Writer and director Armand Gazarian has written two (Double Cross and Badlanders) and directed five (including the IMDb-barren pages for Streets of War and The Searcher) SOV/direct-to-video features. As result of my post-apoc fandom, I’ve seen the two we’re reviewing today. And that’s probably two more than you.
At least until now.
Yep, this all comes courtesy of Sam the Bossman devising another “Apoc Week,” so this is as good a time as any to hip you to the ’80s SOV canons of Armand Gazarian. Hey, anyone who decides to eschew the usual horror route for Road Warrior tomfoolery in the SOV-doms of the VHS wastelands is aces in my book.
So, is this Gazarian SOV-apoc one-two punch better than the adventures of Ace Hunter — in the utterly awful — Megaforce from Hal Needham? Oh, by the Kobol Lords, yes! Uh, yeah, right, Hal. You willfully made a “campy” and “spoofy” movie. Sure, you did. That’s what they all say when their movie bombs and sweeps the Golden Raspberries to pull a 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. You had $20 million of Albert S. Ruddy and Golden Harvest Studios money to play with and made crap, Hal. Armand Gazarian shot his apoc-romps on couch coins, lunch money, and paper route income. He had chicken shit and made a chicken salad. And you turned your poultry and greens into daggit dung.
So guess who got my .99 cents? That’s right, Uncle Al. I will always err to the side of SOV-made movies. Always. For I bow at the SOV altars of Lord Brett Piper and High Priest Dennis Devine where Armand Gazarian is an obvious disciple.
Now, we kid our ol’ Uncle Hal and Al because, as you watch the opening pursuit of our ersatz man with no name — okay, well, his name is Zane — you’ll notice that (impressive) low-budget rat buggy looks a lot like the goofy dune buggies from Megaforce. And the homages don’t stop there, as we’re getting a pinch of Allan Arkush and Nicholas Niciphor’s always cool-in-my-book-even-though-it-ain’t-Rollerball Deathsport. Now, if you’ve never watched that terminally weird Corman apoc (shame on you), that David Carradine and Richard Lynch-starrer concerns a post-apoc dictator forcing prisoners into games of motorcycle-gladiatorial combat.
Hey, wait a sec . . . we’ve been def-conned! We’re not on a post-apoc Earth! We’re on a post-apoc planet in a galaxy far, far away. And our faux Max-cum-Pliskken, Zane (Nicolas Hill), is now a prisoner aboard a space prison. The prison’s cloaked-lizard warden, in a bit of galactic glasnost, decides he’ll offer freedom to seven of his ne’er-do-well charges to “play a game of strength, skill, and survival.” The game field: Los Angeles, Earth. The object of the game: Return our BSG-inspired Imperious Leader’s cherished family heirloom: a spiked ball, hidden on the L.A. game field. The penalty for not playing the game or attempting to escape: your head is Bob Hauk’d off of your body via an embedded micro-sensor.
And, with that, Zane, along with the likes of the Conan the Barbarian-clad Skullblaster, Moozy, Baarg, Zooloj, Gygon, and Minig, are dropped into their present-day Los Angeles battlefield. Of course, the action is inept, as it is shot on the fly, sans permits, which provides us with a well intention — or ill intended — comedic effect. Of course, our alien warriors are sometimes confused or frightened by Earth technology and culture — and get cruised by gay men — but they do love our pizza. Of course, love must ensue, and to that end, as Jack Deth hooked up with Helen Hunt in Trancers, Zane meets Cindy Sexton — who introduces him to the freeze-dried Celestes and helps him win his freedom. Oh, wait . . . this is more Highlander (“There can be only one!”) than Trancers, so it’s be-still-my-beating-heart Roxanne Hart (who is still breaking my heart in a 2019 episode of NBC-TV’s The Blacklist) rollin’ in my VHS-cortexes.
You’ll have a lot of fun watching this SOV take of Richard Connell’s 1932-inspiring short story, The Most Dangerous Game. But, if you’d rather not, give this four minute sampling (embedded below) a spin. My only two complaints with Game(s) of Survival: I wish the VHS rip was of a better quality, as it’s obvious the tape used on the upload we found on You Tube has seen its better days, as it is washed out and darkened. Second, the opening scene with that Philippines-styled armed dune buggy is so good, I wish Armand Gazarian would have held his game on an alien planet and given us an SOV version of Charles Band’s Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone and Metalstorm: The Destruction of Jared-Syn — instead of Fred Olen Ray’s Alienator. But any guy who channels his milk money and his aunt’s and grandma’s birthday money to homage Death Race 2000, Endgame, and Rome 2072, is okay in my book.
Ah, but wait! That Earth-bound snafu is solved — somewhat — with our second film in today’s Armand Gazarian double feature: Badlanders.
For his second apoc outing, Armand Gazarian impressively upped his game to improve on the Game(s) of Survival model as he gives our ol’ apoc-good buddy Cirio H. Santiago a run for his Philippine pesos. Sure, you’ll name drop Mad Max in the frames, but the real inspiration here is all of those Philippine and Italian-made knockoffs of The Road Warrior. Nope, while it looks like Bruno Mattei made this — and if you’ve seen his apoc romps Rats: Night of Terror or Shocking Dark, you’ll know what we mean — he didn’t make this. Nope. Claudio Fragasso — and if you’ve seen Interzone, you know what we mean — didn’t make this either.
