Friday, November 18, 2016

Wheels Of Fire

One of approximately 1.5 zillion post-apocalyptic action movies shot in a gravel pit outside Manila by Filipino director Cirio H. Santiago (STRYKER), WHEELS OF FIRE is not dull, not sophisticated, and definitely not unfun. In fact, it’s practically wall-to-wall chases, fights, car crashes, explosions, and shootouts with some occasional nudity. You can’t say Santiago and Roger Corman, who released this film through his Concorde Pictures label, didn’t give drive-in audiences what they wanted. If the score credited to Christopher Young (SPIDER-MAN 3) sounds familiar, you probably heard it in other Corman movies, including BARBARIAN QUEEN and WARRIORS OF THE LOST KINGDOM.

Gary Watkins, an actor with few credits on his resume (JOHNNY DANGEROUSLY being one of them), was almost certainly cast because of his resemblance to Mel Gibson. Dressed like Mad Max and driving a souped-up hot rod across the desert, Watkins’ Trace is forced to get personal with a bunch of bad guys in the employ of Scourge (Joe Mari Avellana), who kidnap his sister Arlie (PLAYBOY centerfold Lynda Wiesmeier), rip off her top, strap her to the hood of a car, and take her back to their hideout to be raped. Trace, understandably pissed, teams up with a psychic (Linda Grovenor, a helluva long way from DIE LAUGHING), a mercenary (Laura Banks), and a mute midget to waste as many underpaid and undertrained Filipino stuntmen and extras as possible in 81 minutes. And I haven’t even mentioned the tribe of underground albino mutants.

Going into a battle strapped with a flamethrower secured away in your muscle car is a good idea in general, but certainly when facing off against a guy named Scourge. Who knew Scourge would grow up to be one! Outside of Santiago regulars Avellana, Joseph Zucchero, and Henry Strzalkowski, none of the actors did much of note in front of the camera. Banks had a visible but silent role in STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN, Wiesmeier did some pin-up roles (like June Khnockers in MALIBU EXPRESS), and Grovenor said screw this and got the hell out of Hollywood. Frederick Bailey, who wrote and acted in a lot of Corman movies, penned the screenplay, which couldn’t have been more than 30 pages. The film also played theatrically as DESERT WARRIOR — not to be confused with another futuristic Filipino movie of the same title starring Lou Ferrigno.

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