Once every year I review a Full Moon Boxed set. This Year’s sampling is FULL MOON CLASSICS VOLUME TWO. Much like FULL MOON CLASSICS VOLUME ONE this cinema sampler contains some full moon features from Full Moon’s Golden age back when they were backed by Paramount Pictures and enjoyed a lavish budget and decent production values despite the admittedly cheesy premises of the films themselves. Still, if you think FULL MOON always has been known for nothing more than its killer puppet movies, these may be worth a look just to take you on some high concept cinematic flights of fancy that somehow survived the VHS format graveyard.
ROBOT WARS (1993)
Released in some markets as ROBOT JOX 2: CRASH AND BURN, this film "borrows" the gigantic Mech from the original film, but none of the story. In this way it disappoints both people who are looking for a bona fide sequel to ROBOT JOX (all three of you) as well as fussy film freaks such as me who simply must see all parts of a series in chronological order. But sadly, it is not included this time.
In the year 2042 the denizens of Earth have figured out a way to stop war once and for all. All civilized nations have surrendered all their weapons of warfare and became part of the New Federation, a united confederation of all member countries who exist in a delicate balance of power, overseen and patrolled by a single eighty-foot scorpion which also exists as a form of tourism for the beleaguered war-torn nations after the thirty-year conflict known as the War of the Hemispheres, which apparently left much of the planet a giant radioactive desert.
But don't worry, future civilian, for the right price you too can ride along on the giant metal arachnid, take pictures of the barren landscape and become part of the action as you ride upon the last military vehicle in the world plodding through the desert and wasting bands of desert raiders. Think of it as the ultimate adventure cruise vacation of the future, only without any of the sea, luxury or safety you might expect from your local Carnival travel agent. Sure, it sounds like a dream vacation, but as usual I bet you still got to be hella rich if you don't want a window that faces the rear of the chitin.
Well because this is an alternate future where 9/11 apparently never happened and people never figured out the intricate technology required to lock a cockpit door, it isn't long before a group of visiting ambassador tourists take command of the giant robot and use the thing in an attempt to conquer mankind. Lucky for the New Federation, however, as they have a secret weapon all their own, a bad attitude pilot (scorpion driver) named Marion Drake. Together with his longtime co-pilot Scratch, they scour the desert in search of a long-rumored second machine “The Mega 1” another giant robot which will hopefully beat the formidable six legged battle bug/love boat and save mankind through brilliant tactics and shaky stop-motion effects. This was a painful terrible mess. But a skilled director could have saved it. If they would have made the Mega 1 resemble a giant combat boot instead of the usual staggering drunk humanoid-looking Mech then the climactic fight would have just been a single scene of the evil Scorpion bot being crushed underfoot, seconds after they encountered one another, Monty Python style. That would have made this a much more enjoyable film, and surely no more absurd and unlikely in the grand scheme.
Mandroid is the modern restatement of the old fable that “too many Techs, spoil the Bot”. Two Romanian Scientists named Zimmer and Drago have developed the ultimate technical advance, a walking bipedal robot that can be controlled with a virtual reality headset. The kindly and Pacifistic Dr Zimmer is more than content to use the metal surrogate to go deep into the ponderous, plot bullshit mountains to mine purple radioactive mushrooms for “Super-Con” an element that can be harnessed for many beneficial peacetime applications for humanity (as well as the construction of still more Mandroid units).. Of course Drago has more practical plans in mind for the metal man and is that he should retooled as a weapon, an ideal cyber soldier. By the time an American scientist named Wade Franklin and a CIA agent named Pryce arrive, the two scientists are all but enemies, and Drago has already left the project, wanting nothing more to do with it…or so he would have us believe...
