Full Moon Fever Robot Edition: (Ch)Op-Ed #16

I’m such a fan of Full Moon/Empire, that I have decided to go back into the vaults and watch some of the films that I either missed when they came out, or ones that I saw so long ago, that my teenage self just didn’t store away in my memory banks very well. I picked out 3 films that are tied to one another through their themes of robots. At one time or another, these have been labeled as sequels to one another or even a spinoff, despite the fact that each one is a stand-alone film. Robot Jox is a holdover from Empire International Pictures, the last release before the company went under. Meanwhile, the other two are from the Golden Age of Full Moon Entertainment Series, the second branding of the Full Moon name, lasting from 1990-1996. All 3 are available on Tubi to watch for free with ads. 

Robot Jox (1989) 

Synopsis: 

In the distant future, mankind has forsaken global wars for battles of single combat. The world has been divided into two opposing superpowers, with each side represented by trained champions. 

IMDb: 5.4 

Rotten Tomatoes: 40% 

Tagline: The ultimate killing machines. Part Man. Part Metal. 

Stuart Gordon, drawing on his interest in the Japanese Transformers toy line, would direct this PG film, one of his many collaborations with Empire/Full Moon including Re-Animator, From Beyond, Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, and Castle Freak. He would reunite here with his frequent collaborator, Jeffrey Combs, in an ultra-small role. One might even recognize the late Dean Halsey from Re-Animator as well.  

Although filmed in 1987 with a budget of 7 million dollars (the highest budget ever for an Empire Picture), it would not be released until November of 1990 due to the company’s bankruptcy, partially caused by the inflated budget of this picture. When released, it opened to middling reviews and a paltry box office gross of 1.2 million.  

It has since become a cult classic, as it’s 2015 Blu-Ray release by Shout! Factory has long since been out of print, and copies regularly go for over $100 on eBay. 2023 saw the re-release on Blu-ray as part of the Arrow boxset, “Enter the Video Store: Empire of Screams.” 

The production, set design, effects, are all miles above any other Full Moon robot production, and it is a shame the film had such a troubled release, as it is a pretty fun film. There are good fight scenes, superb acting, nice costumes, and it just has the look of a studio picture, a far cry from what the company would produce later in their catalog. 

The music is upbeat when it needs to be, patriotic at times, action driven at others, it’s all a great example of the perfect film score by the relatively unknown Frederic Talgorn. One thing that Full Moon seems to get right in this golden era is their music. So many excellent themes have come out of that 80’s and 90’s time period, and this is no different. Is it on par with Re-Animator or Puppet Master? Probably not, but I would argue this soundtrack is more complete and well rounded.  

Don’t mistake my praise, though. This is not going to challenge Aliens or Terminator as the greatest Sci-Fi Action Horror film of all time. But the robot action scenes and stop motion are top notch, and one can really see what the studio is capable of with good actors, a decent budget, and a hall of fame director at the helm. At times it struggles with which audience it is catering to, whether it be adults or children, but I still can’t recommend it enough. 

6.0/10 Stab Wounds 

Crash and Burn (1990) 

Synopsis: 

When a Unicom Synth robot infiltrates a southwest TV station and kills the manager, a revolutionary against the gestapo-like corporation, a lowly Unicom delivery man must help the rest of the station survive through the incoming “thermal storm.” 

IMDb: 4.9 

Rotten Tomatoes: 22% 

Tagline: The weapons of the future are alive… 

Charles Band’s 1990 film would be marketed as Robot Jox 2: Crash and Burn in some European markets, despite the fact that it has little to no connection to the original. It would be rated R for nudity and language, and have a miniscule budget of $250,000, which is not uncommon for Band. 

Crash and Burn would be the first release from Full Moon Entertainment Series (1990-1996). This would occur after the collapse of Empire Pictures and the initial and very brief branding as Full Moon Productions Series (1989-1990).  

