1995 was an important year for me, for it was the year I first obtained semi-regular access to new issues of Fangoria. It took a burgeoning interest in horror and solidified it into a passion. Those lurid imported pages were full of movies that I hoped and prayed would find their way onto the shelves of my local independent video rental emporium. All of us of a certain age had one. The smaller and dingier of the two in town. Usually run by a man of a certain age with rings on his nicotine stained fingers, a dark blue v-neck covering a white shirt and tie, and ferrety eyes behind tinted sunglasses, even in winter. He greeted you with a yellowing smile and would raise an eyebrow at the certificate on the video you presented to him but would usually ask no questions and take your £1.50. No? Just me? Oh well then.
It was one of those issues of Fangoria that introduced me to this film: EVOLVER, which my youthful brain was immediately convinced would be the must see film of the year. Killer robots? Virtual Reality? Computer hacking teenagers? Oh Boy sign me up.
Eventually it appeared on the shelf, and joy of joys it didn’t have a ‘rented’ marker on it. I ran home clutching it in my hands and pressed play.
Those of you playing the home game will remember when Hammered Horror covered CHOPPING MALL, and we described it as SHORT CIRCUIT designed by Amstrad. If that’s the case, EVOLVER is what would happen if CHOPPING MALL had a new years fling with the computer from LAWNMOWER MAN whilst Johnny 5 watched from the corner demanding more input and sobbing into his cheap bourbon and WD40 cocktail.
EVOLVER tells the story of Kyle, a know it all teen who has spent his allowance perfecting a VR Arcade game: Evolver. For being the ‘best’ player in the country he gets to take things to the next level and welcome a real life Evolver robot into his house. But where did this technology come from? Why are people going missing? How much is this going to put onto their electricity bill? Will Kyles Mother ever get laid? Will anyone ever eat the meatloaf in the oven?
The cast is made up of young unknowns and known stars that are, frankly, slumming it a little. John Delancie finds himself needing some hat money between Star Trek Franchises and so phones in a performance as mad scientist Russell Bennett. Ethan Embry found time to appear in this film in the same year he made EMPIRE RECORDS, which whilst poorly received upon release at least has found a second life as a beloved underdog film. No such luck for EVOLVER.
Paul Dooley appears as the owner of the company funding EVOLVER, and unlike LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS his character isn’t replaced by James Belushi at any point. The stand out star of the entire film is there in voice only. The titular robot is voiced by one W.H. Macy. I’m guessing this one doesn’t appear on his resume too often.
Speaking of the robot, despite the limited budget it is a solidly designed piece of kit that is quite effective when on screen and never suffers from the flimsy wobbles of its CHOPPING MALL predecessors. This can be put down to its real designer, special effects guru Steve Johnson. In the same year this was released he was winning awards for his work on SPECIES and has had a storied career either side, taking in films such as GHOSTBUSTERS and Tim Burtons abandoned SUPERMAN LIVES project.
The real saving grace of the film is the robot. It’s effective on screen, and carries its meatbag counterparts to passable performances. It’s creative in appearance and the way it ‘evolves’ is believable. It becomes a moderately believable threat and keeps the film entertaining.
Amazingly(?) there is no collector Blu Ray edition of EVOLVER available. In fact, DVDs are proving relatively hard to find although it can be seen on Netflix in some regions and Youtube. For some reason no copyright claims are incoming on this title.
If you’re going to watch this, I’d recommend people check this out as part of a double bill with a good movie, or maybe another bad killer robot movie, like CHOPPING MALL. At least then you get some Dick Miller in your life as well.