Raiders of the Sun (1992)

Raiders of the Sun (1992)‘Hey, relax, man! Take a laxative.’

In the aftermath of the nuclear war, the democratic Alpha League struggle to rebuild civilisation and maintain law and order. Their existence is threatened by groups of well-armed renegades and the conflict turns on which side will be able to acquire new sources of gunpowder…

No-one travelled into the atomic wasteland more often that Pilipino director Cirio H Santiago. Even more than a decade after Mel Gibson hit it big as ‘The Road Warrior’ (1981), he was still making the trip. This time out our small budget ‘Mad Max’ is Aussie martial-artist Richard Norton (again!) who dispenses post-apocalyptic justice via his considerable brawn and arsenal of automatic weapons. But, unusually, instead of just focusing on him, we get two heroes for the price of one, and we spend a fair amount of time in the company of each on his solo adventures before they join up for the big finish.

Typically, Norton is the lone wolf, who doesn’t want to get involved. Everyone is an enemy to him, until a skirmish goes bad and he is nursed back to health by the mysterious Lani Lobango in her native village. This ‘lost’ kingdom is conveniently located in a thriving rainforest that has somehow escaped the holocaust (as rainforests do) and just happens to be sitting right slap-bang on top of a pile of explosive black powder. Of course, the Head Man wants nothing to do with Norton or his violent ways, until the villainous William Seis and his black-clad associates come a-calling.

ln the other narrative strand, we follow good guy soldier Talbot (Blake Boyd), whose homecoming is rather spoilt when the wife (Brigitta Stenberg) is kidnapped by unscrupulous warlord Hoghead (Rick Dean). Boyd infiltrates the tyrant’s gang, a process which involves a rather impractical ‘fight to the death’ while swinging from ropes. The Thunderdome it ain’t. Stenberg is worth it, though, as she’s not just eye-candy, getting free on her own and icing one of the main villains with a car. She does hand the wheel to Boyd afterwards, though, which is a bit disappointing, and not a great tactical move when you’re desperately trying to escape from a gang of well-armed cut-throats.

Raiders of the Sun (1992)

Getting a signal after the apocalypse was a pain in the ass…

This was a Roger Corman production, so it’s highly likely the split narrative was down to cost-cutting. Perhaps two crews were shooting simultaneously, as they used to do for old movie serials, or perhaps it was down to the availability of the actors, or other filming logistics. Surprisingly, some of the scale is quite impressive, especially in terms of the number of extras dodging flash grenades and jumping off rocks in the battle scenes.

At least it is until you realise that a lot of it is just footage from the director’s own ‘Wheels of Fire’ (1985) and ‘Equaliser 2000’ (1987). To be fair, it’s not that obvious, although it probably helped that both Norton and Seis originally appeared in the latter of the two older films!

Norton certainly had some good moves, and the (sadly) brief combat scenes where he uses them are the best thing in the picture. These days he’s working in Hollywood as a stunt man on such major projects as ‘Suicide Squad’ (2016) and ‘Ghost ln The Shell’ (2017). Rather brilliantly (and perhaps inevitably!), he also appeared on screen as part of the cast of ‘Mad Max: Fury Road’ (2015).

This effort was written by old hand Frederick Bailey, who was also behind the word processor for Santiago’s ‘Future Hunters’ (1985), as well as the afore-mentioned ‘Wheels of Fire’ (1985) and ‘Equaliser 2000’ (1987), in which he also had an acting role. His story hits all the same old familiar beats, never straying far from the well-worn template for this kind of adventure. Villains only seem to have guns when it’s not inconvenient for our heroes, or simply forget to use them.

A predictable and anonymous project.

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Stargames/Star Games (1998)

Stargames (1998)‘Who wishes an audience with the court of the eternal laws of the universe?’

A young alien prince flees a mighty space warlord who threatens to destroy his people. Crashing in a forest location on Earth, he teams up with an unhappy teenager who has become separated from his parents after being chased by a bear near their camp.

Low-budget Science-Fiction space opera from veteran filmmaker Greydon Clark, whose three-decade directing career began in the Blaxploitation arena and ended here. He had hitched his wagon to the stars a couple of times before, most notably in the years of the science-fiction boom triggered by ‘Star Wars’ (1977). The best of these projects was ‘Without Warning’ (1980), which found Oscar-winners Martin Landau and Jack Palance fighting an alien hunter in the woods almost a decade before Arnold Schwarzenegger got acquainted with ‘The Predator’ (1987). Unfortunately, any career momentum he could have gained from this decent entry was sacrificed immediately by ‘The Return’ (1980), a nonsensical riff on ‘Close Encounters of the Third Kind’ (1977).