Charles Band would team up with his composer brother Richard for the soundtrack. He would also cast genre vet Bill Moseley, sandwiched between his performances as Ricky in Silent Night, Deadly Night 3: Better Watch Out! and Johnny in Tom Savini’s remake of Night of the Living Dead. At first subdued, Moseley really ramps up the crazy later in the film. 

The music reminds me of a cross between Puppet Master and Trancers. It has that retro synth feel of the 80s and really fits the look of the post-apocalyptic wasteland that Earth has become. Band always produces good instrumental music, and this soundtrack is no different.  

It’s truly a shame that Full Moon has become such a shell of its former self, opting for cheap moronic sequels and softcore “comedies,” because there really are some gems in their library. With a small cast, very few locations, Band really gets the most out of them, as well as showing just enough of the outside world to get the point across. The budget may be small, but Band uses it to the fullest here, not reaching for things that he can’t get with his limited funds.  

It’s definitely not a sequel to Robot Jox, even if the title Crash and Burn is practically the tagline of the original movie. It’s almost more of a John Carpenter’s The Thing rip-off. There’s even a scene where they are trying to figure out who the traitor is, and they practically lift the petri dish scene almost beat for beat. Then the robot reveal at the ending is very Terminator 2-ish. 

The transfer on Tubi is pretty rough, as it looks like someone recorded the VHS version with a cell phone, but it’s still a pretty enjoyable little movie. Do yourself a favor and pick up the DVD for under ten bucks on eBay, instead, and enjoy.  

6.0/10 Stab Wounds 

Robot Wars (1993) 

Synopsis: 

A renegade Megarobot pilot and an archaeologist must team up to thwart the Centro’s attempts to resurrect a hidden Megarobot, with which they can challenge the prevailing order. 

IMDb: 3.9 

Rotten Tomatoes: 26% 

Tagline: The final conflict has begun. 

At 72 minutes, it’s harmless enough. One of the final films Albert Band directed, it’s PG low budget sci-fi stop motion at its best. Miniatures and some pretty rough effects make me wonder what in the hell Barbara Crampton was thinking starring in this film, let alone Lisa Rinna. Outside of our lead women, the rest of the cast’s acting is bad, even for a Full Moon film. Then there’s the costumes, which are laughably bad and horribly dated. Finally, the set design of the 1960s Star Trek show looks much more realistic and believable than the ones appearing in Robot Wars. It’s no surprise that in 2021 it appeared in an episode of Mystery Science Theater 3000. 

On the flipside, the music is Full Moon at its finest, with a soundtrack by David Arkenstone, the primary composer of the World of Warcraft series. And Babs is still attractive as ever, 35 years old here and sandwiched between performances in Trancers II and Castle Freak. Of course, it’s also fun seeing Lisa Rinna before her lips became as big as my head. The best part of the movie is a theater’s marquee promoting Puppet Master 54! 

Plotwise, this thing is way too complicated for the viewers that it is attracting. I am not sure if it was striving to be some amazing intelligent film, or just a pile of shit cash grab that thinks it is smarter than it is, but either way, it’s a total mess. It moves at a snail’s pace, with nothing much happening, other than pointless plot development that ultimately goes nowhere, just further complicating the story. Full Moon sure seemed to have a robot obsession in the 90s. 

Skip this one. It’s not fun, and being PG, it lacks any of the elements that typically accompany a Full Moon film. It’s not so bad it’s good, it’s just bad.  

2.5/10 Stab Wounds

Composite Score on Robot Edition: 4.83

Definitely would have been a better score if not for the poorly done Robot Wars.

About RetRo(n) 54 Articles
I like the 80s, slasher films, Italian directors, Evil Ed, Trash and Nancy, Ripley and Private First Class Hudson, retro crap but not SyFy crap, old school skin, Freddy and Savini, Spinell and Coscarelli, Andre Toulon, and last, but not least, Linda Blair.