It’s been a little while since we surveyed the at-one-time-booming postapocalyptic subgenre of B-movie sci-fi here, but since I watched 1986’s straight-to-VHS Robot Holocaust on Impact Action On- Demand the other night (once in awhile they do us all a favor by showing something that’s never been made available on DVD , such as this one), now seems as good a time as any to trek once more into the nuclear-irradiated wastelands of the future that, hey, still could happen.
I’d been wanting to see this flick for quite some time ( I understand an MST3K treatment was also done and is available in ten-minute chunks on YouTube), since director Tim Kincaid is a name we know and trust around these parts from works such as Riot On 42nd Street and the world’s first (although that distinction might be debatable) direct-to-video release, Breeders. And I admit I have a soft spot for all these low-grade Road Warrior rip-offs, particularly the ones made by the Italians, like The New Barbarians and Exterminators Of The Year 3000.
Unfortunately, even in a cinematic realm where one expects very little, to be generous, and the rules of what constitutes a “good” movie or not are pretty much turned upside-down to the point where the cheesier a flick is the better, Robot Holocaust really doesn’t deliver the goods. First off, in case you hadn’t guessed a piece of voice-over narration at the beginning informs us that the titular holocaust of which the movie speaks won’t be on offer here, since it’s already happened. The robots have turned on their human masters and now we’re all enslaved to something-or-other called The Dark One, a mysterious quasi-mystical overlord who enslaves all us flesh creatures in his factories and mines with the help of his mechanical minions. Never fear, though, because a rough-and-ready warrior of the wastelands named Neo (we’re talking a couple decades before The Matrix, here, folks — oh, and he’s played by some guy named Norris Culf, if that matters, which I assure you it doesn’t) has emerged from the fractious clans of humanity’s survivors and is leading a ragtag rebel band through the desolate ruins of the future in a brave quest to bring The Dark One down.
Will he succeed? Of course. Will it be interesting? Not really. For one thing, the “obstacles” facing Neo and his band are pretty weak. Not only are robots few and far between, but the only mosters we see are the so-called “sewage worms,” the humans inside one of The Dark One’s mines are already ginning up a revolt of their own, and The Dark One’s leading henchwoman is pretty damn incompetent, unreliable, and doesn’t really like working for the guy.
So the deck is all rather stacked in Neo’s favor from the outset, which leads to a story with essentially no suspense whatsoever, and really that’s fine in and of itself, but when a movie can’t even pretend to be trying to approximate something resembling dramatic tension, we’ve got ourselves a problem. I appreciate the lower-than-low grade production values on display here as much as the next guy — cheap modelwork, guys in costumes as “robots,” unconvincing matte-painting backdrops, the disused Brooklyn naval yard standing in for The Dark One’s control center/mine/everything, but when every single plot development from start to finish just makes the hero’s job easier, even the most committed viewer can find him or herself losing interest at some point.
All in all, then, I have to say this flick is a real bummer because it has all the elements for a successful post-nuke laugher, but frankly its too damn dull to even have much fun with. I can’t help but feel its heart is in the right place, but it’s just such a yawner that you can’t bring yourself to give a shit about what’s happening even though you feel like you should.It almost feels like you’re being forced to root against the home team.
And that’s the real tragedy here — no matter how hard you might try, Robot Holocaust just can’t seem to make you care about it, even though it seems like Kincaid and his cohorts were doing their best given what they had. I’d love to congratulate them for trying their best in the face of daunting circumstances to make something vaguely entertaining — goodness knows that’s usually more than enough for me, as seasoned readers of this blog well know — but the end result here is just really, truly, well — blah.
It’s a shame to see such a copious serving of low-grade cheese go to waste.