Sunday, March 13, 2011

The Salute of the Jugger (1989)

I first heard about this movie when it was released in the US as The Blood of Heroes. Rick Sullivan's classic zine the Gore Gazette recommended the flick, noting, "although the flick is yet another in an endless spate of post-apocalyptic sci-fi bludgeonthons, it is packed with enough explicit violence, senseless carnage and ample nudity to enable gorehounds to forget they've been down this road a zillion times before." That road is the one Mel Gibson took in The Road Warrior, in which the apocalpyse has come and left everyone in the desert and Australian.

After the wars, everyone lives like bedouins in a desert landscape. The only heroes in this world are athletes known as "juggers" who play a game in which everyone puts on makeshift armor and beat the crap out of each other with chains and clubs- the winner is whoever can stick a dog skull on a stake! It does look like fun though and in recent years real world jugger leagues have sprung up in Germany, the US, and Australia. One assumes they don't use dog skulls.

Rutger Hauer is Sallow, the head badass of his jugger team who apparently once played in the League many years ago. Joan Chen plays Kidda, a cute young scrapper on her way up in the sport who wants to make the team and is willing to bite a dude's ear off to win a match. Vincent D'Onofrio is Young Gar, the more experienced player who befriends her and beds her before Hauer. Sullivan was exaggerating about the nudity being "ample", although we do briefly see Chen's juggers. D'Onofrio had just gotten off of Full Metal Jacket- he's really in a world of shit here. (Not a comment on the quality of the movie)

The League is where the really good players go and our heroes want to make the League. This requires going to one of the Nice Cities underground and challenging the legitimate juggers to a match. Salo has some sort of dark secret in his past- the upper crust lords want him to be blinded in the match- all of which is going to come to a head in the climactic match. And, of course, there will be a climactic match and there's no points for guessing who wins.

Okay, so none of this is particularly original stuff, but it's easy to see why the film has attracted a little cult following. Clearly, a lot of care went into creating this world. For example, the costumes are really well designed- there's a common desert nomad look to them, mostly in browns and blues, that looks like they were put together by a professional instead of just having the extras show up to the set in old clothes like they usually do with these post-apocalyptic movies. Also, there are some really good make-up f/x by Michael Westmore and Bob McCarron- everyone pretty much looks like they've been dragged behind a mule face down. The action is well-choreographed and bloody and the movie moves at a good pace. The direction, by David Peoples who also wrote the film, is assured and engaging. Finally, the acting is solid and the dialogue is never corny, not always the case in action movies; admittedly, "I never hurt a soul for any reason but to put a dog skull on a stake" is pretty memorable.

So, if you like post-apocalyptic action movies from the 80s, this is a must-see.

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