It is the year 2025, and the biggest sport on TV is the endless series of competitions called “Endgame“, where a man is pursued by three hunters and has to either escape or kill them.
Now, if this sounds familiar, most of you will probably assume that they stole it from The Running Man. Which would be hard as this one actually came out four years earlier.
Rather, one suspects that they “borrowed” it from The Prize of Peril or The Tenth Victim, either from the respective films or the Robert Sheckley stories that inspired them. As the French film version of The Prize of Peril came out the same year as this one, I suspect it may be the main inspiration here.
But by the time we’ve gotten used to the idea and have been introduced to our hero, Ron Shannon, one of the top players in this murderous game, we pretty much forget about Endgame as Ron is hired to help a group of refugee mutants find their way to safety. At which point, we suddenly find ourselves in The Magnificent Seven. Or Shane. Or maybe Mad Max. Heck, there’s even a little bit of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York in here somewhere.
The real surprise here is that this is actually one of the better Spaghetti sci fi films of the decade. Yes, 2019, After the Fall of New York and Rats: Night of Terror are better — and there are a few others almost as good, like The Raiders of Atlantis and Top Line. But we are still talking about a watchable and reasonably well-made SF effort — for an Italian Science Fiction film of the Eighties.
This is moderately surprising as its director “Joe D’Amato” (Aristide Massaccesi) spent most of his career making softcore porn — and only has a few SF films to his credit (well, this one and 2020 Texas Gladiators. If there are others, I’ve missed them). And, what is even more surprising is that not only does the star of his “Black Emmanuelle” series of pornos show up as the heroine, she actually spends nearly all of the film heavily bundled up, with only her face showing. Yes, there is one scene in very poor taste (which, as is typical of the era, is meant to be humorous!) where her robe is torn open and we get a look at her breasts, but other than that scene, there is no sex or nudity in the film. Very strange.
Heck, “Joe” actually wrote this thing.
However, while the star, Al Cliver, is fairly subdued (if convincingly tough) the real draw here is George Eastman, who had a long career of playing psychotic characters in these sorts of films (with his performance in Rabid Dogs perhaps the most memorable). Here he plays Shannon’s best friend — and one of the hunters from the latest round of Endgame — who wants to kill him. Hey, it happens.
Somehow, I’m reminded of the comments I made about Full Moon’s giant robot epic, Crash and Burn, and whether it is possible to steal from so many sources that your film ends up becoming creative and original. After all, it gets harder and harder to stitch all the odd pieces together.
And odd is the word for it — after all, the big finale is borrowed from yet another sort of Eighties film altogether!
Now, for those of you who have not ventured into the treacherous waters of Spaghetti Sci Fi, I will warn you that you have to accept a few realities: they were made cheaply, with a lot of actors you’ve never heard of (for good reason), and the occasional familiar face (in this case, Gordon Mitchell) and even a few slumming American stars. For budget reasons (and because their Euro casts often didn’t share the same languages) the voices are all dubbed in, even in the Italian version, and the props are often badly made or reused from one film to the next (often both). But at their best, they do aspire to a certain workman-like level of quality (and sometimes achieve it) — and show the kind of batty creativity it is only possible to achieve when no one cares what you do as long as the movie gets made.
So if you can’t look past the flaws and enjoy a film for what it is — goofy popcorn fare that doesn’t try to be more than an hour and a half of entertainment — then don’t bother.
But for those of you who can, pop up some corn and pour yourself a glass of Life Plus. This one is definitely worth a look.
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