Vindicator, The (1986)
Release Date: February 14th, 1986 MPAA Rating: R
Director: Jean-Claude Lord Actors: David McIlwraith, Teri Austin, Richard Cox, Pam Grier, Maury Chaykin, Stephen Mendel, Lynda Mason Green
ean-Claude Lord’s “The Vindicator” is an early yet largely unsuccessful attempt to create a cyborg thriller full of carnage, explosive action, and thought-provoking sci-fi themes. Although this film looks like a complete rip-off of “Robocop,” there are a few redeeming factors present. Firstly, it was released prior to the aforementioned Paul Verhoeven epic (by more than a year). Visually, several things are done right, though many orchestrations of awe-inspiring scenarios or intense action sequences are heavily downplayed by the overpowering lack of an original revenge plot. An interesting twist on costume designs and a cogent villainess also succumb to the fact that contemporary productions were supremely better films.
While hard at work on a top secret computerized device, scientist Carl Lehman (David McIlwraith) is ruthlessly betrayed by his boss. Carl is deemed the perfect target for his own mechanism, a metallic ensemble that controls the physical actions of its wearer (based on rage stimuli), inspiring the evil Dr. Alex Whyte (Richard Cox) to trap him in a testing chamber with hazardous materials to stage an accidental death. The good doctor keeps Carl’s brain alive in advanced preservatives while his body is bound to the indestructible suit – and the Vindicator is born. When the mind-restraining machinery is accidentally removed, the cyborg breaks free to roam the city in search of evildoers and vigilante justice. Without the controls, anyone who touches the astronautical gear causes the Vindicator to become momentarily psychotic, murderously lashing out at everything around him. Eventually, Lehman regains partial memory, seeks out Whyte, and speeds to the rescue of his wife (Teri Austin) and daughter (Catherine Collins).
A few promising ideas are unfortunately dwarfed by the horrendous acting and ridiculous soundtrack. The performances are quite atrocious all around, save for a key role from an actress who was popular for her raunchy exploitation films of the ‘70s; Pam Grier makes an appearance as Hunter, a tough-as-nails woman hired to destroy the juggernaut. Ironically, she’s the only actor who has even the slightest idea of what is going on, but she isn’t scripted to make use of that knowledge. Along with the dismal cast, a techno soundtrack blankets the film, thumping at all the wrong times and evoking laughs during the action sequences. Frenzied orchestral music would have been more appropriate, but apparently the budget could only muster a one-man-on-a-synthesizer band.
On the plus side, the makeup and costumes are intriguing and the Vindicator’s biomechanical space suit is the stuff of sci-fi dreams. But the storyline fails to persuade the audience into sympathizing with its title cyborg, or to relate to any other character, including Carl’s love interest. While the conclusion is somewhat satisfying (ignoring the fact that the Vindicator has no chance at a normal life), there are simply too many technical deficiencies and plot problems regularly surfacing within the film.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of “The Vindicator” is that it precedes “Robocop,” yet barely gained any attention before or after the release of Paul Verhoeven’s science-fiction classic. It may not have been an influence for Verhoeven’s film, but Robocop’s nearly indestructible armor and half-man/half-machine personality is definitely noticeable here, paired with significant violence and action. Sadly, all of the thrills, excitement, and social satire found in “Robocop” never find a place in this low-budget picture, dooming “The Vindicator” to remain one of the more obscure darkly futuristic cyborg films of the decade.
– Mike Massie