Probably the least surprising development of my year in entertainment thus far is that I’m (mostly) enjoying playing through Far Cry 3: Blood Dragon, which aims to marry the mechanics and graphical prowess of a cutting edge 21st Century first person shooter with the aesthetic of a vintage NES-era action game. Laser-spitting neon dinosaurs? Tacky 80’s nuclear doomsday theme? Cyborg hero named Rex Power Colt? That’ll do, pig. That’ll do.
What was most immediately curious to me, though, was that its pool of reference was just a bit askew from its stated intentions. Visually, Blood Dragon owes less to the Contras and Power Blades that Dragon‘s 8-bit cutscenes pay tribute to, and more to their often gloriously overwrought box-art depictions. Those in turn were culled from the miasma of 80’s (and early 90’s) sci fi/action dreck familiar to gaming aged kids growing up at the height of the VHS boom.
With that in mind, here’s a small sampling of the kinds of cinematic nonsense that indirectly (or even possibly just directly) inspired one of the year’s biggest downloadable hits:
Warning: Some trailers and clips are NSFW.
A team of heroes try to stop an evil general from traveling back in time to supplant Caesar. An infamous mess, it’s primarily remembered for its main antagonist: A “Mandroid” with a bionic eye, laser cannon hand and a miniature tank for legs (he’s positioned up front, like a mechanical centaur). This being the 80s, the requisite Ninja, Indiana Jones wannabe and Hot Lady Scientist are all also present. Speaking of Mandroid’s, though…
This budget offering features a title “character” that mainly looks like Robocop wearing a gas-mask, and has Russian and U.S. agents fight for control over a mad scientist’s latest weapon of war. Originally, it was planned by B-movie maven Charles Band in 1986 as a collaboration with comics legend Jack Kirby. Like other Band productions, it attempted a bigger continuity with a same-year sequel called [i]Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight[/i].
Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn (1983)
Here’s a strange mashup of a Road Warrior-wannabe and Star Wars-ripoff, originally released in 3D during the brief resurgence in popularity of the format in the early 1980s. The plot is a convoluted slog about alien fugitives, oppressed populations, interdimensional contact, magic crystals and other seemingly random tropes, but it’s mainly all just an excuse for the assembled cast to chase each other around in jeeps and dune buggies while various objects are hurled toward the screen.
Troma’s War (1988)
At the time known chiefly for distributing and producing ultra low-budget horror and comedy offerings like The Toxic Avenger, NY-based underground film legends Troma tried to get in on the post-Rambo military action craze with this big (for their level) shoot-em-up that was initially considered too violent to receive an MPAA rating. A group of plane crash survivors discover that the island they landed on is being used by a terrorist group to stage an invasion of the United States and are forced to take up arms and stop them. The typical Troma staples of mutation, deformity, obscene gore and bad taste humor (the baddies’ master plan involves a team of disease spreading sleeper agents called “The AIDS Brigade”) plays weird next to the standard jungle warfare business, but it’s definitely never boring – and since it’s a Troma movie, you can watch the whole thing on YouTube here.
True story: Cannon Films and director Albert Pyun were planning to shoot both a sequel to Masters of The Universe and a live action Spider-Man movie back to back in ’89, but had to scuttle those plans when financial troubles forced them to sell off both sets of movie rights. To recoup losses, they opted to repurpose what sets and costume parts they’d already created into a quickly shot sci fi brawler. Jean Claude Van Damme stars as Gibson Rickenbacker (no, really) protecting a female cyborg from raiders in a post-apocalyptic cityscape. A later sequel would be noteworthy as an early vehicle for then-unknown Angelina Jolie.
This infamous early-80s bomb was legendary stuntman turned 70s action specialist Hal Needham’s attempt to get in on the sci fi/action trend post-Star Wars. Barry Bostwick (yes, Brad from Rocky Horror) stars as the leader of the titular paramilitary superteam that agrees to lend its manpower and arsenal of high-tech tanks, dune-buggies, choppers and flying motorcycles to a small nation under siege by a conquest-happy neighbor. Planned as the start of a multimedia franchise, it instead became one of the more notorious boxoffice failures of the era, though it eventually became an object of camp affection through repeated television airings.
In 1980, movie costumer and jack-of-all-trades William Malone decided to make a low-budget “monster on the rampage” horror movie built around an Alien-esque creature suit he’d designed. He called the movie Scared To Death and it went on to make a tidy profit on the indie horror market, but the monster was called Syngenor (“Synthetic Genetic Organism”) and it caught the eye of a producer who wanted to put it into a different, slightly larger movie of its own. In this pseudo sequel, a group of Syngenors (who really do look more or less like Xenomorphs with humanoid heads) get loose in the offices of a military-tech company. Much bloodletting ensues.
Hell Comes To Frogtown (1987)
“Zen Filmmaking” oddball Donald F. Jackson was responsible (and probably still most well-known for) this warped bit of nonsense, which features pro-wrestling legend Rowdy Roddy Piper as Sam Hell, a post-apocalyptic wanderer tasked with rescuing (and impregnating) a group of women abducted by a clan of mutant humanoid amphibians in a future where fertility is a rare commodity. It was, believe it or not, followed by two sequels: Return to Frogtown in 1993 and The Toad Warrior (aka Max Hell: Frog Warrior) in 1996.
Bob Chipman is a film critic and independent filmmaker. If you’ve heard of him before, you have officially been spending way too much time on the internet.