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Sunday, October 9, 2016

HubrisWeen 4, Day 4: Death Machine (1994)

HubrisWeen is a 26-day blogging marathon where a seasonally-appropriate movie gets reviewed every day from October 6 to the 31st in alphabetical order. Click on the banner above this message to go to the central site and see what Checkpoint Telstar and the other participants are covering today.

Written and directed by Stephen Norrington

Brad Dourif:  Jack Dante
Ely Pouget:  Hayden Cale
William Hootkins:  John Carpenter
John Sharian:  Sam Raimi
Richard Brake:  Scott Ridley
Andreas Wisniewski:  Weyland
Martin McDougall:  Yutani
And Rachel Weisz in her cinematic debut as Junior Executive

Long-time readers of this blog know that I'm a big fan of "That guy!" patron saint and living Platonic example Dick Miller. He's appeared in dozens upon dozens of films, almost always in small parts that are instantly believable because of what he brings to the screen. Well, he's my favorite person that's been in everything ever but there's several other character actors and day players who have their own cults of fans and admirers (Stephen Tobolowsky is far overdue for an appearance at the Checkpoint, as I'm sure everyone who knows who that is would agree). And in this film, I get to welcome the late William Hootkins to the Checkpoint Telstar That Guy Hall Of Fame. He's the Dick Miller of science fiction blockbusters; you've seen him as slovenly detective Eckhardt in Tim Burton's Batman, as ill-fated chubby Rebel Alliance pilot Jek Porkins in Star Wars, and as the government stooge who assures Indiana Jones that "top men" are working on the Ark of the Covenant even as they speak. Last but certainly not least, he's the lab assistant in Flash Gordon who runs away from Dr. Zarkov only to be crushed by the crash-landing passenger plane and immediately forgotten by the narrative. He's been in plenty of things, is what I'm saying. And one of those things is the fourth selection for HubrisWeen 4. That's right--this is a William Hootkins vehicle.

It's also the directorial debut of special effects technician Stephen Norrington. After making this film he went on to prove that Marvel Comics could make action blockbusters based on their characters with Blade and then, sadly, was placed in charge of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. Since that 2003 debacle (which, honestly, probably wouldn't have been all that great regardless of who was in charge of it) he has not been allowed to direct another film, but he has stayed busy doing creature sculpts through 2015, so hopefully he's still doing what he likes in the motion picture industry. Maybe someone at Marvel Studios might throw him the keys to another flick if he's lucky (and if making the most reviled Alan Moore adaptation hasn't soured him on directing altogether).

1994 was a good year for cyberpunk, and this film fits neatly into that genre (it takes place in "NEAR-FUTURE", and the old 70s road boat cars on fire (with a body hanging out of one) is a budget-conscious way to show urban decay and social collapse of the kind you usually find in that kind of story. Inside a bar there are several men who have been shot in the head; some dudes in full body armor (or biohazard suits with armor plating, which suggests a really bad NEAR-FUTURE), masks and respirators go to the bathroom in the back, where a similarly attired man is punching a hole in the wall. Actually, he's punching the latest in a series of dozens of holes in the wall, mechanical thuds accompanying his rather machinelike motions.

WILLIAM HOOTKINS reveals his visage and refers sarcastically to the wall puncher as "the ultimate soldier", then tells one of his backup soldiers not to bother shooting the Super-FUBAR-Soldier. It experiences a blue screen of death behind its eyes and collapses in a heap. And god damn, I think the stunt man hurt himself doing that fall because he face-plants on a bathroom stall wall without shielding himself in any way. That's a massive amount of commitment to the cold open of a direct-to-video science fiction / horror movie.

Roll credits! Brad Dourif gets top billing out of two people before the title, then it's time to blip to a TV broadcast used as an exposition delivery.system; the survivor of the barroom massacre is interviewed and describes what she saw, and then a newsreader talks about how the "Chaank Corporation" is suspected of "...Covertly gestating morally indefensible weapons projects", which is a quote that's just a little too chewy for someone to read on the evening news. They probably are, because it'd be a short movie if they weren't. Protesters outside the Chaank corporate HQ are chanting "Chaank kills children!" over and over, which isn't quite "she sells sea shells by the sea shore" as tongue-twisters go but it's hard to build up a decent rhythm while chanting it. Amusingly enough, the Canadian accents of the newsreaders and protesters ring out loud and clear. One of the protesters runs up and clocks Hayden Cale, a Chaank "joint chief executive" walking to the building. The protester isn't immediately shot or beaten to a pulp by the executive's police escort, so the film must be set in Canada.

