Original Title:

Empire of Ash






Alternative Title(s):

Empire of Ash II (really!)
Maniac Warriors - US alternative VHS release

Year of Release:

1988

Duration:

86 Minutes

Country of Origin:

Canada

Tagline(s):

'They turned America into a wasteland'
UK VHS and Region 0 DVD

'To survive in the warzone you need an army'
'The magic of the Road Warrior is back'

UK VHS

'The war is over... But the fight has just begun!'
US Maniac Warriors VHS
 

Reviewed Version Rating:

UK PAL VHS 18

Review:

      By Michael Petch
12th Feb 07



























I picked up Empire of Ash just over a week ago in a charity shop in London. I was immediately interested as it was one of those rarest of beasts, a post-apocalyptic wasteland movie that I had never heard of. A tagline of 'The magic of the Road Warrior is back' and a Italian style over-the-top box immediately shot it to the top of my 'to watch' pile, a pile that is tall enough to wobble every time someone walks past. Unfortunately, in this instance the film was not all I had hoped for. Sure it's a guaranteed wasteland adventure, but there's something seriously not right about this film and I expect that after watching it you will be left with more questions than answers.

The film does have a few things going for it, however, so I should mention them before we get down to the dirty job of dismembering the plot. Despite the lack of budget it doesn't look too cheap. Sure the sets are mostly abandoned buildings in the middle of nowhere, but the vehicles and costumes seem pretty good. On top of that, there are plenty of actors to fill the screen. Now, I use the word actor in the loosest sense of the word, as nobody here stands out as a master of the art, but everybody seems to believe in what they are doing, even if we don't. Also there's quite a lot of action, nothing hugely impressive but I guess it's the main selling point of the movie. Finally, there are a few inventive camera shots and edits. Most are rushed and plain, but every now and then a shot pops up that seems to belong in another, more energetic, movie.

On with the plot then. Welcome to New Idaho, ruled by a militaristic and religious bunch of barbarians. We start off following a group of these barbarians, led by a crazy preacher. Through a voice-over the preacher informs us that sanctuary from the madness of Idahois available to the north, yet the law is that anybody trying to leave is to be killed. What actually happens is, if they see you, you're killed, regardless of if you're hiking to the north or simply going about your merry business. Therefore, it's pretty obvious that everybody wants to move north. The Barbarians travel down a newly-laid road shooting down anybody they notice in the trees and listening to their propaganda radio. At the same time there's another gang to be feared. Unlike the leather-clad, steely black truck-driving gang, these are more like scavengers, all dressed in mucky white ponchos and DIY breathing masks. Cannon fodder for both the Barbarians and the good guys. 


After the Preacher has introduced us to the law of the land, we find ourselves following a young woman and her Granddad who are resting by a stream. The scavengers are sneaking up to attack but the Barbarians turn up and a fight breaks out. The scavengers are no match for the Barbarians so the fight is soon over and the Barbarians are celebrating by lighting their cigarettes on a flaming severed leg (honestly). Granddad is killed, and the woman is taken captive, yet not for the usual PA reasons (i.e. rape and slave labour). They test her blood and find that she doesn't have any antibodies. Strangely, this is a good thing. As the film goes on, if you concentrate enough, you might get to work out the reason for all this barbarianism. I think, although this isn't 100%, that there was some kind of virus or plague, and as there were only a few survivors, the scum and the preacher managed to take over. The blood of the 'still pure' is valuable, for a reason we will go into later, if we really must. 


Surely there is an easier way to light a cigarette?


Gramps liked a drink or two.

Anyhow, thus starts a running theme in the movie. People capturing each other. Next on the list is the young woman’s sister. She had been off for a walk or maybe a call of nature, but when she returns, she finds gramps dead and sister gone. Off to the woods she heads and to her hidden stash of weapons. Soon enough though, up sneaks the hero of the movie and takes her captive. Note that I am not using names (again) as they are never really apparent. I tried matching characters with credits but had no luck.

The Hero takes her for a drive in his jeep, but they are soon attacked by the poncho-wearing scavengers, who are easily defeated by The Hero, despite his slouchy attitude. Surviving such a close brush with death soon makes the two good friends. That night the woman heads off for a topless shower by a tiny natural waterfall, although the steam indicates that it's probably not as natural as the filmmakers would like us to believe. While she's off in the woods again, the Scavengers turn up and kidnap The Hero. It really isn't her day. Meanwhile the Barbarians are driving around in their big truck shooting people. There seems to be a couple of groups of Barbarians. One is lead by the Preacher and another lead by a big-haired woman scantily clad in leather. They continue to listen to their 'praise the lord' radio station and capture people without antibodies.



The Hero is dragged unconscious through a desolate factory where the sound of a screaming woman is repeatedly played in the background. It appears that the Scavengers are taking all the blood from the captives and putting it into their people to keep them alive, explaining why the woman’s sister was needed. The location they choose to do this in is the muckiest, dankest room ever, and the suposed nurses all wear the most blood-stained grubby white overcoats I have ever seen. Luckily, the woman had followed them and she helps The Hero escape, killing most of the Scavengers with her stashed guns. One shot shows a Scavenger dropping a bag of blood onto the mucky brown dusty floor and then try and scoop some of it back into the bag. Priceless. 


Nice hospital.



While this is happening the Barbarians are busy killing a group of people living in a junkyard who get attacked mere seconds after they decide to move north.