Here, he’s aiming squarely for the children’s market with this tale of castaway Prince Kirk (Travis Clark, the director’s youngest son), who escapes from a space battle being fought by his grandfather, King Fendel (Oscar nominee Tony Curtis). In the backwoods of Earth, he teams up with pouty teen Brian (Trevor Clark, the director’s other son) who’s lost after a close encounter of the ursine kind. Meanwhile, the authorities have formed a search party, accompanied by Brian’s mother and father (Jacqulin Cole and director Greydon Clark). In case you were wondering, Cole is billed here as Jacqulin Clark because she was the director’s wife and the mother of our two young stars.

Stargames (1998)

‘Where did it all go?’

So, yes, what we have here is 90 minutes spent in the cinematic company of the Clark family! And what have they to offer? Sadly, very little. This is obviously a micro-budgeted adventure, and little more than a vanity project. The film opens with scenes of Curtis walking around inside what is supposed to be a giant spaceship. He makes a lot of sweeping arm movements and delivers some of the worst dialogue this side of ‘The Manitou’ (1978).

Unfortunately, these SFX would have been laughable a quarter of a century earlier. On television. So It’s a relief when we get earth-side so quickly but things really don’t get any better from there. That’s because the film’s main issue isn’t the bargain basement FX or the terrible dialogue, it’s the casting. Neither Trevor or Travis had any previous acting credits (or subsequent ones), and their lack of experience is cruelly exposed when so much of the drama falls on their young shoulders. This is largely because of the severely under-developed script, by Clark Sr and regular collaborator David Reskin, that offers the audience little more than an extended hike in their company.

Stargames (1998)

The force was not strong with this one…

To be fair, all these issues were likely due to the limitations of resources at director Clark’s disposal, but it does make for a seriously dull experience. Travis does have a pet piece of rope(!) and an alien wristwatch that he uses to conjure jerky stop-motion dinosaurs out of thin air, but little else. Handy for dealing with pound-store stormtroopers, though. But the fact that the writers seemed to believe that the only adjective in a teenage boy’s vocabulary was ‘cool’ is not entirely helpful.

This is one of Curtis’ last roles, and it’s interesting to speculate just how he crossed paths with Greydon Clark, and why he agreed to do this. It’s fair to say that he wasn’t really looking after his career by this point (‘The Mummy Lives’ (1983) anyone?) but looking at what’s up on the screen, it’s hard to believe that he would have received significant financial compensation for the brief shift he puts in here. After all, the faceless villain is little more than a silly, disembodied voice, and not much of a final opponent for a man who once defeated ‘The Manitou’ (1978)!

A nice family souvenir for the Clark clan, but not of much interest to anyone else.

Ultra Warrior (1990)

Ultra Warrior (1990)‘There were even observation decks where you could watch the glow from the Zirconium gel sacs.’

As the world recovers after the holocaust, the mineral element Zirconium is vital to mankind’s continued survival. Deposits are known to exist in the radioactive wasteland known as Oblivion, but the region is occupied by warring mutant factions. The authorities send a small team in to investigate…

Hefty slice of post-apocalyptic tomfoolery cobbled together from various sources, and designed to cash in on the global success of ‘Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior’ (1981). Unfortunately, it’s about 10 years too late and several hundreds of thousands of dollars short. Getting all hot and bothered is our leading man, Max – sorry, Kenner – played by Dack Rambo (his real surname, folks!), who sweats and shoots his way through an adventure so incoherent and messed-up that it’s sometimes a real challenge to keep a handle on what’s going on.

The plot is simple enough; Rambo drives his cut price Max-Mobile into the desert, where he teams up with Uncle Lazarus (Ramsay Ross) and his group of peaceful mutants to fight the motorcycle thugs of bad guy The Bishop (Orlando Sacha). As a fringe benefit, one of the mutants is the lovely Grace (Clare Beresford) who doesn’t look mutated at all. Rambo’s supposed to be looking for Zirconium, of course, but after fighting beside his new friends for a while, he finds that ‘a heart joined with others beats stronger than any alien star converter.’ And you can’t argue with that.

