Other than being a shitty movie, Steel Dawn, the 1987 film from director Lance Hool and screenwriter Doug Lefler, defies normal categorization. At first glance, it’s just another cheesy post-apocalyptic sci-fi flick. Sure, it is that. But it’s also a kung fu flick, a samurai flick, and a spaghetti western. The filmmakers even managed to include a car chase, which is impressive considering the film takes place in a land with no electrical power or internal combustion engines.
Patrick Swayze stars as Nomad, a former officer from some post-apocalyptic army who has been wandering the wasteland in search of bad guys to kill ever since the last war ended. I don’t mean World War 3, by the way. Steel Dawn takes place after the bombs and rockets landed, but it seems that societal destruction wasn’t enough to keep us man-apes from getting up to our tricks again. There have been wars since the big one that dusted civilization, and Nomad fought in them.
Nomad is part of some warrior discipline of future samurai. There are no guns in the future. Rather, all the toughest guys on the block do their fighting with very shiny swords. At first they’re visually impressive, but look closer and these swords do much to betray this flick’s b-movie pedigree. They look like they were cut from sheet metal bought at the local big box hardware store, and have all the durability to boot. There’s lots of swordplay in this flick, but rather than hold back a set of swords for closeup shots, Hool and company used the same props, so by the time the actors have had some fun banging their blades around, the edges look like crumpled aluminum foil. That’s some good shitty filmmaking.
Nomad meanders his way through the deserts, eventually finding a small settlement in need of a farm hand (Steel Dawn was filmed in Namibia, and there are some impressive landscapes to be seen in this sequence. It’s only too bad it was all shot on grainy film stock.). The farm is run by Kasha (Lisa Niemi), a statuesque blonde who didn’t let the apocalypse stop her from finding a crimping iron, and her lovesick foreman, Tark (Brion James).
They, and everyone else in the area, have been having problems with a local warlord by the name of Damnil (Anthony Zerbe). Damnil is convinced there is a large amount of water somewhere in the parched valley, and if he can control it, he can control the valley. Unbeknownst to Damnil and his crew of toughs, including Sho (Christopher Neame), there is a fast-flowing spring in some caves on Kasha’s land. She has control over the water, and has big plans to bring it to the valley in an act of benevolence that might get her and her son killed.
What follows after this is standard fare if one is at all familiar with the types of genres I mentioned above. There is a disadvantaged group being bullied by some baddies, and a lone hero appears on the scene to save the day. That type of plot hasn’t been new or sophisticated for almost a hundred years, and that’s okay. There’s nothing wrong with exploring the familiar, if done well. And the plot is the last thing that’s wrong with this flick. In fact, there isn’t much that is wrong. This is a decent watch. But boy is it shitty. The sets are shitty, the props are shitty, the costumes are shitty, Christopher Neame’s wig is so shitty I almost want to dedicate and entire article to it. One gets the idea.
In watching this film, I was struck by how similar it is to some of the bad Italian sci-fi flicks that have been seen in this space in the past few months. This looks like the movie Enzo G. Castellari was always trying to make, only his producers weren’t willing to give him a $3.5 million budget. They were probably wise, as all that money got the producers of Steel Dawn nothing but a prettied up b-movie and a queue of creditors. Oh, well. Not our problem. At least Steel Dawn is a better film than Alien: Resurrection.