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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Equaliser 2000 (1987)

Equaliser 2000 (1987)‘A warrior without equal. A weapon without limits.’

Hundreds of years after the nuclear holocaust, the Earth has been reduced to a barren desert. Notional government is supplied by the military forces of the Ownership, but several opposing groups are struggling for possession of the most precious natural resource that remains: water.

The international success of ‘Mad Max 2’ (1981) spawned a whole industry of cheap global knock-offs that went straight to the exploding VHS market in the following decade. This particular example originates from the Philippines, although some U.S. financing was involved. This week’s bargain basement Road Warrior is Australian martial artist Richard Norton, who gets to do little more than grunt, rock a leather waistcoat and participate in the endless round of slow motion car chases and gun battles that make up the vast majority of the film’s running time.

The plot, such as it is, sees Norton as a member of the Ownership’s forces who is betrayed by villain William Steis (for no particular reason) and then seeks revenge (um, for something else? Not sure really…) by teaming up with the rebel forces led by Rex Cutter. This heroic band live in The Compound (in reality, the side of a hill with a few lean-to’s and fences), and includes heroine Corrine Wahl and a workshop that contains the ordinance of the title. Norton sweats all over this weapon and turns it into a machine gun/rocket launcher so powerful that it seems mere possession of it is a guarantee of victory in any combat situation.

Director Cirio H Santiago had been here before with the seminal ‘Stryker’ (1983), ‘Wheels of Fire’ (1985), and ‘Future Hunters‘ (1986), as well as returning to the subject with his 100th, and final, movie ‘Water Wars’ (2014)! But here he seems less than engaged with the material, perhaps because the script by Frederick Bailey (who also appears) is sketchy at best, each new plot development being just an excuse for another mediocre vehicular pursuit and/or stuntmen flinging themselves into the air from rocks in an abandoned quarry. Actually, l was struggling to see any real difference between the actions of the Ownership and the rebel forces, but then perhaps I missed the subtle nuances of the prevailing political situation.

Equaliser 2000 (1987)

True love means never having to reload

Still, there’s plenty of bangs for your buck, a typical 1980s pounding synthesiser score, some cars with spikes on them, uniforms with shoulder pads, and no one ever needs to reload their weapons. Dialogue features such inventive gems as ‘The southern defences have to be held at all costs!’, ‘What the hell?’ and ‘You won’t get away with this!’ Emerging from the ‘We all have to Start Somewhere’ file is T-1000 and X-Files regular Robert Patrick in only his second role, here almost unrecognisable as the leader of a scavenger gang. He’d actually begun his career in Santiago’s afore- mentioned ‘Future Hunters’ (1986).

The whole enterprise is uninspired and formulaic, with only Wahl attempting to bring some life to the proceedings in a role as desperately underwritten as all the others. There are plenty of better examples of this Science Fiction sub-genre; the insane fun of ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983), the goofy incompetence of ‘The New Barbarians’ (1983), and the ridiculous hilarity of ‘Warrior of the Lost World’ (1983), all of which are a hundred times more entertaining than sitting through this mediocrity.

If you really have to see every post-nuke ‘Mad Max 2′ rip-off ever made… If you don’t, then you should really take a pass on this one.

Up From The Depths (1979)

Up From The Depths (1979)‘Hell, no! First we’re going to the sporting goods store to get something lethal!’

A drunken sea captain and his nephew sucker tourists with tales of lost treasure off the coast of Hawaii. Meanwhile, an undersea quake has unleashed many unknown species of fish from the unexplored depths. Unfortunately, one of them is a bit peckish.

Welcome to the wonderful world of low-budget filmmakingl First; pick a popular film to ‘re-imagine’. How about ‘Jaws’ (1975)? Next; import a couple of American ‘stars’ for name recognition value – in this case, Sam Bottoms from ‘The Last Picture Show’ (1971) and Susanne Reed from…um, ‘Beyond the Bermuda Triangle’ (1975). Next, find an exotic location which you can get for a song because the film will provide local businesses with a lot of free publicity. Finally, make sure you have someone who can provide some state of the art monster FX. Or, failing that, a bloke who can do it really cheap. And you’re set.

The only problem with the above process is that it rarely results in a decent movie. Here, the results are truly appalling. It’s hard to know where to begin, but perhaps the obvious place to start is with our giant, prehistoric, aquatic menace. All we really see of the creature is some fins above the water, apart from a brief shot of something that looks like a refugee from a particularly cheap fairground ride. So unimpressive is it, that all the scenes of underwater carnage are actually spliced-in, blurry footage from ‘Piranha’ (1978)!

