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 Filipino 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.

A Man Called Rage/Rage – Fuoco incrociato (1984)

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)‘But why don’t you send them? They were clever enough to find me and they only lost 20 to 30 men.’

Missiles fly and the cities of the world are destroyed. In a post-apocalyptic wasteland, various groups battle for the little uranium that remains. An ex-soldier leads a ragtag team into the forbidden zone on one, last desperate mission to obtain a supply…

What James Bond 007 was to the European film industry in the 1960s, Max Rockatansky was in the 1980s. The global phenomenon that was ‘The Road Warrior’ (1981), or ‘Mad Max 2’ if you lived in my neck of the world, was such a box-office success that it birthed a whole sub-genre of the science-fiction film. It helped that this happened to coincide with the explosion of the VHS home video market, so your local high street rental store was almost instantly submerged by a wave of titles like ‘Exterminators of the Year 3000’ (1984), ‘2020: Texas Gladiators’ (1982), ‘Stryker’ (1983) and my own personal favourite ‘The New Barbarians’ (1982) (aka ‘Warriors of the Wasteland’). Some examples also took inspiration from John Carpenter’s classic ‘Escape From New York’ (1981), such as ‘Bronx Warriors’ (1982), its sequel and ‘2019: After the Fall of New York’ (1983). Most originated from ltaly, Spain and the Philippines, although some had investment from the U.S. and other territories.

In this production, we find star Bruno Minitti flexing his pecs, striking a pose and rocking a black, cut-off t-shirt for director Tonino Ricci. Again. Yes, the two had already covered much the same post-apocalyptic waste ground a year earlier with the rather underwhelming ‘Rush/Rush The Assassin’ (1983). This time around Minitti is the ex-soldier gone rogue and one-man executioner, Rage. It’s a completely different character from ‘Rush’ obviously, even if the film was marketed as ‘Rush 2’ in some territories. The story opens with him up against a full army squad, a lot of whom he kills before finally being captured. Surprisingly, he’s then offered a job; leading a trip into the forbidden land to link up with ‘Alpha Base’ whose broadcasts are being picked up on the radio.

But let’s stop right there. Just who are all these people exactly? Minitti’s employment opportunity comes courtesy of a white-haired old man in a wheelchair, who seems to be in charge of what’s left of the regular army and the government that remains. l suppose. The mission objective is not to obtain the usual suspects of water or petrol, but uranium. Why? Because without it, everyone will die. For some reason. Perhaps it’s a staple of the post-nuke diet, who knows? Anyway, Alpha Base have lots of it. Whoever they are. What exposition we do get comes via various nuggets of clunky dialogue, featuring such gems as: ‘We have to go through the radioactive zone; it’s still dangerous’ and ‘Here comes one of our travelling companions, Omar, the electronics wizard and munitions expert.’

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)

‘God, what a poser…’

But we’re not here for a complex plot or involving characters, are we? Which is a good job, considering what’s up on the screen. No, what we’re here for is lots of exciting car chases, stunts, and explosions! And do we get them? Well…no, not really. The problem with these knock-off films is simple. They were rushed out to cash in on a current trend and filmed on the cheap.

So there’s lots of long scenes of driving through deserts, stuntmen leaping off rocks (mostly in quarries), bloodless battles with prop guns and badly choreographed fisticuffs. The staging of all this is very unspectacular and proceedings are completely bereft of any of the odd stylistic and wardrobe choices that made many of its contemporaries such ridiculous fun. Which all helps to explain why it’s such an obscure example of this sub-genre.

Still, there are some things to enjoy for aficionados of cult movies. For a start, there’s Minitti’s character. He single-handedly takes out almost a whole army squad in the opening sequence (the best part of the film) and swaggers about like a real badass. When he’s asked to head up the main operation into the badlands, he angrily refuses, reminding his captors that he and his squad were refused entry to their shelter when the bombs began to fall (a sequence we never get to see, surprise, surprise). Perhaps he can explain how he’s managed to survive on the outside for so long since then? ‘lt’s a long story’ he says. And that’s all we get.

