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: R.O.T.O.R.
 Judge. Jury. Executioner.
Released by:
 Imperial Entertainment Corp
 Cullen Blaine

click to embiggen

Plot: A lethal robot created with the intention to fight crime escapes from the development lab and goes on a violent rampage.

Thoughts: It was often a rarity when an obscure exploitation film with a totally kick ass video cover actually lived up to the promise of its box art. R.O.T.O.R. is not one of them. Its sublime artwork looks like a cyborg version of Mad Max with a leather jacketed and pistol pointing robot getting ready to serve up some justice under the backdrop of a post-apocalyptic sky. I mean just look at it! What teenage geek with a pair of eyeballs wouldn’t be intrigued by that cover?

The film appears to take place in a near future where everything looks like the early eighties, even though it was made and released in the late eighties. It tells the tale of a man named Coldyron (Richard Gesswein) who has created a prototype cyborg built to serve law enforcement named R.O.T.O.R. (Robotic Tactical Operation Research). The mechanical cop is programmed to do anything from aerobics to Tai chi to karate, but its brain is not yet developed enough to be placed on the violent streets of Dallas.

Unfortunately, a jive talkin’, sexual harrassin’, Apache Indian custodian named Shoeboogie (!!!) accidently activates R.O.T.O.R. when his Walkman sparks the control panel somehow. The mechanical cop takes off on his motorcycle with his primary program to “judge and execute” any lawbreakers he encounters. He happens upon a young couple speeding in their car, so he pulls them over and shoots the man in the head instead of issuing him a ticket. The girl takes off and the homicidal android spends the entire movie chasing her.

Luckily for her, Coldyron has teamed up to catch the rogue robot with the cyborg’s original designer Dr. Steele (Jayne Smith), a muscle bound female scientist with a skunk stripe in her hair. Fortunately for everyone, R.O.T.O.R. is easily incapacitated by honking car horns and loud, bad eighties music. This leads us to one of the most lethargic action scenes ever filmed in the history of cinema and an ending that’s so uber-cynical, it seems out of place with everything we’ve witnessed thus far.

This is a C-movie version of Robocop meets The Terminator that was made for the amount of the craft service bill on one of those features. There is a lot of terrible voice dubbing, awful stop motion animation, bad self-referential humor and a musical score that sounds like a monkey beating on a Casio. The R.O.T.O.R. is pretty unintentionally hilarious looking, with one of the cheesiest mustaches I’ve ever seen on a cyborg before. Why the filmmakers wouldn’t have the guy shave it off is a mystery that will forever drive me mad. Comic relief comes in the form of a wisecracking Short Circuit-styled robot-cop who’s bucking for a promotion to project chief. That’s right. In closing, R.O.T.O.R. is a piece of S.H.I.T., but it’s not without a certain charm for being just that.


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