A year later, I couldn’t resist. Much as I adore sacrificing myself at the alter of good cinema, the call of incompetence beckons me like a wolf. It’s time for another month-long exploration of some of the most criminal cinematic offenses in history. For those playing along, each film will be given two scores, one for its actual formalist quality and one for how divinely entertaining it is as an inebriated exercise in cinema at its most dumbfounding. We’re starting the month with two releases from the modern godfathers of bad cinema, Golan and Globus.
Even by the standards of mush-mouthed ‘80s mega-producers Golan and Globus, 1989’s Cyborg is inexplicably, improbably bad, descending in a feverish plunge of toxic awfulness and incomprehensibility that comes within spitting distance of the disfigured joie de vivre of earlier schlock progenitors like Jean Rollin. From the scorchingly constipated opening narration to the on-screen text informing us that our newest hellscape is “ in the future” (presumably a time-span discovered after much research on the filmmakers’ part), we’re in the realm of classified bad-movie company here. It should be protected as a national treasure, or at least investigated by the FBI to make sure no one is planning on stealing it today.
The opening sequence, a fetishistically slow-motioned action sequence comprised primarily of people walking horizontally across the screen, as if to prove they can do it, doubles as an exploration of Bush Sr. era strife (in my mind at least) and triples as a surefire claim that, in the great “Conan the Barbarian rip-off vs. Mad Max rip-off” debate of the 1980s, we are distinctly in the later camp. Or at least, the film seems to think it is. Based on Heidi Kaczenski’s costuming, it might as likely be a new music video for RATT. It clarifies something, although not much given the ramshackle, obviously dust-bowl nature of the film’s look, that the costumes and sets were originally intended to buttress a version of either Masters of the Universe directed by Albert Pyun or some godforsaken adaptation of the Spider-Man comic that I for the life of me can’t see in anything this film slathers on screen. Not even if I squint.
But Pyun, knowing his corporate masters Golan and Globus wouldn’t back down from finding some use for their investment (they were, after all, dynamite capitalists in the William Castle mold to say the least), ended up commandeering these costumes for a quickie film called Cyborg. This nearly accidental, DIY quality to the film’s production perhaps explains why the resulting film’s mise-en-scene is both non-specific (creating no cohesive world) and oddly effortful (the costumes look like someone, or some acid flashback, was putting in their version of overtime to imagine them, as cheap as the finished products actually are).
If the film actually boasts a commercial coup, it’s Jean-Claude Van Damme in one of his earliest American roles, the tentative nature of physical space in this film’s version of America allowing him carte blanche to retain his Belgian accent thankfully. He plays a … ahem … Gibson Rickenbacker, a hired fighter protecting a cyborg named Pearl Prophet (Dayle Haddon, sacrificing herself to lines like “I am a cyborg”) from a group of bloodthirsty pirates headed by Fender Tremolo (and suddenly, Gibson Rickenbacker seems like John Smith). Tremolo, for his part, is played by Vincent Klyn with the most pained bass moan of a voice I have ever heard. For the sake of argument, let’s take the film at its word when it says Prophet needs to get from New York to Atlanta so that she can provide much-needed information to a group of CDC doctors working on a cure for the plague that ravaged America.
Pyun’s most famous film, by far, is his next-year adaptation of Captain America (the holy text for bad pre-2000 superhero adaptations), but on the back of Cyborg, he should win a peace prize for distracting people from their real problems. Or at least his editor should. This is a fluorescently edited motion picture, abetted by a bewildering pastiche of montage that feels like Nicolas Roeg wandering the streets on a drunken bender, particularly during flashbacks to Gibson’s earlier life when the editing arhythmically seizures about in a gross parody of both Soviet montage and the post-traumatic mind’s inability to reason with crisis head-on. When you add in the fact that the film’s conception of the Eastern Seaboard is both irreconcilably antebellum and disarmingly retro-futurist, you have a film that is bewilderingly exasperated in trying to achieve something and dumbfoundingly incapable of completing its stated goals. Plus, and maybe it’s just the native Atlantan in me, this film’s hot-headed vision of Georgia could sure use a Mint Julep or two to cool itself down.
But, as any scholar of cinema knows, the best bad movies are united with the best good movies in that they are museum exhibits to a flaring passion for being themselves. It’s why William Castle’s work has lasted so long in the bad cinema consciousness – Castle clearly enjoyed the films he was making. Incompetent though they may have been, “hackwork” doesn’t cut it, and it doesn’t cut it for Cyborg either. Much like how the bowel-trembling inertia of Klyn’s performance threatens to give him hemorrhoids for his effort, Cyborg is clearly a film that someone put effort into, and twenty seven years later, that’s why its incompetence is not only notable but commendable.
How good is it?: 0.5/5 (we’re in rarefied company here)
Sure, but how “good” is it?: 4/5 (it has one of the most uniquely indecipherable visions of the post-apocalypse I’ve ever seen, and Klyn just pushes the whole affair over the edge)