Warriors of the Apocalypse

I think I’m detecting a pattern here, thanks in large part to the number of cheapjack genre films that used the Philippines and local Filipino crews and extras during the 80s and 90s. Need to make a cheap Rambo rip-off? Let the lush jungle landscape of the Philippines stand in for Vietnam. Need to make a crappy movie about a martial arts tournament that features bare-breasted female fighters? Don’t worry; the Philippines is the place for you. Want to make a post-apocalyptic adventure film featuring nude Amazons and kabuki little people? Even then you need not fear, for the Philippines truly is the Promised Land, so long as your vision of Paradise includes nude Amazons, kabuki midgets, topless kickboxing, and lots of slow motion explosions. And that damn well better be your vision of Paradise.

The Filipino film industry is full of completely insane action and adventure movies, usually crudely made but with spirit to spare. Th Philippines produced a pretty huge number of espionage, superhero, horror, and action films for its domestic market throughout the 50s, 60s, and 70s. Then, in the 1970s, American producers looking to save money while still giving their film an air of the exotic headed to The Philippines, producing four, five, sometimes even more movies in a very short amount of time and in conjunction with the locals. More times than not, and as we have learned, the American producer was Roger Corman and the local was Cirio Santiago. Using Santiago as the man on the ground and Corman as the pipeline to U.S. distribution, a lot of these co-productions found purely Filipino films piggybacking on them all the way to America.

Corman was not the only man looking to the Philippines as a home away from home. And just as Corman had Cirio Santiago, others had a man named Bobby Suarez. Suarez’ career is so similar to Cirio Santiago’s that I sometimes have a hard time believing they’re not the same man, or that somewhere in an underground lab beneath Manila there isn’t just some big supercomputer named Santiago Suarez. It was a brilliant artificial intelligence at one point, but the constant humidity of the hot Filipino summers eventually drove it mad, causing it to split into two distinct entities that, despite being distinct entities, emerged with the same prime directive: make as many martial arts and post apocalypse action films as possible.

Suarez was the storybook kid who came from nothing and made something of his life, even if that something was The One-Armed Executioner. After scoring a job with a film company, he worked his way up into the sales office, and through the sales office and into an eventual gig as a writer, producer, and director. Though nowhere near as prolific as Cirio Santiago, Suarez nevertheless contributed a number of gems to the world of cult cinema, including The One-Armed Executioner, about an Interpol agent out for revenge either against the men who chopped off his arm and killed his family or against the salon stylist who convinced him to get that horrible punch perm. Suarez also made They Call Her Cleopatra Wong, a low-budget martial arts movie that dared ask the question, “What would happen if we took a beautiful woman, dressed her up in a nun’s outfit, and gave her a bad-ass quadruple-barrel sawed-off shotgun?” I think we can all answer that question pretty easily.

If there’s anything that sets the films of Bobby Suarez apart from the films of Cirio Santiago, it’s that most of them make some sort of sense, at least relative to the universe about which we’re talking. But even Suarez was unable to resist the siren song of making a batshit insane post-apocalyptic action movie. And so where Santiago gave the world Future Hunters, which featured a leather-clad future hero, a tribe of midgets, Robert Patrick in his tighty whities, and a lost society of Filipino Amazons, Bobby Suarez gives us Warriors of the Apocalypse, which featured a leather-clad future hero, a tribe of midgets, and a lost society of multi-ethnic Amazons. What it lacks in Robert Patrick buffalo shots, however, it certainly makes up for with what has to be the very final word in post-apocalypse shoulderpad jackets.

So you know the score. In the 1980s, the Australians went and made Road Warrior, the wild sequel to a relatively more modest affair called Mad Max. The unexpected emergence of Road Warrior as one of the most popular films of the 1980s meant that it also became one of the most imitated, especially in Italy. Although everyone was busy cranking out post-apocalypse films, no one seized on the Road Warrior aesthetic quite like the Italians. Theoretically, the Italians should have been able to crank out pretty competent Road Warrior rip-offs. The usual excuses — low budgets, inexperienced actors — didn’t apply. Road Warrior was a low-budget film itself, and though star Mel Gibson was on the fast track to a requisite DUI and calling a female cop “sugar tits,” the cast was composed largely of untested new faces with minimal film experience.

Of course, the one thing the Australians had over pretty much everyone who came in the wake of Road Warrior was talent. So while Road Warrior remains one of the most tense, exciting sci-fi films, the rip-offs were generally plodding, incompetent affairs. There’s very little energy in most of them, even when they’re good. I don’t know what it was about Road Warrior; maybe it was because the Aussies are more or less the only other people in the world who have the same sort of car culture we Americans have. Maybe they just cared more about the film. Maybe they had more wide-open space and better drivers. I know the Italians have good drivers, but that’s a totally different kind of driving. As cool as you may think they are now, no one wants to be saddled with a Ferrari come the apocalypse. You can’t even jump that shit over a sand dune, man, and we all know that, one way or another, the apocalypse is going to make the whole world look like the Australian Outback. Speaking of which, one thing the Road Warrior rip-offs seem to miss is that the collapse of society didn’t turn the world into a desert. The guys in that movie chose to go out and run wild in a place that was already a desert.

