Now, it used to be that meant you’d merely pick up the home video release of your favorite flick so that you’d enjoy the convenience of throwing it on whenever you liked; but studios, producers, and storytellers long ago hatched a way to tap into your subconscious. Secretly, they all conspired to essentially remake what was popular, package it a bit differently, and whammo! This all-new film had an instant audience. Imagine that?
Of course, this never meant that these filmmakers would match the quality of the original. What it meant logically is that they were merely trying to separate you from your money – be that at the box office or the video store (when those existed). Nowadays, they’re doing this to a small degree in the world of competing streaming platforms, but even Netflix’s overlords have stated they’re still in pursuit of ‘their version’ of a cornerstone Science Fiction and Fantasy franchise like Star Trek, Star Wars, or Battlestar Galactica. They know that it pays to be in space.
But back in the day you could expect video knockoffs of every box office hit there was … and though I’ve yet to see all of Robowar (1988) I give you my word based entirely on what I have seen this was intended to be a Predator (1987) copycat. If you don’t believe me, then just do your own Google search for images from the flick, and you’ll see that director Bruno Mattei couldn’t have squeezed any more testosterone into the snaps if he had tried.
For those who don’t know the name, Mattei was an Italian director whose storytelling sensibilities tended to lean strongly in the direction of copying the popular trends of the day. His Hell Of The Living Dead (1980) was, mostly, little more than George Romero’s Dawn Of The Dead (1978) but in a looser package. A perusal of his resume of titles on any film website will show that he dabbled largely in Horror, Science Fiction, and general exploitation yarns as well, but an argument could be made that these pictures often adapted a thread of a recent box office hit and then – ahem – dialed that element up to eleven. You know what they say? Imitation is the best form of flattery around.
Not even a deep dive Robowar indicates that Mattei’s screenwriters – Claudio Fragasso and Rossella Drudi – drank from the same trough: IMDB.com’s provided story synopsis even states that the film is a “clone/mix of Predator, Rambo, and RoboCop” … so I think it’s safe to conclude all of this was invented precisely to look like it fit in the same universe, thereby convincing potential consumers to go ahead and consume it. But getting into the plot more specifically, here’s what Wikipedia.org has to say:
“Major Murphy Black (Reb Brown) leads a group of commandos through the jungles of an unnamed island, but unknown to all involved but Mascher (Mel Davison), they are being stalked by Mashcer’s robot invention, Omega-1. Over the protests of Mascher, the group first saves a volunteer hospital worker, Virgin (Catherine Hickland), from a band of guerrillas, then take out the hospital camp, killing all the guerillas there, also. At this point, the robot begins killing members of the commando group, one by one.”
There’s a bit more, but I’ll stop at this point. Anyone who has seen Predator can easily spot the similarities between the two films – i.e. a story involving an elite military unit; the rescue of a single female; the jungle setting; the stalking of the unit by the ‘predator’ – and I think the comparison is appropos.
In any event, I’ve done a little research on it; and I do see that, in 2019, Severin Films did a limited-edition release of Robowar under their banner. (It looks like there was also a corresponding regular DVD release done simultaneously, so I’m a bit unclear as to whether or not that was also ‘limited’ in number.) Both versions are showing available for purchase on Amazon.com – for those wishing to pick up a copy and explore further. Additionally, it is available for streaming rental on Amazon.com, and I do see it posted as ‘viewable’ elsewhere for serious parties.
Interestingly enough, the title has a good rating on Amazon.com (a solid four-star out of 116 ratings as of today’s date) but a middling-to-poor score on IMDB.com (4.3 of 10.0 averaged from 1.2K viewers). Given those differences, I suppose this is a film best described as “buyer beware.”
Technically, the film premiered somewheres and sometime in Italy in 1988. That date, at present, appears lost to history. As is my policy on SciFiHistory.Net, I use the next release date in lieu of the original; and Robowar premiered on this day in 1989 in Japan.