I have been watching B-films since I was a kid, recognizing at an early age that low-budget cinema is usually far more entertaining than the latest Michael Bay blockbusters. Occasionally I run across a movie that shatters all of my previously-held notions of just what constitutes a “bad” film, leaving me slack-jawed at Man’s capacity to produce truly abysmal art. “Robo Vampire” is one such movie, a cinematic singularity from which no particle of light escapes; I was humbled by it.
The film was cobbled together in 1988 by Filmark Intl. Ltd., the brainchild of Tomas Tang, producer and often director of very-low-budget action movies featuring ninjas, sorcerers, jiang shi, and anything else that was in vogue at the moment. The director is listed as “Joe Livingstone,” a pseudonym for either Tang, himself, or his mentor and onetime-partner Godfrey Ho. Apparently, there was a jiang shi craze in Hong Kong films at the time, and Verhoeven’s “Robocop” had been released the previous year to great acclaim, and since Tang usually produced low-budget kung fu films featuring drug triads, well….why not slap all three together and try to hit one out of the park? This makes the plot amusingly moronic at best, confusing and aimless at worst.
Adding to its incoherence, “Robo Vampire” is actually two separate films fused artlessly together by bad dubbing and butcher-block cutting and splicing. The first is a kung fu/jiang shi/Robocop rip-off set and filmed in Hong Kong, featuring a war between a heroin kingpin and the paramilitary drug enforcement agency trying to bring him down. The second is a wholly-uncredited Thai film featuring actor Sorapong Chatree who is something of a legend in Thailand. Although the Thai film is pure filler and contributes nothing towards advancing the plotline of the movie, it’s not a complete wash: it does contribute a couple of babes, a rape scene (obligatory for all Asian action B-films), a really bad come-on line, a Thai girl cutting open and sewing up a real cow and one of the most ludicrous stunt stand-ins I’ve ever seen.
A plot summary of this movie deserves a book, but here’s the gist of it. A Hong Kong drug lord, Mr. Yung (played by a Guido Sarducci stunt double) is being vexed by Hong Kong’s paramilitary anti-drug squad, led by the apparently 16-year-old Mr. Glenn. Glenn’s best agent is Tom the Goddamned Anti-Drug Agent (hereafter Tom GADA) who leads several successful busts, drawing the ire of Guido. Guido then does what any good Italian Triad leader does: he hires a Taoist sorcerer-priest to train a special squad of jiang shi (a uniquely Chinese hybrid of psychic vampire and zombie) to deal with the situation.
Scene in Hong Kong, where the Taoist is demonstrating the effectiveness of the Vampire ProjectTM to some skeptics from the “Organization”; this movie is full of characters who drift in and out at need and are never explained nor seen again, like Red Shirts on the Enterprise. He proceeds to transform one of the jiang shi into a “Vampire Monster,” which adds wearing a gorilla suit off the Clearance rack at Spirit to its already formidable undead powers. Towards the end of the scene, a Caucasian female ghost enters fly-by-wire and challenges the Taoist. In a badly-acted exposition she states that her name is Christine, that the Vampire Monster is her lover Peter, and that since they were banned from marriage by his Chinese parents, they committed suicide to be together in the afterlife but he has ruined their plans. While this scene is ludicrous and cumbersome, the sting of it is taken away by the fact that Christine is wearing a very sheer white ghost-gown and is obviously bra-less.
Elsewhere, Tom GADA is killed by the Vampire Beast in a failed attempt to bust the Taoist and there’s some Thai film segments to add confusion. Cut to a hospital. Ex-Tom is lying on a slab, and his best friend and boss Teen Glenn casually authorizes a Nameless Tech to begin transforming his corpse into “an android-like robot” (his exact words). The Tech begins shoving enormous, kludgy late-70s components into ex-Tom’s chromed and bisected torso, then sealing him up using a blowtorch (a sparkler stuck on a cardboard handle). “RoboWarrior” is then activated, and some of his skills are shown on a firing range. Unfortunately, RoboWarrior looks like the type of abysmal, amateurish cosplay gear you generally see worn by high-school kids at fourth-rate Cons. Someone from Costuming scored a bunch of those silver rayon sleeveless vests popular back in the early 80s and cut them up, then spray-glued them to cardboard cutouts and cricket padding sewn on a pair of coveralls; it’s that bad.
After some intervening Thai-film filler, Guido and two henchmen are being pursued along a shoreline by RoboWarrior but they lead him into a trap—-a circle of flames! He burrows in the sand and escapes by digging his way clear, then fights off four jiang shi before one of Guido’s boys takes him down with a Light Antitank Weapon. He “deactivates” in a fireball, giving us another great moment in this film: the “robot” that explodes in flames is a rag doll soaked in gasoline and wrapped in tinfoil (see photo). This also points out one of the central production details of this movie: there is not a single special effect in this film that is not derived from fireworks or gasoline. Even the gunfire in the Hong Kong half of the film is all black powder cap work with a badly-dubbed sound effects track.
Cut to the hospital again, with RoboWarrior back on the table again. The attending doctor declares, “I’m afraid he short-circuited,” but the Nameless Tech retorts that it’s “not that serious.” A few turns with a cheap, cordless power screwdriver, a few significant glances among the staff, and another session with the sparkler-torch and RoboWarrior rises again!
I can’t think of any other film with the pure genius to show a ghost and a gorilla vampire having sex, only to be interrupted by a robot hunting an Asian drug lord and his henchmen, because that is exactly what comes next. After some come-hither glances, Christine the bra-less ghost and Peter the vampire gorilla begin some bizarre Monster Mash foreplay followed by the bump-and-grind to consummate their “marriage” from earlier in the film. Unfortunately, their coitus goes interruptus through RoboWarrior, and monkey-boy’s not about to tag him in. Christine puts on the frightened-girl act, begging (paradoxically) “Please don’t kill us, we love each other! You can kill us but wait until our love is consummated.” This gives RoboWarrior a flashback to his days as Tom GADA and the night his wife dumped him because he was a cop. This sad imitation of a Murphy Moment has nothing to do with the scene at hand, but since that can be said about 75% of the film that isn’t a real problem. The happy couple take advantage of his confusion to fight him to a standstill, the scene ending with the two of them doing a Riffraff/Magenta thing. There is no sign of RoboWarrior, and no explanation of where he has gone.
After another section of Thai-film filler, we finally get to the Big Showdown: Guido and his boys face RoboWarrior and get wasted. The four jiang shi then attack, only to fall one-by-one. Finally, the Vampire Monster and RoboWarrior go head-to-head in a hopping battle across half of Hong Kong. Elsewhere, Christine the bra-less ghost attacks the Taoist for reasons unknown, but after she strips her gown off (again inexplicably, but who cares?) he banishes her by writing a spell across her cleavage. He then calls more jiang shi as reinforcements against RoboWarrior, but Christine comes flouncing back out of nowhere and claws his face, killing him. She is not seen again. The four new jiang shi fall, then RoboWarrior fires his flamethrower out of the barrel of his machine gun and torches the Vampire Monster (the stream of fire is actually a gasoline-soaked length of rope stretched from the gun-barrel to the target…really). The Vampire Monster is finished, as we know because the gasoline-soaked rag doll in his robes and suspended from a rope off a balcony is burning while he howls.
RoboWarrior marches away from the corpses and the ruins. The End.
If all of this sounds somewhat incoherent, good; it is, and I haven’t even mentioned half of it. But if you’re into bad cinema, watching Robo Vampire is a mystical experience. Check it out.
Watch the trailer to Robo Vampire