There’s also lots of tiresome comedy involving Bottoms, his drunken uncle and the proprietor of the local hotel, and far too much pointless chat in general. Apparently, all the dialogue was synched in post-production by a few of the cast, heroically trying to recall what was said at the time. Director Charles B Griffith was better known as a writer of low-budget epics for uber-producer Roger Corman (surprisingly only involved as U.S. distributor here). Instead, ‘on the job’ production duties were assumed by Cirio H. Santiago, better known as the director of such cult ‘classics’ as ‘She Devils In Chains (1976)‘ and ‘Stryker’ (1983) and whose work has been championed by grind house junkie Quentin Tarantino.

Up From The Depths (1979)

Be afraid…but very…oh, ok, please yourselves…

Different locations stand in for Hawaii (damn those filming permits!) and the last 20 minutes transform into all-out knockabout comedy as the hotel owner puts a bounty on the fish and everyone wants to get in on the act. The climax, when it comes, is literally a ‘blink and you’ll miss it’ moment, which falls completely flat. But it’s hard to care by then anyway as the story has been moving with all the pace of an asthmatic snail with no sense of direction.

Sharp-eyed viewers may manage to spot R Lee Ermey in a tiny bit part. It was his first role, but l’m assuming he did manage to strike up a on-set friendship with leading man Bottoms. As an ex-marine, Ermey was perfect to be involved in Sam’s next picture as a technical adviser, as well as appearing on screen in the final cut. The title? Oh, a no-budget bit of forgotten nonsense called ‘Apocalypse Now’ (1979)! A few years on and Ermey was hired in a similar capacity by Stanley Kubrick for ‘Full Metal Jacket’ (1983) but, of course, ended up actually playing the role of the merciless drill sergeant instead, and taking home the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

But there is one thing the filmmakers did get right here. Exactly right. The advertising. The tagline is brilliant ‘Your Vacation is about to End!’ and the poster is clear, striking and to the point. Quite exciting, in fact. It must have suckered many a poor punter into wasting a few dollars on this zero budget atrocity.

Vampire Hookers (1978)

Vampire Hookers (1978)‘Warm Blood Isn’t All They Suck!’

Two sailors on shore leave are looking for a good time but their pathetic attempts at finding some fun come to nothing. Instead they end up tangling with a quartet of vampires who live in luxurious accommodations beneath the local boneyard. Three of them look pretty good, though, so the weekend isn’t a total washout.

Woeful, half-arsed ‘adult’ entertainment so poor that it took me a good half an hour to realise it was supposed to be a comedy. Given the date of production and subject matter, our star and lead vamp is almost inevitably John Carradine, a man who would appear in anything if the price was right (or if there was any price at all, probably). Here, he drinks a lot of bloody marys (with real blood, of course!) and quotes Walt Whitman a good deal. His three nubile ‘brides’ entice sailors back to the underground pad for dinner, forgetting to mention what’s on the menu.

Amongst the sailors at risk are two (very) ordinary seamen, played by Bruce Fairburn and Trey Wilson. Their comical exploits ‘on the town’ at the beginning of the film attempt to redefine the meaning of that adjective. And not in a good way. It’s only when we are treated to the continued flatulence of Carradine’s human servant that the laughs really kick in. If only he’d slipped on a banana skin as well! That would have been hilarious.

The film justifies it’s ’adult’ tag (and the wonderfully trashy title!) when Fairburn services all 3 female bloodsuckers at once in a tame orgy sequence with plenty of repeated shots. It’s stuck in the middle of the film in one 10-minute chunk, but must have looked good in the trailer. The girls go all girly over our hunky hero after that (forgetting to bite him), whilst Wilson tries to get the police to believe in these less than riveting developments. The running time is mercifully short, but matters still drag (literally at one point) and the storyline never develops beyond the original concept, which isn’t exactly a brain stretcher.

Vampire Hookers (1978)

Sometimes being a vampire could be a pain in the neck.

Director Cirio H Santiago has been championed as a guru of ’grindhouse’ by no less then Quentin Tarantino, but it’s hard to see what anyone could find absorbing in these flat and lifeless 82 minutes. Carradine is usually worth watching, of course, and he provides the only faint spark of energy in this tired and perfunctory production. He was actually born Richmond Reed Carradine and  it’s a mark of the level of imagination on display here that his character is named Richmond Reed.

The rest of the cast didn’t have to worry about the film appearing on their CV later on, as, predictably enough, none of them…oh, hang on! Second lead Trey Wilson went onto major supporting roles in Hollywood blockbuster comedies ‘Twins’ (1988), ‘Bull Durham’ (1988), ‘Married To The Mob’ (1988) and ‘Great Balls of Fire!’ (1989). Sadly, his success was brief; he died of a cerebral haemorrhage at just 40 years of age.

Exploitation films like this one don’t normally display a great deal of care and attention, but this is a pretty terrible example. See it if you must.