Review: The Vindicator

Image courtesy of VHSWasteland.com and Ghoulbasement.com

They thought they took his life...now he wants theirs. Invincible. Unstoppable. 
Indestructible. He's out on the street and out of control!

Directed by: Jean-Claude Lord
Category: Cult Cinema

This one was actually not half bad and one I remember watching often wearing out my VHS copy.
A Canadian production heralding from 1986 right in the beginning of the cyborg craze along with films like the far superior Robocop from 1987, the laughably horrible R.O.T.O.R. from 1988, Van Damme's post apocalyptic Cyborg from 1989 and the awesome Nemesis from 1992, The Vindicator aka Roboman is a competent low budget sci-fi flick that though never really reaches the level of awesome, it is far better than a lot of the direct-to-video crap that came out about the same time.
A lot of people's first reaction is to call it a ripoff of Robocop, but this came out before that and all the other cyborg flicks at the end of this decade. In reality, it's more of a mesh of The Terminator and Frankenstein, Frankenstein being the dominant influence here.

What sets this one apart from almost all of these other low budget productions is that the cast, acting, effects and production value is stellar for this type of film. The entire cast, including the impossibly cute Teri Austin are extremely well played and throw in Jean-Claude Lord's straight forward direction and you've got yourself above average low-budget fair. The coolest thing this film has going for it and one that will shock most people is that Stan Winston did the effects and created the robot suit. Pretty weird when you consider he just got off of Aliens and went into Predator and Pumpkinhead after this. It's not the coolest looking suit, but it's pretty badass for this kinda film. It doesn't look cheap or fake and gives the film a slight edge over the others in this genre and a little more class.
The second cool aspect of it is that it also features Cleopatra Jones herself Pam Grier. Here she plays a bounty hunter hired to bring the robot back and in this film she's the standout character hamming it up in every single line she delivers. You can tell she was just having a blast in here playing a character that would've been cast to a male in any other movie. But it works here. She chews up the dialogue like she's right outta one of her 70's era flicks.

The film does have plot holes and too many things happen for convenience sake, but a lot of that stuff is easily overlooked because the cast, effects and production value are so damn good here. You can't help but enjoy the ride. My only complaint is that there isn't nearly enough action in here. No real "oh shit" moments. There were a couple of cool sequences like when he escapes from the lab in the garbage truck and is dumped into the incinerator where his suit is melted off revealing the robot underneath. That's the shot on the VHS cover and the best scene in the film. Another is when he's hiding underground in the sewers pursued by Hunter (Pam Grier) and her men. Outnumbered he pulls a power line and a gas line from the tunnel creating a flame thrower and blowing up there asses to kingdom come. That was cool. And a few impressive shots of him lifting cars, crushing a car with his old friend Burt (Maury Chaykin) inside to a pulp, and a fight between three dumbass bikers here and there. But for the kind of film they are trying to promote, especially with that tagline, there just wasn't enough action or situations utilizing the theory of this indestructible and unstoppable robot killing machine. I would loved to have seen some more kills, even if they were by accident where he was accidentally provoked like that sequence where he befriends a little kid in a junk yard. How awesome would it have been if he had accidentally killed that kid because he touched him. Just an idea. 

They thought they took his life...now he wants theirs. Invincible. Unstoppable. 
Indestructible. He's out on the street and out of control!

That was the tagline and it's completely misleading. It makes it sound like he's an unstoppable killing machine when he's far from it. He doesn't roam the streets looking for people to kill. His sensors only react when he's touched or provoked and he can still feel, remember, think and even talk. His main goal is to find out who did this to him and why. Even then, murder is not his motive. He just wants to understand why he's been turned into this robot and make sure that his widow and unborn child are taken care of. But I guess a tagline like They thought they took his life...now he wants to find out who is responsible and make sure his wife and child are safe!
Doesn't have the same ring to it I guess and probably wouldn't fill any seats at the local theater. 

An employee of a secret company operation becomes the victim of the company's special
weapons project. He is transformed into a robot killing machine that, because of his programming must destroy anything that comes near him.
So basically this guy Carl (David McIlwraith) is a scientist working for a top secret company working on a robot suit designed for a trip to Mars. The leader of this group of scientists is an douche bag with a god complex named Alex (Richard Cox). Right away you do not like this guy. So Carl starts complaining cuz Alex cuts a lot of his funding and keeps him in the dark about a lot of stuff. So he goes into Alex's office yelling at him about all that shit and so Alex decides, "hey let's just kill him and use him for the robot suit project. Who will know?" It's really that simple people because he stages an accident where Carl is trapped in an explosion and he gets away with it. Only after they turn Carl into a robot, there's a glitch and before they can attach a remote device to control him, he wakes up and escapes. So they need to find him because without the remote control device, he reacts to touch and will kill without hesitation. So Alex hires his old friend Hunter (Pam Grier), a badass ass kicking bounty hunter to hunt this robot down. There's also a side story about Carl's good buddy Burt trying to hone in on his old lady now that Carl's out of the way. 

Like I said, a lot of things annoyingly happen for convenience to move the story along so something interesting will happen. But it's not as bad as with most films of this caliber and what it lacks in originality or plot narrative it makes up for in technical areas like effects and production value. The film is never campy or cheesy, instead playing it straight and maybe a little too much on the drama side and not enough on the action and excitement area. 

One of the fun games to play when watching this is trying to count how many times the "boom mike" falls into frame. It's pretty hilarious because it happens quite often and counting the times you spot it in a shot makes the time go by faster when the dramatic scenes come into play.

The score is also pretty entertaining as well. It's all 80's synthesizers in here and works surprisingly well. Not like in I Come in Peace aka Dark Angel where the 80's synthesizer score was completely out of place and almost ruins the experience of such a badass flick. Not to mention the fact that it came out in 1990, way after the whole 80's synthesizer era and right smack in the middle of my man Craig R. Baxley's trilogy of awesome with Action Jackson, I Come in Peace and Stone Cold. See how I threw that Craig R. Baxley love in there so inconspicuously? But anyway, here it's done in a completely different and straight forward style and it works so much better. 
The Vindicator technical specs state that it was filmed in a 1:85 aspect ratio. And it's noticeable in a couple of scenes as someone will be completely cut out of the side of the screen or you hear someone talking off to the side who you know is supposed to be in the shot. But the only available version in the U.S. is on VHS in the dreaded pan-and-scan format or a foreign DVD. But even the foreign DVD (known as Roboman in other countries) is useless unless you have a region free player and even then it's not in Widescreen, only pan-and-scan. Maybe one day we'll get a decent release of this cyborg Frankenstein in it's proper aspect ration, but only time will tell.
Stan Winston and Pam Grier add an instant amount of street cred to this overlooked gem from the mid 1980's. Even on VHS, it's an experience worth taking. If you have a Widescreen t.v., even better. A special thanks goes to Jayson over at Ghoulbasement and James over at VHS Wasteland for the VHS cover.  

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