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Mockbusters: 6 Retro Movie Ripoffs!

By: jkatz

As long as there have been smash hit blockbuster movies, you can count on a competing studio standing by, ready to make a quick buck by copying the best aspects of that movie in order to lure in audiences. Imagine being in a pre-internet world where streaming and file sharing didn't exist yet, and even home video isn't widespread. Your chances of seeing Spielberg's 'Jaws' again after the local movie theater stops showing it are slim, but here's an Italian movie about a killer shark to tide you over. These ripoffs were often little more than low-budget, trashy, and shameless exploitation movies with borrowed concepts-which is what makes them so much fun. Mockbusters are still made today, mostly by studios like The Asylum, but it's just not the same. Movies like Transmorphers and Sinister Squad don't really have a place in the world where the real thing can be acquired so easily. In fact, I'm not sure anybody even buys these movies anymore, except for maybe the occasional confused and out of touch grandma. Sure, you could argue that people still watch these because they're "so bad they're good", but having seen a few Asylum productions myself, and going by typical reviews on sites like IMBD, I don't feel any hesitation in calling them just plain bad. Besides, we're all about the vintage and the retro here, so anything from the 80s or earlier automatically gets a few points. Below are a few of my favorite mockbusters from back in the day. If you've ever wanted to watch your favorite 80s movie, only cheaper and sleazier, you can't go wrong with these picks!


Escape from New York/After the Fall of New York

In the far-off year of 2019, New York City is a veritable no-man's land; a dilapidated place where danger lurks on every corner, and gangs of hideous mutants roam the streets to prey on the innocent. For the younger readers out there, this is also an accurate description of the real life NYC up until the 1990s.

The main character Parsifal (the sadly underused Michael Sopkiw), is a likable enough Snake Plissken facsimile. No eye patch, but he does wear a bizarre chainmail/leather jacket, a hybrid as insidious as the union of the 1980s and Italian B-movies that spawned it. He's ordered to locate and deliver the last fertile woman to a weakened US government in a world where no child has been born in over 15 years. And yes, that's also the same basic premise as Children of Men. This woman is hidden somewhere among the ruins in New York. Assisting Parsifal will be two hardened veterans who know the area. Opposing him is the Euracs, a tyrannical army that controls the city, and many other surprises...

If I had to describe this movie in one word, it would be fun. I don't know what the budget was (and I'm too lazy to check), but I wouldn't be surprised if it was higher than usual for a movie of this type. In any case, the production is top notch. The action rarely slows down and is well choreographed (for a B-movie), and the story shifts locations to keep your attention (a sign that there were more resources to work with). There's even some decent car stunts thrown in! What's really great is that while yes, Escape is obviously the number one influence, the filmmakers weren't lazy about it by doing a direct remake. They add unique touches to give it some character of its own, as only the Italians can. Take for example, the tribe of little people living underneath the United Nations (!) It has absolutely no bearing on the story at all, but it's enough to make you do a double take and go, “what!?” and it's wonderful.

Best line: "The President sent us. He says there's a woman around here who can make babies."


The Road Warrior/The New Barbarians

In this post-apocalyptic future (also set in 2019), a gang of raiders calling themselves the Templars roam the wasteland, murdering any remaining enclaves of survivors they come across. It's up to a loner known as Scorpion to stop the Templars' massacre and their sadistic leader, named One, in order to allow life to flourish and to give civilization the chance to rebuild itself.

There were numerous Mad Max clones sprinkled throughout the 80s, and this is one of the trashier (and therefore more entertaining) ones. It meets all the superficial requirements a post-apocalyptic movie needs: wacky future hair, wacky future cars, and even wackier future outfits. Check out Fred Williamson's gold and leather getup! Rest assured, there's plenty of action and violence, and it's all a delight to watch in no small part due to the director. Enzo G. Castellari directed a lot of movies like this and while not all of them are winners, as you’ll see later, they are all reliably entertaining. The movie also has a twisted sense of humor. Watch for the scene where One... um, “asserts his dominance” over Scorpion. It sets up the punchline for his ironic death scene. This is just one of the things that helps Barbarians stand out from the rest of its post-nuke brethren.

