Because the early ‘90s were still in the technological copper age, I had very little access to the infant Internet. Living in a small town, I had little exposure to anime hounds and had seen little more than Akira at this point in my life, thus had little point of reference for the culture of crazy cartoons. I’d somehow managed to avoid The Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers all of this time, had never been much of a Godzilla fan (and knew not of kaiju at this point in my cultural education) and had only dim memories of Speed Racer or Ultraman. So when The Guyver was put before me, I only gave a damn because it had Brian Yuzna’s name stamped on it. He’d produced Re-Animator and directed the slightly less-interesting Bride of Re-Animator, not to mention the daffy and slimy Society, so I was eager for this new little eye-ball feast.
Without knowing its origins, I was mildy amused by the story of a kung-fu student named Sean (Jack Armstrong), smitten with a young Japanese girl who accidentally winds up symbiotically joined at the neck with a “Guyver Unit”—a biomechanical suit of armor that encases his body and ramps up his kung-fu skills, enabling to fight the likes of Michael Berryman and Jimmy J.J. Walker who transform into bizarrely mutated monsters themselves. Oh, and it also had Mark Hamill in it (incorrectly—misleadingly—evilly—shown as the Guyver on the DVD box art), and David Gale, who played the evil severed head of Dr. Hill in Re-Animator. And did I mention that “Herbert West” himself, Jeffrey Combs pops up in the end, playing “Dr. East”? I’m sure I did. Anyway, it was a kung-fu monster movie with awesomely-goofy designs by effects guy Screaming Mad George, so I was more than satisfied with the results, even though the story about aliens and their “Zoanoids” didn’t make much sense.
Now that I’m older, wiser, and more educated in the Guyver’s history as first manga (Japanese comic books to those of you reading this review in 1991) then anime, watching the movie again I have to admit…it still doesn’t make much sense. But it’s fun and doesn’t have too many slow spots so I still give it a pass, nostalgic sap that I am.
In all seriousness, The Guyver is not that great a movie and you’ll enjoy it much more if you have a fondness for Yuzna’s chaotic ‘80s horror comedies, not to mention a soft spot for the wonderful Michael Berryman ("Everything's better with Berryman!"). And at least a tolerance for Jimmy Walker, who turns into a gremlin by way of Ralph Bakshi and raps… too often. I’m told that if you are a fan of the manga or anime, this movie exists solely to piss you off and probably kicks you when you’re not looking. Having had only minor exposure to the anime series, I can’t say that the live action movie is an improvement or a detriment.
I can say that the follow-up, Guyver: Dark Hero, also directed by Steve Wang, was much better received by anime fans than the first. Part of this has to do with the absence of Yuzna’s comedy as well as the absence of Jack Armstrong (in fact, in Dark Hero, Sean is played by David Hayter, screenwriter of X-Men and X2), and sticks a little closer to the original storyline. To my uneducated eyes, Dark Hero seemed even more like the Power Rangers and the monsters were more kaiju than Screaming Mad George’s. So I didn’t care for it. Leave it to me to dislike something superior.
But when all is said and done, The Guyver is little more than what it sets out to be: guy in a slick H.R. Geiger outfit goes head-to-head with B-movie actors playing monsters. It doesn’t promise to be anything else. Sometimes the action works, sometimes it doesn’t. For my money, there’s nothing funnier than the yak-headed monster in the lab coat and tie near the end. But, again, that’s just me.
For some reason, after rewatching it recently, I realized that I have been misremembering its gore quotient all these years. I’m so used to Yuzna-produced movies dripping with the red stuff I was actually surprised at how tame the action was in Guyver. Of course, it was released theatrically with a PG-13 rating, so that should have played some role in my memory. However, I do recall watching it on a bootleg video a few months before its release, so perhaps it was gorier before the final release. Alas, that video tape has been lost to the winds of time so I can’t go back to confirm or deny. I just remember monster brains.
Now, if this train-wreck of a review has you interested to check The Guyver out for yourself, it’s readily available on DVD. I would recommend you get Dark Hero as well so you can compare the two. I’m told one is better than the other, but you can’t go by me. Obviously.