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WORDS & VIDEOS | Tim Kincaid's Robot Trilogy

17 Apr 2018

If you thought David DeCoteau was the only hack filmmaker who spent the 1980s bouncing between budget schlock and gay porn, think again.                                                 



Tim Kincaid (formerly Tim Gambiani) was born in California in 1944 and grew up on Santa Catalina, 22 miles off the coast of Los Angeles. Out of sync with his family and the tight-knit island community, he fled to the mainland as soon as he was old enough and fell into LA's gay scene. In his 20s he started directing and starring in gay porn under the name of his alter ego, Joe Gage. The films he made in the late 1970s and early 1980s are seen as highly influential due to their depiction of gay men as ordinary, working class folk, and Joe Gage became so well known that Quentin Tarantino borrowed the monicker for Michael Madsen's character in The Hateful Eight.


 Kincaid today


By the mid 1980s Kincaid had come to question his sexuality and therefore his choice of career (he would ultimately have serious relationships with women, fathering two sons in the process), and decided to give mainstream filmmaking a go. The result was Bad Girls Dormitory (1986), a zero budget throwback. Even by the standards of the 'women in prison' subgenre this thing's offensive, but it provided an ideal segue from porn to the straight-up exploitation of his next movie, the cult hit Breeders (1986). Slightly more mature (relatively speaking), but still profoundly sexist, Breeders is about rape-happy aliens hiding beneath an urban hospital. Kincaid had a sister he really didn't get along with, which may or may not have something to do with all this.  


"Don't get me steamed, cyborg!"


With two films already released in 1986, Kincaid gained Italian distribution for a third, and the world was introduced to his majestic Robot Holocaust. This is where he really hits his stride as a good bad auteur. Set in a future in which Earth's atmosphere has become poisonous and the only inhabitable city is controlled by a malevolent machine known as The Dark One, humankind (known now as 'airslaves') has been reduced to watching topless men silently wrestle in abandoned factories. Outside the city, a race of barbarian women has adapted to the atmosphere, but is yet to re-learn the value of proper clothes. 


 The heroes of Robot Holocaust


This is the sort of movie in which snake monster glove puppets are fought off with plastic swords. Nobody on screen can act so all the exposition is handed to voiceover man, who is also responsible for filling us in on the stuff they forgot to shoot ("the mutants follow them into the tunnels." Cool, but the idea of a movie is to show us stuff like this happening). The highlight is Valaria (Angelika Jager in her only film role), assistant to the evil mechanical overlord we don't see. It's always hard to know how much sympathy actors like this deserve. They're generally given terrible dialogue, little useful guidance from the director and no opportunity to re-shoot a botched line delivery. Occasionally, though, we have to conclude that some people simply shouldn't appear on camera. Jager stumbles, forgets her lines, looks straight at the director, and rolls her eyes so wildly you become distracted by the danger they seem to be in.  


"All that remained of Jorn was his head. The rest of him had been absorbed into the Dark One."


Although conceived as a grand adventurous quest, the shooting locations are limited to wasteland and a factory, which narrows the scope somewhat. The action scenes can be painfully dull and awkward, but it all comes together with a joyous ineptitude and the film marks a fine way to kickstart a good bad trilogy.  



Just a few months after Robot Holocaust's release Kincaid gave us his follow-up, Mutant Hunt (1988). Again dealing with a future world occupied exclusively by mutants, robots, villains and heroes, it sees psychotic businessman Z (Bill Peterson) unleash a squad of newfangled cyborgs before they've had the crazy programmed out of them. Our hero, Matt Riker, is played by Kincaid favourite Rick Gianasi, and that's something for which we need to give thanks. Although he appeared in Robot Holocaust as henchman Torque, he had no dialogue and was confined to a cardboard robot costume. Here we get to bask in his full glory, and it's impossible to communicate how special that is without an audio/visual aid, check him out:



Beyond Gianasi there is much entertainment in Mutant Hunt. The cyborgs sport matching undercut hairstyles, black tunics and sunglasses, all of which makes them look uncannily like 1980s ska band Madness. They also stretch their limbs like a less convincing Inspector Gadget, and one even turns into a zombie somehow. The tone and feel are very similar to Robot Holocaust and the action scenes are even worse.  



Rounding out this triptych of trash is The Occultist aka Waldo Warren (1988), which sees cyborg private eye Waldo Warren (Gianasi, of course) hired to protect the daughter of a Caribbean despot visiting New York. Either because of her father's barbarism, or her mother's night job as a voodoo priestess, the girl seems to be in constant danger. The cyborg element is an afterthought, Warren could just as easily have been fully human. But that would mean going without a marvellous scene in which he mows down assailants in a public toilet using his penis gun. 


"You treacherous little traitor!"


It feels like the wheels have well and truly come off the Kincaid wagon by this point. Nothing really makes sense and the blend of detectives, cyborgs, political intrigue and voodoo fail to gel into a cohesive concept. What a surprise. Kincaid's apparent attempts to progress as a filmmaker fail too. For some reason he shoots many of the scenes from half a mile away, rendering the characters as tiny figures in the distance; and the man seems determined not to explain what's going on. We cut to a trio of suspicious looking men a dozen times before we find out who they are. Plot threads are left hanging, key information is withheld, character dynamics make no sense and the voodoo element is never explained. It's fantastic.


 Waldo Warren can use any part of himself as a gun (seriously)


Somehow Kincaid managed to convince Carrie Fisher to appear in his next movie, She's Back (1989), an obscure comedy that would be his final film before a self-imposed exile.

Ultimately he returned to gay porn in the 2000s while Gianasi found fame as Troma's Sgt. Kabukiman N.Y.P.D. I'm an expert on neither subject, but these three movies are gems, and they're even available on DVD. Do yourself a favour and pick them up. Still not convinced? Check out the highlights video below.





Video: Highlights from the Tim Kincaid Robot Trilogy







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