If you're anything like me - and I apologize if you are - then there's no way you can see a title like "Mikadroid: Robokill Beneath Disco Club Layla" and entertain the slightest thought of passing it up. That's a movie that begs, pleads, demands to be seen. The idea of a Disco Club Layla, where something called a "robokill" takes place beneath it? You have my attention.
Unfortunately, "Mikadroid" is the latest in a very long line of horror films that consists of an interesting title and little else. The film itself is generic slasher blandness in which the only notable feature is the use of what appears to be the Michelin Man as the killer. Which is not nearly as fun as it sounds.
We open in 1945, at the end of the war, where a crazed Japanese scientist has been creating genetically-enhanced super-soldiers. The project has been abandoned and the bunker ordered destroyed, but not before Dr. Crazy can set loose two of his subjects to run free into the night wearing only their skivvies.
Skip ahead to the early 90s. A hip new dance club has been built over the remains of that secret bunker. And oh, what a happenin' place Disco Club Layla turns out to be: at most, they have seven guests at any given time, many of them leftover extras from "Less Than Zero" and "Bright Lights, Big City." And the place closes at midnight, effectively taking the "night" out of "nightclub."
They don't merely close at midnight; the building's parking garage is programmed to automatically lock as the clock strikes twelve, effectively giving partiers sixty seconds to get into their cars and head out before they're trapped until morning. Oh, and some schmuck from the power company has been called in to examine some faulty lines within the garage.
You can probably see where all of this is going.
Yes, the third super-soldier, the only one to be grafted into an metal suit that makes Iron Man's original outfit look positively svelte (if you'll pardon the wedgie-deserving geek reference), has awakened and is on a mission to kill anyone that crosses his path. In this case, it's the usual random assortment of partying teens and young professionals, plus the guy from the electric company. Their only hope: the other two super-soldiers, who are immortal and never-aging and now wear more than just underpants and who fight for good, thus working their best to stop Rusty McBuckets' reign of terror.
As a horror flick, "Mikadroid" is unbearably dull - the suspense earns nothing but yawns, the violence surprisingly ineffective. The low budget is the biggest offender, the makeup crew doing little beyond merely tossing fake blood onto people and calling it a day. Which would be no problem had director Tomoo Haraguchi (a veteran makeup and special effects artist making his directorial debut) found a way to work with his limited budget and crafted genuine tension around his limitations. But no. Haraguchi instead attempts to make up for the lack of suspense simply by throwing a bunch of (unbelievable) blood our way, or by showing many, many close-ups of the robot's sword and machine gun.
When the movie fails at terror, it aims for cleverness. Consider the scene where Clunky McBoltington slices at a female victim who begins to pirouette, around and around and around, while her clothes are slowly sliced away from her body. Naked and bloody, she stops to fall against the wall of the garage, her bloody body print artfully matching the mural of dancing bodies. In the hands of a master, a scene like this could be dreamy and spooky and otherworldly; here, it is gawky and a bit too funny to ever actually work.
(One lone moment when cleverness works: In the opening sequence, many shots are off-kilter freeze-frames intended to recreate the look of a comic book. It works.)
Oddly, the (mercifully short) film's final act contains a heavy effort to include some serious drama, a woefully misguided decision. The screenplay (from Haraguchi and Junki Takegami) decides it suddenly wants to consider the emotional plight of the immortal soldiers, who weep for their lost friend and reminisce about their life before the war. If it sounds out of place and utterly ridiculous, it is.
"Mikadroid" was released in 1991 in Japan as part of Toho's attempt to enter the direct-to-video market. Despite never having been released in the U.S. until now, the film has developed a slight cult following, mainly due to the appearance of Kiyoshi Kurosawa, the future director of J-horror hits "Cure" and "Pulse" who pops up here in a bit part. Plus, the killer robot-man delivers much hilarity, and that's always good for an underground favorite.
The 1.33:1 full frame transfer is loaded with grain, and its darks turn out on the muddy side - not a good sign for a movie that takes place at night, underground. (Note: the opening credits are letterboxed, but I am assuming the 1.33:1 ratio is the movie's correct format.)
The Japanese soundtrack sounds decent, if not at all notable, in the Dolby 2.0 mix. Optional English subtitles are included.
The film might stink, but the filmmakers earn your love in the 13-minute featurette "Mikardoid: Tale of Resurrection," in which Haraguchi and special effects artist Shinji Higuchi sit down with each other and revisit concept sketches and making-off goodies they hadn't seen in over a decade. (Behind-the-scenes shots occasionally play over this for our benefit.) It's like eavesdropping on a reunion between old friends. Their love for the project is obvious, and as a rundown of the movie's history, it's far more effective than the usual featurette. Presented in Japanese with optional English subtitles.
"About the Film" is a set of text production notes detailing more of the film's making and its status as a direct-to-video title.
The Photo Gallery is a rather brief collection of production stills. The Artwork Gallery fares much better, revealing concept sketches and the like, including pics from the film's origins as a zombie movie. (It was later changed to a sci-fi/slasher.) In a nice touch, an option is included allowing you to zoom in on a few parts of selected images.
Finally, trailers for "Mikadroid" and a handful of other Discotek releases are offered.
Despite the love for the filmmakers that stems from the bonus material, the movie itself remains a clunker. Never mind the cult following - not even the random unintentional chuckle can salvage "Mikadroid" from being a fairly monotonous affair, a bulky, flat slasher flick done up in rusted robot armor. Even those looking for some laugh-at-the-screen Bad Movie fun will grow tired quickly. Skip It.