It is during a remote field test run when Zimmer is showing Mandroid’s capability at harvesting magic mushrooms that Drago makes a surprise attack on the lab, then conks the lab assistant named Benjamin on the head and seizes remote access of the Mandroid where he immediately seeks to show its prowess as a weapon in the most direct fashion possible (By killing off every other character we have met thus far) Zimmer and his team do eventually return to the lab unscathed from the robot run amok only to find that a that Benjamin has been injured in an accidental chemical spill during the scuffle with Drago and is slowly turning invisible (more on this in a bit). There is a sinister subplot as it appears that the CIA has been working with Drago all along and it is during a later prisoner transfer where Zimmer tries to trade the MANDROID technology for the life of a hostage when things go badly and we finally get to see what machine can do when psionically controlled by Drago. Turns out the evil scientist may have been right after, it is a kickass killing machine but this realization doesn’t happen until the final few minutes of the film and far too late to save this sad attempt at intrigue, whether speaking of foreign cloak and dagger themes or sheer sci-fi novelty. Part of the problem is the fact that much as is often the case of old sci-fi, real technology has caught up with the onscreen premises. In the year 2013 our military is actually experimenting with real robotic warriors, any of which could put this film about a guy stumbling around in a typical B movie suit to shame. Finally, remember the lab assistant who got hurt in the lab and is slowly phasing in and out of our visible spectrum? Turns out he and Mandroid team up in another film “INVISIBLE: THE CHRONICLES OF BENJAMIN KNIGHT” another film in this boxed set. Let’s hope that Full Moon put the same meticulous, sobering detail work into this near impossible movie mash up of magic and technology as they did when they made DOLLMAN vs.DEMONIC TOYS…umm yeah.
LURKING FEAR (1994)
Much as in the case of the recent film “The Evil Clergyman” I reviewed here, this is an incredibly loose adaption of a short story from H.P. Lovecraft. Here is a basic synopsis. At the start of the film, two women cower in a dilapidated church: a young mother of a small baby and her paranoid, anxious, perhaps insane sister named Catheryn who warns of the creatures who infest this area and how they need to escape at the first crack of daylight, (when it is safer to so do so). The two women fall asleep as a pair of horrible hands reaches through a grate and manipulates a wire to snag a leg of a baby bed, pulling in slowly; quietly to certain doom. The mother awakens just in time to stop this terrible thing but sacrifices her own life to save her.
Next we meet a small time hood named Jake Martense who is just being released from a five year stint in prison for a crime he didn’t even do (if you believe the voice over) with no opportunities or employment he looks up a friend of his hardened convict father “Knaggs” and learns that his father hid several million dollars inside a rotting corpse left in a small town cemetery as a birthright bequeathal that gives new meaning to the term “blood money”. By combining his fragment with the piece of the map owned by Knaggs he has a complete picture of the location of the treasure and sets out at once to discover its location (a small town church and Cemetery known as Leffert’s corner). Once there he meets Cathryn (The woman from the previous paragraph) who along with other weary, but well-armed rag tag survivors have affixed a truck load of dynamite all over the cemetery where the fortune is buried and are planning on detonating everything in mere moments. Further complicating matters is the fact that a murderous casino boss plus goons soon arrive, a bad man who also knows about the buried fortune and wishes to take it all for himself. Perhaps most confusing of all is the fact that there are a large group of psycho subterranean dwellers (the would-be baby stealers from the first scene) who look exactly like a cross between “The Crypt Keeper” and those pasty guys from the DESCENT movies. This is a 76 minute movie about ten people on four separate teams that have one of two possible objectives and as can be expected, plot development becomes a real mess once they all meet one another. As a plus, the creature effects look positively top notch for a B film, and there is just seemingly the right mix of gore, action and plot development but there is just way too much going on here for what is essentially should have been a simple goofy B movie about murderous Albino Golems eating people’s faces.
INVISIBLE: THE CHRONICLES OF BENJAMIN KNIGHT (1993)
When we last saw him at the conclusion of MANDROID, Wade Franklin was an American scientist who had been tragically crippled from a series of gunshot wounds that had confined him to a wheelchair. That’s why it seems entirely accurate and more than a little inspirational, truth be told, that he be the one at the helm of MANDROID at the start of the film, patrolling to countryside on a routine system test/ patrol. In a nearby Eastern European Hospital, Benjamin Knight is similarly recovering from the “splash damage” he took from a Super-Con spill he received in the last movie and now is completely and utterly invisible. Soon he is released from the hospital and joins Wade and Zanna, the professors daughter back at the old lab and there they spend several scenes trying to perfect the Mandroid suit and to develop a “visibility formula”, which will not only allow Benjamin a few cherished hours of non-transparency to remember what he once like, but will also ensure that every action that his character takes in this film will not be represented by a string being pulled just out of frame or a series off putting close up shots of a props obviously being manipulated in extreme close up. In time they are able to reduce the size of the cumbersome virtual reality glasses that control Mandroid to the size of Ray Bans but they are also able to develop a version of the visibility drug that doesn’t make The Invisible man go into a murderous rage where he tries to kill every other human in the lab, a character trait that seems to have been lifted from the (1933) film version of this character, right along with his classic “bandages, glasses and trench coat” creature persona. Well as Kermit the Frog (almost) said best, “it’s not easy being seen”.
