SATURDAY MORNING B-MOVIE CRAP FEST: “War of the Robots” (1978)

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ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED ON 8/29/09

Science fiction movies are expensive, much more so than more conventional fare. Why? Well, it’s not like you can go rent yourself a space ship or run off to wallmart and buy an NERVA engine, or pick up some aliens from the zoo. If you want this kind of crap, you can rent some of it - there are prop houses in Hollywood that have ‘high tech’ props, but most of these are pretty cheezy, and turn up in so many movies that they’re instantly recognizable as props. When the pilot for Babylon 5 is using some of the same crap as the science fiction horror-musical-parody “Space Ship,” used a decade earlier, you know you’re in trouble. So pretty much, if you want futuristic gee-gosh-wow stuff, you have to build it yourself.

If you do this, you’d better hope your movie makes enough money to make back what you blew on your sets, but of course if you’re making low budget quickie B-movies, you pretty much know you’re not going to, right? But still you’ve got this burning need to tell a story about skullcap-wearing Italians in space, and the unfortunately coifed women who love them, and you just need to have some detailed sets to do it with. What’s a hack screenwriter to do?

Turns out there is: Just shoot *another* movie at more-or-less the same time using the same sets, using only the slightest of redresses. Since the cost of the sets are now spread over two productions, they automatically cost half as much, get it? I mean, odds are no one saw the first movie anyway, so it’s not like anyone’s going to notice. And really, isn’t that what science fiction has always been about at root: amortizing poorly-planned studio investments?

When we started this feature two weeks ago, you’ll recall I reviewed a grade-Z 1967 stinker called “Cosmos: War of the Planets,” that I actually kind of liked until I realized it was actually made in 1977, and then I hated the hell out of it. (My logic being that if some proctologists in upstate New York during the Johnson administration decided to blow their kids’ college funds by making the movie, it’s pretty good, but if an actual Italian studio made this turd after Star Wars came out, then it’s utterly terrible. You have to use a sliding scale on these things.) Today I popped in “War of the Robots,” a movie I’d never seen nor heard of before (Insofar as I could tell, given the generic title), and turns out coincidentally to have been made by the same studio that made “Cosmos: WOTP,” presumably at pretty much the same time, using all of the same sets, miniatures, and even some of the same cast. The uniforms are new, presumably for hygienic reasons.

PLAY BY PLAY

Captain Boyd of the starship Tessi is in love with Lois, who’s pretty hot. Tessi, meanwhile, is hanging out with Professor Carr, who’s figured out a way to create life from scratch, and also give immortality to whomever he wants. Lois chides that this will throw nature out of balance, which Carr evidently thinks is a come-on, so he starts putting the moves on her, but she rebuffs him. Boyd, meanwhile, suspects Carr of having prurient interests in Lois, but she denies it. In any event, they make it pretty clear that Boyd is getting’ some, but Carr ain’t.

One night, some guys in silver lame disco suits and unfortunate blonde pageboy wigs show up and club some people, then kidnap Carr and Lois. Boyd is quickly told about this, and informed that Carr’s crazy facacta nuclear reactor from the lab is going to explode and destroy the spaceport and the surrounding city in a few days. Only Carr knows how to shut it down, so the starship Tessi and her intrepid crew insipid crewmen are launched to bring the horny old goat back before the city goes blooey. Just to add danger, the high command decides not to even attempt to evacuate the base or the city, despite having a week’s warning or more. Oh, and if you can save Lois, that’d be cool, too.

