Cyclone (1987) – Superbikes and synthesisers

Don’t be fooled by the title, this is not a lame disaster movie about inclement weather, it’s actually an awesome, totally 80s, on-the-run flick, involving a radical, military prototype motorbike that shoots lasers and runs on hydrogen. Cyclone is a movie close to my heart, more of a guilty pleasure than a total trash heap, and directed by the one and only Fred Olen Ray. There’s a tonne of goodness on offer, including a half-decent story, a sweet future bike, destructive car chases, teen heartthrob Heather Thomas, and stuntman extraordinaire Dar Robinson. Probably the best part, though, is the sweet, sweet synthesiser score featuring a blatant Phil Collins rip off.

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The title refers to the world-changing invention of scientist Rick, played by Jeffrey Combs – the sciencey character in everything from Steve Martin’s The Man with Two Brains to cheesy-scary Lovecraft adaptation The Re-Animator. He’s made a sweet, armour-plated, nitrous kitted, weaponised bike, radar stealthed in silver paint. The real important part, though, is its hydrogen powered battery. Unsurprisingly this power source is hot property to the government who are funding it, as well as some wealthy criminal parties.

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Rick has just finished the project, so we’re treated to a steamy makeout scene where his girlfriend Teri, 80s pinup Heather Thomas of The Fall Guy fame, sexily recites some Einstein for him. It’s pretty great. Unfortunately, when they take this celebration out to a hip Metal dive, Rick has a run in with a leather-clad, white-haired dude and an ice pick. This assassin is the aforementioned stuntman of legend, Dar Robinson, famous for his freefall work in everything from Highpoint to Lethal Weapon. Tragically Cyclone was among his last films, as he died on the set of Million Dollar Mystery a few months later. This turn of events leaves Teri in charge of the Cyclone and on the run from everyone – prepare yourselves for fantastic car chases, including one where a station wagon turns into a convertible, and plenty of explosions.

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For a presumably tiny budget, Ray has worked his usual magic and assembled a fine cast, of mostly aging, minor Hollywood stars. Oscar-winner Martin Landau  makes a memorable appearance as a shady character chasing Rick’s battery – North by Northwest, Cleopatra, but the Oscar was, rather fittingly, for the later Ed Wood. 60s Bond girl Martine Beswick is here, the one who had a catfight with Raquel Welch. So is Robert Quarry, who lived with Joseph Cotton for a while and starred in Count Yorga, Vampire and its sequel – I think he’s also Ray’s uncle, so make of that what you will. As for the young actors, Combs is a bit of a square, and doesn’t give a patch on his oddball performance in The Re-Animator, although bizarrely his video message to Teri, through a Sony television, is a touching moment. Thomas handles herself pretty well, showcasing some believable emotion as the whirlwind of events unfold, and she struts her stuff in some well-shot action scenes. She also gets the line “you’re as plastic as your tits,” which is just fantastic.

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There is quite an extensive crew behind Cyclone, impressive when you consider the low cost production it is. They’re mostly Ray’s regular collaborators, unsurprisingly taking a lot of cues from Noir and cheesy Sci-fi, and the movie certainly has its visual moments. While the movie’s overall style is nothing to write home about, it’s good enough to propel the mildly thrilling story. Also in spite of the budget, the production design is pretty solid – the titular bike is actually pretty cool and almost holds up 30 years later, and the reuse of locations is only occasionally noticeable. The best setting is Rick’s lab, complete with Sony products and lots of beeping electronics. As usual, my favourite stylistic element is the music. David A Jackson has created a pounding synthesiser score that drives the action, leaving you lost in a heady, 80s milieu. Throw in a few originals for good measure, including an actual Metal band called Haunted Garage (watch this if you’re wondering).

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Fred Olen Ray may not be a familiar Hollywood name, but by golly should it be – the man has proven himself time and again as a B movie legend. He started out in the early 80s as a creator of crazy, low budget Horror and Sci-fi, soon becoming a fully fledged trash auteur. Along with his solid set of skills, he developed quite a contact list, often netting some minor stars for his productions – whether they were faded or not is another matter. This straight-to-VHS visionary transitioned to a relatively successful career in T&A films in the early 90s, still making his beloved Horrors on the side, and occasionally combining the two genres. This rather unbelievable career has seen Ray work on countless projects, under various pseudonyms, with his catalogue closing in on 200 films, nearly 150 of those as director. I don’t claim to be an expert, but I can say he’s one of my favourite directors, and that he would want you to know of his distant relations to everyone from King John to Ulysses S Grant.

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Cyclone is one of the few films I’ve written about lately that isn’t purely appealing for its trash factor. There is lot to enjoy here, from an on-the-run narrative that provides a few thrills and crazy action, to some rather quality acting from a cast populated by heartthrobs and minor Hollywood legends. There’s also that sweet synthesiser score, and some cheesy special effects among the things to feast your senses on. Don’t worry, there’s still the occasional bit of terrible dialogue, some jarring overdubs, and a little plot confusion to chuckle at. It’s also a Fred Olen Ray film, one of the best to ever do what he does, and that in itself is a thing of beauty.

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