Cut to the sex scene. Obviously The Hero is happy to have been saved, but he must not have got his energy back because this is the most robotic, bland scene ever. 

Meanwhile, the Barbarians have driven up to a car crash where all the passengers are dead apart from one tiny girl, who seems to be holding the scalp of one of her parents. The Barbarians stand around for a while, then one kills the child. The filmmakers obviously wanted this to be significant in some way but it was pretty pointless and over-the-top.

Now we meet two new characters. Both are ex-army survivalist types in their 50's, lazing around playing croquet and darts. A different group of the Barbarians turn up, but the survivalists have the whole area set up with mines and weapons. Bizarrely, they have a talking computer that plays video games, although I think it was intended to represent a computer-generated view of their land. They soon blow up the Barbarians and decide to celebrate by getting drunk. That night, another group of Barbarians turns up and catches them with no problems. That’s another capturing for the list. Who sent them in is unknown.


Name that game.

Back at the Barbarians base (a shed) the big-haired woman is complaining about politics or something, but the guy she's talking to certainly isn’t listening as all she's wearing is some leather straps and knickers (like on the box cover). Soon he leaves and she decides to dance to the moon. Yep, that’s right, she has a little dance so we can see as much as possible, just like in real life.... Back at the survivalists' camp, the two guys escape via the most ridiculous method, that involves getting the guard drugged. At this point a few things just start getting mad. The Preacher is busy baptizing women with buckets of water and The Hero captures the survivalists. It soon turns out that the hero is the son of the survivalists' best friend from the war (yeah, right) and they all team up.  At the same time the Barbarians are trying out their new weapon, a hat with a missile on it. Oh yes.


Why on Earth does she dance for the moon?


The final showdown is finally here. The Hero pretends to have captured the main woman and bluffs his way into the Barbarians base. They find the womans sister and try to escape. The Hero blows a hole in the Preacher's chest (the first time I cheered in the movie) and they drive off. They are soon pinned down by all the Barbarians, but just before it's too late, the two survivalists turn up in their big truck to the sound of Steppenwolf, and start firing rockets at the Barbarians. Soon all the Barbarians are dead, although we will never know what happened to the big-haired woman. Maybe she’s in the sequel (that’s right, a sequel). The group celebrates and starts to drive off, very slowly. Slowly enough for a surviving Barbarian to aim at the truck with his missile hat! Bizarrely the missile malfunctions and he just walks off dejected. Mad. Thats how the movie ends!


It apears Steppenwolf survived the apocalypse.


What on earth was the hat all about?

Final Thoughts:

Normally I would be able to shrug off most of the bad points and at least suggest it would be a good watch with a group of like-minded friends and a few beers. The problem here is that, although there's plenty to laugh at and discuss, there are also lots of scenes and shots that just make little sense or more often than not are just pointless. I'm sure the writers thought they had lots of good ideas on paper, but they just didn't materialise in the film. In the world of wasteland movies it pays to play things simple. On the plus side there are a number of memorable little bits (lighting cigarettes with a burning leg for instance), some intended, some certainly not so (dancing to the moon?) and I suppose it's worth a laugh or two.

Alternative Versions:

None known, unless you count the re-release as Empire of Ash II.

 Cast and Crew Facts etc:

 
 Much of the crew went on to work on Empire of Ash III. Not much else of note.

 Quotes:

 
  Nothing worth mentioning. There's very little (audible) dialogue.

Connections With Other PA's:

Other than Empire of Ash III, I can't find anything.


Critic's reactions:

Nobody noticed this one slip out.

Regular Movie Goers Scores:

Some of the stunts are ok, but the acting is dire and dialog is constantly hard to understand (poor recording), when there is some. Most people would probably not switch it off quite quickly.

For the PA Collector:

Although there's no talk of nukes, and the wasteland is green and fertile, the action is all PA. Also, the box cover is cool. One for the collection indeed.

Purchase Point:

You're gonna have to check eBay for this one. Basic DVD's are available from publishers 23rd Century, who supply Poundland, so you may get lucky on the high street (although I am yet to see any).


Links / External Reviews:

This is the only review I can find:

http://www.mrsatanism.com/movies/maniacwarriors.htm

"By the end just about all of the biker/groupie gang is dead, but for some reason they never show us what happens to the lead groupie dame, which is weird because she was one of the main bad guys.  My guess is that her hair deflected all the bullets during the final shootout and she managed to escape."

Countries Released:

USA, Europe, Hong Kong, probably many more.

DVD Release Info:

A basic region 0 DVD has been released by 23rd Century, which is currently only available on eBay. It has also been released as Empire of Ash 2 on DVD, both in Europe and Hong Kong (the only place where Empire of Ash III is currently available).

Actual Budget/Guessed Budget:

I'm thinking something like $50,000, mostly for weapons, actors and equipment.

Our Score:

 3 out of 10

Media:

 

Box Cover(s):

Pal VHS (Click to enlarge)


Pal Australian VHS (Click to enlarge)


Region 0 DVD


German VHS cover


Europe DVD, marked as number 2 but with the same art as above


Hong Kong DVD Marked as number 2


Unknown


Alternative title - Canada/US?


German triple pack, Alongside Gangland (Ice-T) and Black Sea Raid.


Hong Kong release of the sequel (not this film)


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Trailer(s):
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Comments: Read comments on the movie here - Empire of Ash