The television adapted bastardization of his beloved illustrated Robot Ninja leaves comic book artist Lenny Miller with a bad taste in his mouth. His disgust with the direction angers him to part ways with the project, leaving the televised rights in the hands of a careless and uninspired studio crews and execs, but that won’t stop Miller’s creative juggernaut of the captivatedly violent, robot vigilante. Inspiration takes heart-rending form when Miller happens upon a roadside abduction and rape of a young couple where his attempt at a rescue ends tragic with the couple being brutally murdered and him severely injured, but with the help of his good inventor friend, Dr. Goodnight, the frustrated comic-book artist becomes the Robot Ninja, just as depicted in his comics, with a vengeful plan to hunt down the assailants and put a bloody end to their wrongdoing reign of terror. A good first night out ends with one thug dead and an ego boost for Miller, but Robot Ninja’s actions don’t deterrent crime and, in fact, crime hits back hard when not only Robot Ninja becomes the target, but also his friend Dr. Goodnight and innocent bystanders.
“Robot Ninja” is part one of an unintentional two part review segment about directors disowning their own cinematic handy work for X, Y, or Z reasons and while “Robot Ninja” was initially discarded by “Dead Next Door” writer-director J.R. Bookwalter due to poor post production that was essentially out of the filmmaker’s hands and a work print negative thought to have been lost for eternity, Tempe Entertainment foresaw the awesome potential for the late 80’s automaton avenger in an dual format ultimate edition after a unearthed work print surfaced and back into the Bookwalter’s hand to mend and correct his sophomore feature film! Forget Iron Man. Ignore Captain America. Incredible Hulk who? “Robot Ninja” is one of the only true comic book heroes from illustrations to to take a stand against crime passionately and not because if you have great power, there’s great responsibility.
Robot Ninja is the epitome of the combo character that could sway into either hero from the 1980’s, like in Paul Verhoeven’s “Robocop” and Amir Shervan’s “Samurai Cop,” or could even swerve straight up into the villain category though I have no examples floating around near the inner layers of my cerebral cortex, but the Robot Ninja bordered the very blurry gray lines of anti-hero status whether intentionally or not from the perspective you examine. The Robot Ninja character potentially could have set fire to the combo character direct-to-video cult underworld, but fell rather hard and flat on its face in the deadfall of the netherworld instead. None of film’s flaws or woes never sat its hampering weight upon the goldilocks graced shoulders of Michael Todd, who portrayed the clawed hand titular character. Todd’s enthusiasm for the role is beyond necessary, a real A for effort, into powering on Lenny Miller’s illustrated crime combatant. Lenny, aka Robot Ninja, vows to destroy, or rather disembowel, the local gang led by the ruthless Gody Sanchez, a she-devil aimed to please only one person – herself. Maria Markovic, another actor that’s in J.R. Bookwalter’s “Dead Next Door” circle, find herself in the antagonistic role in one of her sole two credits. Markovic’s acting chops are about as stiff as a board, but being surrounded by the right kind of thugs in James Edwards (“Bloodletting”), Bill Morrison (“Ozone”), Jon Killough (“Skinned Alive”), Rodney Shields, and Michael ‘D.O.C.’ Porter, Gody Sanchez is able to achieve par-level black heartedness. “Robot Ninja” round-kicks an uppercut class of actors such as Floyd Ewing Jr., Michael Kemper, the original Dick Grayson Burt Ward (“Batman” television series), the one and only Linnea Quigley (“Return of the Living Dead”), one of Sam Raimi’s entourage buddies Scott Spiegel, and Bogdan Pecic and the good Dr. Goodnight.
Without doubt, “Robot Ninja” was destined for the direct-to-video market and the quality of work obviously shows, but with flaws aside, the obscure 79 minute feature still manages to be a part of Bookwalter’s “Dead Next Door” universe full of gore, violence, and a distain for human nature despite briefly disavowing “Robot Ninja’s” mucked up existence for years. Subtempeco EFX, comprised of David Lange, Bill Morrison, and Joe Contracer, don’t exactly go cheap when Robot Ninja’s dual blades pierce and pop eye balls inside the skull of some punk or when Lenny’s patching up his injuries without as much flinching in pain, the open, surely is infected wound just pulsates with exploded flesh and blood. Bookwalter’s direction is hazy at times around the beginning with the dynamic between Lenny and his publisher that feels stagnant and irrelevant; however, the comic book scenes interwoven into the meatiest part of the story, the Robot Ninja action, is remarkably cool for a late 80’s budget gas.
