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.
In the year 2027, enhanced humanistic cyborgs virtually run the planet with the renowned L.A.P.D. being no exception. Alex Rain, one of L.A.’s finest brute cops, is partially cyborg himself, but the essence of his soul remains human intact while his synthetic flesh cloaks the icy machine beneath. After tracking down suspected cyborg terrorists and almost losing his life in the struggle to stop them, Alex questions his dwindling humanity, leading him down a path of unfulfilling revenge and botched smuggling before his former employer, the L.A.P.D. commissioner named Farnsworth, tracks him down and uses deadly coercion to force Alex as a pawn in dangerous covert mission. The burnt out cop is thrusted back into the fray of his former life when Farnsworth orders him to retrieve data from the treacherous female cyborg, Jared, who was once Alex’s partner and lover, before she hands over the sensitive information to a group of cyborg terrorists who call themselves The Red Army Hammerheads. With a micro bomb implanted near his heart as insurance, Alex has no choice but to accept the assignment before detonation in 3 days and with his time running out, finding Jared isn’t the problem as Alex comes to realize that deception has convoluted the stakes and nothing is who or what they seem.
Albert Pyun’s 1992 cyberpunk action-thriller “Nemesis” is an explosive-heavy, science fiction existentialism film never before seen, or even aware of, by this reviewer, but the ground-worked narrative has remained a constant piece of foundation in being the byproduct of inspiration extracted from other cyberpunk films of its kind, such as “Robocop,” “Blade Runner,” and “The Terminator.” “Nemesis” has a presence much to the tune of another film, “Cyborg,” starring John-Claude Van Damme and that inclination would inevitably make a world of sense when the awe-striking epiphany lands that Pyun also directed that film, also utilizing some of the same actors for his early 90’s cybernetic dystopian feature. In reviewing Pyun’s credits, the assumption can be made that the filmmaker has a sturdy hard-on for the intertwining of mankind and machine as not only did the director write and direct “Cyborg” and helmed “Nemesis,” but went on to be a part of, whether director, writer, or producer, of four more “Nemesis” sequels with a fifth being produced and shot, but scrapped in post-production due to Pyun’s flailing mental health. Rebecca Charles fed the scribal beast as “Nemesis’” screenwriter, along with penning “Nemesis 2: Nebula” and “Nemesis 3: Time Lapse.”
Alex Rain is a cold cut character, sliced thick like a cool cucumber on top of a hard to wedge salad. Rain’s iciness symbolizes his downtrodden humanity status and with each part of his body shattered from destruction, he becomes one step closer to being an automaton with eye brows. B-movie action star Olivier Guner essentially make a big career breakthrough with “Nemesis” as his sophomore feature. Guner’s military background suitably solidifies his physique as a workaholic cyborg cop while also presenting a rough cut speech impediment that’s very straight forward and without emotion. Some would say that Gruner’s approach fits his half-human, half-toaster oven character and I would say that would be correct. The 80’s and 90’s saw a crowded entry list of action stars, including Jean-Claude Van Damme, Chuck Norris, Steven Seagal, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, and many others in various degrees of success – and Olivier Gruner became one of those faces that had since then been lost over the years; Gruner’s performance in “Nemesis” lacked pizazz which could have been the contributing factor to his success, but the monotonic, unflattering one-liners and blank face stare didn’t spark any fires on top of his average muscular frame. His performance, to keep with the fire motif, didn’t provide the oxygen, a combustible, or a flammable source to quickly set ablaze a trail for semi-popularity amongst his peers and that’s where “Nemesis” falters in entertainment value. Comparatively, “Trancers” franchise actor, Tim Thomerson, is full of range and vigor as an concealing Commissioner Farnsworth. Thomerson, in his early 40’s at the time of filming, displayed an impressive physicality to his role, keeping up nicely with his onscreen rival. Farnsworth, from the get-go, reeks of desperation when pressuring Alex to do his bidding and Thomerson really nails the part and can switch on the proverbial dime as an egocentric field operative when chasing Alex through the jungles on the Hawaii set. The night and day performance is a stark contrast between the two actors. What’s mostly disappointing about “Nemesis’” cast that favorable characters come and go; some the characters a pinned with terrific actors such as Shang Tsung himself, “Mortal Kombat’s” Cary-Hiroyuki Tagawa, as the leader of The Red Army Hammerheads and the late, great Brion James (“Red Heat”) chirping a lousy German accent of the Commissioner’s right hand man. The cast has many other recognizable names that, again, come and go, including a strung out looking Merle Kennedy (“Night of the Demons 2”) as Max Impact, Marjorie Monaghan as the algorithmic beauty Jared, Vincent Klyn (“Cyborg”) as a disposable bodyguard, an extremely fit and nude Deborah Shelton (“Body Double”), voice actor Nicholas Guest (“Dollman”), brief cameo by Jackie Earle Haley (“Watchmen”), a fresh faced version of “The Predator’s” Thomas Jane, and Thomas Jane’s bare ass.