Ms. Cale gives a sound bite to a journalist promising a full public airing of Chaank's dirty laundry if any is found. I am ninety-plus percent certain that one of the actors delivering a single line as a journalist was picked for his resemblance to Chicago newspaper legend Mike Royko.

This guy was an incredibly famous newspaper journalist.

And here's the actor. See what I mean?

Anyway, Scott Ridley, another Chaank board member, shows up to smile like Jake Busey and be vaguely creepy and menacing, telling the journos who are fishing for a quote that if it wasn't for his company, they'd all be speaking Russian. Oh, and we learn that Chaank's corporate slogan is "Hard technology for a hard world". Is the viewer to assume that the Cold War went hot at some point? Could be, I guess. That's kinda standard for dark near-future techno thrillers. So was naming your characters after genre directors around this time; we've got a Scott Ridley, a John Carpenter (Hootkins' character, which is kind of awesome) and a Sam Raimi coming up later. Why Hayden Cale wasn't named Brianna DePalma or Paula Verhoeven, I don't know.

In the boardroom, Ridley excoriates everyone for a report getting out that (accurately) makes Chaank look bad. He wants the leak found and stopped when Hayden Cale immediately confesses to tipping the news stations off to whatever it was she tipped them off to. She says that she's going to make a full disclosure of whatever she finds because clearing the air voluntarily will be less damaging to Chaank than if it gets cleared by the news media or government (she refers to "networks" and "syndicators" here, which means that it's a future without cable or satellite TV, I think). But before she can go much further explaining why Chaank has to fess up to what it's been doing, Mr. Carpenter says the "Hard Man" project is going to get its plug pulled because it's been a failure for its entire operational lifespan. If I'm understanding his authentic near-future corporate gibberish correctly, the Hard Man project interfaces directly with a human brain to control its cybernetics or power armor, and that leads inevitably to file corruption and the equivalent of radio static in the brains of everyone who uses that technology.

When Cale finds out that the protesters outside actually might be in the right she's furious, using her nebulous and ill-defined executive powers to shut down every project that might be illegal on the spot and terminating "Dante's" employment immediately, whoever that is. Some other person in the boardroom says they need to keep Dante but Cale has a laundry list of complaints about him (he lives in the building, he makes illegal supply orders, he doesn't inform Chaank of what he's working on and he blew off the Accountability Meeting). Ridley says that Cale's "one of us" now, and Cale responds by itching a spot on her wrist where a blinking blue light emanates from under the skin (!), which means that she's got some kind of tracking implant or other marker that she's Chaank property now.

Who is this Dante guy, anyway? Well, it's stringy-haired Brad Dourif, in a tiny cubicle in the basement of Chaank HQ, simultaneously watching three monitors:  A cartoon show, a porno flick, and the board meeting where he just got shitcanned. But we don't quite know it's Dourif yet. It's just a little glimpse to let the viewer know that Dante knows more than Cale knows he knows. You know?

Back in her office, Cale is reading up on whatever just happened at Chaank, including a report that declares a fatality in the building was caused by a shark attack. Her videophone boots up and her secretary informs Cale that Dante will see her now (which is a reversal of the power dynamic any executive would have naturally been expecting). She goes down to what I assume is a sub-basement (there's no natural light) where a bunch of dudes are welding things. It's the first time one of those Abandoned Flame and Spark Factories has shown an actual source for the sparks that I can think of. I also think Norrington is just as tired of visual cliches from science fiction movies as the target audience of this movie would be. Just a guess.

