Thursday, 19 June 2008

Endgame: Bronx Lotta Finale (1983)

Get used to this expression,
because you're going to see it a lot.

This film was directed by prolific hack Joe D'Amato, his second entry in the curious subgenre of Italian post-apocalyptic films. By now the popularity of post-apocalyptic films was reaching it's peak in Italy and the conventions of the subgenre were well established. This is evidenced by the opening of the film that has no introductory crawl or voiceover narration, just some simple stock footage of mushroom clouds. The bombs have dropped, civilisation is in ruins, bla, bla, bla, you know the drill. The city is a hellscape of rubble and abandoned buildings (a la Escape From New York) and the countryside is a barren wasteland full of mutants and bikers and mutant bikers (a la Mad Max).

In this case the urban populace are kept docile by terrible corporate-sponsored reality television. What a shocking and frightening future this is. The most popular show is a Running Man style affair called Endgame, and Ron Shannon (Al Cliver, the man of a thousand faces, all of them identical) is the current champion. The three hunters are Aldridge, your standard post-apocalyptic punk, Mantrax, a martial arts expert, and Karnak, a longtime rival of Shannon and the tipped favourite. Karnak is played by George "Big Ape" Eastman. Come on, it's an Italian post-apocalyptic film, you know he had to appear in the cast somewhere. They don their fruity eye makeup (it was the 80s) and start their chase across the city, hidden cameras recording their every move.

Meanwhile, the city's Security Service (SS) storm troopers are in the process of hunting down and exterminating a race of telepathic mutants. Yes, they are actually called the SS, their helmets are emblazoned with the famous twin lightning bolts and everything. There is no room for subtlety in the post-apocalypse. One of these mutants, Lilith (Laura Gemser, from all those Emmanuelle films), approaches Shannon with that most popular of post-apocalyptic propositions: the escort mission. She and a bunch of mutants want to get out of town and to a rendezvous point where they will be whisked away on a unicorn to a land of chocolate and rainbows. Jesus lady, I can understand your urgency, but I think he's a bit busy at the moment. Besides, I can think of better times to discuss your secret mission than during a show that is being broadcast live on national television. Anyway, she uses her telepathic abilities to help him defeat Karnak (the sole remaining hunter by this point), but he decides to spare his life.

After Endgame is wrapped up, Shannon returns Lilith to her family (a little boy named Billy and some neurologist who wants to help the mutants create a utopia) and goes about assembling his crack team of mercenaries. They are strongman Kovack, who bearded fat guy who looks like he wandered in from a LARP session, one-eyed weapons expert Kijawa, knife expert Stark and martial arts master Ninja (Hal Yamanouchi, last seen with Cliver in 2020: Texas Gladiators). The next day they pile the mutants into a white combi-van. Someone mentions that it's an antique, saving the filmmakers the trouble of hot-glueing some silver fins and spikes to it. It does have a gun-turret, though, which certainly comes in handy. Escorting the van are a couple of motorcycles and Shannon's own stupid-looking car.

Pretty soon they run into the bodies of a few mutants. Up until now the mutants have just looked like ordinary humans, but these guys look like apes, or at least Italians in half-assed Planet of the Apes makeup, and there's even a scaly fish-man. The Professor points out that the mutations have had a regressive effect, essentially devolving them. They also come across an abandoned warehouse, where a bunch of blind monks in black robes attack them en masse. Usually a bunch of blind dudes wouldn't be threatening adversaries, but they have captured a telepathic mutant who they force to transmit images to their eyes. Shannon heroically axes their hostage in the head, and soon the monks are blind again, leaving them free to escape.

They take a break in that same quarry from every Italian post-apocalyptic film, and Lilith reveals that Billy is actually a powerful telepath and that she uses her own powers to keep a cap on his. I wonder if that will come in handy later? Next the convoy stumbles across a group of murdered travelers. Lilith bursts out of the van to shout that it's a trap, but it's too late and the professor gets stabbed by a supposedly dead woman. Kovack is angry since Shannon had hidden the fact that their human cargo were mutants, but Shannon appeases him by reminding him of all the gold they're going to get.

They are immediately attacked by a gang of mutant bikers, led by a fish-man in one of those standard post-apocalyptic cars that come factory fitted with chained-up topless women (they're nothing to get excited about but in a post-apocalyptic wasteland you take what you can get). In the ensuing battle everyone is killed save for Shannon and Kijawa. Lilith is captured by the fish-man as an addition to his harem. Karnak, who had been tailing them this whole time, manages to get in the van full of mutants and drive it to safety. That night, Karnak and Shannon reluctantly team up for a rescue attempt.

Karnak disables all their unattended bikes and they sneak into their hideout. I guess part of their mutation is that they sleep very soundly, because Shannon manages to rescue Lilith with no trouble whatsoever. They also find Kovack concreted into the wall as some sort of living trophy, so Karnak goes back and puts him out of his misery by twisting his head off. Unfortunately the dripping blood wakes up one of the mutants (now they wake up?) so Shannon and Lilith heroically leave Karnak behind to die (although to be fair Lilith did warn Shannon that he planned to kill him and steal the gold later).

So, now it's back to that damn quarry (I assume it's supposed to be a different one, though) to deliver the mutants to the tiny little helicopter that will somehow fly them all to the promised land. Unfortunately the SS troops show up, killing Kijawa and capturing Shannon. As the leader of the troops questions him, he convinces Lilith to uncork Billy's powers. Billy pulls a Carrie, crushing the SS troops under styrofoam boulders, parking a car on their heads and gunning them down by telekinetically controlling the van's gun turret. Finally, he makes the leader commit suicide with his own pistol.

The mutants get shipped off to Mutantland or wherever (Shannon declines the offer to join them, for some reason) but right before he can pick up his gold, bullets rake the ground in front of him. It's Karnak, still alive and royally pissed! In a classic final confrontation, they both pull out knives and as they charge one another for the final battle, the screen freezes and the credits roll. I hope Karnak won, he needed a break.

Although hundreds of people die, it's pretty restrained for D'Amato. There's only one rape (fish-man vs Lilith), and it isn't even played for titillation. That's about as family friendly as it gets with him. Al Cliver displays his solitary expression, Laura Gemser is as hot as she always is, and the rest of the cast display the acting abilities you'd expect from softcore porn veterans. D'Amatos first post-apocalyptic film, 2020: Texas Gladiators, shared a lot of elements with Endgame (including, but not limited to, sets, shooting locations, actors and props) but overall I think this is a better film. A few more attempts at the genre and he might have made a good film. Endgame is a bit more out there than 2020, with the fish-men and whatnot, but it's those bizarre touches that make Italian post-apocalyptic films so interesting. Joe D'Amato has gone on record to claim Endgame as his favourite film. That's quite a statement from a guy that directed nearly 200 films, but if you've seen any of his films you'd know it's not exactly high praise. Nevertheless, it's still required viewing for fans of post-apocalytpic films.

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