The financial backing was obviously designated for a particular department in the “Nemesis” workshop and that department was special effects. Explosions, rotoscoping, stop-motion, sculpture, implosions, practical effects and makeup are just the tip of the iceberg. Frayed wires and eye ball cannons are the elegant touch that makes “Nemesis” a cult favorite and bring substance to a clunky storyline and divisively dynamic acting. However, not all the specials are pinpoint precision and grounded by reality. The one scene that stands above the rest when Farnsworth is hot in pursuit of Alex and Max and he’s shelling off rounds of a shotgun, standing relatively still, blasting away without moving the barrel around to compensate for his prey’s length of distance gained or even when they decided to make quick pivots in direction. Somehow, the rounds hit very close to Alex and Max and that’s not all, they even explode like a single stick of TNT. ACME must have had a hand in the special effects department because the scene sure was loony. Yet, the implosion of a monolithic silo was uber-impressive, well-executed, and really ritzy for the silver screen.
Imperial Entertainment’s “Nemesis” infiltrates onto another home video release, a region free, dual DVD and Hi-Def 1080p Blu-ray format release, from MVDVisual under their MVD Rewind Collection series. Sheathed by a slick, retro-grade slipcover with familiar art, reminiscent of the now decade old Sterling DVD release, the special collector’s edition provides two aspect ratios, an anamorphic widescreen 2.35:1 and a widescreen 1.78:1. This MVDVisual Release has stellar detail in the texture and in framing that are exhibited in various tint shades, such as yellow and blue, and eventually cough up toward a more natural look into the second act when Alex reaches the rough neighborhood of Shang Loo, Java. Even though the visual compositions and mold work doesn’t pop with color and are a bit fuzzy, “Nemesis” is a product of it’s time, the early 1990’s and you can’t fault Pyun’s film for that. The English 5.1 surround sound is beautiful. So beautiful and potent, in fact, that you can actually understand Olivier Gruner’s mumbling, putting dialogue for all characters right into the front row while offering a stimulating range and depth of ambience sound, an unlimited variety of explosions, and plenty of miscellany cyborg hubbub. Other language are available, including French, German, as well as English in 2.0 stereo and there are English and German SDH subtitles available The Blu-ray bonus features include new interviews with producer Eric Karson and director Albert Pyun, “Nemesis 2.0” the director’s cut with Albert Pyun audio commentary, and original theatrical trailer. The DVD is the director’s cut and also includes the Japanese cut with Japanese subtitles burnt-in. Bonus features for the DVD include introductions by the director Albert Pyun and star Olivier Gruner, an afterword by Albert Pyun, a behind-the-scenes featurette, an interview with star Olivier Gruner, the making of segment involving the hefty special effects, stunt work, and visual effects, a featurette entitled “Killcount,” a behind-the-scenes photo gallery, TV spots, Key Art Photo gallery, and, top it all off, a mini-poster inside the casing. Inside a killer definitive, two-format and disc set from MVDvisual, “Nemesis” hones in on the existentialism notion of what being human actually means to each and every one of us through the bombardment of gun fights and jumbo explosions on top of a conglomerate cyborg coup that peaks with hard bodies and even harder viewer contemplation.
On the space shuttle Nautilus, three astronauts are returning home after one year in deep space. Their outbound transmissions to Earth are not being returned nor are they being received and as their ship draws closer to Earth, the only option for reentry is to take a risky crash landing into the Pacific Ocean, just off the coast of California, hoping someone, anyone, would see their shuttle coursing downward from the sky. Only two survive the crash and swim to shore where no boats, no planes, nor onlookers were around to receive them. They soon find out why. World War III had engulfed much of the Earth during their time in space, reaping the land of the urban jungles and making food and living conditions scare. Germ warfare had mutated much of the population to cannibalistic creatures and when torrentially raining, acid rain pours from the war torn atmosphere from ferociously brilliant and deadly clouds. Only a small band of good people remain and the two astronauts seek to keep them safe from the harsh elements, even against a merciless gang of thugs.
