Deformity, invisibility and a potential murderous cyborg in Romania.
The term ‘mandroid’ first cropped up in a Charles Band picture in 1986. The film was Eliminators, in which – according to the tagline on the poster – mandroid, mercenary, scientist and ninja teamed up to put a stop to Roy Dotrice’s evil plans to travel back in time and become emperor of Ancient Rome. Aimed at a more youthful audience than Band’s usual output, this was the producer’s attempt at cashing-in on the robot/cyborg market which was proving particularly lucrative during the decade (think Star Wars’ droids, The Terminator, RoboCop, Short Circuit, et al). He was clearly determined to do so as that same year also saw the release of Robot Holocaust via his Empire International Pictures distribution firm. Soon afterwards came Robot Jox, The Occultist (about a cyborg private eye) and Crash and Burn plus more besides, meaning that, when Mandroid arrived on videotape in August 1993, Band was something of a veteran of this particular subgenre.
By 1993 it was also common practice for a Band production, now under the Full Moon banner and mostly intended for a VHS audience, to be shot somewhere in Europe. Thus Mandroid followed in the footsteps of vampire pic Subspecies (and its sequels) by setting up shop in Bucharest. The Romanian setting allows for a Cold War dimension to a plot that is, quite frankly, a hodgepodge of ideas and incident. The mandroid itself is a humanoid robot controlled by a virtual reality-type helmet. It was invented purely as a scientific tool: the mandroid can do tasks humans cannot, specifically the creation of a brand new element derived from a rare fungus, though it doesn’t take someone who’s seen far too many robots-gone-wrong movies to see its potential for destruction. Indeed, when its two inventors have a falling out over whether they should sell their creation to the US or not, it looks as though Mandroid will be heading in that direction. But first, the slight runtime must also find the room for digressions into telekinesis, deformity and invisibility.
During the accompanying ‘VideoZone’ making-of featurette, it is pointed out that the screenplay underwent a series of last-minute changes just as the cast and crew were beginning to touch down in Romania. Perhaps this explains the messiness as Mandroid seems to be uncertain as to what kind of film it wants to be – action movie, mad scientist revenge flick, Cold War thriller? Screenwriting duo Jackson Barr and Earl Kenton were more at home penning erotic thrillers than they were horror and sci-fi efforts (though Barr had earned credits on Subspecies and Bad Channels among others) which, arguably, also adds to the confusion. The other ‘VideoZone’ revelation – besides comments on the state of bad Romanian coffee – is that director Jack Ersgard struggled to communicate with much of his crew. He was brought in by Band on the strength of his first feature, the Swedish supernatural horror Besökarna (aka The Visitors) from 1988, and yet for his first English-language venture found himself working in Romania with predominantly local talent. Under such circumstances is it any surprise that the final product feels a little confused?
With that, I’ve yet to meet a Band production from his VHS heyday that I’ve actively disliked, and Mandroid is no different. It’s gamely played (Ersgard even managed to sneak his brother Patrik, co-writer of Besökarna, onto the cast list), as energetic as you would expect from a film pulling in so many directions and, consequently, never dull for a moment. Yes, it’s a mess and, yes, it can make for a frustrating viewing experience at times, but there’s still fun to be had with its mishmash of genre thrills. Band, at this point in his career, was putting his name to at least ten pictures a year, so we can hardly expect the greatest of quality control, and yet he had a knack for putting together unpretentious little entertainments that refused to take themselves too seriously and, as a result, asked that their viewers did likewise. In this respect, Mandroid is up to the task and Band clearly thought so too – a spin-off, Invisible: The Chronicles of Benjamin Knight, arrived just months later.
Mandroid is the eighth addition to 88 Films’ Grindhouse Collection. The Region 0 disc houses the film itself plus its original VideoZone featurette (a ten-minute ‘making of’ that appeared on the VHS after the movie) and a selection of trailers. Utilising an old master, the film isn’t in the best of shapes. Though the image remains clean, its general softness has also led to some contrast boosting and artificial sharpening resulting in prominent edge enhancement and a slightly washed-out look. The presentation is in a 1.33:1 aspect ratio as per the original video release. The original Ultra Stereo mix appears on the soundtrack in DD2.0 form and provides no major problems. Optional subtitles, English or otherwise, are not available.
It’s the end, but the moment has been prepared for…
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