Aug 10, 2013


Something you may not know about me: Though my main love will always be the horror genre, my second love is old-school action. To me, guys like Arnold, Sly, and Chuck Norris will always be gods. It was through Stallone's recent creation of The Expendables franchise that I grew to rediscover my love for the second string guys, and this more than includes Dolph Lundgren. Between the aforementioned Expendables films (dripping with "male-pattern badness") and the newer Universal Soldier entries (Regeneration and Day of Reckoning), well...I just love Dolph. He always seems to be having more fun than any of his action hero counterparts. Though no one will ever refer to him as a strong thespian, there's no denying his larger-than-life on screen presence. So when I one day read of this film coming soon that involved the words "robots," "zombies," and "Dolph Lundgren," proverbial ticket was already bought. (It was "robots" that clinched it.) A film in which Dolph and a bunch of broken down robots take on a horde of zombies? Who the hell doesn't want to see that immediately?

Dolph plays Major Max Gatling, and besides having a ridiculous/bad ass name, he is also the leader of a team of mercenaries charged with traversing a zombie-infested landscape on a rescue mission for a girl named Jude (Melanie Zanetti, the tiniest version of Mary Louise Parker you'll ever see). While doing so, nearly all of his men become ghoul poop. Realizing this was a mission they weren't meant to survive, Dolph puts his sole remaining survivor on the rescue chopper but opts to remain behind to complete the mission. Completely stupid decision, I know (and so does he: "Gatling, you're a stupid son-of-a-bitch), but...if he got on the chopper, there'd be no movie – no zombies, and no robots – so, eat it you filthy cynic.

What we have here in Battle of the Damned is essentially Escape from New York: Replace Snake Plissken with Max Gatling, replace the prisoners with zombies, and replace Adrienne Barbeau and Ernest Borgnine with robots. Oh, and there is a rag tag group of survivors holed out in this zombie landscape, led by a man named Duke.

Lundgren portrays Gatling as a dry-humored nonconformist who would rather crack wise than play nice (that is if he's not treated with all due respect), but this is all simple set dressing because you know he's bound to step up and be the hero that gains him the giant head shot on the poster.

Battle of the Damned dabbles joyfully in familiar territory – and not just Carpenter's Escape template, but also in Romero's post-apocalyptic "let's-live-opulently-and-ignore-the-problem" environment that he perfected in Dawn of the Dead. And in those films, there is an attempt to eventually strip away war zone New York and Monroeville Mall and spend time with our characters, observing them in their environment and getting to know them. And Battle does that, too. It is pleasing to see this kind of attempt at development in what is essentially a DTV movie with robots, zombies, and that guy from Rocky IV who said, "I must break you." One might argue that it was because the filmmakers were forced to halt the zombie carnage due to budget constraints that they filled all the in-between stuff with human conflict. Byproduct of a low budget or not, it's there, it works, and that's all that matters.

The tone is played mostly straight; though it every so often takes a time-out to make a joke, or nod to Dolph's career ("Where did you even find that guy? A super-soldier factory?"), this admittedly stupid concept for a film is taken pretty seriously. That's not to say the film isn't at times unintentionally funny. When our characters see a swath of robots marching down the street and one of them, nearly nonplussed, asks, "Robots? Where'd they come from?", you have to laugh. But it more than adds to the experience that I, at least, am looking for from a film of this type. Plus I'll admit, I have kind of a stupid sense of humor, and I found myself chuckling every time someone in the film even just said the word "robots." ("You brought back robots?" "Killer robots?" "The robots!" )

Melanie Zanetti as Jude does as she is directed, and though she does it mostly fine, the whole angst-ridden, bitter teen who answers every question with some kind of angry, sarcastic response starts to wear thin after a while. Pretty bad considering she's the one you're supposed to care second-most about – plus she's preggers! Her performance can sometimes be irritating in that Ellen-Page-from-Juno kind of way, but if that threatens to happen, just keep telling yourself, " 'It's only a movie...about robots...It's only a movie...about robots...' "

The make-up effects are pretty well done; the visual effects (re: robots in motion) are less so, though I would describe them as inconsistent rather than across-the-board poor. Normally I am quick to call out a film for implanting story elements dependent on CGI even though their low budgets simply do not allow for it, but, once again, Dolph 'N' Bots vs. Ghouls gets a pass from me.

To appreciate Battle of the Damned is to appreciate B-movie productions, aging action heroes whose hey-day you might argue is behind them, and films with gonzo log lines. I doubt anyone who opts to watch the film based solely on its plot will be disappointed; though the zombie element isn't constant, and the robots don't make their appearance until the last act, there is still plenty of skull-crushing action and violence to please those looking for a bloody 90 minutes. 

I have seen a lot of Dolph's post-Universal Soldier DTV filmography and I can say this with confidence: Battle of the Damned is certainly one of the better ones – if not the best. Obviously once you've suffered through something like The Minion or Bridge of Dragons, that's certainly not saying much, but hell, give it a watch. I have a feeling the majority that do will be pleasantly surprised and ultimately entertained.

Besides, there's literally a scene where Dolph asks his robot army, "What do we do with zombies?" and the robots respond, "We fuck them up."

I mean, come on...on what planet is that not the greatest of all times?

1 comment:

  1. To be honest I ended up liking Alice, her whole shtick of angsty smart mouthedness got put into perspective with her scene kissing Dolph. In fact I felt sympathetic to pretty much every character, even Duke and that's pretty impressive for something as stripped to the bone as this flick.