One, two or three? Aww, who the hell cares? Matty casts his eye over another post-apocalyptic actioner.
OK, let’s recap:
Produced by Lloyd Simandl and John A. Curtis’ Vancouver-based North American Pictures, and directed by Simandl and Michael Mazo, raucous post-apocalyptic actioner Empire of Ash (1988) did decent enough business on video to warrant North American re-releasing it a year later. The catch? Simandl and Curtis elected to slap it back out as ‘Empire of Ash II’, rebranding it a sequel despite the fact it was the exact same film. To further muddy the waters, Empire of Ash/’Empire of Ash II’ hit US VHS via fellow B-movie maven David A. Prior’s Action International Pictures, who rechristened it ‘Maniac Warriors’. One film, three titles. So when Simandl and Curtis opted to assemble a genuine sequel alongside British maverick John Eyres following their pair-up on sluggish crime thriller Slow Burn (1989), they were left with no choice but to call their actual part two EMPIRE OF ASH III while Prior, who, again, snagged the film’s US tape rights, chose to keep it in line with his retitling and settled on ‘Last of the Warriors’. Got it? Good. Because it’s about to get a whole lot more confusing…
In addition to Empire of Ash III, depending on how you watch it and what part of the world you’re from, this, erm, raucous post-apocalyptic actioner is also known as ‘Empire of Ash 2’ and — you guessed it — ‘Empire of Ash’. ‘Empire of Ash 2’ is presently the version of Empire of Ash III available to rent on Prime, and ‘Empire of Ash’ is III’s Japanese title (they got the original as ‘Metal Stream’) and the name slathered across Empire of Ash III’s UK DVD sleeve. Of course, that last point is probably a result of carelessness: distributor 23rd Century — those wonderfully dubious bastards whose cut-price bootleg discs once littered Poundlands and The Works’ the country over — used the first film’s artwork but pressed the ‘third’ flick, the silly buggers.
But, you know, it’s not as if any of it matters in the grand scheme of things. Though touted as a sequel, really, Empire of Ash III is a total standalone. Sure, there’s connective tissue and fan service: there’s all the ‘New Idaho’ babble; Melanie Kilgour returns as the arse-kicking Danielle; and, in the most crowd-pleasing moment, the inimitable Rocket Man (David Gregg) gets a welcome reprise when he breaks free of his shackles and dons his iconic rocket-launching hat in the film’s spirited final act. The sexy and nasty Baalca is back as well, albeit with the role recast. But that ain’t a bad thing. If the blonde Michele Chiponski was scary and sizzling as the wicked, leather-clad siren, the raven-haired Nancy Pataki is a mesmeric roaring inferno, particularly in the obligatory scene of T&A as the pirate queen’s harem of slave girls give her a cheeky rubdown.
Built from a story that, per the credits, was conceived by Simandl and “developed” by Eyres, this time, the plot sees Danielle squaring up to William Smith’s growling zealot, Lucas: an evil sum’bitch hell-bent on finding an heir worthy of continuing his decrepit father, The Grand Shepherd’s, bloodline. The game Smith keeps a remarkably straight face as he spits some truly brain-farting exposition; The Grand Shepherd (Andy Graffitti, under joyously unconvincing OAP makeup) looks like a cross between the Grandpa from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre (1974) and Lady Colin Campbell; and the rest of Empire of Ash III’s stockpile of future-schlock madness includes: armour-plated vehicles; explosions; a shitload of gunfire; a throng of cannibals seemingly costumed by Smiffys; and a smirk-inducing soundtrack cut that segues from Ride of the Valkyries into a decent cover of Born to be Wild by Tom Lavin & The Gore Avenue Music Project.
In short, Empire of Ash III is great fun. Competently lensed and snappily edited, returning helmers Mazo and Simandl keep the energy high, and ardent scholars of Eyres will rejoice in several visual, tonal, and thematic rhythms that suggest he had stronger aesthetic and structural input than merely “developing” the story and serving as a “dialogue director”. For me, it’s the film’s moody opening salvo and the shots of moving feet that are the giveaway, so indebted are they to the style and feel of almost everything else on Eyres’ directorial CV.
Canada ● 1989 ● Action, Sci-Fi ● 98mins
Melanie Kilgour, William Smith, Nancy Pataki, Ken Farmer ● Dir. Michael Mazo & Lloyd A. Simandl, dialogue director John Eyres ● Wri. Chris Maruna, from a story by Lloyd A. Simandl, developed by John Eyres