11 July 2010
And then it would continue as something like this:
“…the world has been totally annihilated by nuclear war and man’s greed. The earth’s surface has become an arid and scotched desert of sand and ash. Civilization has deteriorated into bands of nomadic warriors…”
And this would be said in a somber and serious sounding overdubbed narration, perhaps with a bit of reverb, over panning shots of some deserted ruins and skeletons crumbling in husks of eroded automobiles. This would be accompanied by some drone-y, ominous synthesizer music with some weird arpeggiated synth blips. From that point onward the film would be a lot of modified, menacing looking vehicles, men and woman running around sweating in leather or weird, fetishistic armour and less emphasis on acting (especially of the “method” style) and more upon thrills and visual eye candy.
The 1970s ushered in this heightened interest in film making; from more desolate films such as Silent Running, Dark Star, Logan’s Run and more notably Death Race 2000 and then towards the end of 70s and early 80s more popular sci-films that reached more of the general public consciousness such as Stars Wars, Alien, Bladerunner, Mad Max and even Disney’s Black Hole. These films varied in style and tone: some following more a dreamy-eyed post-Barbarella style of fantasy-fiction and others far more dystopian, gritty, and even terrifying.
But one common thread that seems to run between all of them is that they seem to run off the plot line of a Western film: one man/woman (or small group) in a struggle against a larger and corrupt governing body. In a film like Bladerunner it follows more closely the aesthetic of a 40s/50s detective/crime film than anything else, riffing on classic themes that have run through many ages of human storytelling.
Mad Max was a bit of blockbuster in the sub-genre of “post-apocalypse” films and it’s two sequels even seemingly more of a mainstream success. It combined sci-fi and Western and sort of a gritty “punk” aesthetic plus had a lot of car chases and explosions like a lot of action films that seemed to pop up in the 1970s that attracted a lot of different types of viewers.
I remember when I was younger that Mad Max wasn’t the only film such as this and there was an onslaught of dystopian science fiction in the early to mid 1980s. I think the home video cassette player (whether you were VHS or BetaMax) had a lot to do with this. It also almost seemed quite cheap to do such a film — high budget FX films were there in the wake of Star Wars and other such films but even the maverick film-maker could get permission to film in some gravel pits, dress up a bunch of B-list actors in leathers and metal plates, give them a few one-liners and then race them around shooting un-convincing laser guns at one another. You’d then get someone to edit it and the someone with a synthesizer to drone over top of the whole thing.
This whole school of film came up in my life recently, mainly in conversation outside of clubs and over a few drinks. There was a film called Cherry 2000 that came out in 1987 that I had mentioned, starring a then up and coming Melanie Griffith. I hadn’t seen it since I was young and after viewing some clips again more recently it was quite a crap film, and a very misogynist one at that. The premise involves a post-apocalyptic future where a bunch of sad men slobber after busty female “love” robots and one particular sad man accidentally short circuits his in bath tub during a hot and steamy snog. The rest of the film involves this guy hiring a female “tracker” played by Griffith who, with the use of rocket launchers and guns against a band of sweaty dudes in armoured vehicles, seeks out the originating factory of these robot women in the desert to get our sad man protagonist a replacement for his robo-lady. Pretty close to B-rated, or even C-rated?
But that wasn’t the only one — at least that I could remember — and I slowly uncovered in this modern internet age a whole slough of B-rated “dystopian” post-apocalyptic sci-fi/adventure films all from the general time period. Riding off the backs of their more successful role model films couldn’t be the only inspiration for this phenomenon. It was the height of the Cold War after all in the late 70s to mid 80s and technology was starting to become more and more prevalent in consumer electronics: home computers and other such gadgets. The futurism of popular music and culture at the time was very prevalent. The soundtracks to most of these films are one of the few things that actually sound strange and interesting, relying mostly on synthesizers and taking elements from the disco, electro, and soundtrack-oriented styles that were popular at the time.
There’s a great number of films out there but here’s a scaled down presentation of some wonders I’ve found. Looking at them all they somehow fail to meet their ambitions in terms of substance and believability but at the same time looked like they might have been incredible fun to be involved in: running around like some rejected nightclub attendee in a wasteland and delivering the one liners left right and center…
The offending specimen that was mentioned earlier. In my gap of watching this from a young kid to a cynical, discerning adult (with convictions no less) it really hasn’t aged well.
This one looks a bit dated by about three or four years so that really indicates the sparse budget this one was on. This is Part 1 of 9 of the clip on YouTube. The opening soundtrack and voice-over narration are fantastic and a sort of “stereotype” of the genre. A lot of films of this ilk seem to have “2000” or “3000” added as a suffix to a title. This sort of naming convention is usually reserved for consumer products. Oddly enough, there’s a restaurant near my flat called Curry 2000 that I always jokingly refer to as “cyber-curry”.
This is the intro clip to the film and is more of the same: voice over describing the tragic events leading up to the downfall of civilization coupled with panning shots of the aftermath of nuclear war.
A pattern is developing…
One of the great Italian director Lucio Fulci’s forays into dystopian sci-fi. It seems like there’s a lot of Italian made films in this category. Amazing intro song that around the 30 second mark of the clip almost sounds like “To Cut A Long Story Short” by Spandau Ballet.
And this clip, isolated from the film, is priceless (good music too!)
The trailer for this is ridiculous as there’s a grouping of these films that seem to be mindless shoot ‘em up movies with awkward looking costumes. Usually there’s a plot but it’s as simple as “we’ve got to get the water supplies from the bad guys”.
More shoot ‘em style. Apparently this director, Cirio H. Santiago, is the king of Mad Max rip-off films and this is one of them.
…and more post-apocalypse action…
…and MORE!!! And you wonder where Michael Bay gets all of his ideas. The quality control of this film is reflected by the blatant typo in the film title opening shot.
Adding a little slapstick, below-the-belt comedy and sexuality into the mix. Uh…
This one is a bit of an anomaly as it takes place on another planet but the premise is still the same.
In my time picking out some of the clips above, I came across a few other gems; not necessarily in the same mold but fitting of the subject matter nonetheless.
Sort of like a Bladerunner-type film with time travel involved. Some 80’s actors and actresses you might recognize including a young Helen Hunt.
A European sci-fi film starting the always intense Klaus Kinski on the subject matter of man and robotics.
To wrap up this whole thing, I thought a fitting end would be an epic “eye laser” battle. Wow.