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.
The Cologne Space Labs launch their project billionaire sponsor and gold-greedy astronaut Eli Cologne into a two-year journey in hopes for a beneficial Mars expedition. Cologne, being the first man on the red planet, encounters a shiny gold-like object that infects him with a foreign organism. As mission control rashly make the decisive decision to abort the expedition and leave Cologne stranded on the wasteland that is Mars, the brazen astronaut plans not to die on the alien planet, fleeting back to the return module, and blasting off back into space where he becomes lost for one year until his return module crash lands on Earth under the massive cloak of Hurricane Katrina. His human form ceases to exists, transformed into a flesh feasting, hideous extraterrestrial in a space suit who wreaks havoc and terror for years in a podunk Louisiana bayou where the nearby local Sheriff, Dick Ruffman, attempts to save from ultimate destruction.
When Tempe Video and TomCat Releasing dropped the news of “First Man on Mars” feature on my e-doorstep in a Tempe Video press release, something very deep in the cavernous, unholy part of me wanted to screen the film’s trailer. After witnessing a primo homage of super-8 b-horror schlock, I immediately brought my finger tips to my laptop’s keys and typed ferociously, requesting a press coverage copy for a film that had me instantly reminisce of “Lobster Man of Mars,” a 1989 sci-fi comedy directed by Stanley Sheff. As weeks passed, no response of my request was returned from the distributor. However, when the film’s director Mike T. Lyddon, an experienced independent filmmaker with more than two decades worth of low-budget films under his belt, e-mails Its Bloggin’ Evil and wonders if the site could review his latest project, a satirical sci-fi comedy, by forwarding over a screener link, I gladly jumped at the opportunity and, low and behold, I wasn’t disappointed when the end credits started to roll!
Under a massive umbrella of pop cultural science fiction references, “First Man on Mars” oversteps many plot conventions, exaggerating to the fullest extent a simple story of one man’s plight of an unquenchable desire for shiny gold that literally consumes him and, consequently, consumes others surrounding him in a cauldron of cannibalistic campiness. Even though the lesser part of Benjamin Wood’s dual role shows his mug as a friendly bar patron, his Eli Cologne performance never shows character face beyond the golden shield of his space helmet or before his pre-gruesome transformation into a hideous, razor-teethed, otherworldly beast, providing anonymity to an important character much similar to that of the character V in “V for Vendetta,” if you don’t consider the stock footage prior to the film’s title. Okay, so I might be comparing caviar to spam, but nonetheless, Lyddon uses comedy and a jerry-built space suit to create an ambiguity villainous character.
Trust me, “First Man on Mars” is not at all serious as the feature is comprised of zany rednecks, birdbrain scientists, and gratuitous violent hilarity garnished with suitably colorful dialogue that can be funny while being extremely crude, can be smart in it’s admiration, and can be juvenile with bathroom-riddled humor where appropriately scened. Every actor executes the swallowing of pride process to extend verbal and physical indirect comedy that purely goes hand-in-hand with this sort of satirical storyline constructed from the certifiable portions of Mike Lyddon’s brain that might or might not be sizzling on an illegal and dangerous narcotic. Gavin Ferrara, Kirk Jordan, Marcelle Shaneyfelt, Roy “Rusty” Jackson, Jr., Kelly Murtagh, Joey Harmon, Sam Cobean, and Tresslar Burton round out the comically darling cast.
“First Man on Mars” is an absurd blast from low-budget director Mike Lyddon and his team of willing actor and crew participants, putting everything on the proverbial line to make this ambitious project first and put their seemingly absent shame second. The TomCat Releasing was presented to me as a screener link, therefore I can’t officially review the audio and video quality nor any bonus features that might have accompanied the release, but as a soft judgment, the 16mm stock that “First Man on Mars” is shot on revels in the hokey dialogue, the substantial monster violence, and the utter gore as a remembrance of the once larger than life creature feature movies from the drive-in theater era.