Retro Review | The Guyver (1991)

Retro Review | The Guyver (1991)


The Guyver makes the transition from Japanese anime to live action in this 1991 low-budget American sci-fi film.

Background

Back in the early 1990’s, anime (Japanese animation) exploded onto the scene here in the UK with the VHS release of Akira from a new company entitled Manga UK.

This was new, this was exciting! Here was an animation that wasn’t British or American and it blew our minds! We wanted more, lots more!

Manga UK delivered in spades. As well as standalone feature-length movies, they also released serialised animation monthly for around £7 per VHS tape. Each tape featured trailers for other anime titles and one 20-30 minute episode of the series in question.

I remember purchasing episodic releases of both Crying Freeman and Guyver: Bio-Booster Armour on a regular basis.

The Guyver was an organic alien technology that took the form of full body armour to the one who possessed it. In this case, it falls into the hands of a young schoolboy, Tetsurō Segawa.

He discovers that an evil corporation, Chronos, has been experimenting with mixing alien DNA and humans. This allows a human test subject to transform into a large monster, known as a Zoanoid, with enhanced physical abilities.

Turn the clock forward a year or so and whilst browsing my local Blockbuster video store, I come across a film entitled Mutronics.

It wasn’t the name that caught my attention but rather the live action version of the Guyver: Bio-Booster Armour that graced the front cover. Flipping the case over revealed more pictures from the film that showcased more live action counterparts of the original anime series.

I remember being fairly impressed at the time and after a random reminder, I recently gave the film another viewing.


The Guyver in all his glory!


Synopsis

Taken from Wikipedia

The film tells of a young man, Sean Barker, who discovers an alien artefact called “The Unit” which changes Barker into an alien-hybrid super soldier called “The Guyver”. Barker learns that a major corporation called “Chronos” is after the Guyver unit and soon discovers that the people behind Chronos are not human after all.


My Thoughts

Mutronics was the European release name for the film that was entitled The Guyver in the U.S.

Opening with a narrated scrolling text, the film tells you the basics of the plot which seems a little overkill as by the films end it was all explained.

The first scene opens with a research scientist, Dr Tetsu Segawa, on the run from a group of heavies. In his silver metallic briefcase case is the Guyver. A prototype alien artefact that has recently been discovered.

When he realises the chase is almost over, he switches the Guyver for a discarded toaster and places the alien armour in a plastic lunchbox nearby.

The heavies catch up with the Dr Segawa and the gang leader mutates into his Zoanoid form.

Here’s when you realise the film has a strangely comedic tone that doesn’t really match the films subject matter. With all the aliens played by men in rubber suits (more on this later), it feels like an adult version of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles or even The Power Rangers.

The leader of the gang, Lisker, is played by Michael Berryman, most famous for his appearance in the Wes Craven horror film, The Hills Have Eyes. For myself, I’ll always think of him as the mutant biker from the classic 80’s teen comedy Weird Science.

The gang under his control comprises of three people. Firstly there is Weber, a muscular woman who always wears leather. Then there’s the fat man, Ramsey, who reminds you of those large security guards you see in the shops, i.e. useless.

Finally, there’s the stereotypical African American character, Striker, who raps at every chance and is apparently the comedy character. Especially when he is in his Zoanoid form (again, more on that later).

Lisker mutates into his Zoanoid form and takes on Dr Segawa who has also undergone the same mutation. After a brief fight, Lisker crushes his opponent’s head and the fallen mutated body starts to disintegrate, leaving almost no evidence of the conflict.

Watching the whole conflict from afar is C.I.A. agent Max Reed, played by Mark Hamill. He was contacted by Dr Segawa, asking for his help. Once the conflict ends, Reed investigates further to discover Dr Segawa has been killed with just a partial skeleton remaining.

Reed makes his way to a local Karate dojo to find Vivian, Dr Segawa’s daughter. It is here we are also introduced to the film’s hero, Sean. He isn’t concentrating on his karate lessons and clearly has an interest in Vivian.

When Max takes Vivian to the crime scene, Sean follows on his moped. Once there, Sean keeps his distance and this is when he stumbles upon the Guyver unit.

Fascinated by its appearance, but not enough to actually study it further, he shoves it into his backpack and makes his way home. Unfortunately, his moped gives out and he finds himself in gang territory.


The Guyver Unit.


A fight ensues and the Guyver unit is flung from his backpack. In trying to retrieve the Guyver, Sean is knocked to the ground and headbutts the device.

The Guyver is activated and the bio-mechanical armour becomes one with Sean in what is an impressive rendition of the original anime sequence.

Pieces of armour fly onto different parts of Sean’s anatomy with the final reveal being the helmet. The eye-pieces twitch, the spike raises on top of the helmet and twin jets of steam burst from the mouth jets as if the whole transformation took tremendous energy and the suit is breathing a sigh of relief it’s all over.

Sean, as the Guyver, starts to pick off the street gang one by one.

The live action version of the Guyver armour is very faithful to the original anime source. It’s clear the special effects artists who worked on this low budget film have a love for the original animated series.

