These days, most movies that shamelessly steal iconography and visuals from Hollywood movies come from the United States, with the late-2000s trend of “mockbusters” designed to trick grandmas at the video store. But such fine cinematic output as Transmorphers and The Day the Earth Stopped can’t hold a candle to what foreign film markets did to American hits in the 20th century. This article is a love letter to those weird, malformed, legally dubious clones of much better-known movies.
Lady Terminator (1989, directed by H. Tjut Djalil)
Rip-off status: a mix of an exact remake of scenes from The Terminator and some completely wild shit that isn’t related to Terminator at all.
We all know how the plot of The Terminator goes—the mom of humanity’s savior gets chased by an evil buff robot from the future, and the robot says cool stuff and murders people. Lady Terminator, a very weird Indonesian take on James Cameron’s first big hit, decides that story is stupid, and the way to improve it is to turn it into a fantasy movie with a big-haired killer lady at its center.
The way Lady Terminator goes about stealing from the source material is very strange—the middle of the movie contains the most direct homages, but its beginning and end are wildly original. The setup concerns a female archeology student searching for the undersea ruins of the South Sea Queen, an incredibly evil, powerful woman who has sex with tons of dudes and kills them with an eel living in her genitals when they can’t satisfy her. In an opening flashback, we see the Queen get bested by a man who steals her vagina-eel and turns it into a sick knife, for which she vows revenge on his great-granddaughter.
In the present day, the archeology student gets possessed by the vengeful spirit of the Queen, another eel finds its way into a place it shouldn’t be, and she walks out of the ocean nude, ready to murder a whole bunch of people.
The aforementioned great-granddaughter is the Sarah Connor figure of the film, with the Kyle Reese being a heroic American working for a special security force in Indonesia. After the insane fantasy stuff in the beginning, the movie gets to work ripping off scenes from The Terminator, with our villain stealing the clothes off some punks she murders with her eel, shooting up a nightclub in pursuit of her target and culminating with a police station massacre.
The absolutely insane police station deserves special attention, as it is easily the most wildly expensive and high-class example of its kind since the combination cop shop/art museum in Resident Evil 2. After every single military person in Indonesia gets murdered with an Uzi, the film jerks back into being its own weird thing, with a group of American caricatures getting in on the action and the Lady Terminator turning into a wildly gesticulating corpse that shoots lasers out of her eyes.
In case you can’t tell, this movie rules, and I probably enjoy it as much as the original Terminator. It isn’t available for streaming through any services, but you can buy it on DVD from Amazon for relatively cheap.
Great White/The Last Shark (1981, directed by Enzo G. Castellari)
Rip-off status: bad enough that Universal got involved.
Everybody wanted in on the money Jaws made. Spielberg’s first cinematic outing was a gargantuan success, with many film historians and directors acknowledging it as the first true blockbuster film. There were plenty of pretenders to the throne from other American studios—my two favorites being 1977’s Orca and ‘78’s Piranha. Both of these films have pretty distinctive traits, like Orca’s gorgeous Ennio Morricone score and Piranha’s vicious Joe Dante humor. Yet across the pond in Italy, director Enzo G. Castellari was adhering far closer to the template set up by the original shark thriller.
Great White, released in Europe as The Last Shark, follows the setup of Jaws pretty much to a T. An average joe—a sheriff in the original, a horror novelist in this one—teams up with a world-weary shark hunter to kill a shark before it eats too many tourists. The details of Great White, however, are far weirder. The ingenious plans to kill the titular fish include hoisting it out of the water with a helicopter and suffocating it, enticing it with steak and then blasting it in the face with a shotgun, and tricking the shark into eating dynamite. Eventually, feeding it a bomb works, and the ensuing explosion just kinda decapitates the shark. I guess they couldn’t afford a bigger blast without that Hollywood budget. Similarly, the less-is-more techniques employed by Spielberg are not in effect here, and we can see just how bad the fake shark looks in all its glory throughout the film.
The movie played in the U.S. for about a month, earning a respectable $18 million before Universal’s lawyers had it thrown out of theaters. Nowadays, you can catch it legally through Amazon Prime Video. Also, look up the movie’s main theme on YouTube—it’s an absolute bop.
Mahakaal (1993, directed by Shyam and Tulsi Ramsay)
Rip-off status: Pretty much just A Nightmare on Elm Street but with 200% more dancing.
Though it never had lawsuits thrown at it, the Bollywood film Mahakaal might as well be a straight-up remake of Wes Craven’s big hit. The plot beats remain exactly the same, as the ghost of an evil child murderer with a knife-glove haunts our protagonist in her dreams. The big changes the movie makes to the preexisting plot are the shift from middle-class suburbia to the upper classes of Indian society, the ever-present musical numbers and the constant threat of sexual assault from random thugs. I’m not sure if that last one really needed to be in there, honestly.
Bollywood cinema is a huge blind spot for me in general. I can’t quite compare Mahakaal to anything else, but the musical numbers are appreciably cheesy and catchy, and the comic relief spends most of the movie dressed up like Bad-era Michael Jackson, so that’s pretty funny. I certainly liked it more than I would a Bollywood remake of The Last House on the Left.
Shocking Dark/Terminator 2 (1989, directed by Bruno Mattei)
Rip-off status: Shamelessly steals from a James Cameron movie, but not the one you’d expect.
Shocking Dark is very weird. Never released in the U.S. for understandable legal reasons—until 2018 when it came out on Blu-ray under the title Shocking Dark—the 1990 film by Italian schlock-master Bruno Mattei does contain a powerful cyborg killing machine, but it’s mostly stealing from Aliens instead. Mattei was no stranger to shamelessly poaching from Hollywood: His Jaws riff, Cruel Jaws, straight-up reuses footage from Jaws 3D in several scenes.
The plot of Shocking Dark is way more complicated than it probably needs to be—in a future Venice that’s been covered in poison smog, an unseen force is picking off the inhabitants of tunnels beneath the city. An emissary from “The Tubular Corporation” joins up with a team of hardened soldiers to investigate the issue, and they’re besieged by goofy-looking monsters. The pacing and structure of several scenes are lifted straight out of Aliens, including the squad’s initial encounter with the enemy threat and the introduction of a young girl who’s been hiding out. Even the motion scanners are brought in, although I was surprised Mattei didn’t directly steal the iconic noise they made in the Cameron film.
When the movie finally gets around to stealing Terminator stuff, it’s pretty laughable, as the robot goes down far easier than Schwarzenegger. I don’t think the T-100 was ever laid low by a fire extinguisher spraying in its face. It’s cheap as hell, completely unoriginal and poorly directed, but it’s also a pretty decent time. Instead of searching for a bootleg VHS like enthusiasts had to do for years, you can now grab the Blu-ray from Severin Films, which is far and away the most lavish treatment this film has ever received.
All of these films have my seal of approval, and they’d make a fantastic marathon. It’s fascinating how a director can steal wholesale from a film to the point of inciting legal action in some cases and still manage to fill their work with a ton of weird, personal touches. The era of these films seems to have passed, as most rip-offs these days have a lot less soul in them. I’m amazed these films are as easy to find in the 21st century as they are. I guess that speaks well of their ability to captivate audiences with their own stupid charm.