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Saturday, August 4, 2012

Godfrey Ho Appreciation Month - Robo Vampire (1988)

Cartoon by Christopher McElfresh

Robo Vampire (1988;
Filmark International Ltd.)

Following up the cool-but-silly Full Metal NInja we have Robo Vampire, a movie that is just a silly (if not more so) than FMN but lacks the awesome action we say in the first film we covered.  Robo Vampire was an obvious attempt to cash in on the success of the awesome 1987 classic RoboCop, even going so far as to feature RoboCop himself on the freaking VHS cover!  I mean, look at that freaking epic cover art!  However, we do not get Alex Murphy in this film, oh no!  We get a character we barely care about who dies close to the halfway point of the film and is transformed into an “ robot”, to quote one of the film’s strangest dialogue scenes.

The film’s ridiculous premise involves a vile drug cartel who uses specially trained vampires controlled with talismans to guard their stash of drugs and to act as the cartels private undead army.  When an agent is killed in the line of duty a scientist transforms him into an android to battle the bouncing vampires and to rescue a missing couple in the Golden Triangle, a real-world location in Thailand and an area famous for drug manufacturing and trafficking.  

This is one of those action movies from the 80’s that displays the excess that has become central to the over-the-top, fun action flicks of the era remembered fondly by film fans.  Explosions, blood, bad effects and sloppily-filmed martial arts are all key to the fun in this film.  The fight scenes are, for lack of a better word, crazy.  The goofy vampires hold their arms outward like Boris Karloff’s Monster and bounce sillily towards their target.  It’s hard to watch these guys move without a chuckle, or at least a smile.  All this is before they start shooting freaking fireworks out of their hands, which is obviously coming from sparklers hidden in the baggy sleeves of their robes.  In fact, all of the effects in this film seemed to have been made with leftover fireworks from that year’s Lantern Festival.

Now let’s talk a little about the titular robot.  Do not be confused by the title, as there are no robo vampires in this movie.  a more accurate title would be Robot Vs. Vampires but I guess that was just a little too on-the-nose for Ho.  No, the robot we get in Robo Vampire is a wannabe clone that looks like a cosplayer had his over-zealous but untalented mother make him a RoboCop costume out of duct tape.  As he moves a moderately-talented foley guy hits the middle-C key on his Casio synthesizer and we get poorly-queued mechanical sounds that are meant to convince us that the hero really is mechanical and isn’t just wearing a poorly-fitting, floppy costume.  

The fights, namely the few between the robot and the vampires, are a lot of fun and are where Robo Vampire is at its most entertaining.  Occasionally, the screen will get so dark you cannot actually see what’s happening on screen, but I could attribute some of that to the copy of the film I watched.  Still, what I could make out is pretty damn awesome.  Given the nature of the characters, the vampires and the robot are so stiff.  It is pretty awesome to watch them struggle to maintain that rigor-mortis-like stiffness while they hurl each other about.  Also, oddly, the vampires have a tendency to knock dudes up to roofs of buildings when they hit them, and this is sort of the way this movie goes.  One character motions a hit towards another character and we cut to a reaction shot of what is almost always a stunt guy as he or she flies into poorly-lit set dressing.  It is often difficult to tell where other characters are in relation to one another, as the blocking and lighting obscure almost every fight.  I’m quite positive that much of this obsctruction is intentional, to hide the sloppy makeup and costumes and the shoddy choreography.  This is why my favorite fight in the film takes place on the beach during daylight.  When you can actually see what is going on it is pretty damn funny.  These hilarious fights alone are motivation enough to justify repeat viewings.

What makes this movie work is its ineptitude, and like the other fun “bad” movies like Birdemic and Plan 9, there are hints that the director and actors, despite all of their ineptitude, are really working hard to make this movie happen.  These are the bad movies that are fun because while you pick these films apart and are actually laughing AT them, they have a charm about them.  Robo Vampire is, by its very nature, a cash-in, and like other films that fall into a subgenre known as Action Exploitation (or “Actionsploitation”, for short) it exists to bask in the glory of another movie that is far, far more well-known and respectable than itself.  Still, Robo Vampire is a freaking blast and bad movie fans can easily make a game out of all the bad takes that made it into this movie.  The dubbing is read so poorly, that it can make the simplest line excruciatingly funny simply but its poor tone, or odd timing.  

Robo Vampire is all over the Internet, making it extremely easy to watch.  I was able to find multiple uploads on YouTube alone.  See this movie.  If you love the genre, if you love bad movies, or if you just love to laugh, this is a must-see.  It should be a regularly-discussed film in the topic of films that are so-bad-they’re-good.  Robo Vampire is a great film to springboard uninitiated viewers into the bizarre underbelly of 80’s action.

NOTE: A little editorial correction, in full-disclosure. I am aware that technically this film is directed by Thomas Tang. This is a fair and important fact to point out that I failed to note in the post. Godfrey Ho's footprint is all over this one. Also, there was some splicing in this film as well. Sorry about the bad info. I do my best to research these movies but a lot of the time the more obscure films are hard to find information on.

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