The Tessi is launched (Vertically, from a gantry. On the ground. I actually kind of liked that), and docks with a satellite that monitored the alien ship’s landing on earth. From that they get the direction the aliens headed in, and their speed. The Tessi heads after them at full speed, but gets attacked and crippled, so they land on the planet Cave. (It’s real name is “By-gar” or “Py-gar” or something like that, I forget, and I am *not* sitting through this movie again to be reminded). There they intend to make repairs, which are limited to - and I’m not making this up - finding water. Before they can do this, however, they’re attacked and captured by stone age cave men of the future wearing embarrassing cowls. Beneath the cowls, they’re wearing even more embarrassing prosthetic bulges over their eyes, which, we’re told, are to protect them from the radiation in the caves they live in. The leader of the cave men of the future - a bald guy I shall dub “Baldor” because I’ve forgotten his name - accuses them of being men of the planet Aanthor (Which is an ancient ruin on the planet Mars in Edgar Rice Burrough’s “Barsoom” stories), and is about to cut their heads off when the disco-suited pageboy brigade shows up again and quickly capture all the cavemen. Boyd and his crew escape, and then, for no particularly good reason they decide to take the side of the cavemen and start shooting the pageboys. They also start calling the pageboys “The Golden Men” despite the fact that they’re white, wearing silver lame, and have blonde hair. Go figure.

Anyway, the shootout scene goes on for a long, long, long time, and when all the pageboys are dead, they free the cavemen of the future. Baldor, leader of the cavemen of the future on planet cave, tells them that his eyes are normal because he was a slave on Aanthor for quite a while, and his captors required him to have normal vision, so they gave him an operation to remove his prosthetic makeup. Baldor volunteers to help the men of earth overthrow the evil men of Aanthor. Faster than you can say “Unlikely coincidence,” the Tessi leaves, and the Texan first officer informs us that “Someone found water while you were away.” Really. Oh, yes, and Julie, the very pretty blonde crew lady with an unfortunately lesbionic haircut is in love with the captain, but of course the captain hasn’t noticed yet. He only has eyes for Lois.

Baldor (Pronounced “Bald-orr,” because he’s bald, you see, and the “-orr” makes him sound vaguely imperious and alien) explains that the Aanthorans are pretty much the aliens from that old UFO series - they’ve made themselves immortal, but can no longer have kids, so they replace their organs as they wear out by stealing them from less advanced races, and when they’re not doing that, they use alien cavemen as slaves.

Landing on Aanthor without anyone noticing, Baldor leads them through some tunnels to the Imperial Palace, where they quickly find Professor Carr seated at the same damn computer from the climax of Cosmos: War of the Planets. He’s wearing a weird robe/cape/gown getup which he evidently thinks is quite snappy, but in fact he is wrong: it’s both kinds of gay. Seriously, Ming the Merciless would look at this and go, “Daaaaaaam, son, butch up a bit, why don’t’cha?” Anyway, Carr is now working for the Aanthorans, and betrays Boyd and after a particularly embarrassing swordfight that proves the producers of this tommyrot actually did see Star Wars, they’re captured and taken off to the The Empress.

Psych! The Empress is Lois! Yeah, I don’t get it either, but she orders the Tessa’s crew to be taken away to some place for some reason. Was she the Empress all along, just slumming undercover on earth? Have they made her empress because they need a hot Italian chick to sacrifice to their gods? Is she brainwashed? What’s the deal? She goes to talk to Carr, who, despite being old and the worst sort of fashion victim, puts the moves on her, and we get some more-or-less incomprehensible exposition about how Carr talked the aliens in to making Lois their new empress after the old one died, and how, even though they’re kidnapees, they’re somehow in charge of the planet. Some kind of reverse Stockholm Syndrome on an industrial scale, I guess. Anyway, once they get bored of talking shop, Carr puts the moves (badly) on Lois again, and she says that if he lets her friends leave, she’ll let him have her. He seems confused by this, so we basically get the same dialog again, culminating with the two of them macking with unbridled passion commonly only seen in geriatric closeted homosexuals kissing their trophy-stripper beards in public.