Tempe Entertainment have outdone themselves with the region free ultimate edition DVD and Blu-ray combos set of “Robot Ninja” with a “painstakingly” restored 2k film scan from the original 16mm A/B roll cut negative and presented in a 4:3 aspect ratio. The picture is night and day compared to previous VHS and DVD releases that underwhelm director J.R. Bookwalter’s vision. The vast color palette of various lighting and color schemes during the dream sequences have been gracefully corrected and the contrast has been restored to lighten up the much of the darker, almost unwatchable scenes. Good looking and unobtrusive natural grain from the 16mm stock and the re-edit makes a difference that finally seems cuts together without causing some confusion. The English language 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio surround sound is entirely new construction from Bookwalter and the lossless tracks have ample range and depth, balanced nicely throughout, and have little-to-no distortion or other imperfections. English and Spanish subtitles are also included. A slew of bonus material on both formats include audio commentaries from J.R. Bookwalter, Matthew Dilts-Williams of Phantom Pain Films, producer David DeCoteau, James L. Edwards, Scott Plummer, David Lange, David Barton, Doug Tilly and Moe Porne of The No-Budget Nightmare. J.R. Bookwalter also has a 21 minute segment about the whole start-to-finish journey with restoring “Robot Ninja,” a Linnea Quigley retrospect on her small role experience in the film, an interview with Scott Spiegel, a location tour with Benjamin Bookwalter, “The Robot Ninja” fan film from 2013 with introduction by director Johnny Dickie, artwork and promotional material, behind the scenes gallery, production stills, “Robot Ninja” unmasked featurette, rough cut outtakes, TV show promo, newscast outtakes, the original VHS release trailer, and Tempe trailers, plus much more. Lets not also forget to mention the stunning cover art by Alex Sarabia, Carol Chable, and David Lange and a new title sequence also by David Lange. Tempe Entertainment’s ultimate edition of “Robot Ninja” is a thing of beauty that should be seen by all who love campy, Sci-Fi horror flicks with grisly skirmishes and intense tragedy in every corner. The restoration work “Robot Ninja” is founded on absolute love, a rare concept seen for direct-to-video features so you know this film must be something special – a true redemption story.
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Almost a year ago, do you remember the real life face-eating cannibal Rudy Eugene due to, unconfirmed, street drug nicknamed “bath salts?” Eugene basically left his disabled vehicle near a Miami causeway, stripped completely butt-ass naked, and assaulted one Ronald Poppo by beating him down to the ground, stripping off his homeless man trousers, and proceeding to munch on the upper portion of his face. A real life zombie? Most likely not, but the more probably cause would be high as a kite on drugs, making him insane and almost superhuman-like. Reportedly, the attack went on for nearly 20 minutes and police even shot Eugene four times.
A year later, ambitious filmmakers came together with the “Miami Zombie” inspiration in mind and made a highly exaggerated, or was it, loosely based film about drug addicts turning into face biting zombies after smoking a bath salt resembler that is actually concocted from a highly toxic, military grade, weaponized substance that somehow mysteriously disappeared from the military’s inventory. Hot on the destructive addict’s tail is a relentless DEA agent who will stop at nothing to put an end to reign of bath salt terror!
Who are these ambitious filmmakers? And how the hell did they pull off a great fun and creative movie about the bath salt “Miami Zombie?” First off, the team of creators and actors behind that fantastic little Faustian film Night of the Tentacles were involved! Dustin Wayde Mills, whom very uncanny in looks and voice resembles Red State director Kevin Smith, directs, co-wrote, and also co-stars as the money hungry mad scientist behind the bath salt concoction. Night of the Tentacles lead man Brandon Salkil who is comically animated and has great facial features for film. Secondly, my main man Clint Weiler produced and co-wrote Bath Salt Zombies. Clint is also a head hancho over at MVD, a major home entertainment distributor for music and DVD video!
Bath Salt Zombies combines 300 with Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. You have the epic fight scenes, done very well by the way with well done choreographs by co-star Jason Eal (DEA agent), with the Scott Pilgrim like animations that turn a cheesy premises into the next big indie cult film – the next Dead Next Door comes to mind. Now, I could be wrong, but I found that Bath Salt Zombies paid homage to a couple of other notable horror and action icons such as the first Resident Evil video game in the mini-cartoon intro at the beginning reminded me of first appearance of a zombie and the subway fight finale reminded me of Neo and Agent Smith duking it out in the first Matrix. However, Bath Salt Zombies delivers more blood and more creative style with the budget.
What I really wanted more from this film was Erin R. Ryan’s twins in the shower. Along with Ryan’s ta tas, Bath Salt Zombies offers other perks such as a fully frontal 4 minute scene of DeviantArt and Model Mayhem model Bella Demente! You also have a great punk Soundtrack to go along with the spew of blood, the elastic internal organs, the dismembered body parts, and the multiple decapitations. I highly recommend this movie to any comedy, horror, or drug addict fan because Bath Salt Zombies entertains with a blood, boobs and banter that hasn’t been this witty for a indie film in such a long, long time! Well played!