Wednesday, November 11, 2009

The Mandroid Duology

In the mid-1990s, while virtually all of Band's productions were being filmed at studios and locations in Romania, a pair of comic-booky features issued forth. One quite good, the other pretty bad. They revolved around a remote-controlled robot known as the Mandroid.

Mandroid (1993)
Starring: Brian Symonds, Jane Caldwell, Brian Cousins, Patrik Ersgaard, Michael Della Femina, Curt Lowens and Ion Haiduc
Director: Jack Ersgaard
Producers: Charles Band, Oana Paunescu and Vlad Paunescu
Rating: Six of Ten Stars

As the Soviet Union collapses, Dr. Zimmer (Symonds) decides to sell his remote-controlled, industructable robot--the Mandroid--and the wonder-materials that power it to the United States of American. But, as an American CIA agent (Ersgaard) and a dashing young scientist (Cousins) arrive to close the deal, Zimmer's collegue Dr. Drago (Lowens) decides to seize the robot in order to forge a deal of his own.

"Mandroid" is basically a live action comic book. It's full of one-dimensional characters, nonsensical science, and violence of a sort you only find in cartoon and comic books. (A car slams into a wall high speed and the occupant is barely dazed, a character is shot in the chest at point blank range is he barely bleeds, and the villain is horribly burned by experimental chemicals and all that appears to happen is that he developes a horrible rash and weird facial features. Oh... and an experimental treatment doesn't heal a character but instead turns him invisible.)

It may be nonsense, but it's fun nonsense. It moves along at a fast pace, with the 71 minute running time zipping by like no time at all. You'll have to park your brain at the door, but if you like old style mad scientist movies, you'll like this one. It's the sort of thing Bela Lugosi, Boris Karloff, George Zucco, Fay Wray and Lionel Atwill would have been featured in.

(An interesting bit of triva: The poster for "Mandroid", from which the image at the top of this post was adapted, features a concept that doesn't appear until the sequel.)

Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight (1994)
Starring: Brian Cousins, Jennifer Nash, Michael Della Femina, Curt Lowens, Aharon Impale and David Kaufman
Director: Jack Ersgaard
Producer: Charles Band
Rating: Four of Ten Stars

Two scientists (Cousins and Nash) are working on finding a cure for a friend who was turned invisible during a lab accident (Della Femina) while continuing to develope the futuristic war-robot Mandroid. But their old enemy Dr. Drago (Lowens) is still lurking in the shadows, and a corrupt police commisioner (Impale) has decided he wants the Mandroid for his own purposes.

"Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight" is a Full Moon action extravaganza where the tiny budget is definately visible on the screen. There are several car crashes, car chases with running gun-fights, and two really feiry explosions.

Unfortunately, the explosions are the only fireworks in this film. The film suffers first and foremost from a lack of focus. While the villainous Dr. Drago's perverted lunatic minions are creepy, they don't fit with the tone of the rest of the movie... nor are any of the subplots tied to Drago effectively resolved. A more appropriate villain is the corrupt police chief who decides he wants the Mandroid robot for his own purposes, but not enough time is spent developing him, because Drago and his minions. (The highlight of Drago's involvement in the film is that it leads to him a sword-fight with Zanna while she is dressed in a skimply bellydancer's outfit. And, yes, it makes about as much sense as you think it does.)

Worse, the Mandroid is a complete waste of time and space in the film. Not only is nothing interesting done with it, but it seems smaller than it did in the previous film. I don't know if the guy in the suit is smaller or if they redesigned it, but it's just not as impressive as it was before.

Not nearly enough is done with the concept of Benjamin Knight's invisibility, nor is even that particularly central to most of the story.

In fact, nothing is particularly central to the story. The film is loose collection of ideas that never really coalese into anything that matters. The end result is a forgettable, empty movie that the only thing you'll remember about is the swordfight... just because it's so out of place. (Well, that and Jennifer Nash looks great in that red bellydancer outfit.)