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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Programmed to Kill

June 19, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Programmed to Kill

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #559: Programmed to Kill

The Robert Ginty Movie Marathon: Week 3

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never had to fight a cyborg to the death, The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and fifty-nine, The Robert Ginty Movie Marathon continues with the sci-fi action flick Programmed to Kill, which was released in mid-April 1987. I’m assuming it was released direct to video. I guess it could have received a small theatrical release back in 1987, but I’m not sure. I can’t find any information about a theatrical release online.

Now, before I get into my review I just want to say that the version of Programmed to Kill that I watched aired under its alternate title The Retaliator on the over-the-air sci-fi channel Comet. The “bad language” was obviously edited out, but I’m not sure about any missing violence. I don’t think anything significant was removed as it doesn’t seem like a super violent/gory movie, but, until I see the full, unedited/”R” version released to home video, I just don’t know.

Programmed to Kill


Programmed to Kill/The Retaliator, directed by Allan Holzman (with additional scenes directed by the movie’s screenwriter Robert Short, although I have no idea what Short needed to shoot “in addition” to what Holzman did), stars Robert Ginty as Eric Mathews, a badass mercenary hired by the CIA to rescue hostages kidnapped by terrorist leader Hassim (Arnon Tzador). Hassim’s group, after massacring tourists at a street fair in Greece, decided to kidnap two American children for ransom/to make demands/etc. Mathews isn’t necessarily interested in the job at first, but once he finds out that Hassim is responsible for the attack and hostage taking Mathews is all in. So Mathews gathers up his mercenary team and heads to Hassim’s headquarters in Beirut. With some local help (a guy with a gigantic mustache) Mathews and his team attack Hassim’s HQ, killing several terrorists. Mathews personally rescues the children while injuring one of Hassim’s top lieutenants, Samira (Sandahl Bergman). Mathews then brings Samira along with him, presumably so she can be questioned by CIA interrogators. When Mathews and his team get back to the boats that brought them into Beirut in the first place Mathews ends up fighting Samira again, this time injuring her even more.

Back in America, Mathews gets fixed up in the hospital (he was injured himself in all of the fighting and whatnot), meets with his family (I think Mathews’ wife is Sharon, played by Louise Claire Clark, and his son is Jason played by Paul Walker. And, yes, it is that Paul Walker), and then tries to find out what his next move is going to be. Hassim is still alive and his terrorist group, while wounded, is still operational, and Mathews wants to finish the job. The CIA has other ideas, though.

What does the CIA want to do? With the help of cutting edge technology company Cybertron and likely malevolent scientist Dr. Brock (great 1980’s action movie asshole villain James Booth), the CIA wants to create a sort of infiltration cyborg, using the generally brain dead but not quite physically dead Samira as the human subject. It almost seems like a solid plan. Turn Samira into a cyborg, totally under the control of Dr. Brock and the CIA, have her go back to Beirut and kill Hassim. Hassim and his people won’t see it coming. It’s brilliant. How could the scheme fail?

Yeah. How could turning a terrorist into an experimental cyborg warrior possibly fail in any way, shape or form?

So turning Samira into a cyborg is a success, she goes to Beirut and actually takes out Hassim and the rest of his terrorist network, and then malfunctions. Samira then kills her CIA handlers in Beirut and decides, right then and there, to take out everyone involved in turning her into a cyborg. Because absolutely no one involved in creating the cyborg program couldn’t have possibly seen any of that coming. And they really didn’t. When Dr. Brock and the others find out that the shit has hit the fan they’re shocked.

Now, while all of that is going on, Mathews is pissed that he’s been replaced, so he does some digging and finds out about the whole cyborg thing. Mathews then infiltrates Cybertron’s HQ to find out what the hell started this cyborg shit in the first place. When Mathews finds what he needs to find, he goes back to his superior (Donovan, as played by Peter Bromilow) with the information he has, and he wants to know what the hell the CIA is going to do about all of this stupid bullshit. Mathews doesn’t get the answers he wants, so he decides to go after the cyborg Samira himself and take her out.

