ENDGAME (1983) – More Weirdness at the End of the World with yet another Italian imitation of The Road Warrior. These Spaghetti-pocalypse movies were to the 80s what Spaghetti Westerns were to the 60s and 70s.
Directed by the legendary Joe D’Amato under one of his rolodex-full of aliases, Endgame is one of the most watchable of these cheapjack end of the world exercises. It’s not good, mind you, just watchable.
D’Amato wasn’t the only one operating under an assumed name in this movie. Laura Gemser, cult sexploitation starlet, stars under the name Moira Chen. She portrays Lilith, a telepathic mutant leader. In Endgame‘s 2025 setting, World War Three has come and gone and mutants are feared and persecuted because of their paranormal powers.
Though there are scattered portions of Post-Apocalypse America where mutants are accepted and other scattered portions where mutants rule, in the big cities mutants are hunted down and killed on sight.
Lilith works like a figurative Mutant Called Moses (with apologies to Harriet Tubman) and has been heroically smuggling mutants out of the cities, Underground Railroad style.
Her cover was blown recently and she needs to get herself and one last gathering of mutant fugitives out of New York City, to the west and safety. Among those mutants is Tommy, a little boy with so much power that Lilith has been telepathically suppressing it. Unchecked, Tommy could level whole neighborhoods.
The film’s male lead is Ron Shannon, played by Al Cliver aka Pierluigi Conti, fresh off my favorite BAD Post-Apocalypse movie, 2020 Texas Gladiators in 1982. Ron Shannon is your regulation world-weary, burned-out warrior, highly skilled at armed and unarmed combat.
Shannon is the reigning champion of Endgame, the televised “gladiator contests meet The Most Dangerous Game” version of a game show which keeps the masses acquiescent, bread and circuses style. Ron’s greatest rival in the Endgame circuit is Kurt Karnak (insert your own Johnny Carson joke here.) The two are usually point leaders like in NASCAR but have only gone head-to-head once. That battle ended in a draw when time ran out before either man could kill the other.
After Shannon has won another night-long Endgame and taken out all of his opponents, he is enjoying his usual post-show indulgence of groupies, drugs and booze. Lilith approaches and convinces him to get her and her fellow mutants to Harrisburg, PA (now a wasteland) where pro-mutant agents will meet them and airlift the paranormals to a new life in the west.
Lilith’s clinching argument is – no not her body, like you might expect from the star of Black Emmanuelle – but gold. Enough gold that Shannon can escape to wherever he wants and will never have to return to a life on the kill-or-be-killed Endgame.
Ron Shannon agrees and he covertly gathers a gang of former Endgame stars and criminal mercenaries to get himself and his new charges out of New York City’s military dictatorship and to Harrisburg. A cheapjack version of the high-tech trucks from Damnation Alley and Warlords of the 21st Century will be their main getaway vehicle. (And I mean CHEAP. As in an RV with a turret-gun on top and cow-catchers on the front fender.)
Shannon, Lilith and their associates fight their way out of New York City and are Harrisburg-bound in their makeshift wagon train of motorcycles, jeeps and the Super-RV. Colonel Morgan, one of the officers of the military dictatorship, leads an army in pursuit, mostly to slaughter the mutants but also to capture or kill Shannon for absconding. Our hero’s rival Karnak sets out in solo pursuit, determined to finally see who is the better warrior: himself or Shannon.
From there it’s a peril-filled trip across what’s left of New Jersey and Pennsylvania on the way to the desert once called Harrisburg. In addition to the usual Post-Apocalyptic menaces Shannon and the others also clash with amphibious mutants and ape-like mutants who are hostile to humans and to all normal looking mutants like the kind Shannon and Lilith are smuggling.
Just like they did in many Spaghetti Westerns, the Italians loved slipping strange pseudo-religious elements into their Post Apocalypse films. In Endgame that takes the form of a bombed-out town inhabited by nothing but black-clad priests and priestesses who worship a bound and captive mutant.
The clergy members voluntarily blind themselves as an act of faith and from then on they “see” telepathically through the power of their captive mutant. It makes too little sense but the battle where the priesthood is winning against our hero and his mercenaries thanks to their “superior vision” is cool visually. Just don’t ask yourself why the captive mutant doesn’t betray his captors.
Shannon is ruthless enough to just locate and kill the mutant rather than freeing him like Lilith wants. With that mutant dead the priesthood is blind and gets routed by our heroes.
Karnak shows up periodically along the way to cause further complications and is left for dead at one point. Shannon and Lilith are obviously falling for each other in one of the few, maybe the ONLY, half-convincing romances of Spaghetti-pocalypse flicks.
SPOILERS: Lilith is gratuitously assaulted while briefly held captive by the fish-men mutants before Shannon can free her. Colonel Morgan and his army catch up with our heroes in the sandy dunes of Harrisburg and war breaks out.
Hopelessly outnumbered, the good guys are getting their butts kicked and Morgan is preparing to kill all the mutants when Lilith allows Tommy to unleash his full powers. He wipes out the soldiers and telepathically forces Colonel Morgan to shoot himself in the head.
Belatedly, the airlift for the mutants arrives, bringing Shannon his payment in gold and ushering the mutants off to a new life. Lilith wants our hero to come with her and them but he refuses, feeling too dead inside to truly love anyone after his life of non-stop killing.
With the airlift complete, Shannon prepares to load his gold onto one of his surviving vehicles and head off for parts unknown. Karnak shows up, still alive after all, wanting to face Shannon to settle their clash of machismo once and for all.
Foolishly, the filmmakers let things end in a freeze-frame as the two warriors charge at each other. I guess this was done either as sequel-bait or to avoid pissing off either Al Cliver or George Eastman (Karnak), both of them big Italian stars at the time, by having either one lose.
Endgame should not be lumped in with the many cookie-cutter, dime a dozen Post Apocalypse movies of the 1980s. There is actual world-building in this movie, which could easily have spawned a series if not for the “end of the world film” overload at the time. The leads are effective enough for an action film and Endgame very nicely fuses elements of The Road Warrior, Damnation Alley, Escape From New York, Rollerball and Planet of the Apes.
This flick is worth multiple viewings, unlike most Spaghetti-pocalypse movies, which are a trial to get through once. +++
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