Oh my goodness, could it really be true? It almost seems like a dream. Two movies of incredible merit, criminally ignored by the DVD industry, forced to wallow in the overpriced out-of-print ex-rental market forever, finally appearing at Zombie Club on the same day?
The main event of the night is undoubtedly Battle Truck – a flick all Michael Beck fans surely fell in love with on it’s release two decades ago, but now a nightmare to get hold of. Thank God then, for ebay, where I recently found a top quality, Guild Home Video big box ex-rental for a very reasonable price (not the £50 plus I’ve seen this baby fetch on Amazon Marketplace).
But first up is Salute of the Jugger, with the always value for money Rutger Hauer. It is admittedly less of a collectable, having once had a limited DVD release Stateside, but even that is far from a happy ending for this cult favourite, as it suffered from a new, much crappier name, and a reduced edit. Oh, and it’s a bad full screen transfer too. Rest assured that tonight’s version is the original 4Front video release, ironically the cheapest yet most complete version available.
And so, without further ado, let the games begin… One hundred stones… three times!
Tonight's selection is presented by Michael Beck in association with the Where Does Jim get all these wonder movies from organisation.
The Salute of the Jugger (1988)
Plot Why are all post-apocalyptic futuristic sports extremely violent?
Jim "The juggers are coming, the juggers are coming!" cried the little dressed-in-rags villager boy, as Rutger Hauer and his post-apocalyptic band of barbaric sportsmen come into view between the sand dunes. The challenge is on, the villagers gather their own juggers, and the scene is set. A hundred stones, three times, to plant the dog skull on your opponents spike. And then it's on to the next village, the next game, the next skull.
But Sallow (Hauer) has a problem. In the opening match of the movie their 'quick', known simply as Dog Boy, gets the shit kicked out of him because their new boy metal wielder (a very cool part for Vincent D'Onofrio) trips and leaves Dogboy at the mercy of the other team's chains. Crippled to the point where he can't walk, Salo is forced to leave him behind and instead go with a fresh out of Twin Peaks Joan Chen, and this is where the story really kicks in. Chen inspires Hauer and, as they travel from shit-kicking town to shit-kicking town, the team get better and better until they realise they're just too good for all this shanty town jugging bollocks. They need more, to face the best, to challenge a league team. But, of course, it's not as simple as that, as Sallow has a history that could jeopardise their chances.
Despite the post-apoc setting (and not an Italian in sight), Salute of the Jugger is essentially a sports movie and as such follows the sports movie rules almost to the letter. It's classic - the young challenger, the battle hardened cynical pro, the subplot of former glories and the meteoric rise through the rankings culminating in the epic final battle - all here in perfect order. All very Rocky, Mean Machine and even Mad Max III, but Zomblee here wanted it to be more like Rollerball. "Where's the kung-fu team to bring in some real action? That's what it needs..."
Mind you, like Rollerball, both movies chronical a sport which is never explained fully, to the point where Rawshark and I spent a great chunk of the movie debating the rules without much success, although we did agree that "Bandages across the face do make you look cooler." Zomblee wasn't much help either, contributing only that "There should be 3 quicks each!" Right. Thanks mate.
But the biggest laugh of the night came when my zombie buddies released that challenging a league team involved the crew going underground. "Oh no - it's going underground!" They both cried. Yes, A boy and his dog and Mindwarp have a lot to answer for...
"This is stupid, we should be fucking and drinking by now!"
Zomblee Did I say that? ‘Quicks’, as I recall, are like strikers in football; they score the goals. I’m an expert in this field, can’t you tell? That really isn’t true, but whilst watching Salute of the Jugger I wished it were true. I really didn’t get the game at all; I was just waiting for someone to get their head smashed in by one of those giant cotton buds. I didn’t care who either, because I couldn’t tell anyone apart – these teams don’t wear colours and all look the same. Bring on Jonathan E and the Japanese Rollerball team, that’s what I say. Now there’s a futuristic sport! And it was more skilfully directed, too.
Jugger was always one of those I ignored on the video shop shelves when I was younger. It always seemed to have a ‘don’t lift me off the shelf, you really won’t like me’ vibe about it, and maybe if I ignored that and rented it, I would’ve loved it tonight. But unfortunately I didn’t.
Jim’s right about Rutger Hauer though, he really is value for money. The first thing I wrote in my pad was ‘Rutger looks well-hard’ and boy, ain’t that the truth. The post-apocalyptic world has a way of making cool actors look extra-hard with all that desert dust and dirt and the bandage over his eye works a treat too, as Rawshark astutely observed.
Overall, Salute of the Jugger didn’t meet with my expectations, and even they weren’t much. I would’ve probably loved it if it was Italian. Isn’t that weird? Rawshark said, “I have to say, I’m a bit disappointed no-one died.”
