Survival Zone (1983)
A short history of the neutron bomb:
1958: Professor Samuel Cohen of Lawrence Livermore Labs devised the neutron bomb as a tactical nuclear weapon that would kill living things with an intense burst of radiation, but leave most physical structures intact.
1961: President Kennedy says, "What the hell?" and tries to shoot down the idea.
1963: Despite this, the Pentagon goes ahead and tests a neutron bomb on innocent geckos and scorpions in Nevada.
1978: President Carter also says, "What the hell?" and cancels the project.
Early 1981: Mel Gibson's The Road Warrior is released and the modern post-apocalypse movie genre is reborn.
Mid 1981: Almost immediately, bad movie directors and hack writers begin churning out rip-offs. However, few of them have any money and are concerned about their ability to accurately portray a nuke-ravaged landscape effectively on screen. Someone then remembers the neutron bomb idea, which would allow them to film a PA movie without all the expensive destruction, just claim that neutron bombs killed everyone off.
Late 1982: A coalition led by b-movie directors Cirio H. Santiago, Sergio Martino, Joe D'Amato, Giuliano Carnimeo and Enzo G. Castellari form PARNB, "PA Directors for the Return of the Neutron Bomb", a Washington political action committee.
Early 1982: President Reagan, bowing to pressure from the PARNB, restarts the project and begins operational fielding of the neutron bomb.
Mid 1982: Smalltime South African b-movie director Percival Rubens is one of the first to use the new neutron bomb as an excuse not to spend his Rands on renting abandoned warehouses and rock quarries. Instead, he just shoots his entire movie at his mother's house in Pretoria and saves a lot of money.
September 2007: I watch this movie.
Our movie begins in late 1989. Some internal references place the date of World War III in the summer of 1987, which wasn't a very good year for me anyway. The War was fought with the dreaded neutron bombs, which have apparently killed off like 99.9999999% of the population. There are some exceptions, however, some isolated zones...perhaps, "survival zones", that due to freak weather patterns or whatnot, people have lived on.
One of those zones is along the western coast of South Africa, way down in the southern climes. South Africa looks a lot like Iowa, or so the scenery in this movie would indicate. I've never been to South Africa, but I have been to Iowa, and I can assure you that there is nothing there that a multi-megaton nuclear exchange wouldn't improve.
South Africa looks like this.
The survivors down here include nice peaceful folk and the evil violent killers, which is about what you would expect. Ok, lets first meet our film's villains, a ruthless Biker Gang. Hey, I know what you're thinking, "Another PA movie with a gang of motorcycle-riding marauders? How original!", and you'd be right, there's little different to be seen here. Remember, though, motorcycles are cheap to rent and the bulky leathers and darkly-tinted faceplates on the helmets mean you only have to hire one or two stuntmen to do all the action scenes. That leaves a lot more money to hire a middle-tier washed-up American actor and also have better food on the craft service tables.
Anyway, these Bikers were originally prisoners who survived the War and were released by the man who would become their leader. As such, they are hardened criminals of the worst kind. They seek only to kill and pillage and rape, with no thought of preserving anything for their future or trying to help civilization recover. In their spare time they like to fight each other, often to the death, though this is frowned upon by their leader, who alone realizes that they need to keep their numbers steady if they ever come across a fortified target.
More Bikers! The doll head on the helmet is a nice touch, really.
By counting throughout the movie, I can state with some clarity that there are a total of 15 Bikers in this movie. They are all dressed in standard PA Biker garb; black jeans, black boots, and black studded leather riding leathers. They use exclusively unmodified motorcycles, mostly Honda and Yamaha street bikes but also some Suzuki dirtbikes. They all look in very good condition, suggesting that at least a few of them have some mechanical skill. There are a few handguns in the gang, but mostly they just use melee weapons like knives, chains and clubs. A couple of Boy Scouts with M-16s would wipe them out in ten seconds.
The gang's leader is named "Big Man", and we know that's his name because he has that spelled out across the back of his jacket in shiny rhinestones (seriously). He's played by South African character-actor Ian Steadman, a tall, gaunt, almost skeletal man with homeless-guy hair. Big Man has an M1911 .45 automatic in a holster, and the physical presence to intimidate his followers into doing what he says.
It's stated that all the Bikers save Big Man recently "drank contaminated water". The effects of this are increased stupidity, quicker tempers, and the inability to speak in anything other than simian grunts and growls. Speaking roles pay vastly more than non-speaking roles, remember, so we can write that little plot point off to a lack of funds.
The bad water might have also caused them to become cannibals! They only eat fresh bodies of victims (including any of their own number who happen to fall) and seem to munch them raw, ripping off the clothes and slicing off strips of still-warm flesh with their knives. My print doesn't show anything really icky, which is commendable, but maybe the original version was more graphic.
