Cult Movie Retrospective: The Vindicator

Half man, half machine, but all Canadian sci-fi cheese – the Vindicator is a heady hybrid of sci-fi, action and horror produced by Cinépix founders John Dunning and André Link. Less interested in heavy dramatic statements about humanity versus technology, The Vindicator is a fun technological thriller that cranks up the B-movie theatrics, including acid-shooting guns, mangled faces, bloody car-crushing action, and, of course, robot fistfights.

Most seeing The Vindicator for the very first time today would probably be quick to dismiss the film as a knock-off of RoboCop or Darkman. In fact, if one were pitching this movie today to your typical unimaginative Hollywood studio executive then calling it “RoboCop meets Darkman” would be a perfect description. One thing: The Vindicator predates both of those films by several years (if you’re looking for a genuine RoboCop knock-off, check out The Demolitionist instead).

The Vindicator

Teri Austin The Vindicator

Directed by Jean-Claude Lord, this 1986 Canadian production was originally entitled Frankenstein ’88, a truly awful title that doesn’t even make much sense since it was, as already pointed out, made in 1986. But thanks to a certain film called The Terminator, Frankenstein ’88 was re-dubbed, rather fittingly, The Vindicator.

In the film, Carl Lehman (played by David McIlwraith) is betrayed by his boss while hard at work on a top secret computerized device that controls the physical action of the wearer. Carl is deemed as the perfect target to experiment on with the mechanism, so the evil Dr. Whyte (played by Richard Cox) traps him in a small testing chamber with hazardous materials, and he is quickly killed. The good doctor takes the body and preserves the brain in advanced preservatives that keeps Carl’s mind alive, and clothes the body with an indestructible suit: the Vindicator is born.

Later, the mind-controlling mechanism on the cyborg is accidentally removed, and the Vindicator breaks free to roam the city in search of evil-doers and vigilante justice. Without the controls, anyone who touches the suit causes the Vindicator to become momentarily psychotic and he murderously lashes out at everything around him. Eventually Lehman regains partial memory, seeks out Whyte and speeds to the rescue of his wife (played by Teri Austin).

Shortly after the big reveal, a truly great scene takes place that indeed brings to mind Darkman more than Frankenstein, in which Carl sees his reflection for the very first time in a store window that just happens to have a Halloween display. The monster masks in the window play nicely into the moment he first realizes that he’s had his humanity stripped away from him. Needless to say, glass gets shattered. This is followed up on later when Carl is finally able to remove the face plate so that he can get a look at what’s left of his grill under the suit and finally realizes that there is no possible way he can ever go back to having a normal life.

The Vindicator

Pam Grier The Vindicator

Whyte eventually calls in his own personal henchwoman, Hunter. It’s not clear if Hunter is supposed to be her name or job description, but she’s played by blacksploitation icon Pam Grier. Sadly, the Hunter role proves to be a waste of Grier’s natural on-screen aggressiveness.

One of the great mysteries of The Vindicator is the fact that Stan Winston did the special effects. More specifically, he designed the look of the cyborg himself. Now Stan Winston was one of the greatest special effects wizards in the business and his talents need no explanation or summation. But perhaps we should assume that he did this film on a dare. Either that or he ate an entire Thanksgiving dinner, fell asleep for six months, and woke up the night before the suit was due. In his haste, in Close Encounters style, he dumped the contents of a trash can onto his living room floor and MacGuyver’ed his way through it. Suffice it to say that footage of The Vindicator robot probably went unsung during his Oscars highlight reel.

But comparing The Vindicator to big-budgeted Hollywood sci-fi films would be missing the point. The film may be a certified knock-off of bigger and better American efforts, but it’s fast pace and grisly action help this B-film rise above its meager budget (a budget which could rival the cost of up-sizing that Arby’s combo meal you had for dinner last night).

Overall, The Vindicator has no pretensions, a weak story-line, low-budget written all over it, actors who aren’t that great at their profession, weird humor, and lots of explosions. In other words, it’s a must-see.

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