Best line: “The world is dead...it raped itself!”


Star Wars/Message from Space

The Gavanas, rulers of an evil galactic empire, pursue a princess desperately seeking help to save her home planet from their invasion (sound familiar yet?). Her people, the Jillucians, cast out 8 “Liabe seeds” (that are clearly walnuts) in order to find eight worthy warriors who will defeat the Gavanas and rescue them. The eight unlikely heroes will have to put aside their differences and work quickly, because in the meantime the Gavanas have set their sights on conquering Earth next…

Vic Morrow, who infamously perished during the making of the Twilight Zone movie, plays a grizzled war vet who’s constantly trying to drown his sorrows in whiskey, and martial arts movie icon Sonny Chiba also has a small role. Nobody you ever heard of plays the rest of the characters. Of all the entries on this list, this Japanese offering is probably the least derivative of its inspiration while also being the most creative and imaginative of the lot. Sure, they borrowed tropes like the robot sidekick, cosmic dogfights, and cocky spaceship pilots from Star Wars, but honestly, Message from Space owes a lot more to Akira Kurosawa’s film The Seven Samurai. And don’t even get me started on the connection between The Hidden Fortress and Star Wars. To write this off as just a Star Wars ripoff is a little unfair. So why am I including it here? Because Toei, the studio that produced this, actually had the Japanese government delay the release of Star Wars until the public watched the domestic version! For me at least, the film’s Japanese touches stand out a lot more than the attempts to imitate Star Wars. The princess’s spaceship for example, is a literal ship- sails and all! And it’s downright hard to look at the main bad guy, Emperor Roxseias (bottom right in the picture above), and not picture him and his army showing up in an episode of Power Rangers or Kamen Rider. If you’re a fan of old school anime like Captain Harlock or Space Battleship Yamato, you’ll find a lot to like about Message from Space.

Best line: “We’ve brought back something else, your majesty...a creature capable of thought!”


First Blood/Rambu, the Intruder

Rambu is a simple guy. He enjoys the little things in life, like beating up loan sharks, wearing ridiculously low cut shirts and tall, cool glasses of milk. But when a kingpin has his wife killed as retribution...well, you can guess for yourself what happens. Here’s a hint: a lot of people get beaten up and a lot of things get blown up. I wish I had more to say about the plot, but that’s just the kind of movie this is.

Rambu is an enjoyably trashy flick that comes to us from Indonesia. Everything there is to like about 80s low budget direct-to-video action movies is here, from hilarious line delivery to excessive violence (though surprisingly, virtually no nudity). When the villain is named John White, you know you’re watching a motion picture with subtlety and nuance. There’s even a bizarre scene with a convoy of motor carts that makes the whole thing feel much more like a Bollywood production rather than the Stallone vehicle the filmmakers were so desperate to emulate.

Best Line: “Hold it right there, Rambu. We’ve got you covered like a blanket!”


