Mad Mario: A Few Thoughts on Italian Post-Apocalyptic Cinema

Mad Mario: A Few Thoughts on Italian Post-Apocalyptic Cinema

Greetings, Brothers and Sisters of the Psychotronic World. A few words spring to mind when I think of Italian Genre Cinema. First is “Giallo,” that kinky suspense-thriller with the black gloves and the pretty girls and the impossible-to-follow plots. Not really my cup of grue, but I respect those who dig it.  The second word that comes to mind is “Imitation.”  Yes, readers, like it or not much of Italian cinema is a seedy maze of rip-offs, capitalizations-upon and unofficial sequels, following in the wake of Hollywood.  John Wayne movies went great guns, so the Sergios, Leone and Corbucci, put Clint Eastwood, Franco Nero, Lee Van Cleef and Gian Maria Volonté in front of the cameras and churned out Spaghetti Westerns.  JAWS sent the cinema-going world into a tizzy, and Italy responded with DEEP BLOOD, THE LAST SHARK and others.  STAR WARS? STARCRASH! NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD/DAWN OF THE DEAD? ZOMBI 2! ALIEN? CONTAMINATION! You get the idea.

So when MAD MAX made dressing in androgynous leather outfits and tearing around scrubby deserts in armored dune buggies cool (as if it ever wasn’t), you can bet your last Cannoli that Italian filmmakers got on that fast.  After all, they’d already made the scrubby wastelands of Italy into the American Old West, turning it into a post-nuclear landscape (conveniently resembling central Australia) would be no problem.  And hoo, boy, Brothers and Sisters, did Italy ever churn out a TON of Post-Apocalyptic films.  Let’s take a look at a couple of my favorites.

1) 2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS (aka ANNO 2020 – I GLADIATORI DEL FUTURO), 1982: One of the very first Italian Post-Apocalyptic Movies (hereafter abbreviated IPAMs) this is a film about a group of “heroes” in tight jeans, matching necklaces, and bandoleers of ammunition slung across their shirtless chests.  Doesn’t that pinch? After standing idly by and watching a group of zombies attack a church, rape a nun and crucify a priest, they spring into action, beating back the zombies to save…nobody, really.  They waited until everyone was dead before springing into action.  When one of their gloriously be-permed members decides to rape a young girl, the others throw him out of their little clique — where he goes off to form an evil biker gang that torments the remaining heroes for the rest of the film.

This film was directed by the prolific Joe D’Amato (1936-1999) who directed post-apocalyptic films, shark films, zombie films, sword-and-sandal historical features, and hardcore porn.  Lots and lots of hardcore porn.  ANTHROPOPHAGOUS, ATOR THE FIGHTING EAGLE, SEXY NIGHTS OF THE LIVING DEAD and 120 DAYS OF ANAL are all on his filmography.  2020 TEXAS GLADIATORS swings between absolute absurdity (i.e., the costume design for the heroes — awwwww yeah, 1980s feathered hairdos!) and the sort of gore Italian horror fans really go for (a nun slitting her own throat with a shard of glass to avoid getting raped by zombies — hell, if the zombies were wearing black gloves then I’d call it a complete overview of Italian Horror encapsulated into one scene!).  One of the must-sees of the genre.

2)WARRIOR OF THE LOST WORLD, 1983: You probably remember this one from Mystery Science Theater 3000 (“Is it too late to kill myself?” Tom Servo asked rhetorically about a minute into the opening credits).  Michael Ginty (star of the EXTERMINATOR series) is The Rider, a nomadic mercenary mounted on a sentient motorcycle named Einstein.  Because The Rider is “pure of spirit,” he is able to pass through the “wall of illusion” and make contact with The Elders, a resistance movement fighting against the tyranny of evil despot Prosser (Donald Pleasence, playing against type here as a bald authoritarian type with a tendency towards dry wit).  The Elders hire The Rider to break into Prosser’s compound with the aid of Persis Khambatta (she has hair for this role) and rescue Professor McWayne, their leader.  To do so, The Rider and Einstein must get past Prosser’s ultimate weapon…MEGAWEAPON.

Chant it with me now — ME-GA-WEA-PON! ME-GA-WEA-PON! It was the only saving grace for the Bots watching this film, and the super-armored death-dealing dump truck is one of the few saving graces for me watching this film.  I’m always a fan of watching Donald Pleasence at work, and Fred “The Hammer” Williamson shows up in a supporting role as a henchman, and Geretta Geretta (from Lamberto Bava’s DEMONS) also appears.  According to director David Warner, he was flown to Italy and told to start making a film…without a script.  He was shown the film’s poster art and told to make a film that went along with it.

3) RATS: THE NIGHT OF TERROR (aka RATS – NOTTE DI TERRORE), 1984: One hundred years after a nuclear war reduced to surface of Earth to a glowing desert, society has been reborn — most people live underground in life-supporting arcologies, while roving gangs of scavengers prowl the ruins of the surface world.  RATS follows one such gang, lead by Kurt (Ottaviano Dell’Acqua, aka the Worm-Eye Zombie from ZOMBI 2) and his girlfriend Chocolate (Geretta Geretta), as they explore a ruined city looking for food.  While they find it, they also discover that food attracts non-human scavengers…namely, massive quantities of rats.  Strangely intelligent rats, capable of planning against the humans, anticipating and countering attacks.  Rats who, incidentally, have a ravenous hunger for human flesh.

