DT Moviehouse Review: The Blood Of Heroes

Time once more for my blog feature, DT Moviehouse Reviews, in which I make my way alphabetically through my 200+ DVD/Blu-Ray collection (you can see the list right here) and decide if each one was worth the money. Today I review the post apocalyptic sports movie The Blood Of Heroes.

(1989) Written and Directed by David Webb Peoples

Tagline:

The time will come when winning is everything.

blood-of-heroes-poster

What It’s About:

hauerchenIn a bleak post apocalyptic future, scarred and battered juggers in piecemeal armor and gear roam the wastelands from settlement to settlement playing The Game, a furious cross between football and gladiatorial combat, where the object is to place a dog skull on a spike before three hundred stones hit a makeshift gong. When ex-League jugger Sallow (Rutger Hauer) and his team take on a new, ambitious young player named Kidda (Joan Chen), they decide to take their game as far as it can go – to the vicious League play deep beneath the ground in the subterranean Red City. But Sallow’s own past mistakes may stand in the way of all their aspirations.

Why I Bought It:

I saw this one on Cinemax one night and expected absolutely nothing, but I liked Rutger Hauer in Blade Runner, Blind Fury, and Ladyhawke, and I’ll give any post apocalyptic movie at least five minutes of my time.

A lot of these dystopian future movies open up with a paragraph describing at length how the world got in the mess it’s in. The Blood of Heroes opens with –

People no longer remembered the Golden Age of the 20th Century. They didn’t remember the miraculous technology or the cruel wars that followed. They didn’t remember when juggers first played The Game or how it came to be played with a dog skull….

And that’s it.

juggersBy this brilliantly concise bit of flavor text, we learn all we need to going in, and by the richness of the world that follows, we discover all we need to.

The first scene is of Sallow leading his team out of the desert to challenge the village team, with the coach/medic/trainer Gandhi MacIntyre bringing up the rear, lugging their equipment in a wardrobe strapped to his back. We see the juggers gear up, their armor culled from scavenged materials like old tire treads and the like.

d'onfrioThen The Game begins, and if we’re paying attention, we can pretty much figure it out. The village idiot (and it seems in every Game we see played, it’s ALWAYS the village idiot who gets the stone counting job – maybe because they’re the only ones who don’t get distracted by the game) pitches rocks at a bit of hanging metal and announces when he’s reached one hundred, which means a cessation of play. The big guys in armor go at it, alternately trying to protect their own or harm the other team’s kwik, the lightly armored and unarmed one whose job it is to spear the dog skull on the other side’s stake. This is the equivalent of catching the Golden Snitch in Harry Potter. It ends the game. I wonder if JK Rowling has seen The Blood Of Heroes actually, because the big guys are like beaters. The only guy for which there is no Quidditch counterpart is the slash, who protects the kwik with a whirling chain.

blood7Perhaps The Game has taken the place of raiding and warfare, because the winning team automatically gets their pick of young villagers (male and female) to sleep with, is treated to a no hard feelings banquet by the losing team, and is then paid tribute by every villager from the youngest to the eldest. Then the next morning the winning juggers set out with the defeated village’s dog skull. On to the next match.

gonzoThe excellence of this weird little movie, which is much better than it should be, is in its details. The juggers get the crap beat out of them. Joan Chen bites a guy’s ear off, and in another match, Rutger Hauer has his eye knocked out. The rest of the guys, especially Delroy Lindo’s Mbulu and Anna Katarina’s Big Cimber, are crisscrossed with old scars and cauliflower ears. Justin Monjo’s Dog-Boy looks like his entire face has been removed and put back on upside down. This is a violent as hell sport with little protection, in a world where doctoring is a lost art. Instead of a lot of pretty boys and girls, the bodies of the characters and their appearances reflect this admirably. Even Joan Chen, God bless her for taking on this part, gets a bike chain or dog leash or something across the cheek early on, and Sallow’s old League buddy Gonzo (Max Fairchild, who, along with Hugh Keyes Byrnes, appeared in the granddaddy of savage post apocalyptic movies, Mad Max) looks like Frankenstein’s monster, with an exposed steel plate in the side of his head. Fittingly, only Byrnes’ Lord Vile and the rest of the underground dwelling elite are for the most part unscarred, though they’re uniformly pale and unseemly looking.