Meanwhile, in the prison, the Tessi’s crew are chained to poles by alien police headbands. Lois comes in and gives Julie a disintegrator and tells her to shoot the guards when she distracts them. Then she goes and makes out with Boyd, while Julie zaps the pageboys. Freed of their headbands, the crew escape and hide. Lois goes to talk to Carr, who watched her making out with Boyd, and he’s upset about it. They argue and awkwardly make out some more, then she stabs him with some chemical dealie that makes him docile. Boyd and company come in, and they all escape from the palace, following a very very very long firefight with “The Golden Men,” who, you’ll recall, are actually dressed entirely in silver, with white skin and blonde wigs. These turn out to be robots for no particular reason. Ok, well, the title is "War of the Robots," after all, but that's definitely misleading. You expect to see armies of robots pounding on each other with a title like that, right? But here it's just the pageboy brigade who, by the way, happen to be robots as something of an afterthought. Anway, Julie saves the captain’s life, and she has a surprisingly long tongue, too.

Back at the ship, they take off and head back to earth. Earth informs them that their attempts to shut down Carr’s reactors - which he’s totally violated the warrantee on, by the way - have just made matters worse and it’s going to blow up even sooner than they figured. Boyd tells the doctor to wake up Carr quickly, so they can get info out of him, but Carr takes a pill, or possibly a breathmint, or possibly both (“It’s a breath freshener! It’s a Quaalude! It’s two, two, two candies in one!”) which allows him to…well, I’m not really sure what. They made a big deal of him taking it, but it doesn’t seem to do anything. Following that, in a completely unrelated way, Carr talks the doctor in to killing himself, and then appears to be talking to the audience when someone shoots him.

Well, now everyone is screwed.

Meanwhile, Lois and a guy named - I’m not making this up - “General Gonad” put together a fleet to invade earth, kill the crew of the Tessi, etc. They realize, however, that Carr’s shutdown code is on a “Memory Card” that Baldor the Caveman of the Future just happened to pick up from the lab back on Aanthor because, hell, I dunno. Because he thought it was pretty or something, and we all know how cavemen are about sparkly objects.

So now everyone is not screwed. We’ve still got nearly a half hour to fill, though, so suddenly Lois lets the Pageboy brigade in the ship, and they quickly capture it. Turns out they really are gold - gold lame, gold makeup, gold wigs - and they have been the whole time, it’s just they’ve been so badly lit this whole damn time that no one could tell. A looooooooooooooong and pointless fight scene takes place, and Lois looses, escapes, and spacewalks to one of her flying saucers where she meets up with general Gonad, and the two of them supervise the attack on the Tessi while inside little boxes. I’m not sure what they’re supposed to be, really. Windows looking in to the saucer? TV screens? Whatever.

The Tessi launches three fighters that hold off a kerjillion Aanthoran flying saucers in what is unquestionably the longest, most boring dog fighting sequence in the history of all cinema. Seriously. 20 minutes of this crap, and the cockpits appear to be upside down fish tanks placed over the actor’s heads. It’s embarrassing, and it will not end. It will not end. People we’ve only barely seen before die, and we’re supposed to be saddened by this, but all we can really say about them is that one of them was named “Jack.” Then, just when Boyd is about to die, Julie launches in a fighter and saves his bacon. Lois goes out in a fighter too, to kill Julie once he realizes that Boyd is falling in love with her, despite her unfortunately dykish haircut. Lois incoherently proclaims her love for Boyd, and tells him to choose. Boyd asks Julie what he should do, and she tells him to choose, too. Lois tells him he as two seconds to make up his mind which one he loves, so Boyd stares blankly in to space for a good half minute, then says “To hell with Lois” and blows her up.

Baldor wipes out the Aanthoran fleet using weapons that are at least a thousand years more complicated than he should be able to understand, Julie babbles a bit about how great it is to be alive.

THE END

OBSERVATIONS

Julie’s brush cut is slightly longer than it was in “Cosmos,” which leads me to believe this movie was filmed a few weeks after that one. Julie and Baldor were both in the other movie, playing similar roles. It should be stated that despite the unfortunate hair, Julie is actually pretty cute and unexpectedly chesty. Evidently the Italians of the future have lost bustier technology. Perhaps it was during “The Planet Wars” they speak of in this film.

