In 1988, Mystery Science Theater 3000 debuted on a local TV station in Minneapolis. Although it would go through many different iterations and channels over the years, the premise has always been the same: mock bad movies with a loving smirk.
Yes, the movies are terrible. Sometimes they’re beyond-the-pale awful. But Mystery Science Theater movies generally aren’t the type that actively try to be a cult classic. Maybe nobody was paying attention to the film’s development, maybe budgets got slashed halfway through, maybe everyone just needed a paycheck. Regardless, MST3K movies can feel like the detritus of film history. No one knows how or why they exist, but to take joy from them in any possible way is a gift.
So it’s in the best possible way that Albert Pyun’s 1996 movie Omega Doom is a Mystery Science Theater movie. If Pyun’s name is familiar, you’re probably an MST3K veteran; they riffed on his Alien in L.A., in which the protagonist learns her father fatally fell into a bottomless hole.
Things are equally bleak in Omega Doom. There’s been a conflict between humans and robots, and the robots won. But, as the audience learns in a Dylan Thomas-quoting opening monologue delivered by star Rutger Hauer (most famous for Blade Runner), a human soldier was able to get one last shot off after a nuclear bomb sent the world back to the Dark Ages.
Their last-ditch attack went right into the programming of robot assassin Omega Doom (Hauer). His programming was rewritten to not make destroying all of humanity his objective, although at this point it barely matters. Humanity’s done for. All that’s left are the robots and rumors of scattered human encampments.
But despite what other robot apocalypse movies like The Terminator would tell you, these robots aren’t part of some hive mind. They break into gangs called the Roms and Droids, for reasons the movie doesn’t explain. The Roms are more advanced, which you can tell because they wear black, have the same haircut, and sport wraparound sunglasses, like low-budget Matrix precursors.
As a roaming robot, Omega Doom happens to wander through a town of warring Droids and Roms. One Droid, Marko (Jahi Zuri) is playing soccer with the head of another robot, now just known as Head (Norbert Weisser, who played a Norwegian in the original The Thing). Omega Doom rescues him and is rewarded with knowledge of a secret stash of guns, a weapon that could swing the robot gang conflict for either side.
Omega Doom then becomes a Yojimbo-style movie, which means it’s a movie influenced by Dashiell Hammett’s seminal 1929 crime novel Red Harvest. In Red Harvest, a nameless detective comes to a crime-ridden town and plays the town’s gangs against each other, causing them to save the town by eliminating themselves.
Hammett’s novel is pure hard-boiled excitement, and Akira Kurosawa’s Yojimbo is a masterpiece. Omega Doom is neither. The costumes are cheap, the script isn’t as clever as it thinks it is, and everyone has awkward shuffling robot walks. Surrounding all this is Hauer, in his typical nonchalant pose.
Pyum told Gizmodo in 2012 that Hauer is “methodical in the way he works, and he has a natural sort of — it's not arrogance, but he has a bearing, and it travels with him and it's a part of him. And I wanted to bring that out, but it can't really come out when he plays a regular person.” That’s what made him so effective in Blade Runner, and he plays the role of stoic stranger in Omega Doom well enough.
But the script is terrible, the sets are awful, and everyone is just clomping around. It’s a lot of fun. Omega Doom passes the biggest test of any movie hoping to transition from “bad” to “so bad it’s good”—at 83 minutes, it doesn’t overstay its welcome. So if you and your buddies want to do your own MST3K night, get on this before they do.
Omega Doom is streaming on Amazon Prime.