However, in defense of the Italian Road Warrior clones, several of them featured Fred Williamson in a variety of silky shirts, so those we can forgive.

So let’s assume you are at least familiar with Italian Road Warrior knock-offs. Now imagine an even cheaper Filipino knock-off of those knock-offs. Like xeroxing a xerox, the quality plummets precipitously, and when your starting point is something like New Barbarians or Exterminators of the Year 3000, you would assume that you wouldn’t have very far to plummet. And yet still it proved possible. And like the copy of a copy, the final product becomes more and more abstract, its original form more and more intangible, until you get to the point where you are staring at a scratchy amorphous blob and trying to make sense of what it might once have been. In the end, though, all you can see is a Rorschach style image of something that might be a midget in a feathered headdress and Kabuki war paint.

Like Cirio Santiago’s Future Hunters, Warriors of the Apocalypse has the feel of a movie assembled more or less at random out of several different movies. And to its credit, it’s really only a Road Warrior rip-off for the first twenty minutes or so. It then veers off wildly into territory that seems as likely to have been inspired by Beneath the Planet of the Apes as anything else, delving into the combined territory of a cult that draws its power from a lost atomic reactor and movies about any number of lost civilizations. Basically, “lost” is an adjective that applies pretty heavily to this film.

We start off in fairly familiar post-apocalyptic territory: nuclear war has decimated the world and turned it into a sprawling rock quarry inhabited by nomadic bands of violent men who, despite the fact that the world has collapsed, seem to have no problem finding a variety of rich leather outfits. As far movies are concerned, the armies of the future will all be clad in tight-fitting leather, with matching leather jackets of varying length, though ankle-length and cinched in tightly at the waist seems to be the dominant trend. So answer me this: in the last, say, hundred years or so, how any armies have marched into combat clad head to toe in leather? And more specifically, how many armies engaged in combat in the desert have decked themselves out in leather? OK, so Gestapo goons wore those long leather trenchcoats, but other than them, the armies of the world decided at some point that lightweight, camouflaged fatigues made of easily repairable material were the way to go. I’m not sure what happens in the future that causes the world’s armies to re-evaluate this stance and go for tight, constricting, squeaky leather and PVC, but I’m interested in finding out.

So the particular leather-clad band of survivors in which we are interested are led by Trapper, played by a guy who is apparently the guy you hire when your film is too cheap to shell out for John Saxon. Trapper’s crew was lucky enough to raid a West Village leather shop before the world ended, and as such they are decked out in a variety of swanky outfits that were acquired, I can only assume, via a montage consisting of scenes of each man emerging from a dressing room wearing a jacket that tries to outdo the last guy’s in terms of the size of its shoulder pads, until finally the last guy comes out and his shoulder pads are actually like two yards across, causing everyone else to groan at the overkill while he shrugs and goes, “What? What? What’s wrong with this? Ahh, screw you guys.”

Of course, there’s the non-conformist who puts less effort into his shoulder pads and concentrates instead on reassembling the outfit from some biker film starring Peter Fonda, and then there’s the guy who stumbles onto the box of mesh tank tops and thinks to himself, “Oh yeah, I’m having those.” And let me ask you this — what’s the point of a shirt that is mesh and open-front? Each of these outfits is also accented by a number of metal studs, because there’s nothing you want more when you’re a soldier in the desert than to adorn yourself with random bits of shiny metal.

Rounding out the crew is a guy who looks like he might have almost sensibly started trying to dress like a Central Asian, figuring that Afghans must have a pretty good idea by this point about how to dress if you live in a place that is mostly a gravel pit. But at some point, he started giving in to peer pressure and was like, “OK, I’ll put on, umm, let’s say some goggles and tie some bandannas around my thigh, but that’s it!” And then there’s the old guy, because you need an old guy so people can complain about how he’s slowing everyone down. He may look familiar to some of you, and if so, there’s a reason. That’s Mike Cohen, and you probably saw his ass getting rescued by a three-foot tall bad-ass in For Y’ur Height Only.

Trapper’s gang spends most of their time wandering aimlessly through the desert and fighting with other leather-clad scavengers. Trapper and his men have the decided advantage, armed as they are with guns that cause stuff a couple of feet away from the people they’re aimed at to blow up, which then causes the target to fall out of a nearby tree or off a boulder. During one such skirmish, the men encounter a mysterious Filipino guy who might also look familiar if you are a connoisseur of Filipino action films. It’s the one-armed executioner himself, Franco Guerrero. He tells the men of a fabulous paradise where you can live forever, eat mangoes, and do whatever else it is people do in Paradise. He admits that he himself is over 150 years old. The land lies through the jungle on the slopes of a forested mountain.

