The Guyver (1991) | Sci-Fi Saturdays

by Jovial Jay

Unfortunately this is not a prequel to MacGyver.

The Guyver is a film about mutated monster humans and the one man who earns the right to fight them. It’s a showcase for special make-up effects and creatures that misfires on most cylinders. Potential fans of the film may come for the advertisement of Mark Hamill, but they’ll stay for the kung fu, chop socky monster fights.

First Impressions

In the three plus years of writing these articles, I have always been able to find a trailer for the film in question online – in some fashion. For some reason, nothing exists for The Guyver except for fan-made, modern trailers or the first five minutes of the film. Well, you’re welcome to check out these opening moments for the film, which should provide all you need to know about this bizarre mix of mutagenic horror, Japanese kaiju, and 1990s low-budget action. Plus there’s Jimmy Walker (JJ from Good Times) as an added bonus!

Presented below is the trailer for the film.

Sci-Fi Saturdays

The Guyver

The Guyver title card.

The Fiction of The Film

A brief text crawl and voiceover explains that aliens came to Earth and created  Zoanoids, which are humans that can turn into super monster soldiers, and are now looking for a bio boosted alien armor called the Guyver. The action then follows Dr. Segawa (Greg Paik) who is on the run from a cadre of four individuals from the Chronos Corporation. He pulls the Guyver from his case and hides it in a piece of trash near the riverbed, so when Lisker (Michael Berryman) and his team catch up to him he doesn’t have it. Sagawa and Lisker transform into Zoanoid monsters and fight, but Lisker gets the upper hand and kills Sagawa.

At an aikido class, Sean Barker (Jack Armstrong) is distracted when his girlfriend Mizky ( Vivian Wu) comes in with CIA Agent Max Reed (Mark Hamill). Reed is investigating Chronos and has come to tell Mizky that her father, Dr. Sagawa, was killed the night before. He takes Mizky to the crime scene, followed by Jack–who stumbles on the hidden Guyver unit. At Mizky’s apartment Jack discovers Reed there and assumes she’s seeing someone else, so he leaves awkwardly. On Jack’s way home, his scooter breaks down and he is attacked by four punks in an alley. He accidentally makes contact with the Guyver during the fight and a biomechanical armor surrounds him, allowing him to defeat the adversaries.

Lisker and his team, Ramsey (Peter Spellos), Weber (Spice Williams), and Striker (Jimmie Walker) return to the river bed to look for the Guyver but find nothing, much to the disappointment of their boss, Fulton Balcus (David Gale). Leaving Chronos without answers, Reed is informed by his partner Colonel Castle (Willard E. Pugh) that he’s sure that the Corporation is not involved. When Sean returns to Mizky’s apartment she has been abducted by Lisker and his men. He finds them downstairs putting her into a van, and with Reed’s help rescues her. They run off and are chased by the Zoanoid henchmen onto a film set, where Striker is mistaken for the monster in the movie being shot.

The Guyver

Dr Sagawa is harassed by this mish-mash of characters from the Chronos Corporation.

The monstrous creatures follow Reed, Sean and Mizky into an abandoned warehouse, where they grab Misky and provoke Sean, allowing him to transform into the Guyver. Another FBI agent that was with Reed and Castle, arrives with a new partner, and the two of them transform into Zoanoids and join the fight against the Guyver. They are quickly killed, but the Guyver cannot seem to injure the other creatures, until spikes erupt from his elbows. The Guyver kills Weber, splattering blood on Mizky, who Sean mistakenly believes he has also killed. That distraction allows Lisker to rip the control metal (a silver orb) out of the Guyver’s forehead, and the suit, with Sean inside dissolves into a liquid goo.

Reed and Mizky are taken back to the Chronos Corporation where Balcus asks them how to activate the Guyver. Reed is put into a chamber where he is injected with Zoanoid particles, while Mizky is questioned creepily by Balcus. Dr East (Jeffrey Combs) and his assistant (David Wells) examine the control metal before Mizky grabs it and threatens to destroy it. A struggle ensues and the control metal flies into Dr East’s mouth (having since transformed into a Zoanoid). The Guyver bursts forth from the body of the doctor and frees Reed so he can escape with Mizky.

