Posts Tagged ‘The Road Warrior’

Original “Battletruck” Movie Poster

Who can possibly resist a movie with the advertising tag-line “After the oil wars — out of the rubble of the ciites comes — Battletruck!” Shit, I know I can’t, which probably says a lot about me — first and foremost being that some serious therapy is needed right away. But if you’re equally in need of professional therapeutic help, then Roger Corman’s 1982 post-apocalyptic cheapie Battletruck (also released under the title Warlords of the Twenty-First Century) is going to be right up your alley.

We’ve surveyed some of the low-budget postapocalytpic flicks that sprung up in the wake of The Road Warrior here at TFG before, but one of the things that sets Battletruck apart from the Italian and Filipino-produced (for the most part) films that came to populate the bulk of this genre is the fact that it’s not actually a knock-off, given that first-time director Harley Cokliss (who now pronounces and spells his name Cokeliss — I think you’d do the same) who had pitched his idea to “King of the Bs” Roger Corman as a young, fresh-faced filmmaker just off doing some second-unit work for George Lucas on The Empire Strikes Back, was that it was actually shot in New Zealand at roughly the same time that George Miller was making what was then known as Mad Max 2 over in Australia, and made its debut in theaters two weeks earlier than its more-famous counterpart in 1982. In addition, it’s based on a novel by Margaret Abrams that had come out some years previously, so rather than being a Road Warrior rip-off, this is more like its forgotten twin brother.

There are other factors that set it apart from (and, frankly, above)  the rest of the films that followed in its wake, as well — for one, the south island New Zealand filming locations are gorgeous, yet presented in a suitably drab “after-the-fall-of-civilization” style. Trust me, that takes some talent. I’ve spent plenty of time down on the south island of New Zealand and its one of the most breathtakingly beautiful spots on the planet.  It would be the absolute last place I’d choose to set a movie that takes place after the apocalypse, but Cokliss makes it work.

Also working in Battletruck‘s favor is the fact that, for the most part, the production values on display here are — dare I say it? — good, with the ramshackle tin-hut communes, dilapidated vehicles, ragged homemade clothes, and other accoutrements we’ve come to expect in movies that take place after the shit’s hit the fan appearing very authentic indeed. There’s a reason stories in this genre were so appealing to producers of low-budget cinema — a future society that looks like shit is a pretty easy thing to get looking right without shelling out too much cash.

And speaking of production values, the mighty Battletruck itself is a damn impressive piece of work. A fully-functioning, armor-plated 18-wheeler constructed over the skeleton of a Canadian logging rig, it’s an early progenitor of other bad-ass movie behemoths like “Dead Reckoning” from George Romero’s Land of the Dead and cuts a truly imposing figure on the landscape, as you can clearly see —

Fuck the actors, here’s the real star of the show

Now, to be sure, Battletruck has some solid strikes against it, as well. For one thing, the story’s not especially original. A bad-ass warlord named Col. Straker (James Wainwright) leads a bloodthirsty band of marauders around in his super-vehicle looking to rip off all the fuel and food and women they can find in the post-oil-war wasteland. Gasoline is the most valuable commodity in the world, and the Battletruck doesn’t even come close to meeting EPA standards, which aren’t enforced anymore since there’s no government left (although filmed in New Zealand, the movie is obviously supposed to be taking place in what used to be the USA).  When his pretty twenty-something daughter Corlie (Annie McEnroe) refuses to kill a guy on her old man’s orders, she goes on the run and ends up finding temporary refuge with the hero of the story, a solitary motorcycle-riding man of few words who lives on a mountaintop named Hunter ( played by Michael Beck — ever notice how all the guys in these movies have names like Hunter, Straker, Stryker, or Slade?).  Hunter lives by own code and, while he can (of course) fight with the best of them, if left to his own devices all he really wants  to do is make his way as peacefully as possible through life in a violent world. He’s got a heart of gold under that somber exterior, though, and he can’t refuse a damsel in distress, or leave a wrong un-righted.

