Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Stryker (1983)

The apocalypse has come and gone, and the survivor fashion goes for leather, hot pants and big hair. Dune buggies are back en vogue, as usual. Large parts of wherever this film is set are dominated by the evil pocket empire of evil Kardis (Mike Lane). It’s one of those warrior and slave castes affairs Spartan fans fantasize about, controlled by Kardis’s rationing out of whatever water his “warriors” can steal.

But water is very scarce indeed. Things become heated indeed when Kardis learns of a hidden spring of fresh water under the control of a people with a decided number of warrior women, though not exactly the numbers or the arms to fight off a guy who even manages to field (and fuel) three tanks. Ironically, Delha (Andria Savio), the woman whose actions inform Kardis of the existence of the water, was trying to make a pact with the nicer, gentler warlord in the area, one Trun (Ken Metcalfe), exactly to protect her people – whom she didn’t ask about any of this – from Kardis.

Eventually, Kardis’s arch enemy Stryker (Steve Sandor), a former leading man in Trun’s group turned embittered wanderer of the wasteland by the death of his wife or girlfriend by Kardis’s hands (one of which Stryker later managed to hack off), will get in the bad guy’s way and grumpily do some good.

As long-time imaginary readers of this blog know, I’m not too fond of most of the films of Filipino exploitation king Cirio H. Santiago. They rather tend to drag for my tastes, and Santiago’s treatment of the more exploitative elements tends to the unpleasant.

So colour me surprised when I actually enjoyed myself with this Mad Max-alike quite a bit. Obviously, I could have survived rather well without the sexual violence in form of an aborted-by-Stryker-hulking-out rape scene, but the rest of the film is actually rather neat, and the film is certainly one of Santiago’s better ones.

It moves somewhat sprightly, even, or rather, it fills its, ahem, minimalist plot with more than enough cool stuff and fun incident to turn into a very enjoyable genre entry. There’s hardly a minute going by without some cheep yet cheerful action bit, filmed with experienced eye and hand, or an atmospheric shot of the same three sand dunes.

In a surprise turn, there are even some clever touches to the writing. Stryker (the film, not the man) shows an unexpected interest in the politics of its post-apocalypse, actually building a working idea of how Kardis’s evil empire works, how Trun’s differs from that in theory, and how that theory might look rather less exciting in practice. These aren’t realistic political bodies in any way, shape, or form, of course, but as metaphorical stand-ins for certain great powers from the viewpoint of a filmmaker coming from the sort of place these powers really rather like to misuse for their own agendas, they’re surprisingly effective.

Not surprising in this context, Santiago and/or writers Howard R. Cohen and Leonard Hermes  have some actually plausible ideas on how difficult it would be for a small power with some valuable resources to find a more powerful ally that would actually not rob them of their independence. Admittedly, the film does wave this away with a pretty classic hand of god moment in the end, but this is not really the sort of subtext you typically find in Santiago’s filmography – as far as I’ve dug into it, obviously, so I may very well be missing something here - and it’s actually organically integrated with all the beautiful nonsense of leather-clad people killing each other in the dust.

If there’s one thing that isn’t quite up to my standards – low as they may be - in cheap post-apocalypse flicks about Stryker, it is the film’s general lack of the sort of crazy stuff most other films of the genre are full of. Sure, there are the usual genre standards of silliness when it comes to fashion, but otherwise, the craziest element of the film is the unexplained tribe of little people (I hope that’s still the non-offensive term, otherwise please someone correct me) wearing cut-rate jawa robes who will eventually fight on the side of our heroes. And that’s obviously not particularly crazy for this sort of thing.

But that’s a minor complaint in a genuinely entertaining and surprisingly clever movie.

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