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Saturday, June 22, 2019

ROBOWAR -- Blu-ray Review by Porfle

Once again, prolific Italian schlockmeister Bruno Mattei (VIOLENCE IN A WOMEN'S PRISON, ISLAND OF THE LIVING DEAD, SHOCKING DARK) is loose in the Philippine jungle, but instead of cannibals or zombies, this time he's bringing us a slam-bang, bullet-riddled rip-off of PREDATOR, ROBOCOP, and RAMBO called ROBOWAR (Severin Films, 1988). 

This is actually one of his best films (judging from the ones I've seen, anyway), a good-looking production with lush settings, good camerawork, and some action setpieces that really deliver the explosive goods.

These involve a group of top mercenary soldiers who've been hired to go into the jungle in search of someone--or something--known only as Omega One. Mascher (Mel Davidson) is along as an unwelcome "technical advisor", although the others suspect him of being deeply involved in whatever their secret mission is really about and resent him for holding out on them.

The guys are known collectively as "BAM" (or "Big Ass Mofos", to put it euphemistically) and have such distinct and interesting personalities that we get to like them pretty quick.  Scripters Claudio Fragasso & Rossella Drudi (ZOMBIE 4) have given them some amusingly hokey and funny dialogue, the latter often delivered during the thick of battle which makes those scenes even more fun.

These guys are the usual tough-as-shoe-leather types, especially their leader Murphy (Reb Brown, who I know best as TV's first "Captain America"), but even they are aghast when they start stumbling over a succession of bodies that have been skinned, shredded, disembowled, cooked, etc. in some of the best makeup effects I've seen in a Mattei film.

All of which is due to their elusive prey, a mysterious cyborg who looks like he's wearing a black medieval suit of armor and a motorcycle helmet. Since this movie lacks a Schwarzenegger-sized budget, the cyborg's main features are pixelized robot vision and simple laser-beam weapons.  His constant mental chatter with some centralized computer sounds like those "Roger, Roger" drones in THE PHANTOM MENACE crossed with "The Addams Family"s Cousin Itt.

To increase the team's peril, they keep running into roving gangs of bad-guy guerillas who are gleefully massacring all the civilians in the area including the doctors at a local village hospital. 

Getting involved in the fray, the BAMs not only get a chance to blow away lots of these creeps (in what prove to be the film's most badass action scenes) but also rescue the fair maiden Virgin (Catherine Hickland, "Capitol", "Texas"), a jungle doctor who brings out the chivalrous side of these rough-hewn rogues.

Particularly fun is when the good guys descend on Virgin's former hospital, now used as a guerilla headquarters, and all fiery hell breaks loose. These hardcore mercenaries are armed to the teeth with giant machine guns which they shoot with one hand while feeding it bullets with the other, and they love to scream "YAAAAAA!!!" the whole time. 

When they aren't fighting, ROBOWAR becomes one of those steamy slogs through the jungle where every turn might yield a poisonous snake or a perilous booby trap.  They're being stalked by the cyborg the whole time, but surprisingly he turns out to be much less of a threat than one might imagine, and certainly nothing on the level of the famous "Predator."  Still, he's a fun character and there's a cool final-reel twist regarding his origin.  

There's enough amusingly odd characters and shoot-em-up fun to make ROBOWAR one of Mattei's most entertaining films, whether you're in it for the sci-fi stuff, the gore, or just the trigger-happy military maniacs gleefully shooting up everything in sight while screaming "YAAAAAA!!!"

Buy it at Severin Films

Scanned in 4k from the original negative
Street date: June 25, 2019

Special Features:

    Robo Predator: Interview with Co-Director/Co-Writer Claudio Fragasso
    Italian Rip Off: Interview with Co-Writer Rossella Drudi
    Violence She Wrote: Career Interview with Screenwriter Rossella Drudi
    Robo-Lady: Interview with Actress Catherine Hickland
    Papa Doc’s War: Interview with Actor John P. Dulaney
    The Robowarrior: Interview with Actor Jim Gaines Jr.
    War in the Phillipines: Interview with Actor/Stuntman Massimo Vanni
    Catherine Hickland’s Behind The Scenes Home Movies


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