After World War Three devastated the planet, the rival powers decided there had to be a better way to settle international disputes, and so the notion of the Robot Jox was dreamt up as a compromise. With this battle, two huge robots were piloted by two opposing men representing their side, a spectator sport which would occasionally result in death if one pilot opted to destroy the other, but at least did not involve the massacre of countless civilians. For the West, there is one champion who stands up above all others, and he is Achilles (Gary Graham) - but he is about to be brought down...
It's safe to say this film had a troubled production history, with its parent company Empire struggling to make ends meet while it was being shot and the release being delayed for a couple of years after which it was edited together and put out a handful of cinemas to general indifference. However, on home video it took on a life of its own, and as the idea had been to create a kind of live action Transformers (something that would not occur for a couple of decades) it appealed to those who had played with such toys - it did, after all, feature giant robots smashing each other up.
Although if you were being picky, you could really have done with a lot more of the robot smashing and less of the human interest, for the special effects from Dave Allen's team were the true highlight. In the first half hour, Achilles loses his confidence in a battle for Alaska and its oil and timber, because his opponent, the hissable Russian Alexander (Paul Koslo), fires a rocket powered fist at him which almost hits a stand filled with spectators. Luckily, Achilles stops the missile - unluckily, his machine is knocked over onto the crowd, killing quite a few of them.
After that it's a downward spiral into alcoholism for our hero, but the first woman to be trained as a pilot, the test tube-grown Athena (Anne-Marie Johnson), is angered at what she feels is him letting down millions for an incident that was not his fault. She becomes a sort of love interest for Achilles, but is really too strong-willed for him, as we see in the climax where she is determined to take on Alexander in the rematch at any cost. Joe Haldeman's script sketches in interesting details for this future world, with advertising for pregnancy for example, to increase the dwindled population.
But really this is an allegory for the Cold War, so it's East versus West once again, a topic a little out of date by the time Robot Jox had been eventually released. With generosity towards its characters and an essential optimism, the film posits a way to thaw the conflict in a pacifist manner, but not before we have been treated to some over the top action, of course. It's that last twenty minutes that truly redeem Robot Jox, with the two vehicles resembling Swiss army knives of weaponry as they go hammer and tongs to blast each other into oblivion. They even travel to space at one point, all the better to show off some very impressive effects that mark an improvement on the patent cost-cutting elsewhere in the film. It may have been low budget, but this has its charms. Music by Frédéric Talgorn.
American director of horror and sci-fi, who made his debut in 1985 with Re-Animator, following 15 years working in theatre in Chicago. This HP Lovecraft adaptation was a spectacular mix of chills, black comedy and inventive splatter, but while it still remains his best film, the likes of From Beyond, Dolls, The Pit and the Pendulum, Space Truckers and Dagon do have their moments. He followed these with the David Mamet adaptation Edmond and true crime-inspired Stuck. Gordon also wrote the story for the box office smash Honey, I Shrunk the Kids.