Here it is, the summer of 2010 and one of the hit blockbuster movies happens to be IRON MAN 2, the latest Hollywood Super Hero extravaganza. We here at DVD Drive-In salute another summer of costumed crusaders by reviewing a topical piece of retro cinema which probably didn’t cost as much to produce as one of Robert Downey Jr.’s new tailored suits. A Spanish made effort, SUPERSONIC MAN comes on DVD from VCI Entertainment, promising “A Super Spoof of Super Heroes” and with the added bonus of the Italian-made space opera THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS, which doesn’t sweeten the deal but makes for a night’s entertainment where the cheese is melted and spread extra thick.
Made in 1979, SUPERSONIC MAN tells of a hero created in space and brought to Earth to fight crime. Antonio Cantafora (here billed as “Michael Coby”), recognizable sans mustache from Mario Bava’s BARON BLOOD, plays Paul, who when uttering the magical phrase “May the Great Force of the Galaxy Be With You” into his wristwatch, transforms into the amazing Kronos, aka Supersonic (played by the beefy José Luis Ayestarán). A clunky robot which looks like it stepped out of a lost 1951 kinescope, helps a small army of villains (who use a laundry truck as a getaway car) kidnap the prestigious Professor Morgan (who exclaims, “what kind of tomfoolery is this?” at the sight of the boxy mechanical clunker, equipped with a built-in flamethrower) and carry out a robbery. It’s all part of a plan to take over the world by master villain Dr. Gulik (the legendary Cameron Mitchell, collecting some hooch and lunch money).
Supersonic (adorned in red tights and a sequined blue cape and cowl) is given even more powers than Superman, or so it seems. He has the ability to fly, see through walls, lift bulldozers to aid damsels in distress, transform handguns into bananas, and most importantly, use his powers to nab a restaurant kitchen’s bottle of champagne for a little late night romancing. Professor Morgan’s beautiful daughter Patricia (Diana Polakov, THE PEOPLE WHO OWN THE DARK) is the object of the Super Stud’s affection, and also under his protection, but she too is kidnapped. After our hero escapes drowning and a killer shark, gets involved in a comical bar room brawl and the audience has to endure a recurring joke involving an alcoholic and his pet beagle protesting against drinking (which culminates in an alien abduction!), Supersonic stumbles upon Dr. Gulik’s space-age headquarters for the climatic showdown.
Directed by Juan Piquer Simon (the anti-auteur behind such assorted masterpieces as MYSTERY ON MONSTER ISLAND, PIECES and SLUGS), SUPERSONIC MAN is a blatant rip-off of Richard Donner’s SUPERMAN and other then-recent Hollywood fantasy flicks (that “May the Great Force” slogan couldn’t be more obvious, could it?) but on such a shoestring, it could only be passed off as a spoof. The dull Antonio Cantafora looks like a cut-rate Franco Nero, but his alter ego Supersonic resembles some sort of ridiculous masked Mexican wrestler. Chroma-keyed shots of Supersonic soaring through the air are the worst since the 1970s live action Saturday morning SHAZAM! series, and if that wasn’t bad enough, an action figure dangling on wires is also substituted. Cameron Mitchell (who we love, but let’s face it, would do ANYTHING for a paycheck) gives a maniacal performance as a James Bond-like criminal, but his real voice is replaced by someone doing a phony British accent (Mitchell suffered a similar fate in BLOOD AND BLACK LACE and MAN-EATER OF HYDRA). Shot partly in New York City (look for a theater marquee advertising the ’79 BUCK ROGERS movie) for that great American look and feel, the film also features Spanish exploitation character actors Frank Bana (RETURN OF THE EVIL DEAD) and Luis Barboo (THE EROTIC RITES OF FRANKENSTEIN) in typical villainous roles.
If SUPERSONIC MAN took an idea or two (or three) from SUPERMAN, then the co-feature here, THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS was totally inspired by the groundbreaking galactic shenanigans of STAR WARS. Elder Professor Carr (Jacques Herlin) and his foxy assistant Lois (Malisa Longo, MADAM KITTY, SUPER STOOGES VS. THE WONDER WOMAN) are kidnapped by a small army of rotten humanoid cyborgs wearing silver outfits and platinum “Dutch Boy” wigs - they resemble Martin Short’s albino lounge singer character, Jackie Rogers Jr. (I hope all you SCTV fans out there know what I’m talking about!). A league of brave space men and women, lead by Captain John Boyd (Antonio Sabato, not to be confused with his more famous offspring) go on a rescue mission, fighting off the Jackie Rogers Jr. mechanical people, some blind cave dwellers and other annoying alien types. Lois becomes a sort of evil princess and is in a rivalry with the Bowie-esque Julie (Yanti Somer) over the affections of Captain John, as Sabato looks quite perplexed throughout (and who can blame him?).
THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS is part of a series of mind-numbing, late 1970s dubbed spaghetti STAR WARS clones (recycling many of the same sets, props, crew and actors) made by Alfonso Brescia (aka Al Bradly or Bradley) which include COSMOS: WAR OF THE PLANETS, STAR ODYSSEY, STAR BEAST and BATTLE OF THE WORLDS, all which have something of a reputation among bad movie fans (Brescia also did the “adult” epic BEAST IN SPACE, but that’s a whole other story). Plastic production values and hopeless special effects illustrate a horrible-looking futuristic world of tasteless art deco where black and white TV monitors are planted everywhere, and most denizens walk around in padded jumpsuits and other kitsch cosmic outfits patterned after nearly every sci-fi flick and TV show from the previous ten years. The STAR WARS influence is further emphasized by some pathetic “laser sword” dueling, space ships which turn out to be nothing more than moving photographs, and a rather endless climax with our macho heroes in their fighter ships, doing their combat thing amongst a “Lite-Brite” backdrop. Giacomo Rossi-Stuart (THE LAST MAN ON EARTH), Aldo Canti, Venantino Venantini (CITY OF THE LIVING DEAD) and other Italian exploitation stalwarts look utterly embarrassed.
SUPERSONIC MAN is presented in a 1.85:1 aspect ratio with anamorphic enhancement in a fairly decent transfer. Colors are strong but there’s a sheet of grain over the cheap film throughout the entire running time. The English-dubbed mono is perfectly adequate. THE WAR OF THE ROBOTS has been a darling of budget DVD companies (apparently its public domain) with a number of bargain bin releases already out there. Even though it’s presented here 1.85:1 with anamorphic enhancement, the image tends to look soft and grainy (and there's an occasional weird pixelation thing going on) and the framing is way too tight on both sides and the top and bottom of the screen. The mono English-dubbed audio is passable with noticeable hiss and surface noise. Extras are trailers for DARK STAR and ALIEN OUTLAW with Lash LaRue. (George R. Reis)
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