In the early 1980s, an ambitious and visionary filmmaker sought to produce, write, direct, and star in his very own modest budget feature film that would rival Hollywood’s glamourous and expensive effects while still maintaining a down-to-Earth independent production. That filmmaker was none other than Steve Barkett, creating his debut film, the 1982 science fiction post-war catastrophe, “The Aftermath.” “The Aftermath” is like if the “Planet of the Apes” met “The Walking Dead,” a sheer blunt for trauma of returning to your home to discover the world in shambles with different factions of hard nose killers ready to plunder all that you own and all that you will ever have. Barkett, with assistance from the brothers Dennis and Robert Skotak, who’ve went on to work on major studio films such as “Aliens” and did the matte work for John Carpenter’s “Escape from New York,” create a destroyed Los Angeles landscape through the power of some serious movie magic considering the time period and the budget.
Steve Barkett is Newman, one of the three astronauts with no first name, and the tough hombre’s hard disposition comes from his background exposition where he lost his wife and child before going up into space. Newman’s cold, but not heartless, and Barkett taps into that fairly well despite some robotic and formulaic performances. However, Christopher Barkett, Steve’s son, was a complete first generation cyborg, a regular toaster oven with teeth and eyeballs that monotones through all the lines and actions. The most interesting casting here is Lynne Margulies, who at the time of this release, was or was not yet the late Andy Kaufman’s girlfriend. Margulies, who previous worked on an adult film entitled “Young, Hot ‘n Nasty Teenage Cruisers,” continued the racy trend with a shirt-pokey role in Sarah, Newman’s quick-to-sack love interest with a briefly, well-endowed nude scene. Yet, Sig Haig manages to steal the Barkett’s film from right under his nose. The young and ruggedly muscular “The Devil’s Rejects” star sports his trademark shaved head and thick, dark goatee, labeling him the perfect casting choice in gang leader Cutter. Alfie Martin, Forrest J. Ackerman (“Dead Alive”), Larry Latham, Linda Stiegler, and Steve’s young daughter, Laura Anne Barkett costar.
One aspect that’s really appreciated in Barkett’s enterprising venture through post-war commentary and morally righteous themes is the special effects matte work from the Skotak brothers. Detailed paintings, such as exampled in the war-ravaged metropolis that was formerly L.A. embodying the once towering buildings, are now destructively cut short in a mangled heap in a matte effect with live actors. Practical effects work wonders for Barkett’s large scale premise despite the small scale performances, except from Sid Haig. The detail in the violence dawns a newly restored faith in early 1980’s sci-fi films; violence that was more prevalent in the genre later in the decade, in such films as “Aliens” or “Robocop,” making Barkett’s film a trail blazer that paved the way to deliver more sensational savagery and lots of blood of a high body count to a already fantastic genre.
MVDVisual and VCI Entertainment release Steve Barkett’s “The Aftermath” onto a dual format, DVD and Blu-ray, combo pack. Presented in 1080p on a MPEG-4 AVC encoded BD-50, the post apocalypse never looked so good in a widescreen 1.78:1 aspect ratio from a 2K remastered transfer of the original 35mm negative. VCI has bested the rest with colorfully enriched scenes and untouched framing. Slight grain more so over the matte special effects that optically contrasts between the two different layers where a little touchup could have smoothed out the indifferences, but other than that, the details are quite stark. The clean and untarnished English LCPM 2.0 mono track is also vastly well constructed that contains minuscule hissing and the occasion pop, clearly making the dialogue a prevalent force. Composer John Morgan’s traumatically dramatic score is full-bodied and robust that coinciding renders well with the action sequences and tranquil moments. The extras offer the original laserdisc bonus material that provide snippets of interviews from cast and crew, Steve Barkett’s short film “Night Caller,” over an hours’ worth of John Morgan’s soundtrack complete with title information, VCI promo announcement for Barkett’s other director “Empire of the Dark, and the original theatrical trailer. A retrospective journey to the early 1980’s science fiction indie sector is also a visually stunning resurrection of “The Aftermath” courtesy of VCI Entertainment and with impressive effects and a bigger-than-life concept despite an underwhelming performance as an actor, director Steve Barkett’s legacy as a filmmaker remains stronger than ever with this prominent and well-deserved upgrade of the lazer-gun and mutant inhibiting world reckoning.