Lisker and Ramsey fight with the Guyver but are soon killed. Reed feels ill and transforms into an insectoid-like creature before struggling and dying. Balcus taunts the Guyver and is punched through a pair of doors, but re-emerges as a large dragon-like beast, the Zoalord. He fights the Guyver and almost gains the upper hand, until a chest plate opens on the armor, blasting the Zoalord with an energy beam. Now safe, the armor disengages from Sean and he and Mizky leave the building. Elsewhere in the shadows, Colonel Castle and Zoanoid Striker watch them leave. Castle tells Striker he has a job for him, to which the creature responds, “dy-no-mite!”

You can’t kill me. I’ve been rejected by death!” – Sean Barker

The Guyver

David Gale is such a treat to watch in this film. He really knows how to ham it up!

History in the Making

While the 80s is replete with its share of low-budget horror, the 90s made the way for low-budget sci-fi. An early example of that is The Guyver. While the film is definitely low-budget, approximately $3 million, it may be more realistic to describe the film as making a conscious choice. Rather than plying its money across all aspects of the filmmaking process, it seems that it chose to focus a larger than average part on the creature effects. For those already familiar with directors Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang this should come as no surprise. Both men have backgrounds in special make-up effects with George having worked on films such as John Carpenter’s Big Trouble in Little China and the Brian Yuzna directed Society, while Wang worked with Stan Winston on The Monster Squad, and Rick Baker on Gremlins 2: The New Batch.

Adapted from the Japanese manga Bio-Booster Armor Guyver, The Guyver was an American version of a very Japanese styled idea. The premise of alien-human hybrids, and their ability to transform between both states, as well as the super powered bio-organic armor was similar to several early 70s Japanese television series. The Guyver’s power armor was similar in fashion to the series Kamen Rider, while the Zoanoid monsters he fights share elements with the monsters fought by the Super Sentai team, which American audiences would recognize as The Power Rangers. But what should have worked as more of a horrific and terrifying film was played with a comedic and comic-book like innocence.

The Guyver

The Guyver, a bio engineered, karate fighting, alien bio armor. Weird, right?


The Guyver feels like it should have more horror elements in it than it does. The film shares certain characteristics with the body horror films of David Cronenberg (Videodrome) or John Carpenter’s The Thing. Characters change from humans into grotesque monsters almost instantly, yet with the exception of Max Reed’s kafkaesque metamorphosis, the change is never shown. Each creature has a unique look and design that are part animal, part monster. Lisker has an armored dinosaur/rhinoceros look, while his girlfriend, Weber, is a red, furry bat-like alien. Jimmie Walker’s Striker curiously resembles a goofy looking Gremlin (specifically Stripe), and his partner Ramsey has an elephant like quality. Most of the time these characters just seem goofy and indestructible, intentionally playing up the campiness of the situations. In fact the scariest of all the villains is Balcus before he transforms into the Zoalord. But this is not a horror film, it’s science-fiction…

The backstory for the film, provided in the opening crawl, and also by Balcus in the “monologuing” section, mentions that aliens created mankind, and also created the Zoanoids. This is an interesting take on the Chariots of the Gods idea from the early 1970s that postualted ancient astronauts helped the Mayan and Incan civilizations of old. It was even the basis for a comic book from Marvel (by Jack Kirby) called The Eternals, about space gods that have been living on Earth for thousands of years. The Guyver armor works as the object that the villain is after to make him more powerful, which has somehow attached to another person. This pulls elements from the Excalibur myth, and Star Wars which is also at the forefront of many people’s minds since Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) himself is part of the cast. And while these creatures are all supposed to be spawned from aliens, it feels more like a mythological film, with ancient creatures possessing the humans, or at least having been built through hybridization. Science fiction seems to be the furthest thing from where the story ends up. Instead the film prioritizes kung fu action, the bio-organic creatures, the slapstick comedy, and an over the top villain.

The Guyver

Max Reed, Mizky, and Sean discuss their next move. Hopefully it was to get a new agent.