And while all of that is going on, Samira makes her way back to America and starts taking out the people she knows are involved in making her a cyborg. And while all of that is going on, the CIA decides that it needs to take out everyone and sends an assassin named Benedict (Charles Howerton) after Mathews. You’d think the CIA would have Benedict team up with Mathews and maybe a few other people in order to take out Samira, but for whatever reason they’re just not that interested in doing that at the moment.

So Samira kills a bunch of people, Benedict kills some people Mathews is friendly with at the agency, Mathews kills Benedict, and Mathews goes right at Samira head on. In the midst of all of this carnage, someone in the CIA realizes that this whole thing is a giant fucking shitshow and sends Mathews and his family to a secure military compound where, if Samira heads there (and they know she eventually will go there), they can all team up and destroy her. Will that scheme work?

Programmed to Kill moves along at a fairly brisk pace and plays out like you think it will, except when it comes to Dr. Brock. I kind of figured that Dr. Brock was going to be a full on evil asshole and that he would, by the end, be the movie’s “real” villain. Instead, Dr. Brock is a secondary character that turns out to be fodder for Samira’s cyborg rampage. That seems odd as hell, especially with Booth as Dr. Brock. Booth knows how to be a psychotic lunatic (look at his performance in the Sho Kosugi movie Pray for Death, which came out two years before Programmed to Kill) so why not use him like that? Why have Booth as, essentially, just some guy?

The Samira cyborg is also very strange because we don’t really know anything about her. We know that Samira is a terrorist, she’s banging Hassim when she isn’t killing people, and that’s about it. Who is she? Why did she become a terrorist? That would have taken like a minute to explain. The CIA had to have a dossier on her, right? And when she decides to attack the Cybertron people, it isn’t necessarily clear if she’s doing it because she’s still, deep down, a terrorist, or if she’s just seeking revenge on the people that made her a cyborg. That kind of thing is important to know. I think it’s also weird that the Samira cyborg doesn’t really have any major cyborg weaponry at her disposal. Yes, she has super strength and can run fast and has that weird heat/computer vision that cyborgs tend to have in movies, and she can also reattach her appendages in the event they come off (we see her reattach her hand in one scene), but why doesn’t she have like laser eyes or a finger gun (you know, she can shoot people with her index finger)? Was all of that a budget thing, both in terms of the world of the story (Cybertron can turn Samira into a cyborg but they can’t have rocket boosters in her feet because how the hell are they going to do it and pay for it?) and the production of the movie (there are only so many special effects the movie can afford to do)?

And while the CIA is shady as hell here, I do find it hard to believe that the CIA would try to take out Mathews or anyone else before neutralizing Samira. Taking out Samira would seem to be more of a priority before taking out anyone else. You know, a kind of “all hands on deck” kind of thing. But then perhaps the CIA and Cybertron and everyone else just can’t stop being shady as fuck for five seconds to take out a killer cyborg hell bent on killing as many people as possible. Maybe we all just need to accept that, even in the midst of a major fucking crisis, the first thing those in power are concerned about is ass covering, not actually stopping a major fucking crisis from becoming an even bigger major fucking crisis.

The movie’s action sequences are generally well done and exciting. There’s a certain nastiness to the gunplay because no one is safe (check out how many dead kids are on that street in Greece). And the hand-to-hand stuff that we get to see is brutal, which fits in with the rest of the movie. The best action scene is either the final showdown between the Mathews and the CIA against cyborg Samira or the sequence where Mathews infiltrates the Cybertron property. The final showdown is a series of gun battles and explosions and ends with Mathews using a bulldozer in an unexpected way. I really thought that the movie would end in a different, more outwardly fantastic way, but that didn’t happen. As for the Cybertron compound infiltration sequence, it starts with Mathews hitting the roof with one of the coolest hang gliders I’ve ever seen in a movie (Mathews folds the thing up into what appears to be a small pillow, which is just insane) and then running through a series of tunnels that have pipes on the wall for some reason. Mathews avoiding security is a hoot, and when he gets inside a lab and tries to figure out a computer’s password it’s hilarious.