Wait. There’s a jungle? What kind of world reduced to a desert wasteland has a jungle? And furthermore, if there’s a jungle, all full of fruits and nuts and bubbling streams of crystal clear water, don’t you have a better chance of surviving if you live, I don’t know, like on its outskirts? I mean, what with the rain and all that must fall to sustain it. And the abundant food and water we see in evidence. I know living in the actual heart of the jungle could be dangerous, but loitering around the edge has got to be better than squabbling with a fat guy in bondage clothes over a few drops of water.

Naturally, the interior of the jungle is fraught with peril, mostly in the form of stone-age tribes and, later, stone-age tribes of dwarfs who can be resurrected, none the worse for wear aside from the remnants of a few ultra-bloody squibs. Braving these terrors means that Trapper and his men can join their new pal in his Utopian society. Oh, and did we mention it’s populated almost entirely by hot, topless women? Things look pretty good for Trapper, but some things are simply too good to be true.

As the men frolic and prepare for the upcoming fertility rite orgy, the old guy begins to uncover the sinister secret of the society and the apparent immortality of its inhabitants. By the time things are sorted out, there will be a revolt by enslaved blue zombie guys, a war between the queen of the Amazons and her high priest fought with nothing but lasers they shoot out of their eyes with “pew pew pew” laser noises, the inevitable fiery destruction of the Amazon city, a fight between cut-rate John Saxon and the one-armed executioner, and a lot of the cornball philosophizing about the nature of man that makes these films so entertaining.

At some point you may wonder why the secret zombie slaves of the Amazons all get to carry laser guns while the Amazons themselves carry spears. You’d think if you had a huge cache of futuristic laser weapons, you’d opt for those instead of bows and arrows. Or at the very least, you’d lock them up so the slaves can’t get to them. But then, you probably don’t understand about style and achieving a look. If you have a bunch of Amazons in fur bikinis carrying around laser guns — man, that’s like wearing a zoot suit and clipping a cell phone onto the belt.

There’s not much point in undertaking the usual points of criticism one might look at in a movie. The dialog is dubbed, after all, and the only guy who really seems to be doing any acting is the dude who wears the yacht captain hat and the flip-up sunglasses. His acting style seems to be to channel the most irritating character from a biker film and combine that with that soldier from Hell of the Living Dead who decided to dress up in a tutu and tap dance even though they were in the middle of raiding a zombie-infested factory. I think this guy is supposed to be “the cool one,” but he’s about as cool as “the cool guy” in crappy 1980s teen sex comedies always was.

Suarez’ direction is nondescript, but he manages to capture plenty of gratuitous boobs and explosions, and that’s pretty much all I demand from a director. And I guess there’s a plot twist, sort of, though I think it was more of an oversight than an honest twist. One assumes than a band of scruffy, virile men being lead to a kingdom of nude women with whom they must have sex means that some sinister consequence will occur, like everyone gets flayed alive afterward, or in the middle of sex, all the women reveal that they actually look like Martin Van Buren. But in this movie, the guys have their orgy, and then hey! Everything is cool afterward. Well, except for the zombie revolt and the eye laser battle, but that had nothing to do with the sex. So I guess bravo to Bobby Suarez for daring to posit that in a bleak and hopeless future, there’s still a chance for guilt-free orgy sex with a city full of horny Amazon women.

Warriors of the Apocalypse manages to be just as weird as Future Hunters, its sort of kindred spirit, but in a different way. Although it still has the feeling of a film pieced together out of bits of other films, it’s not nearly as incoherent or schizophrenic as Future Hunters. Within the context of the film, the plot actually makes some sense, though in the real world, the logic to which Warriors of the Apocalypse adheres to is dubious, at best. I’m not sure what it is about nuclear war that causes, some 150 years later, half the world to become leather-clad extras from a Roger Corman biker film while the other half decide to revert to stone-age tribalism and spears. And the idea that a hidden nuclear reactor has made two people immortal, and they in turn make other people immortal (and would chose for one of those groups to be an army of pygmies in face paint) I think takes certain liberties with nuclear science.

But then, who the heck wants to watch a scientifically or socially accurate post apocalyptic movie when the alternative is full of nude Amazons, immortal kabuki dwarfs, exploding lost civilizations, and laser beam eye warfare? There’s enough idiotic action and bizarre turns of events in this movie to make it one of the more enjoyable post apocalypse films that isn’t Road Warrior. And you know it’s all quality, because Bobby Suarez has won multiple awards for his work in Filipino cinema. Among those awards?

The Cirio Santiago Memorial Award for introducing Filipino-produced movies in the international market.