Dante's private R&D lair has a big street mural KEEP OUT spraypainted on it, which is a neat burst of color among the grey industrial walls and beams that we've seen in this setting so far. We also get a dramatic pipe organ chord on the score when Dante's name in the mural gets a closeup. Dante's living space / work environment reminds me unavoidably of Joe Meek's home studio, in that it's crammed with electronics gear from floor to ceiling and otherwise resembles a rat's nest, though the centerfolds from girlie magazines probably wouldn't have been on display at 304 Holloway Road.

A small trash avalanche gets set off and then Jack Dante walks into his lab / filthy squatter living space and demands to know who the interloper is ("Your boss's boss's boss's boss" is probably the true answer, but Cale's more polite than that). Dante attempts to turn on the charm when he finds out that it's the new CEO who came down to visit but he's got X-acto blades taped to his fingernails and his shoulder-length hair looks greasy as a diner cheeseburger so it doesn't work so good. Then he sits down to watch a snuff cartoon on loop and tells Cale that the vault she wants to check out requires her to swipe her own access card at the same time Scott Ridley swipes his. Of course, Dante is a super hacker with a near-perfect memory so he impresses / appalls Cale by telling her her own "comlink" number, bank account number and balance, and home address. She tells him to stay out of her files rather than firing him on the spot and calling for security.

Then it's time to check in with some brand new characters; they're a bunch of underground social protesters (one of whom has developed a way to smoke eight joints at the same time). They've been observing Chaank for a while, and they know about the "Scott Ridley and Hayden Cale need to open the secret door at the same time" deal. They refer to "the cutter", and how they can use that if other methods fail, but I don't know if they're talking about a drug, a computer program, or a really big knife at this point.

So it's time to go back to the boardroom, where the actor playing Scott Ridley over-emotes while yelling at Cale to leave Dante alone and stop pretending that she isn't as "morally reprehensible" as the rest of the board of directors just by virtue of being in their corporate stratus. He also points out that "Nicholson" went on the same crusading tear as Cale did, and he wound up dead. Hayden turns out not to be all that great an investigator when Ridley points out that the "shark attack" that killed Nicholson happened in the Chaank skyscraper, which does not contain an ocean or even a really big aquarium. Dante is transparently to blame, but all he said in response to any questions was that he was working on a project he called a Front Line Morale Destroyer. Ridley shows a little crack in the facade after he mentions the Front Line Morale Destroyer, confessing that mostly he just wants to stay alive rather than try to bring Jack Dante to justice. And Cale looks down at Ridley's Chaank access card that she swiped during their altercation after he walks away...

Back at her apartment (I think, based on the lighting, but the establishing shot was of Chaank HQ), Cale goes through Dante's personnel file, which the computer reads to her as the text prints out on her screen. Either Norrington wanted to show a future where illiteracy was rampant even at the highest socioeconomic levels or he thought it would be pretty neat to have a computer voice deliver some exposition. Well, it turns out that Jack Dante was raised in state-run orphanages, has been arrested multiple times for weapons possession and sexual assault charges, and is considered by Chaank psychologists to be their tame monster, since he's a psychopath with incredible technical skills but smart enough to know that he's got a good thing going living in the basement of the company headquarters (and there's a grimly funny moment where the computer recommends that Chaank promote Dante as soon as possible).

And I guess that the scene is in Cale's office after all because Jack Dante shows up to talk to her and try to "guess" the password protecting his notes for that Morale Destroyer project. Turns out that Cale was the first person to go and talk to Dante in years and he's now fixated on her. Even worse, back when she was young and needed some bread, Hayden did some photo shoots for skin magazines, one of which Dante brings up to her office to show off as some kind of mating dance / blackmail attempt. When Cale puts a gun to his head (that Dante handed to her earlier), the hacker / mad scientist / creepo decides she's on the rag and leaves her office while holding his arms out and making airplane noises. Man, it's a lot of fun to see Brad Dourif having so much fun. And I'll bet that .45 automatic gets used later in the film once the Death Machine escapes its containment.

