Annihilator (1986)

It’s such a good start.

Cue the nervous, jangly, Jan Hammer-esque score and the flashy, MTV-inspired Miami Vice-style editing, as (apparently) dozens of cop cars chase a man in a big, Eighties sedan.

Not that we have any idea who this guy is, or why the police are after him.

He gets a girl to help him at gunpoint (who seems remarkably unperturbed about the whole business) and ends up in hiding at her place.

It turns out that he’s Richard Armour, a big-time reporter, who couldn’t get away from work for the free trip he won to Hawaii, and sent his girlfriend, Angela, and her best gal pal instead.

The only problem is that something strange happened on that flight and they came back…different…

It’s worth noting that the girl friend is played by that platonic ideal of the Eighties girl, Catherine Mary Stewart.  She was such a familiar face in so many of these genre films (Last Starfighter, Night of the Comet, etc. etc.) that one forgets that she ended up acting in quite a few of these TV pilots in the late Eighties and early Nineties…

Which is, of course exactly what we have here.

Now it isn’t exactly a spoiler (after all, it’s on the posters and the VHS boxes) that his girlfriend has been turned into a robot.

Well, Dynamatar, as one of the robots helpfully explains.

And, of course, these are the superpowered, murderous Terminator style-robots.

Of course.

Now, I’m actually moderately impressed by this one, as we get a feel for the characters before Angela gets transformed, so we know something is wrong with her before she tries to kill him (although we do get a hint — if no more — that this may be part of some fairly routine, Eighties-style sinister corporate plot).  Nor does Richard act like a total idiot as the heroes of so many TV fugitive shows do.

Or, at least I’m impressed by the first hour of the movie.

At the one hour mark, Richard leaves his new girlfriend behind and goes off on his own to kill robots.  This is marked by a long music video using clips for the show based on David Bowie’s eerie song, “Ashes to Ashes(which, for some strange reason or other, is uncredited!).

It’s not such a bad place to end the movie, only something goes wrong, and he returns and he and the girl go off on another adventure.

The problem is that they used the entire song, which is over three and a half minutes long.  It’s far too long for a musical interlude.  It’s even a bit long for an end credits song.

However, if you’ve been keeping count, then you realize that this leaves just half an hour for the next set of adventures.

Now an hour and a half long pilot makes a lot of sense as that would translate into a two-hour TV movie.  A hour long pilot makes sense too.

But I’m baffled by the half-hour additional story.  Were they planning a half-hour show?  I honestly have no idea.  That was almost unheard of for drama shows at the time, although the sadly neglected Eighties show, Werewolf, was half an hour.

Or, in other words, who knows?

Mind you, this coda is a lot of fun as legendary Eighties genre film actor and official weirdo, Brion James, shows up in a bit part as a biker (and not as an Alien Leader as the IMDB cast list suggests), and there is an absolutely brilliant bit with a fight between Richard and one of the Dynamatars, Professor Jeffries (played by another familiar character actor, Geoffrey Lewis) which doesn’t go as planned as Richard has figured out his programming.

However, this coda also reveals the show’s primary inspiration as it shares a plot point with the very first episode of the legendary Sixties science fiction show, The Invaders.

Mind you, it does have that odd weak point most of these “Fugitive” shows had: we never do learn where Richard is getting all the money we see him spending.

But then, I guess we could say that about David Vincent as well.

And, of course, once that half hour is over, we have to sit through the entire three and a half minute video (and all those references to Major Tom) once again.

I have to admit I liked this one.  It’s not great, it’s not brilliant, it is a failed Eighties pilot for a show which I suspect wouldn’t have lasted.  It does so many things so well, but it is either too silly or just not silly enough.

Take your pick.

But it wouldn’t be out of place in a midnight movie marathon…

And it is amazing just how good the robot makeup effects and other effects shots actually are.

Oh, and that car chase, too.

Although one does expect that you just wouldn’t have got anything this impressive in most episodes, no matter how long this one had lasted…



Check out our new Feature (Updated February 16, 2022):

The Rivets Zone:  The Best SF Movies You’ve Never Seen!




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