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The Test of Time: Cyborg (1989)

07.02.2015by: Ryan Doom

We all have certain movies we love. Movies we respect without question because of either tradition, childhood love, or because they’ve always been classics. However, as time keeps ticking, do those classics still hold up? Do they continue to be must see? So…the point of this here column is how a film stands against the Test of Time, if the thing holds up for a modern horror audience.

Director: Albert Pyun
Starring: Jean-Claude Van Damme, Deborah Richter, and Vincent Klyn

So…the post-apocalyptic genre has yielded some pretty badass movies like THE ROAD WARRIOR and 12 MONKEYS…and then there’s the second tier material. Not that it’s garbage because its second tier, but there’s only so much room on the top shelf. With that said, I don’t think many folks have ever called CYBORG a “classic.” More likely bottom shelf material. Maybe even clearance.

That said the flick remains notable for two main reasons. 1) It’s Jean-Claude Van Damme at the start of his career. 2) This movie is the leftovers of the abandoned MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE sequel that never was. So that’s why folks sport swords and chain mail. Regardless, does Gibson Rickenbacker (yeah, that’s his name), Van Damme's answer to Max Rockatansky, hold up against the Test of Time?

Under the examination: CYBORG.

In the future, we'll have better matte paintings.

THE STORY: In the near future, “when it seemed things couldn’t get any worse, we got the plague,” Gibson Rickenbacker is a slinger, a man who kicks ass and saves people for money. After some sort of plague ravaged the US, Gibson meets a mysterious woman named Pearl (Dayle Haddon), a cyborg who happens to carry information that could save the planet. Since we need drama, pirates, led by the big and buff Fender (Vincent Klyn), kidnap her. Fender is a bit of an asshole and wants to rule the world because, “I like death! I like misery! I like this world!” Gibson decides to make this his mission and brings a hot chick (Deborah Richter) along the way to make things right once again (if he can beat Fender in an epic rain soaked kung-fu battle). 

Nothing says "the future" like a camera. 

WHAT STILL HOLDS UP: All right, so I’m not going to claim that CYBORG is some lost masterpiece that the world pissed on and completely forgot about. No. Zero chance. But I can say that CYBORG is a hell of a lot better than I remembered. The action, while not the best, is pretty good and effective especially considering the budget ($500,000) and that Van Damme was still searching for the role to make him famous. When Gibson gets pissed, he really beats the shit out of people and the level of brutality amps up the action, making this future world seem that much more violent and desperate. There’s some f*cked up stuff in here like nailing Jean-Claude to a cross or the death of his family. I’m still not sure how his wife died, but his adopted daughter has to hold them above a well while holding onto barbed wire. Ouch, man.

CYBORG plays like a Western with little dialogue and a reluctant hero with a scarred past. Part of the problem is that Van Damme was only 29 here, so he seems a little young for the role, but he still works in a wooden kind of way. Director/writer Albert Pyun went for Arnold approach and limited Van Damme’s dialogue as much as possible with detailed lines like “I’m gone” or “I didn’t make this world.” It’s hard to say that anyone could predict that he’d still be around over 20 years later…

Nobody nails Van Damme to a cross!

What does work is the bad guy Fender, who is nothing more than a buffed up monster, but he’s still entertaining with his chain mail armor, ponytail, and very dirty sunglasses (seriously, clean those things). Sure, he’s pretty standard issue (he turns into Frankenstein by the end of the movie and I actually thought it was COBRA bad guy Brian Thompson until I rewatched it), but he’s pure evil without motivation. Since Pyun gave him the opening narration, I wish he had went further with it, and made it more about Fender, or at least let him continue to narrate. 

Oh, and for a movie called CYBORG, one would think there’d be more cyborgs in the thing. We get one, but it’s such an afterthought…not the focus. I dig Pyun’s original title:  “Slinger.”

He was great in Cobra.

WHAT BLOWS NOW: The dumbest thing about this movie (ok, one of many) comes from the setting. If a film is going to say the world has gone to shit and disease has ravaged humanity then make the movie in a more desolate place. Seriously, the water looks pretty crisp and clear and the trees and grass couldn’t be any more green and lush. I guess a claim could be made that once man has been given the boot that mother nature can keep her shit in line. I guess. And I know that abandoned warehouses and factories are a tempting location, but find some in a little more disrepair. It looks like the crew went in with spray paint, tagged a few things, and said, “Here’s the future.” 

Perfect day for a run from pirates. 

At the same time, the matte paintings look like matte paintings, which is never the desired effect. They’re really bad (see above). And while I complimented the movie for ditching most of the dialogue, there’s a good reason because what’s left in the movie isn’t good. My favorite: “Don’t know if I really trust you. Don’t know if there’s really a difference between slingers and pirates that killed my pa.” Seriously, it’s so bad.  

THE VERDICT: Does CYBORG hold up? No. It’s a B movie and will always remain a B movie. However, that doesn’t mean the thing isn’t enjoyable. Take it seriously, and you’ll spit at your TV. But if you pour a few drinks and want to see Van Damme kick a lot of people, well…here’s the movie for you.

GET CYBORG BLU RAY HERE

GET CYBORG DVD HERE

Seems awkward.

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