Not that long ago the video store was a mundane and sometimes obnoxious part of life; driving over to some lonesome strip mall with your friends or family to comb through the all-too-often disorganized shelves of your local shop, argue over a selection, and then be stuck with it, for good or ill. Yet, it was also sublime. And for those who lived during the true video boom, video stores also equate to another bygone commodity: VHS. When JVC’s Video Home System won the early-80’s format war, the motion picture market changed forever. The genre and B-movies that had previously filled drive-ins across the country now often went straight to VHS. Then DVD took the world by storm in the late-90’s. It was a brave new world, and sadly, many films never made the leap, trapped now on a dead format. These often aren’t “good” films, but goddammit, they were what made video stores great. For we here at CHUD are the kind of people who tended to skip over the main stream titles, our eyes settling on some bizarre, tantalizing cover for a film we’d never even heard of, entranced. These films are what VHS was all about.
Some people are still keeping the VHS flame burning. People like me, whose Facebook page Collecting VHS is a showcase for the lost charms of VHS box artwork. With this column it is my intention to highlight these “lost” films and the only rule I have for myself is that they cannot be available on DVD.
Title: The Final Executioner
Tagline: In the post-nuclear world The Hunt is on – and man is the prey!
Released by: MGM/UA Home Video
Director: Romolo Guerrieri
Plot: Sometime in the far future after a nuclear cataclysm, a privileged minority that has escaped radioactive contamination has targeted the silent majority as unfit for society. They unleash a group of elite assassins upon the selected few “chosen” to participate in The Hunt – a barbaric sport designed to cleanse the earth of the remaining “contaminated.”
Thoughts: Holy Hunger Games, I was not expecting an Italian post-apocalypse movie from the eighties to be this cool and full of so much social commentary when I sat down to watch the video for this week’s column. Don’t get me wrong; I love all Italian post-apocalypse movies to death. I can make a whole day out of watching the amazing Escape From New York rip-off trilogy – 1990: The Bronx Warriors, Bronx Warriors 2: Escape From The Bronx and 2019: After the Fall of New York. When it came to low budget exploitation cinema from this amazing era, nobody did it quite like the Italians did. I’d never seen The Final Executioner before, but I was immediately attracted to the awesome cover art when I saw a brand new, still-sealed MGM/UA big box copy for sale on the Internet for only seventy-four cents. Sold.
Through stock footage of atomic bomb blasts and erupting volcanoes, we learn with the aide of voice over narration that after the nuclear catastrophe, a rich minority of society managed to avoid the ravages of radioactive fallout. They have devised a rather cruel sport to entertain themselves, as well as to exterminate the remaining masses that have been deemed as “target material.” It’s called The Hunt and it’s played by a very attractive co-ed group of decadent killers whom all enjoy mercilessly butchering groups of innocent, defenseless people.
They are led by the two most ruthless among them – Erasmus, a medieval-looking, motorcycle-riding, samurai sword-wielding assassin of the highest order, and the lovely but deadly sharp-shooter Idra. The rest of the group is a colorful mix of hedonistic nihilist murderers that all look awesome in euro-chique dystopian future garb and sport some insane-looking weaponry, that includes a shotgun with multiple barrels (that’s pre-Phantasm II for your information). In one highly potent scene we watch them gun down a stampeding heard of human cattle as they attempt to make a run for it, made all the more impactful with an inspired use of slow-motion photography.
A savior named Allan arrives in the blighted wasteland that serves as the hunting arena, along with a beautiful woman that he’s sworn to protect. The group captures them and Allan is forced to watch his lady fair as she is brutally raped and then shot and killed before his very eyes. He is then dragged behind a motorcycle and left in the middle of the wild with nothing. Erasmus and Idra bet each other on who will be the one to kill him, with the latter striking first with a blast from her sniper rifle. But, Allan doesn’t die. An old, tough-as-nails survivor named Seth mends his wounds and becomes his teacher during a torturous training session that transforms Allan into a perfect killing machine.
This leads to an incredible one-man assault on the hunter’s stronghold where Allan turns the tables on the assassins, as well as revealing the awful truth about the horrible future he lives in. Allan was once one of the privileged, but when he discovered that there was no longer any threat of radioactive contamination left and threatened to blow the lid off this horrible game that has become institution, he was declared “contaminated” and became “target material” for The Hunt.
It’s this little seventies dystopian sci-fi plot twist that elevates this movie onto a higher level. I was legitimately impressed with the story. It’s less of a Road Warrior-styled rip-off than you would think. It actually owes more to Death Race 2000 than anything and serves nicely alongside others of its ilk, such as Turkey Shoot, The Running Man, Battle Royale and of course the tween-tacular The Hunger Games. The movie is played with complete sincerity and it’s definitely a few notches above your average post-nuke trash from Italy during this time.
Post-apocalyptic note: Apparently, over half of the footage from this film was re-cut into another movie about a rogue cyborg-cop called The Bronx Executioner that was released in 1989. Oh, those sneaky Italians!