The executive officer of the Tessi has excruciatingly bad hair, too, and we’re told repeatedly that he’s from Texas. His badly dubbed attempts at a southern accent are, no joke, the worst I’ve ever heard. It did leave me wondering if the actor was supposed to speak Italian with a Texan accent, and what would that sound like if he did? I’ll have to ask Republibot 1.0 about that, as he speaks a bit of Italian. (I can do a bit of German with a southern accent, and it’s endlessly hilarious)

As I pointed out, every single set and most of the special effects in this movie were re-used from Cosmos: War of the Planets. The uniforms - tights and tunics- were new, but equally as silly as the ones from the earlier film. When they land on planet cave, they’re told in no uncertain terms that the radiation levels are perfectly safe, and then Boyd orders everyone to put on “Antiradiation suits,” which are obviously just stretchy pleather skisuits. I can totally understand why he does that, though, Julie and the other girlies undeniably look really good in ‘em. All these suits have “Tessi” monogrammed on the right upper arm, which is of course the name of their ship. That seemed like a nice touch to me until watching the closing credits I saw “Spacesuits by Tessi Sport” - they just used the company logo as the name of the space ship. That is, officially, the cheapest thing I’ve ever heard of.

What. The Hell. Is Up. With. Those. Damn. Skullcaps? Seriously, I thought Italians were supposed to be fashionable or something.

I liked the music in this one better than in Cosmos, though much of it is the same.

The fighters actually look kind of neat. They’re obviously a kitbash, but they’re not terrible even if they are horribly derivative of Star Wars. (Not that that’s a bad thing. Vipers are horribly derivative of Star Wars, after all)

When re-dubbed for the states, many of the actor’s names were anglicized. For instance “Malisa Longo” is credited as “Melissa Long,” Patrizia Gori is “Patricia Gore,” Roberto Bianchetti becomes “Robert Barnes,” and Giacomo Rossi-Stuart becomes “James R. Stuart,” which I guess is a celticization rather than Anglicization. Funny, though. Other whacky race-changes: Enrico Gozzo becomes “Henry Goddard,” Licinia Lentini becomes “Lillian Lacy,” Massimo Righi becomes “Max Wright” and my favorite, Dino Scandiuzzi becomes “Dean Cantor.” “Aldo Canti,” who plays Baldor, and is as close as this movie comes to a character with some charisma, gets his name changed to “Nick Jordan.” Also, Marion Morrison became “John Wayne”, but as he’s not in this movie, it doesn’t really matter.

Captain Boyd was played by Antonio Sabato, who was the father of Antonio Sabato, Jr.

Despite my making fun of the prosthetic makeup in this film, it's not all that bad. The eyes are weak, of course, but the wrinkly skin on the entirely-too-appropriately-named "General Gonad" is actually fairly creepy.

Despite all the stock footage, recurring music, re-used sets, cast, and (presumably) the silverware they used in the commissary while filming this drek was the same as they used in the previous film, it should be noted that these movies are *not* sequels, nor set in the same universe in any way. No. Of course not. That would make them at least a tiny bit interesting.

I know I say this every time I watch an Italian SF movie, but more than usually this time out I get the feeling that a lot of the plot was changed in the dubbing. I would assume that Italians expect their movies to be at least coherent, but none of the "Suddenly Carr and Lois are good, now they're bad" stuff makes a lick of sense in english. I'm assuming it was more sensible in italian, like she was the empress all along, and slumming on earth or something.

I have reason to believe that yet another movie was made by repurposing these same sets a third time: “Cosmo 2000 - Planet Without a Name” I hope I never see it. And I hope none of you ever see this movie. There’s bad and there’s so-bad-it’s-good, and then there’s just unwatchable bad, and this is solidly in that final category.

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