Sunday 7 June 2015

Battletruck [1982]

BATTLETRUCK is a New Zealand post-apocalypse action movie that was directed and co-written by Harley Cokeliss and originally released in January 1982.  It was known in the US as WARLORDS OF THE 21ST CENTURY.  It stars Michael Beck, James Wainwright and Annie McEnroe.  In a post-apocalypse world where oil is scarce and common humanity even more so, surviving humans are dominated by a former soldier who roams the landscape in his enormous and heavily armed battletruck.

Let’s get the MAD MAX comparisons out of the way to start with as they are so apparent.  Practically all the elements of that series, and particularly the second film, made the year before, are present in BATTLETRUCK

Thinking about it afterwards, Hunter's bike doesn't actually do anything remarkable

Instead of a souped-up car our hero has a souped-up motorbike but otherwise it’s all familiar: he joins up with a peaceful community to help them against sadistic barbarians and buggers off into the sunset at the end.  Nothing wrong with recycling in itself: I mean, that basic plot is George Stevens’ SHANE [1953] in a nutshell.  It’s more a case of what you do with the recycled stuff.

"My work here is done."

Battletruck racks up the miles in New Zealand

Considering his relatively low budget ($1M NZ, according the inestimable imdb) Cokeliss created a good looking (if not terribly colourful), entertaining movie, in a manner reminiscent of the Italian recycling of US films like THE WARRIORS [1978] and ESCAPE FROM NEW YORK [1981], among many others.  The special effects are cheap and cheerful, there are plenty of excellent car chases, demolished buildings, mano a mano punch ups and even a ‘cue the music’ car building sequence.  What more could you possibly want?

Battletruck piles int,o or rather out of, another building

Michael Beck is a beefy, surly leading man whose style is well suited to a role such as this (and indeed the aforementioned THE WARRIORS): the lone avenger.  Mel Gibson’s Mad Max is a pretty boy but Michael Beck’s Hunter is nails.  No dog or feral sidekick for him; no sidekick of any sort in fact.  He lives in a purpose built shack / fortress powered by chicken shit (and I’m not even kidding) which he is fully prepared to blow to smithereens if pressed.  Which he is: when Straker (James Wainwright) rocks up in his Battletruck and sends his goons in, Hunter tools up and totals everything. Having said that, underneath that impassive exterior beats a heart of monosyllabic sentimentality and Hunter is not averse to birding it up when time permits.  Which is where Corlie (Annie McEnroe) comes in; only she belongs to Straker and he’s not going to surrender her without a fight.  Or several fights to be precise.

Battletruck trying (and failing) not to look like his brother from DUEL

If you think all this makes BATTLETRUCK sound like mindless fun then you’d be right: it is.  There are hissable villains and saintly heroes and they duke it in a literal cliff-hanger out until one man is left standing; no prizes for guessing who that is.  There really isn’t much more to say than that about the film except that the locations – and it all looks to be have been filmed on location – are beautiful.

Michael Beck as Hunter

Michael Beck’s time as a leading man in movies was short.  As he said himself: “THE WARRIORS opened a lot of doors in film for me, which XANADU [1980] then closed.”  It sounds a similar story to that of Ken Hutchison about whom I wrote in my review of THE WRATH OF GOD [1972] which you can read here.  XANADU was a disaster, although it does now have devoted fans who are drawn to its shonky campness.  It killed Beck’s mainstream movie career and pretty much did for Olivia Newton-John’s too.

Beck did get two or three more leading roles (of which BATTLETRUCK is one and the superfluous second sequel to torture porn western A MAN CALLED HORSE [1970] another).  He’s also in an action picture called MEGAFORCE [1982] which I’ve not seen but sounds perfect for Cinema Delirium.  After that I’m afraid it was TV all the way for Michael Beck including three separate cracks at my friend Neil’s beloved MURDER, SHE WROTE.  His imdb biography says he auditioned for the role of Lancelot in John Boorman’s barking EXCALIBUR [1981] but didn’t get it.  Considering it went to the beefy but bland Nicholas Clay one can only say that was a regrettable missed opportunity.  Beck is exactly the kind of actor admired by Cinema Delirium and if my planned interview section of this site ever gets off the ground I hope to speak to him about his career.

Annie McEnroe as Corlie

Annie McEnroe is a decent actress but if I’m totally honest she’s a little bland.  This was only her third feature film so it’s perhaps fair to cut her some slack.  In the early part of her career she was in some properly delirious stuff – SNOWBEAST [1978], Oliver Stone’s terrible horror film THE HAND [1981] and THE HOWLING II: STIRBA - WEREWOLF BITCH [1986] – but from that trajectory you can see the overall direction she was headed.

James Wainwright as the sadistic Colonel Straker

James Wainwright has fun as the chief baddie Straker.  Wainwright started in TV and ended in TV bar the delirious-sounding HELL RAIDERS [1988] apparently a cheapo Portuguese war movie which, bizarrely, also stars Guy Doleman, the urbane actor who plays Michael Caine’s handler Colonel Ross in the wonderful Harry Palmer trilogy.  Since I don’t watch a lot of TV there’s not much else I can say about James Wainwright other than that he makes a good bad guy (if you’ll pardon the expression) in BATTLETRUCK.

John Ratzenberger as the mechanic Rusty (gedditt?!)

Support comes from John ‘Cliff Klaven’ Ratzenberger and Bruno Lawrence as Straker’s insane attack dog Willie.  Lawrence is an interesting actor who up until his untimely death at 54 seems to have been in practically every film ever made in New Zealand.  The best of these, in my opinion, is Geoff Murphy’s terrific end of the world picture THE QUIET EARTH [1985] which has a unique atmosphere and a beautiful score by John Charles that accompanies an awesome final sequence.  I must get round to reviewing it sometime because it's a high quality but genuinely strange film.

Bruno Lawrence as Willie

Harley Cokeliss is another interesting guy who helmed a few genre movies in the 1980s before subsiding, if that’s the correct word, into work directing TV episodes.  He made the fondly-remembered short film GLITTERBALL [1977] for the Children’s Film Foundation in the UK and, after BATTLETRUCK, made three films in two years including the flawed but interesting British horror film DREAM DEMON [1988] which featured the once-in-a-lifetime casting of Kathleen Wilhoite and Jimmy Nail.

There are two names to mention on the technical side.  First is the cinematographer Chris Menges who later came to prominence on Roland Joffe’s films THE KILLING FIELDS [1985] and THE MISSION [1987] and never looked back.  Second, and buried deep in the credits as ‘boom operator’, is Lee Tamahori whose d├ębut feature as director – ONCE WERE WARRIORS [1994] – got him his Hollywood break and indeed a crack at a James Bond picture, the disappointing DIE ANOTHER DAY [2001].  I can heartily recommend his excellent adventure picture THE EDGE [1997] which stars Anthony Hopkins and a properly terrifying bear.


  1. Great write up here, i enjoyed reading and learned of some other films i will try and watch. Cheers from Christchurch.

  2. Not seen this film in many years but remember having great fun with it. Loved the battletruck itself (I actually stole the name for something in a novel of mine!) and the last fight aboard it between Straker and Hunter. Gonna have to watch this again soon. As a result of which my wife will probably be cursing your blog's name for reminding me. :)

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