The world has been quite destroyed by germ warfare that killed all men and only left a small number of women alive, which is the sort of thing that really does make a further propagation of the human race rather improbable.
Somehow, though, thanks to the machinations of an ancient evil youth-sucking woman only known as the Revered Mother (Sheila Howard) or the Reverend Mother, depending on your ears, the post-apocalyptic world is populated with quite a few shapely young women. Alas, the germ warfare seems also to have destroyed most of the world’s clothing reserves as well as the knowledge of the ancient art of sewing and mending, so the poor women have to make do with the shoulder pads, strategically placed strips of cloth, rags that never seem to be quite big enough and bikinis left. On a more positive note, there are large amounts of make-up, hairspray, dune buggies, automatic weapons and ammunition available, so there’s nothing standing in the way of a good post-apocalyptic lifestyle, even under the iron claw of the Revered Mother.
Mother and her main henchwoman Cobalt (a Persis Khambatta so fully clothed, we an assume she’s the one hogging all the clothing reserves in this brave new world) for their parts have to cope with a small bump in the plans of breeding male babies (not to be able to repopulate the world easier, mind you, but so Mother can suck out their life force). Keela (Peggy McIntaggart), a woman carrying the first male embryo in ages, has fled from Mother’s arms on account of the woman’s evilness, and catching her is more difficult than expected since she quickly meets and befriends wasteland warrior woman Phoenix (Kathleen Kinmont). And Phoenix is basically a more personable female version of Conan, just with less…no, wait, actually more clothing on than Conan prefers.
Ah, Action International Pictures, the gift that keeps on giving. Robert Hayes’s post-apocalyptic romp wasn’t made in Alabama, nor by the company’s core team, though, so I assume it was produced independently of the company and locally, and bought up after the fact or something in that manner.
Be that as it may, Phoenix the Warrior is quite good fun – if you like your silly post-apocalyptic cheese fests as much as I do, at least. Despite including many an inappropriately dressed woman, and featuring a bit of nude, ecstatic waterfall frolicking (which is what waterfalls are for anyway, surely), the film’s not at all as exploitative as you’d expect, at least if you can cope with its dress code. The rest of it plays out just like any cheap, trashy post-apocalyptic piece of wonderful nonsense, with lots of awkward hand-to-hand fighting, dune buggy buggying, and some minor explosions, treating its heroines just as a male-cast adventure movie of its type would, so the awkward hand-to-hand-fights never become cat fights, the female baddies are just as evil as male ones, and Phoenix is just the usual competent badass without the film suggesting that men would be better suited to her role.
In quite an uncommon turn of events for post-apocalyptic films with this kind of gender imbalance, Phoenix doesn’t even fall for the full-grown man (James Emery) – brilliantly named Guy – the script basically pulls out of its arse, and Guy certainly isn’t her superior in anything except perhaps early onset hair loss and porn moustache growth. That’s rather refreshing and pleasant from a film whose claim to existence and main selling point at the time was probably “bikini women with guns!”.
Consequently, the film is rather good fun for most of its running time, with nary a moment where nothing enjoyable or of interest is going on: there are the awkward fights I already mentioned, acting that’s just as awkward more often than not, a pointless five year jump forward in time (that doesn’t see anyone aging in any way or form, of course), the traditional arena fighting bit, a handful of very bad yet still funny jokes, and many a shot of deserts and junk yards. It’s all very impoverished from a budgetary stand point, of course, but I find something joyful in a film that just pretends a handful of shacks in the desert is the central base of an evil science witch planning on world domination by boy-soul sucking. Particularly when it’s a film as clearly not ashamed of what it is and what it does as Phoenix the Warrior.
From time to time, the film even stumbles into the realm of most refined cult movie delight, like in the basically throw-away moment that shows Mother keeping her boy child prisoner in what looks decidedly like a parrot cage to me, or the utterly lame yet inspired way our heroines beat her in the end. I’d also be remiss in my duties if I didn’t mention the scene concerning a group of robed mutant cultists who are convinced that just the right amount of human sacrifices made while chanting the names of old TV shows will get those heavenly television broadcasts starting again. Their sacrificial poles have TV antennas dangling on top.
Even better, if you can imagine that, is the performance of Persis Khambatta (looking a bit like Rekha in her 90s action movie phase here), full of deranged eye-goggling, melodramatic shouting, and absolutely peculiar line readings, as if she wanted to show the rest of the cast how to really act IN ALL CAPS.
This, ladies and gentlemen, is how it’s done.
Denis Klotz contributes a regular bi-weekly film column for ExB, and can otherwise be found kicking around on his prolific cult media blog The Horror!?