If imitation really is the sincerest form of flattery, George Miller must really be feeling the love right now. Neil Marshall’s anticipated follow-up to The Descent, Doomsday hits multiplexes tomorrow and looks to pay more than a little lip service to Miller’s big-screen beacon of post-apocalyptic mayhem, the Mad Max series. In light of Doomsday’s high-dollar riff on the bleak world of tomorrow, it seemed to me the perfect time to look back at some of the better Mad Max imitators which popped up on video store shelves with clockwork regularity in the ‘80s.
World Gone Wild - Bruce Dern, Michael Pare, Adam Ant… it’s the ‘80s alright, and it’s a kick-ass post-apoc romp from the good folks at Reagan-era home vid stalwart Media Entertainment! Aside from some nicely choreographed action, the film features a surprisingly acidic, self-reflective sense of humor, long before such flights of cinematic irony were considered cool. Dern leads a commune of hippies (including son Pare) against Ant’s Church of Charles Manson followers and roving bands of mutant cannibals in a resource-deprived future. Director Lee Katzin also helmed a spate of exceptional MFTV movies in the ‘70s and the Steve McQueen racing opus Le Mans.
Steel Dawn - crazy Swayze tackles a gang of murderous bandits attempting to seize control of a peaceful village’s water supply. Remember when Swazye was a high-quality low-rent action star - Red Dawn, Road House, Next of Kin? After Ghost the dude really lost his way. The film also featured turns by Brion James and Arnold Vosloo, and a score by original Mad Max composer Brian May. Dawn owes as much to the western genre as it does anything else, with Swayze’s nameless hero doing a bit of a by-the-numbers Shane routine. Cheesy, to be sure, but in the best sort of ‘80s way. Features a rather spectacular sword fight and all manner of stoic Swazye posturing.
Hell Comes to Frogtown - sleaze impresario Donald G. Jackson unleashed this truly bizarre spin on a world where fertility is at a premium, and “Rowdy” Roddy Piper’s junk just might rep our only hope to propagate the species. A tried and true “B” picture if there ever was one, the film’s just gonzo enough that it charms when it really has no right to. The acting’s atrocious, the production design’s lower-than-low-rent, and the action’s primarily of the “awkward grappling” variety. Conan starlet Sandahl Bergman co-stars in this “USA Up All Night” staple. An exploding chastity belt reps a central plot device, if that helps further set the tone.
2019: After the Fall of New York - mini-maestro Sergio Martino helmed this Mad Max / Escape from New York hybrid rip, which again makes the search for fertility in a post-apoc wasteland a major plot point. NYC has fallen into the hands of an evil empire, and the remnants of global government hire an unshaven anti-hero to infiltrate Manhattan and rescue a young woman thought to have the ability to bear children. I’m not saying Children of Men owes a debt to the guy who directed The Island of the Fishmen, but it does seem awfully convenient, doesn’t it…? In all seriousness, this is one of the better examples of Italy’s bizarre fascination with Mad Max clones, and features a great supporting turn by “George Eastman” (Luigi Montefiori), perhaps best known as the fetus-scarfing madman in Anthropophagous, playing a character named “Big Ape”.
Equalizer 2000 - let’s be straight off the top here – this is a bad movie. Not good-bad, just bad. It just didn’t feel right putting this list together without mentioning the man responsible for more Mad Max clones than probably anyone else, Cirio H. Santiago. We have this guy to thank for Stryker, Wheels of Fire, Future Hunter, Dune Warriors, Raiders of the Sun, and hell, I don’t know, probably five or six more I’ve missed. I decided to pick on Equalizer 2000 in particular because there may have been some eerie foresight involved there. After all, I did pay $3.55 a gallon to fill up my tank yesterday and we’re only eight years removed from that titular date. Cirio – perhaps you’re something of a savant after all.