The most disappointing action sequence in the movie is inside Mathews’ house, where he is attacked by Samira and has to deal with both assassin Benedict and the police. The sequence has no real rhythm and just seems to be a bunch of smaller sequences put together. And, in a mind boggling choice, Mathews doesn’t use the gnarly looking handgun that he removes from his gun stash to shoot at Samira. The gun, which appears to be, maybe, a Desert Eagle with a laser sight, extended barrel, and extended clip, is exactly the kind of gun that you want to see the hero use on the cyborg killer (or other bad guys that get in the way or whatever). We see Mathews hold it, brandish it, but he never shoots it. That’s action movie malpractice. Even if he doesn’t get to shoot Samira with it, why not show him blowing a gigantic hole in the wall while trying to shoot Samira with it? You can’t put a gun like that in your action movie and not use it. Again, that’s just action movie malpractice.

And why is Mathews a family man in this movie? Samira doesn’t kidnap his wife or son, doesn’t come after them directly, so why have them in the movie? Why not have Mathews be a loner (he’s all about the job) and, perhaps, have a girlfriend/lady friend that he meets at a diner and is kind of smitten with so Samira can then go after her and up the dramatic ante that way? You know, one of those “cyborg killer shows up at guy’s house to wait and kill him but then runs into his woman and kills her to piss the guy off” kind of deals.

The movie also seems like it’s missing a proper ending scene. I’m fine with movies just ending when the story is over/the bad guy is defeated, but this movie probably should have had one more quick scene of Mathews with his family or Mathews walking away, up close, or standing over a dead body and saying something witty. I probably would have done that.

I know it sounds like I’m complaining here, but I actually like this movie. I really do. Even with its issues I like it and would watch it again.

Robert Ginty does a decent job as CIA badass mercenary Eric Mathews. He isn’t gigantic or larger than life but he doesn’t have to be. Mathews is a quiet operator, the kind of guy you would never expect to be a professional killing machine, but when the shit hits the fan he’s the guy leading the charge and wiping the floor with the bad guys. He excels in his action scenes and is credible in the hand-to-hand scenes he has to do. Ginty also gets his ass kicked by a cyborg like a total pro. The leather jacket he wears while with his mercenary team, infiltrating Hassim’s terrorist HQ would look ridiculous on most other actors, but Robert Ginty pulls it off.

Sandahl Bergman does a fine job as the terrorist turned cyborg Samira. She’s a credible henchman, wielding a machine gun and following Hassim’s lead, and she’s a credible cybernetic villain. Physically, she always looks imposing, and you don’t have a problem believing she can destroy anyone near her, either with a machine gun or hand-to-hand. Her blank, robotic facial expressions are, at times, scary. I do wish we knew a little more about Samira, where she’s from, why she believes in Hassim’s cause, stuff like that. Awesome.

James Booth does an okay job as Dr. Brock. You know that he’s an asshole and a bad guy the second you see him, and you don’t trust him one iota. It’s a shame that he isn’t allowed to go full on scumbag villain because Booth knew how to do that and I’m sure he would have been brilliant fighting Mathews and screaming at cyborg Samira, giving her orders and whatnot.

The rest of the cast is serviceable. There’s a guy in a Winnebago that helps Mathews out, but I missed his name. And the CIA officials Mathews deals with do okay but they’re nothing special. I do want to commend the guy that dies after Samira screams into his phone, likely exploding his brain. He totally sold that scene.

Okay, so does anyone out there know what Robert Short shot as “additional scenes?” Does anyone know if this movie got the Exterminator 2 treatment? If anyone out there knows, please, send me a message.

I liked Programmed to Kill. It isn’t a great sci-fi action flick, but it has enough good stuff in it to be very watchable and fun. I’ve always loved these kinds of movies. Even when I have issues with them I love them. Damn good stuff.

See Programmed to Kill (aka The Retaliator). See it, see it, see it.

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: If it’s less than 50 I’d be surprised.

Explosions: Several, both big and small.

Nudity?: None that I saw.