In a way, Bruno Mattei’s RATS is a zombie film without the zombies.  The underlying premise (a group of individuals must survive in an environment where they are beset upon by swarms of flesh-eating creatures) is identical, and a lot of the set ups end up mirroring zombie films.  What RATS has that I’ve yet to see in a zombie film, however, is a couple having sex in a sleeping bag, getting caught in it, and trying to fight the zipper for escape as the hungry hordes descend upon them — here played by buckets of rats dumped on the actors by off-camera technicians.  The “twist” ending is telescoped from a million miles away, but is still pretty groovy.  Overall, the film is goofy but you totally get into it.

4) 2019: AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK (aka 2019 – DOPO LA CADUTA DI NEW YORK), 1983: What we have here, Brothers and Sisters, is ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK done up Grindhouse-style with an extra heaping helping of marinara.  It’s been fifteen years since nuclear war devastated the planet and divided humanity into the evil mutant Euracs and the rebel Federation.  The Federation hires gun-toting goon Parsifal (Michael “I’m not Kurt Russell” Sopkiw) to infiltrate the Eurac-infested ruins of New York City to rescue one of the last remaining fertile women on the planet, so humanity can get busy repopulating.

While a hero named “Parsifal” can hardly match up against a hero named “Snake,” AFTER THE FALL OF NEW YORK is a wildly inventive take on John Carpenter’s classic that’s hard to pass up.  Featuring beautiful miniature sets and the sort of explosive ultra-violence one comes to expect from Italian cinema, I’m actually more likely to grab this one for a casual view then ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK.  Sorry, Carpenter, but this time Sergio Martino comes out ahead.

5) THE NEW BARBARIANS (aka I NUOVI BARBARI aka WARRIORS OF THE WASTELAND), 1983: Directed by Enzo G. Castellari, the man responsible for such timeless films as KEOMA and THE INGLORIOUS BASTARDS, THE NEW BARBARIANS is a fairly run-of-the-mill MAD MAX follow-up.  In short, sometime after the nuclear apocalypse, humanity is reduced to nomadic bands of scavengers.  Preying on these scavengers are a gang of golf-cart riding nihilists called the Templars, all dressed in matching white jumpsuits.  The leader of the pack is One (George Eastman), a bearded spaz prone to shouting things like “The world is dead! It raped itself!” Opposing the Templars is Scorpion, an ex-Templar, and Nadir, a bow-toting Fred Williamson. Opposing everyone is their goofy wardrobes.  Seriously? Clear plastic armor?

THE NEW BARBARIANS has one thing going for it that you don’t often see in these MAD MAX clones…male-on-male sodomy.  Yes, at one point in the film One captured Scorpion and as part of Scorpion’s “initiation into death” One cuts his pants off and rapes him.  You’d never see Max being made The Lord Humongous’ bitch.  But here…it just makes Scorpion’s eventual victory over the Templars that much more satisfying. And look, there’s even one black woman after the apocalypse so Fred Williamson can get a happy ending without offending the middle class with an interracial couple!

6) EXTERMINATORS OF THE YEAR 3000 (aka GLI STERMINATORI DELL’ANNO 3000), 1983: In the year 3000, after nuclear war has decimated the planet, Earth is a desert.  Remember WATERWORLD? This is the opposite.  A group of peaceful survivors have a map which supposedly shows where a well is located, but when they set out in search of this fabled treasure of H2O, a vile group of wasteland raiders come down on them like a ton of bricks, bricks made of rape and murder.  Only one young boy, Tommy, survives (along with his pet hamster).  Swearing vengeance on the raiders, Tommy meets an immoral drifter named Alien who drives aimlessly around the desert in his souped-up muscle car, “The Exterminator,” with his girlfriend Trash.  Yes, he calls his girlfriend Trash and she likes it.  Alien and Trash agree to help Tommy kick ass, take names, and ultimately reclaim the lost well and all that wonderful water inside.

43 separate explosions grace this film, readers.  Along with 26 kills, a plethora of vehicular combat scenes, and a villain, Crazy Bull, who uses Shakespeare as a speech-writer.  Seriously, what was with movie villains and classical allusions in 1982? Between EXTERMINATORS and WRATH OF KHAN…Crazy Bull, while lacking the gravitas of Ricardo Montalban’s oiled pectorals, manages the excellent line “Charge! Once more into the breach, Mothergrabbers!” Wrap your brainmeats around that one, readers.


As I’m running out of Italian Post-Apocalyptic movies that I’ve seen, and I imagine a lot of you aren’t reading this far into the article anyways, I’m going to call it here.  Hope I opened your eyes to some films you might not have ever heard of otherwise.  Until next time, Mothergrabbers!

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Bill Adcock likes long walks off short piers and eating endangered species. In addition to his work for the Blood Sprayer, his writing can also be found at his personal site, Radiation-Scarred Reviews, which he's maintained since 2008. Bill has also contributed, as of this writing, to GRINDHOUSE PURGATORY issues 2 and 3, and CINEMA SEWER issue 27.

3 Responses to “Mad Mario: A Few Thoughts on Italian Post-Apocalyptic Cinema”

  1. Megaweapon would make a great post-apocalyptic metal band name.

  2. The Rats 2 film is probably an unauthorized addition to the ‘Rats’ franchise by author James Herbert. Or maybe it’s even official who knows. He definitely has books on this theme.

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