He takes her to his friend, scrap-heap mechanic/amateur scientific whiz Rusty (John Ratzenberger, best known as Cliff Claven  from Cheers), who lives in one of the makeshift communal camps that have sprung up in the wake of collapse of the world economy, and despite being the daughter of the evil dude everyone’s scared of, they vote to take her in (everything’s decided democratically, just like in the old hippie communes). Her brief respite is shattered, though, when her dad and his gang show up in the titular Battletruck, trash the place, take her back, and steal all the gas in sight.

Then — stop me if you’ve heard this one before — it’s up to Hunter to come down from the mountaintop, assemble the ragtag survivors into a deadly  and heavily-armed fighting force, get the girl back, and stop Col. Straker once and for all.

So, yeah, nothing terribly original going on there, but you have to hand it to Cokliss and screenwriter Irving Austin — the characters and society they craft are believable, the dialogue never gets too hokey, and the vehicular mayhem that makes up a good chunk of the last third or so of the film is sufficiently exciting, impressive, well-executed, and well-staged. In a movie like this, you’re not looking for them to do anything new so much as to do what’s done before and hopefully do it right, and Battletruck gets all the basic elements very right indeed.

The only other major knock on the film in this reviewer’s opinion is some of the acting. Wainwright is never particularly menacing as Col. Straker, going for more of the flat-and-monotonous approach rather than reeking of pure evil, and Beck as Hunter is equally, at least, uninspired as the hero of the piece. Being a solitary and reluctant warrior is one thing, but this dude’s got all the screen presence and charisma of a soggy three-day-old cardboard pizza box that’s been left out in the rain.

Still, there’s enough going on here that’s done well for this flick to transcend both its budgetary limitations and two listless lead performances.  It’s not exactly authentic but it is reasonably interesting, beautifully shot, has a solid script that moves along at a good pace, and it packs a solid whallop in the action department. If you’re looking for some cheesy post-apocalyptic fun, you could do a hell of a lot worse than Battletruck.

“Deathsport/Battletruck” Double Feature DVD, Part of the “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” Library from Shout! Factory

As of about a month ago, Battletruck is now available on DVD from Shout! Factory as part of their “Roger Corman’s Cult Classics” series. It’s paired as a double feature with Deathsport, a pretty lame attempt on Corman’s part to recapture the winning formula of one of his earlier efforts,  Death Race 2000 (it even stars David Carradine) that fails on pretty much every level —it’s still worth watching at least once, though, if you’re a B-movie aficionado. Both films are presented in pretty basic 2.0 stereo mixes, which is just fine for Battletruck, where everything is crisp and clear, but a little less successful in the case of Deathsport, which is a mess in the audio department. Deathsport is presented in an anamorphic widescreen transfer, and Battletruck is presented in its inteded full-frame aspect ratio. Both prints have been remastered, but Battletruck looks a hell of a lot better since it was struck from a good-looking answer print while Deathsport had to be stitched together from an edited TV version and excised scraps from a theatrical print, and the contrast is often jarringly obvious. As far as extras go, both feature terrific commentary tracks, especially in the case of Battletruck, which takes the form of a Q&A session between director Cokliss/Cokeliss and moderator Jonathan Rigby. The disc retails for under ten bucks at most online merchants and makes a solid addition to your cult movie library.

German “Stryker” Movie Poster

The flood of post-apocalyptic Road Warrior knock-offs that littered the global cinematic landscape in the early ’80s  definitely gave us some bizarrely awesome shit like The New Barbarians and 2020 Texas Gladiators, but once anybody besides the Italians were in charge, the results were rather putrid at best.

Case in point : Cirio H. Santiago (TNT Jackson, Vampire Hookers)’s 1983 made-in-the-Philippines, damn-near-budgetless glimpse of a world gone mad, Stryker , which was also released under the rather generic-sounding action title Savage Dawn.

