Jim Wynorski’s Murderbot (2023): A Babe in Droidland

Matty has a ball with the cult auteur’s latest Full Moon assignment.

As Jim Wynorski tells it, the title for his 1986 masterpiece, Chopping Mall, happened by chance. Originally the film was called ‘Killbots’ until a nearby electrician — the perfect role for a lightbulb moment — shouted “why don’t you call it Chopping Mall?” following a poorly received test screening.

The rest is cult movie history.

Fast-forward thirty-six years, some time during the making of Attack of the 50 Foot Camgirl (2022) and its sequel, Giantess Battle Attack (2022), Full Moon maven Charles Band caught wind of Wynorski’s story. Clearly taken by it, the mogul had Wynorski tell the tale again on a December 2022 episode of his vidcast, Charles Band’s Full Moon Freakshow. You could see Band’s joy whenever he circled the ‘Killbots’ name. It was another lightbulb moment: while development on the film itself was already underway, witnessing Wynorski and Band covertly announcing that they were actually working on their third picture together and that it would bear the ‘Killbots’ handle was rapturous.

Alas, like Chopping Mall before it, the moniker was subsequently dropped — though in its place is a wholly superior seal, the auteur branded (at least in press materials anyway) JIM WYNORSKI’S MURDERBOT.

Wynorski’s form in the homicidal droid department is strong, with Chopping Mall joined by the equally excellent Storm Trooper (1998), and the cheap n’ cheerful War of the Worlds (1953) riff, A.I. Assault (2006). Fittingly, Murderbot occupies a space between them all — in theme, in tone, and in quality. Conceived by Wynorski and his Camgirl and Giantess scripter/Full Moon regular, Kent Roudebush, the film’s teens-in-peril set-up is a direct Chopping Mall lift, but the flashes of existential introspection and giddy energy are pulled straight from Storm Trooper and A.I. Assault. The breezy yet engaging plot finds a sentient cyborg (Wynorski muse Melissa Brasselle) terrorising the denizens of a barren backwater (shades of Band epics Tourist Trap (1979) and Ghost Town (1988)) on her path to world domination. 

Despite a couple of gags about social media going wide of the barn door and a groan-inducing bit of business involving the circuit-frazzling effects of bad trumpet playing, Murderbot is a tasty confection. Boisterously shot and nicely scored by Wynorski stalwart Chuck Cirino (whose son, Eli, appears as one of the besieged youths), this lively little number benefits from the western-noir licks that were presumably inspired by the mood and textures of its ace central location, the Diamond V Movie Ranch in Santa Clarita. Further style is provided by the excellent lab and military bunker sets, whereupon Wynorski ladles on the kind of comic book pomp and eye-popping colour that characterised previous offerings such as Not of this Earth (1988), The Return of Swamp Thing (1989), and the sorely underrated Vampirella (1996).

With Murderbot’s dramatic meat governed by its brief, forty-six minute duration, a game cast do what they can with the slots they’re given. Among them: the aforementioned Eli Cirino, and Wynorski perennials Lisa London, Becky LeBeau, Mike Gaglio, Rib Hillis, Freddy John James, Troy Fromin, and Sydney Thackray — daughter of fellow Wynorski fav, Gail. Naturally, it’s Brasselle who dominates. Calling to mind the air of sexually charged menace she conjured in Wynorski’s ‘Die Hard (1988) in a school’ romp, Demolition High (1996), Brasselle delivers a striking mix of deadpan kitsch, dangerous eroticism, and — in a few instances — poignant, Frankenstein’s Monster-esque tragedy. The fact she looks phenomenal in black leather trousers and chunky biker boots is just a bonus.

Postscript: for those keeping tabs, Murderbot unfolds at Christmas — which essentially puts it in line with producer Band’s other yuletide sci-fi, Trancers (1984).

USA ● 2023 ● Sci-Fi, Horror ● 46mins

Melissa Brasselle (as ‘Rocky DeMarco’), Lauren Parkinson, Eli Cirino ● Dir. Jim Wynorski Wri. Kent Roudebush, story by Jim Wynorski & Kent Roudebush

5 thoughts on “Jim Wynorski’s Murderbot (2023): A Babe in Droidland

  1. Fine review by one who gets it! And well deserved praise for a kickass cast, crew, and most excellent Director Jim Wynorski. Proud to have taken part.


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