Did everybody collectively decide behind my back to downplay and willfully underrate the cinematic output of PETER WELLER? Be honest. I’m seeing a pattern here. Every movie PETER WELLER is in is approximately twice as good as its reputation would suggest. BUCKAROO BANZAI is as quirkily hilarious as it is ahead of its time, LEVIATHON is supposed to be sub-ABYSS but it’s actually better at being what people wanted THE ABYSS to be than THE ABYSS ever was, OF UNKOWN ORGIN makes every other killer rat movie that sprung from the eighties smell cheesier and NAKED LUNCH is somehow a masterpiece even though its amorphous source material did everything in its power to stand obstinately un-filmable. And hey, what about ROBOCOP? At the end of the day didn’t ROBOCOP have so much more to say than THE TERMINATOR both literally and figuratively? I’d say so and if I’m wrong well, it’s also got NANCY ALLEN and is therefore unsurpassable. Anyway, you get the point. PETER WELLER movies are always better than people act like they there are and here comes another screeching example with SCREAMERS!
Mid-budgeted science fiction films are the best because they have enough money to not embarrass themselves but not so much that fall prey to that inhuman soulless vibe that follows TOM CRUISE around like an overbred puppy. SCREAMERS surely suffers from some endearing dated-ness from time to time but for the most part its worn just enough around the edges to be the right shade of dystopian. Written by the late great DAN O’BANNON (ALIEN, DEAD & BURIED, RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD) and based on a short story by BLADE RUNNER mastermind PHILIP K. DICK, SCREAMERS tends to be a little too detail oriented for my humble head so I’m just going to describe it as TREMORS with self upgrading robots that can sometimes pass for humans and leave it at that (also don’t watch the trailer cuz the trailer has a big mouth). Furthermore it features the criminally underrated JENNIFER RUBIN of NIGHTMARE ON ELM STREET 3: THE DREAM WARRIORS fame! I’m just going to go out on a limb and say that RUBIN’s Taryn is my favorite of all the ELM STREET characters. Sorry, but Nancy gets on my nerves. I’ll close by adding that SCREAMERS only real misstep is making some of the deadly droids too adorable. I kind of want to own a few as pets and just cross my fingers that they don’t saw my arms off.
Speaking of my profound disappointment to find myself in the year 2015 without a robot to call my own, lets say we take a look at the fantastic, though sometimes shoddily designed semi-futuristic world of RUNAWAY. This 1984 production was written and directed by none other than MICHAEL CRICHTON. You may know CRICHTON as the dude behind JURASSIC PARK but I know him as the worship-worthy genius who created the stunningly insane thriller LOOKER (1981) and the esteemed gent who wed B-movie royalty ANNE-MARIE MARTIN of THE BOOGENS and PROM NIGHT (who, just when I thought I couldn’t love her more, makes an appearance in RUNAWAY as “hooker at bar”).
Swanky TOM SELLECK, at peak TOM SELLECK-ness, stars as cop Jack Ramsey who is really good at dismantling wayward rogue robots (called “runaways”) and really terrible at dealing with heights (which not surprisingly comes into heavy play during the films high altitude climax). Luckily Tom’s uniquely vulnerable (for an ‘80s movie) character has a strong support system that includes a robot maid named Louise and a new partner played by multitalented dancer extraordinaire CYNTHIA RHODES (DIRTY DANCING, STAYING ALIVE, FLASHDANCE). Oh, and he also has a sometimes trust worthy ally played by the sometimes worthy but mostly crusty KIRSTIE ALLEY.
Jack’s going to need all the help he can get because he’s facing off against an equally hirsute but way smarter madman named Luther (GENE SIMMONS of KISS sans make-up). Lethal Luther creates killer spider, jumping bean robots that inject acid into your neck before catching your ass on fire and is fond of a gun that shoots miniature heat seeking smart bullets and he really, really wants some kind of plans or floppy discs or circuits that he can use to make even more deadly devices. RUNAWAY is one of those movies that can just basically coast on how awesomely eighties it all is. There is some super sloppy editing here and there (one character’s death scene comes off as a footnote when it should have been a headline) but mostly its non-stop joy with a synth-tastic JERRY GOLDSMITH score. The shrugging humdrum future offered in RUNWAY that left audiences wanting more in 1984 ironically lends it a little extra credibility today. Do yourself a favor and grab some SCREAMERS, pair them up with them RUNWAY spider-bots and create a perfect homemade army of murderous albeit slightly clunky late night double feature entertainment.
Special Bonus: ROCKY IV’s Happy Birthday Paulie-bot
Since tomorrow sees the opening of CREED, the latest film in the ROCKY franchise which just happens to take place in Philly, the same beloved city that Kindertrauma Kastle calls home, lets take a moment to appreciate the peaceful robot that appeared in ROCKY IV, killed absolutely nobody and ultimately stole the hearts of millions…