Now, I’m predisposed to liking any flick with a title this fucking cheesy, but I gotta admit that Stryker begins to test your patience almost from the word go. The voice-over narration that begins the film pretty much gives the whole game away — the nukes flew, everything’s fucked, lawlessness reigns supreme, and the rarest and most valuable commodity in the world is water — this despite the fact that there are clouds in the sky throughout the film, so presumably, at some point, it’s gotta, you know, rain.

It’s pretty obvious from the outset, though, that logical continuity isn’t one of Stryker‘s strong suits, so any prospective viewer might as well get used to its absence quickly.

The trouble always starts this way —

After our little voice-over-monologue-as-the-bombs-go-off intro, we’re dropped right into the middle of the “action” as some supposed-to-be-bad-ass-looking thugs in souped-up junker cars and on souped-up-junker motorcycles chase down a helpless woman on foot who’s got some water and, more importantly, apparently knows where even more can be had. She’s rescued from her would-be attackers, though, by a dude in a cowboy hat with a rifle slung over his shoulder and some other guy.

At this point, it would be nice to know a few things : who are these two dudes? Is one of them the “Stryker” of the film’s title? Are they working together? If so, why? Do they have a history together? We find out the answer to the first question, but as for the others, well, that stuff is never really made clear.

The damsel in distress takes off in one of her vanquished foes’ cars and we soon learn, more through inference than anything else, that the dude in the stetson with the rifle slung over his shoulder is, indeed, this “Stryker” guy that we’re supposed to give a shit about (although “star” Steven Sandor’s seriously flat performance makes that pretty difficult — his Stryker seems to suffer from a rare psychological affliction that renders a shell-shocked survivor of a nuclear conflagration incapable of expressing any emotion — or even any mood, for that matter —whatsoever.  Must be some variation on PTSD, I’m guessing). He then walks off  and —

Wait. I have to pause for just a second here. The first clue that Stryker is a seriously second-rate post-atomic-holocaust action hero is his means of transport. While guys in other films of this genre tend to have bad-ass cars or bikes, Stryker roams the irradiated wastelands on foot. Dead giveaway that we’re looking at a pretty lame “hero” right there.

Next up Stryker and his (apparent) buddy, who we learn waaaaaayyyy later is named “Bandit,” encounter a tribe of dwarves who are pretty much dressed, and pretty much speak, just like Jawas from Star Wars — the only thing missing is the hoods and the glowing eyes. Stryker makes friends with these lovable little creatures by giving one of them some water, and of course that’s gonna come in handy later when he needs to assemble a makeshift army to take down the bad guys and set the people of post-nuke Earth free.

Whoops, hope I didn’t just give too much away there.

Then we’ve got a series of confusing scenes that I’ll just run down quickly to avoid you, dear  reader, any unnecessary pain (and because actually explaining what any of them have to do with anything is pretty well impossible ) : the girl who Stryker rescued is recaptured, stuck in a cell, raped, and tortured for information. The bad guys are lead by a low-rent Sid Haig-wannabe named Kardis ( although, again, it’s a little while before we actually learn his name), who is informed that the girl got away from the leather-sporting ruffians the first time around because they were “ambushed by Stryker and his men.” Except Sryker doesn’t have any “men.” Again, continuity is not a selling point here. When learning of Stryker’s involvement in the girl’s rescue, Kardis has a memory flash-back to an earlier fight with our stetson-sporting hero, the significance of which is never explained (and you can’t really tell what the hell is going on anyway).  Stryker and his “man” are observed by a pack of quasi-dangerous-looking Amazon she-devils on wheels who carry crossbows. They don’t do anything and Stryker doesn’t see them, so — whatever. Stryker and Bandit find a working car sitting out in the middle of nowhere (apparently the entire film was shot at a Filipino mining works — they get a “shout-out” in the credits, and it’s quite apparent, as the exact same locales are utilized over and over again as supposedly “different” places, that the movie’s crew didn’t have access to the entire quarry). Then our “heroes” attack an armed convoy escorting a tanker, not that we find out what’s actually in the tanker or why they’re attacking it until a lot later, and by then you don’t give a damn anymore because, well — you never really did in the first place. We also learn that, thanks again to zero emphasis being placed on continuity, Stryker’s cowboy hat can appear and disappear from atop his head from one moment to the next.

