For much of the runtime it seems improbable that Cybernator, writer/director Robert Rundle's debut movie, is going to make it as far as an ending.
Country: USA | Runtime: 85mins | Director: Robert Rundle
Starring: Lonnie Schuyler, Jimmy Williams, William Smith, Christina Lucia Peralta-Ramos, Jeff Jenkins
SPOILT PLOT: It's the near future, and the ordinary citizens of a major American metropolis are routinely enhanced via cybernetic implants. Brent McCord (Schuyler), a cop with an unexplained animosity towards cyborgs, is assigned to investigate why two went nuts and killed a US Senator. The web of intrigue expands to trap both the army and the police, and ultimately leads to the death of McCord's partner, Weaver (Jenkins). McCord is taken off the case but soon goes rogue, convincing Major Wright (Williams), a disillusioned army chief, to help him. They discover that Colonel Peck (Smith) has been secretly operating an army of robot assassins, and that he and McCord are actually highly advanced cyborgs. So McCord kills him.
Lonnie Schuyler as Brent McCord, a streetwise cop who doesn't go by the book
There is literally never a moment when something awful isn't happening in Cybernator. If a shot calls for a shopfront, there's a concrete wall. If it calls for a crowd of people, there are two men and a dog. If it calls for a nightclub, there are some fairy lights hung in the corner. And if it calls for nothing but an empty background, Lonnie Schuyler will still be in front of it. Schuyler could singlehandedly recalibrate your views on bad acting. The likes of Nicolas Cage can deliver wonderful spikes of emotional absurdity and bizarre facial contortion, but Cage's highest peaks are akin to Schuyler's lowest troughs. It's rare to see such a performance at the centre of a movie, even one this low budget. There needs to be a perfect storm of bad actor, bad director and bad script to achieve something this spectacular. Usually when you research actors like this they have four credits spanning a couple of years. They either wised up or gave up, like Christina Lucia Peralta-Ramos, who plays McCord's girlfriend, Blue, and never quite reaches the lofty heights of bad 'actor', preferring to remain a bad amateur instead. Schuyler, though, still works (occasionally), and still seems to be searching for his big break 26 years after he must have assumed Cybernator would be it. There's something vaguely depressing about that..
"Cyborg scum, you got the passion of a toaster!"
But there's also something sort of sweet about this movie. It's as if all the most incompetent people in their fields gravitated together to rip off Blade Runner, and that makes it an underdog. The constant hiss on the soundtrack suggests there's a tap running somewhere; the title sequence was produced on VHS; the camera never quite manages to frame anything properly; the effects are laughable; the script is nonsensical, and so on. There is perhaps an amateur level beneath this one; from the same era movies like Science Crazed, Ax 'Em and Things could be worse. But it's rare for supposed professionals to plumb these depths.
Many of the problems are down to budget, with Rundle's home and the producer's office standing in for real sets. But we shouldn't forget how talented filmmakers tend to attract talented collaborators able to solve budget related problems. Untalented filmmakers attract William Smith, for whom this was the eighth movie appearance of the year. That it isn't the worst thing he did in 1991 is a chilling thought (Roller Blade Seven exists).
Director Robert Rundle appears as Lockjaw
The plot is the one element of the movie that's merely silly as opposed to mind boggling: basically Blade Runner by way of RoboCop and Lethal Weapon. Most of the time one scene leads to another, a bit like in a real movie, and we're more or less able to follow the narrative. There is even some misdirection involved when we're introduced to Major Wright, who initially seems to be a complete bastard, but turns out to be only somewhat of a bastard. But if a movie's greatest boast is a nearly coherent plot, you know you're watching something special.
Robert Rundle is one of the most intriguing hack filmmakers of the VHS era. Sadly he passed away in 2015, but I've researched him a little, spoken to collaborators and his first wife, the horror icon Linnea Quigley. He appears to have bewitched all those he met with a naïve charm – everyone loved him. And that seems odd when you consider his movies are some of the most offensively sexist you can imagine. Apart from a brief line from a waitress, and another from an evil cyborg, the only female characters with speaking roles (or significant screen time, for that matter) are prostitutes and strippers. Blue's profession is of no relevance to the movie, she could have been a doctor, a shop assistant or a street sweeper. But Rundle makes her a stripper and introduces her naked, which seems like overkill when there's a gratuitous sex scene moments later. It's relentless, and the theme runs through his entire, unfortunately limited, filmography.
"Humans bleed good. Humans bleed real good."
Just two features would follow Cybernator; vigilante priest movie The Divine Enforcer, and sci-fi actioner Run Like Hell, both of which are glorious. A handful of unavailable shorts are the only other fruits of an all-too-brief career.
Video: Cybernator in Under Three Minutes
Video: Acting Masterclass 4
Lonnie Schuyler and Jimmy Williams