Like a personal guide through the more dusty shelves at the back of a video store, The Raggedyman uses his experience of scouring the depths of DVD bargain bins to sieve through the old and the obscure so you don’t have to. Take his hand as he walks you through cult classics, underground favourites, forgotten wonders, and new discoveries to let you know if it’s a precious relic still able to grab the eye of the modern viewer or a bit of detritus that it needs to be dumped on the garbage heap of times gone by.
When I was first presented this movie, by Richard DeValmont of Bela Lugoi’s Shed, I assumed that it was both retribution for some vile act I had performed upon him and a test of my willingness to try any movie sent my way. The title and blurb were amazingly uninspiring, the figures on the cover were in the uncanny-valley of anatomical incorrectness, and the rest of the dressing was presumably pinched off a 4th years’ doodles from maths class. The back cover was even worse and accomplished the feat of having an even less realistic alternative poster on it, looking like a softcore BDSM flick, and having six photos from the film that can only be described as “punishingly uninspiring”. But instead of the 85 minutes of boredom I expected, I got the A-Team version of Mad Max, for better or for worse.
The first thing to note is that this film has an 18 rating from 1987, because there is no way the producers are going to muck around getting it relisted. Today it would be an easy 15, so other than a couple of bits of flamethrower tomfoolery there is nothing to worry about. The second thing to note is that what feels like the first five minutes of the film is a single shot of a ridiculously multi-barreled M16 (the titular Equalizer 2000) spinning round in the void. The lighting, the soft focus, and the way the eye lingers on it gives it the feel of a certain kind of specialist film of the era, and pretty much sets your expectations for everything else that follows. And that’s before the “Orson Welles with a cold” voiceover goes into excessive details about how it’s Something O’Clock after the apocalypse and it’s all gone to poop.
Enter Slade, toned and heroic and wearing nothing but leather trousers and a leather gilet in the roasting desert heat. You know he’s the hero because he does heroic things, has heroic hair and a heroic beard, and all the other men on his side appear to be mentally undressing him. Watch Slade shoot people, run around, drive a car, shoot some more people, have a touching moment with someone about something, and then shoot some more people. Rinse, repeat, find the mega-gun, kill the big bad, get the girl, save the day, that’s the movie.
Dialogue is not this film’s strong point, and when people do talk it’s mostly in cliché, mild exposition, or some kind of whooping encouragement for their chums to shoot other people. Plot is also not this film’s strong point, as it’s there but mostly consists of people shooting each other for various reasons. What the film excels at is giving people reasons to shoot at each other, and also having some very nice sets to blow up once the shooting starts. The sets are mostly quarries, suspiciously well-kept, post-collapse highways (presumably maintained by a band of feral maintenance staff), and more factions than are strictly necessary.
There is the Nazi Sports League, also called The Ownership, whom Slade originally belongs to for reasons never explained. They own stuff and shoot people that try to take it. There is the People’s Resistance, who shoot at the Ownership to get their stuff and try to get everyone to team up with them for reasons. There are the Badlands Rape Enthusiasts, who just shoot people for giggles, and the Gun Toting Hippies, who want a quiet life so have half built the Equalizer 2000 to really shoot people up. The Hippies also have Karen in their ranks, sole woman in the entire wasteland and surprisingly badass (even if her choice of clothing leaves her constantly open to the dangers of sunburn). Finally, there are the Mime Artist Mountain People, who appear to be part Native American, part Viking, and part Mongrel Horde. There is probably some rich history to be discovered amongst them all, but all you need to know is that they like shooting each other.
The main distinctions between the groups are the costumiers, which I would like to think were an attempt at an analogy about contemporary politics but probably happened because of budget restraints. The Ownership pretty much all wear WW2 German uniforms and sports equipment (mostly football and baseball, but with a bit of hockey kit to spice things up), the People’s Resistance are all in camo greens, the Badlanders are into cowboy and confederacy garb, and everyone else is just rocking something that looks like Whitesnake making a Duran Duran video. It’s all so 80s you’ll be amazed that no one is killed with a Koosh ball.
Because, lest you forgot, this is just an hour and a bit of gun fights… gloriously stupid gun fights. People get shot, other people get shot, people twitch and go “argh!” a lot and there isn’t much blood which saves money and screen time for more bang-bang. People do things because it looks cool, like Slade standing on the bonnet of a car, facing backwards, and shooting from the hip with the machine gun/rocket launcher/shotgun/infinite ammo Equalizer 2000 whilst Karen does 50mph through a desert racecourse to escape the bad guys. And their hair looks perfect all the time this is happening, because it just does. I can’t remember why that happens, I just remembered that it did and it will never leave me. And there are so many moments of that, like the bad guy using a flamethrower to shoot his own messenger or Karen driving a car off a cliff for absolutely no benefit to anyone. No clue why, no real need for an explanation either.
And that’s it, that’s the whole damn movie. This film is dumb, but it’s the kind of dumb that knows to never bother trying to be smart at any point. Everyone looks great in their sand battered leather, all the explosions have personality, and it moves at a steady beer swilling speed that gives you time go “whooo” between wrecked combat cars squealing to a halt for another bit of shooting.
If you can get this on the cheap and you want to relive the version of Fury Road that Glen A. Larson could have made, then this is actually worth watching. Otherwise… well, the cover says it all.
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Equalizer 2000, AKA Defender 2000, is available on DVD and Blu-Ray, and discerning bargain bins around the country.