About to carve up some pasty white flank steaks.
All right, we need to have something upfront to show us just what we're us against with these Bikers. Let's go to the "Sisters of the Holy Spirit School and Hospital", a smallish convent set out in the highveld savannah. Three nuns have survived the War and have continued their studies, as well as offering rest and care for any other survivors who come to them. They are rather philosophical about the War, saying that, "What's happened is His will, His plan."
The nuns are an older superior, and two younger women, one white and one black. There's also a waifish pretty girl in a sundress named Jane here, I think a survivor that they have taken in. Jane is entrusted with the care of a little local boy with the awesome name of "Six-Pence". They are all getting along pretty good, there's enough food and it seems quiet enough out there. But you know that isn't going to last.
Jane, I think she might have had a larger role originally,
but her scenes were trimmed down in the final cut.
And indeed, the Bikers now attack! We see them kill one of the younger nuns, brutally beating her to death and then making to cut her body up for lunch. Jane is chased into a house, and when caught she takes a knife and kills herself. The gore in this movie is minimal, and the stage blood is an unnatural bright orange, but we still don't want to see dead nuns with crushed skulls (well, at least I don't).
Dead nun at the Bikers' feet.
That whole scene was just to establish for us that the Bikers are evil, violent, sadistic killers. There will be zero attempt in this movie to show them in any sympathetic light and no attempt to get to know the repressed human side of any of them, just a broad-brushed image of feral viciousness and brutality. And that's fine, I don't mind a movie that's so black and white with the evil and the good.
Ok, we now go to "Eden farm", an isolated farmstead out in the veld, an idyllic setting of white stone houses, wooden barns and thorn trees. This farm is said to be located at "32 degrees 7 minutes 5 seconds East, 17 degrees 3 minutes 2 seconds South", which plots out to be along the coast north of Cape Town, SA. It's not often that you can get such an exact geographical location for a PA movie, so kudos to them on that. They have two horses they are trying to breed and enough crops to survive a long time. They are also well-stocked with supplies but have no beef and only limited amounts of gasoline. Most impressively, they have a 75 kilohertz short wave radio set up, which is getting intermittent signals from China and France, but nothing substantial.
There are five survivors living at the farm; Mom, Dad, Daughter, Son and Uncle.
The dad is Ben Farber, played by 46-year old Gary Lockwood, a washed-up former mid-level Hollywood star best known for being Frank Poole in Kubrick's epic 2001: A Space Odyssey.
Ben Farber, check that floppish haircut, very 1983.
The mom is Lucy, played by 40-year old Camilla Sparv, a yummy mommy from Sweden best known for...well, for playing Lucy in 1983's Survival Zone. She looks a bit like Olivia Newton John at times.
The daughter is Rachel, played by Zoli Marki, a virtually unknown South African girl whose main claim to fame might be having the unforgettable name Zoli Marki. While she's said to be just 17, she's criminally hot, as in a later scene when we see way too much of her breasts as she tries on a low-cut dress. I don't know what the age of consent is in South Africa, but that girl gonna to get someone tossed in jail one day.
There's also a little boy of about seven named Mark, and an older man named Uncle Luke, who just screams, "First to die to tug at our heartstrings!" Luke is said to be a veteran of the epic Battle of El Alamein in WWII "sixty years ago", which helps date our movie to the late '80s or so.
Uncle Luke. Hmmm...Luke, Ben...a farm...familiar?
We see some nice family scenes in the beginning, and the assorted actors and actresses all seem to get along like a real family, despite the widely disparate accents. In one scene, Lucy tells Ben that dinner's getting cold, she says, "Come on, Captain...", which is maybe a cute Star Trek in-joke (Gary Lockwood was this close to getting the Captain Kirk role back in '67, which would have changed the whole dynamic of the series, and it might now be an older graying Lockwood, instead of Shatner, who's bagging that cute midget girl on Boston Legal. I digress).
Happy couple, though I'm concerned about the
overuse of plaid in the clothing.
Now, there's a small town nearby that they visit every so often to get supplies. We see them take their jacked-up Ford F-150 single-cab pickup truck into the town. The town is empty, of course, and Ben fills up his gas tank and cans for generator. Gas pumps run on electricity, right? Where's that coming from?
Mom and the kids go "shopping" in the abandoned stores. Rachel gets some sexy sundresses, while her mom tries to get her into something more modest. Rachel pines over a poster on a wall of a movie star, and we feel for her, growing up never knowing the joy of young love and all that.
Rachel in that dress, do I hear police sirens?
Time passes back at the farm. One day we see Rachel out riding one of the horses. She's wearing daisy duke shorts and has her hair up in pigtails, which hurts. Old Uncle Luke is also out in the fields, doing some wood chopping. Suddenly, the Biker Gang roars up over the rise!
