ENCYCLOPEDIA OBSCURA: ROBO VAMPIRE
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Announcement: I apologize if this piece is incoherent or if my sentence structure is bad today. There are people drilling and hammering stuff on my roof, people pulling the linoleum off the floor next door, and someone on the floor below me seems to have trouble with the repeat button on his or her stereo. I'm not exaggerating when I say that I've heard 'Sorry Seems to Be the Hardest Word' more than a hundred times the last three days. My brain is just a mess, and the movie you're about to read about isn't exactly helping very much. All right, let's go.
Now, there are good movies. And there are not-so-good movies. And there are movies that are so not good that they tip the scale and become good again. And then there are those movies that are just so bad it's not even funny anymore. But every once in a while, a movie will push past the shit barrier and not only tip the scale again, but leave it completely shattered in its wake. And this is the kind of movie the 1993 Robo Vampire by Joe Livingstone is. It has a terrible premise, it's not executed well, if you picked it up and rattled it a bit all the pieces would come apart, and goddamn it, it's called Robo Vampire. It's called Robo Vampire, and it takes itself seriously.
The movie starts conventionally enough, if not impressively. Some commandos are out on some sort of jungle mission, and run into a couple of snakes hanging off a container. They freak out and start shooting, which prompts another snake to jump sideways out of the storage device and land by one of the commandos' feet. Then, everything takes an apeshit turn. A box opens, and an Asian vampire comes jumping out with his arms stretched in front of him, hissing and breathing smoke. Then he hops all over the place and strangulates the men, causing them to bleed out of their eyes. Then, a kung-fu guy comes out of nowhere, also fighting the soldiers while the vampire starts ripping big hunks of flesh out of the necks of people and chewing vigorously as the movie's title is displayed. This all happens within the first two minutes of Robo Vampire, and the movie is still miles away from its insanity peak.
Now, I read a couple of mentions of this movie at imdb.com and some other place, and what people tend to point out and laugh at right away is the hopping vampires. This is of course because these are Asian vampires, or at least creatures so close to the European vampire that it's practical to refer to them as such. You may have encountered them before in Cheech Marin's Wacky B&W Adventure, released as Super Mario Land in the US. Vampiric creatures and their attributes will differ greatly from folklore to folklore, and they appear in just about every mythology, related to Christianity/Slavic religions or not, except in Korea and a couple of other places. So there are no set rules when you put vampires in your movies. I'll still make fun of the vamps in Robo Vampire, but not because they're different from the vampires I'm used to seeing. That would be racism of the worst kind. I'll make fun of them because the director of this movie doesn't know how to stay on the right side of the fine line separating 'scary' from 'astonishingly retarded'.
Back in the movie, we learn just who these commandos were after: a drug lord smuggling heroin into the jungle for some reason. The survivors from the vampire attack manage to bust a couple of smugglers, and the drug lord is pissed. He tells his men that he "must find a way to handle Tom, that goddamn anti-drug agent" who keeps deflating his soufflé, and he knows just the way to do it. He comes up with a plan so brilliantly simple you'll feel stupid you didn't think of it yourself: he will hire a Taoist priest to train some of his vampires to go after the enemy. That's right, the vampire we saw earlier was in fact a watchdog guarding a shipment of heroin.
I should probably comment on the audio right away. Some of the lines in this movie are clearly linked to the mouth movements of the actors. These are however just the lines that consist of one four-letter swearword or screams. The rest of the dialogue is not even what the actors read out during filming, but brand new dialogue patching the loose pieces together enough for this movie to claim it has a narrative. There's a very good reason behind this reconstructive surgery, and I'll get to that in a moment or two.
After the big boss has unveiled his plan, he sends one of his people down to the basement of the heroin warehouse to stash a box of dope and feed the vampires. This guy hates his job. Terrified of getting too close to the vamps (who have pieces of paper with paralyzing spells written on them fastened to their foreheads), he decides that the best way to feed them is to throw noodles at them from a distance. He accidentally throws some at one of his co-workers, who apparently is eating his chicken lunch down in the heroin/vampire warehouse. They are both startled by each other's presence, but soon get back to work.
