5 Early ’90s Badass Sci Fi Gems That Deserve Another Look
Posted On June 6, 2020
All right, back to business. As the temps enter the ’90s, and we see the 30th anniversary of Total Recall‘s release (June 1, 1990), lets take a look at some less successful (yet no less entertaining) movies released in the early ’90s.
This will kick off a series of posts focusing on Badass Sci Fi in the ’90s. Here, we’ve got your hidden gems, and I’m working on posts for No-Brainers, Some-Brainers, and guilty pleasures (of which there were many).
Let’s get to it.
This was the movie that sparked my desire to write a post about underappreciated ’90s sci fi movies.
I recently watched Lost Soul: The Doomed Journey of Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr. Moreau. It’s fantastic, by the way. Here’s a link to a great story on Richard Stanley-
Then, I went back and rewatched Hardware. On its surface, it looks like a dingy mashup of The Terminator, Blade Runner, and Escape From New York, but there’s something deeper going on behind the camera.
There’s a hallucinogenic tint to film. Everything from Mandelbrot fractals to diffused laser back lighting are used to magnify the effect. You can feel Stanley trying to convey a larger meaning to a film confined by studio backing.
Music takes center stage in many key sequences; true cyberpunk. Aside from the score by Simon Boswell, a haunting mix of ominous synths, and eastern and western strings, and Stabat Mater; a Latin hymn on the suffering of the Virgin Mary at the crucifixion, there’s only four songs.
Iggy Pop’s Cold Steel and Motorhead’s Ace of Spades are briefly heard in the early stages of the film. Iggy Pop plays the radio DJ, Angry Bob (voice only), and Lemmy appears as a taxi driver.
During a crucial part where the female protagonist, Jill (Stacy Travis), constructs her masterpiece using the parts of a killer robot and a mass of doll heads she melts with a blow torch, Ministry’s Stigmata fuels her creative madness.
Public Image Ltd’s The Order of Death adds a taunting chorus to the score, with John Lydon’s (AKA Johnny Rotten from the Sex Pistols) “This is what you want… This is what you get.” punctuating the carnage.
Fortress, directed by the recently departed Stuart Gordon (Re-Animator, From Beyond) has always been a favorite of mine. Hardware started my journey into the relatively obscure, but Fortress was always the destination.
It’s all about the star power in Fortress. We know about Christopher Lambert. He’s an awful actor, but that somehow makes everything he’s in a little more endearing (we’ll get to Highlander 2: The Quickening in the guilty pleasures post).
But he’s well protected by an army of B-movie titans in Fortress. You have to start with Stuart Gordon favorite Jeffery Combs (Herbert West), who revels in the bizarre, playing a wacky bomber named D-Day. Kurtwood Smith (Clarence Boddicker) is appropriately slimy as the prison director, Poe, but the role is nowhere near as colorful as the one in Robocop.
I could have easily turned this into a Vernon Wells (Wez in The Road Warrior) greatest hits post. He’s great as Maddox, with a big 187 carved in his forehead. You have Tom Towles (Otis in Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer, The Devils’ Rejects), Lincoln Kilpatrick (The Omega Man, Soylent Green), and Clifton Gonzales Gonzales (Clifton Collins Jr.- Pacific Rim) joining the fun.
If we’re talking mashups, this would be The Running Man meets The Shawshank Redemption. A very well executed futuristic prison actioner.
CIRCUITRY MAN (1990)
Circuitry Man was a product of the home video explosion. At a time when dozens of cheap knockoff were being thrown on the shelves of your local video store, it was hard to stand out, but this one did.
Vernon Wells (Plughead) Steals the show, but there’s an atmosphere and avant-garde energy that hard to resist. The main characters are somewhat bland, but the supporting cast stands tall. It’s just a fun watch, and has one of my favorite lines in a movie ever, delivered by Dennis Christopher (Breaking Away, Chariots of Fire).
CLASS OF 1999 (1990)
I’m pretty sure The Faculty (1998), which I’ll talk about in a later post, owes a great deal to this film. From the motley crew of misfit teenagers throwing aside their differences, to the evil teachers, most prominently displayed by the sadistic PE teacher.
It’s a well executed, highly entertaining piece of post-punk sci fi pulp, and is graced by the presence of Malcolm McDowell (A Clockwork Orange), Pam Grier (Escape From LA), Stacy Keach (Escape From LA), and the aforementioned Patrick Kilpatrick as the gym teacher from hell.
It’s even got that kid in it…
You know, the kid from River’s Edge and Near Dark. What is his name? Joshua John Miller.
DEATH MACHINE (1994)
This is the ultimate cyberpunk mashup. I mean, look at the Frontline Morale Destroyer AKA “Warbeast”. The shape, the angle of the shot, even the color scheme scream Aliens.
But that’s just the start. We go from killer robot hunting people (The Terminator) to humans using cybernetically enhanced body armor and weapons (Robocop) to everyone fleeing through dank and oddly humid warehouses (Alien).
Here are some of the character’s names: Jack Dante, Hayden Cale, John Carpenter, Raimi, Yutani, Weyland, and Scott Ridley.
And here’s the Robocop-esque character saying “I’ll Be Back.”
These would all be red flags if the film wasn’t made with such flair. Writer/Director Stephen Norrington is no noob. He did special effects work on Aliens and Split Second and directed Blade and The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen.
There are two notable performances as well. Brad Dourif (Dune, Child’s Play) plays the maniacally unhinged inventor of the Warbeast. And a very young, very blonde Richard Brake (3 From Hell, 31, Doom) makes his screen debut as a weaselly corporate chairman of the board.
The film delights in its own low-budget thematic plagiarism, and so will you.
As always, thanks for reading!
Until next time, don’t bother me. I’m playing with my new Warbeast!
And don’t forget to check out Opposable!