Ultra Warrior (1990)

‘What film are we in again?’

What sets this picture apart is its ham-fisted execution. At first, it appears that this was an unfinished project, and narrative gaps needed to be filled somehow to bring it up to a (barely) feature length 75 minutes. However,  the picture began life as ‘Welcome To Oblivion’ (1990), executive produced by legendary low budget mogul Roger Corman. It’s unclear whether it ever reached theatres under that title, but it did come to home video shortly afterwards under its new name. Apparently after a heavy re-edit.

What emerged is a fine example of car crash cinema. The first 10 minutes features footage seemingly sourced from multiple other Corman productions, as VoiceOver Woman gives us a potted history of the apocalypse and its immediate aftermath. Ok, we can just about accept that, although it’s all a little bewildering. We then join Rambo in a fuzzy neon 80s bar where he picks up a brunette and they have sex in his room. We never see their faces during this wrestling match (scored with lazy porn saxophone) and it appears that he’s put on a blonde wig for some reason or other. Then he’s off to Oblivion along with Totally Redundant Sidekick and Totally Redundant Sidekick’s Pointless Girlfriend.

On the way there, Totally Redundant Sidekick relates an irrelevant anecdote about a summer job working for his dad at an underwater Zirconium mine (conveniently allowing for footage from ‘Lords of the Deep’ (1989); a Roger Corman production). Soon they come across lots of explosions and action scenes (conveniently allowing for footage from ‘Battletruck/Warlords of the 21st Century (1982), not technically a Roger Corman production but he was involved!) Later, mutant babe Beresford tells Rambo about an attack on a genetics lab for no real reason (conveniently allowing for footage from some other film that l’m guessing just may have been a Roger Corman production). Oh, and yes, aliens have invaded from a parallel universe (conveniently allowing for a couple of space battles from ‘Battle Beyond the Stars’ (1980); strangely enough another Roger Corman production). Do we ever see the aliens? No. In fact, they never get mentioned again. Yes, every few minutes or so, one of the characters provides some more information about the planet’s recent history and we get footage from another film. It happens so often, it starts to get seriously funny.

Ultra Warrior (1990)

I remember a time of chaos… ruined dreams… this wasted land. But most of all, I remember The Road Warrior. The man we called…oh, hang on…’

Aside from this (somewhat) fractured narrative, what else do we have? Well, not a lot, really. Uncle Lazarus is some strange green guy who lives in a box and proclaims Rambo as ‘The Chosen One’ to lead his people to the Promised Land, Corman has a cameo on a TV screen as the President of the World (or something?), we get a lot more explanatory work from Voice Over Woman (cheers, girl!) and the film ends with an obscure quote from Rudyard Kipling! All perfectly reasonable.

The film was shot on location in Peru and produced by native Luis Llosa, who went on to a brief Hollywood directing career, which peaked with Sylvester Stallone-Sharon Stone double header ‘The Specialist’ (1994) and ‘Anaconda’ (1997) with Jennifer Lopez. He also directed ‘Crime Wave’ (1989) with David Carradine, which has Beresford’s only other screen appearance (as ‘Policewoman #1’). Rambo was a minor TV star with credits on some soaps, the revival of ‘Gunsmoke’ in the early 1970s and the lead on crime show ‘Sword of Justice’ which lasted 10 episodes in 1978. He retired in 1991 after contracting AIDS and spent the last 3 years of his life raising awareness of the disease.

But almost unbelievably, there is a success story coming out of this film and it belongs to co-director Kevin Tent. He gave up the megaphone and switched to the Editor’s chair, beginning in the exploitation arena for director Frank Henenlotter on nasty stuff like ‘Basket Case 2’ (1990) and ‘Frankenhooker’ (1992). Slowly, he worked his way up to big budget projects like ‘Girl, Interrupted’ (1999), ‘About Schmidt’ (2002), ‘The Golden Compass’ (2007), ‘Nebraska’ (2013) and ‘Downsizing’ (2017). He was Oscar nominated for his work on ‘The Descendants’ (2011). He is not credited as working in an editorial capacity on this film, and I have the sneaking suspicion that he may have left it off his CV completely.

There was little chance these puny warriors of the wasteland were ever going to challenge Max’s supremacy of the post-apocalyptic highway, but they did deliver a total train wreck of a film that just doesn’t know when to quit.

Highly recommended.