Wedged between the Corman school of cheap and cheerful shlock, plus the later, none-too-subtle rip-off factory that is The Asylum, the eighties had its own low-budget genre studio keeping video shops across the land in plentiful supply. Spawned from the mind of impresario Charles Band, Empire Pictures (later renamed Full Moon Features) was the b-movie connoisseur label that dealt in outlandish sub-Amblin’ fantasy efforts (Troll, Ghoulies, Zone Troopers) balls-out Lovecraft adaptations (Re-Animator, From Beyond), neo-noir time-travelling sci-fi thrillers (the Trancers series) and even wonky Transformers-esque action adventure (Robot Jox, Crash and Burn).
Some of those titles are more ingrained in the minds of the video shop generation than others – with the aforementioned horror titles from director Stuart Gordon having enjoyed particular longevity. And while other films in the Empire Pictures family certainly made an impact among young impressionable genre fans those 30+ years back, some have since slipped into DTV obscurity. One of those, 1986’s Eliminators, now sounds like the ultimate fantasy ensemble fashioned from the fevered mind of a comic book and sci-fi fanatic. In fact, given the genre archetypes made up of the film’s ragtag team, this low-rent outing was about the closest we could expect to get to something like Marvel’s The Avengers back then.
Here’s the eccentric line-up; a grubby, devil-may-care Indiana Jones-like mercenary, a cute little robot that looks like it’s floated in from the set of The Black Hole, a vengeful ninja, the token female (refreshingly, not the soldier of fortune’s love interest) and a ‘mandroid’. That’s right, a half-man and half-android, constructed by a multihyphenate evil scientist named Abbot Reeves played by late British thespian Roy Dotrice – enthusiastically chewing the scenery like all those late British thespians did. Reeves sends his hybrid human out on reconnaissance missions in the time machine he’s built to steal priceless artefacts. When the scientist suddenly deems the mandroid is no longer fit for purpose, his creation is rescued from destruction to join the titular crew to get some payback on his master.
Make no mistake, Eliminators is as daft as it sounds. However, that’s not to say a decent level of craftmanship hasn’t gone into creating the characters and their world. The film’s writing duo, Danny Bilson and Paul De Meo – the latter sadly passed away a year or so back – have a few fairly strong credentials to their name. They wrote 1990’s much-loved Disney live-action period adventure The Rocketeer, as well as creating and acting as showrunners on that decade’s TV incarnation of The Flash. The Eliminators desire to entertain is evident through what the two then fledgling writers are able to concoct within budgetary parameters.
In that era of cheap and cheerful genre product, Eliminators certainly did enough to sate the appetite of many an adolescent, hungry for a quick fix from those wall-high red display shelves. Revisiting it now, it’s a film which hasn’t aged particularly well. The threadbare plot is painfully apparent, and and the film’s rushed jokey denouement is something that wouldn’t look out of place at the end of a Dungeons & Dragons episode from that time. What still impresses is the design of the mandroid and his detachable robot stroller with tank tracks, which he’s able to clip himself into whenever he’s ready to go into full action mode. It seems like a hefty chunk of budget was allocated exclusively for this, and it’s a prominent part of the film’s trailer that probably took a large slice of the marketing campaign… assuming one existed.
Overall, it’s Bilson and De Meo’s love for the type of appealingly pulpy material they’re working with which helped elevate the Empire Pictures brand those years back. Their work offered younger viewers (make no mistake, these films were pitched at the mid-teen market) a taste of violent blockbuster action on a shoestring budget. And as an alluring amalgam, character-wise, of the type of superior genre flicks which were all the rage at that time, The Eliminators is a great example of this.