What a gloriously stupid movie. It has it all. Barely sensible plot, bad dialogue, bad acting, cheap filmstock, gratuitous nudity, and all the other accoutrements that make shitty cinema great. Every time the flick threatens to drag, directors Michael Mazo and Lloyd A. Simandi throw in a gunfight and some explosions, and all is well with the world once again. Empire of Ash III is no rare gem, but we shitty movie fans love it when filmmakers just throw shit at the wall to see what sticks.
It’s the near future, sometime after a plague has devastated mankind. In New Idaho, which happens to be in the same place as the old Idaho (although this was filmed in British Columbia), a religious cult called the Shepherds has arisen, led by the gravelly-voiced Lucas (shitty movie stalwart William Smith). He has an alliance with warlord Baalca (Nancy Pataki), whose leather-clad minions roam the wastelands raiding settlements, killing the men and kidnapping nubile women for use in the cult’s demonic rituals.
One such raid has bagged blonde bombshell Claudia (Tanya Orton), who is to carry the seed of the old and infirm cult founder, the Grand Shepherd (Andy Graffitti), so that his line will continue.
Meanwhile, one young man, Harris (Scott Anderson), has escaped the raid. While being pursued by Baalca’s minions, he is rescued by the film’s heroine, Danielle (Melanie Kilgour). She’s a gun-toting tough who dresses in lightly-colored clothes, helpfully distinguishing her from the bad guys. More gunfights and explosions follow, all leading to a fiery climax at the cult compound (played by the Ruskin Dam and its powerhouse, north of Mission, BC).
The plot is mere backdrop to the action in this flick, and that’s a good thing. It’s not that the action is spectacular when compared to contemporary shitty movies — it’s done just well enough to make one ignore the silliness of the entire enterprise. This is helped by the fact Mazo, Simandi, and company went for realism with the weapons. Gunplay has been featured in countless films, to the point that it is an indictment of our civilization, but only a tiny handful of films get the sound right. Guns make deafening noise, but one wouldn’t know it from most films. Basically, it’s Heat, and this flick.
Gunfights aren’t the only thing to recommend this film. There is also just the right amount of gratuitous nudity. By that, I mean it’s shameless, which we love in shitty movies, but not so much that one feels the need to close the living room drapes.
There’s also the plot. I have disparaged it throughout this review, all but discounting it as a reason to watch. But, its scattered nature, and its overall thinness, forced the filmmakers to fill time with set pieces here and there that do much to raise the film’s score, and they did so without confusing viewers. In other words, cannibal zombies make an appearance, fill a scene, then disappear, never to be seen again. Most of the subtleties of storytelling seemed beyond the capabilities of the filmmakers, but I appreciate this solution. When in doubt, add some zombies. Many, many other post-apocalyptic flicks could have used this trick.
Then, there is the music. The opening theme song is a cheesy metal track with vocals that sound like something straight out of South Park. It’s extraordinary, and something viewers should get used to, as the guitar licks are featured extensively. It also shows that the filmmakers would not be satisfied with the normal synthesized dreck common in b-movies of the time. Good for them. Their lack of compromise is one of the things that serves this film well.
Finally, there’s the film’s title. Empire of Ash III. That would imply there is an Empire of Ash II. Well, there is, but it’s the alternate title for Empire of Ash. On top of that, Amazon Prime has Empire of Ash III listed as Empire of Ash II. So, there are two films in the Empire of Ash cinematic universe, and both of them have been billed as Empire of Ash II. On top of that, this flick was also released as Last of the Warriors, disassociating itself from Empire of Ash completely. Confused? Don’t be. It’s a waste of time to fret about it. Just know that Empire of Ash III is the type of shitty movie that scratches the basest itches in the brain of the shitty action fan, and it does it well, despite being poor in just about everything else. Empire of Ash III is a fine watch, displacing Raw Deal at #79 in the Watchability Index. Check it out.