.”

Meanwhile, there’s a lot of interesting technical stuff expressed on the screen. One called “Resurrecting The Saw” focuses on the producer and writers talking about actually bringing the franchise back and the 3D cameras involved in shooting. The writers straight up say they wanted to go for a vibe where Leatherface is the hero and this lynch mob is the bad guy, partially (I’m extrapolating a bit here) because the mob goes against our sense of fairness and the justice system in this country. Not sure if they nailed that one, but it was interesting to hear where they were coming from. The writers also talked about how much bigger the original script was with more kills and more 3D but a lot got changed. I think a lot was left unsaid here and would love to hear what all four credited writers thing about how this movie turned out.

You’ve also got “Leatherface 2013” which focuses on Dan Yeager and his super-intense experience while playing the renowned crazy person, something that might have made him go a little batty himself. “Lights, Camera, Massacre” gets into some of the complications of shooting in 3D (which seems a bit moot since you’re watching a DVD without that option) and “It’s In The Meat” gets into a lot of the gore special effects. So there’s really a lot to sink your teeth into as a TCM, Leatherface or horror fan.

I think my opinion of the move might have changed a bit after watching the behind the scenes stuff. You can really tell that most of the people involved with the film really had the best intentions and there are a ton of good things going on from the gore and Yeager’s performance as Leatherface to the set design. But then you remember something like “Do your thing, cuz,” and wonder if there wasn’t a producer or studio person sticking their head in a bit too much and making changes.

I think Texas Chainsaw might be the kind of movie that I can enjoy a lot more the second time around. I try to keep my head clear of bias when watching anything, but that’s not all the way possible, is it? You can’t help but let your memories sneak in while watching something referring to old favorites. Now that I know about the Sawyer’s hanging out at the beginning and what happens with Heather, it will be less of a shock to watch again. I find when some things are blunted like that, you can enjoy them more on a second watching.

Halloween Scene: Halloween (2007)

I’ve been avoiding Rob Zombie’s Halloween reinterpretation for a while now. When I first heard that Halloween was being remade I was skeptical to say the least. This is one of my all time favorite horror movies and probably on most other horror fans’ top 10 (at least). It’s a near perfect movie. So, why remake it? If anything, why not make a new sequel?

After it came out I didn’t hear any good things and figured it’d be best if I just left it alone. So, why did I watch it? It was in my house. It was sitting around for a while before I finally popped it in the old DVD player and was not impressed.

I’m not going to say that Halloween is a bad movie, but I will say that it seems to completely miss the mark on Michael Myers as a character and what makes something really scary. I know I’m not the first person to say that I don’t need to see Michael Myers’ crappy life to understand why he’s a psycho killer. What exactly is that point of showing us SO much of Mike’s childhood? All it does is kind of make us feel bad for him. But only kind of because that kid they got to play young Michael is way creepy. Just get to him being a huge killer killing people already. To paraphrase Patton Oswalt, I don’t need to see where the things I like come from, I just like them.

I’m going to switch over to my Live Blogging notes from here on out. To be fair, I was much harder on this movie than I would have been on a movie called Hallows Eve or something else, but hey, that’s what you get for recreating the BEST HORROR MOVIE EVER! Most complaints are in reference to the original movie.

*Oh, he has a shitty life? Thanks, I get it.

*Little Michael looks like a girl, he’s also too old.

*The bully looks like Shia.

*The principal looks like a zombie.

*Haha, now they’re saying Loomis was around before Michael went crazy? Ugh.

*The point of Michael Myers is that he’s just pure evil, showing him as an abused child (even a crazy one who kills animals) elicits at least a little sympathy. Also, I like the Michael just snaps in the original, it’s not a decline into madness it’s an elevator plummeting into the depths of hell.

*How is the bully letting himself get beat to death? Just get up! In real life, I feel like he’s try and get up.

*The blood looks like chocolate syrup.

*Why is his mom with that ass? I get making him a jerk, but seriously, what’s the point? There’s no explanation.

*Yeah, I get it, it’s the 70s, play something that ISN’T on the Dazed and Confused soundtrack. “Love Hurts”? Are you kididng me?

*Her boyfriend’s a douche “I want to do it with the mask on.” The MICHAEL MYERS mask? Ugh.

