A new book is on the way detailing the endeavors of the 1991 and 1994 cult live-action adaptations, The Guyver and Guyver: Dark Hero. The book, titled “Budget Biomorphs: The Making Of The Guyver Films”, which will cover cast and crew stories, never-before-seen behind the scenes photos from crew who worked on both films, storyboards, concept art and more, is on track to publish by BearManor Media for a late 2022/early 2023 release date.
The book has been in the works for sometime now from author Dom O’Brien, who first took note of the films at the age of eight when his father was friends with a guy who ran a local video store in North London. Having initially discovered Guyver: Dark Hero and due to its age certification, O’Brien was eventually able to watch the film a few years later and ultimately discovered the films’ animated serial origins, and then proceded to catch the first live-action film which was branded as Mutronics: The Movie for its UK release from 20:20 Vision / Medusa Pictures.
“Due to the name change in the U.K. and Europe, most young Guyver fans were unaware this was the first ‘Guyver’ film, and while it was tonally very different from ‘Dark Hero’, there was a lot to like about its bizarreness, not least because of the amazing creature effects work.” he said. “In fact, I credit the first ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’ film and ‘Labyrinth’ as features that kick-started my love affair with practical effects work and this was only intensified after seeing the ‘Guyver’ films and other Tokusatsu properties.”
The Guyver franchise takes its cues from Yoshiki Takaya’s 1985 launch of the character in “Bio Boosted Armor Guyver”, first published under the Tokuma Shoten label through the late 1990s when the manga continued under Kadokawa Shoten. The manga spawned a 12-episode animated series from studio Visual 80, and was followed up by a 26-epsiode series in 2005 from OLM.
Special effects artist and filmmaker Joji Tani (a.k.a. Screaming Mad George), co-director and creature effects artist Steve Wang, screenwriter Joe Purdy and producer Brian Yuzna shepherded 1991’s The Guyver starring Jack Armstrong, Vivian Wu and Mark Hamill. The film centers on a young teen thrust into an intergalactic war against evil mutant creatures known as Zoanoids, after stumbling upon a symbiotic alien pod that materializes into superpowered battle armor.
The Guyver was produced with a budget of three million dollars and distributed in the U.S. by New Line Cinema, with several scenes cut to augment the film’s comedic elements banking off of the timely success of New Line’s Steve Barron-directed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.
Guyver: Dark Hero was filmed in 1993 and produced with a budget of less than a third of the first movie – close to nine-hundred thousand dollars – and distributed by New Line Cinema. Starring David Hayter and Kathy Christopherson and penned by Nathan Long, the film takes on a much more suitable, darker tone as it journeys to a dig site where our hero is confronted with the suit’s more sinister past while staving off more of the Chronos Corporation’s entrenched Zoanoid agents.
In an interview segment in 2020 with Garage Hero’s Bueno, Wang, who went on to spearhead the hit independent martial arts classic, Drive, a few years later, notes that the hype over the Barron-directed TMNT film was what influenced the producers’ decision for the first film.
“The producers decided that we should make this into a comedy. Into a kids movie.” said Wang, describing the final product as “uneven”, and even personally apologizing to Takaya for how the film turned out. “It was out of our hands, literally. We were told ‘you have to do this’.”
After the first film, Wang found an opportune moment to get into the director’s chair for the sequel. “They offered it to Screaming Mad George and George turned it down,” he said. “George didn’t wanna do it. It wasn’t his thing, and so I asked George and said ‘Hey, if you’re turning this down, do you mind if I go talk to them about doing this film?’ and he was like ‘Yeah, go for it!'”.
Wang also said he later managed to get Takaya’s reaction to the first film wherin the creator said it was “a little bit misguided”, to which Wang responded with “I think it was [very] misguided, but thank you for being kind.” Wang added that when he asked Takaya if he could do the sequel on his own and pitched the author his plans for the project “sort of as an apology to him”, Takaya was on board.
O’Brien had been working on an entirely different book about underappreciated sequels for about five years prior with Guyver: Dark Hero gaining much of his interest, prompted even further by his fascination with practical special effects and filmmaking. Over time, his own writing would evolve and between various podcasts and articles online, he decided to share some of the writing on his own platform, That Sequel Guy.
By then, he fortunately managed to interview Wang for his website in order to form the basis of a retrospective article, and that was long before he managed to get in touch with special effects artist Wyatt Weed who worked on the creature effects crew for the 1991 film. After talking shop for hours, it became clear that O’Brien had way too much to work with for a single editorial article, and so an expansive, exploratory book felt more the appropriate choice.
“For years, ‘Dark Hero’ had not only been a childhood favourite but also in my Top-Ten films ever, and barring a brief twenty-minute behind-the-scenes video from a Japanese laserdisc, there was basically no info on how these low-budget films were made by so many talented individuals.” said O’Brien. “It’s been a great experience, and it’s been great to have backing from a number of the cast and crew who have worked on these films, including Wang himself. I truly hope this will be a great archive of film history for fans – and low-budget filmmakers – of these cult gems.”
Check out the trailers below for The Guyver (1991), and Guyver: Dark Hero (1994).
Lead photo: New Line Cinema
Updates: A previous version of this article has been corrected to note the UK distributor of The Guyver, and a detail regarding a video store run by a friend of Dom O’Brien’s father.