Doobage: A weird opening theme, a tour bus filled with tourists learning about the area, a kid’s baseball team(?), terrorist attack, machine gun city, grenade attack, kidnaping children, an argument over whether or not the CIA can trust someone, a CIA official that sure seems to have a sort of British accent for some reason, Beirut, a coffee dispute, a clandestine boat arrival, a guy with a gigantic mustache, silencer hooey, neck snap, exploding TV, a serious machine gun attack, kid rescuing, grenade throwing, dead body collecting, a fight on a boat, hospital hooey, picture taking, secret and likely sinister underground stuff going on, lots of people smoking, off screen surgery, photo investigating, super-secret bullshit, shotgun testing, cyborg point-of-view, marital difficulties, secret roof infiltration via hang glider, sneaking around, an underground foot chase, multiple slanted roofs, a car chase, random road construction, exploding jeep, a seriously fucked up floppy disk, cyborg attack, multiple mildly racist jokes, neck crushing, more mildly racist jokes, more neck crushing, another machine gun attack, malfunction hooey, truck punching, bloody knee removal, hand retrieval, wound healing, thumbtack to the eye, a douchebag airplane passenger, a swanky LA party, strangulation, a make-up tutorial, off screen woman killing, a drawer full of guns, assassination, a mega beating, book shelf hooey, sliding glass door smashing, Winnebago stealing, wrist knife throwing, body tackle, hand-to-hand brawl, gut stabbing, New Breed slam, wild flipping police car, gun stealing, motorcycle stealing, another wild flip, death by screaming, a bunch of airplanes, a hidden dinner table shotgun, shoe removal, clothes stealing, another exploding jeep, multiple men on fire, exploding car, a major run and gun battle, a guy explodes in slow motion, a pretty cool cat and mouse/shadowy search sequence, rocket launcher attack, exploding truck, bulldozer hooey, and an unsatisfying ending.

Kim Richards?: Big time.

Gratuitous: “And James Booth as Dr. Brock,” Sandahl Bergman, a street fair, people selling vegetables, terrorist attack, Robert Ginty, Robert Ginty wearing a Boston Celtics sweatshirt, a grown up terrorist arguing with his child hostages, Robert Ginty wearing a leather jacket, a guy asking for a cigarette, Robert Ginty fucking around with a boat engine, Paul Walker as a child, James Booth, an underground tunnel with pipes on the wall for some reason, a mega cheap looking lab that seems to have a giant curtain in it to try to make it not look as cheap as it is, science fiction talk, a big picture of President Ronald Reagan on the wall, Robert Ginty driving a convertible and talking to someone on his car phone, a family barbecue, Robert Ginty wearing a Yale t-shirt, Robert Ginty teaching Paul Walker how to develop film in a dark room, Robert Ginty using a hang glider, Robert Ginty trying to figure out a computer’s password, Robert Ginty putting on sunglasses, Robert Ginty blowing up a jeep by shooting at the jeep’s extra fuel canister with his .38, a handgun hidden inside of a clamshell VHS case, a surveillance Winnebago, Sandahl Bergman as a cyborg, Pan Am, a drawer filled with guns, Robert Ginty loading himself up with guns, Robert Ginty riding a police motorcycle, CB and car phone talk, Robert Ginty in silhouette for some reason, Robert Ginty deflecting a rocket with a bulldozer blade, and an unsatisfying ending.

Best lines: “What about Eric Mathews?,” “Mathews? You’ve gotta be kidding me!,” “It looks like we’re going back to work for Uncle Sam. We’re going to get Hassim. Bitching,” “Big mouths! Americans! Little pigs!,” “Come on! I’m taking you home!,” “Eat this,” “I don’t care how you do it, you just keep her alive. Got it,” “This hero stuff is getting way out of line,” “Who is the volunteer? I hope he doesn’t have any skin diseases,” “Eric, leave it alone. It’s out of my hands. It’s not your war anymore,” “I’m cooking! I’m cooking! They are burning. They are not burning! They are not burning!,” “Samira,” “I can’t live like this anymore,” “Never a twelve year old around when you need one,” “You are know how to make a guy feel welcome,” “So now you’re telling me Samira is a robot?,” “Hey! The new action Barbie! We’re in at the ground floor,” “What if Yogi Bear kills the president?,” “Wow! Scratch one terrorist!,” “Oh, man, I love these terrorists and their camouflage suits with the trees and leaves on them. I wonder if they wear clothes with blown up cars on them. They’d blend in better,” “Barbie Rambo killing machine,” “What’s she doing? I have no idea. You made her!,” “You’re next, Brock,” “Hi, I’m Richard Mushbaum. Do you like flying?,” and “Carlson said you were the best. Looks like you lost it”