Cale drives away from Chaank Central just as the hacktivists drive up in a semi truck with their gear in the trailer and dressed as air conditioning repairmen. The hackers all explain their plan to each other so the audience knows what they're going to be doing in their big Dortmunder style plan. There's a neat series of wire frame computer graphics that show what the hackers are going to do while they explain it, so the sequence is at least interesting to look at while the gibberish gets spouted. The three hackers haven't been given names yet, so I'm going to call them Larry, Moe and Tommy Wiseau. Larry's got a frizzy goofball haircut, Moe has a rising sun tatooed on his face, centered on his left eye and Tommy Wiseau has an incomprehensible European accent. Oh, and the hackers may or may not be just trying to steal "software bonds" from Chaank rather than doing activism. I don't know at this point and the screenplay's a bit vague.

Back with the Chaank guys, Ridley and Carpenter are arguing via videoconference about whether or not they need to arrange a fatal car accident for Cale and making reference to the unsavory practices that went into the Hard Man program (lobotomized and brain-wiped combat vets are apparently the secret ingredient). Ridley's more worried about what Jack Dante can do to him (and, to a lesser extent, his colleagues) than anything and he might just do something rash as a reaction. Of course, he wasn't expecting Jack Dante to show up in the boardroom for a friendly chat. Neither was I, because I was expecting him to hang out in his lair for most of the film. He does perform the best pencil break in a movie since Herbert West wanted to signal his displeasure with the curriculum while ranting about order, chaos and mounting entropy, which is nice.

Dante has a walkie-talkie wrapped in electrical tape and bearing lots of buttons and displays that he's grafted on to it--he gives a string of technogibberish to explain what it is but I'm not typing all that out. It's a remote control for something. He turns it on, holds in a button that he says works like a dead man's switch (as long as it's pressed in, whatever is controlled stays placid) and then lets go of the button. We get a sped-up POV shot from a machine's point of view (it has the same horizontal lines on the screen that were used to signify television monitors earlier in the film). And the heavy thud-clanks of the thing's footsteps don't match up to the speed of its paces in the point-of-view footage at all.

Which is kind of a moot point as the Morale Destroyer charges towards the boardroom in some increasingly shaky poor man's Sam Raimi footage. Dante tells Ridley that he's going to die, says it's partially because he gave Cale his access card (which means that Hayden doesn't know that Dante stole the card that she stole from Ridley) and boots his corporate overlord in the dick in lieu of turning off the death machine. When the Morale Destroyer smashes through the wall of the boardroom, Dante hits the pause button and Ridley--but not the audience--gets a really good look at the robot. All we see are some hydraulic cables and armor plates. Ridley runs off; Dante lets go of the pause button; the robot charges after its designated prey. After a somewhat lengthy chase, the robot catches up with Ridley, who wound up in a dead end in an office, and he gets shredded by the snapping bear-trap jaws and whirling steel blade-fingers of the robot (though all we see is drifting dot-matrix printer paper falling to the ground in the aftermath and a HARD TECH FOR A HARD WORLD poster ironically at the forefront of the carnage).

John Carpenter calls Hayden on her Skype video phone telling her to get back to Chaank headquarters right now because the shit has well and truly hit the fan. She thinks that the call and her visit could have waited longer (like, until she'd had more than eighty minutes of sleep) but once she sees Ridley's corpse (a rather good effect, with plenty of nasty gashes on its face, neck and limbs) she decides that perhaps it is a good idea to start investigating. Carpenter has a security tape (it's a VHS kind of future here) that shows a blurry still of the titular death machine pureeing Ridley and says it broke out of Vault Ten when it got its kill order. Cale takes Carpenter's corporate ID card and logs in to the Chaank system to confirm that Scott Ridley is dead, and that she is now CEO with Carpenter her second in command.

She locks the mysterious Vault Ten down remotely (which presumes the Morale Destroyer went back there to read comic books once it finished its mission) just as Jack Dante wanders out of the server room and informs her that Ridley got himself perished. He also asks for a promotion, which Cale says she'll give him if he fetches the "personnel hard disk". Once Dante goes off to get it, Cale types super fast to fire him and lock him completely out of the Chaank system. Dante takes it poorly and pulls a gun on his former boss. A voice from off screen tells him to drop the gun and those shadowrunners from before appear in the reverse shot, all of them heavily armed. Dante looks utterly nonplussed (Brad Dourif's facial expressions, as always, are a cinematic treasure) and complies.

