Phoenix the Warrior: She Wolves of the Wasteland (1988)

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!?

Andrew Hughes: A life in (Japanese) Pictures

Andrew Hughes as Dr. Howard in Toei’s Terror Beneath the Sea (director Hajime SATÔ, 1966)

With the exception of the late Robert Dunham, to whom major roles in Toho’s Space Monster Dogora and Godzilla vs. Megalon assured significant recognition among genre fans, one of the most familiar – or at the very least persistent – Western faces in Japanese cinema of the 60s and 70s may be that of Andrew Hughes. Born in 1908 in the Republic of Turkey, precious little is publicly known of the rest of Hughes’ life beyond his numerous film appearances. Much of the biographical information related (regurgitated?) here was gleaned from the actor’s page on the Japanese wikipedia, which offers no sources (naturally). As such, what scant details are offered should be taken with a grain of salt, and I encourage anyone with any information which corroborates or contradicts that presented here to either comment below or email me privately.

A career businessman in Turkey with some small-time acting experience as an extra, it was Hughes’ fortuitous business ties to Japan that led to his numerous appearances in film there. To the best of my knowledge his earliest Japanese film appearance was in Shintoho’s 1959 effort The Greater East Asia War and International Trial (大東亜戦争と国際裁判, dir. Kiyoshi KOMORI), which dramatized the post-war International Military Tribunal for the Far East and featured Hughes in a minor role as General MacArthur. The following year Hughes would begin his lengthy relationship with Toei Company with a half minute one-shot turn as an American military spokesman in Shigeaki HIDAKA’s World War III: 41 Hours of Terror (第三次世界大戦 四十一時間の恐怖). The part is subtitled, unlike many of his roles to come, and remains one of the few performances in which Hughes can be heard speaking in his native (and heavily Brit-accented) English.

Hughes makes a plea for rationality as nuclear war looms in Toei’s World War III: 41 Hours of Terror

Hughes’s association with Toei would lead to his most substantial, if not his most prominent, roles, both under the auspices of pop cinema auteur SATÔ Hajime. The best known among them, by virtue of the film’s significant worldwide distribution, is his turn as the kidnapped Dr. Howard in the wonderfully outrageous 1966 Japanese / American co-production Terror Beneath the Sea (海底大戦争), in which he starred alongside the great Sonny Chiba and fellow Western import Peggy Neal.

Having made a narrow escape from the clutches of Terror‘s mad-science mastermind and the rebellion of his half-fish humanoid slaves, Hughes went on to co-star with Chiba again in Satô’s The Golden Bat (黄金バット), a downright amazing low-budget high-impact superhero outing released later the same year. Therein he suffers through yet another kidnapping as Dr. Pearl, leader of a super-secret super-science operation tasked with defending the Earth from the evil scheming of a maniacal rat-man from space. Hughes is as competent as always as Dr. Pearl, obviously enjoying every outlandish turn the plot takes, but the part reaches stratospheric heights of awesomeness courtesy of an ultra-masculine Japanese overdub that must be heard to be believed.

Good Hughes, Bad Hughes – but which is which!? It’s mad science run amok in Toei’s The Golden Bat

Toei wasn’t the only studio with which Hughes fostered a lasting relationship. Toho Studios, for whom he first worked in 1959 (appearing in Kihachi OKAMOTO’s Boss of the Underworld暗黒街の顔役), would supply the vast majority of the actor’s credits as well as many of his most-seen roles. Bit parts in the likes of King Kong Escapes and Destroy All Monsters would serve as his introduction to plenty of golden-age tokusatsu fans, but it’s his downright nasty turn as the Australian prime minister in the massive disaster film Submersion of Japan (日本沈没, dir. Shiro MORITANI) that I find most memorable among his roles for the company.

According to the actor’s Japanese wikipedia page (corroboration, anyone?), he offered a more practical service to Toho as well – that of interpreter between Japanese production staff and the Western extras with which they often worked. The page notes Shûe MATSUBAYASHI’ big budget anti-nuke effects drama The Last War (世界大戦争, 1961) in particular, for which Hughes is said to have served as go-between during the substantial English-language scenes. If this is true, one wonders if Hughes might not have provided similar assistance for other productions that involved large numbers of Western actors. If so Toei’s Terror Beneath the Sea seems as likely candidate as any. Chiba and a few supporting players aside, the majority of Terror‘s cast is comprised of Western actors.

Hughes contemplates removing Japan from the map in Toho’s Submersion of Japan.

When, where, or how Hughes died appears to have gone unpublished, and the latest mention that I can find for him is for uncredited work on1 a small role as a disgruntled senator in Koji HASHIMOTO’s Sayonara Jupiter from 1984 (a film I’ve honestly never been able to finish). Hughes would have been in his mid-70s at the time. With nothing more to go on the story of Hughes’ career is thus left with the most unsatisfying of conclusions – none at all. This year marks the 105th year since his birth, and if you’ve yet to see any of his films this is as good a time as any to start.

As an aside, the minor uncredited role of the assassinated ambassador in Goke: Body Snatcher from Hell (吸血鬼 ゴケミドロ, from Shochiku in 1968) is credited to Hughes on the IMDB, but this is erroneous. The part is actually played by Harold Conway. Conway is another familiar Western face in Japanese productions, arguably better-known than Hughes, and famed in these parts for his dreadful line readings in Toho’s The Mysterians. “Give them the RAY!”

1 Thanks to Brett Homenick (blog here) for setting me straight (via Facebook) on Hughes’ involvement in Sayonara Jupiter. Picture below.

Hughes voices his concerns about the President’s planet-exploding policies in Sayonara Jupiter.
And just for fun, a few more shots from Hughes’ career. I’ll add to this if / when time allows:
I’ve not seen the film myself, but no matter – Hughes actually makes it into the trailer (with credit!) for Toho’s 1959 war film Submarine I-57 Will Not Surrender.
A glimpse of Hughes from Toho’s 1959 sci-fi Battle in Outer Space, where he impresses by putting genuine effort into a fleeting bit part as third-row conference room filler.
Hughes shortly before his single line in 1967’s King Kong Escapes – “Will you be accompanied by the same crew?” That’s none other than Kathy Horan padding the crowd behind him.
Dr. Stevenson, I presume? Hughes in Toho’s 1968 throw-down Destroy All Monsters.

A Song Before Annihilation: Prelude to The Space Children (Nathan Van Cleave)

There’s plenty wrong with Jack Arnold’s criminally underfunded The Space Children, released by Paramount in 1958, but Nathan Van Cleave’s score is certainly not one of them. Working largely with synths and organs with punctuation drawn in light percussion and brass, Cleave’s work develops an almost hymnal quality when its not busy hitting its deliciously moody sci-fi beats.  At a time when most of the majors were letting their stock libraries do the talking for their B-pictures Van Cleave flourishes, and The Space Children remains one of the best genre scores of its era.

Shared below is the opening cue from the film, titled simply Prelude. The full score, paired with Cleave’s musician’s strike-defying wonder The Colossus of New York, is out on CD from Film Score Monthly in a limited pressing of 1500, and available for purchase through Amazon or Screen Archives.