Sunday, July 4, 2010

Exterminators of the Carpocalypse: WHEELS OF FIRE (1984)

After Filipino legend Cirio H. Santiago’s first post-apocalypse epic STRYKER (1983) did bang-up box-office of about 1.7 million in the US (which is easily 20 times the film’s budget), Santiago decided to stryke again (sorry, they can’t all be gems) with the quasi-sequel-ish, semi-remake-ish, “big” budget WHEELS OF FIRE!

Utilizing some of the same costumes and err… sets (can rock quarries and sand-dunes be construed as sets?), this time Santiago goes balls-freakin-out with the suped-up cars, post-nuke motorcycles (one has plastic devil forks mounted on the front - sweeeeet) and serious military hardware. You know you are in for a bigger event when the credits are splashy, loud and sport a fantastic, adrenaline-pumping, Brian May-inspired score by none-other than genre fave Christopher Young (back when he was just "Chris")!

A leather-clad wasteland wanderer driving a matte-black muscle-car named Trace (Gary Watkins, who bears a rather freakishly uncanny resemblance to Gerard Butler) decides to visit a nomad group so he can visit his sister Arlie (1982 Playboy Playmate Lynda Wiesmeier). Arlie has shacked up with another two-bit loser, Bo, who has bet her car keys in a steel pipe fight in the circled square. When he is about to be killed by the ringer that he eventually fights, Trace steps in a lays down a whuppin’ saving sis’ car. This pisses off the local wasteland chapter of a badass gang and the next thing you know, the tires are burnin', the engines are roarin' and the chase is on!

Headed up by the villainous Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana of CAGED FURY [1983] and BLOODFIST [1989], doing his best James Earl Jones impersonation), black cars tear up the roads, motorcycles jump off of dunes, and cars blow up for no reason after they fly off cliffs, and this is all in the first 15 minutes! At one point Trace plays possum and Scourge’s aviator-wearing, cigar-chewing henchman, Skag, yells at the rest of the gang “we got him where we want him, let’s go assholes!” only to find themselves running straight into Trace’s vehicle-mounted flamethrower! Meanwhile, Arlie and Bo decide this is the perfect time to start making out like a couple of high-schooler's on a prom date and are promptly captured by Scourge’s men. Bo shows that big brother was right about sis' crappy taste in men and without missing a beat yelps that Skag should take the girl and the car and let him join the gang. Skag agrees, but on the condition that he "survives the initiation". Suddenly, Bo’s pants are down and he’s being chased through the desert, dragged behind a jeep and finally left for dead. Damn man, what happened to the pledge paddle?

Arlie isn’t treated much better as the bikers rip-off her top and tie her to the hood of their car, in a scene surprisingly similar to the infamous sequence in the Australian film FAIR GAME (1986). Scourge is pleased with his catch and remarks that she is a “good looking piece” to which Arlie retorts “too good for you, greasball! I'm not dogfood!” Trace, like his name implies, spends an extraordinary amount of time finding people. At this point he finds Bo, still tied to the jeep, in time for Bo to tell them where the thugs took his sister before a very displeased Trace puts several bullets in him. Whether it's because he was putting him out of his misery or just because he was a duchebag is unclear. From here you’d think this would be a simple fetch and retrieve mission, right? Wrong amigo! Trace runs into a girl who has a hawk for a pet, a girl who hears what people think, subteranian, albino cannibals, a commune of “True Believers” who are way too cheerful to live, the cheapest rocket-ship ever, a corporate army, the dwarf from STRYKER, and more explosions!

Probably my favorite unintentionally amusing moment occurs when, after much bickering (“sexual tension” ala The Lockhorns) between Trace and hawk-girl Stinger (Laura Banks), they trip and fall on a sand dune and are supposed to fall over and roll down the hill together in storybook romance style. Unfortunately they fall, but fail to catapult themselves over the lip of the dune and Watkins has to stand up and pull Banks over the edge at which point they still don’t tumble, so they have to throw themselves down the dune where they finally come to a stop and Trace rips open her top cueing the romantic transparency shot complete with strings in the background! Nobody, I mean, nobody does post-apocalyptic romance like Cirio H. Santiago.

