Written by: Elisa Briganti, Dardano Sacchetti, José Truchado
Directed by: Giuliano Carnimeo
Starring: Robert Iannucci, Alicia Moro, and Luciano Pigozzi
Reviewed by: Brett Gallman
"Onward my merry mother-grabbers!"
Time has relegated the likes of Mad Max and Escape From New York to the cult canon, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that these films were immensely popular upon release. Both were star-making turns for their respective leading men, and each sold a lot of tickets. The latter fact especially didn’t go unnoticed by a host of European filmmakers eager to promptly cash-in, and, if you really want to chart the legacy of these films, look no further than their spawning an entire cottage industry of rip-offs. Mad Max especially inspired a number of directors to head off to a desert somewhere and draw up some ridiculous vehicular carnage on impossibly shoe-string budgets. Out of this low-rent wasteland rode Exterminators of the Year 3000, a fiery car crash burned onto celluloid by sheer force of insane will.
Set in the very distant future (unless the titular year is just meant to act as a gaudy hood ornament), the shadow of some vague ecological disaster looms large: water has become a precious commodity, and mankind lives in a smattering of outposts scattered across a desert land. One colony has dedicated itself to seeking out the resource, but its latest excursion met with apparent failure when its search party failed to return. Undeterred, the group dispatches another pair that unwittingly harbors Tommy (Luca Venantini), a 10-year-old tagalong hoping to find his father. Instead, he comes face-to-face with a pack of marauders that leaves him stranded in the wasteland until he stumbles upon Alien (Robert Iannucci), an outlaw driven purely by self-preservation.
The two form an unlikely team, and it’s a pairing that should be pretty insufferable. Though it’s an obvious riff on Max’s relationship with the feral child in The Road Warrior, it looks set to be at least ten times as irritating and cloying (it oddly anticipates Beyond Thunderdome in this respect). Somehow, it never reaches those levels because Exterminators of the Year 3000 is some magical shit. It’s one of those alchemic blends that spins the straw of absurd dubbing, a thin plot, broad performances, and cornball musical cues into bad-movie gold, all while running on fumes. To co-opt a phrase from Godard, all these films really need is a car and lots of fire, and Exterminators delivers this much and a little more.
In these sort of films, the vehicular mayhem functions much like the murder sequences in slasher movies: it’s essentially what you’ve paid to see, so a film clearing this low bar counts as some measure of success. Exterminators soars right over it and pops a wheelie before spinning dirt up into your face with a number of sequences that recall the simply joys of watching practical shit just mash together on screen. Cars tilt into the air and plow through buildings, caught lovingly by a slow-motion gaze that turns their exploits into visual poetry. Riders are flung from their vehicles by makeshift bombs. Anything that remains intact after these demolition derbies promptly explodes, the fiery crescendo to a glorious symphony of deranged stunt work and choreographed violence. As ever, it’s incredible that anyone would willingly put themselves in harm's way for something that reached a fraction of the audience that turned out for Mad Max. Someone even allowed themselves to be lit on fire, all in the service of a movie called Exterminators of the Year 3000.
You have to admire the commitment at any rate, even if this mindless mayhem feels like a kid smash some toys together in a sandbox. Admittedly, a sandbox might provide more robust locales than the arid backdrop here. Try as he might, director Giulliano Carnimeo struggles to outrun the obvious budget constraints involving anything that doesn’t result in twisted metal. His is a ludicrously miniscule post-apocalyptic wasteland that seemingly revolves around a handful of canyon passes and exploding miniatures. There’s some unintentional fun in this far-flung future still being populated by 1970s and 80s cars in working condition (not bad for some millennium-old clunkers), not to mention the other obviously contemporary flourishes (I think I spotted a Coke logo in there somewhere).
At least it’s filled with big personalities and zany moments. Alien—whose name doesn’t make a lick of sense, naturally—is a tone-deaf take-off of Max or Snake, only his selfishness is taken to the logical extreme. He’s a wildly irredeemable, woman-beating shithead who constantly tries to abandon both Tommy and his girlfriend Trash (Alicia Moro) and cash in on the precious water himself. Iannucci is more scuzzy than suave and seems like he’d be more at home at a shady aerobics joint. The antithesis of an actual badass, he’s undermined by just about everyone surrounding him, such as Tommy and an elderly acquaintance who used to be an astronaut. Now, he just tends to a waystation (read: a barely-dressed gas station) as a mechanic who spins yarns about the good old days when it used to rain. Heartwarming stuff, really.
Less heartwarming are the meat-headed grease balls constantly tailing the group. Like a community theater troupe’s take on the Lord Humungous’s group, they vaguely recall their more famous counterparts, right down to the leader’s (a guy named Crazy Bull, played by Fernando Bilbao) pompous, grandiose line delivery. His tendency to spit out ridiculous dialogue (the frequently heard “mother grabber” apparently is a term of endearment and an insult) obviously does him few favors, though. His female companion, who wields a spiked glove, is actually much more threatening and cool. They’re a colorful but ruthless crew whose preferred method of execution involves binding their enemies between two motorcycles headed in opposite directions. When Crazy Bull sentences Tommy to this fate, it’s a jaw-dropping moment that only becomes more outrageous when the gang actually succeeds—sort of.
Somehow, Exterminators of the Year 3000 gets even wilder than that, as the fallout surrounding that scene carries the film to an almost sublime plane of Z-movie glory. Since the film is light on any other major plot developments, I wouldn’t dare spoil this one—just know that it leads to an outlandish climax that will make you believe rocks can be wielded like ninja stars. Discovering the joy in this and other moments is now easier thanks to Scream Factory’s Blu-ray release, which provides a remarkable upgrade over Code Red’s full-frame DVD transfer sourced from a tape master. The disc also ports over the extras from that release: a commentary with Iannucci (moderated by Bill Olsen), an additional 17-minute interview with the star, a theatrical trailer, and two TV spots. Nostalgia hounds will also be pleased to find the artwork that once adorned the old Thorn/EMI VHS tape.
Originally slated to arrive alongside the incredible Cruel Jaws (which was tragically scuttled due to rights issues) as part of a double feature, Eliminators of the Year 3000 still feels like a miracle Blu-ray release. It’s arguably Scream’s deepest, most obscure cut yet, and, in a perfect world, the impending release (and hopeful success) of Mad Max: Fury Road will prompt more trips back to these Italian wastelands. Buy it!
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