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The Gratuitous B-Movie Column: Robowar

February 29, 2020 | Posted by Bryan Kristopowitz
Robowar

The Gratuitous B-Movie Column Issue #544: Robowar

Hello, everyone, and welcome once again to the internets movie review column that has never been hunted by a killer robot or, well, any kind of robot (at least as far as I know), The Gratuitous B-Movie Column, and I am your host Bryan Kristopowitz. In this issue, issue number five hundred and forty-four, I take a look at the brilliantly insane low budget Italian sci-fi action horror flick Robowar, which was unleashed upon the world in 1988 and was recently released on DVD and Blu-ray via Severin Films in late June 2019.

Robowar

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On one hand, Robowar, directed by the immortal Bruno Mattei under his Vincent Dawn pseudonym, is one of those low budget Italian sci-fi action horror flicks that’s really a series of rip offs of more famous movies. In the case of Robowar, it’s a blatant and open rip off of Predator, Robocop, pretty much any and all Vietnam/”’Namsploitation” movie, and, to a certain extent, The Wraith (if you look at the robot suit of the villain you will see the similarities). On the other hand, Robowar is also one of those low budget, balls-to-the-wall action movies that used to show up all of the time on video store shelves back when video stores were a thing. Of course, Robowar never received an official North American video release back in the late 1980’s/early 1990’s, so unless your local video store had bootlegs of movies that never received an official release or you were one of those tape trader people, most of you reading this in North America have likely never seen Robowar. If you’re a fan of low budget Italian sci-fi horror action flicks, Robowar is a movie that you absolutely must see. Absolutely.

Robowar stars the great Reb Brown as Major Murphy Black, the leader of an American Special Forces team sometimes known as the Bad Ass Motherfuckers (BAM). Major Black’s team is called in for a super-secret mission in South America, although the particulars of the mission are classified until they actually get to the South American location in question. Now, the audience knows why Major Black’s team has been activated; there’s a super-secret military cyborg called Omega-1 that’s on the loose in the jungle, and the U.S government hopes that Black’s team can capture it or kill it. As part of the mission, Major Black’s team will be joined by Mascher (Mel Davidson), a sleazebag government scientist that helped create the Omega-1. Mascher is expected to eventually tell Black and his team what they’re actually doing in South America, although Black’s team is skeptical of that. In fact, they’re skeptical of the whole mission. But then they are professionals. They’ll do their job, whatever the hell it is.

So Black’s team arrives in the South American jungle via boat and they start wandering through the trees and whatnot. It doesn’t take the team long to find a series of dead and melted human bodies. The bodies are believed to be local rebels as the bodies have melted rifles alongside them, but no one is exactly sure who or what they are. And while Mascher clearly knows what’s going on he still doesn’t tell Black’s team what the actual mission is. And what’s that machine thing Mascher has on his belt?

So Black’s team wanders around some more, and the Omega-1 starts following them. Quang (Max Laurel), the “Billy”/Sonny Landham member of Black’s team, is the first one to sense that something is in the jungle and following them, but he isn’t sure what it is that’s following them. After wandering around some more and dealing with the sudden leg injury of team member/”martial arts expert” Sonny “Blood” Peel (Jim Gaines), Black’s team comes upon a band of local militia that’s terrorizing a group of doctors/aid workers/whatever. Black rescues one of the doctors, a woman named Virgin (Catherine Hickland), and then Black’s team massacres the militia. Black then talks with Virgin, finds out that she’s an aid worker, and Black decides to “alter the mission” and help Virgin’s colleagues and patients that are being held hostage in a nearby village. News of this “mission change” upsets Mascher because, well, rescuing aid works is not the mission, but Black doesn’t give a shit. His team is going to stop whatever atrocities are happening in that village.

So Black’s team hits the village, killing any and all militia members they find. After multiple machine gun battles, explosions, and other Predator “homages,” the team finds out that Virgin’s colleagues and patients are all dead. And it’s at this point that the entire team finds out about the Omega-1 and the rest of the movie is a race against time to get out of the jungle, stop the Omega-1, and survive. And, yes, there are more blatant Predator homages here.

It takes almost an hour for Black’s team to confront the Omega-1, which is just too long. There’s also way too much wandering around the jungle. If Black’s team had been given an actual mission ahead of time, even if it was a fake mission, it would have likely sped up the first hour of the movie and put the Omega-1 front and center faster, which is what the audience wants to see. Not having that fake mission, though, just forces the team to wander around until Mascher lets out what he knows, and that just takes forever.