Predator/Robowar

Oh boy, now we’re really getting into trashy territory! The writing team that brought you Troll 2 have done it again! With Bruno Mattei, the Italian Ed Wood (who in all honestly deserves a biopic of his own) directing, you can't go wrong. Unless you expect a good, competent movie. Then you'll be hurtling towards wrong as fast as can be. Remember how the original had an all-star cast of Jesse Ventura, Carl Weathers, and Ahhnuld? The biggest name here is arguably Reb Brown, who was in the MST3K-covered Space Mutiny and also played the title role in a few rightfully forgotten Captain America TV movies. There’s also Catherine Hickland, who was married at separate times to David Hasslehoff and Michael Knight. Brown plays Murphy (spelled “Marphy” in the credits) Black, the leader of a squad of special forces commandos. Their mission? To locate and apprehend Omega-1, a top secret government project that's gotten out of control and is causing trouble in the jungle. The soldiers all have cool codenames like “Diddy Bop”, “Papa Doc”, “Blood”, and “Killzone”! Remember how in the original, the Predator was shown incrementally to build up suspense, and communicated mostly in snarls and roars, to drive home the point that this was an inhuman, otherworldy creature? This movie blows both these opportunities, giving us a full view of Omega-1 pretty early on. As you can see in the pics below, its appearance is nothing to write home about. And as for its voice, it sounds like a computer’s malfunctioning text-to speech function and repeats the same few lines over and over. Much more annoying than intimidating. A fun drinking game is to count how many times you can spot something directly stolen from Predator. By the time the credits finish rolling, you'll be drunker than a g****mn sexual tyrannosaurus!

Best line: “It’s like collard green stew. If you get caught in it, you never get out of it, man.”

Plus a few others that I can’t type without them being censored. It’s almost worth watching Robowar just to hear Italy’s attempts at American-style macho dialogue. Most of it will have you laughing in disbelief.

The Last Shark/Jaws

As was the case with New Barbarians, this wasn't the first or the last movie to try to cash in on the success of Jaws. There have been endless variations with almost any animal you can think of- squids, crocodiles, lions-you name it. What makes this particular one stand out is that Universal Studios sued the US distributor and successfully had it banned from theaters! Apparently this ban is still in effect; Universal put the kibosh on an attempted screening at the Alamo Drafthouse Theater a few years ago. James Franciscus, who had a long and varied career in television, is a two-for-one Brody/Hooper hybrid. Vic Morrow shows up again to fulfill the Quint role and he does it with a gloriously cheesy Scottish brogue. The two take it upon themselves to stop a gigantic shark that has been terrorizing a coastal resort town.

I’ll say it: this is a bad movie. It’s not one bit embarrassed about being a shameless Jaws clone, nor does it shy away from some truly laughable special effects. For above water scenes, director Castellari uses an immobile open mouth shark head that awkwardly bobs with the waves and roars (?), and for scenes that take place below, the film switches between blatantly obvious stock footage of sharks and painfully obvious toy sharks. Sharknado and even Jaws: The Revenge have nothing on this. Finally, the opening theme song, which is puzzlingly titled “Hollywood Bigtime” and has nothing to do with the movie, is actually pretty great.

Best line: "One thing's for sure- it sure wasn't a floating chainsaw!"


Bonus: 3 Mighty Men

This is one isn't ripping off any specific movie, but it's just too weird to not include in my list. Not only is this a movie where Spider-Man is a notorious criminal mastermind, Captain America and El Santo are dragged into this mess as well. Needless to say, Marvel was not consulted before this endeavor! But don’t expect any shield slinging or web swinging in this low brow, low budget Turkish flick. Once you get past the shock of seeing your favorite superheroes in an unlicensed production, it’s a fairly standard B-movie where the bad guy just happens to be a psychopath with a thing for dressing up in a costume...and murdering people! Don’t let that stop you from appreciating the finer details, like Cap and Santo’s garish 70s attire or the creative ways Spider-Man deals with those who have wronged him! You can read more about this amazing movie here.

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Hoju Koolander Posted on Apr 11, 2018 at 05:13 AM

Wow, just the kind of garbage I love and have been tracking down on Amazon Prime Video lately. But these are like Z-Grade cheese. I wanna know more about Diddy Bop and Killzone in Robowar. That one looks like a lot of fun.

jkatz Posted on Apr 10, 2018 at 06:22 AM

I'm thinking some of these would be good for the RetroDaze Theater...;)

Vaporman87 Posted on Apr 10, 2018 at 05:58 AM

Every one of these look superbly awful. Pure gold. There needs to be Rifftrax commentary for all of these.

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