Monday, June 30, 2008

Robot Holocaust (Independent, 1986)

by Mark Gabrish Conlan • Copyright © 2008 by Mark Gabrish Conlan • All rights reserved

I started a movie for Charles and I, the next in sequence on his Mystery Science Theatre 3000 with episodes of the Republic serial Radar Men from the Moon (though this one abruptly broke off in the middle — there was even a slide reading “Film Break”! — to make room for the feature): Robot Holocaust, which since it was on the same disc as their take on Robot Monster seemed likely to be a sequel to it, and while the world hardly needed a sequel to Robot Monster, one would have been considerably more fun than Robot Holocaust actually turned out to be. The central premise of Robot Holocaust is that there was an enormous worldwide civil war between humans and their robot creations, and the robots kicked our butts, in the process making the above-ground atmosphere way too toxic for the surviving humans to breathe.

They’ve impressed some of the surviving homo sapiens into being “air slaves,” a job which consists mainly of throwing burlap sacks into giant holes in the floor which supposedly fuels the machines that give the robots their energy, while they’ve made others into gladiators who wrestle ceaselessly in loincloths — which if nothing else at least gave us some nice beefcake views of hot-looking young (or at least youngish) men who were nice fantasy objects. Meanwhile, a race of mutant humans lives out in what’s called the “Wasteland,” a particularly polluted part of Earth (called “New Terra” in this film for some reason, even though it looks like just a badly wrecked version of the same Old Terra to us), where they can dwell above the surface since their bodies have adapted to breathing the otherwise toxic air.

The writer and director is someone named Tim Kincaid (Thomas Kinkade’s black-sheep brother? Their visual senses are actually rather similar), the producers are Charles Band (uncredited) and Cynthia DePaula (the MST3K crew couldn’t resist the temptation to make a pun on her name and DePauw University) and the “V” designating this title on makes it seem like this movie went straight to video (and didn’t stay there long; lists it as available on VHS but not on DVD), the musical score is by Richard Band (presumably the producer’s brother) and Joel Goldsmith, and the cast is full of a bunch of people you never heard of — Norris Culf, Nadine Hartstein, J. Buzz Von Ornsteiner, Jennifer Delora, Andrew Howarth, Michael Downend, Rick Gianasi — whose boring non-acting throughout the entire film (we’re talking porn-star level incompetence here!) makes it all too clear why you never heard of them.

Aside from its possible influence on The Matrix — not only is the plot centered around a race of machines who have enslaved their human creators, but the protagonist is even named Neo! — about the only thing interesting about Robot Holocaust is one genuinely good performance, by Angelika Jager as Valeria, servant of “The Dark One,” the never-seen ruler of New Terra, who’s represented only by a glowing yellow light fixture on the wall and a deep, booming voice (sort of like what HAL would have become if he had survived the events of 2001). Despite her utter inability to say the letter “r” — a speech defect she’s shared with such genuinely talented performers as Marlene Dietrich, Kay Francis and Barbara Walters (and for which the MST3K crew ribbed her mercilessly) — Jager is the one genuinely charismatic and appealing performer in the entire film, ably communicating both the character’s true belief in the Dark One’s system and her increasing exasperation as the Dark One starts threatening her for letting the resistance fighters (such as they are) get closer and closer to the “Power Station,” the central headquarters of the Dark One and his minions (and though it’s a cheap cardboard mockup the exterior of the “Power Station” at least looks like one).

There’s also an intriguing subplot of a race of Amazons who seem to embody the worst aspects of radical feminism’s wet dreams: they don’t permit men to enter the kingdom at all, and when one does they use him as a stud service just long enough to reproduce their race (after first cutting out his tongue because, as the leader of this tribe explains, “men talk too much”) and then kill him. The rest of it is just dull, with the various characters (some in human garb, some wearing ill-fitting and tacky-looking robot costumes) walking around, occasionally having at each other with cardboard swords and (except for Jager) delivering their lines with such total absence of expression your average porn performer sounds like Olivier by comparison — and by far the most risible scene is one in which the resistance fighters, on their way into the Power Station, have to go through an underground cave lined with pink serpent-like creatures who, though fixed to the wall, have lethal teeth and a sweet tooth for humans. With a director of Guillermo del Toro’s imagination (and budget!) this might actually have been frightening, but with Tim Kincaid at the helm and his props seemingly limited to what he and his crew could buy at a 99¢ store, the pink monsters are all too obviously sock puppets (though at least his film isn’t quite as tacky as that Sci-Fi Channel Alien ripoff I saw a bit of once, in which the “alien” that burst through the guy’s chest was so obviously a glove you could see the fingers of the person working it through the all too sheer material). Robot Holocaust was so relentlessly dull not even the MST3K crew’s clowning could make it interesting or entertaining!