Crash and Burn (1990): Bits n’ Pieces

Matty shutters in with an early but strictly so-so Full Moon flick.

There’s some good stuff in Charles Band’s CRASH AND BURN. Several haunting cues from Band’s composer brother, Richard, and the atmospheric stillness of frequent collaborator Mac Ahlberg’s photography hint at the manner and poise of the Angel City passages in the producer/helmer’s definitive sci-fi text, Trancers (1984). But there’s a messy, rambling and half-cocked quality to Crash and Burn that leaves it feeling as dissonant as Parasite (1982) — an earlier slice of post-apocalyptic gubbins by ol’ Charlie that’s likewise stricken with flat direction and a curiously po-faced tone. 

Band’s fourth Full Moon flick following Puppet Master (1989), Shadowzone (1990) and Meridian (1990), Crash and Burn was announced alongside Shadowzone in January 1989, just as Puppet Master entered the editing bay, and has long been considered a semi-sequel to Robot Jox (1989) — the final movie Band oversaw at his previous shingle, Empire International Pictures. However, as author and Schlock Pit pal Dave Jay hypothesised in his 2017 book, It Came From the Video Aisle!: Inside Charles Band’s Full Moon Entertainment Studio [1], Crash and Burn — which, in addition to its giant robot hook, takes its name from a mantra repeated in Robot Jox — was more likely mounted to cash-in on its (loose) predecessor’s impending theatrical release. Stuart Gordon’s enjoyable Mecha melee had fallen into distribution limbo when Empire collapsed and was finally scheduled to play North American theatres in November 1990. As Jay noted, “If proof were needed that he is indeed the don of the rapid turnaround, Band somehow managed to extricate himself from Empire in Italy, form a new operation in Los Angeles, get Crash and Burn written, cast, and produced, and have Paramount release it to video in September 1990, a couple of months before Jox hit a single U.S. theatre.”

Originally penned by Shadowzone’s J.S. Cardone, Crash and Burn was whipped into shooting shape by Dave Pabian who received a ‘dialogue coach’ credit on the finished film for contractual reasons (Crash and Burn was one of the rare Full Moon offerings governed by the WGA). Cardone’s basic, Thing (1982)-shaded set-up is fantastic, and he and Pabian pile on the compelling sci-fi ideas with all their talk of sinister mega-corporations, state control, media manipulation, information suppression, scorching UV rays, synthetic humans, and the uneasy relationship between faith and technology. It’s with the characters, though, where Crash and Burn struggles. Despite a pair of decent performances from Bill Moseley and a sweat-soaked Jack McGee, the gaggle trapped inside the ramshackle television station where the action unfolds are an uninteresting bunch which renders their dilemma — whether they’re going to fry because of the rising heat or be slaughtered by Moseley’s creepy, Ash-in-Alien (1979)-esque android — tough to care about. 

That said, Crash and Burn’s back end is great fun, as any closing stretch that features a scene-chewing Moseley going Chop Top by way of The Terminator; a gargantuan biomorphic battle-droid; and the oft-used Kaiser Steel Mill as its central location should be. The Gregg Cannom make-up effects are modest but marvellous, and while massively underused, the rusted look and physical realisation of the behemothic DV-8 by designer Steve Burg and stop motion wiz David Allen is every bit as impressive as their jaw-dropping work on the aforementioned Gordon opus.   

With Band wielding the megaphone, Crash and Burn’s producer duties were assigned to David DeCoteau and John Schouweiler — both of whom cameo in a RoboCop (1987)-style news bulletin as apprehended hackers. The film was the first of four pictures that the then Cinema Home Video partners would shepherd for Full Moon, and it marked DeCoteau’s return to the Band fold for the first time since Dr. Alien (1988). Post Crash and Burn, DeCoteau and Schouweiler produced Puppet Master II (1990), Trancers II (1991), and DeCoteau’s Puppet Master III: Toulon’s Revenge (1991); and DeCoteau became Full Moon’s head of production for a spell — a position that led to him spearheading their erotic subdivision, Torchlight.

USA ● 1990 ● Sci-Fi ● 84mins

Paul Ganus, Megan Ward, Ralph Waite, Bill Moseley ● Dir. Charles Band Wri. J.S. Cardone, Dave Pabian (as “Dialogue Coach”), story Charles Band

[1] Have I mentioned that me and my Schlock Pit co-conspirator, Mr. Dave Wain, co-wrote it?

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