In 1981, when John Carpenter unleashed the post-apocalyptic, science fiction film Escape From New York on American shores, (at the time) it didn’t exactly set the world on fire. Critics and crowds alike had mixed feelings, and the box office numbers reflected the sentiment. Apparently, nobody bothered to tell the Italians this. Escape From New York, Carpenter’s nod to Sergio Leone’s Dollar Trilogy, substituting Clint Eastwood’s steely eyed anti-hero “The Man With No Name” with Kurt Russell’s one-badass-motherfucker Snake Plissken, along with a radioactive amount of Mad Max/Road Warrior thrown in for good measure, created a new Italian genre: the Post-Nuke Spaghetti Western.
The titles say it all. There’s 2019 After the Fall of New York, Escape From the Bronx, 1990 The Bronx Warriors, Warriors of the Wasteland, to name a few. Nope, these films aren’t masking their sources one bit. Just in case the audience were getting a tad tired of the trash and rubble strewn streets of the Big Apple, they even churned out a post-nuke quickie set in the American southwest - the truly awesome-as-it-sounds 2020 Texas Gladiators. Starring mostly hirsute leading men/pseudo tough guys (often crossing over from soft and not so soft skin flicks) and barely dressed leading ladies, these were lower than low-budget exploitation gems filmed on the quick with nearly interchangeable plots. Most were shot in Rome with a little B-roll from New York thrown in for “authenticity”. Sounds like some Roger Corman action doesn’t it? Meet Joe D’Mato.
Joe D’Mato, often known as “The Evil Ed Wood”, got his start as a camera operator in the 1960s; he learned his trade on the numerous Spaghetti Westerns being churned out at the time. In no time at all, D’Mato was sitting in the director's chair, tackling westerns, swashbucklers and sword-and-sandal tales, all the while still manning the camera for Italian heavy hitters like Lucio Fulci. After the success of the French softcore smash series Emmanuelle, D’Mato saw dollar signs and plunged right in. The first one was Emanuelle’s Revenge, followed by a slew of others starring the beautiful Laura Gemser. As the series grew, the titles and plots got more and more twisted, and, well....kind of a lot of fun. There was Emanuelle and the Last Cannibals, Emanuelle and the White Slave Trade, both of which included elements of gangbangs, cannibalism, and fake snuff footage. After the spicy meatball Emanuelle films, D’Mato moved onto the rough-trade gore genre, helming Antropophagus and the brilliant and over the top Buio Omega (if you haven’t heard Buio Omega’s score, the sinister synth drenched soundtrack by Goblin, do yourself a favor and check it out; it’s one of their best).
It was in 1982 when Joe D’Mato tried his hand at producing, starting up the production company Filmirage. You name the cult genre, Filmmirage was making it. Porno, fantasy, horror, and post-apocalyptic films were being shot and distributed at record speed. Along with the above mentioned Escape From New York knockoffs, there was Endgame, a post-nuke/dystopian game show film that D’Mato produced, directed and co-wrote under the hilariously generic pseudonym “Steve Benson”.
Starring the third-rate Chuck Norris-looking Al Cliver, Endgame is of course flying the Escape From NY flag, but it also has a few things in common with Death Race 2000 and Rollerball, albeit on a much, much smaller scale. Set in a post-nuclear war NYC in the year 2025, Cliver plays Ron Shannon, a “hunter” in the one game show in town, “Endgame”. Similar to Stephen King’s, sorry, Richard Bachman’s novella The Running Man, (yet preceding the movie by five years or so) “Endgame” features four “hunters” in bad Ace Frehely-like makeup hunting each other with guns, knives and anything else they can get their hands on in the junked-out post-apocalyptic mean streets, all the while being filmed by conspicuously placed cameras and roving camera teams as hordes of New Wavers fresh off the set of Liquid Sky look on in excitement. Ron Shannon, the good Snake Plissken, has a rival in Karnak, the bad Snake Plissken, played by the genre favorite George Eastman. Eastman, at 6’9” tall, is a natural villian, black beard to boot. Laura Gemser, the Italian Emanuelle herself, stars as a telepathic “mutant”, helping Shannon out of rough spots for a price - safety out of The Zone. (Ever notice how almost 8 out of 10 post-apocalyptic films have an area known as The Zone?) Action ensues, and there’s no shortage of extended hand to hand combat, gunplay, motorcycle fights, mutant monkey and fish men, blind fighting monks, sinister SS stormtroopers, and possibly the best telepathic rape scene on celluloid. While it may not be my favorite Post-Nuke Spaghetti Western, it was apparently Joe D’Mato’s. Grab some beer and a pizza, kick back and watch the world fight itself out, Italian style.