I’m just a bit disappointed, even though it's perhaps the only film we've watched at Zombie Club that actually gets better when it goes underground.
“Two Juggers can’t fuck after the game. It doesn’t work. Unless you like to rub wounds against wounds.”
Rawshark Zomblee’s not wrong – the actual Jugger ‘game’ is perhaps the worst part of Salute of the Jugger. Having no wide shots doesn't help either, as we’re never really given much of a chance to take in the game area, or indeed, the rules (hence all of us debating how we would make the game far more enjoyable cinematically). All the big boys seem to do is tap each other lightly in leather padding, such is the lack of fight choreography, although there was a point where Joan Chen went all Tyson and bit the ear off another competitor. We could have done with a lot more stuff like that. Too often the game seemed to involve every team member just simply hugging his opposing player.
Having said that, there is a lot to enjoy in this film. The post-apoc setting is suitably moody and Mad Max-like with lots of silhouetted figures standing (perfectly composed) on tops of sand dunes, and Vincent D’Onofrio makes a welcome post-Full Metal Jacket appearance as Young Gar, even though his special skill of twirling his mace rarely seems to have little effect. Joan Chen is pretty groovy too, and the other assorted hangers on in Hauer’s amateur Jugger team are all entertaining, especially the guy who walks around with a chest of drawers on his back.
The underground section towards the end is also surprisingly cool, banishing our theory that all post-apoc films turn crap when they go underground as we’re introduced to league player Gonzo (“The best Slash in nine cities” apparently – whatever that means…) a vertical wall of bunk beds, and the final showdown game which, whilst fun, is easily predictable to anyone with half a brain.
Ultimately though, this is Rutger’s film, and although the film is only really fairly enjoyable pap at most, he runs with the film, at first all mean and brooding before exposing his ‘nice side’ with some choice words to his young protégé Joan Chen. Great ending too, (which apparently was deleted from the US version) with Rutger deciding not to rejoin the league and returning above ground to battle on day after day in the barter town wastelands. Even with only one eye, he’s still as hard as nails. Rutger Hauer – eatmybrains salutes you sir. Salutes you!
"Nobody carries the Dog Boy!"
Director David Webb Peoples
Cast Rutger Hauer
Runtime 90 mins
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Battle Truck (aka Warlords of the 21st Century) (1982)
Plot Michael Beck battles a dwindling career in a VW Beetle while Cliff from Cheers gets his fingers burnt.
Rawshark And so on to Battle Truck. Jim has been ranting and raving about owning this big box beauty for months now, so it was a huge relief for all of us at Zombie Club when we finally settled down to watch it. And pretty entertaining it is too, with a well-designed armoured Battle Truck (think older, badder brother of the truck in Duel) being the centrepiece draw. The makers have obviously seen Mad Max (2?) too, as we’re introduced to a world post-Oil Wars, where the armoured ruthless hunt down innocents in their quest for more fuel.
Stryker is the commander-in-chief of Battle Truck and begins the film by cornering a couple of guys in a horse-drawn VW. He shoots one of them and orders the other to take him to where the fuel is. Said guy leads them to an underground fuel reserve, before the rest of the gang gag guy (you try saying that!) and kill him, promoting excited squeals from Jim exclaiming that “This is just like an X-rated A-Team!”
Unfortunately the Battle Truck happy families don’t stay happy for long, as daughter Carla makes a break for it, and hooks up with loner Hunter (Michael Beck on a Street Hawk motorbike) who makes his own fuel from methane (“I make it out of chicken shit”). Cue a rampaging Stryker who goes on to destroy the nearby hippy community Clearwater before torturing a pre-Cheers! John Ratzenberger along the way in a demented effort to get his daughter back.
It’s all B-grade hokum obviously, but it has a nice line in humour (Stryker’s Australian second-in-command gets all the best lines), some decent low-budget action scenes including one or two great helicopter shots and a cool stunt involving Hunter leaping into a semi-blown up Battle Truck towards the end whilst on the back of his motorbike. Like the Truck of the title, this film trundles along nicely at a leisurely pace, but it has to be said, it’s lack of fuel means it never really hits the high gears of it’s Mad Max counterparts. Take it for a test drive for sure, but think carefully before buying.
"There's plenty to eat, especially if you like turnips."
Zomblee I enjoyed this test drive a lot. It’s got Michael Beck (Swan from The Warriors) in it, driving a Street Hawk motorbike through barren wasteland. And boy, does he like it. A Man doing Men’s Things in a Post-Apocalyptic Man’s World. I lost count of the number of helicopter shots there were, following him from above at a crazy speed across the desert. Jim particularly enjoyed these bits, although, “I’d forgotten about all that 80’s synth rock.”
