Thursday, 7 March 2013


Director: Fred Olen Ray
Writer: Paul Garson
Producer: Paul Hertzberg
Cast: Heather Thomas, Jeffrey Combs, Martin Landau
Country: USA
Year of release: 1987
Reviewed from: UK VHS (Entertainment in Video)

Believe it or not, this is the first Fred Olen Ray film that I have reviewed on this site. Sad to say, this is not one of Fred’s best. Dear lord, no. This is one of those by-the-numbers high-tech McGuffin DTV titles which proliferated during the 1980s, substituting hairspray and shoulder pads for characterisation and plot. It singularly fails to deliver on anything that it promises, from the "awesome fighting force" of the titular machine to a ‘punk nightclub’ which has all the anti-establishment nihilism of a Debbie Gibson album.

“Jeffrey Combs, the mad professor from Re-Animator, is back with a new kind of killing machine.” proclaims the front of the UK sleeve, although Heather Thomas (Zapped!, Red Blooded American Girl) is the top-billed cast member and the focus of the US sleeve design. The young-looking Combs (Trancers II, Castle Freak, Deep Space Nine) is Rick Davenport, a scientist of some sort, working entirely alone in a remarkably small, sparsely equipped and extraordinarily clean workshop hidden behind a secret door in his house. Thomas is his girlfriend Teri, whom we meet while she is working out at the gym owned by her friend Carla (Ashley Ferrare: Revenge of the Ninja).

Rick enjoys classical music while Teri likes to rock, apparently. To celebrate the successful completion of the Cyclone project - a super-motorbike - he consents to accompany her to The Lava Club, a local ‘punk’ nightspot where thirty-year-olds with Bon Jovi hairstyles boogie gently to a novelty AOR band credited as Haunted Garage. While they dance, Rick is stabbed in the back by a creepy white-haired guy (stuntman Dar Robinson - Rollerball, Vamp, King Kong Lives - who died in an accident before the film was released) and Teri is attacked by a vaguely goth-looking woman (Ray regular Dawn Wildsmith, who was in Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, Evil Spawn and a dozen more FOR movies) but survives.

Lieutenant Cutter of the LAPD (Bruce Fairbairn: Vampire Hookers) wants to interview Teri at the crime scene but his authority is over-ruled by the appearance of two FBI agents, Knowles (Count Yorga himself, Robert Quarry) and Waters (Sister Hyde herself, Martine Beswick) who send Teri home after she assures them that she knows nothing about any secret laboratory. Back in Rick’s secret laboratory, she finds a very long video message from him telling her how to operate Cyclone and that the only person in ‘the agency’ who can be trusted is a fellow named Bob Jenkins, to whom she must deliver the bike.

At this point we discover that the bike is not even a McGuffin. In actual fact, the real McGuffin is a wee box which is the bike’s power supply and is confusingly called a ‘transformer’. This produces limitless amounts of power by converting hydrogen into energy which sounds - although the phrase is never used - like cold fusion to me. Cyclone can run on conventional fuel but its weaponry - which includes rear-firing rockets - cannot operate unless the transformer is fitted into a slot on the bike. (There is also some sort of weapon incorporated into Rick’s high-tech helmet, which he uses to destroy a Yellow Pages for some reason, although it is not clear whether this counts as part of the bike or not.)

So let’s get this straight: the US government has been funding a single person to develop, in secret, a new fuel source which could have global repercussions, and not only has he managed to do this, but he has found the time to construct a revolutionary new type of motorcycle and the world’s most advanced skid-lid at the same time. Gosh.

Teri, who is a bit of a biker herself, arranges to meet Bob Jenkins (former teen heartthrob Troy Donahue: Rocket to the Moon, Omega Cop and The Godfather Part II!) but sees him shot down from in front by a bullet and from behind by a crossbow bolt, courtesy of the two weirdos from the nightclub (credited as Rolf and Hanna). Meanwhile, comedy double act Barrell (Tim Conway Jr: Beverly Hills Vamp) and McCordy (Ronald Reagan’s adopted son Michael!) were supposed to be watching Rick and Teri’s house for ‘the agency’ but have fallen asleep, much to the displeasure of Knowles and Waters.

