Robot Jox & MechCorps @ The Alamo Drafthouse

Tonight the Houston Alamo Drafthouse was beset on all sides by giant robots. A pristine 35mm print of the classic (cough cough…) giant robot film by Stuart Gordon, Robot Jox was accompanied by MechCorps’ robot battle simulators. Said simulators appear to be the eggs laid by much larger battle machines, and they are a blast. (Sorry)

Giant robot eggs

I arrived at the theater a little close to showtime so I didn’t get to try out the simulator right away. I did notice one thing at once though, these guys are truly passionate about giant robots. Secondly, they aren’t averse to outsiders asking questions. You get the feeling that they want you in their club, I like that in a subculture. Anyway, more about MechCorps in a bit.

I should say that my reaction upon learning that the Alamo was going to be screening Robot Jox, let alone in a big event like this, was one of no small surprise. I barely remembered that this movie existed, even though a preteen me was all about it. Once I saw the trailer though, it all came rushing back. I like the movie, as silly as it is, but I wasn’t expecting a big crowd. I’d even heard tell that it was screened on a dare. However, it was an unmitigated success. The crowd was one of the rowdier I’ve seen at an Alamo screening. They called out and laughed loudly at the preshow clips. There was a palpable energy to the room. Like a robot fist on a piston repeatedly tapping it’s opponent laying belly-up on the floor, the excitement continued unabated.

Then the screen changed to this and the show preamble began:

It was a dark theater and I wanted to avoid using a flash, but if you squint your eyes you can probably see our master of ceremonies, Robert Saucedo (who is also a contributor to this blog), standing just below the O in Robot. Robert took the stage and, in usual top form, went through a quick history of the film. This was the film that put an end to Empire pictures and exiled Charles Band to unending Puppet Master sequels. This was not an especially “good” picture but it was a fun picture. What hit me as the funniest and most ridiculous factoid about the film was this: “Stuart Gordon wanted to make a sci-fi version of The Iliad and wound up with Robot Jox.” You know, as many laughs as that line drew (myself included), I’d still rather watch it than Troy.

So then it was time to bring on Mech Corps. First up was a general overview of their group. It was said that they expect to have an official storefront in the near future where people will be able to pilot mechs from their giant robot eggs as much as they like. They also gave examples of the odd places their services had been requested. While bachelor parties came up, I must admit that my first thought was: “what about weddings?” I mean, if they can do it in WOW, why not in a mech? That would be considerably more awesome. Then a rep for Space City Con came up and gave a pitch. Looks like they are expecting a pretty good sci-fi line up this year. This brings us to the game portion of the proceedings. Often, with a large enough crowd, there will be a audience participation section before a screening. For the vaunted prize of tickets to Space City Con, three contestants took the stage to do the robot. As in dance.

This was, to say the least, entertaining. The winner was crowned by applause. By my account it was a pretty close call between the girl and the long haired guy but Mr. Longhair won:

I have to say that his interpretation of “the robot” was much more impassioned than the others. Where the first contestant attempted to replicate our expectations and the girl (sorry I don’t know any of your names) brought some spirited ballet stylings, Mr. Longhair elevated the proceedings to the level of interpretive dance. Enjoy Space City Con my friend.

So, without further adieu the movie started:

Like I mentioned before, the print was perfect. Evidently it came from MGM’s own vault. The premise of the film is that after a rather nasty nuclear holocaust the world has decided to outlaw war. I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like a pretty good idea. Perhaps we could get Stuart Gordon to replace our outgoing Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, during Obama’s second term. I don’t know why we haven’t thought of it, but outlawed war has pretty good ring to it. Of course, with no war, how are we going to settle international disputes? Diplomacy? Fuck off! Giant robot battles? Of course! So, that’s all you really need to know. If you miss the days that all Americans were required to hate the Russians but you also love women with weird mullets, this is your movie. Also, seems like it would be uncomfortable to constantly walk around naked underneath a jumpsuit. Imagine the chafing…

So the movie ends and I file out of the cinema. I spend a little time chatting with Rotten Cotton’s own Chuck Bird and Robert Saucedo (Special mention goes to Chuck’s wife Alicia who put up with our nerding). So now is my time to check out these robot egg battle simulators. I walk outside into a balmy summer Houston evening and sign up for my chance to fight. I take a seat and observe the crowd as I await my turn. Like I said, these guys are dedicated. They are dedicated in the way that, if you give them a chance, is infectious. I’m reminded of this really awesome vendor I once met at Texas Frightmare Weekend who sold carnivorous plants. When someone is truly in love with something and wants you to be too, their enthusiasm draws you in. That’s what Mech Corps is like. That and they have giant machines that you sit in and simulate fighting to the death in robots that are armed to the teeth.

I decided I wanted the full immersive experience so, despite the heat, I closed the door on my pod. Even though the graphics look like they haven’t received an update since the mid 90s:

This is the kind of arcade experience that proves that gameplay beats graphics any day of the week. With the pod door closed, I sat with two foot pedals below me, a throttle too my right and an acceleration, uh, throttle to my left. Most of the controls are pretty intuitive but there is an orientation video they play that you can watch to familiarize yourself. Once the match begins it’s each pod for itself in a deathmatch not unlike those in Robot Jox. I’ll admit that I often wasn’t sure of what I was doing, but I ended up in 2nd place…against tw0 8 year olds. So, uh, yeah.

The point is that if you live in the Houston area you should look into Mech Corps. It’s a lot of fun and it’s different from any gaming experience you’ve had, and the people are awesome. Additionally, as if you didn’t already know this, the Alamo Drafthouse is the place to go for top notch genre-film programming. They literally are putting stuff on like this all the time. I myself will be co-hosting, along with Maestro Saucedo, a Nightmare on Elm Street triple feature coming up this month. Lastly, Robot Jox is a really fun movie. It’s silly and it brings back the old Cold War prejudices in a much more fun way than any Stallone picture. I’ll close with just two words. If these two words don’t entice you to see Robot Jox then, like the Black Christmas tagline said, uh, your skin is on too tight…That doesn’t really work does it? Anyway, those two words are: CHAINSAW PENIS!

Thank you and goodnight.


Jonathan Watson

About Jonathan Watson

Father, husband, horror fan. I fell in love with the genre around age 5 when I began watching, the Rankin/Bass classic, Mad Monster Party on repeat. Now that I have little monsters of my own, I'm looking forward to training them in a couple of years. For the time being, I'll be satisfied to entertain you fine folks. Now, go make me look good and buy some shirts already.