The only downside is that the Guyver is not very tall and at the end of the day nothing will change the fact that this is a stuntman in a rubber suit but that is where the appeal lies for me.

Remember the original mob of heavies? The leader, Lisker, mutates into the most impressive monster that closely resembles the Zoanoids from the original anime series.

His three subordinates don’t fare so well. The female of the group, Weber, mutates into a hairy bird thing and barely does any fighting.

The large man of the group, Ramsey, mutates into a monster with the trunk of an elephant giving him enhanced nasal abilities. He still looks silly though with a miniature trunk and his continued elephant calls.

Worst of all is M.C. Striker who becomes a monster version of an ugly Gremlin (not the cute furry versions but the fed after midnight variety). Large comical ears, huge lips and comical bug eyes don’t help the film at all.

It’s an impressive piece of sculpture and creature suit work but I wonder what the makers were thinking inserting a larger than life comical element into this film.

When the climatic fight is taken to the enemies’ headquarters, the Zoanoids become even more ridiculous. One is based on a fly, another a goat(?) and some that are just original gross designs that they don’t even work as monsters. This especially rings true when they’re involved in fight situations.


(Left to Right) Vivian, Weber, Lisker and M.C. Striker.


One scene involves our heroes escaping up the stairs because one monster physically can’t climb them due to his suit design. This is all played out to comical effect with the soundtrack further enhancing the silly moment.

Whilst some of these designs look great on a standalone basis, it tends to fall apart when they start fighting the Guyver. At the end of the day, it will always look like men in suits slapping each other about. Although in some instances the Guyver does use more violent methods and blood does occasionally fly across the screen. This isn’t for the kids!

The final battle introduces a Zoanoid that’s almost too big for the building. This has been achieved with the use of miniatures intercutting with live action elements. It’s very ambitious for the low budget film and probably the weakest action sequence of the film.

Special mention must go to Mark Hamill’s transformation into a Zoanoid which everyone obviously worked hard on. Unfortunately, Hamill, as the strange beetle creature he becomes, dies almost straight away after the transformation is complete. This is a shame as what is seen of his monster suit is very impressive.

But it’s not all monsters and alien bio-mechanical armour in this film, there are several humans as well!

Our hero, Sean Barker, is played by Jack Armstrong and is typical straight to video class of actor. He’s alright with a hint of terrible in places. Believe me, that’s quite some praise compared to the others in this film.

His girlfriend to be, Vivian Wu, is played by Mizki Segawa. Simply awful.  Apparently, this was her third acting role, it quite clearly shows.

Mark Hamill as the CIA Agent Max Reed is okay at best. He always wears the exact same clothes throughout the film and is constantly smoking to let you know he’s a tough agent of the law. Not one of his finer acting moments. You wonder if he needed the money now that the Skywalker cash had dried up?

If you think I’m, sounding harsh, the enemies of the film probably come off worst of all.

As previously mentioned Lisker, played by Michael Berryman, seems to have two personalities. In front of his small gang of thugs, he plays it big, acting tough. As soon as he’s placed in front of his boss, he turns into a shivering wreck of a man too scared to do anything. I think he spends more time on screen in his Zoanoid form, which is probably for the best.

His girlfriend/gang member Weber, as played by Spice Williams­-Crosby doesn’t fare much better. Even when she is in her Zoanoid form, the most she gets to do is stop Vivian from escaping by holding onto her during a fight scene.

The big guy, Ramsey, is played by Peter Spellos. He doesn’t talk much in his human form, just grunts. His Zoanoid form, the creature with elephant features as discussed earlier, is laughable too.

Finally, the last member of the gang is equally annoying whatever form he’s in. M.C. Striker, played by Jimmie Walker, is just generally incompetent as a bad guy and he’s played up for comedy effect especially in his Zoanoid form which I mentioned earlier.

I almost forgot about the big boss, David Gale as Fulton Balcus. When he speaks it is always with a menacing tone and he loves to chew the scenery.


Vivian and Sean/The Guyver.


The real redeeming features of this film are the practical suit effects and designs, especially the Guyver and Lisker’s Zoanoid form which looked to have received the most money/attention to detail. This was probably due to the talented team behind the camera, especially the directors.

The Guyver was co-directed by makeup artist and creature designer Steve Wang who has worked with fellow veteran special effects technicians such as Stan Winston (Terminator, Jurassic Park) and Rick Baker (Gremlins, Men In Black).

The other half of the directing team was Screaming Mad George. Another veteran of the special effects industry, he has worked on such cult classics as Big Trouble in Little China, Predator and the Nightmare On Elm Street series.


 

The Guyver is one of those films that is quite bad/cheesy but still fun to watch because of it. -4/5

The film was left open-ended and three years later in 1994 saw the release of Guyver: Dark Hero (or as my friends and I nicknamed it, Guyver: Rubber Suited Hero!)

That review to come soon!



John Abbitt

About the author | John Abbitt

@UKFilmNerd | John loves the movies and he used to write for his own website, The Tydirium Hangar Bay, in the late 1990's. Whilst the web page idea became lost in the passages of time, John's love of film did not. Now he's back, writing for The Unheard Nerd.