Trash Or Treasure: R.O.T.O.R. (1987)

They do things different in Texas...

“One person’s Trash is another person’s Treasure”, but with so much stuff out there how will you ever know which is which? Well, just follow the Raggedyman as he uses his extensive experience of watching practically anything that crosses his path to sieve through the old, the obscure, and the just plain odd so you don’t have to. Take his hand as he leads you through cult classics, underground favourites, forgotten wonders, and new discoveries to let you know if it’s celluloid Trash or hidden Treasure.


I remember this film from back when I was a nerdy kid, desperate to rent any sci-fi and horror movie I had never heard of and that the local store only had one copy of in. The cover of the box was amazing, simply staggeringly bold and enticing. It promised adventure, horror and shock, beyond belief. It was intimidatingly cool, so I never got around to renting it and stuck with safer options like Brain Dead and Fortress. Turns out that my adolescent brain may have made the right decisions though, as this is an absolute rust bucket of a film.

Pro-Tip: DON’T EVER GIVE A HORSE COFFEE!!

The film was produced, directed, and written by Cullen Blaine, whose most notable credit before this was directing 13 episodes of The Get Along Gang. Budd Lewis produced the first screenplay for it, but he claims that Blaine then removed all the humour and bits that were too expensive to shoot. The main star of it is Richard Gesswein as Dr J. Barrett C. Coldyron, and he is so Texan, he probably pees BBQ sauce and bullets. As a whole, the film is aggressively Texan, or at least a bold, free-spirited, caricature of Texas bravado and machismo. When it works it means we get accents, cityscapes, and a sense of the wide-open that go beyond the recycled L.A. and New York cyberpunk clichés. Sadly, the other side of that coin is the kind of 80’s masculinity that stinks of hi-tech Lynx deodorant, casual racism & sexism, along with a flagrant disregard for effete concerns such as pacing, emotions, and characterisation.

“We thought people might find systemic racism more acceptable if it came from a cute robot”

Doctor/Captain/Protagonist/Hero Colyron is in charge of a police science lab, and he’s being screwed by the corrupt Earl G. Buglar (Michael Hunter) to actually produce something that works from the insanely expensive research facility which the rest of the cast wander around. The site even has a talking robot called Willard the Robot, who looks like a Nintendo R.O.B. the Robot after two years of doughnuts and police brutality training. There is also a love interest and his horse, and we are treated to random shots of him being nice towards and slapping the arse of them each.
Whilst there is some world building, scenes containing the insides of many very nice restaurants, the random stopping of a robbery through kick-punching, and three minutes of Dr Coldyron blowing up a tree on his ranch, the first 40 minutes are unessential to the plot. Thankfully the film starts four-fifths of the way through the story and then jumps back to the start and runs a countdown to the action that we have already seen the aftermath of. The goal was probably to add the tension that the script lacked, rather the convoluted and clunky narrative flow that resulted.

You know you’ve made it as a deathbot when you get a monogrammed bike

Things eventually start by the experimental R.O.T.O.R. police-bot being awakened by the classic plot device of cartoonish negligence from the under-skilled and underpaid worker.
Carroll Brandon plays this role quite adequately, only looking like a slightly larger and far more heavily sedated member of the Village People for about half the shots he’s in. His motivation is that someone decided to set the death borg to “kill anyone with so much as a late library book”, and so the body count starts clocking up. This wanton orgy of low-budget murder mixes standard Terminator invincibility with the bold inventiveness of being able to see backwards through time by staring really hard into space and a total mastery of Tai Chi!

Finally we know what happens if you feed The Terminator the entire Cure discography.

Eventually, R.O.T.O.R. becomes fixated on murdering the heck out of Sonya R. Garren (Margaret Trigg), who does an amazing job of White Girl In Peril, and chases her around a wide selection of backroads and abandoned buildings. Coldyron follows and discovers that someone failed to remove the “falls over like a dying fish when exposed to loud noises” bug in the bot like they had been asked to. He also calls in Dr C.R. Steele (Jayne Smith), because if you knew someone with that name and upper body strength, you’d be calling them over all the damn time. Her entire job is to up the violence in the final confrontation, and wear a tank-top that highlights her muscles. She accomplishes both whilst rocking an amazing haircut and not sleeping with Coldyron, so she’s probably the most innovative thing in the film.

…okay, this shot is just perfect

All of this is encased in a framing device that an A-Level playwright would consider clunky, special FX stolen from of a Blue Peter art project, and a script that is 50% cliché, 50% non-sequitur, and 50% random word generation. There are some other characters involved, but they exist purely to either die at the hands of Coldyron or R.O.T.O.R, be grossly racially insensitive or sexist, or to help get things into the magical 90 minutes of run time by just standing there. Eventually, with incredibly little time to spare on the clock, things end. Then they end again. Then they end again, again. And just to make things really clear they end again, again, again. Not only is it rushed, but it’s indecisive and throws out moments that look kind of dramatic, but have not been earned in any fashion, and don’t really make much sense. On the plus side, that’s highly consistent with the rest of the film.

“Did I leave the gas on?”

Obviously, this is all falling towards being an inexcusable pile of Trash, and I’d be happy to keep it there if it weren’t for two things. Firstly, this film does have some nice ideas in it (even though they are awfully executed) and a sense of self-assurance. In the face of all other evidence, that makes it just about watchable. Secondly, the dialogue is so courageously awful, and frequently told with the calm determination only a total lack of talent can provide, that you want to know if any line will top what you just heard. These are not good reasons to find the viewing experience enjoyable, but they are reasons to call it Treasure by the very skin of its teeth.

The Raggedyman

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