There’s also a lack of natural chemistry amongst Black’s team, which makes their back and forth in the jungle hard to listen to. Would these guys really be arguing so much in the middle of a jungle on a mission? And why aren’t they pestering Mascher more about what the hell the mission actually is? Black isn’t as concerned as he probably should be, either, until the team runs into Virgin. When that happens the story picks up considerably.

Now, the action that Mattei manages to stage is generally good. It isn’t anything special, but it’s reasonably exciting. You’ll notice that members of Black’s team have different weapons at seemingly random times, with team members carrying M60’s, then not carrying M60’s, then carrying M60’s again. It’s weird. The explosions are top notch, though. The Omega-1 sequences are okay, at least when we get to see the Omega-1 shooting lasers and whatnot. The Omega-1 viewpoint scenes, though, aren’t as interesting as the movie wants us to believe they are. And what’s the deal with the freaky electronic Omega-1 voice? It sounds terrible and, hell, you can’t really tell what the killer robot is saying anyway so why keep doing it? As for the Omega-1 costume, it’s a hit and miss experience. In some scenes it looks pretty damn awesome. In other scenes, the costume looks cheap and plastic. As for who is actually playing the Omega-1, it isn’t the movie’s writer Claudio Fragasso (he makes that clear in an interview on the DVD’s special features), so who is it? Is it Luciano Pigozzi or is it someone else, perhaps some unnamed stunt performer?

And then there’s the jungle. The movie was made in the Philippines and the jungle that we see is real deal Philippines jungle. However, it never looks all that dangerous. I actually thought that the movie was made in a forest in Italy or California or somewhere like that while watching it. The behind the scenes footage that appears on the DVD’s special features looks dangerous and it’s the same jungle that we see in the movie. How the hell did that happen?

I know, it sounds like I’m complaining and tearing this movie apart. I’m not, though. Despite its various issues, Robowar is a blast. It’s ridiculous, it’s goofy, it’s insane, and it’s fun. Even when it’s kind of boring, it’s still entertaining (I know that makes no sense but it’s the truth). I wish someone, somewhere still made movies like this, movies that are inept but so filled with energy that you can’t stop watching them.

Reb Brown is awesome as Major Murphy Black. He’s a badass, as always, and he’s the most credible thing in the movie. Even when he’s screaming like a maniac for no reason at all he still comes off as legit (and he screams quite a bit in this movie, especially when he’s shooting his machine gun). And check out the cliff dive Black does at the end of the movie. What the hell, man?

Catherine Hickland does a decent job as Virgin, although she seems to be in the movie simply because the movie needed a female character in it. I would have loved to see more of her personal predicament as a doctor in that jungle before the rebels captured them. That would have been interesting to see.

Max Laurel is cool as hell as Quang, the Special Forces operator that’s “in tune” with the jungle. He definitely comes off as a guy that’s comfortable working around the trees and vines and whatnot. Jim Gaines could have been cool as hell, too, but his “Blood” character is injured before he can do anything cool. I mean, Blood is supposed to be a martial arts expert, but we never see him do any real deal martial arts stuff. What the hell is the deal with that?

Massimo Vanni/”Alex McBride” is hilarious as Private Guarino, the guy that obviously doesn’t know English but is still “speaking it” anyway. People seem to think he looks like Chuck Norris. I sort of see that. Sort of. And Romano Puppo is brilliant as the always angry and somewhat racist Corporal Corey. Just listen to this man’s dialogue.

John P. Dulaney comes off as an odd fit for the team. He’s the medic on the team, but he isn’t in the same kind of shape as everyone else. Would they really have him out in the field with the other team members? It’s hard to believe. He’s still cool, though.

As for Mel Davidson, as Mascher the government sleazebag, my God is he awful. He does a good job being a sleazebag, and you love it when he dies. I mean, it’s just great.

Robowar is awesome. There’s just no way around it. It’s a movie that you absolutely need to see, especially if you’re a fan of low budget Italian sci-fi action horror flicks. Get yourself a copy of the Severin DVD and bask in its insane glory.

See Robowar. See it, see it, see it.

RobowarKillerRobot

So what do we have here?

Dead bodies: Lots. At least 30, maybe 40.

Explosions: Multiple, big and small.

Nudity?: None.

