Entering the public ring this weekend is Shawn Levy's rock'em-sock'em robot flick REAL STEEL, a movie we've not for one second muted our vocal disinterest in. Shite looks like ROLLER BALL meets "American Gladiators," with Hugh Jackman playing some cocky wash-up who predictably redeems himself to his son by the closing credits. F*ck all that noise! A shame really, because some of the best cinematic robots have through the years been depicted as far more malevolent, far more badass than the TRANSFORMER kiddy fare we've seen of late. Come on now, let's not forget the 90s...when damn near every horror flick seemed to have some kind of mechanized element to one of the ridiculous baddies. So, as counterprogramming to the schmaltzy looking REAL STEEL, let's go back and salute some of the best and most unforgiving cinematic robots we've ever seen.
WARNING: MINOR TO MAJOR SPOILERS BELOW!
#10. GAILY MORTON - STEEL AND LACE (1991)
Anyone who hasn't given Ernest D. Farino's 1991 rape-revenge strand STEEL AND LACE a look ought to seek this sucker out ASAP. Why? The film - a trashy low-budget good time - is about a girl who gets brutally gang raped, only to watch her assailants acquitted in court. Dejected, the poor girl plummets off the courthouse roof. Thing is, her brother, ever the trusty scientist, concocts a scheme to morph his dead sister into a vengeful cyborg...releasing her into the world to seek and destroy each and every sleaze-ball that did her dirty. Clare Wren plays the woman in question, with the great Bruce Davison as the conflicted brother. Painfully anachronistic 90s stylings, cornball F/X, smoked-ham line readings...and a whole lot of mothaf*ckin' death! Obviously, the whole fatal attraction...half woman, half machine angle inspires most of the fun. This bitch is a cold blooded seductress of death. In other words, wifey material!
#9. WARBEAST - DEATH MACHINE (1994)
The 90s seemed to be the epicenter for the bad-movie-but-awesome-robot motif. One such example is Stephen Norrington's 1994 film DEATH MACHINE, in which the great Brad Dourif does his rendition of a mad scientist. So mad in fact he creates a kill-crazy hunk of metal he pegs, get this, "Warbeast." Part human, part machine...Warbeast is deployed into the world to seek bloody revenge on the company that fired Dourif for his ill-advised creations. And that it does! In what looks like a muddled mix of Robocop, ALIEN and Twoy from LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS, Warbeast is an indecipherable mass of metal that skulks along and masticates any breathing entity that dare cross its path. Awful movie, awesome robot! My favorite scene, a late one on the elevator. My man Warbeast, with its gnarly 3-pronged claw, goes berserk on a trio of baddies...disemboweling one, ricocheting bullets toward another, rapidly chomping its maw with the jaws od death. Utter mayhem!
#8. JASON VOORHEES - JASON X (2002)
Yes, I'm sure there are far creepier, more original malefic robots than this, but since I'm such a Voorhees apologist, I had to throw my man a doff of the lid. Besides, has Voorhees ever amounted such a gaudy death-toll than he did when terrorizing the cosmos? A big fat FUCK NO! Anecdotally, this movie holds a special place in my heart, as I saw it in the theater on my birthday with two of my best friends (once since has passed, miss you every day Bill). Now, if you'll recall, JASON X opened the same weekend as SPIDERMAN. As such, while everyone was watching Tobey act all sullen and whatnot, my friends and I had the entire JASON X theater to ourselves. It was magical. My man M'narl was smoking in the back, I even think he took a piss in the corner. Of course, as lifelong Voorhees enthusiasts, we hooted and hollered with every swing of the blade. We laughed at the superhuman strength Voorhees displayed, the metallic frame under his putrid overalls.
#7. PROTEUS - DEMON SEED (1977)
Wow, I remember reading Dean Koontz's technological thriller DEMON SEED in the 9th grade, far before knowing it was adapted into a feature film some 20 years earlier. Thing is, as dated as the visuals are in Donald Cammell's film version, the premise alone is one I've never really been able to shake. Fraught with perverse paranoia and A.I. run amok, the story centers on Proteus, an organic supercomputer programmed with feeling. As the Proteus entity matures, it slowly becomes obsessed with human beings, in particular the lone wife of the man who created the uber-advanced automaton. Alone in her futuristic, automated abode, Suasn (Julie Christie) begins brewing a disturbing intimacy with the "heard but not seen" presence. As they grow closer, Proteus' unconscionable intentions well up, and the last half hour of the picture is a tight little thrill-ride. Of course, being made at the apogee of American cinema, when tremendous actors like Christie were willing to mine this type of material.
#6. BB - DEADLY FRIEND (1986)
Though Wes Craven somewhat struggled to find footing in the early years post-ELM STREET, his 1986 mind/body, human/robot film DEADLY FRIEND remains a pretty fun guilty pleasure. And instead of an out-and-out android with intentions of malice, Craven sets his story apart by fusing the human element into the technology itself (or vice versa). Y'all know the deal, when Paul's best friend Samantha is hurled down the stairs by her father, Paul implants the mechanized brain of his robot pal BB into the girl's human body. As you might expect, an oddly inverted FRANKENSTEIN disembodiment results, where it's the pretty girl (a pert Kristy Swanson mind you) who hasn't control of her own motor skills anymore. Of course, one of the gnarliest scenes in this film or any...the unctuous basketball decapitation of Anne Ramsey (see it HERE).