While they lift crates around, one of them puts his cigarette away for a minute, and while his back is turned, one of the inanimate vampires standing in a row along the wall somehow sucks the cigarette into its mouth. The smoker is confused about this, but assumes his pal took it and doesn't worry about it. His pal, on the other hand, is trying to light a candle above the vampires, and as he's climbing up, he accidentally burns his crotch on the cig hanging from the vampire's mouth. Slapstick ensues, and then one of the undead magically steals the chicken. There's lots of fighting and hopping, and all would be lost if the aforementioned priest hadn't come running in to subdue the creatures by reattaching the magic scrolls to their foreheads and pulling some rad kung-fu moves. It is soon concluded that the reason the vampires were acting up was that the heroin in the crates was nothing but ordinary rice powder. I'm gonna have to read up on my mythology, this is news to me. It should also be pointed out that this is the only sequence in the movie with actual attempts at comedy.
Now, things are getting complicated, so try to follow me. The drug lord is telling one of his boatmen that he will expand into body smuggling. Then, we cut to a shot of a woman slicing up a dead real cow, something I haven't seen on film since Sergei Eisenstein's heyday. Only Eisenstein's cow wasn't dead to begin with. This woman appears to be in some sort of prisoner camp and is forced to hide drugs in dead animals by her captors. This is not only a new sub plot, it's actually a completely different movie spliced into Robo Vampire. So the line about body smuggling is in fact an incompetent way of trying to force the pieces to fit.
Back in the other movie, the Taoist priest is stashing some drugs away. Then he announces to some guys that his vampire project is complete. One of them is obviously a businessman, the other one wears a sweater with the text 'RACING' printed on it, so I'm not sure what he's doing there. Get used to me referring to people as 'some guys', by the way. There's an insane amount of characters in this movie, but very few of them feature in more than a couple of scenes, so very few are worth remembering. The priest will turn up a lot, though.
The businessman demands that the super-vampire (or, according to the cover, 'Vampire Beast') is demonstrated, and the priest starts showing off his work. This super-vampire is much stronger than an ordinary vampire, and is also wearing a gorilla mask. Suddenly, a ghost appears and introduces herself as Christine. I'm not too sure about the nationality of this movie, but it seems to be more Japanese/Chinese than it is American or Mexican, and Christine is one of the few Caucasian characters. She is really mad, and tells the priest that her lover while she lived was Asian, and that his parents wouldn't approve of their love. Therefore they killed themselves so they could be together in the afterlife. But these plans have now been spoiled by the priest, who has turned her lover (who bears the typically Asian name Peter) into a super-vampire. A big three-way fight ensues, but once super-gorilla-vampire Peter stops growling and jumping for a second, he notices the tattoo on Christine's hip and remembers his lover. The businessman finds this very touching, and tells the priest that the deal is off if he doesn't marry the ghost and the vampire. He reluctantly agrees to this if the both of them will obey all his orders afterwards, and the wedding is on. We haven't gotten to the robot part yet, people.
The next day, the priest is out driving in his car when he is ambushed by soldiers. He runs away and hides behind a rock, and then starts summoning vampires to kill his opponents. Peter the gorilla is one of these vampires, and he kills one of the commandos by shooting fireworks from his hands. We're supposed to feel sad about this particular soldier, because he was in another scene earlier and had one line. ("I AM WORRIED ABOUT THEM WE SHOULD GET ... RID OF THESE DRUG SMUGGLERS SOPHIE TELLS ME THERE'S A DEAL GOING DOWN I'M GONNA TRY ARREST THEM." Who Sophie is has yet to be established.) The priest then gets back in his car and drives the hell out of there.
Back in the military camp the soldier attacked by Peter is declared dead, and some people are sad. This is where we learn that the guy who was just killed was in fact Tom, the anti-drug agent mentioned in the beginning of this movie. Livingstone, if you're reading this: when you want us to feel sorry about someone being dead, it could be an idea to have him utter more than one run-on sentence before he dies, and sometimes writer-directors also like to let the audience know how the character fits into the plot before he bites it. Just a little tip. Some guy who we never have seen before turns to his superior and says "Since Tom's dead I want to make use of his body to create an android-like robot, Mr. Glen. I would appreciate you approving my application." Mr. Glen, who appears to be about fifteen, approves.
The guy (not big on names, this movie) then starts turning Tom into an android-like robot by using a blowpipe while carefully monitoring Tom's condition on a machine that flashes either a green plus or a red minus while beeping a lot. Green plus means 'better', red minus means 'worse'. I'm guessing here, but aren't that many ways to interpret that thing. It's clearly very hi-tech, though. You know, lights and beeping and all. Soon, Tom has been transformed... into RoboWarrior! And all the metal parts he is made from are transformed... into silver nylon!
