In my previous two columns (Read Part 1 / Read Part 2), I introduced the subgenre of post-apocalyptic action films that pointedly imitated The Road Warrior. I listed the first 14 films in the subgenre, and now I’ll list 7 more, for 21 films total.
STEEL DAWN (USA, Nov 1987)
Here is the first all-American Road Warrior imitator, and the first with high production values.
Though it feels over-produced, with a Hollywood sheen and a self-conscious avoidance of exploitation, it manages to develop several likeable characters, especially the hero played by Patrick Swayze, a rising star at the time.
It’s nice that we spend so much time with the little farming community, struggling to create – rather than destroy – something in the wasteland for a change.
As is typical for Road Warrior imitators, everyone wears stylish leather or padded armor. Cars figure into an unusual chase toward the end, but it’s “wind racer” cars with sails rather than the usual armored fighting machines. Like several other imitators (Stryker most notably), the scarce resource is water.
Unlike in other imitators, a central government is hinted at (the “Council of the Order”), but still the story focuses on some very small groups of ragtag antagonists. The bad guy only has five or six thugs!
EQUALIZER 2000 (USA/Philippines, May 1987).
The title refers to a sleek-looking weapon, a sort of machine gun and RPG combo with multiple barrels. I didn’t see why it was necessarily superior to the machine guns, mortars, or flame throwers that everyone already had. But the characters all treat the Equalizer like a Holy Grail.
Luckily, the Equalizer and a lot of other weapons get used almost continuously. The whole movie is basically an excuse to depict ragtag gangs shoot at each other in a desert wasteland.
In the Road Warrior tradition, we get a few decked-out or chopped cars and trucks. But mostly it’s shootouts and explosions. For straight-up action, it’s one of the best imitators on our list.
Allying against the Nazi-like villains are several good gangs including some native Mountain People who throw spears and whoop like Indians.
Our bleary-eyed hero is played by Australian Richard Norton who later played the Prime Imperator (while shirtless at age 65) in Mad Max: Fury Road.
DESERT WARRIOR (USA, 1988)
Here’s the silliest imitator on our list, one I’ve covered briefly before in my article about silly Lou Ferrigno movies from the 80s.
Ferrigno is not as bad an actor as people pretend, but he’s certainly no Oscar winner, so if he’s the best actor in the movie, you know you’ve got Big Camp before we even get to the ridiculous plot, cheap props, or the astounding non sequitur ending.
The main story pits roaming thugs against a base of good guys in a post-nuke desert. It’s more science fictiony than other imitators because of the space-age good guy labs and robots.
But the main appeals are two big battle sequences filled with bullets, laser beams, RPGs, and explosions. The filmmakers seem to have fought a battle themselves: a valiant fight to entertain the audience despite an obviously miniscule budget.
It’s cheap and ridiculous, with only a few armored vehicles, but at least you won’t be bored.
PHOENIX THE WARRIOR (“She-Wolves of the Wasteland,” USA, May 1988)
This post-nuke exploitation flick has barely enough of everything – action, humor, nudity, gore – to sustain interest. But pacing is repetitive. Some viewers might give up halfway.
The main appeal is the display of full-figured females wearing skimpy outfits (a mix of leather, cloth, straps, rags, or robes) and brandishing guns and knives. Apparently all the ugly women died during the holocaust.
Actually one woman is ugly: the evil Revered Mother who wants to establish an empire by repopulating the world with her own bioengineered offspring. At least it’s somewhat original to feature an ugly boss instead of the usual “evil queen” or “dragon lady” types.
For most of the movie, our blonde heroine helps a young mother and her young child avoid the evil She Wolves across the “badlands.” They meet a man (perhaps the last one on Earth) who helps a few times. It’s like Hell Comes to Frogtown (its presumed inspiration) without the personality.
The main Road Warrior element is a dune buggy chase. My favorite thing was the continuous 80s instrumental rock score.
THE SISTERHOOD (USA/Philippines, Jan 1988).
Unlike all the other imitators, there’s no real hero in this one. Instead, we get a heroine, since The Sisterhood is a unique feminist anomaly among the imitators.
Actually the heroine is pretty innocent and weak, but she meets some Amazon types who can shoot guns, drive trucks, swing swords, and even employ mental powers like telekinesis.
It’s surprisingly well-intended, but it’s just not exciting enough. The Sisters’ super powers rarely get used. The only good action scene – a swordfight – comes at the opening. Music is very cheap, like in an early-80s video game.
And you know that leather-clad brunette on the promo posters and DVD cover? Well, she’s not even in the movie!
DUNE WARRIORS (USA, Jan 1991)
I normally stop in the 80s, but I thought I’d add two obvious Road Warrior imitators from the early 90s. You’d think the subgenre would be spent by this point, but Dune Warriors actually has some of the highest production values of any imitator. Only Steel Dawn is more polished.
David Carradine stars as the older leader of the mercenaries hired to save an encampment of good people from a band of wandering marauders. It’s a Seven Samurai type story.
But though the plot is familiar, the characters are given honest motivations and distinct personalities. It’s not just a parade of shootouts and explosions.
Action comes often, but conversations and interludes between the battles make the movie well rounded. The action itself is also well rounded, with a little of everything: gun battles, sword fights, duels (probably from Beyond Thunderdome influence at this point), artillery, car crashes, even quarterstaffs. Some of the hand-to-hand punch-kick-sword choreography is very good.
Unlike nearly all other Road Warrior imitators, Dune Warrior actually suggests a theme. It’s vaguely religious. Note the church cross in several shots when Carradine appears. He’s no Jesus… but perhaps he’s an avenging angel?
RAIDERS OF THE SUN (USA, July 1992).
This is not only the sixth and final Road Warrior imitator from Cirio H. Santiago, it’s also the final film from the Golden Age of Road Warrior imitator films.
It recycles footage from Wheels of Fire and Equalizer 2000, but it also knows its place, never pretending to be anything more than a pile of cheap thrills for an 18-22-year-old male target audience.
The plot is somewhat original, featuring two heroes and two villains who mostly fight separately until the conclusion.
Most of the action is from gun battles, but there are road battles too. It’s a pretty satisfying way to say farewell to a pretty satisfying subgenre.