B Movies Inspirations: Death Machine (1994)
I found this movie after researching the last film I wrote about, Outpost and decided to research it. It has a interesting production story in that it had four different versions made because the director was never satisfied with it. It was also controversial for its time because of the psychotic behavior and drug use (wow, if they could see what we watch on TV now!).
Chaank Armaments is experimenting with the ultimate fighting machine which is part human – part machine. So far, the Hardman project has been unreliable and has killed a number of innocent people. The genius behind this project is Jack who lives in a world of models, toys and magazines. When he is fired by Cale for killing a few corporate officers, he unleashes the ultimate killing machine called the ‘Warbeast’ against Cale and those who would help her.
Also interesting was some of the names of the characters.
- Brad Dourif’s character Jack Dante, named after Joe Dante, director of Gremlins, The Howling, and Innerspace to name a few.
- William Hootkins’ character John Carpenter, named after John Carpenter (Halloween, The Thing).
- John Sharian’s character Raimi, named after Sam Raimi (Evil Dead, Spiderman).
- Martin McDougall’s character Yutani
- Andreas Wisniewski’s character Weyland, both named after the corporation in the Alien franchise, Weyland-Yutani.
- Richard Brake’s character Scott Ridley, named after director Ridley Scott (Alien, Prometheus).
Looks like the writer spent as much time on the character names as originality of the plot. When I saw this movie’s premise, I felt like it was the quintessential B-movie from the 90s. It looked like a sad rip-off of Robocop, with elements of Aliens, Terminator and Die Hard. And as it turns out, I was right. But it did have some nice little nuggets for an RPG GM.
The movie starts out planting the plot element of the super soldier program (a la Universal Soldier) that this mega-corporation called Chaank is engaged in. It’s apparent that the experiment is a dismal failure as you watch a super soldier made up in black padded armor and a cheesy helmet with flip-back shades pound the wall of a bathroom in the old-style diner it just destroyed. Then it shifts to the corporate headquarters, surrounded by press and protesters accusing the corporation of illegal experiments.
Long story short, we meet the corporate executives, the board and some of the workers who are scrambling to find something to work for the super soldier program. One particular crazy employee played by Brad Dourif (the aforementioned Jack Dante) is developed into the primary antagonist because of his work on the failed super soldier project as well as his secret work in the bowels of the corporate HQ labs. Also introduced is a group of criminals/pseudo activists who are plotting to rob the corporate head quarters, Diehard-style. A group of corporate heads along with these criminals end up trapped in the HQ building being chased down by Dante’s secret project – a robotic beast that senses and “feeds” on fear. Picture a cross between Terminator, Ed209 from Robocop and a little of the lift-suit from Aliens. Unleashed by a (brilliantly acted) vengeful and psychotic Dante, the war beast chases down unlikely allies who are forced to join together to escape.
SPOILERS: The big twist in the movie comes when there are only three survivors left and they have to resort to extreme measures. I should have seen this coming but I didn’t. They go into the labs of the failed Project Hardman and one of the criminals volunteers to don the suit and have his personality downloaded to a chip. This way he has no fear, get it? Thus the robot war beast can not detect him as a target. It turns into a battle royale between two corporate experiments as people try to scramble to get out of the building.
The twist is what I found most inspiring for a role playing game. Putting the characters in a situation where they have to make a decision to use experimental devices to survive is very cool to me. I like giving characters hard choices. There are so many ways this can be used in an RPG adventure.
- Setting: sci-fi – An experimental gene-altering formula that the players hope is temporary that turns the individual into something – Hulk-like being or whatever – to fight an alien creature or genetic experiment gone haywire.
- Setting: fantasy – A mysterious magic item that the players gamble on to change one of the characters into something to defeat a big beastie at the gate.
You can’t go wrong with giving players hard choices. It creates great drama and story. However, you do run the risk of railroading so it is important to include choices that might be more difficult but not involve altering one’s genetic make-up or whatever. Give them options and depending on how adventurous they are, perhaps they will take the more fun route.