While the US Vestron version of the film seems to be complete, it does seem to be missing some graphic violence. The credits list "prosthetics", "make up" and "special effects" crew-members, but there are less than a handful of appliances used in the film. While STRYKER featured an array of cheap, grizzly demises, here all of the violence cuts away rather quickly, some of it is heard on the soundtrack while a cut-away is seen on screen. This is the usual MO of a censor at work. It's not damning evidence, but it does seem odd that Santiago ramped up the level of action and nudity exponentially, but cut back on the blood. That's just not adding up, but until I can find something with extra footage, it's going to have to do.

There are a couple of things that stand out in WHEELS OF FIRE, two of them belong to Lynda Wiesmeier who spends roughly 99.5% of her screen time topless and screaming, topless and struggling, or topless and spewing more trash talk than a possessed Linda Blair. When grabbed by Scourge’s goons she yells “Get your hands off of me you miserable faggots!” (considering what happened to her loser boyfriend, that, I guess, is not really much of a slur) and when they bring her to Scourge she screams “don’t touch me you miserable jerk-offs!” Combined with her rampant, jiggling nekkidity, Wiesmeier pretty much steals the show. Of course there are some people who have gotten astride their high-horses and condemned the film as “misogynist”. Presumably because Arlie is given nothing to do other than be manhandled, show off her mesmerizing set of… uh… “genetics” and cuss like a sailor. Pretentious, but that hasn't stopped some half-assed critics who, I'm guessing, expect everyone in genre films to be respectful of one another. It's interesting that Jack Hill and Johnathan Demme's trend-setting women's prison films such as THE BIG BIRD CAGE (1972) and CHAINED HEAT (1983) are given not only a pass, but a pat on the back for making movies about “strong women”, however, if a foreigner makes a film where an attractive western woman gets roughed up, the same cracker-barrel psychologists start screaming “misogyny” in a crowded room. Here Wiesmeier is simply an icon used to demonstrate the evilness of Scourge and his gang, in the exact same way the bad guys in DEATH WISH (1974) were shown to be deserving of their ultimate fate by raping and killing Paul Kersey's wife and daughter. In fact, I'd say if you were one of those people really looking for misogyny, there are much easier targets than this one. Not only is the rape implied and not shown, but both men and women are raped. Even more importantly, out of the five lead actors, three of them are female. Two of the three female leads are shown to be strong, capable and intelligent and all of them perform straight-up heroic acts. So much for being a misogynistic film!

Just because a film has misogynistic characters in it, doesn't make it a misogynistic film. If that were a legitimate train of logic then Walt Disney would be a misogynist (though I'm not saying he wasn't). How so? In SLEEPING BEAUTY (1959) the sorceress Maleficent hates the princess Aurora and tries to kill her, therefore she is a misogynistic character. As we now know, misogynistic character equals misogynistic film. The film was made by Walt Disney and this leads us, ipso facto, to the unmistakable conclusion that Walt Disney was a misogynist. Seriously, if you can’t find amusement from Alrie’s foul-mouthed hollering every time one of the bad guys so much as looks at her with lines like “hand’s off me, filthy pig! Stinkin’ fuckin’ goon!” and find her rather tame torment abhorrently misogynistic then obviously you need to stop watching genre films and go settle down with A RIVER RUNS THROUGH IT or FIELD OF DREAMS. Though I might warn you, there is a little of bit of testy verbal conflict in FIELD OF DREAMS, so make sure there are no children in the room.

For those of you who are still reading... there are so many kids thinking up elaborate drinking games for lame TV shows with intricate rules and posting them on the net, I figured we should have an old school drinking game posted here.

THE WHEELS OF FIRE DRINKING GAME
- Take 2 Shots: Anytime Scorge’s henchman Skag yells “come on!”
- Take 1 Shot: Every time Lynda Wiesmeier is shown topless.
- Take 1 Shot: Every time there is an explosion.

What do you mean, “is that it?”! Damn man, this is an old school drinking game! Follow this and you’ll be hammered long before the end credits roll.

Moments of Clarity:

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