I think the director's instructions were,
"Ok, lean over and show your butt to the camera...".
Rachel kicks her horse into high gear and escapes, but poor slow Luke is chased down and is soon getting pretty badly chain-whipped by the Bikers. He's saved by Ben, who comes bouncing up in the Ford truck, alerted by Rachel. Ben runs over (!) one of the Bikers, and in the commotion Luke is able to stumble to the truck and off they drive for the house.
The Bikers pursue them, roaring down the rutted dirt roads, kicking up clouds of dust. Back at the farm, Rachel and Lucy have grabbed rifles and are waiting for Ben and Luke to return. As the Bikers round the corner, the girls shoot dead two of them (!) before the rest turn tail and escape.
Girls with guns, what's not to like?
And now we begin our siege. The Bikers, realizing that the farmers are armed, wisely wait out of sight until dark. Inside the farmhouse, Luke recovers quickly and they all make plans to defend their property. They have just three firearms available (two bolt-action scoped hunting rifles and one revolver) but they have the advantage of familiar ground and the thick walls of the house. The Bikers, however, have the numbers and the time to wait them out. "Satan and his corps!" Luke calls them. "Human blight!" Ben calls them. "Breakfast!" The Bikers call them in return.
As the evening wears on, Luke convinces Ben to let him sneak out and feed the horses. Against his better judgment, Ben agrees to this, coming along with a rifle to provide cover. As expected, the Bikers mount a small-scale attack as they tend to the horses, and poor Luke is mortally wounded by a knife to the chest. Ben shoots dead one Biker and is able to drag Luke back to the house. Luke lives long enough to sputter, "Sorry to run out on you, sir."
Luke takes one for the team.
Short one fighter now, Ben realizes that he and the girls can't hold the farm against the Bikers. There's a "cave" nearby that they plan on sneaking out to once night falls and they pack up some supplies. That night, covered by some hard rock music played on the stereo, they slip out the back door and up into the wooded hills. As they leave, the Bikers charge the house, finding it empty.
On the way to the cave, in the milky white light of the full moon, Ben spots a person tailing them. At first thinking him a Biker, Ben ambushes the man, but quickly realizes that this is a "normal" person like him. Can you see what's going on in this scene? I can't either. Probably 25% of this movie is filmed in the dark, which makes getting decent screen captures rather difficult.
Can a brother get a lighting rig?
OK, so far we've been watching something of a modern-day Western, with farmers and Indians (Bikers) and all the cliches that go along with that genre. As with any good PA Western, you also need a high-plains drifter/itinerate drifter with a gun/wandering lone-wolf hero to came save the day. In our movie, this man is the appropriately named Adam Strong, played by two-bit American television actor Morgan Stevens. Adam is a young, good-looking buff kid, alone now that his parents died recently (earlier we saw him burying them, and the dates on the crude gravestones gave us the approximate timeframe for our movie). Adam is currently wandering the South African landscape alone, with just his trusty old Land Rover Defender series pickup, his painfully tight Levi jeans, and a shotgun.
We saw him periodically throughout the first quarter of the movie, out in the countryside, in an abandoned town playing solitaire pool and drinking Castle Lager beer, and even spending a night in a hotel (without paying the bill). The last scene was especially strange, as it seems that he was awakened by a poltergeist in the room? I think, it wasn't clear, it might just have been a freak windstorm or something. I get the impression that the scenes with Adam by himself were from a completely different movie, and were maybe spliced into our movie later in post-production.
Adam's truck, I want one.
Next he visited the convent that we saw earlier, which he later says was "500 miles south" of Eden Farm, though that doesn‘t jive with the coordinates that we heard for the farm. At the convent Adam found only picked-clean bones, bloody torn clothes and the severed head of Jane (!). He left that place pretty quick.
Bones, note the vertebrae segment.
And finally he shows up here in the dark with Ben, having been driving through the area, heard the gunshots, and come to investigate. The two men are excited to see each other for sure, as neither has seen another peaceful survivor in over two years. Adam agrees to join forces with Ben and his family.
And when Adam meets the family, he and the comely Rachel instantly fall in love (shocker!). We get to learn a little more about Adam as they all sit around a campfire (what! A brightly-lit campfire, when trying to hide from bloodthirsty killers?). It seems he was going to the U. of Texas (hook'em horns!) but when the War started to brew up he took a plane back home to South Africa. After his family died he set off wandering, looking for other survivors.
Adam, Lucy and Rachel in the dark...I think, hard to tell.
Adam and Ben talk a bit about why they survived, Ben offers his "air bubble" theory of survival zones due to updrafts and wind patterns. Adam agrees with that, though he isn‘t really paying attention, not with Rachel sitting so close. Ben then quotes an unnamed television show, "There are those who believe life here, began out there." And yes, that's a direct quote from the opening of every episode of Battlestar Galactica!