So why does he suddenly agree to take the job? Because everyone puts on their best puppy dog eyes when he refuses! Yes, that seems to be the only reason, although he’s obviously keen to nail striking heroine Taida Urruzola as soon as possible. Rather brilliantly, she changes from army fatigues into a very brief crop top and short shorts for the main action, although she does get to keep them on, which is quite a miracle, considering the vintage of the production and its target audience. And she’s not shy about shooting bad guys and beating up a bunch of would-be rapists, so that’s kind of sweet.

Getting in the way of Minitti and his merry band is Slash (Stelio Candelli) and his bunch of generic goons, who cheerfully provide the necessary cannon fodder for the action scenes. He’s pissed at Minitti because of a double cross involving maps of the forbidden zone (which no-one ever looks at anyway and the audience never even get to see!), although they apparently have some unfinished business of some kind from some time or other in the past. Or something. But he’s no match for one-man army Minetti anyway, who’s not only an indestructible killing machine, but also a great leader and brilliant strategist. Apparently. The evidence for this does seem a little thin, however, when his group run out of water about five minutes after entering the wasteland. Given the importance of the mission, it’s also a bit of a head scratcher as to why it comprises just one jeep and half a dozen personnel. Perhaps it’s because Minitti killed the rest of their forces in the first five minutes of the film. Not to worry about that mass slaughter, though…no-one else seems remotely bothered!

Rage/A Man Called Rage (1984)

The Famous Five hadn’t grown up quite as Enid Blyton had hoped…

This is typical exploitation movie-making on the cheapest and most basic level. Knock out a half-baked script based on a popular box-office hit of the day, grab a dozen working actors, a film crew and some army surplus and head out into the desert for a week or so’s filming. You won’t win any awards but you’ll get a movie in the can and everyone will get paid. Probably.

This is one of the dullest and most generic of trips into the nuclear wasteland of the 1980s, but there is one scene in particular that deserves a mention. Reaching Alpha Base, our heroes don’t find any uranium but they do find a pile of books and educational aids containing ‘the history of civilisation; engineering, the principles of electronics…’ and ‘the science of construction, elements of philosophy, the whole of human culture, technology and science.’

‘With this, the world can be reconstructed quickly!’ exclaims Minetti in triumph.

As he brandishes a battered old VHS Videotape.

Ah, the 1980s… Where did you go?

Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain/Warriors of the Apocalypse (1985)

Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain (1985)‘Oh supreme fertility god! Master and creator of all life!’

150 years after the nuclear war, a group of scavengers encounter a strange tribe led by a mysterious woman and her high priest, who seem to have created an idyllic community. But all is not what it seems…

Grade Z jungle adventure from the Philippines that starts off looking like a Mad Max rip off but soon reveals its’ true colours as a cheap knock-off of H. Rider Haggard’s classic novel, the much filmed ‘She’! This week’s ‘Road Warrior’ is Trapper, played by an impressively wooden Michael James, who leads a ragtag gang of toughs including wise old retainer Doc and a bloke who flips his shades on and off a lot because he’s just so incredibly cool.

After the usual scratchy mushroom cloud footage, we join our heroes in the obligatory abandoned quarry and get our first clue that it’s not business as usual in this straight to VHS post-apocalyptic world! These guys are on foot, they have no motorised transport at all. l guess the film’s budget didn’t even stretch to a couple of motorcycles. Luckily, they do have the usual leather gear with studded gloves and the ridiculously huge shoulder pads. There’s a dust up with a rival gang, and they join forces with a mysterious stranger who leads them to a nearby jungle. Although water is the most precious commodity left after the Earth was scorched, apparently there’s enough here to grow a rainforest. We find out later that it’s all down to a working nuclear reactor so that’s fine.

lt’s not long before they’re attacked by a tribe of dwarves in body paint who keep coming back from the dead. Obviously, the gang’s firearms aren’t really all that deadly, despite shooting what seem to be exploding smoke bombs. Actually, it turns out that the forest holds the secret of immortality, guarded by a 175 year-old Amazon Queen (Deborah Moore) who gets her strange powers from badly animated bursts of tiny lightning. Of course, she fancies James and the two of them get it on in a scene that no doubt featured prominently in the trailer. Unfortunately, this doesn’t go down well with the local high priest and things are all set for a final confrontation with the two immortals shooting laser beams from their eyes (accompanied by appropriately 1980s sound effects).

