I watched a robot shoot a hologram to death. That’s what I did today. The Killer Robots! Crash and Burn is that kind of movie. That’s all you need to know, you’re either sold on that sentence or you’re scoffing at the absurdity. I’m part of the former camp, and if you’re there with me you shouldn’t miss this weird little retro throwback.
THE KILLER ROBOTS! CRASH AND BURN
USA, 2016, Sam Gaffin
Truthfully, the movie itself feels less like a MOVIE and more like a truncated version of an eighties cartoon, and I have a feeling that was absolutely what writer-director Sam Gaffin was going for. Its simple set up, near endless cast of toyetic robotic rock stars, and bite sized chapter based structure make it feel like something that would’ve played between Silver Hawks and He-Man on Saturday mornings. The guys beneath the Killer Robots’ shiny make up wear their influences on their sleeves and if you’re a nostalgic man-baby like myself you’ll be in comfortable, safe, but entertaining territory. Having said that, it’s got its shortcomings, intentional or not, that might turn some folks off. It’s a little on the fast paced side, to a fault at times, and the cast list is a little crowded, making things a bit hard to follow here and there. If you can look past issues like this and enjoy the sheer zaniness, though, it’s plenty fun.
On the production side of things, The Killer Robots is a bit of a mixed bag. Well, that sounds a bit harsh. You know those boxes of beat up, played with action figures you find at flea markets? The ones that tend to have Ninja Turtles and Thundercats rubbing elbows with Stone Protectors and lead paint coated bootlegs? That’s this movie. It’s a visual patchwork of improvised props, miniatures, and sets cobbled together out of discarded toys – I’m almost sure I spotted Bionicle pieces in there – and nonstop green screen chaos. I won’t pretend that this look isn’t an acquired taste, in fact I’d say a lot of potential viewers may be turned off by its eccentric style. There’s a jankiness to movements and effects that, while incredibly charming in an Astron-6-esque way to me, could be hard to swallow for others. The sound suffers a similar fate with near constant robotic servo sound effects and that old school robot voice filter distorting the already over the top performances. I get what they’re going for, and it’s cool, but it can get a bit overbearing and it’s often hard to make the dialogue from some side characters.
The Killer Robots aren’t actors by trade, not in the traditional sense. This quartet of android ass kickers started life as a band, the kind of band that builds sweet stage personas and wear lots of face paint. While I’m not familiar with their music, their look and attitude really drew me in here. They’re like Kiss meets Tetsuo and I absolutely love their designs. There’s a cohesion and symmetry to their suits that tickles my fancy, nothing is overly busy and they do a great job of keeping characters distinct despite their similar color schemes. They aren’t just pretty faces, though; the characters themselves, shallow as they are, are fun. The leader, the wild card, the strong guy, and straight laced hero; you know these characters. It’s kind of tired, but the guys portraying these mechanical musicians have had so much practice over the years that they seem to have refined these cliché personas into genuinely entertaining caricatures of the tropes they draw from. Same goes for the folks playing the villains, they’re as over the top and goofy as the heroes and, at times, even funnier. (The line about a giant invisible head watching over everyone got a good chuckle out of me on delivery alone)
Since the film is such a new one, I don’t really have much in the way of history or trivia to offer, unfortunately. On the plus side, I have a direct link to the director, and that’s ALMOST as good as an infrequently updated Wikipedia page. I spoke to Sam a bit about the project after giving it a watch and asked a few questions. In regards to the inspirations behind the film, the obvious stuff is pretty… obvious. Transformers, He-Man, Thundercats – the holy trinity of retro ‘toons – served as huge inspirations, theatrical bands like Kiss and GWAR played their part, and there’s a little King Kong DNA there, as well. Many of the props were in fact mishmashes of existing toys, and in at least one situation the crew bought them by the literal truck load. Sam and company have been playing these characters for twelve years, which shows in their naturally unnatural acting and vigor. You really feel the fun they have playing these characters.
Overall, The Killer Robots! Crash and Burn, while in no way perfect, is a great time. It makes some stylistic choices that may turn off some viewers, but if the audio and visuals click with you you’re in for a nostalgia trip with lots of action, some laughs, and inventive set and suit designs. Its dialogue may not be as punchy as its contemporaries, but the impressive visual design and the genuine sense of fun still make it worth a watch. It won’t change your world, but it might teach you the secret of the universe.
The movie is currently available on VOD through a number of sources, you can check out the Killer Robots site for a breakdown of your purchase options. Sam mentioned that a DVD is in the works as well and may be available by August.