BattleTruck (1982)

Director: Harley Cokeliss

Also known as: Warlords Of The 21st Century, Destructors

Tagline: “After the oil war, out of the rubble of the cities comes… BattleTruck.”

Plot: It’s the 21st century, and life has taken a turn for the worse. The Oil Wars have made a mess of the globe. Radiation is a problem, as it tends to be after Oil Wars. The land outside major cities remains a lawless zone, yet the cities—which are under martial law—presumably suck even more, since no character in BattleTruck expresses any desire to live there. So who rules the wasteland? An opening news-report narration helpfully supplies that information before BattleTruck has even begun, by referencing a group “led by the army colonel Jacob Straker” and concluding “his mobile reign of terror will continue for some time.”

But you can’t have a reign of terror without a secret weapon. And that’s where the BattleTruck comes in. Perhaps assuming that audiences who show up for something called BattleTruck want to see a BattleTruck, director Harley Cokeliss isn’t shy about dispensing BattleTruck action. Within the first three minutes, the film features BattleTruck smashing into and destroying a vacant gas station…

…then expanding the aforementioned mobile reign of terror of Colonel Straker (James Wainwright) by robbing a horse-drawn pickup truck carrying some diesel fuel.

Straker is a self-styled philosopher, fond of dispensing bits of wisdom like “Wars are not won by men with political ambition, my friend. There’s too much lipstick and not enough napalm.” He’s also unfailingly polite and unfailingly murderous. Those who run into him live only so long as they remain useful in acquiring oil, as the men on the horse-drawn pickup quickly discover. (Both Straker’s victims have New Zealand accents, which makes sense, as the film was shot there, but it’s never explained in the context of the movie. At times, it feels like a movie in which a handful of Americans battle for the hearts and minds of the Kiwis whose land they’ve invaded.) But Straker’s murderous ways have consequences. Asked to commit one of the murders, his daughter Corlie (Annie McEnroe, familiar from Wall Street and Howling II: Your Sister Is A Werewolf) demurs, then runs away.

Soon, some of her father’s men terrorize her, attempting to lasso her and bring her back. But they don’t reckon on encountering Hunter (Michael Beck, a star of The Warriors and Xanadu), a mysterious, motorcycle-riding loner who rescues her from their clutches. Hunter then takes her to his solar-powered retreat before dumping her at Clearwater, a democratic commune whose ranks include a peppy handyman named Rusty (John Ratzenberger), who happily tells her “There’s plenty to eat… if you like turnips!”

Corlie feels right at home, but her presence attracts the attention of the BattleTruck horde. And that’s the wrong kind of attention for a turnip-loving, peaceful folk to draw.

Key scenes: You’ve already seen that BattleTruck is good at smashing into things. But did you know it’s also good for sneaking up on people?

Late in the film, Hunter has to take on BattleTruck vehículo-a-vehículo. Unfortunately, the best Rusty can create is a hybrid of a truck and a VW Beetle that looks far less cool than BattleTruck, no matter how insistent the score playing beneath it.

Can easily be distinguished by: The BattleTruck is a good tip-off that you’re watching BattleTruck.

Sign that it was made in 1982: The fate of civilization is stupidly tied to oil, a finite resource. Ha ha ha! Stupid ’80s people.

Timeless message: The hippies will always win, so long as they never lose their ability to customize vehicles and stash weapons.

Memorable quotes: “Good morning. My name is Colonel Straker. And I have come to free you from this anarchy and chaos.”

Available on DVD as a double feature with Deathsport from Shout! Factory.