Dante and the two board members are hustled into a room, where Carpenter and Cale are asked for their "D-lock sequences" so Larry, Moe and Tommy Wiseau can do whatever they need to do to get their bitcoins and run. Carpenter folds instantly but Cale doesn't; Jack Dante, shit stirrer extraordinaire, says he knows a better way into the system. The criminals are suspicious, even after Dante explains that he just got fired and even shows them a shorter way into the vault that they want. It's Vault Ten, of course, and the criminals set up an automated cutting torch to slice through the door. Dante runs into the vault as soon as the door is opened and it turns out to be a back door into his rat's nest. He turns the death machine back on and shows it two of the hackers' faces; when Tommy Wiseau gets barbecued by it we learn that his character's name was Weyland. Moe turns out to be Yutani, and I guess that makes Larry into Sam Raimi.

We rejoin Carpenter, Cale and the two surviving shadowrunners in the little room near the top of the building where the criminals are screaming at each other until Dante interrupts via closed-circuit video to say he's turned the killer robot back on and will only turn it off if his conditions are met (he wants to be re-hired, have everything he did with the Morale Destroyer covered up officially, and to have sex on a regular basis with Cale). Cale informs him that he's going 0 for 3 on that list. The hackers leave but relent to the point where Carpenter and Cale can go along with them. The robot hears Carpenter knock something off a desk and pursues (and, in keeping with the best way to reveal a movie monster, we get a good look at its clawed feet but not the rest of it--all the best monster movie directors know to handle things so that you show the audience bits and pieces of the creature first, and reveal it completely in the third act).

While sneaking around, Cale has the brainstorm that setting off the fire alarms would close security doors in the building, which would at least slow down the killer robot (although it would close off some possible paths for her group to escape as well). Yutani turns out to have a "thermic detonator" and the group rigs it to blow in a way that will set off the fire suppression system. During the conversation before setting the bomb off, Raimi confesses that the criminals don't have any live ammo in their guns, and also says they were planning to destroy the money in the Chaank vaults rather than steal it as a blow against capitalism as a concept and the Chaank corporation specifically.
Raimi identifies himself as part of the "humanist alliance", which has a pretty awful name for an underground resistance movement. Oh, and Carpenter and Yutani get all up in each others' grills for a bit before the bomb goes off and the blast doors get sealed.

The elevator won't work after the bomb blast did something to the power supply. Carpenter seizes control of the situation by revealing that he grabbed one of Dante's (actual, loaded with real bullets) pistols and declares himself to be in charge. His plan is to take a freight elevator down to a sub-basement, push the other three people in the group ahead of him as Morale Destroyer Bait, and escape in the confusion. The elevator stops partway down the shaft because it got blocked by the robot (we only see one of its claws in this attack sequence at first, but as it slices up Yutani and Carpenter more of its body is revealed). Cale hits the "push this button when things are terrible" button on the wall and the elevator goes back up to the top of the building. The robot and Carpenter fall out of the massive hole in the elevator's floor and drop eighty floors down the shaft. The elevator falls on top of them, but that probably isn't going to stop the death machine.

There's a brief moment of weird comedy when Yutani tears his underwear off without taking off his pants to make a bandage for his leg, and then it's time for a new plan. Coincidentally enough, there's another secret laboratory door where they wound up and Carpenter's access card (which Raimi grabbed when taking the man hostage) opens it up where Cale's doesn't. Yes, that's right, it's the Hard Man development lab (complete with a spare empty suit of power armor). The resistance hacker guys probably would want to toss Cale directly at the robot when they see what was going on in there, but she's got semi-plausible deniability because her access card wouldn't get her into the lab.