Searchers of the Voodoo Mountain (1985)

Paddington’s hardest stare wasn’t even in it…

Given the storyline, this should be a lot of low-budget fun, but the film mostly takes itself seriously. There’s little humour, and the acting is flat and disinterested. Director Bobby A Suarez is content just to point the camera at his cast and the stunt work and fight choreography are desperately uninspired. Worse than that is the lacklustre script which, despite the mix of ridiculous elements, never surprises the audience, with all the tattered story threads reaching entirely predictable outcomes.

James only had a short career in action films but his CV does include supporting roles in pictures with David Carradine, Klaus Kinski and Gordon Mitchell. Moore went onto more mainstream projects, appearing a little way down the cast in big budget biography ‘Chaplin’ (1992) and in a small role in Piers Brosnan’s ‘Bond’ swansong, the underwhelming ‘Die Another Day’ (2002).

This is a curious hybrid of a film, which you can’t help thinking was originally intended as a straight ‘She’ picture before someone thought it would be good box office to throw in a little post-holocaust action.

Unfortunately, the results provide a fairly low level of entertainment.

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.

Desert Warrior (1988)

Desert_Warrior_(1988)‘You and Cortaz will get married so we can have some children who are not contaminated.’

After World War 3, what remains of the Earth is a devastated wasteland, poisoned by radiation. Some scientists have managed to remain unaffected in an underground complex, but the impulsive daughter of one of their leaders becomes a prize fought over by warring tribes out in the wilderness…

A one-eyed Lou Ferrigno saves the world on his motorised tricycle! Yes, it’s the original Incredible Hulk himself flexing his pecs whilst teams of stunt men dive off cliffs and smoke bombs go bang. This Italian cheapie wants so badly to be ‘Mad Max’ but is doomed to fail, not least because the production only has about half a dozen cars, and none of them seem capable of doing much more than 30 miles an hour.

Ferrigno is Zerak, who fights a nasty, oriental man in a tatty, cut-price Thunderdome on behalf of his tribal chief, whose actually more interested in finding an uncontaminated woman to knock boots with. Just for procreative purposes, of course. After all, the future of the human race is at stake, ain’t it? And things are looking up when spoilt blonde Shari Shattuck and her boyfriend quit the scientists lair to travel across ‘The Zone’ (just some desert really – oh, and a quarry!) We don’t really know why she makes him take her on this trip, and he is killed almost at once, but she’s the heroine so let’s just forget about it. It doesn’t matter. Taken prisoner by bandits, she’s rescued by Ferrigno, who sports a nifty eye patch and not much else. The electricity between them leaps off the screen immediately. Well, let’s pretend it does, anyway. In reality, they look at each other a little bit.

Desert Warrior (1988)

Bom To Be Mild

At Science Central, her father petitions the ruling council for a rescue, but they’re not keen. In fact, they make one lame-brained decision after another. The Security Chief has ‘Stupid Generic Villain’ stamped on his forehead and everyone looks like an ice cream man because they all wear white (they’re not contaminated, see?) Next door in ‘The Zone’, lots of smoke bombs go off, and stunt men jump off hidden trampolines and get machine gunned. To a pounding synthesiser score, of course.

Films like this stand or fall on their action scenes, but these are unimaginatively staged and very repetitive. Ferrigno doesn’t bring a lot of presence to the leading role, and Shattuck is an unsympathetic partner. The plot disintegrates over the last half hour into total stupidity, as the chief scientist discovers a treatment for radiation poisoning which he tries out on Ferrigno. This consists of using some kind of hand-vacuum to suck all the gunk off his face. Will it work? Will everyone realise they should be working to together to rebuild the world as brothers, after an ‘inspiring’ speech by our hero? Or will the camera pan slowly across a field of broken corpses because ‘we never learn’? Will Ferrigno and Shattuck walk off into the sunset together for a really, really long time? Or will we be left to contemplate the futility of existence and the inevitability of mankind’s coming oblivion? I couldn’t possibly comment.

This is really quite feeble stuff; a few familiar ingredients thrown hurriedly together to create a dull, generic ‘entertainment’ that trades on the name and reputation of its star without making much of an effort to do anything else.