• Robowar (Severin FIlms) Blu-ray Review

    Released by: Severin FIlms
    Released on: June 25th, 2019.
    Director: Bruno Mattei
    Cast: Reb Brown, Catherine Hickland, Massimo Vanni, Jim Gaines, Romano Puppo, Claudio Fragasso, Max Laurel, John P. Dulaney
    Year: 1988
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    Robowar – Movie Review:

    It’s often said that war is hell, but for fans of stupid action movies and cheap Italian knock-offs, Bruno Mattei’s 1988 film, Robowar, is a little slice of heaven.

    Our film opens in a jungle where an unseen assailant takes down a military chopper. The powers that be know what’s up, and so they bring in a team – the best of the best – known as BAM (which, we’re told, stands for Big Mother Fuckers) to investigate. The team is led by Major Murphy ‘Kill Zone’ Black (Reb Brown) and comprised of Larry Guarino (Massimo Vanni), Neil Corey (Romano Puppo), Sonny Peel (Jim Gaines), Arthur 'Papa Doc' Bray (a pipe smoking John P. Dulaney) and a tracker named Quang (Max Laurel). Along for the ride is a guy named Mascher (Mel Davidson), who may or may not be some kind of scientist.

    Our team hops on a boat, drinks some beers, jams out to some tunes and is eventually dropped off on a beach surrounded by jungle. They make their way into the thick of it but are unsure exactly what it is that they’re supposed to find or really what they’re up against. But they learn, boy howdy do they learn. See, what they weren’t told is that an experimental weapon, basically a cyborg super-soldier, dubbed Omega-1 has been let lose and gone rogue and is now killing everything in sight! Murphy and his crew eventually rescue a woman named Virginia (Catherine Hickland) from some guerilla soldiers and soon find themselves going head to head with a seemingly unstoppable killing machine!

    Robowar is basically Predator, filtered through Mattei’s skewed, screwy, no budget vision, with a dash of Robocop thrown in here and there. But instead of a bad ass monster from outer space we get a guy in a gimp suit with what looks to be a rubber chicken leg glued to the top of his motorcycle helmet. It’s not as cool as a bad ass monster from outer space but it’s still pretty fun. He’s got laser and the ability to melt your hand if you try to touch him, so that counts for something. Where Predator didn’t bother to involve a female character, Mattei does. She doesn’t bring much to the plot, really. She’s hanging around the area to work at a hospital that was set up to deal with a cholera outbreak, we’re told. She gets upset at the sight of dead children, which is fair enough. If you liked that scene in Predator where the guys machine gun the holy fuck out of the jungle, you’ll like this movie, because we get that more than once. You can never have too much of a good thing, right?

    As to the acting… well, Reb Brown is pretty fun. In this picture, the man who made a name for himself with classics like Yor, Hunter From The Future and Captain America gets to run around the jungle with a machine gun looking beefy and sweaty while bossing other beefy, sweaty guys around. It’s a role he handles well enough. Romano Puppo, who was in Escape From The Bronx and 2019: After The Fall Of New York, has one of those faces that is just interesting to look at. His performance is fine. Jim Gaines seems to be aping Bill Duke’s character in Predator, except that Jim Gaines, who was in both Strike Commando movies, is no Bill Duke. He’s fun though. Massimo Vanni, who was also in Mattei’s Shocking Dark, isn’t all that exciting but John P. Dulaney is rad. He runs around all chubby and hairy, occasionally smoking a pipe. When he gets dragged into the river, it’s rad. Mel Davidson’s character is a jerk but he plays a jerk well enough, while Catherine Hickland, of Ghost Town, is fine in her role even if she doesn’t have much to do.

    Really though, this isn’t a movie you watch for quality acting. You watch it for lots of machine guns, for a weird ‘monster’ in the jungle, for gratuitous use of ‘robo vision’ and for gooey rubber corpses and a rad soundtrack. Robowar gives you all that and more.

    Watch the end credits to note that Reb Brown’s character is named ‘Marphy’ (rather than Murphy) and that Hickland is credited as ‘Virgin’ (rather than Virginia, which is how she is addressed in the movie!) and that credits are switched for Jim Gaines and Massimo Vanni’s characters. God bless you, Brunno Mattei. God bless you.

    Robowar – Blu-ray Review:

    Robowar arrives on Blu-ray from Severin Films in a new transfer taken from a 4k scan of the original 35mm negative presented in AVC encoded 1080p high definition on a 50GB disc framed at 1.85.1 widescreen. Having only ever seen this film via a lousy quality bootleg taken from a Japanese tape with burned in subs, this transfer is a revelation. Granted, chunks of the movie are definitely shot soft so detail recedes accordingly in these scenes, but otherwise this is solid stuff. Some minor print damage shows up here and there, white specks and occasional scratches, but it’s never distracting or obnoxious, while the film’s natural grain structure is left intact. Colors look great here, they really pop quite nicely, and the lush greens of the jungle setting look great. Skin tones look nice too. We get good black levels and solid contrast. There aren’t any problems with compression, noise reduction or edge enhancement to whine about either. All in all, for what it is, Robowar looks pretty impressive on Blu-ray.