Doobage: A chopper, multiple exploding buildings, a cool opening theme, exploding chopper, a boat ride, pot smoking, the jungle, mild racism towards Italians, M60 hooey, spitting, a skeleton covered in melted skin, a melted rifle, tree shooting, dead body falling out of a tree, rope climbing, multiple wandering around the jungle scenes, bear trap, bush cutting, snake grabbing, more melted human bodies, bird kicking, knife throwing, a weird machine, a guy falls off a horse, harassment, a machine gun massacre, slow motion death, exploding jeep, laser hooey, more wandering around the jungle, more spitting, mission altering, gut stabbing, more knife throwing, multiple exploding huts, door kicking, shotgun hooey, grenade hooey, shooting a guy through the roof, a shotgun blast in slow motion, an obvious dummy, neck breaking, machete hooey, rocket launcher hooey, testicle kicking, a pile of dead bodies, more exploding huts, slow motion shooting at trees, blood on the leaves, a severed arm, dog tag throwing, a “shooting up the jungle Predator” homage, slow motion gun shooting for no reason, attempted calling for help, a Vietnam flashback, exploding soldiers, multiple instances of Reb Brown yelling for no real reason, river crossing, pipe smoking, incredibly unsafe shotgun handling, swimming, a low budget tentacle/grabber thing, another melted human body, shoveling, a master control detonator, laser attack, exploding mines. Tape recorder hooey, exploding dummy, foam, mega heart punch, exploding hut in slow motion, off screen exploding head (maybe), night time, napalm making, a big twist, a hellacious beating, gun stealing, electrical malfunction, exploding hospital, waterfall jumping, a massive explosion, and more swimming.

Kim Richards? : Maybe. There’s a scene where there’s a pile of dead bodies but it’s difficult to see who they are. So, again, maybe.

Gratuitous: Robot vision, “Bad Ass Motherfuckers,” talk of losing Vietnam, Reb Brown, a boom box, people throwing beer bottles into the ocean, a fat medic, fingernail cleaning, pot smoking, Reb Brown wearing a half shirt, Reb Brown yelling for no reason, Reb Brown using the word “auspicious,” multiple obvious Predator homages, computer talk, talk of collard green stew, Reb Brown having a Vietnam flashback, someone singing “Row Row Row Your Boat,” a storage room that has “storage room” written on the door, nitric acid, exploding hospital, a slow motion jump off of a waterfall, and Reb Brown swimming.

Best lines: “Why do they have nicknames?,” “What do you intend to do about Omega-1?,” “The ways of the Lord are infinite. You’ve read the Bible, haven’t you?,” “Drug addicts and fags. I bet they got AIDS, too, Quang,” “You’ve got your orders, and I’ve got mine,” “You know what they say, life’s a bitch and then you die,” “Move along, Doc. You walk like a ruptured duck,” “Whoever it was it ain’t no more,” “Hold it. He’s dead,” “Holy shit, this one’s been gutted, too,” “They’re using the same tactics as Charlie,” “Damn! That’s hot!,” “Vibration. Someone there. I don’t see anyone there,” “What are you, psychic? Shut up!,” “They’re running them down like jack rabbits. What do we do, Major?,” “Could it be? Maybe a machine?,” “Is this San Pedro?,” “Easy, guys! One at a time!,” “Don’t move!,” “How can one man do all of this? Suppose it isn’t a man?,” “Hey, titty bopper! Come on, man!,” “Aw, shit,” “Come out, you bastard! I got a painless cure for ya!,” “Well, if you created it, then you can destroy it,” “What the hell is going on?,” “I’ve got to do this or he’s going to kill us all,” “He’s picking us off, one by one. Like a hunter,” “Technology doesn’t have feelings,” “Oh my God. We’re the only ones left,” “You know how to make napalm?,” and “It’s over. It’s finally over.”

Rating: 8.00/10.0

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Rabid: This remake of a David Cronenberg classic comes to us from the great Soska sisters and Shout! Factory’s Shout! Studios, and it has been getting rave reviews since it debuted at various big deal film festivals not that long ago. It’s supposed to be gory and messed up, just like the original, and the Soska sisters usually deliver, so this is an absolute must see. Pro wrestler C.M. Punk has some sort of featured cameo/bit part, so the movie has that going for it, too. Will this remake be as “timeless” as the original? Only time will tell, but there’s no reason to think that it isn’t some sort of awesome. Anyone out there see this? Anyone at all?

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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.

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Robowar

Reb Brown– Major Murphy Black
Catherine Hickland– Virgin
Massimo Vanni– Pvt. Larry Guarino (as Alex McBride)
Romano Puppo– Cpl. Neil Corey
Max Laurel– Quang
Jim Gaines– Sonny “Blood” Peel
John P. Dulaney– Arthur “Papa Doc” Bray
Mel Davidson– Mascher
”Clyde Anderson”– The Hunter/Omega-1

Directed by Bruno Mattei (as Vincent Dawn)
Screenplay by Rossella Drudi, based on a story by Claudio Fragasso and Rosella Drudi

Distributed by Severin Films

Not Rated
Runtime– 93 minutes

Buy it here