There's a Hard Man development video on a disk that shows how awful the process is to the lobotomized horribly injured veterans that were being turned into cyborgs (and Jack Dante walking into frame saying he thinks he knows how to make the process work for the next guy; obviously he was overconfident if the malfunctioning robot zombie from the beginning of the film was anything to go by). A call to the police goes poorly indeed (the desk sergeant hangs up on them in disbelief, which makes this a two-day running gag thanks to the same thing happening in Count Yorga). Jack calls via monitor to taunt the group and somewhat belatedly Cale realizes that the corporate beacon implanted in her wrist can be used to track her. She cuts it out in a bit of impromptu surgery right before Jack calls back to show off the schematics of the WarBeast (as the password to the file reveals its name to be).

Jack tells the three survivors that the WarBeast is capable of tracking human pheromones, specifically the ones that are emitted when people feel fear. In order to not get killed, they have to not be afraid of the eight foot tall Morale Destroyer that's been sicced on them. Cale figures out that by using the Hard Man suit and gear, they stand a fighting chance. I thought the movie was going to go in the more James Cameron mode of having a badass woman take down the monster, but Raimi gears up instead--and that's a bit of a disappointment. I would have preferred the protagonist that had been in the movie all along wound up killing the dragon. After promising that Raimi's personality will be saved on a backup disk to be reloaded after the crisis, Cale throws the switch and turns the pacifist social protester into a dollar store RoboCop. At least the actor probably had a lot of fun stomping around in the suit and shouting into his mike. And a POV shot from the Warbeast indicates that it can't trace the Hard Man version of Raimi because he doesn't feel any fear, which is a neat detail. Of course, the Hard Man doesn't notice the killbot right behind it because he's been programmed as a supergrunt rather than someone who understands surveillance and investigation.

Cale and Yutani decide to take the fight to the Warbeast themselves rather than cower in an office and hope their hail-mary plan of turning Raimi into a cyborg works out. Just as they've decided to go and hunt down the death machine a shot rings out--Jack Dante got back up there and wants to talk to Cale. He does not want to deal with Yutani, though, so he shot him. Dante takes Cale down to his lair and propositions her at knifepoint, but she boots him in the crotch, takes his knife away and drives it through his hand and a shelf, keeping him where he is for the time being. She picks up a bunch of thermic detonators and leaves, smacking into Yutani (who came to save her but isn't actually needed right now). The new plan is to get into the central computer server and blow it up, destroying Chaank completely. The fire-safety doors that were locked when they were trying to slow down the Warbeast make it impossible for Cale and Yutani to get to the vault, though, and I'm glad the movie remembered they did that.

There's also a great moment when neither one of the two protagonists can open an access panel until it turns out the handle they were both trying to turn was a crank that needed to be inserted into the door and turned like they were starting a Model A Ford. The maintenance tunnel they jumped through is too small for the WarBeast to follow through, so they're safe for the time being. We also get a look at the full-size animatronic puppet for the WarBeast at this point, and it's really quite impressive. It looks like something that could have really been built and used rather than something designed to look super cool but impractical.

Raimi shows up by kicking a wall panel out and fires a guided missile at the WarBeast (and we get to see a pretty cool shot that shows the missile turning corners as it zooms towards the killer robot, which is why the guy in the suit was named Sam Raimi). There's still almost half an hour left to the film, though, so he hasn't done anything except tick the monster off at this point. He also experiences the same interface glitch that killed all the previous Hard Man experimental subjects but manages not to die at this point. The three survivors leave for a hoist on the roof to try and get somewhere that the robot can't reach them (I think). Cale and Yutani work to reconnect the control system for the hoist, and if the movie said why they have to do that, I missed it.

The WarBeast is on the other side of the access panel that they need to open to get to the hoist, of course, and when Yutani and Cale open up on it with some Chaank machine guns we get a neat comic relief Monster-Cam POV shot where it assumes they aren't a threat until the bullets hit it. Raimi engages the Morale Destroyer in hand-to-hand combat while the other two protagonists make a run for the hoist and actually holds his own against it until he has another seizure and the robot gets a chance to recover. Yutani smacks his head on the top of the access door while leaving, falls down, and gets a fatal case of Robot-Inflicted Knife Wounds, which I didn't honestly expect to happen.

