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‘Road Warrior’ Imitators of The Eighties, Part 2

In my previous column, I introduced the subgenre of post-apocalyptic action films that pointedly imitated The Road Warrior.  I listed the first five such films, and now I’ll list nine more.

In my final column, I’ll list the last of these films into the early 1990s.

 

RUSH

(Italy, Oct 1983)

Here’s an idea: combine Road Warrior with First Blood!  (First Blood was an even bigger hit than The Road Warrior, enjoying three weeks at number one in late 1982).

Thus, the hero (named “Rush”) looks obviously like Rambo with his hair, tank top, and headband.  But they stuck him into a post-nuke wasteland.

The second half is more obviously the First Blood half, where our hero hides in the woods, uses trickery to outwit the soldiers chasing him, and single-handedly takes down the evil army with machine guns and grenades.

It’s handicapped by a low budget and a slow pace, but the preponderance of action in the second half and the screen presence of singer-actor-model Bruno Minniti go a long way toward making this Italian production likeable.

Vehicles are mostly regular jeeps, but a half track rolls for about a minute toward the end.

The same director and star made Rage a year later.

 

ENDGAME – BRONX LOTTA FINALE

(Italy, Nov 1983)

Here’s Joe D’Amato again.  Endgame is a rare exception to the “one name” category so common in Road Warrior imitators.  Here, everyone has a regular first and last name.  Society hasn’t totally broken down in this one, at least not in the city where the movie opens.

In the second half, once we leave the city, it’s a familiar Road Warrior wasteland with random gangs on motorbikes or trucks set for an ambush.  The cars and trucks don’t look like much, with minor cage armor, so it’s mostly motorbikes with stuntmen falling off, in the action.

An unwitting Hunger Games precursor, Endgame‘s plot revolves around a human hunt reality show.  Eventually, the hero tries to escape the other hunters and help some telepaths cross the wasteland.

It’s a mishmash, actually, but with Joe D’Amato directing, you can’t go far wrong.  Action is almost nonstop.

 

WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD

(Italy/USA, late 1983)

More science fictiony and more campy than the other films on our list, this very fun film gives our hero an intelligent sentient motorbike obviously inspired by KITT from Knight Rider.  Both the hero and his bike crack sarcastic jokes as they aid innocent vagabonds against evil warlords.

Donald Pleasence, the most famous cast member, plays the evil cyborg warlord Prossor.  He doesn’t have many lines, but he pulls a few surprises at the conclusion.  Persis Khambatta (Ilia from Star Trek: The Motion Picture) co-stars as the heroine fighting alongside Robert Ginty (The Exterminator).

My favorite thing about Lost World was how everything was named and labeled.  I assume this was intended to be funny.

We enter a Dark Age of Tyranny.  The warlord heads The Omega.  Outside the warlord’s control is The Wasteland.  Some enlightened elderly people are called The Enlightened Elders.  A secret illusionary wall is The Secret Wall of Illusion.  A brainwash machine controller is actually labeled the “Anti Mind 114,” apparently just the latest in a long line of brainwash equipment.

Many of you will choose the MST3K version, but the full original version is very exciting and fun.

 

MAD WARRIOR

(“Clash of the Warlords,” Philippines, Jan 1984)

Probably the most low-budget of all Road Warrior imitators.  Could also be the worst of them all, yet it’s still very entertaining.

It’s mostly gladiator bouts and tribal warfare, and – unlike all other imitators – it sets itself on an island.

To make sure you know the protagonist is “mad,” characters say things like “He’s really crazy, he’s completely nuts!” and “He’s not just crazy, he’s a lunatic!”  The hero’s name is Rex, so I guess he’s Mad Rex.

Actually the whole picture is nutty, often unconsciously.  Everyone jumps around with drunken energy.  The final duel even has light sabers!

So once again, it’s just fun to watch – as long as you want to watch random tough guys in punk leather outfits duking it out in a scraggly wasteland.

