I’d say that the films of Godfrey Ho are an acquired taste, but that wouldn’t be true. You may (justifiably!) loathe the bargain-basement, cash-in cynicism of his Far East Frankenfilms, in which case you’re not going to find any value in repeatedly beating your face against this particularly unrelenting wall of troglogytery. Godfrey Ho seems to think his audience is stupid, and doesn’t blush at offending those with more delicate cinematic preferences. Cobbling together the most actioney bits from multiple movies in order to create a teetering clockwork film that is all explosions, all boobs, all monsters, ALL THE TIME. It’s kind of like the mega-Ghoulie at the end of “Ghoulies II” that takes elements of all the Ghoulies and puts them together into one creature that is simultaneously reality-threatening and immensely dumb to look at.
For my money, however, I think Godfrey Ho’s filmography spills over with accidental genius.
You’re being lied to right from the title of “Robo Vampire.”* There is no robo vampire, but I guarantee you won’t care. Imagine this: an episode of “Miami Vice” has to use the bathroom. It goes into a stall only to realize that “Mr. Vampire” is already in there but forgot to lock the door. Then “Chinese Ghost Story” drunkenly barges in, trips over “Delta Force,” which pisses all over the floor, and then a fight erupts, causing the whole crew to get ejected from the building by “Robocop.” You’re right to think it’s a lot to digest, and you’re also right to think that there’s not a dull moment to be found as a result of cramming SO MUCH STUFF into a single film.
*Ho is credited with this film on IMDb, although the English-language print I watched was attributed to Thomas Tang. Just let the record show this fact, in case the internet has lied to me regarding this movie’s provenance.
Vampires hate it when you cut their blow.
A Joe-Spinell-ish drug lord is tired of being busted by the anti-drug authorities and enlists the aid of a Taoist priest to create an army of vampires to guard his stash. How smuggling bodies will serve as a cover to deflect authorities from the smuggling of drugs is never really explained, but it’s hardly the worst of “Robo Vampire”‘s logical offenses. The Taoist priest creates a Vampire Beast, who can be readily identified by his dimestore rubber gorilla mask, and gets two-two-TWO supernatural aides for the price of one when the ghost girlfriend of the Vampire Beast shows up and vows to stick with him for the rest of her un-life (gorilla mask notwithstanding). The anti-drug agents show up and are promptly mowed down by the Vampire Beast, who can teleport and shoot fireworks out of his sleeves. One of the agents is killed, but is brought back to some form of life as a silver-lame covered robot in one of the greatest science montages OF ALL TIME, which includes the installation of a car battery in a mannequin’s torso with the aid of a sparkler. Meanwhile, another different anti-drug agent is captured by some other character who is working with the Joe-Spinell-ish drug lord and has to be rescued by a team of mercenaries who hadn’t been involved in the plot prior to this point. And so it goes–scene of drug smuggling, scene of hostage interrogation, a robot fight vampires, huts blow up, and glorious stupidity reigns.
Ladies and gentlemen: your Vampire Beast.
One of the fun things about Godfrey Ho movies is trying to extricate the two (or more!) movies that have been clumsily sutured to one another. While all the hallmarks of low-budget, non-English-language genre cinema are present, like bad dubbing, wonky effects work, and clumsy plotting, there’s a special magic to Mr. Ho’s films. Tell-tale signs include:
- Characters who exchange dialogue but never appear on screen together
- Differing film stock from scene to scene
- Wildly divergent mood and tone
- Clumsily obvious exposition
The role of the rat will be played by the guinea pig in tonight’s performance, making the guinea pig the armadillo of the Far East.
With a story as nutty as the one in “Robo Vampire,” I thought I had identified three films (a Chinese hopping vampire story, a drug cartel melodrama, and a Filipino hostage rescue yarn), but I was wrong–there were only TWO movies, and the absolutely insane “drug smuggling via vampires” story was filmed as a single piece. This really makes one wonder why the hostage rescue yarn was included at all, unless Ho felt that his audience wouldn’t want to watch a man in a Chinese robe and a gorilla mask shoot bottle rockets out of his sleeves all day.
The remote control antenna adds an air of gravitas to the proceedings.
The thing that I like the most about “Robo Vampire” is that it doesn’t stop piling stupidry on top of stupidry, accosting multiple sensory inputs at a time. While you’re watching a topless lady ghost engaged in a martial arts battle, you’re also treated to dubbing that finds it necessary to include every breath and intonation from every character. There’s a chorus of “hum” and “ah” and “oh” that provides a mantra-like backdrop for virtually every single scene. If there are six characters on screen, you’re getting SIX VOICES “hum”-ing and “ah”-ing and “oh”-ing over one another like a flock of pigeons cooing in a city park. We know the characters are there–I CAN SEE THEM, and I don’t need to hear them.
Meanwhile, in the OTHER movie…
You might think that all this would make me hate “Robo Vampire” for being so stupid and terrible and aesthetically offensive, but I have to love it for its audacity. There’s an artist I know who insists on booking this particular drag queen for his gallery openings–he thinks she’s the worst drag queen in the world, and yet he finds her sublime in her awfulness. I’ve witnessed her in action and can attest to the fact that she can’t lip-synch worth a damn and her pantyhose drop even as her skirt shimmies its way up around her waist, yet it is in her very dreadfulness that her appeal resides. “Robo Vampire” is like that drag queen, and I will be inviting it to all of MY gallery openings in much the same way.
One of the things I love about this movie is that there are SO MANY PUNCHLINES. Do I go for the furry joke? The “love that dare not speak its name” joke? TOO MUCH AWESOME FOR ONE BRAIN.
Caveat Emptor: There is an unpleasant moment featuring a real bull in this movie, so those who (like me!) are especially sensitive to animal violence should look away or avoid this bit. I just don’t want anybody sending me any angry emails over this bit, in case any of you are running off to dig up this little-seen mind-bender of a film!