Things start to threaten to actually make a bit more sense once Stryker and Bandit head for an encampment of survivors lead by a guy named Trun (Ken Metcalfe), who we meet earlier while he’s buried up to his head in sand by Kardis’s men ( yes, Kardis, for his part,  really does have “men”) and gets a “golden shower” from one of them when he complains of thirst. Oh, and he also just so happens to be Stryker’s (much) older brother, and they’ve got a history of sorta-bad-blood between them, as evidenced by sparkling dialogue exchanges like this one :

Trun: But why did you leave?

Stryker : Everybody’s got their own road to hell — you’ve got yours, I’ve got mine.

Well, that explains everything, then.

Never fear, though — Stryker has a plan to lead Trun and his people to freedom — and more importantly, to water. Having sprung the girl he rescued earlier (I’m pretty sure we actually NEVER get her name at ANY point, but it doesn’t really matter a whole lot anyway), they head out for her father’s encampment, where they “locals” are  guarding a secret underground spring they’ve found that provides them with an endless supply of water.

There’s a little bit of “drama” once they get there, with the daughter and the old man having divergent views about sharing their liquid wealth (she’s the generous sort, he’s a little more hesitant — in fact, they found this spring seven years ago and he promised Trun at the time that he’d share water with him and his people if his lot ever found some, and he welched on the deal), then Trun starts to try to turn the camp into an armed garrison under martial law with himself as commander,  much to Stryker’s chagrin (being the freedom-loving “loner” type that he is), and Bandit meets himself a nice girl and gets laid.

Stryker’s through with taking shit

That’s all window dressing, though — the main point is that we’re headed for a big armed showdown between Kardis’s men, who have a couple of honest-to-God tanks, and the ramshackle band of survivors protecting their spring now led by Stryker (even though he’s not the leader type). The amazons with crossbows and the un-hooded Jawas join up with “Team Stryker,” there’s lots of explosions and guns blazing, Bandit’s new girlfriend gets killed in the closest this movie tries to come to an “emotional” moment, lots of other folks on both sides bite the bullet, and finally Stryker and his band of rebels stand triumphant after vanquishing their much-more-numerous, much-better-armed foes. It can only happen after the apocalypse, people. Kind makes you yearn to let the missiles fly right now, doesn’t it?

Oh, and did I mention that, at the very moment their courageous victory is sealed, it actually begins to rain? Looks like things are gonna be alright after all.

“The Grindhouse Experience Volume 2” DVD Box Set Featuring “Stryker”

If you’re really into torturing yourself, “Stryker” is available on DVD. It’s part of the 20-film, 5-DVD “The Grindhouse Experience Volume 2” boxset from VideoAsia — and if you think you’ve seen some bad direct-from-VHS transfers before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. This, like all the other movies in these two sets ( some of which,  like Raiders From Atlantis, are actually pretty damn good),  looks like absolute shit. They didn’t even use a particularly healthy-looking VHS tape for the rip, as there are moments throughout where the tracking goes off , and in dark scenes it’s pretty hard to tell what the fuck is actually happening. Not, again, that it particularly matters. Needless to say it’s presented full-frame, and the sound quality is straight mono and it sucks, too.

Finally, a question I would ask Cirio H. Santiago if he were still alive (and let’s not be too hard on the guy — he did give us Jeannie Bell’s topless karate scene in TNT Jackson, after all) : in the end credits, there are two women listed as “script continuity girls.” What did they actually do?

Nah, don’t answer.

