Shitty Movie Sundays: Endgame (1983)

According to the internet, so it must be true, Endgame, from writer (alongside Aldo Florio), director, and producer Joe D’Amato, was the favorite of all the films he made. Endgame was just one of seven productions in 1983 in which he received a director credit, and his IMDb page lists 199, most of those smut. The man was prolific. And when he looked back upon his extensive oeuvre, Endgame, a mashup of post-apocalyptic sci-fi tropes, was the movie that made him smile the widest. Well, okay then.

It’s the future! 2025! Sometime in the ’80s or ’90s, nuclear war devastated the planet. Now, civilization is being rebuilt. A new fascist regime has arisen, ruling the rubble with an iron fist, and exterminating mutants that have been born due to all the radioactive fallout from the nukes. These aren’t ghastly creatures with extra limbs or Marvel-type superpowers. These are just regular folks, whose mutation makes them psychic. They are the next step of human evolution. There is also an unfortunate class of mutants who are devolving into lower forms of life, but the hell with them. The good guys dislike them as much as the fascists do.

And who are the good guys? We meet the most important one early on.

Endgame is not just the title of the movie. It’s also the title of a television reality show in this dystopian future. Very much like the movie version of The Running Man, though predating that film by years, a lone contestant is set loose in a bombed out area of the city to be chased by hunters, looking to kill their prey for a big prize.

Ron Shannon (Al Cliver) is the most successful contestant in the show’s history, starting out as a hunter, and then volunteering to be the hunted for greater glory. The movie is setting itself up quite nicely to be a battle of action and wits between Shannon and his pursuers. One, Karnak (George Eastman), has history with Shannon, the two having grown up together in the ruins. We all know where this is going Endgame 1983 movie posterto go. Shannon will get the better of the other hunters, leading to a final act showdown with Karnak. Only, D’Amato throws that out the window after about twenty minutes. Shannon dispatches the hunters quickly, showing Karnak mercy so he will be available later in the film.

Instead of the wasteland gladiatorial contest the film had been pointing to, the film becomes half Seven Samurai, and half Road Warrior.

Shannon is approached by the lovely Lilith (Laura Gemser), one of the aforementioned psychic mutants. She, and a Professor Levin (Dino Conti), want to hire Shannon to escort them out of the lands controlled by the murderous fascist regime to a place of safety. Shannon knows he can’t do the job alone, so he recruits the baddest badasses he can find. There are Bull (Gabriele Tinti), who runs a sort of school for wasteland badasses; Kovack (Mario Pedone), a biker of the Mad Max variety; Kijawa (Nello Pazzafini), whose main qualification seems to be an excellent scowl and an uncanny resemblance to Leonard Nimoy; and Ninja (Hal Yamanouchi), who is the unbeatable Kyuzo analogue from Seven Samurai. And, of course, Karnak puts his beef with Shannon aside long enough to make occasional appearances as needed. Together, these mercenaries and the peaceful mutants set out into the wastes, getting into various set piece conflicts leading to denouement.

The story is familiar, and the budget was small. What keeps this flick from falling into the lower reaches of the Watchability Index was D’Amato’s gusto. What, at first, looked like a movie that would take place entirely in a warehouse basement, instead sprawls to a number of gravel pits and abandoned buildings. There are gunfights and explosions galore. Bad guys die. Good guys die. Women are ravaged. And then, when D’Amato had painted himself into a corner at the end, viewers get a silly and spectacular deus ex machina to wrap it all up and tie on a bow.

It doesn’t matter that the hero lacks charisma. Nor does it matter that D’Amato stalwart George Eastman isn’t in enough scenes, nor that he isn’t that good in the ones in which he does appear. It doesn’t matter that the basic DNA of this film is taken from much better movies. What does matter is that this is another fine example of low-budget Italian post-apocalyptica. For well over twenty years the intrepid auteurs of the Apennine Peninsula fed viewers a steady diet of black leather, face paint, tricked out hoopties, post-industrial waste, recycled tropes, nonsensical plots, and unapologetic fun, and Missile Test loves them for it. This dog makes it into the top half of the Watchability Index, kicking The Shape of Things to Come out of the #121 spot.

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