Anyway, in the distant Earth year of 2200 — in the badlands of Yuma, Arizona (anyone see Parsifal in his battle car on his way to the “Baked Apple”) — we meet our intrepid freedom fighter, Blaine (U.S. born-cum-Thailand acting James Phillips), who boondoggles a Snake Plissken-styled robbery of a government repository.
Instead of being sent to Manhattan Island Prison, Blaine is sent to Prison Planet, aka the planet of Annakin (uh-huh), committed to fight in gladiatorial combat games. Then he kills the brother of Broxton (Micheal M. Foley from Karate Cop), the planet’s blood thirsty warlord.
Ah, but this is a secret mission: Blaine wanted to get caught and shipped off-world to find fellow Prison Planet inmate Himshaw — the good brother of the Earth’s evil dictator — who holds the key to overthrown the Annakin regime and restore freedom on Earth.
Spiritual hokum, shirtless muscle-bound nomads, porn-flick mustaches, oversized penis-envy swords, slave girls, virgin maiden sacrifices, weasel-whimpy convicts, and slave traders — all in glorious overacting — a-go-goes, and then some. And the guns, Oy! The guns always “jam” when you need ’em the most in the apocalypse. Hey, the big-budget movies always roll out the ol’ “dead car battery/faulty starter” (on a brand new car, no less) trope, aka now the “dead cellphone/no signal” trope, so why can’t a low-budget movie have the a “gun jams” trope? And yes . . . even though we are in the throes of the 21st century — and as with all Italian ’80s apoc films — all the cars are from the ’70s.
From his humble SOV beginnings, Nicolas Hill worked his way up to the better-made, ’90s-era martial arts flicks Showdown (with Billy Blanks), Death Match (with Martin Kove), Raw Target (with Dale Apollo), Fists of Iron (with Michael Worth), and Bloodsport 2 (not with Jean-Claude Van Damme, but with Pat Morita).
James Phillips, according to the digital QWERTY warriors of the IMDb, co-starred with Eric Estrada in the 1989 Thailand-shot actioner The Lost Idol (check your golden Ark at the door, Indy). And for that same director, Philip Chalong, aka Chalong Pakdeevijit, Phillips co-starred with Jan-Michael Vincent (see why we dropped Alienator), and Sam J. “Flash Gordon” Jones in 1990’s In Gold We Trust (and Sam did his own apoc-slopper, Driving Force). Our villain, Micheal M. Foley, in addition to Karate Cop, you may have seen his martial arts skills in 1991’s Cybernator (I haven’t*) or 1992’s Desert Kickboxer (again, nope).
Jonnie Saiko — who appears in Game(s) of Survival as Zooloj — also appears in Hell Comes to Frogtown, Roller Blade Warriors: Taken by Force, and The Guyver. He’s since gone on to a successful career as a special effects mold technician to work in the X-Men, Alien, Predator, and Scary Movie franchises.
As for the rest of the Gazarian canons: Streets of War stars Frankie Ray from Badlanders; digital streamers may have seen him in 2018’s Jurassic Galaxy (not moi). The Searcher stars Robert “Maniac Cop” Z’Dar, so there’s that incentive to find it. One of Gazarian’s producer credits is 1998’s Blood Revenge starring martial artist Chris Cuthrell, so there’s that. And Gazarian is still at it, as his latest (in post-production) credit is Awaken, starring Lance Henriksen, Edward Asner, and Tobin “Saw” Bell.
Yep. From an SOV debut to working with Tobin Bell. That’s a pretty cool career, Armand. See, there is a career to be made after ENG cameras and 3/4-inch U-Matic videotape and Hi-8s and NewTek Video Toasters.
You can watch a VHS rips of Game(s) of Survival — recently uploaded in September 2020, so thank you, VoicesInMyHead — on You Tube. Check out that page! It has lots of great uploads, such as the bonkers-trashy Lightblast, Death Nurse, more SOV’in with Bits & Pieces, and Mumsy, Nanny, Sonny & Girly. So have fun! Hey, bonus! We found an even cleaner copy on the Internet Archive.
Now, as for Badlanders, aka Prison Planet, there’s no freebie uploads to share. What’s the deal, Tubi? You had it, but now it’s not available? Denied. At one time, Badlanders was part of the VOD programming of the now — sadly — defunct IMPACT cable channel. However, as result of it once being a part of the IMPACT library, you can watch Badlanders as part of the Sling streaming platform, which also makes it available on the upper-tier cable channel EPIX. Perhaps you’re awash in disposable income (frack you, preppy) and you can afford ATT’s DirecTV to watch it there.
I love my SOV ’80s and Gazarian’s two apoc-romps slide nicely onto my “alien shelf” amid the collection. Be sure to click on the SOV ’80s link at the end of this article and you’ll discover all of our reviews of — not only ’80s SOV’ers — but films that are inspired by and pay tribute to the era. And for as many that we have reviewed, there’s as many we have not. So, to remedy that, come September 12 to the 18, we’re blowing out a week-long tribute to another 25-plus more of those SOV ’80s classics, mostly horror, natch. Join us!