I’m not competitive by nature. I never have been. Even the times I have played sports, I really couldn’t have given a crap whether or not my team won. Maybe that’s why we so rarely did. I always tried to have a sense of good sportsmanship regardless of wins or losses. I have noticed, however, that this isn’t the predominant disposition (or it is the one given the least attention in the press and so on). I can’t fathom being reduced to a teeth-gnashing, froth-mouthed ball of rage with regards to overpaid grown men who are more adept at running, throwing, hitting, kicking, whatever than others. Am I being a little reductive about this? Yes, I am, but all I have is my own experiences and observations, so read that however you find comforting.
I don’t think this applies to all athletes or sports fans, obviously. Nothing applies across the board when it comes to personalities, and there are people who treat games with the proper level of seriousness they deserve. But this isn’t what we’re shown on television and in newspapers (what are those?). We’re shown the absolute worst in human nature with the fans that beat up the fans of the opposing team. We’re shown the riots that break out after the home team wins or loses a big game. Naturally, this implicates the media, and they are deserving of some of the blame, no doubt. It’s only when they have space or need to fill a couple minutes on a slow news night that we hear about the players or fans who do good things like visit children in hospitals, raise money for charities, and so forth. What was my point again? Oh, yeah. I’d have probably been killed in the first episode of the titular Endgame depicted in Joe D’Amato’s film. Then again, maybe I’d have become as skilled at it as Karnak (George Eastman, whose vest I would like to have). But it’s doubtful.
In the year 2025, after the big nuclear holocaust everyone expected to happen back in the Eighties actually did, the human population have taken to losing themselves in a television show titled Endgame which depicts people hunting and killing each other and taking Life Plus energy tablets (which have the stench of Soylent Green about them). Tops in the game is Ron Shannon (Al Cliver), who recently defeated erstwhile buddy and fellow player Karnak. Shannon is offered lots and lots of gold by Lilith (Laura Gemser) to deliver some mutants (including the young Tommy [Christopher Walsh] who is suggested to be a little more important than the others) to a designated spot in the wastelands by December 25th. Being the callous, shallow prick he is, Shannon agrees and assembles his team.
The first part of the film (and surprisingly enough, only a short portion of it) is concerned with the games. Coming four year before The Running Man (the film, not the novella), this blocks out the basics of that film on the budget of a cup of espresso. You have the colorful characters that have to be defeated, each with a refined skill set (one has swift reflexes, one is George Eastman, and so on). They are personality-less, but that’s okay, because we only need to deal with them on a very surface/spectacle level. It mirrors video games, where you battle through each level and have to beat a Level Boss who has unique powers/patterns of behavior. What is important is that they look visually interesting (and they mostly do here) and that they die well (or are simply defeated). The same applies to the team Shannon gathers to assist him in his trek, which consists of a strongman, a martial artist, a one-eyed gunslinger, etcetera.
Of course, also like Paul Michael Glaser’s film, we have the commentary on consumerism and on the television culture which has all but overtaken modern society (and if they had the internet back when this film was produced in 1983, it could have been really interesting). This isn’t new by any stretch, but I find humanity’s endless capacity to indulge their morbid curiosity to be one of the more fascinating themes in art. Thus, these aspects appealed to me on a gut level. We also get the idea of revolutionaries (or in this case, mutants) who are working against their oppressive society to be free, although here, their goal is freedom from persecution rather than the exposure of any of the government’s dirty dealings and such.
This persecution is very clearly delineated in the film as being racial. The mutants are a stand-in for the Jews, and the military troops are bluntly dressed as Nazi stormtroopers, right down to the “SS” insignia on their uniforms (though here it stands for “Security Services;” oh so clever). Oddly, Colonel Morgan (Gordon Mitchell) is dressed more like a Soviet Russian officer, so it mixes its tyrants, but I suppose you can’t have it all. The quest away from discrimination can also be viewed from a biblical perspective, with Shannon playing Moses leading the Hebrews out of Egypt. Tommy, then, is an analog for Jesus Christ, though when he uses his powers it is interestingly for mass destruction rather than peace (though you could argue just as hard that this destruction is the only way they can find it). If you like, you can read that last statement as religion (specifically Christianity) on the whole, but either way, the religious aspects to the film are unmistakable.
Nonetheless, since this is an Italian genre film, the waters have to be muddied just enough give the viewer pause. Consequently, we get the other mutants, the ones who have been living in the badlands. These are physically deformed to look like mermen, apemen, and the like. They also behave more like Lord Humungus’s raiding hordes from The Road Warrior than they do like the nice mutants here. This distinction is important, because it draws a line between good mutants and bad, and the line is limned in appearances. Were the bad mutants not ugly to behold, would they be bad guys? Most likely not, but you never can tell. Yet this shows a certain shallowness (yeah, I know) in the story. We can infer that they have to act this way in order to survive in the hostile environment into which they were born, but that there is no sense that there could ever be solidarity between the ugly and normal mutants struck me as odd. Like its mutant characters, the film is a hodgepodge, and it meanders about quite a bit, and it is contrived as all hell, but it’s never boring, and, in fact, is a downright blast for much of the runtime. That goes a long way in smoothing over some of the more painful moments.
MVT: Eastman commands every scene he’s in, which is half due to his imposing, six-foot, nine-inch presence and half due his acting opposite Cliver, one of the least emotive men in Italian cinema (though he still has a charisma all his own somehow). And did I mention that I really, really, REALLY want his vest from this movie?
Make Or Break: The game show opening to the film is everything you could want in a Pasta-pocalypse film and then some. You have improbable violence. You have even more improbable, KISS-inspired facial makeup. You have decimated locales. You have the greatest leather vest in the history of cinema. There’s really nothing here about which one can complain.