 

RAGE

(“A Man Called Rage,” Italy/Spain, late 1984)

This one has the same director and star as Rush (see above).  Either this or Mad Warrior is probably the worst of all imitators on our list.

But several action scenes are good, and, weirdly, this film tries to be uplifting and moral – totally different from the exploitative sleaze so prevalent across the subgenre.

It’s unique in that the good guys and bad guys make peace at the end.  It’s also unique in featuring a train (not a truck, car, or motorbike) during the fight at the climax.

 

DEFCON-4

(Canada, March 1985)

With Warriors of the Apocalypse, this is one of the few disappointing movies on the list.  For starters, it should have been “Defcon-1.”

In the simple story, astronauts in orbit are spared the fires of nuclear war… but when they return to Earth they find a savage wasteland.

The extended opening segment – inside a space capsule before we get to the Road Warrior stuff – is the highlight.  Then it all goes downhill, bitter and pessimistic in its atmosphere yet generally light on action.  It wants to be exploitative but it feels too sad.

From a Road Warrior fan’s perspective, the vehicle highlight is an armored loader fitted with a red drill.

 

WHEELS OF FIRE

(USA/Philippines, Sept 1985)

You can almost hear the filmmakers thinking aloud as they planned this one… “hm, we’ve already done a lot of car, truck, and motorbike battles in these types of movies, so is there anything else we can do?  Anything else that our target demographic of 18-22-year-old males will enjoy?  Why, of course!  Boobs!”

And so the big-boobed blonde anti-heroine (our black-clad hero’s dissolute sister) is captured and topless for the whole second half.

So if you can accept the rampant sexism, you have to award points for sheer audacity.  They’re trying pretty hard to entertain the target audience.

The preponderance of gun battles, grenades, flamethrowers, and exploding cars suggests that Wheels of Fire had an unusually high budget for this kind of film.  On the IMDb, it’s one of the highest rated of all imitators.

 

WARRIORS OF THE APOCALYPSE

(“Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain,” USA/Philippines, Dec 1985). 

This could be more of a Raiders of the Lost Ark imitator as the alternate title implies, though it’s a Road Warrior imitator for the first 10 minutes.

The black-clad leader eventually leads his little gang from a wasteland into a jungle, but action is scanty and pacing is draggy.  The lead actor looks like Burt Reynolds, but his acting is stiff as a hat rack.

Luckily, there’s plenty of nonsense to laugh at.

An evil clown-faced pygmy jumps down at the good guys in slow motion.  Imprisoned beneath a voodoo sacrifice temple, betrayed by a guide, stripped of weapons and equipment, the brilliant Doc remarks “This place is evil!  I can feel it!”  The hero shows his bare butt in an implied sex scene.  At the end, the evil princess uses her throne to shoot grenades!  And laser beams!

Historically it’s interesting in that the hero doesn’t leave at the end; he actually sticks around to aid the nascent society he helped to free from the bad guys.

 

LAND OF DOOM

(USA/Turkey, 1986).

Here’s the first Road Warrior imitator to feature a heroine, probably from Beyond Thunderdome influence.

Sadly, the heroine is annoying.  She’s touchy and rash, she meets a nice guy who helps lighten her up, but the actress (Deborah Rennard from Van Damme’s Lionheart) can’t project any emotion or motivation underneath it all.  Her name is “Harmony” although “Discord” might have been more fitting.

Luckily, good locations, good costumes, good music, and good motorbikes make Land of Doom quite enjoyable anyway.

I never tired of the Turkish locations (mostly the Fairy Chimney areas near Cappadocia), the studded leather straps and masks, and – best of all – a dozen motorbikes fitted with shields, pipes, spikes, and flanges.

These fittings evidently made the bikes hard to ride, since stunts are few and speeds are slow.  But they really do look good.

So for Road Warrior fans who like their vehicles, Land of Doom is worth the price of the annoying heroine, dull plot, and inconclusive ending.

 

 

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