With “The Walking Dead’s” season 5 right around the corner come in October, this review of Syfy’s first episode “Z-Nation” seems fitting as we head into the best month of the year, but Z-Nation isn’t just a Walking Dead imitating hack even if the intentions might have been meant as so.
The first episode entitled innocently enough as “Puppies and Kittens” starts as engaging enough with zombies ripping the U.S. nation apart limb by limb and we’re already in year two with the preface setting up the series’ main plot. After the main credits roll, year three begins our travels. The country is overrun, the plague is vast, and the zombies are fast – two good pieces of evidence that separate Z-Nation from The Walking Dead, no slow moments of build up and no slow moving dead heads.
Something else that Z-Nation possess that doesn’t make it feel like AMC’s cash cow is the ridiculous scenarios the survivors put themselves in and how they react to those life and death choices. I’m talking about trying to eliminate a zombie baby because one of the character’s bleeding heart for children couldn’t be handled. Do these situations of inane instances ruin Z-Nation before even getting started?
In short, no. Reason? Z-Nation is the baby of The Asylum, a low budget film studio that thrives on the coattails of hit horror and sci-fi features creating “Mockbusters” and able to get away with it. Some recent hits from The Asylum have been “Android Cop” (“RoboCop”), “Abraham Lincoln vs. Zombies” (“Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”), and “Transmorphers: Fall of Man” (“Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen”). Get it?
In my humble opinion, I know Z-Nation will be successful hit for the Syfy channel who as of late have produced some really good shows like Helix and whom have a made for TV adapted series of 12 Monkeys just around the bend. Z-Nation went viral on the internet with 300,000 piracy visits just after it’s premier release on Friday. Piracy shouldn’t afflict Z-Nation into cannibalizing itself because, hey, The Asylum lives and breaths of recreating blockbuster films into low-budgeted, Danny DeVito twin-like copies that do just as well on TV as they do on the internet. Go figure.
The series stars Thomas Everett Scott, DJ Qualls, Pisay Pao, Anatasia Baranova, and Michael Welch. Catch it on Syfy on Friday nights.
An Ireland countryside becomes the victim of a mutated strain of Mad Cow disease that is infectious and sends the victims into a blood thirsty, violence fit of rage. A small band of survivors race across the land looking for a safe haven, but with nearly everyone infected, a safe place is hard to find.
You just don’t see too many Irish horror movies and you probably will see not another one ever again. Dead Meat has to be the worst and the best Irish zombie film of the last three decades, but I’m not totally knocking Dead Meat because there are positives about the Conor McMahon written and directed film that can’t go ignored. First, practical effects, like the ones used in Peter Jackson Dead Alive, are always the best way to go because a shovel through someone’s chest or a vacuum sucking out an eye ball just doesn’t seem that convincing to me. If I want to want animated television, I’ll watch cartoons on Saturday morning. Real effects stem from the talents of the special effects crew consisting of Roy Gleasure, Brendan Fahy, and Jonathan Graham. Graham has had his hands in other major, more recent films such as Pacific Rim, Resident Evil: Retribution, and the remake of RoboCop as a mold maker.
The Fangoria Gorezone, one of the very few ever endorsed by Fangoria back in the day, film however doesn’t have a great story in which the survivors just wonder through the countryside looking for a supposedly safe castle to take shelter. The group whittles down through each passing “zombie” horde and bash and thrash through the madness. Dead Meat might not have suffered too much if one could comprehend thick Irish accents. The accents were so thick I couldn’t make out sentences. This should serious flaw the film for other viewers, but following the story was a challenge and very taxing on the ears and mind.
In all, there lies good and there lies mediocracy with Dead Meat. The obvious stand out points of the film are that the film is an Irish horror film and uses practical and great effects. The downside is the lack of story and a good solid core to give our characters, even our hero and heroine, some depth. Frankly, the characters could have all bit the dust without a tear shed on my part. Dead Meat is not a new film and has been out for over a decade, but certainly worth a gander and wouldn’t hurt to be Irish to get some kind of understanding out of it all.