*Slits that mean bastard’s throat after taping him up. Pretty smart move for a kid.

*So, the boyfriend (steve) either is done banging the sister or is kicked out so he goes downstairs to make a sandwhich.

*Oh look, he’s hitting someone to death again. Inspired.

*Sis is next.

*Oh, also, killing everyone you know because you couldn’t go trick or treating is STUPID. this makes Michael seem like a bitch.

*Oh wow, he put on the MICHAEL MYERS mask. How prophetic. Blarg.

*Hey look, the baby we haven’t seen since the first scene. Will he kill her? OF COURSE NOT! Way to have no dramatic tension whatsoever. The people die in the exact order you think they would.

*Is that what an actual 10 year old looks like? I really have no idea. He seems older.

*So, he’s a normal-ish kid now in the asylum? Ha, and he’s oblivious. Perfect.

*Doesn’t remember what he did? Ugh. I hate this kid.

*YEAH, DANNY TREJO!!! Best interview I ever did.

*Danny tells him to live inside his head…wonder where THIS is going. CRAZY TOWN.

*He’s making masks. One of which is clearly Leatherface.

*HE’S SUPPOSED TO BE SILENT AFTER GOING TO THE INSTITUTION!!!!!! [I could definitely be wrong on this one, but I was not liking this movie pretty intensely at this point.]

*Woah, that nurse is a bitch. Also, probably dead soon.

*Oh no, the mom wants to kill herself. WHO CARES?!

*Old Danny Trejo!

*Why would they let him make all these masks?

*Tyler Mane DOES strike an imposing figure.

*Loomis isn’t supposed to LIKE Michael.

*Of course, the redneck guards are rapists.

*Why would you f**k with a GIANT?

*Michael just kills everyone now?

*The scene between Michael and Danny is tense (will he attack or won’t he?). Yeah, of course he does because this movie’s soulless.

*Why does Michael keep pulling Danny out of the water if he’s trying to kill him? A real murderer wouldn’t do that, it’s movie bullshit. Or he just wanted to smash him with a TV.

*Why does he zero in on this dude in the bathroom? There were a half dozen guys out there.

*Hey another knife kill. Wow.

*How is the jumpsuit not covered in blood?

*So, Laurie’s a crazy bitch? Awesome. [Introducing good girl Laurie with a lewd bagel/sex dance is a poor decision, first impressions and all that.]

*As if it needs to be said, we spend WAY too much time with Michael.

*How/when did he hide that knife and mask under the floorboards?

*DANIELLE HARRIS!!! I should have gotten an autograph when I saw her at Big Apple Con a few years back.

*Now they’re saying she’s Mother Teresa? After her weird bagel dance? Doesn’t jive folks.

*”Just keep the monkeyhouse locked until the monkey dies of old age.” – Loomis. This is great casting. I want to see him in a Halloween 6 remake, completely bat shit crazy.

*The girls are yelling shit at Michael. Why doesn’t he just kill them right there? That’s what this Michael would do.

*I’m still upset about the whole bagel thing too, mom.

*Micheal’s just walking down the freaking street! What happened to his stealthiness?

*Sid Haig, of course. I’m actually not afraid of him though for once.

*Why the heck are there title cards like “Trick or Treat?” After telling me it’s Hoddonfield and Halloween are these necessary?

*Haha, they party in the Myers house. Not a bad touch actually. Except he’s standing right there on the balcony!

*Michael’s killing yet another dude post coitus. A dude who wore a disguise of some kind. Yawn.

*Why do I recognize the gun store owner? [Can’t remember the character’s name by The Monkees’ Micky Dolenz is in this!]

*Holy crap, he just killed Laurie’s parents.

*Danielle vs. Michael, round 4, FIGHT!

*Cop’s face against the dooor as he gets stabbed looks pretty cool.

*Blah blah blah.

*He’s dead. Of course he’s not.

*Loomis: “What the hell?!” That’s a great line.

*Blah blah blah, she’s in the ceiling, they both go off the balcony.

*Empty that gun in his FACE! Aw, out of bullets. Of course. You should really check that ahead of time.

*Ken Foree was in this? Oh the dude in the truck stop.

*If it wasn’t called Halloween I think I’d be okay with it. You just can’t redo the classics.