Wednesday, March 11, 2015

The Final Executioner (1984)


Over a mix of black-and-white and color archival scenes featuring atomic bomb test footage, volcanos erupting, and cities in ruins, we are told that the world has now been divided into two groups: the rich and the contaminated masses (so, not too far off what it was before the nuclear holocaust), and that the contaminated people are regularly hunted and killed to stop the spread of their sickness.  However, we’re also told that one day someone realized that the contamination was finished; all the people were now clean.  Cut to Alan (William Mang) and his wife (Cinzia Bonfantini, and the only reason we know she’s Alan’s wife is because she is credited as such) as they are ousted from the city and reclassified as “hunting material.”  Soon enough (though it doesn’t feel like it), lone hunter Erasmus (Harrison Muller, Jr.) is in competition with Edra (Marina Costa) and her band of scummy hunters to see who can take down the most contaminated people in one day.  Including Alan and his spouse.

Romolo Guerrieri’s The Final Executioner (aka L’ultimo Guerriero, aka The Last Warrior) is yet another in the lengthy heritage of Pasta-pocalypse films that sprang up from Italy in the wake of John Carpenter’s Escape from New York.  For as much as it clings to certain motifs of the subgenre, though, it also strays pretty far afield in other, significant ways.  As is customary, there is the critique of society along class lines.  The rich control everything, and the poor are victims forced to behave brutally in order to survive.  By that same token, the elite rich (here embodied by the hunters [since we never see an actual bourgeois rich person outside the hunting reserve], even though they live in the wastelands in rundown manses that look like they could have been used as sets in one of Meatloaf’s music videos) are savages by nature.  They are callous in their disregard for human life, and they think nothing of killing in order to maintain the status quo that they have manufactured (although any context as to why this serves their needs is left shrouded in mystery for the viewer, and it makes no logical sense, so we’re left only with the generality that all rich people are evil people).  Of course, this means that we have to assume that Alan was at one time one of the rich elite (he is a cybernetics specialist), so he should be hardhearted and vicious before he is sent to the hunting reserve, but he’s not (or we’re heavily encouraged to assume he’s not).  It’s only after his encounters with Erasmus and Edra that his bloodlust grows.

As seen in multitudinous films of this ilk (Endgame, Turkey Shoot, The Running Man, et cetera), there is also the recycling of a variation on The Most Dangerous Game afoot herein.  Most succinctly summed up in the scene where Edra’s gang and Erasmus lurk near a pond waiting for the contaminated people to crest the hill like a herd of gazelle approaching a watering hole, they pick the people off one at a time.  They later tally who killed whom like they’re comparing points on stags’ racks.  What’s interesting here is that the prey isn’t really the focus (outside of our man Alan and his wife).  They are literally nothing more than faceless game at a reserve.  It’s odd that our attention should be on the hunters as anything other than antagonists, but it’s their relationship that drives a large portion of the narrative, not Alan’s struggle against them as might be assumed.  The competition angle of the film, normally set up between hunter and prey is instead here predominantly between hunter and hunter.  The tension between these people is strong.  

Even among Edra’s group, which we can surmise are together because they have some kind of bond, there is a wealth of animosity.  Melvin (Stefano Davanzati) is absolutely reprehensible (and that’s saying something).  The first scene he’s in, he points a gun at fellow hunter Louis (himself a decrepit junkie and played by Renato Miracco) and pulls the trigger (it’s empty, of course; and unfortunately).  He soon after remarks about Erasmus’ special rifle, “whoever painted it didn’t know the color of bullshit.”  He spends his downtime admiring his own body in a mirror.  Sex fiend Diane (Margit Evelyn Newton), when not shooting people or doing it with boy toy Phil (Luca Giordana) is spying on her associates and just being generally creepy.  The one hunter character we would expect to sympathize with, Edra’s little brother Evan (Karl Zinny), is arguably the worst of the bunch.  Youth usually comes with a modicum of innocence in cinema (Bad Seed-esque stories excepted), but there is none to be found in this young man.  He carries out one of the worst acts in the film, and later he gleefully relives it via some kind of memory projection (and possibly sexual stimulation) machine.  Was he born bad?  Is this Edra’s influence on him?  We’re never told.  We only know that he’s irredeemable (yet still not moreso than any of the others).

The film diverges from its subgenre in its last third, and I think that this is also where it finally collapses as an entertainment.  It essentially becomes a Revenge film as Alan picks off the hunters one by one at Edra’s compound (come on, you didn’t see this coming?).  The satisfaction in watching these pieces of garbage get their comeuppance is delicious; I won’t deny that.  However, it is completely dissociated from Post-Apocalyptic (not to mention Pasta-pocalyptic) films past, present, and future.  The film’s climactic moment is a total deus ex machina that rings hollow, because it suddenly reminds us that there was supposed to be a theme going on underneath all this action and the filmmakers just didn’t feel like exploring it, but it still needed to have some lip service paid to it in a desperate attempt to try and trick the audience into thinking there was more going on in the film than there actually was.  This irked me quite a bit, because the story is set up with a Science Fiction premise.  Nevertheless, it then unspools itself as a straight ahead Action/Revenge film, and only in its final moments are we reminded that this is all supposed to be set in a post-nuke future (costumes and “fancy” guns, notwithstanding).  Harlan Ellison once said (and I’m paraphrasing; also, it may not have been he who said it, but this is the way I remember it, I think it holds true, regardless) that a good Science Fiction story must have its fantastic ideas be integral to the story itself.  And this is not the case with The Final Executioner.  This film’s Science Fiction elements are little more than window dressing (which I suppose is fine and dandy if you’d rather stare at the curtains that the view through the window).  Now, is that a fair criticism for a film that is purposely trying to cash in on a prevailing trend from a country known for putting out genre material that is imitative at best?  I think in this case, it is.  I felt cheated by this movie.  The film takes the long way around to get to the same point a more direct film could have reached in a more satisfying fashion.  It doesn’t help any that there is almost no life to any of the action scenes, and the whole affair reeks of rote regurgitation from start to end.  If someone who actually gave a shit about the end product had a hand in this film, it could have been a nice little gem.  Unfortunately, such is not the case.

MVT:  I give Erasmus points for having one of the more interesting costumes in Pasta-pocalyptic cinema history.

Make or Break:  The film’s prologue is weak, lazy, and dull.  It bluntly lets us know that there is nothing coming in the next ninety minutes we haven’t seen done before and done better.

Score:  5/10       

No comments:

Post a Comment