Tag Archives: The Terminator

I’D BUY THAT FOR A DOLLAR: REMEMBERING ROBOCOP

Robocop – released 30 years ago today – is perhaps one of the finest examples of mainstream sci-fi action to ever hit our screens.

The power and energy of that original violent epic from 1987 may have suffered a couple of chinks in its armour from a couple of diminishing returns sequels, a bland TV show and even an animated series. But you’ll have to seriously think it over creep if you think Robocop still doesn’t stand tall, in that rather cool pose with that automatic weapon coming out of his leg. Take that TJ Laser!

Infact Robocop is the greatest comic book adaptation that was never a comic book in the first place, with its humour, visuals and over the top violence you’d certainly be forgiven for thinking that it was and was certainly no surprise when he made the transition to comic books and graphic novels, even sharing panel space with that other 80s cyborg, The Terminator and even Predator and Alien. Fine and deserving company.

What has made Robocop stand the test of time and head and robotic shoulders above the competition is that not only is it an exceptionally well made film, Dutch Director Paul Verhoeven’s US debut, that neatly weaves action, violence and pokes fun at Americana in a way European filmmakers do with such aplomb but also its actors.

You believe the actors, Robocop would not have worked with an established actor’s chin in the role (see Stallone’s Judge Dredd for details) and you really buy into Peter Weller’s portrayal of Murphy and later Robo when he starts getting some of his human memory back. In fact despite its futuristic dystopian setting it is very much Frankenstein meets Jesus in many ways.

Fact is that Weller is as synonymous with Robocop as Boris Karloff was with Frankenstein and it just doesn’t work as well with someone else in the role, which considering how much you see of him is odd. Weller will forever be Murphy and Murphy will forever by Robocop.

Back to that Jesus comment, Director Verhoeven is cited as saying that the film is a Christ story, witness how Murphy is laid out with him arms, Christ on the cross like before he is crucified by Boddiker and his cronies, in what is one of the most shocking scenes of the film, especially with those added faux tracking noises that just ramps up the tension and unease. Of course latterly as part man and part machine, with some human memories remaining, those scenes are truly exquisite and you really feel the characters pain, you see Murphy get resurrected.

He may not feed people with an abundance of loaves and fishes, clearly that scene ended up on the cutting room floor, but we do see Robo walk on water at the steel factory before the end of the film. It’s a take on the film that I’m not entirely sold on but certainly helps it transcends its mere action sci-fi trappings.

Kurtwood Smith is electric as Clarence Boddiker, so much so I find it difficult to watch him in his sitcom guise in That 70’s Show, it just doesn’t seem right. Miguel Ferrer, in a short but pivotal role, and the epitome of corporate evil, Ronny Cox are also delights in this very 80s film that perhaps says more about greed being good and corporate America than Wall Street ever did. Infact with its criticism’s of a money driven media obsessed society you could even argue that is more relevant today than it ever was, with the passage of time making it more science faction of sorts. It was rather telling then that disgraced former President, Richard Nixon, was hired to promote the home video release. Genius.

Basic Instinct and Starship Troopers certainly had their moments of flair but it’s a crying shame that Verhoeven hasn’t shown the zeal that punctuates almost every moment of this thinking man’s action classic.

If you’ve seen Robocop but not seen it in a while then your prime directive this is to get to know him again, if you’ve never seen it, then shame on you. Some of the effects may not have aged too well, remember it was 1987, but ED 209 still has a Harryhausen-esque charm about him and at the end of the day the story is king and so is Robocop.

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Phantasm 2 #30DaysOfFright

ph4Phantasm 2 has balls, small shiny flying metal ones with drills and lasers.

This belated sequel to the 1979 original was my introduction to the Phantasm series of films when it was released on VHS rental.

I’d loved the idea of it since seeing part of its trailer on Film ’89 (the year it was released in the UK).

I can’t imagine Barry Norman had much time or it…but how could you not love a film with deadly flying metal balls?

p2If it looks like the most expensive looking Phantasm of the all, that’s because it is. The £3 million budget is all there on the screen and there really are some epic and memorable visuals, it may not sound a lot but that is ten times the budget of the 1979 original. It really has never looked more polished and rich.

It’s just a shame that Universal let it flounder in the summer season rather than releasing it closer to Halloween where it really could find its feet. It found its second life on the VHS rental shelves, and rightly so.

p5Returning from the original, promoted in a sense to the leading character role is Reggie (played by Reggie Bannister), the former ice-cream salesman. The character of Mike is back, but this time is all grown up and played by James Le Gros, in an alternate universe it would have been Brad Pitt, who also tested for the role.

Story? It’s a revenge movie with two men seeking retribution against the sinister The Tall Man, who dresses like an undertaker and drives a hearse. He collects bodies and turns them into his dwarf-like minions. Think of them as evil Jawas.

Like Sam Raimi – he has a cameo of sorts as a bag of ashes – with the Evil Dead and Evil Dead 2, George Miller, Mad Max and Mad Max 2 and James Cameron with The Terminator and Terminator 2, returning writer and director, Don Coscarelli, has a bigger toy box to play with.

ph3Like Cameron he gives the sequel more of an action focus. And the explosive beginning certainly makes that very clear, even for those people who haven’t seen the original it intrigues, excites and hooks you.

With Reggie and Mike’s cool black 1971 Plymouth Barracuda and creeping into cemeteries on a mission to hunt down The Tall Man, a hulking haunting Angus Scrimm – best name made up or otherwise, ever – who is clearly relishing his role, at times this could almost be an episode of Supernatural featuring Dean and Sam Winchester.

ph5In fact Coscarelli stated that he was partly influenced by the grizzled Ben Mears and Mark Petrie Salem’s Lot characters hunting down vampires at the end of the two-parter. What’s not to love?

Having not seen the original at the time there was a bit of catching up to do, but having seen it since there is still an awful lot that remains unanswered, not that I have an issue with ambiguity. It only adds to its dream like quality, at times entering the same sort of realms as A Nightmare on Elm Street Part 3: Dream Warriors meets Evil Dead 2.

p4The quirky character of Reggie takes centre stage this time, the former ice-cream salesman showing he’s a dab hand a four-barreled shotgun of his own creation.

It’s got some great jumps and creep out moments that still stand up really well today and you never needed a big budget for that, you just needed good ideas and Phantasm 2 has plenty of them. Not all hit the mark of course, an unclear telepathic link between two characters, and a couple of unnecessary characters.

p3But when Phantasm flies it soars, like its infamous deadly spheres. They have a tour-de-force scene in a mortuary that oozes cool and plenty of blood. The balls are indiscriminate, so don’t care who they go for. Phantasm 2 taps into our fear of death and dying, and the tools associated with that, making taut use of embalming fluid in one scene.

Phantasm 5, dubbed Phantasm Ravager, has just been released, again with Coscarelli’s involvement and the last appearance of The Tall Man, Scrimm passed away earlier this year shortly after shooting.

p1Toppling The Tall Man is a tall order but it’s a cult tale that still more than holds its own today, from its recap from where the original ended and its explosive start it’s a journey that is never dull and still has the power to surprise.