It’s fair to say that Jim has been “ranting” about Battle Truck since we started Zombie Club, so what Rawshark says above is right - there was definitely a sense of relief as far as tonight’s line-up was concerned. In fact, Jim was so over-excited at the beginning of Battle Truck that he finished all his pizza in two minutes before realising he’d forgotten all about his coleslaw salad. But it’s ok to get excited about ZC. Where else is Jim going to two find guys more than happy to sit through (and even get excited at the prospect of) a Battle Truck Vs Jugger double bill?
Battle Truck is as good as its name suggests. But there’s something about that title that hints at the quality of the picture – something 1980’s, slightly crap, and a bit unoriginal. But it’s crap in the kind of way we like, but the story moves along at a decent enough pace with its fair share of stock post-apocalyptic villains and sidekicks. It does not get too boring and the Truck itself is a damned fine piece of work.
Michael Beck plays a lone hero called ‘Hunter’, just like Chuck Norris did in another 80’s action movie, Invasion USA. You know the type – silent, hard as nails, heart of gold, makes fuel from chicken shit. He helps the community in peril – they are bullied by the Battle Truck’s proud owner, Stryker (aren’t these names great?!) and in the final struggle, lands with his motorbike through the roof of the titular machine, fights the bad guy, then jumps out just before it goes over the cliff in spectacular explosive style for the moneyshot.
Jim got on such a high tonight that at the end of Battletruck, he was hell bent on arguing his case for a sequel to be made. Luckily Rawshark was on hand for the level headed advice: “That could be tricky - it went over that huge cliff, remember?”
“By the way, where do you keep the women?”
Jim No, Cliff from Cheers survived, didn’t he? Oh that cliff. Well, that’s just being picky and I don’t care, because I love Battle Truck, I really do. I love the characters, I love the sets (as did Rawshark – “I love examples of cheap but effective production design”), I love the plot, I love Hunter’s bike and I love Stryker’s Battle truck. So cliff shmiff - I’m sure they could’ve got around that little detail.
“Oh no, they’re going underground again!” cried Zomblee at the start, but luckily it was a false alarm. That’s no doorway, that’s a post-apocalyptic petrol pump with enough gas in to fuel Battle Truck for ages! Which means it’s time to make camp, and that’s what Stryker and his men do, although why make a camp when Cliff from Cheers already has one set up just down the road? So what if they’ve got the guy from The Warriors on a Street Hawk style bike protecting them (sort of) from afar? He’s just one man, what can he do against the mighty Battle Truck?
Well, more than you’d think. Admittedly he’s good on his bike (those helicopter shots are amazing – they go on for ages and never stop looking really cool) and a good shot at hitting people really far away (“I really like shots where people are shot and fall down really far away!” – Zomblee), but he’s not so hot when the Battle Truck attacks his ranch. Admittedly he does get caught with his pants down, to coin a phrase (“I wonder who coined the phrase ‘to coin a phrase’” – Rawshark) after shagging Stryker’s daughter, so I suppose he does well to escape, and without resorting too “methane explosives with chicken shit” too (thanks guys). He gets injured, sure, but that gives him the opportunity to be healed by the other good guys and then come back to save the day (cough! – Mad Max 2 – cough!)
He has two cracks at this ‘save the day’ malarkey, actually. First off he takes the Battle Truck on in an ‘A-Teamed up’ VW Beetle (which we quickly nicknamed ‘Beetle Truck’), but doesn’t do too well. Going back to his traditional bike he’s much more successful, and so unfolds the crazy end battle set inside the Battle Truck where Hunter beats everyone up, while “no one’s driving Battle Truck!” – Zomblee. That must be why it’s so all over the place and no one saw that cliff coming then.
Anyway, kiss my arse if Battle Truck isn’t one of my favourite post-apoc movies involving massive customised vehicles. We toasted it with sparkling plonk (it was a special occasion after all), we cheered, we cried, we laughed. And then it was all over, too soon. Maybe we’ll just have to finance the sequel ourselves, after all “we could make movies guys; we can shoot trucks from a helicopter too!” Zomblee’s right, we probably could.
Director Harley Cokeliss
Cast Michael Beck
Runtime 91 mins
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Oh no, it's all over until next week again! I hate it when that happens; the tidying up, the long tube ride home and the empty nights ahead. Still, at least you get to chuckle all the way home after a Zombie Club, and I specifically remember chuckling a lot after this one.
Of course, I'm sure we'll be haunted by visions of Joan Chen biting that bloke's ear off, and Michael Beck trying to find steady work, for weeks to come. But I guess everyone has to make small sacrifices every day, so we should be no exception.
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