Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format warthe motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about. Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD. 

Title: The Time Guardian
Year: 1989
Genre: Sci-fi-sploitation
Tagline: Pray he’s not too late.
Released by: Orion Home Video
Brian Hannant

click to embiggen

Plot: In the 24th century, the last civilization on Earth faces extinction at the hands of a race of evil cyborgs. A futuristic warrior is sent back to our present in an attempt to save the damaged city, which is spinning out of control in both time and space.

Thoughts: A lot of us post-Star Wars junkies would do just about anything to feed the Lucas-induced monkey that were on our backs during the 80’s. This would include going after everything that looked even remotely like our drug of choice back then, to be either delighted or disappointed by the latest “space junk” we found floating around to get our fixes with. There was some good stuff here and there like Ice PiratesSolarbabies and Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone, that helped my buddies and I get through many an anxious afternoon when we were young.

As I grew older, my addiction to film increased and I found many other places to take my mind. I would always gravitate to the fantastical, but my palate had increased considerably and it would take a lot more to satisfy my cravings than merely a low budget Star Wars rip-off. I now live in an age where highly sophisticated big budget genre films are commonplace, so why would I find any pleasure in watching something from that dated era?

I’ll tell you why. It’s because I have seen it all, but sometimes I’ll discover something that I never knew existed and it will take me back to that time like a flashback to a trip I never took. That’s how I feel about The Time Guardian, which I recently found at the bottom of a dusty box of old videos that were on sale for a quarter each at a Korean video store that was going out of business. I’d never even heard of it before, but the awesome cover art and Carrie Fisher’s name in the credits made me feel like I had struck pay dirt. I did, in my own little nerdy way.

It’s an Australian made sci-fi spectacle that mixes Star Wars and The Terminator together for one tasty little stew. The opening scroll and narration tells us that it’s the year 4039 A.D. and after many terrible wars and plaques, there is only one city left on Earth that contains human civilization. Unfortunately, it’s constantly under attack from a race of killer cyborgs called the Jen-Diki whom wish to completely destroy it for some reason. I guess they’re just bitter because they were once human, but now look all mushy and grey and are forced to live inside a metal robot-body that has pincers for hands.

Luckily, the city is protected by an enormous force field that can also send the whole place traveling through time and space if it’s breached. Well, that’s what happens after the opening laser battle between the Jen-Diki and the city’s defensive forces. The Boss (Dean Stockwell in an outrageous blue costume, whose scenes look like they were all shot in a day) sends one strapping young soldier named Ballard (Tom Burlinson) back in time to the year 1988, so he can construct a rock formation that will allow the city to land in the middle of the Australian outback, because one of its support legs was damaged during the assault. He’s accompanied by Petra (Carrie Fisher looking mighty dazed and confused) who is an expert on ancient 2oth century customs (HA!).

The duo arrives wearing futuristic metal bras and are convinced by a tribe of local aborigines to change into some more suitable fashions for the time, which they just so happen to have on hand to loan out, even though the natives are dressed in loincloths. The Jen-Diki robots show up before anyone’s had a chance to catch their breath and blast Petra in the arm with a laser, making her character utterly useless and pointless. Carrie Fisher spends the rest of the film hanging out on the outskirts of town to heal, while the hero hooks up with some local blonde hottie named Annie (Nikki Coghill), who helps him with his mission and bangs him in a lake.

Eventually, after many close calls with the cyborgs and some trouble with the town’s law enforcement, the rock structure is completed and ready for the city’s landing in the desert. However, once it sets down, the Jen-Diki appears and attacks with full force. Will Ballard, The Time Guardian fulfill the destiny that his old Asian samurai friend Sun-Wah has trained him for? Or will Zuryk, the Jen-Diki leader complete his goal of destroying the entire human race? What the hell do you think?

I couldn’t help but be charmed by this little slice of Ozploitation fun as I watched it one fine afternoon at my leisure. It’s got everything a young boy craves in a movie – robots, laser battles, explosions and nudity. Carrie Fisher’s character is just an excuse to stick her in the film for the Princess Leia cache she had back then, and it clearly looks like she’s just picking up a check in-between rehab visits. The Aussie performances aren’t anything spectacular either, but the two leads are very attractive and the practical special effects are pretty damn cool looking. The final assault on the city contains some really fantastic shots!

This would be a great pizza party double bill with Starcrash. It’s definitely worth hunting down if, like me, you have a little thirteen-year-old Star Wars junkie living inside you that hasn’t “partied” in a bit. Or if you just want to enjoy some mindless entertainment, it’s probably more interesting then most of the high tech junk you’ve seen this summer at the multiplexes. Enjoy!

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