Death Run (1987)

Back in the Eighties, the world kept ending.

However, it didn’t always have a big budget.

It’s not hard to see that Mad Max and The Road Warrior inspired a lot of these films.  However, most of these post-Apocalyptic epics seemed to come out of Italy, with a few assorted examples from the U.S. and even the Philippines.

But the United Kingdom?

Well, not so much.

We need to note that Death Run had a very low budget even by low budget standards.  While there is one actual functional car in this film, it runs out of gas fairly soon and disappears.  Nor does anyone have ammunition for all those guns they’re lugging around.

Instead, we are down to knives, arrows and other assorted primitive weapons.

Which are all much cheaper.

The story is that a genius scientist, aware of the coming nuclear war, put her son Paul and his girlfriend Jenny into cryogenic sleep for as long as her system can function, in the hopes that things will be better when the two emerge.

Only it doesn’t work out that way.  They find instead a violent and badly broken-down society, full of mutants.  Jenny is handed over to the ruler of this Hobbesian world — a powerful but deformed man who calls himself The Messiah — as his latest plaything, while Paul is tossed in jail to await his turn to take part in the Death Run — which only one man has ever escaped…

The greatest power this film has is its remarkable locations.  We get the usual gravel pits we’d see on Doctor Who, mixed with junkyards, decaying buildings and what appears to be a military scrapyard.

Which really help a movie with grainy film, iffy sound, and an uninspiring cast.

Director Michael J. Murphy made an absurd number of zero-budget horror and fantasy exploitation films during his long career.  I suspect most of them are probably terrible, although he does have a bit of a cult following.  Certainly he does an awful lot with nothing in Death Run, with his inventive homemade gore effects one of the major stars of the film.

Curiously, other than a nursing mother, the only nudity in the film is at the very beginning, when we see Paul and Jenny naked in their cryogenic sleep, but only for a moment and in a very small pair of images which occupy a tiny portion of the screen.

Storywise, most of this is rather familiar, although Murphy does give us one rather startling moment about two-thirds of the way into the film when a major character gets killed in a particularly nasty way.

I’d more or less guessed that the Death Race would prove to be some variation on the classic violent initiation ritual, running the gauntlet.  He adds one or two interesting variations, and serves it to us with a lot of surprisingly good action (even if it is obvious most of the time that the actors are pulling their punches).

The end result is better than it has any right to be, although I do agree with those who feel it doesn’t have that goofy charm that the best Grade Z movies have.

Still, if you are in the mood for a grade Z post-Apocalyptic film, it would be a strong choice.

Although a load of sarcastic friends and plenty of popcorn will help…

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