    Severin gives viewers the choice of English or Italian language tracks in DTS-HD 2.0 Mono format with proper English subtitles for the Italian version and English SDH subtitles for the English version. There are some minor differences between the two tracks but the story plays out the same. Quality is fine, both tracks are pretty clean and properly balanced and the movie’s bangin’ soundtrack sounds pretty solid here.

    This disc is surprisingly stacked with extras, mostly in interview form, starting with Robo Predator, an interview with uncredited co-director/co-writer Claudio Fragasso that runs just over twenty-three-minutes. He talks about how he came to know and then collaborate with Mattei, whol took ill during the shoot which resulted in Frgrasso having to direct certain scenes. He talks here about which scenes he was responsible for as well as what it was like shooting in The Philippines and how when he wasn’t working on this he was working on Zombie 4: After Death, sometimes using some of the same sets and performers.

    In the aptly titled Italian Rip Off spends nine-minutes with co-writer Rossella Drudi, who is pretty upfront about where the movie’s ideas came from. She speaks about working with Mattei and Fragasso on the project, how they scaled things down so as to be able to bring this in on a low budget, and some ideas that were written into the script and then never used.

    Screenwriter Rossella Drudi gets twenty-two-minute in front of the camera in Violence She Wrote, an interview that covers how she got her start in the business writing horror stories under an assumed name before working her way up in the industry. She notes some of the trials and tribulations she ran into as a female writer in a male dominated industry and talks about some of the people that she got along with along the way. She also talks about some of the pictures she wrote but wasn’t credited for based on quirky contract details. She doesn’t go into a ton of detail about Robowar but she does talk about the people she collaborated with on the film rather kindly.

    Robo-Lady interviews actress Catherine Hickland, who played Virgin/Virginia in the film. She speaks for twelve-minutes about how she wound up appearing in the film after a soap opera she was in named Capitol proved a hit in Italy. She then talks about what it was like on location in the jungle and how she got along with the cast and crew on the set.

    The pipe smoker himself gets his turn in the spotlight with Papa Doc's War, a thirteen-minute segment with actor John P. Dulaney. He talks about some of his work in Italy before then talking about how he wound up in The Philippines working with Mattei. He then shares some amusing stories about the shoot and how it was to work with his fellow cast members, including Brown.

    The Robowarrior interviews actor Jim Gaines Jr. who spends nine-minutes talking about his exploits on set and how Mel Davidson and Reb Brown really didn’t get along at all and that Davidson was kind of an ass. He also talks about the movie’s relationship to Zombie 4: After Death and what it was like on the set.

    Stuntman Massimo Vanni. Shows up in War In The Philippines to spend seventeen-minutes sharing some interesting stories about how he wound up getting involved with Mattei and company through his cousin and Fragasso which led to his being brought by Mattei to The Philippines along with friend and stuntman Ottaviano dell'Acqua to work on a few of the storied director’s epics. He also talks about having to occasionally wear the Omega-1 suit and how horrible that was, as well as some of his other experiences on the set of the film.

    Taken from a more than weathered VHS source but still great to see are fifteen-minutes’ worth of Catherine Hickland's ‘Behind The Scenes Home Movies’ that she shot with a camcorder while the movie was being made.

    The disc also includes the film’s original trailer (which gives away most of the good parts) as well as menus and chapter selection.

    Robowar – The Final Word:

    Robowar is a big dumb blast of stupid, macho fun. Fine – it’s shockingly unoriginal, but that takes nothing away from its ability to entertain, and in fact, in some ways adds to it. Severin Films has done an impressive job bringing this one to Blu-ray. The presentation is quite solid and the disc is stacked with extras. Serious cineastes need not apply but B-movie fans? This one is essential.

    Click on the images below for full sized Robowar Blu-ray screen caps!

    Comments 2 Comments
    1. Darcy Parker's Avatar
      Darcy Parker -
      There was a female character in Predator, she served as Arnold’s guide for a bit.
    1. Paul L's Avatar
      Paul L -
      Quote Originally Posted by Darcy Parker View Post
      There was a female character in Predator, she served as Arnold’s guide for a bit.
      That was Elpidia Carillio, who also played Maria in Oliver Stone's SALVADOR.

      The female role in PREDATOR is quite interesting, really, as it's a fairly 'invisible' part but is very important to the plot (she's the girl that Schwarzenegger 'rescues', thus representing the sympathetic 'turn' of this mercenary, and he also learns from her that the Predator won't attack defenceless prey). However, people often forget about her part simply because the memorable scenes in the movie are all very oriented towards the macho posturing that Shane Black's script presents in a semi-satirical manner.

      That said, this is an excellent review of the ROBOWAR disc, Ian, and has whetted my appetite even more. I haven't seen this film in a long time and am looking forwards to revisiting it again via this Blu-ray release, when I can get my hands on it.