Which is a weird thing to say when we’re talking about a realm populated by ancient wizards, immortal monsters, and giant robots — the latter of which is our protagonist in this latest adventure — but nevertheless, it’s true. When a person thinks of Cardini’s work, phrases like “mind-blowing,” “highly imaginative,” and “far fucking out” come to mind, of course, but “emotionally resonant” and “thematically complex,” maybe…
The 1986 film, The Vindicator, is one of those Canadian exploitation films that doesn’t make much sense but is still memorable just because of how dedicated it is to being utterly incoherent.
Basically, an evil corporate guy named Alex Whyte (played by Richard Cox) wants to design a space suit that will turn people into rage-filled assassins. Or something like that. To be honest, I had a hard time following just what exactly Alex was trying to do. When one of his scientists, Carl Lehman (David Mcllwraith), figures out that Alex is up to something sinister, Alex blows him up. Alex then puts Carl’s charred body into the suit and Carl is transformed into a cyborg who flies into a murderous rage whenever anyone gets too close to him. That’s not exactly what Carl was hoping to spend the rest of his life doing so Carl breaks free from the lab and seeks revenge while also trying to protect his wife (Terri Austin) and his daughter (Catherine Disher). Unfortunately, because of the whole rage thing, Carl can’t allow himself to get close to them but somehow, he figures out how to speak to them through the synthesizer that’s sitting in the living room.
Now that Carl is wandering around Canada and killing all of his former co-workers, Alex decides that he needs to do something to take Carl out of commission so he hires an assassin known as Hunter. Hunter is played by Pam Grier. Yes, that’s right — the Pam Grier! Soon, Hunter and her team are pursuing Carl across Canada and, in the process, they end up killing almost as many people as Carl. And those people who aren’t killed by Carl or Hunter fall victim to the types of accidents that could only happy in a Canadian exploitation film. For instance, in one scene, a truck drives over a guard rail and immediately explodes.
Meanwhile, Carl’s friend, Bert (played by Maury Chaykin because this is a Canadian film), is falling in love with Carl’s wife and plotting to try to take her away from her cyborg husband. At first, Bert appears to be a sympathetic character and then, about an hour into the movie, Bert is suddenly not sympathetic at all. The same can actually be said for just about everyone in the film, which will lead most viewers to wonder just why exactly we should care about whether or not Carl is ever stopped.
It’s a messy film. For a relatively short and presumably low-budget film, there’s a lot of characters in The Vindicator and it’s not always clear how everyone is related. Since Carl kills most of them, I can only assume that they’re all bad but still, you can’t help but wonder if maybe Carl is being a bit too quick to assume that everyone was okay with him getting blown up. Carl is one judgmental cyborg.
Supposedly, special effects maestro Stan Winston was involved with the production of The Vindicator and, to give credit where credit is due, Carl does look like what I guess most people would expect a cyborg to look like. In fact, when I watched the movie, I originally assumed that it was a Robocop rip-off but then I discovered that The Vindicator actually came out a year before Robocop. That’s not to say, of course, that The Vindicator was, in any way, an influence on Robocop. Beyond the cyborg-theme, the two films really have nothing in common. Robocop is a satirical commentary on fascism. The Vindicator is …. well, I’m not really sure what it’s supposed to be.
The Vindicator is a mess. It’s one of those films where no one’s motivations make any sense and it is often next to impossible to actually keep track of who is who. (The actors playing Alex and Carl looked so much alike that it took me a few minutes to figure out that Carl was the one who got blown up.) And yet, like many Canadian exploitation films from the 80s, The Vindicator is also compulsively watchable. The actions move quickly. The entire plot has a make-it-up-as-you-go-along feel to it that’s kind of entertaining. Plus, Pam Grier’s in the film, openly rolling her eyes at just how silly it all is. The Vindicator isn’t exactly good but it did hold my interest. All things considered, maybe that’s vindication enough.