(a.k.a. Savage Dawn)

Director: Cirio H. Santiago             
Steve Sandor, Andria Savio, William Ostrander

The post-apocalypse genre has always been a favorite of mine, for reasons I'm not completely sure about. Perhaps it is because the desert landscapes remind me of westerns, which I enjoy; if you think about it, some of these movies, like The Road Warrior, are essentially westerns with a sci-fi twist. Another reason might be because I grew up during the last part of the Cold War days, where nuclear war was still a possibility. As a youth, occasionally I would wonder what would I do if the bombs dropped. How would I find food to eat? Shelter? Protection from enemies now that law enforcement was gone?

Anyway, I know I haven't reviewed that many post-apocalypse movies for this web site, mainly because before I started it, I had watched most of what was out there. Recently, Mike from Dante's Inferno reviewed Stryker, and extended an invitation for me to share my thoughts on it. Doing a little research on it, I discovered it was directed by famed Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago, who had also directed Wheels Of Fire, another post-apocalypse movie that I though was fairly enjoyable. Also, that weenie Leonard Maltin had recently, for some reason, removed his review of it from his movie review book, so it seemed only fair for the movie to get some publicity. At least, that's what I thought - this is one bad movie.

One quote from the opening narration, "...The nuclear holocaust wiped out any semblance of rhyme and reason..." possibly explains a lot of what subsequently happens. After the standard opening shot of a mushroom cloud (though why an empty desert plain would be nuked is a mystery - unless this is stock footage we are looking at), we're immediately introduced to the story and the characters. Actually, a better way to put it would be that we are dropped into what seems to be chapter five of the story. On a highway in the wastelands, the usual leather clad thugs (with costumes that are more S&M looking than usual) are chasing this woman, because not only does she have water - rare in this new world despite all the clouds we keep seeing in the sky - she knows where there is a lot more. Maybe there's a lot more water, but there isn't much more explanation about her; I don't think I ever caught what her name is during the course of the movie, for one thing.

Just as murky is what subsequently happens. When the thugs have her trapped, some guy with a cowboy hat, and another person stick their heads from behind the dunes and gun the thugs down. Who are these guys - is one of them the Stryker of the title? We don't know. We do find out... eventually. Are these guys actually working together? The movie doesn't make it clear here. We find out... eventually, I guess (it's hard to say.) It's odd that we find out later they each wanted to get the girl for information, though they never announced this to the girl after they kill the thugs. Makes it all convenient for the girl to run away a few seconds later and take off - so she can give us the requisite scene where she is recaptured, tortured and raped, then right afterwards rescued once again by the heroes (who were some reason less speedy in this rescue attempt - as if they realized some gratuitous sexual material needed to be injected in), yada yada. Which means the movie is much longer than it would be otherwise. With a movie of this quality, less is more, however.

Getting back to all of that confusing material... the puzzlement doesn't end there. The two guys with their murky relationship (no, nothing like THAT) wander through the desert, and encounter some dwarves who (coincidentally, of course) look like the Jawas from Star Wars. After this pretty pointless scene, the two are suddenly seen by some motorcycle-driving Amazons with crossbows. They don't do anything, and the men don't see them, so we wonder what the point is. Then all of a sudden, we cut from the men in a sandy environment into a dry earth environment. Huh? And then they find in the middle of this nowhere a car that works. Huh? The scene ends here. Huh? Then we next see them executing an attack against an escorted tanker. HUH???

Who are the people in this convoy? What's in the tanker? Why are the two men attacking them? We don't know any of these and other answers while the scene plays out. We do find out the answer to these questions later, but it doesn't erase the fact we saw the scene in a state of confusion. It also doesn't help that when we get the answers, more confusing material has replaced the old questions with new ones. Not until near the very end are there no more questions in our mind confusing us, though if you're lucky in falling asleep while watching the movie, this state of mind can be reached earlier.

Even if the movie made more sense, it would still be a long way from reaching a reasonable level of competency. Since action is really the heart of movies like this, that's where I'll start. Much of the action here consists of chases, and after seeing so many car chases in movies it really takes an expertly constructed one to excite me. The chases here are rock bottom in so many way; they take place in drab and boring locations in the "desert" (which look more like a very wide beach or the mining pit thanked in the credits), with these locations (and sometimes the same footage) reused several times. You usually don't see the pursuer and pursued in the same shot, and the vehicles used have the odd peculiarity of exploding into flames if they swerve upright off the road and into the sand. Even though Santiago managed to borrow some tanks from the Filipino army, they come across surprisingly wimpy here, partly due to the fact that the shells they fire result in flour bomb explosions.

Other weapons used by the characters in the movie have that wet noodle feeling; the sounds the guns make manage to sound loud yet unmenacing at the same time. There seems to have been a problem in the production with recording the sound in general, since a lot of the dialogue is also hard to pick up without seriously turning up the volume. And speaking of the production values as a whole, we are treated to shabbiness ranging from the most shoddy day-for-night filter ever placed on a camera lens, to the good guys' base looking as if it was set up in less than ten minutes.

And what about the pseudo-Max Max hero, Stryker himself? It could be argued that his choice to seldom talk is not necessarily a handicap - Mad Max himself barely talked, after all. On the other hand, we could usually tell what Mad Max was thinking or feeling, so he was able to still become a unique character. Stryker isn't so special; I can't recall him showing any emotion of any kind apart from a torture sequence. The rest of the time, he keeps the same stony expression on his face, occasionally mumbling a cliché-sounding line of dialogue like, "Everyone's got their own highway to hell." It takes other characters and outside forces to try and color him up. One character actually admits, "You don't talk much, do you?", Stryker's cowboy hat keeps mysteriously appearing and disappearing from his head, and someone else at one point states, "They were ambushed by Stryker and his men" (sic) Those last two points bring up another flaw of the movie - the constant continuity flaws - but I think after what I've mentioned before about the movie, going into that would be redundant.

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See also: A Savage Hunger, Survivor, Warriors Of The Apocalypse