Back at the farm, the Bikers are busy demolishing things, eating everything they can find and not using coasters when setting their drinks down. Big Man is certain that the escaped family will try and return eventually and then he can capture them. He has his eye on that little cutie with the pigtails he spied earlier (as do I...) and will risk all to get her.
Big Man in the house, tweezing his eyebrows
while he waits for the inevitable confrontation.
At the cave, Ben, indeed, is planning on retaking his hard-earned homestead. He's not willing to risk the women, and he can't bring himself to ask Adam to join in what might be a suicide mission, so he plans on going alone. Adam protests that he wants to come along and help, but Ben slugs him (!) and leaves. When Adam regains consciousness (glass jaw, that boy) Lucy and Rachel convince him to stay at the cave and protect them and Mark (who has totally disappeared from our movie, by the way, not even to be seen in background shots anymore).
So, armed with a rifle and the revolver, Ben makes a nocturnal raid on his own house. Sneaking into a shed, he rigs up some old dynamite that he had planned on using for agricultural uses into a crude booby trap. One, maybe two, Bikers dutifully get themselves blown to bloody rags for being dumb enough to get too close to the trap.
Does dynamite always come in boxes marked "explosives"?
Ben then finds a rocky outcrop overlooking the farm and waits until daylight, planning on sniping any Biker who pokes his head out. However, at some point, and much to his surprise, he sees all the remaining Bikers file out of the house, get on their bikes and leave.
Ben the sniper.
Carefully, Ben creeps down to the house and even more carefully begins to poke around. The house is trashed, and even though we don't see it, we can assume that they cooked Uncle Luke on the stove. But Ben isn't alone in the house, of course, as Big Man is hiding behind a door to lean out and thwap Ben on the head with a chain. We just knew that not all the Bikers left. Note that Ben has been wearing this exact same plaid shirt the entire movie, just how long was the shooting schedule?
Sneaking into house.
Captured and tied up, Ben is menaced by Big Man, who really, really wants "the women". Ben won't tell him anything, and even spits in his face, getting a punch in the ribs in return. Big Man then calls back the rest of the Bikers (who didn't go far) and they make to torture Ben into telling them where his family is. I was expecting something icky here, but it didn't happen.
About to torture Ben, cutting off fingers one at a time.
Because, just then, Adam and Lucy pop up, blasting away with his shotgun and her rifle. Bikers go down spurting blood, there's lots of screaming and yelling, and Ben wriggles free to grab Big Man's pistol and kill a few more. As I predicted before, when confronted with well-armed opponents, the Bikers are easily cut up.
Big Man escapes, however, and runs into Rachel, who is pouring gasoline over the line of parked bikes and setting them on fire! Enraged, Big Man grabs her and tosses her kicking and screaming into the Ford truck and roars off. Adam, rushing to save her, leaps into the bed as the truck careens by. He then clambers up onto the roof of the cab and starts grabbing and punching Big Man through the window, who is having enough trouble with Rachel, as she's clawing at his face and screeching like a banshee.
A stuntman on the cab, seemingly tied down with thin ropes as
his torso never bounces despite the truck going over bumps.
Rachel gets kicked out of the truck eventually, to roll in the dirt to safety, and Adam is not far behind. Big Man, now alone in the truck and quite pissed, whips around and makes to run over Adam, who rolls out of the way at the last second and regains his feet.
He's so dreamy, I sure hope he lives because he
and Rachel will make really cute kids.
Fortuitously, there's a shed nearby that has a box of dynamite in it (not sure why Ben was using TNT for "irrigation", is the ground that hard?). Adam tricks Big Man into ramming the truck into the shed, which blows up impressively. However, Big Man bailed out at the last second and wobbles to his feet as Adam frowns in concern. Grabbing a nearby shovel, Adam charges Big Man, who draws a knife from his belt. We now have a pretty tense one-on-one fight to the death in a dusty field, the burning wreck of the truck behind them, casting a pall of oily smoke into the air.
Neither actor wants to get hurt (no stuntmen from what I can see) so a lot of the shovel-swings and knife-jabs miss by two feet at the least. Even so, I was really quite unsure who was going to win until the very end. Sure, Adam has the hair, but I could easily see him dying and then Big Man getting killed by Rachel or someone in some equally spectacular fashion. But, Adam eventually gets in a good swing with his shovel, decapitating (!) Big Man. The "special effect" for this is laughable, just see the pic...
The movie ends as it should, with future young lovers Adam and Rachel walking off into the sunset together arm in arm. Not so bad, really, a bit slow in points, but a fairly entertaining PA b-movie.
"I know, that really looked fake."
Written in September 2007 by Nathan Decker.
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