Meanwhile, the priest is talking to some guy who is somehow connected to the drug boss. The priest thinks that the ambush earlier must have been the result of treachery, and suggest that all the drug dealers involved in the operation must be terminated. This was of course not what the scene originally was about, but an excuse to insert a scene where drug dealers are killed in the other movie, which has no robots, vampires, ghosts or kung-fu people and is therefore infinitely inferior.
Some people we've never seen before bust into a church to confront a priest about some disappeared drugs. So not only was the added dialogue in movie #1 a flimsy excuse to cut to movie #2, the altered lines also failed to actually be relevant to what they were supposed to set up. Also, the plot temporarily moves from Asia to Mexico or Puerto Rico or Colombia or something. The thugs accidentally find the missing drugs inside a crucifix, but when they're about to kill the priest, a blonde woman we've never seen before appears and blasts away on her machine gun before jumping out the window and serving us the most obvious stunt double ever.
I can only imagine how the casting agent presented this situation to the director:
Livingstone: So, Sarah, we're shooting the church stunt today, could you get the stunt woman ready for make-up?
Sarah: Yeah, about that... She kinda isn't here, so we had to get someone else.
Livingstone: Well, does she look like the actress she's standing in for?
Sarah: Uh, she's not as much a 'she' as she is a... em... 'he'.
Livingstone: What? Everybody is going to notice if a big burly stunt guy suddenly takes over!
Sarah: In fact, he's quite a bit shorter than her. I think it will work out, though, as soon as the interpreter has managed to explain what he's supposed to do.
Livingstone: He's a Mexican?!
Sarah: No, no, he's Asian.
Livingstone: Oh god, please tell me his skin color is at least close to white!
Sarah: Actually, he's one of those dark ones.
Livingstone: Jesus Christ, just give him a damned wig and get him ready. I'll see what I can do.
Sarah: Yeah, that's another thing. We can't find the long blonde wig, so we'll have to settle for a short grey one. And the interpreter isn't completely sure, but he thinks the stunt guy refuses to shave his moustache.
The name of the casting agent has been altered in the above dramatization, not just because I want to protect her privacy, but also because this movie has no end credits.
The woman is overcome by the crooks, and is taken to what will later be revealed as the prison camp we saw earlier (I'm not giving a plot twist away or anything, it's just that nobody bothered to tell the audience where this was supposed to take place). The woman is smacked around a bit, and then raped by her captor.
This is where we cut to the other movie, and Mr. Glen informs the robot engineer that Sophie has been taken captive. To clarify: The woman we just saw was Sophie, the woman Tom mentioned earlier. This was of course before we knew this was Tom and not a speaking extra. It is also important to remember that Glen and Sophie are characters in two separate productions. Hey, it's the magic of post production. Glen then sits down to talk to another new character about Sophie. This is where the seams are really starting to show, as Glen obviously is in a barracks in the middle of the jungle, while the man he is talking to is in an office, in different lighting, and in a different movie. This guy then hires someone to rescue Sophie.
Meanwhile, in movie #2, Sophie is being subjected to water torture. The rescuers (who are so unimportant that I'll just leave them out of this) are gradually making progress along the Chinese-Mexican border, and even manage to squeeze in a love story which comes out of nowhere and goes nowhere.
Luckily, the real story soon makes up for the dull parts. The villainous drug guy is being chased by RoboTom, but lures him into a trap. Since Tom only moves slightly faster than one of those Sony dogs, they have to wait a while before executing it, though. When Tom finally reaches the trap, we learn that it consists of a wall of fire reaching the robot up to the knees. Since there's no way to get across this infernal barrier, Tom quickly calculates that the smartest thing to do is to dig himself into a hole in the ground and cover himself with sand. "Yeah, we did it!" exclaims the bad guy. Five seconds later the flames die down, and Tom gets back up.
But RoboTom isn't scott free just yet. Five vampires appear, and start flipping around and holding his ankles, causing the robot to lose his gun. What they didn't take into account is that the robot is a Jedi, and is able to pick his gun up using only his mind. There is more shooting and hopping than I care to describe, and it all is ended when one of the henchmen in hiding shoot Tom with a bazooka, revealing that Tom is pretty much just a gasoline-soaked mannequin wrapped in tin foil. Luckily for Tom, they still have the plus-minus machine back in the barracks.
The rescue team stumble across two action scenes, and then take a break. One of the women decides to take a bath in a waterfall, and Ray, one of the guys, spies on her. She notices, and is surprised and angry. Ray, however, just smiles and says "it's a beautiful view. You should bathe more often." Oh, the honey tongue on that guy. They get together and have sex in the water, but this isn't really very relevant or interesting.
