Tagline: Mandroid. Mercenary. Scientist. Ninja. Each one a specialist. Together they are ELIMINATORS!
Director: Peter Manoogian
Writers: Paul De Meo, Danny Bilson
Starring: Andrew Prine, Denise Crosby, Patrick Reynolds, Conan Lee, Roy Dotrice, Peter Schrum, Peggy Mannix, Fausto Bara, Tad Horino
PG | 1hr 36min | Action, Adventure, Sci-Fi
For the most part, Eliminators is like Star Wars on an A-Team budget, but the comparisons don’t stop there. Produced by low budget sci-fi maestro Charles Band, the movie is a savvy exercise in cultural marketing which taps into a plethora of 80s hits and features the kind of characters which probably would have resulted in a successful toy range were its financial aspirations just a tad higher. The movie’s lead character, Mandroid (Reynolds), is a mixture of The Terminator, Robocop and a character from high concept kids cartoon Centurions: a half man, half machine with detachable tank tracks and enough gimmicky weapons and tools to put Inspector Gadget out of business. In terms of appealing to its demographic, Mandroid is a wonder of resourcefulness.
Eliminators also gave us one of the most memorable and talked about posters of an era in which canvas art was king. Oftentimes, it didn’t matter if a movie was any good. All that was needed was a striking image to stand out among the plethora of VHS releases as the home video market reached its apotheosis and your product was guaranteed to fly off the shelves. Eliminators isn’t a bad movie. In fact, regardless of its humble ambitions, it is a whole heap of fun, with a dose of ’80s nostalgia that is bound to leave kids of the era feeling woozy. It also gives us the kind of promotional aesthetics that wooed many an impressionable eye. Even if you didn’t see this movie as a kid, dollars to doughnuts you’ll remember the poster. It’s just impossible to resist.
But there is much more to Eliminators than promotional skullduggery. As well as being the film’s commercial poster boy, Mandroid also provides a moral conflict worthy of mainstream sci-fi, struggling with his semi-human predicament while attempting to curtail the dastardly inhumane deeds of a bunch of slack-jawed baddies and their egomaniacal charge. His emotional quandary is almost identical to that of Paul Verhoeven’s Murphy character as he struggles with retrograde amnesia and the conflict of not belonging to either side of the organic coin. Interestingly, Eliminators was released a whole year before the bigger budget Robocop, resulting in at least one instance in which the movie’s influences are not so clear cut.
The rest of the Eliminators are straight out of the Star Wars franchise. This may not be a galaxy far, far away, but all the other ingredients are there in spades, its main differences typically a byproduct of the film’s financial shortcomings. Instead of the vastness of outer space our heroes traverse a closely shot wilderness no bigger than a national park, while the Death Star is instead a dingy, underground lab in Mexico that is something akin to the gaudy Mel Brooks sets found in the likes of Young Frankenstein. However, the movie’s most transparent comparisons come in the form of its thinly sketched, yet instantly recognisable characters.
First there is the movie’s Han Solo clone, Harry Fontana (Prine). In terms of charm, Fontana is the real star of the movie, a smug and selfish smuggler who eeks a living escorting passengers across treacherous waters on his trusty, piece of junk boat. Sound familiar? Harry is in it solely for the money until reluctant sweetheart Nora Hunter (Crosby) brings out the best in him.
Playing the role of the Jedi is Conan Lee’s Kuji, a ninja warrior with spiritual powers who sets off on a mission to find and ultimately avenge his father. There is even a cute little droid which bleeps and teases and generally acts as the comic relief, sharing a strong bond with creator Nora, who is actually the scientist behind Mandroid’s synthetic parts, although she is understandably horrified to discover that her work has been bastardised by the morally corrupt professor Abbot Reeves (Dotrice).
Mandroid was discovered after a plane crash by the egomaniacal Reeves, a thespian villain who is three parts Evil Emperor, one part Darth Vader. Reeves has been sending Mandroid back in time to the decadent days of Ancient Rome, where he eventually intends to travel back to himself, becoming the ruler of civilisation and altering the future irrevocably. Dotrice adds some much welcome acting clout to a movie crammed with Cannonball Run boat chases and tongue-in-cheek battles as gaudy as they are infectious.
In relative B-movie terms, Eliminators is actually very well made, and though the movie is little more than a derivative pastiche of other popular ’80s productions, it is so to its credit, proving itself a uniquely memorable piece of plagiarism which carries its own inimitable charm. From the movie’s iconic cover art to its cheapjack special effects and gimmicky characters, this is B-grade ’80s excess at its very best and a true classic of the VHS era.
After being faced with a gun that ‘turns your atoms inside out’, high-kicking stealth assassin Kuji clogs the cannon’s mechanism with his throwing dagger, causing the machine to glow red and throb into nonexistence along with the two hick cronies manning it.
Most Absurd Moment
While penetrating the tunnels of Reeves’ underground lair, the gang run into a slight problem: the only feasible passage to his lab is blocked by a razor-sharp fan which spins at the speed of a motorboat propeller, and with the option of sabotaging the engine out of reach, their mission seems doomed. That is until Kuji somehow manages to dive through a gap in the propeller, which although seen in slow motion doesn’t slow down, making his feat about as far beyond the realms of plausibility as you could ever stretch to imagine. A mouse pepped up on amphetamines could not have overcome those margins.
Most Blatant Star Wars Rip Off
After being captured by an indigenous race not unlike the Ewoks, the Han Solo of the waters, Harry Fontana, manages to squeeze a fully blown kiss with the shocked and dishonored Nora into an escape plan involving throwing some bullets into a fire. Later, Fontana’s Princess Leia confronts him on the matter.
Nora Hunter: ‘You know, they don’t speak English.’
Harry Fontana: ‘So what?’
Nora Hunter: ‘Well, why didn’t you just say ‘Nora, throw your bullets in the fire’?’
Harry Fontana: Wouldn’t have gotten a free smooch.