juggersbrawlThis looks like a low budget production, but the set design and art direction are inspired. They really made a believable world here, going the ‘this is so strange it has to be true’ kind of approach. At a banquet in the Red City, diners pick the flesh from a cooked Komodo Dragon at a buffet.  Getting into the Red City requires paying the elevator guards in nuts and bolts (gleaned from villages whose teams the juggers have bested), and then making an inordinately long descent, that appears to last for hours, possibly a day.  What is the Red City? The remains of an underground plant? A vast bomb shelter? A little of both? The city inn has open air sleeping platforms clinging to the side of a stone wall and you have to reach your rented platform by climbing ladders and inching along precarious ledges, passing huddled families, lovemaking couples, and basically the whole strata of humanity along the way. The aforementioned idiot stone counter/pitcher, always has his three piles of a hundred stones each carefully laid out for him (that makes me laugh – does he get there early and do it himself, or do they not even trust him to do that?).

hundredstonesThe cast is fantastic. You’re getting some brilliant actors early in their careers, particularly Lindo and Vincent D’onofrio, who plays Young Gar, the exuberant, hotheaded slash. But everybody does a great job, and the movie is interspersed with some fine character moments. Gandhi orders six meat pies from a vendor, but has to keep changing his order as first Sallow and then Kidda decide to check something else out. When the six pies arrive he complains that there must be some mistake, he only ordered four. The kwik Kidda replaces, Dog-Boy, has a cool scene where he gruffly announces his leg injury is too severe, and demands to be left his share of food and water in the desert. When the team makes their official challenge to the city League and the wizened old authenticators pass their bag of captured dog skulls back and forth, inspecting them and the juggers one by one, Gar, exasperated by the waiting and wanting to make an impression, begins twirling his chains and roaring until a disapproving look from the old men makes him stop and clear his throat.

BOHLindoThere’s more to just the up and coming rookie sports story to Blood Of Heroes as well. There’s a nicely understated subplot about Sallow having left the league because of his affair with a rich man’s woman, and Lord Vile appears to be that rich man as he recognizes Sallow and orders Gonzo to blind him and break his legs in the challenge match (something Gonzo admirably refuses to do), but the woman he’s with seems a little too young to be the one in question. I also like her assertion that she wants to see the blood of heroes, not plain butchery and brutality, and how at the end, when the match is over and the credits are rolling, she approaches Gar and dips her finger in his blood, running it down her own cheek (and I think, sneaking a taste of it).

What is great about this movie is that much is left to be inferred, and yet there’s enough interesting material there to make you wonder about the characters and the world. A fine early effort from the writer of Unforgiven.

I like the score by Todd Boekelheide too. It’s instantly recognizable.

Best Dialogue/Line:

P1030945 (Medium)Sallow, upon finding Kidda and Young Gar in bed after a match, groaning more from the pain of their wounds than from pleasure, observes;

“Two Juggers can’t fuck after the game. It doesn’t work. Unless you like to rub wounds against wounds.”

Best Scene:

After lasting an unprecedented one hundred stones with the League team (the last record is said to be twenty six), Sallow having been pinned by Gonzo to protect him during the entire first round, and Big Cimber having had her leg broken, Gandhi steps in in the second round as a substitute and hooks and pins the jugger that immobilized Sallow. Sallow dukes it out with Gonzo and defeats him, and Gar and Mbulu defeat their counterparts. Sallow sees Lord Vile watching and goes over to where Kidda is wrestling with her opposite number. Sallow lays the enemy kwik out almost offhandedly, and when Kidda jumps up with the dog skull to score, he puts a hand on her shoulder and tells her;

“Walk…slowly.”

As Sallow’s guys sit on the enemy team, Kidda strolls deliberately across the playing field to the stake, looking up at the cheering onlookers, basking in the moment. It’s the equivalent of Babe Ruth calling his home run when she neatly sets the skull on the stake.

Would I Buy It Again? Yes, it’s the proverbial overlooked gem.

Next In The Queue: Bonnie and Clyde

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