Cale and Raimi jump down to the hoist, which they're going to use as an elevator to get to the ground floor of Chaank Tower, I think, but the damaged WarBeast is still in pursuit. Cale shoots out the cables holding the hoist basket in place and it plummets towards the ground; good thing there's an emergency brake handle she can pull to eventually slow the descent. Raimi's having one more seizure as the hoist basket rests on the ground and Cale re-installs his factory original personality, which apparently keeps him from dying at the cost of Raimi not being any good with the weapons he's carrying any more. As required by movies influenced by Blade Runner, the two remaining protagonists are now outside by a huge skyscraper at night in the pouring rain.

Another thing I didn't expect was for them to get confronted by an angry beat cop right after they got off the hoist; he shoots one of them (I couldn't tell which) in the leg as a warning shot and then the WarBeast drops on him from hundreds of feet up, taking him completely out of the film less than a minute after he showed up. While the robot's distracted by the cop, Cale and Raimi sneak back into Chaank HQ so they can finish the "wipe out the company and all its assets" mission. And one of the thermic detonators Cale snagged earlier damages the WarBeast but doesn't put it out of action. With the two access cards, the pair of survivors opens the door to the big secret vault but, of course, the WarBeast continues to pursue them. A second bomb blows off one of the death machine's hands and Cale gets into the big main vault (the explosion knocks Raimi out so she's on her own). The machine gets up to her and then freezes. Turns out Jack Dante has his finger on that dead man's switch he mentioned earlier, so the robot will be paused as long as he's got his hand on the button.

Dante gives a little monologue about how he doesn't want to kill Cale for a stupid reason and reveals
just how pathetic he is, reaching out for some tiny glimmer of human connection but his personality is so toxic that he won't ever be able to get it. Cale's less than impressed and the newly awakened Raimi punches Dante across the room; he loses his transmitter and Cale picks it up. She and Raimi leave Dante alone with the inert robot and a thermic detonator that he accidentally set into "Do Not Jostle" mode. The vault door closes as the mad scientist gets to choose suicide or death at the claws and teeth of his own evil creation. Fade to black.

Well! That was quite an impressive debut, truth be told. There's several things that don't quite jell in the screenplay and some unclear editing, but the movie really shines where the gigantic death robot is concerned, and that's what we're really here for. Similar to Pumpkinhead, another directorial debut from a special effects creator, it's a movie that knows what its audience wants and delivers the goods. Sure, you have to sit through some moments where Raimi screams like a stereotypical jarhead but you can tell Norrington had his heart in the right place. And hey, it's got a really primo Brad Dourif psycho performance. He had to have enjoyed making this one, and you'll likely enjoy watching it, especially if you've ever played a game of Shadowrun back around the time this was filmed.

"And the award for Most Obscure Cosplay goes to me, for trying to come up with something that looked like the Hard Man armor."


  1. "Death Machine", "Hard Man", "War Beast", "Morale Destroyer".

    There's only two robodudes, right? That's a lot of names.

    Also, all of those names sound less like military cyborgs and more like sex toys for advanced users.

  2. The Hard Man is one of the robot things in the movie; the War Beast, Death Machine and Morale Destroyer are interchangeable terms for the other one. Because I couldn't bring myself to just use one of them over and over and over.

    I thought "Chaank" sounded like a prepackaged curry spice mix or something.

  3. Great review! One of my favorite things about this movie is how, despite how serious it sounds and looks for the most part, it has A LOT of comedic moments. Since you didn't mention Cale getting any sort of backstory, i'm guessing you saw the US cut? If you're curious, the longer version is on youtube, it has a couple more scenes.

    And man, kudos for the Hootkins-themed introduction, this guy's been one of my favorite actors for years, haha. He also used to do tons of audiobooks and radioplays, including a big series of BBC plays about Superman, where he played Lex Luthor!

  4. Hey, thanks! I've always been a fan of the day players who show up and make things better (Dick Miller being the Platonic ideal of that kind of actor), and it always amused me that William Hootkins got two or three lines in some of the biggest blockbuster movies ever filmed. I'm sure that Norrington cast him in this as a nod to his appearances in all kinds of huge famous billion dollar franchises.

    I'll have to look up the YouTube cut at some point, but as you can imagine, it'll be in November at the earliest. HubrisWeen is a harsh mistress.