#5. GORT - THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL (1951)
Surely more paradigmatic of 50s science-fiction than out-and-out horror, you can't front on Gort from THE DAY THE EARTH STOOD STILL as being one of the cinematic precursors to the evil-android character. The seed was firmly planted here...in Robert Wise's seminal sci-fi classic. Cheesy and outmoded, yes, but charmingly so. To the younger readers who have never seen this one, it's an interesting spin. Gort's threats are done out of a peaceful cause. He doesn't want to inflict harm, but will if you're not ready to adopt pacifism. Be peaceful or die is basically the conceit...an anti-war sci-fi film. Originally called Gnut, Gort was actually played by Lock Martin, the doorman of the famed Grauman Chinese theater in Hollywood. Dude was the tallest person they could find, but as an untrained amateur, he really had a cumbersome time with playing the part. In fact, homey was so gaunt and frail, he could only wear the robot suit for a half hour per clip.
#4. BISHOP - ALIENS (1986)
Although certainly not the most physically imposing specimens in our top ten, what makes the robotic revelation of Bishop in James Cameron's ALIENS so effective is twofold in my opinion. First, just the sheer shock of the situation. Here's a character we've come to know and trust...a character who the rest of the crew in the movie looks to for answers, for the truth. So, when we finally realize he's a programmed bot with malicious motivations...it's a highly disconcerting feeling. Secondly, when the transformation is finally made, a human element is still retained, if only somewhat in the upper-half appearance of Bishop. He still talks, emotes, and tries to help, even when ordered against it. So, to have such a major plot point of a film revolve around the discovery that one of the main characters is an adversarial automaton...that's a bit different than a movie overtly featuring a maniacal-machine.
#3. TERMINATOR/T-1000 - TERMINATOR/TERMINATOR 2: JUGMENT DAY (1984/1991)
So many audacious androids, so few spaces. As such, we're feting both Arnold Schwarzenegger and Robert Patrick for their cold, ruthless portrayals of killer cyborgs. Arnie as the awesomely obdurate Terminator Cameron's THE TERMINATOR, Bobby as the mercurial T-1000 in T-2: JUDGMENT DAY. More diametrically opposed they could not be...Arnie looks like a supreme physical specimen...a tight lipped Adonis. The T-1000 on the other hand is more elusive, much slighter looking. Yet when we slices John Conner's foster-mom with that humongous blade in the kitchen...we see what he's capable of. Arnie on the other hand is a heartless, merciless killing machine...a brusque, take-no-shit entity laying to waste anything in its way. Because of the popularity of both films, each character has become a pop-culture icon, as "I'll Be Back" is forever inscribed in our lexicon...extending far beyond cinema.
#2. HAL 9000 - 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY (1968)
As per usual, Stanley Kubrick was operating on a much higher plane than most with his 1968 sci-fi masterpiece 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY. The supercomputer in the film, HAL 9000, has been long thought to be a analogous of IBM...a subversive undercurrent Kubrick often deflected, after-all, IBM helped finance the film. But make no mistake, HAL...limited to a piercing red-beam of light and increasingly frightening disembodied voice...is just as dastardly, and perhaps even the scariest of all cinematic machines. Remember, it's a computer...a prescient topic Kubrick was mining back in the 60s (as he was with water scarcity in DR. STRANGELOVE). And he was addressing the deceptive, murderous aspects of the technology...literally in the film, metaphorically for real life. Just aesthetically speaking, when HAL starts to shutdown and sing Daisy Bell in its slow, sinister drawl, I ALWAYS get chills. For one of the best all time film analyses I've ever read, for 2001 or any movie, please CLICK HERE. Your mind will be blown!
#1. ALEX J. MURPHY - ROBOCOP (1987)
Peter mothaf*ckin' Weller! In Paul Verhoeven's 1987 sci-fi crime-thriller ROBOCOP, we're awarded exactly the kind of awesome android we all wanted to be ourselves at age 13. Dude f*ckin' rules shite! And while we can marvel at my man Alex Murphy's cybernetic transformation, let's not forget the surrounding milieu. A dilapidated Detroit, dystopic in every way imaginable...basically gives RoboCop carte blanche to - via his brute ultra-violent methods - regulate the escalating madness. And that he does with great aplomb! Props to a young rob Bottin, who designed the look and created the armor of RoboCop, and double ups to Weller for spending something like 11 hours trying to get into that sumbitch for the first time. Word is that damn suit got so laborious to wear, Weller was shedding 3 pounds a day on set until an AC unit was installed. Dude's nutso! I can only imagine what Aronofsky would have done with the material...how much darker he could have made it. Still, much like when Cronenberg ultimately passed on ROBOCOP back in 87, an apt replacement was found. Let's hope that's the case with the inevitable franchise reboot.