Societal Commentary

One of the best parts of watching sci-fi films is pulling out the themes of the film and how it tries to showcase the way humans interact with the world. Sometimes those themes are grand stories of humans reaching for the stars to evolve into something better than our current selves. And other times the story is a personal struggle about what it means to be human. Surprisingly The Guyver does not seem to have any sort of moral or societal theme, except perhaps “don’t be evil.” Usually the protagonist, Sean in this case, has some growth or character arc that mimics a larger issue of society. Here, not so much. Sean’s growth is becoming a superhero, but there’s actually nothing that he does consciously. Observe: Sean is a distracted aikido student that repeatedly gets punched in the face, because he’s too busy staring at his girlfriend (or what the audience assumes is his girlfriend, as she seems to just be friends at the beginning of the film). He accidentally discovers this powerful weapon (potentially destiny), and then activates it by getting his butt whooped by a gang in an alley. His transformation into the Guyver is not about his strength, or his desire, but the fact that suit magnifies his strength, “a hundredfold.” In essence, it’s almost a deus ex machina, giving him the skills and power to fight the opponents in the film. There seems to be no real growth of his skills, as different elements of the suit appear to activate on a whim (the elbow spikes, and the chest cannon, to name two). He is literally destroyed when the control metal is removed from the suit, and then somehow resurrects himself within the gut of another Zoanoid. Obviously not a conscious decision by Sean. In the end, his defeat of the Zoalord seems more like an automatic defense mechanism turned on by the suit, than anything Sean did on his own. In the end, his most merciful act is letting the audience know that the movie is over, as he plainly states after killing the Zoalord, “well… it’s all over.” Thanks buddy!

The Guyver

Some examples of the Zoanoid creature art created by Screaming Mad George and Steve Wang.

The Science in The Fiction

As the film explains, these unnamed aliens placed a gene within man to create Zoanoids, which are humans that can change “at will into super monster soldiers.” While not explicitly stated, this seems like it would only affect a small portion, a fraction, of the populace. When the Zoalord awakens, toward the end of the 20th Century he forms the Chronos Corporation as a means to advance this Zoanoid technology. Apparently Dr. East and his team are working with the DNA of Zoanoids (or perhaps from the Zoalord himself) to build new Zoanoids. It can probably be assumed that Lisker and his crew, and possibly Dr East and his associates, are not natural Zoanoids, but were created by use of the same process used on Max Reed. His process proved fatal due to his premature removal from the “treatment tank.” But why create a race of super mutant creatures? World domination, of course. What does every CEO of a tech firm want, especially in a 90s sci-fi/action film? This is all ludicrous and a paper thin gauze that was created as an excuse to build monster suits that fight one another.

The Guyver

Jeffrey Combs puts in a small, but exciting, role as Dr East (a play on the Dr West role he had in “Re-Animator”, no doubt).

The Final Frontier

In the end, The Guyver is not a great film, but there still are some great things about it. First and foremost, the creature effects are really well done. Over half a dozen different suits were made, each one markedly different from another. Due to this they’re given lots of screen time. So if you’re a fan of creature effects, this film has it in spades. Unfortunately the lead actors leave much to be desired. Both Jack Armstrong and Vivian Wu give weak performances and create characters that are uninteresting. Mizky is the literal damsel in distress, answering her door with her eyes cast downwards every time–which makes her seem super submissive. Sean likewise is unlikeable and dull. The Guyver suit is literally the best thing that happens to him. But, there are three excellent performances in this film. Mark Hamill’s work as Max Reed is both within the realm of this comic-book inspired film, but also knowingly winking at the audience, playing into the cheesiness of the situations. David Gale plays Fulton Balcus with such fervor and intention. He chews up the scenery much as he does in other films, including Re-Animator. And finally Jeffrey Combs (who also starred in Re-Animator with Gale), who only has a small role, but is equally aware of his role, and the absurdity of the entire venture. His scenes are also very fun. The film also features some interesting fight choreography, especially impressive considering the stunt performers are encased in creature suits that limit the visibility and movements.

A sequel, Guyver: Dark Hero, was released direct to video three years later directed by Steve Wang that follows the continuing adventures of Sean and his Guyver armor. None of the actors from this film returned for that one, but its reviews are better and has tone supposedly more in line with the manga, using an R-rating to its advantage. So is The Guyver worthwhile? It depends on what the end criteria is. It’s definitely a film to watch with a group of people that enjoy watching “so bad they’re good” films. It’s got some super goofy moments, but also provides a number of laughs, some intentional but most unintentional. For most audiences however it’s more a ZoaNo rather than a ZoaYes.

Coming Next

Terminator 2: Judgment Day

This website uses cookies to improve your experience. Accept Privacy Policy