A sex scene that is interesting is the gorilla vampire/ghost one. The honeymooners are about to consummate their marriage, and if you ever wondered what vampire/ghost foreplay is like, I can tell you right now. The ghost makes sensual moves with her hand, waving her lover toward her. The vampire, on the other hand, is flailing his arms around in all directions like he's falling off a cliff and desperately is trying to grab hold of some of the bushes growing from the wall. Suddenly, the recently repaired RoboWarrior crashes in on them, prompting the music to change from 'sensual softcore saxophone' to 'military drums'. I would just like to point out that you just read about a ghost and a gorilla vampire trying to have sex when they suddenly are interrupted by a robot out to get a drug lord. You will never read that again in any other context, so cherish this moment before it's gone.
The lovers beg the robot to spare their lives (or whatever word applies to a ghost and a vampire) so they can consummate their love. At first, love does not seem to compute in Tom's digital (or probably analogue) brain, but then he remembers how his girlfriend broke up with him because he wouldn't leave the force. This 'heartbreaking' flashback scene wouldn't be interesting at all if it wasn't for the fact that Tom sounds like a demon lord from a dubbed anime and his girlfriend sounds like she has Down's syndrome. They way it ended up, it's hilarious.
Calculating that love equals pain (I'm assuming), Tom decides to kill the lovers. While Christine is using her ghost magic to trap Tom in strips of cloth, Peter does what he does best and jumps around. I should probably point out that Peter never talks, but grunts instead. When he fights, however, he sounds just like a demented old woman furiously trying to open a glass of pickles. It's a pretty even match, but in the middle of the action Livingstone abandons the bout never to return and instead cuts to the main villain running around and shooting people we've never seen before with the help of people we've never seen before. This seamlessly transcends into the other movie. By 'seamless', I mean there is no thread keeping the two parts together.
The rescue party escape from the other movie's bad guy, but soon run into another guy, who laughs and says "Let me tell you that nobody ever escapes from me!" It would probably be very menacing if this diabolical fiend had been introduced earlier in the movie or maybe even reappeared later. The rescuers soon find themselves in need of rescue, but at least they found Sophie upon arriving at the prisoner camp. They fight their way out again, defeating another larger-than-life villain who wasn't introduced before either. Hooray, Sophie is free! Then the gang leave the movie forever.
The drug lord is pissed to hear his drug operation in the jungle has been thwarted, despite the fact that it never really was his drug operation to begin with. He asks another important off-screen character that wasn't introduced until just now if he will help him rebuild his empire. An off-screen voice agrees, but states that they have to deal with the RoboWarrior first. Then they suddenly hear the sound of hydraulic joints, shout "HUH!?" in unison, and run out of the movie as the RoboWarrior comes barging in. Then Peter comes jumping in. And Christine. Guess they just forgot all about fighting earlier and decided to pick it up later. There's shooting, there's cloth everywhere, and there's whining and hopping and bottle rockets. RoboWarrior seems to have taken damage, since his joints now not so much hiss as they sound like a guy going 'guusssshhh'.
The jungle spontaneously turns into Tokyo, and an exciting chase ensues in a tunnel as Peter hops away from Tom slightly above walking speed while Tom follows slightly below. For some reason, the Taoist priest is also in Tokyo, and after fighting with the ghost for a while he kills her by painting a symbol across her boobs. There's an insane amount of shots of vampires jumping around Tom in circles while cackling exactly like Yoda did when he stole Luke's Powerbar, and then Christina comes back to 'life' to claw the priest's eyes out before Tom torches a guy hanging from a rope with the flamethrower that he suddenly has. We don't get to know who this guy is, but it's apparently important. All I know is it's neither the priest nor Peter nor the drug lord. I did catch a glimpse of the guy in the 'RACING' sweater a couple of seconds earlier, so it might have been him. Or it may have been Peter after all, but I distinctly remember him not hanging from a rope two seconds ago. Whoever it was, Tom walks off-screen, and the words 'THE END' are displayed. Haha, I'm just kidding, of course the movie doesn't end like that. Haha, I was double kidding, the movie seriously ends like that. What happened to the main villain? What happened to Peter and Christine? What happened to the military operation? Did Sophie and the others make it back to civilization? Nobody knows.
So, what can I say about Robo Vampire now that it's all over. Well, it would be wrong to call it two bad movies spliced together shoddily, because it's actually two half movies spliced together shoddily. Neither benefit from the fusion, but they wouldn't stay coherent on their own either It's just a bunch of stuff that THE END
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Copyright Per Arne Sandvik