Teri flees on Cyclone to Carla’s house where the bad guys track her down and she finds that there is almost no-one she can trust. Tied up in a warehouse, she refuses to reveal the whereabouts of the transformer and is eventually rescued by someone we have previously met (he said, trying to retain some degree of intrigue). This leads to a bog-standard car/bike chase through the streets of LA, culminating in a stand-off where Teri - finally - uses one of those completely unaimable rockets, the unspecified helmet weapon (which sets somebody on fire!) and a sort of explosion-causing ray-gun on the front of the bike.

In the end, she heads off into the sunset with Lieutenant Cutter, having first destroyed the transformer by tossing it lightly against a wall because it’s “trouble.”

Call me picky, but I expect a movie about a super-fast, heavily armed motorbike to actually centre on the bike itself and its out-of-this-world capabilities, not to just be a hunt for a small, black box. There are a few bike stunts and there is the rather arbitrary use of weapons in that one short scene at the end of the movie, but otherwise this is a routine thriller with nothing to grab the viewer’s interest apart from an amusing extended cameo by former Bowery Boy Huntz Hall as the proprietor of a motorbike repair shop. Martin Landau of all people (at a time when his career seemed to otherwise concentrate on TV series reunion telemovies) turns up in a couple of scenes as the enigmatic Mr Bosarian, Rolf and Hanna’s boss, who wants to get his hands on the transformer because he has agreed to sell it to an unnamed, shady, oriental gentleman (Sam Hiona: Phoenix 2, Terminal Force). The IMDB reckons that Russ Tamblyn has an uncredited part; I’m guessing he could be the old guy in shades mopping up (literally) Rick’s blood from the dancefloor. Michelle Bauer is allegedly one of the nude girls showering behind (clothed) Teri and Carla in a dressing room scene.

Fred Olen Ray, now the acknowledged king of this sort of movie (or rather, good versions of this sort of movie) had directed about nine or ten features prior to this, which was released the same year as Commando Squad, Evil Spawn and Deep Space. He has since directed another 80 or so and shows no sign of stopping.

Writer Paul Garson, working from a story by Ray, is actually a motorcycle journalist by trade and the author of Born to be Wild: A History of the American Biker and Bikes 1947-2002 - which makes it even sadder that Cyclone the film is not actually about Cyclone the motorbike. His only other film credit is Alienator. TL Lankford, who wrote (or contributed to) Storm Trooper, Hollywood Chainsaw Hookers, The Phantom Empire, Deep Space and Scalps, receives an ‘additional material’ credit.

The special effects are an early credit for Kevin Francis McCarthy who would later work on such cool movies as Phantasm III, Trancers II, Waxwork II and Project: Metalbeast. Bret Mixon, a rotoscoping specialist who has worked on Godzilla 1985, Return of the Living Dead, Tremors, Terminator 2, Freaked and The Passion of the Christ(!), is credited with ‘special effects animation’, presumably meaning the jagged lightning-beams emitted by the bike’s unspecified weaponry.

First AD Gary Bettman went on to produce the two Omega Code movies. Cinematographer Paul Elliott also lit Prison Ship Star Slammer, Friday the 13th Part VII, 976-EVIL and a 1997 pilot called The Van Helsing Chronicles. Hair and make-up artist Kathy Shorkey worked on two of the best-titled movies of all time: Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead.

It could be argued that I didn’t view Cyclone at its best. I watched an ancient, big-box rental VHS with a lousy picture and dodgy framing (a mike boom appears in one shot) plus the traditional batch of mismatched trailers, including Steele Justice, The Good Wife and animated sex comedy The Big Bang. But the problems with Cyclone are nothing to do with the image or the sound, they’re inherent in its failure to explore its central premise. You can’t necessarily hold the film-makers responsible for the way that a movie is marketed and, as I have observed elsewhere, it’s not the fault of 1980s film-makers that the decade was a nadir for hair, clothes and music (although some effort could surely have been made to create a ‘punk nightclub’ which wasn’t, frankly, twee). Nevertheless the fact remains that you could remove the super-bike from this film, or at least, substitute it for a normal motorbike, without substantially affecting the (not terribly exciting) plot.

MJS rating: C
review originally posted 3rd July 2006

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