Rating: 7.0/10.0




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Things to Watch Out For


Sniper: Assassin’s End: This is the eighth movie in the Sniper franchise, which just seems insane. Chad Michael Collins and Tom Berenger return, and, based on the plot description I’ve read for it, Collins and Berenger are being chased by the CIA, mercenaries, and a Yakuza sniper named Lady Death. Why? I have no idea. I’m sure it’s cool, though, and awesome in its own way. Man, I really need to dig into these Sniper movies. It’s another low budget, direct-to-video franchise and I want to support those as much as possible because they’re important. And, as I said earlier, there are now eight of them. I’ve got to find a way to make a Sniper marathon of some sort happen. The great Lochlyn Munro is in this eighth movie. That’s cool, too.


Kill Mode: This is some sort of low budget sci-fi action flick that’s been getting good reviews. Apparently, the movie takes place in a near future where the world is run by an evil pharmaceutical company that has taken over because of a lethal virus or some shit like that. There’s a rebel underground of some sort, combating the drug company and looking for a cure. But there’s something else going on. Or something like that. It all sounds very complicated, which is fine because the trailer looks great. This is something I hope to check out at some point soon because I’m intrigued by the plot and the idea and I want to see if all of the movie’s pieces actually come together.


The Dinner Party: This low budget horror flick has been getting good advanced reviews, so based solely on that I want to check it out. I’m concerned about the running time, though. Without even seeing the movie, I find it hard to believe that this story needs to be almost two hours long. What the hell happens in it that requires two hours? From what I’ve read about it, the movie is about a playwright who tries to get a group of rich people to pay for his next project, and while they agree to do it the reality is they’re up to something sinister. Does that sound like a two hour movie to you? Still, I’m curious about it. Anyone out there see this? Anyone at all?


The Hills Run Red: This new Blu-ray comes to us from the fine folks at Shout! Factory and its Scream Factory imprint so, as I say all of the time, you just know that the home video presentation is going to be phenomenal. I reviewed this flick several years ago (the reviews seems to have disappeared, though) and remember liking this quite a bit. It’s about a guy obsessed with finding a missing horror movie and horror movie director, and in the midst of digging into all of that some really nasty stuff happens. The William Sadler plays the director in question. I think I may have to pick up this Blu-ray and review this movie again. It may be worth another look. Any The Hills Run Red fans out there?


Next Issue: The Robert Ginty Movie Marathon concludes with Warrior of the Lost World!


Check out my Widow’s Point set visit!

Read it here!



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Well, I think that’ll be about it for now. Don’t forget to sign up with disqus if you want to comment on this article and any other 411 article. You know you want to, so just go do it.

B-movies rule. Always remember that.

Programmed to Kill aka The Retaliator

Robert Ginty– Eric Mathews
Sandahl Bergman– Samira
James Booth– Dr. Brock
Alex Courtney– Blake
Paul Walker– Jason
Louise Claire Clark– Sharon
Peter Bromilow– Donovan
Charles Howerton– Benedict
Paul Kent– Carlson
Arnon Tzador– Hassim

(check out the rest of the cast here

Directed by Allan Holzman (with additional scenes directed by Robert Short)
Screenplay by Robert Short

Distributed by Trans World Entertainment, Media Home Entertainment, Video Treasures. And MGM

Rated R for violence and language.
Runtime– 91 minutes

Buy it here or look for it on Comet