Theme Song: There’s a bunch of synth-violin music by veteran composer Paul Zaza and it’s all the typical 1986-era, sci-fi soundtrack fare.
Interesting Dated References: Snorting a huge line of cocaine off a polished geode slice, putting your robe on, and saying, “I got some thinking to do.” We should all be so lucky to spend our time wearing robes and snorting fat lines of cocaine off polished stones. Think of how much work we could get done! And how about all the miserable conversations we could have!?
That would be a lot of fun.
Best Line: There are several cheesy lines of dialogue throughout the film, but nothing worth singling out. There’s also a lot of 80s technical computer talk that is terrible.
Social Context: The Vindicator is basically a rip-off of the Frankenstein story, but set in 1986. The same allegories from that story apply here: Man’s desire to control, create, destroy, etc. Also, many nerds will point out this movie has similarities to Robocop, but was released the year before. I don’t think that matters much, since lots of movies feature robot-men running around and getting revenge and/or vindication.
Summary: A group of scientists are in a lab experimenting with monkeys. They tease one chimp until it is so filled with rage it literally goes ape-shit and dies.
The gist of the experiment is that this scientist with a perfect beard is trying to make a device to control rage via remote control. Obviously this is going to be an important plot devise, so they decide to call the thing a “Rage Response Activator.”
Do you understand how perfectly groomed this guy’s beard is? This is a beard only existent on a Just For Men box. It’s impregnable. If he were eating a cookie or other crumb producing treat, the crumbs would simply roll down the surface of his beard to the ground. There’s no way any food object could crack the surface of the beard and thereby embarrass him in the lab.
Then we flash to a guy named Carl, who is with his pregnant wife. In this movie, anytime someone is at home, they are wearing a robe. Even though Carl’s wife is pregnant, she implies they should try to have twins. She either has a very limited knowledge of her reproductive system, or is walking around with two separate uteri.
The next day Carl goes to work in the science lab, where he yells at his boss and the perfectly-bearded scientist about cutting his budget. After he leaves, the two conniving, animal-abusing scientists rig an accident to kill Carl so they can preserve his body for their experiments.
This is what a super-high tech computer interface looked like in 1986. They manage to sync up Carl’s dead brain to a computer. The Achilles’ heel is they forget to connect the Rage Response Activator so Carl will be unable to control his reactions to any and all threats. I know that makes no sense, but without this single device the movie would fall apart and we would be unable to compare the movie to Frankenstein.
At first, Carl looks like he’s trying to be a techno DJ. Since he is unable to control his rage, he has to violently escape the lab and ends up getting burned in a garbage incinerator.
Carl looks a little cooler as some type of burned-up, half-robot/half-human thing. The costume was designed by Stan Winston (Manimal, Terminator, Aliens) who seemed to utilize a lot of leftover ideas from Terminator.
So Carl heads to his house to see his wife, despite the fact he is a robot and has no voice. Luckily for Carl, his wife is an underground electronic musician with a full keyboard, reel-to-reel, amp, and studio monitor set-up. Carl uses his psychic robot abilities to channel his voice through the Fostex amp.
Carl explains to her he is still alive, can’t control his rage, and the lab is responsible and evil. Since Carl’s wife is an underground electronic musician, this means Carl was the sole breadwinner for the family. That will explain why his wife flies off in a rage the next day and demands to know the truth about what happened to Carl.
Meanwhile, Carl entertains children in the junkyard by lifting heavy objects, almost totally oblivious to the fact he’s being hunted by perfectly-bearded scientist thugs who want to destroy him.
Eventually Carl goes to the bearded scientist’s house and kills him, but not before we watch the guy do coke. And get a good look at this righteous poster on his bedroom wall.
Then Pam Grier shows up as some type of bounty hunter who was hired by the laboratory. She and her team shoot some weird type of animated laser semen at Carl’s belly, which they have been told is his weak spot.
It’s worth noting that for the entire movie everyone keeps calling the robot version of Carl by his human first name. They never once refer to it as, “The Vindicator,” or anything interesting. They don’t even change Carl into some type of acronym like, “C.A.R.L. (Cybord Android Robot Lifeform)” Nope, they just keep saying, “We have to get Carl,” and stuff like that. Carl has to be the third least-threatening name in the world (Carl Weathers aside). Pam Grier does keep saying, “Spaceman,” over and over, which gets annoying.
After taking the time to record a back-masked message for his wife on her Fostex reel-to-reel, Carl shows his wife his real face, which is pretty awesome looking. He looks like Eddie of Iron Maiden fame.
Things really start to lose focus in the last third of the movie when Carl’s former coworker Burt (the second least-threatening name in the world, Burt Young aside) tries to seduce Carl’s wife. This is all the more unbelievable because Burt is played by Maury Chaykin.
After Chaykin is killed, Carl goes to confront Pam Grier and the head of the laboratory, Alex. Then there’s like a 45-minute showdown in the laboratory, featuring more robot creatures and explosions. In the closing scene, Carl’s wife is in a museum with her child, looking at a display case with Carl’s exoskeleton and some people mumble about him being a hero. That is to say, he was, “vindicated.”
Poster and Box Art: The Vindicator seems to have been direct-to-video (at least in US markets). The result is the boring fiery Key Video box featured above. The movie was originally filmed as Frankenstein ’88, but was quickly renamed The Vindicator to cash-in on the success of The Terminator.
I was able to find this righteous logo from the European release. They make it look like some type of awesome band you would want to listen to in your garage while lifting weights. Certainly better than the generic computer font of the U.S. release.
There’s also a few versions of this well-illustrated poster used in foreign markets. Interesting choice to have a version with his faceplate and without.
Availability: Used VHS on Amazon. This director also did Visiting Hours and Eddie and the Cruisers II: Eddie Lives! if you care.