... aka: I Padroni della Terra (The Masters of the Earth)
... aka: Mutant City
Michael J. Murphy
It's twenty-five years after a nuclear war has devastated the entire Earth. Dr. Eileen Saunders (Kay Lowrey, who may be the same actress billed as Catherine Rowlands on other Murphy films), a scientist formerly of the National Research Centre, has somehow managed to keep herself alive in an underground bunker all that time. Her teenage son Paul (Rob Bartlett), along with his girlfriend Jenny (Wendy Parsons), were put into cryogenic deep freeze / a state of suspended animation prior to the war and haven't aged in the decades that have passed. Dr. Saunders successfully revives them, gives them backpacks filled with food and supplies and then sends them out into the uncertain world, where she hopes they'll become the Adam and Eve of a new and better civilization to come. Having had enough of this life, Dr. Saunders then kills herself shortly after they leave. She has no clue what kind of world she's just sent them out into.
After camping out for the night, Paul and Jenny are attacked by a gang of dirty, motorcycle-riding punks the very next morning. They examine Paul's junk, attempt to rape Jenny, steal their food and fight over a can of Coke. Hell, I know Coke contains a lot of sugar, but I'm not sure it'd taste quite as good after having sat around for two-and-a-half decades. The two are then kidnapped and taken to the punk's compound (called "Junk City"), which is basically just a very large scrapyard with a few buildings. In the surrounding "wastelands," green-and-red lumpy cannibal zombie-like mutants lurk in the woods and are a constant threat. Some have been captured and are kept caged in the compound. Others are just casually shot with arrows, run over with cars, etc. as need be.
Most of the punks worship a pompous and evil man called Messiah (Patrick Olliver), who holds rule over Junk City, feeds any detractors to the mutants and holds "runs," which involve a prisoner being handcuffed to an electrified wire and having to overcome various deadly obstacles / booby traps. Even though he usually gets it on with his male assistant Sly (Andy Mathews), Messiah's willing to make an exception for the "clean" Jenny, who's been offered up to him by the punks. He makes her kiss his withered arm, rapes and beats her up, licks her eyeball (?!) and plans on continuing to do so until (I guess?) he uses her up. Meanwhile, Paul is thrown into a cell where he's slated to take part in a "run" along with a hunky guy named Hero (Eddie Kirby), one of the few people to have survived a previous run.
Paul and Hero receive help from blonde hottie Barbara (Debbi Stevens), who brings them food, sneaks them in weapons and plots to break them out. Her motivation is seeing the overthrow of the sadistic Messiah. When a punk tries to rape her ("I've only got two fuckin' diseases. You don't know what you're missin!"), she roundhouse kicks him in the head. She then successfully helps them escape. They get Jenny, who's seriously injured after being shot with an arrow, and drive away. They then must head through the dangerous wastelands on foot while avoiding the mutants, cannibals (masquerading as a rebel camp) and Messiah's "cretinous worm" henchman (Steven Longhurst) and army of punks.
What we've got here is a mixed bag of stuff ranging from the pretty-good-on-a-budget to absolutely terrible that all comes out at the end being reasonably entertaining. The bad? It's obviously cheap, poorly shot, horribly edited and features some of the most laughably bad fight choreography you'll ever see. The "death run" of the title, which consists of little more than someone running down a hill on a clothesline, is also pretty lame once we finally get to it. On the plus side, the punk aesthetic / clothing / hair are all great, it's fast-moving and they've wisely chosen the shooting locations to give this an effectively grimy futuristic / apocalyptic feel. Though the make-ups are highly variable, this thing is also loaded with cheap gore: decapitations, slashings, impalements, a mouth stabbing, flesh eating, someone drowned in cannibal stew while someone else pukes all over their back (!) and much more.
As noted in previous reviews, the director always seems to squeeze in a montage of sweaty shirtless men working out, lifting weights, etc. I thought this film would be an exception because, ya know, it's set on a post apocalyptic planet where the world has basically gone to shit and everyone is struggling for basic survival and all the gyms have closed down, yet he somehow manages to include it here, too, with a montage of two shirtless men working out / exercising in a field (using logs instead of weights) as preparation for "the run." I should have figured!
Acting ranges from awful to OK. Bartlett is acceptable as the male lead, while Olliver (who was much more subdued in Murphy's BLOODSTREAM) goes way over-the-top and campy as the main bad guy, which was pretty much the best way to go given his character. Best of all is Stevens. Considering she has competent acting chops plus is very attractive, she deserved to have much more of a career. However, we at least get to see more of her in other films from the same director, so there's at least that.
This was the best distributed of all of the directors 25+ films on the home video market. There were VHS releases in the UK, Germany (using the title Mutant City and falsely claiming it's an American production), Brazil, Italy, Spain and elsewhere. In 2020, the company Frolic Pictures released it on DVD paired with The Meateater (1979), though this appears to be merely a VHS-quality transfer.