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Bad Movie Tuesday: Salute of the Jugger (1989), Rutger Hauer’s post-apocalyptic Mad Max death sport.

August 2, 2016

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MY CALL:  Also senselessly retitled as The Blood of Heroes, this post-apocalyptic Mad Max sports movie makes for an excellent Bad Movie Tuesday with gentle echoes of Gladiator (2000), Rollerball (1975) and even The Matrix (1999).  MOVIES LIKE Salute of the JuggerMad Max: Fury Road (2015), but even more so Mad Max (1979), Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior (1981), Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome (1985) and Rollerball (1975, 2002).

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Misinformative posters…there are no red fingernails (left) and I don’t know what’s going on (right).

The 20th century has come and gone, its technology and more serene times long forgotten, and in its place is The Game…which is played with… a dog skull…!?!?!?!  Did I just read that opening caption right?

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Cut to a young boy running and screaming a “Juggers” version of Paul Revere’s “the redcoats are coming” and a Tomboyish Kidda (Joan Chen; Wedlock, The Last Emperor) working in a sandy crop field of this Mad Max-esque post-Apocalyptic wasteland.  And in march the Juggers, a rugged group mixing the aspects of the Sand People and gladiators—and speaking of gladiators, Mbulu (Delroy Lindo; Gone in 60 Seconds, Point Break) might just have been the inspiration for Gladiator’s (2000) Juba (played by Djimon Hounsou). Not just that, but Hauer does the Maximus Gladiator pre-battle sand-hand ritual.  But let’s just pause and appreciate this weirdly eclectic cast in this cult classic, Australian B-movie.  [Are you pausing to reflect…?]

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These Juggers are led by Sallow (Rutger Hauer; True Blood, Bleeders) and they stop at a clearing to remove some, yes, “traditionally prepared” dog skulls from a sack before facing their competition.  The scar-faced Big Climber (Anna Katarina; Angels and Demons, Star Trek) and Young Gar (Vincent D’Onofrio; The Salton Sea, Daredevil) arm themselves with wicker shin guards, chain whips, flails and leathers as other scarred warriors don stylish partial face masks. We know a brutal battle this way comes.

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The Game resembles a combination of rugby, la Crosse, Rollerball (1975, 2002) and American Gladiators.  Trying to rush a bloody animal skull across a sandy wasteland while being lethally assaulted, this game makes no more sense to me than a barbaric Quidditch match!  I found the action to be entertaining, but not even a little bit “good” technically speaking.

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Writer/director David Webb Peoples (writer for Blade Runner, Ladyhawke) has certainly done better.  This film basically opens with a traveling team that plays an away game, loses a player to an injury, then recruits a rookie and trains her with rushing drills.  After 30 min, they’re basically on to their second away game and move on to challenge a pro team from “the League.”  That’s right, this is essentially a minor league misfits sports movie.

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So what makes this a bad movie?  Here are a few clues:

  1. I’m not really sure how to measure the success of this film. It had a budget of $10 million Australian dollars in 1988, then grossed almost $900K USD in America and under $200K AUD.  Can that be right?
  2. Rutger Hauer is in it—he’s made a lot of bad movies in his time.
  3. Max Fairchild (Mad Max, Mad Max 2: The Road Warrior, The Howling III), Richard Norton (China O’Brien, Mad Max: Fury Road) and Hugh Keays-Byrne (Mad Max, Mad Max: Fury Road) make this into a Mad Max reunion.
  4. They play a full contact, lethal sport with a dog skull for a ball and keep game time by counting thrown stones. There were no hourglasses in the year 2020???
  5. The action really isn’t great. Perhaps up to snuff for the late 80s, but still. You spend a lot of time wondering what these Jugger positions are really meant to accomplish on the field.

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Misinformative posters…Joan Chen does NOT dress like a dominatrix (left) and this is not a Vietnam War movie (right).

The movie climaxes when Sallow’s team ventures into an underground city (like a rundown Zion) to play the super tough League team.  But do they stand a chance?  [Shiver]  As if we all don’t already know.

BLOOD OF HEROES (aka SALUTE OF THE JUGGER), Rutger Hauer, 1988

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It’s no Hogwart’s or Zion, but the world-building was actually pretty cool; using nuts and bolts as currency, lower castes living above land, this established sports system that’s akin to Rome’s gladiatorial arena to engage the poor and entertain the upper castes, the lawless game that has pre-set/standardized equipment that you (perhaps) make yourself, the completely unexplained dog skull… this world feels credibly lived in despite its somewhat ridiculous premise.

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Misinformative posters…this is not a movie about a boyish Asian lady and a leper (left) and, AGAIN, this is not a Vietnam War movie (right).

This movie is really only semi-bad for its time, but pretty bad when viewed today.  Think Robot Jox (1989)… awesome, right? Awesome yet awful…yet not really awful…but maybe really pretty awful.  LOL.  Yeah, it’s like that.  I enjoyed it.

BLOOD OF HEROES (aka SALUTE OF THE JUGGER), Joan Chen, 1988

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