20192pa

Anybody else besides me miss the days when any reasonably successful — and reasonably cheap — movie genre birthed scores of  Italian knock-offs?  Yes, whether it was westerns, crime flicks, zombie movies, or Hitckcockian-style thrillers, there was always an Italian who figured he could do it quicker, cheaper, and—most importantly—bloodier. The runaway success of Mel Gibson’s “The Road Warrior” and John Carpenter’s “Escape From New York” were no exception, and soon there was a mini-deluge of Italian-made post-apocalyptic sci-fi ultra-macho exploitation fare playing grindhouse theaters and drive-ins from coast to coast. While the best-remembered of these are Enzo G. Castellari’s two entries in the field, the brilliantly absurd “1990 : Bronx Warriors” and the even more OTT “The New Barbarians,”  for my money the funnest, weirdest, and most jaw-droppingly insane of the bunch is veteran exploitation director Sergio (“Mountain Of The Cannibal God”) Martino’s 1983 trashterpiece “2019 : After The Fall Of New York.”

Set in—oh, to hell with it, you can read the title — our story centers on the tough-as-nails Parsifal (Michael Sopkiw), who is sent into New York to retrieve the last fertile woman on the face of the Earth. The human race, you see, has been rendered sterile due to a nuclear attack from the dastardly EURAC organization, a world government of sorts that encompasses  all of Europe, Africa, and Asia and was at war with the Pan-American confederacy, a rival superstate that I assume consisted of North and South America. The Euracs “won” the war by nuking our hemisphere and are now occupying it, as victors of a conflict tend to do.

Unbeknownst to the Euracs, however, the Pan-American confederacy have reconstituted as a sort of underground government-in-exile and are planning on staging a comeback—just not here. They’ve got a rocket ship loaded and ready to blast off for Alpha Centauri, they just need the one fertile female still alive to get the human race up and running again on its new home. For his trouble, Parsifal has been promised a place on the rocket and, presumably, a crack at the lady in question he gets there.

Parsifal is assigned a couple of assistants in his quest in the form of a guy named Bronx, who lost his family in the Eurac attack, and the mysterious, quiet, ultra-tough Ratchet. Along the way, they pick up a few stragglers, as well—the beautiful Giada, to whom Parsifal has taken a shine (his best line to her has to be “If love meant anything in this world, you’d be the one I loved”), a dwarf named Shorty (there’s creativity for you), and the mutant leader of a band of ape-men (the always-great George Eastman). Their journey through the remains of New York takes them primarily through one sewer after another, encountering a tribe of rat-eaters, Shorty’s band of midgets, and the aforementioned ape-dudes, as well as one nasty force of Eurac soldiers after another, each with an increasingly bizarre array of pseudo-futuristic weapons at their disposal. Oh, and after they find the girl (who is never named—oh, and sorry to give away that big plot point—and she’s in suspended animation, to boot), they make their escape in an armored-up early 80s Oldsmobile (or Buick, or whatever) station wagon. The Euracs fire everything they’ve got at them and seldom score a direct hit, while ape-boy manages to lop of four of their heads in one go just by chucking his cutlass out the window (of what could well be a Cutlass station wagon). Who needs numbers when you’ve got such a clear aim advantage?

The special effects for this film are so mind-numbingly stupid they’ve got to be seen to be believed, especially the low-rent obvious model shot of a post-nuke New York that they linger on in detail in the opening credits. And the music score? Man, synth-cheese doesn’t get any better than this! Suffice to say you’ll know within moments why composer Maurizio De Angelis went under the pseudonymous credit of “Oliver Onions.”

Oh, and somebody does get a go at our sleeping beauty fertility goddess—and it’s not Parsifal. Suffice to say I’d feel unclean just mentioning who does the “honors,” so I won’t.

DVD From Media Blasters

DVD From Media Blasters

The good folks at Media Blasters have seen fit to preserve this gem for posterity on DVD, and it features a nice, clean anamorphic widescreen transfer, a 5.1 surround remix, trailers and promo art, and interviews with Sergio Martino and actors George Eastman and Hal Yamnouchi—all in Italian. It’s recently been made available as part of their bargain “Post-Apocalyptic Collection” Triple Feature Box Set along with the two previously-mentioned Castellari classics, making this set a definite must-own item. Get some cheap beer and pizza and kick back and watch them all — just be prepared to have your IQ drop a few points in the process!