In a nearby mental hospital, Drago rears his ugly head and I mean that literally. He still wears the same iron mask to cover his disfiguring accident with the Super-Con and now heads a gang of incredibly scummy looking male mental patients. Of course he still wants to destroy Mandroid and learn the secret of invisibility from the late scientist, Dr Zimmer, but in a strange expression of sub plot, Drago seems obsessed with kidnapping women from all around the countryside. Once doing this, he keeps them in the asylum until a lavish dinner where they are forced to dress up as a gypsy girl and then instructed to dance before the gang of disgusting cretins. Things always get out of control as the moment Drago gives the word; the cretins leap up from their chairs and carry the women away for some unknown purpose. Despite my love of women’s prison movies these scenes make no damned sense whatsoever as Drago was not a warden but an evil scientist, and because he was not “performing experiments” on his retinue of prisoners for some evil motive that was somehow linked to the plot, I am pissed off at these “tacked on” scenes of bland, meaningless sexploitation which really had no place here in a simple super hero romp. Just try and imagine to yourselves for a moment, how vague and senseless such scenes would have to be for me (of all people) to actually complain about them for the first time in a film review whatsoever? Eventually Drago makes the mistake of kidnapping Zanna, making her the main course of one of these weekly banquets and that’s when these two buddies, each a refugee of science and technology run amok join forces and tear apart Drago’s evil cadre using a combined attack of stealth and force. The end suggests a future third film in the series, but some 20 years later I don’t think we are going to get one. Admittedly this film was better than the first one, and again I find something incredibly captivating about a quiet man in a wheelchair controlling a powerful terminator like figure that could physically batter his way through an army of men with automatic rifles but the invisibility effects struck me as hokey; the wrong kind of “transparent”. Perhaps I have just been spoiled by 20 years of beautiful digital “invisibility effects” which are featured somewhere in every modern every sci-fi movie based on aliens, superheroes or futuristic combat.
DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT (1994)
What do you for kicks if you are already borne the daughter of demons and you really want to dis your parents? If you are Veronica the comely succubus (who looks more like the video game character “Bloodrayne” than any of the actresses who played that character in the movies) you escape to Earth and punish sinners before they go to hell by murdering them in grisly ways. Along the way it might help if you fall in love with a “hunky” but mild mannered, compassionate doctor that takes you in; heals your wounds from your nightly attacks and tends your hot looking female form like only a mortal man can. While the similarity perhaps exists only in my own mind, this film somehow reminds me of the first TERMINATOR film, though perhaps spiritually. In either case you have a grisly series of violent attacks by something that is clearly not human intermingled with an unlikely love story in a dystopic urban setting. I know my synopsis of this film probably sounds trite and uninspiring, but the character of Veronica herself is just believable enough to be more positively badass than we would ever get in a film like this from a major studio. For one thing while she is equipped with the body of a showgirl (and spends the opening scenes wandering around New York streets completely naked), she has the mind of a meek, innocent child who is genuinely fascinated with humanity (and later rightfully disgusted by it). Moreover, in later scenes when she roams the night and strikes down bad people who arguably deserve it, her attacks are so vicious, grisly and high concept that it conjures up the same moments of sweet street justice “overkill” from a CROW film and is deeply psychologically satisfying (even if some of the creature effects now look kind of dated). I suppose the one thing that keeps this from lapsing into a silly creature feature is the unexpected love story that develops between Veronica and Dr Max Barris. This gives her character a human likability, if not a vulnerability that a simple story about a naked hot demon chick who wanders the streets of our mortal world disemboweling bad men and stealing their internal organs never could. (I guess I am just a hopeless romantic, that way) Granted it does rewrite some of the popular conventions of the usual Biblical based reimagining of Angels on high and their perpetual war with Demons from below (In this version it seems that God actually runs hell). Ultimately this strange take on sci-fi spirituality is no less stupid than those five PROPHESY movies and surely better than half of them. All in all, it was a surprisingly satisfying film especially when you consider the cheesy condescending box art that looked like the album cover from an 80’s metal band or 70’s custom van art driven by a teenage boy who should not be allowed to date anyone’s daughter.
Because Full Moon has started making all titles available for sale instead of just relegating some titles as box set exclusives, for the first time ever, you can read my reviews and pick what individual films you would want to buy for ten bucks. As such I would personally recommend picking up DARK ANGEL: THE ASCENT as it is a neat little B movie if not the veritable living cinema epitome of a “hot mess”.
All titles include the individual trailers and Video zones “making of”.