Warrior Of The Lost World Is Your Weekend Cheesy Movie
by Erik Amaya
Cheesy movies are a special joy. Despite an earnest attempt to create compelling stories, filmmakers often miss the mark. Some movies turn out simply mediocre. Others become entertaining in spite of their flaws or authorial intent. They become cheesy. In Your Weekend Cheesy Movie, we’ll examine some of these misguided efforts for what they fail at achieving and what they manage to do right.
This week: Warrior of the Lost World
Italian rip off cinema is a boundless treasure trove of cheese. Many of the films just recreate more successful pictures on a modest budget, others are seat-of-their pants productions which producers will into existence because they got their hands on a good name or poster. It is very similar to Golan and Globus method, but generally feature wonderful Italian locations and bewildered direction. Warrior of the Lost World is one such film.
Just as the tank seemed to run dry on Star Wars with the immanent release of The Return of the Jedi and creator George Lucas’s decision to give the series a rest, the knock-off producers were stuck with z-grade sword-and-sandals pictures or trying to file the serial numbers off of Star Trek. But almost as a savior out of the wasteland rode in the man they called Max, the Road Warrior who opened a whole new genre to exploit: the post-apocalyptic road movie. The look and feel of these movies could be futuristic without having to invest in genuinely futuristic looking production design. Find a disused parking lot, an abandoned Brutalist municipal building and trick out some old Buick Skylarks with bumper spikes and you too can make a movie like The Road Warrior.
At least, that was the idea. While movies like Cyborg and City Limits used the collapse of modern society as their setting, few committed to the Mad Max brand of car chase or car culture as tightly as Warrior of the Lost World does. As Joel Hodgson so succinctly put it when Mystery Science Theater 3000 screened the film, it’s not Mad Max, it’s sad Max.
The plot concerns a nameless Rider (Robert Ginty) who travels the broken highways of an Italian version of California. When he and Einstein, his smart-mouthed supersonic speedcycle, encounter officers of The Omega — the local ruling class — a gang of Punks and a surprisingly multi-ethnic group of Neo-Nazis, he soon finds himself injured by crashing into the side of a mountain. But the mountain turns out to be an illusion where the ill-defined “Elders” and McWayne (Harrison Mueller Sr.), leader of The New Way, hole up in hope of finding someone to unite the rival factions of “Marginnals” outside of their mountain, convince them to join The New Way, and take the fight to Prossor (Donald Pleasence), Leader of the Omega. The Elders suspect the Rider may be that person.
But before he can unite the factions, he must enter the Omega city and free the recently captured McWayne. His daughter Nastasia (Persis Khambatta) helps the Rider infiltrate the city, but soon finds herself captured while the Rider escapes with McWayne. Oops.
McWayne, for his part, is more than happy to see the Rider unite the disparate rival groups of punks, karate enthusiasts, black Nazis, trucker lesbians and burly Italian truck drivers; urging him into a bare-knuckle fight between the groups in some sort of quarry. And once he manages to do that, the Rider and McWayne take the fight to Prossor in order to rescue Nastasia and bring The New Way to all of California.
If the whole thing sounds like a first draft drawn up while the director flew to Italy, that’s part of the charm. David Worth was in fact hired to direct the picture a week before filming was scheduled to begin with no script in place. His only story prompt was a title producers Roberto Bessi and Frank Hildebrand already owned; though in its initial release, it was called “Vigilante of the Lost World.” Consequently, he cobbled together a story built from Mad Max imagery and half-remembered elements of other sci-fi films. And thanks to that desperation, the film is filled with many weird ideas like the Elders having mystical powers despite only using them to heal the injured Rider, Prossor’s “Laws and Obligations” amounting to little more than compulsory factory work for all Omega denizens, and the black Nazi — an idea so ludicrous you really only see it in bad movies.
There’s also the really annoying talking computer/motor bike, an attempt to suggest Prossor successively brainwashed Nastasia into shooting the Rider, and the most beloved element of the film: a tricked-out dump truck known as Megaweapon.
As Hodgson’s “Sad Max” observation suggests, there is something decidedly half-hearted about Warrior of the Lost World despite all the ideas Worth threw into the script. The chase scenes lack the verve or punch George Miller brings to similar material in Mad Max and The Road Warrior. They also have an obvious staged feel to them; like in one shot where an Omega troop carrier careens into a stack of oil barrels arranged in a pyramid shape for some reason. Not that these are demerits of the film, mind. While Worth may not have a command of pace or intensity a Mad Max knock-off should have, the sedate nature of the action is fun in its own way.
Also fun are the performances of the main cast. Ginty sleepwalks though the heroic lead role, which almost works as he is supposed to be a rogue reluctantly pulled into the conflict. Khambatta, at least in the English language films I’ve seen her in, only has two settings: playfully coy and nervously concerned. She uses them both here. Pleasence, of course, was the king of playing villains in cheapo knock-offs and brings his special kind of auto-pilot to lines he’s read hundreds of times in dozens of other movies. Mueller gives McWayne a Ronny Cox vibe and might have gone onto roles in Robocop and Total Recall had Ronny Cox not been available.
But the key element here is the low-wattage ambition of the film. Despite being credited on IMDB with helming a number of adult movies in the late 70s, Warrior is considered Worth’s directorial debut. And though hungry to be a legitimate director, he also knew what sort of movie he was involved in and the exact amount of effort required. At the same time, though, there is a scrappy appeal to the movie in the way it proudly boasts its knock-off state and occasionally bursts to life with crazy ideas, wild imagery and obvious Italian locations.
Warrior of the Lost World is available in its full-length form on a budget DVD and as part of the Mystery Science Theater 3000 Volume XVI collection. But be warned, the MST3K version edits out 10-to-15 minutes which make the plot a little easier to follow.